Admitting that he “failed at retirement,” former U.S. Rep. Richard Stallings has again entered the national political arena at age 74, challenging incumbent Rep. Mike Simpson to represent Idaho’s 2nd District in Congress.
Stallings, a rare Democratic official in Idaho, held that seat for eight years beginning in 1985, until he ran for Senate in 1992 and was defeated by Republican Dirk Kempthorne.
Since then, he has served as U.S. nuclear waste negotiator under President Bill Clinton, spent eight years as executive director of Pocatello Neighborhood Housing Services and served for six years on the Pocatello City Council. During that tenure, Stallings was elected chair of the Idaho State Democratic Party Central Committee.
He and his wife, Ranae, have their residence in Island Park, but are living for the duration of the campaign in the basement of their headquarters in Pocatello.
“It’s like we’re back in college,” he said.
Stallings said he was approached by the Idaho Democratic Party to run this year against Simpson, who is seeking his ninth term in the House. This is the second matchup between the two; Stallings lost to Simpson in 1998. However, he said Simpson appears more vulnerable than usual following an expensive primary campaign last spring against Bryan Smith, who claimed Simpson was too liberal for Idaho.
“He did great damage to himself and his opponent,” Stallings said. “He antagonized a large part of his electorate. They probably won’t vote for me, but they won’t vote for him, either.”
Stallings said he was motivated to run by his belief that “this is the worst Congress in history.”
“We’ve never had a group of politicians so bent on hurting people and destroying institutions,” he said.
Stallings said that if elected, he will focus first on four issues.
First, he said, is increasing the federal minimum wage.
“When we installed the minimum wage, we said anyone who’s working should not live in poverty,” he said.
“This is the worst Congress in history.”
He said some people now have to work two jobs to pay their bills, and raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would pull 176,000 Idahoans out of poverty. He contended that with a “living wage,” people holding two jobs would be able to quit one of them, opening those jobs to people who have none. That, he said, would reduce federal spending on food stamps.
Second is immigration reform.
Stallings said he is most concerned about people who were born in a foreign country but were brought to the United States as children and know of no life but the one they’ve spent here. He said those people should be given a path to citizenship. If not, he said, “Where do you send them back to?” He said it’s unfair to not allow them to pay in-state college tuition.
Stallings said he supports strengthening the border with Mexico, and undocumented immigrants should be charged with a misdemeanor. However, he said, those who serve jail time or pay a fine and are otherwise qualified should then be allowed to become citizens.
Third is equal pay for equal work. He would like to eliminate what he said is a 27 to 30 percent gap between what men earn and what women earn for doing the same job.
Due to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, it’s already illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform substantially equal work. However, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2008 that women’s median annual earnings were still only 77.5 percent of the male median. Some recent studies that have examined the subject in detail have reported more nuanced conclusions and a much smaller gap in pay for doing the same work.
Last spring, Congress failed to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have imposed requirements on employers to prove that wage differences were not based on gender discrimination. Stallings said he would support that type of legislation.
Fourth is reclaiming Congress’ role in declaring war, specifically regarding President Barack Obama’s decision to attack the Islamic State.
“They’ve given the president carte blanche to do what he wants,” Stallings said. “They don’t have the guts to debate it.”
He said Arab nations should be making the effort to contain the Islamic State, though he added that despite the radical Muslim organization’s brutality, he doubts it has the capability to pose a serious threat to its neighbors.
“All we do is exacerbate the problem,” he said.
During his terms in Congress, Stallings stood out as a Democrat by opposing a legal right to abortion on demand. He said he still holds that view, and supports a right to abortion only in special circumstances such as rape or a threat to a woman’s health.
Stallings said the views he expresses have not moved to the right in an attempt to increase his election chances in Idaho.
“I don’t pander,” he said. “I don’t sell my soul to win an election. I just tell it like it is.”
Stallings said he has been impressed by the positive response he’s received on the campaign trail.
“The thing that gives me the most hope is the support I’ve been getting from people who remember my service,” he said.
He said his campaign has raised $62,000 so far, and he will be in Ketchum for a fundraising event on Oct. 20.
Greg Moore: email@example.com