Jim Hansen, a Boise Democrat hoping to represent eastern Idaho in the U.S. House of Representatives, visited the Wood River Valley recently to drum up support.
Hansen, who served in the Idaho Legislature from 1988 to 1994, is challenging Republican incumbent Mike Simpson in the 2006 election to represent Idaho's 2nd Congressional District. The district stretches from Elmore County east to the Wyoming border, and from Lemhi County south to the Utah and Nevada state lines. It includes Blaine County.
Hansen's first test will be against fellow Democrat Craig Cooper, who's also running for the seat, in the May 23 primary election. Simpson is not being challenged by a Republican candidate.
The general election will be held Nov. 7.
Family and Faith
Hansen, who grew up in Idaho Falls, comes from a family deeply rooted in Idaho politics. His father, Orval, grew up on a farm in Idaho Falls and served in the state Legislature from 1956 to 1968 the U.S. House of Representatives from 1968 to 1975.
Two of his uncles also served in the Idaho Legislature.
Although Orval served in the Idaho Legislature and U.S. Congress as a Republican, he supported his son's decision to run as a Democrat.
"Dad never left the Republican Party, but they abandoned him," Hansen said.
Hansen's wife, Joan Carten-Hansen, is a producer, writer and reporter with Idaho Public Television. The two were married in Stanley—the summer home of Hansen's parents—during Idaho's centennial celebration in the summer of 1990. They have two children.
Hansen voluntarily left the Idaho Legislature in 1994 and founded United Vision for Idaho, which is a coalition of organizations working together to promote participation in democracy.
Hansen, who describes himself as a man of deep religious faith, said he "grew up in a family where public service is an expectation."
Throughout much of his tenure in the Legislature, Hansen practiced law with the firm Givens Pursley, focusing largely on water and natural resource issues.
He eventually left, claiming he felt like he wasn't serving his community to the best of his ability.
While earning a bachelor's degree at the College of William and Mary and a law degree from the University of Idaho, Hansen spent his summers as a ranger-naturalist in Yellowstone National Park, which he said further strengthened his love for wild, public lands.
"Public lands are an asset that belong to everybody. Once we sell these assets, we can never get them back," he said, referring to the Bush administration's proposal to sell public lands in the West.
He's a firm believer in local control, small businesses, and building communities from the inside out. Big, out-of-state businesses such as Sempra Energy—a California-based company that wants to build a coal-fired power plant in Jerome County—don't belong in Idaho, he said.
Sempra has promised the county that the power plant will create jobs and bring in money.
Hansen believes the plant, and other similar proposals, "will just set up communities for failure."
The key, he said, is that "people need to grow small businesses in their community. We need to come to a consensus of what's best for our community, for our state. The best ideas are coming out of small communities."
Moreover, Hansen maintains that legitimate democracy is crumbling, and ordinary citizens are suffering as a result.
Corruption and campaign finance
Democracy thrives from competition and fresh faces with new ideas, Hansen said, which is why he claims he left the Idaho Legislature after his third term.
But he also believes the Statehouse is full of corruption.
"Money and power corrupts absolutely," Hansen said. "The world view is everything is negotiable—public lands, health care, national security—and the government facilitates that.
"This is an opportunity to say this is about the larger system."
Hansen believes that the first responsibility of politicians is to represent their electorate, not their party—a simple ideology that has somehow gone awry over the years, he said.
"Being in the Legislature for six years, I saw a lot of Republicans broken down by their own party," he said. "It was like, 'If you differ with us, shut up about it. Quietly behave, or leave.'
"That doesn't perpetuate good government."
And Democrats aren't exactly innocent, he added, as abuse of campaign financing has stretched across both parties. People are no longer appointed to office based on their qualifications, but how well funded they are, he said.
"It all depends on money and that stinks, that's wrong," Hansen said. "(The system) is not well-oiled, it's being clogged with massive amounts of money."
Consequently, Hansen is refusing to accept large donations, a tactic he said will surely "upset the national party people."
Instead, he's asking for small donations—less than $100 per person—from a large pool of ordinary citizens.
"If at least 5,000 people donate $100 that ought to be enough to run a congressional campaign without going to the (political action committees) and lobbyists that are strong-armed by Congress to fork over huge contributions every day," his Web site (www.jimhansenforidaho.com) states.
The method is based on policies in Arizona, where in 1998 voters passed a Citizens Clean Elections Act that was designed to eliminate the shady influence private contributions have on campaigns. Basically, the act created an optional system of campaign finance—candidates could reject private contributions and receive public subsidies instead.
"Arizona is a great example," Hansen said. "People can run for office without having to raise tons of money."
And in Hansen's eyes, there's no better way to give voters a true opportunity to select the most honest, qualified candidate.
"People deserve to have healthy competition," he said. "(Politicians) make decisions over people's lives. It's not that different than the role of a judge."
That's why he and Cooper, his main competition at this point, often travel together on the road.
"He's just as entitled to run as I am," Hansen said.