"If this is democracy, I don't want to be any part of this."
That's how Jim Hansen, a Democrat attempting to unseat Rep. Mike Simpson from Idaho's 2nd Congressional District, thinks most Americans view contemporary politics.
Last week, Hansen visited the Wood River Valley, where he did the same thing he's done in every single Idaho town with more than 1,000 people since his campaign began: talk and listen.
An Idaho native and the son of Orval Hansen, who served in the Idaho Legislature from 1956 to 1968 and the U.S. House of Representatives from 1968 to 1975, Jim Hansen is steeped in Idaho politics.
But he's fearful that democracy is dying. Private campaign financing, not people, now determines who's elected to office, he believes.
If he had his way, that would end. And he practices what he preaches.
From the beginning, the former Idaho legislator has refused to accept donations exceeding $100, effectively removing himself from what he despises.
Accepting money from corporations and lobbyists "is immoral and it's destroying the process of popular representation," Hansen said in an interview last Friday. "I wanted this campaign to be different. I wasn't going to take their money. I wasn't going to be beholden."
He thinks changing the system to enforce public campaign financing would resurrect democracy and reinvigorate the general public.
"This is our civil rights movement," he said.
Here is a rundown of his views on several issues facing Idaho and the nation:
Hansen is opposed to the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, not because it was created by Simpson, he says, but because he thinks it poses a risk to one of Idaho's greatest resources: public lands.
"I really draw the line at transferring public lands," Hansen said.
In exchange for 319,900 acres of wilderness in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains, CIEDRA would transfer 5,120 acres of public lands to Custer County and its rural municipalities.
"There is a deep anger that what's being invested into public lands will be sold off to the wealthiest of the wealthy," Hansen said.
He resents the notion that Idaho's small, rural towns can only survive if public lands are sold or transferred into private hands. He thinks investments should be put into public schools, health care services and transportation, he said.
"I disagree that the only way to protect these lands from depredation is with a transfer," he said.
- Salmon and dams
"Dam removal should be right up there on the table," Hansen said about ongoing efforts to save Idaho's chinook and sockeye salmon from extinction.
He thinks the issue warrants a thorough economic analysis that would compare and contrast the costs of the current salmon recovery program—known to many as a "life support program"—dam breaching, and alternative shipping and energy sources.
Hansen said the reality is that it could be more cost-effective to bypass the dams, which kill an estimated 60 percent of Idaho's juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean every year.
"We should not be afraid of information," he said.
- Coal-fired power plants
They don't belong in Idaho, especially when they're providing energy to California and Las Vegas, Hansen said.
He called San Diego-based Sempra Generation's proposal to build a 600-megawatt power plant in Jerome County "part of a backwards national energy policy."
He's also opposed to plans to erect a coal gasification plant in eastern Idaho.
Another benefit to public campaign financing is that energy companies would no longer be able to sway politicians with money, Hansen said.
A fence stretching across the border between the United States and Mexico is not the answer to the immigration problem, Hansen said. Neither is a massive effort to track down every single illegal immigrant in the country.
Immigrants work jobs and accept pay that U.S. citizens won't, he said. For that reason they play a vital role in the economy.
"We have to have a much bigger guest worker program," Hansen said. "There is a process for (illegal immigrants) to become legal."
Hansen believes those who work hard and pay taxes should be able to become U.S. citizens, but only if they follow the same rules.
- Medicare and prescription drugs
The current drug deal between Congress and the pharmaceutical companies is driving the nation deeper into debt and placing more of a burden on seniors, Hansen claims.
The deal he referred to is the 2003 Medicare prescription drug legislation, which was written with the help of the nation's major drug and insurance companies.
Hansen thinks a Medicare drug program that would allow the government to negotiate lower prices, and curb escalating drug costs, can be created.
- Health Care
The United States spends more money on medical and insurance bureaucracy than any other nation in the world, Hansen said.
He thinks a national health care program that would include everyone regardless of their health status or financial standing would actually reduce the country's medical insurance woes.
Hansen blames the lack of Congressional action on campaign contributions from insurance, pharmaceutical and medical lobbying groups.
"Some states have stepped up to the plate with innovative solutions that help small businesses, employees and the self-employed get affordable insurance," Hansen said. "There are lots of smart people proposing smart ideas. Congress should put them to work on a coherent national policy."
- Iraq and the Middle East
Hansen said the Iraq War is no longer a war but an "American occupation" and that the United States should propose a date for troop withdrawal.
But he said it's important for Iraq's leaders, not the United States, to set the conditions for that withdrawal.
He said he's saddened that many Idahoans are hesitant to express their disapproval of the war because they don't want to seem unpatriotic or un-American.
"They want to believe their president ... but they don't know why we're there," he said.
Furthermore, Hansen said the United States needs to mend its relationship with the international community.
"To be isolated the way we are in the world is dangerous," he said.
The United States needs to regain its greatest asset as the world's moral authority and erase its image as "an imperialist power."
"It will take a long time to overcome that."