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For the week of Mar. 1 through Mar. 7, 2000

Boise, Idaho State Capitol Building

Stennett in the Senate

Ketchum politician thrives on state politics


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

On Feb. 18, an Idaho Mountain Express reporter shadowed Idaho District 21 Sen. Clint Stennett for a day in Boise. A legislator’s life, the Blaine County Democrat says, is far different from living and working day to day in his home city of Ketchum.

A tranquil, azure sky ushers in a calm beginning to a busy Friday in the Idaho Senate.

Senator Clint Stennett (D), Idaho District 21He’s worked hard to overcome the Blaine County stereotype and the so-called 5-B animosity.

The state capitol catches morning’s first light and stands out against a beaming blue as Senate minority leader Clint Stennett, a Democrat from Ketchum, peruses the morning papers. He’s already been on a three-mile walk to help clear the cobwebs before the day swings into full gear.

For Stennett, 43, and the state’s other legislators, it’s the beginning of the busy second half of the legislative session.

As the clock nears 7 a.m., Stennett’s focus turns from the papers to his Senate duties.

Stennett begins working at an excited pace. He takes a bill to the basement Legislative Services office for drafting; then it’s back to the third floor for meetings with constituents or lobbyists. He goes to the Senate floor for a hearing, to his office to brief staff members, then off to a lunch date (today with this reporter), and back for committee hearings, phone calls, e-mail and letters.

Going to and from various appointments, Stennett likes to walk the stairs.

"It keeps the blood pumping," he says as he trots from the second to third floor.

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Democratic chief of staff Cristine Peck has worked with Stennett for the first time this winter. She has worked in Idaho state government for 20 years.

"This one’s really just a hard worker, she says. "He’s a tremendous addition to the Senate, and it’s obvious that a lot of the Republicans respect him. They’ll come over here for his opinion.

"It’s (also) obvious that he has respect for everyone around him. He really has a genuine concern for the people of Idaho."

Stennett says he’s motivated by the thrill of victory, the bumpy ride in achieving a win and seeing good public policy (not always his) enacted as law.

"You never know what’s going to happen [during a day at the Senate]," he says. "It’s ever-evolving, hour by hour. I don’t get that in my business. I don’t want that in my business."

Stennett has lived in Ketchum for 20 years. He owns and operates KSVT TV 13.

"I like the adrenaline. I like the win, but I’ve learned to accept loss."

The most difficult loss for Stennett is one he’s had to accept eight times. Each year since 1992, he’s introduced legislation to ensure that water quality in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River remains high for future generations.

The bill passed the Senate one year, but didn’t make it out of committee in the House.

This year, Stennett has introduced 15 bills. Of those, seven are still alive, and three or four might become law, he says.

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Stennett was elected to the Idaho House for the first time in 1991. He was very green, he admits.

"I was frustrated, especially in the House, where there are so many more people. I was very idealistic."

Stennett became interested in politics as a young man when he attended the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls and was elected student body president.

He eventually became publisher of the Wood River Journal, a weekly newspaper in Hailey. When he sold the business, it left a public service hole in his life, he says. He turned to politics to fill it.

Now in his 10th year as a state lawmaker, Stennett’s got one of the most conservation-focused agendas of any Idaho politician, and he’s not afraid to assert it.

Even as one of only four Senate Democrats among 30 Republicans, he finds support among the majority despite his liberal stance on many issues.

He’s worked hard to overcome the Blaine County stereotype and the so-called 5-B animosity that other Idahoans are said to harbor.

"Blaine County’s different," he says. "There’s no question it is.

"Until people get to know you, there’s always a prejudice about Blaine County. Over the years, I’ve beaten the prejudice in the Legislature."

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By afternoon, the bill Stennett dropped off in the Legislative Services office first thing in the morning is on a Monday agenda for the Senate Resources and Environment Committee. It’s Stennett’s favorite committee.

The bill calls for a one-year moratorium on all confined animal feeding lots (CAFOs) in the state until more stringent regulations are put in place.

To introduce a bill in committee, a legislator must have the go-ahead from the chairman.

In this case, the chairman asked Stennett to line up a majority of committee members as supporters of the bill before he would put it on his agenda. By lunch, Stennett has corralled support from seven of 12 resources committee members.

"Introducing a bill in committee is really a finesse game," he says. "The committee head can kill the legislation."

That can be a problem for a Democrat in the highly Republican legislature.

"I’ve made motions in committee and not had seconds," he says. "There’s only one Democratic member on each committee."

Stennett says the health of Idaho’s government would improve with two equally represented parties.

"You get a better product when you have more people on both sides of the issues," he says.

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After two afternoon committee meetings, Stennett is ready to call it a week and head back to Ketchum for two days of rest. On most weekdays, he says, he works until 7 or 8 p.m.

Being an Idaho Democrat is a tough job, even tougher as minority leader.

Even so, Stennett says, "I’d rather be a Democratic leader than a back-row Republican any day."

 

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Copyright 2000 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.