Dan Popkey was fooled. Congressman Walt Minnick is no moderate. Last week when he wrote for the Idaho Statesman that he was, Popkey was expressing a common misconception, though. Lots of Idahoans were fooled into believing that Minnick was a moderate—even perhaps (gasp) verging on liberal as the Idaho Press-Tribune stated in a non-endorsement editorial in 2008, calling his professed conservatism "disingenuous and misleading." But the first Idaho Democrat elected to Congress in nearly two decades, is definitely not a moderate. Walt Minnick is a bona fide conservative. That isn't just an opinion. That's what he says:
on his congressional Facebook page;
on his campaign Facebook page;
in a candidate questionnaire for the Idaho Press-Tribune;
in an address to the Idaho Farm Bureau and others.
And that is what he does.
He is the most conservative member, Democrat or Republican, of the Northwest congressional delegation, voting with members of U.S. House Republican leadership on 75 percent of roll call votes while voting with his own party just 64 percent, although even that percentage is a bit misleading. Even former Republican Congressman Bill Sali, who was openly disdainful of them, voted with congressional Democrats 41 percent of all roll call votes in the three and a half months prior to the November election. A more telling picture comes from CQ Politics' vote study showing Minnick in a lonely place indeed at 40 percent when consensus Republicans oppose consensus Democrats.
As he did in the 2008 campaign, Minnick continues to court Republicans, partnering with and receiving staffing advice from 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson [see the Farm Bureau address]; benefiting from a fundraising breakfast hosted by controversial former Senator Steve Symms, who (as the Idaho blogophere's resident historian reminded) knocked off Idaho Democratic icon Senator Frank Church in 1980; speckling his federal appointment committees with well-known Republicans like Bruce Newcomb, Laird Noh and Vern Bisterfeldt; noting praise from former Governor Phil Batt; and even joining Governor Butch Otter and the rest of the congressional delegation in asking for and then praising the Obama administration's decision to delist wolves.
Although originally skeptical of Minnick's professed conservatism, others are saying it now, too. When he was the only Democrat to earn a perfect 100 percent on Club For Growth's RePork Card, ultra-conservative blogger Adam Graham (a previously vocal skeptic) was as gushing as one could imagine this blogger could ever be over someone with a D behind his name. Along with observing that, other than his votes on two bills, Minnick is voting like a Republican, there is one line that should make Idahoans take note.
On the pork issue, that’s to the right of Former Congressman Bill Sail (R-ID) who scored a 94% which was one of the highest scores in Congress.
Minnick is to the right of Bill Sali. That's a sound bite, isn't it? More conservative than taxpayer hero Bill Sali? Although don't try to figure out the logic of insisting that auto makers should be allowed to fail while lobbying for price supports for the dairy industry. Your head will explode.
Many Idaho Democrats were also fooled, whether intentionally or not, into believing that Minnick was a moderate. He certainly didn't emphasize his conservative philosophy when speaking to Democratic audiences and after all, as the Idaho Press-Tribune pointed out, if he truly was as conservative as he sometimes professed to be, why didn't he run as a Republican? It's a conundrum Minnick answers by saying that despite his deep Republican roots, the Republican Party left him.
Perhaps most revealing is what he told David Broder of the Washington Post on why he became a Democrat.
In 1996, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, then head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, recruited Minnick to run against Republican Sen. Larry Craig. "I was an independent, and I told him I wanted to run as an independent. He had no problem with that, but Cecil Andrus [the former Idaho governor and interior secretary] phoned me and said that if that was my plan, they'd run another Democrat against Craig and see that I finished third. So at that point I became a Democrat."
Minnick became a Democrat because Cecil Andrus leaned on him? Pragmatic? Certainly. Misleading? Who knows. Certainly an interesting way to join a party. Certainly the Idaho Democratic Party has room for a bona fide conservative. Certainly there should be no doubt now that this is exactly what Walt Minnck is. Isn't he?