Printed on: May 16, 2013

Idaho's junior senator gets a case of Potomac fever -- and loves it


Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter had it backward. Otter went from the country club (Congress) to the caddy shack (the Idaho Statehouse) -- from being one of the collared shirts who play the course to a sweat-stained working stiff who carries the bags.

U.S. Sen. James Risch?

He's got it all figured out.

Idaho's former governor is living the life -- traveling the world on the public's dime, hobnobbing with the in-crowd at Ford's Theater, hitting the party circuit with Michelle Obama and enjoying the view from his Pennsylvania Avenue condo.

The one thing Risch isn't doing? Breaking a sweat. Hey, that seven-month stint as governor in 2006 was a grind. No, it didn't include a legislative session, unless you count the one-day special session. But that was a long day. A very long day.

"Governor will wear you down," Risch told the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey. "You can't do that job permanently. This you can do ad infinitum."

That's because it doesn't matter whether he's here or there, in Boise or Washington, D.C., tossing a line in the Salmon River or attending a Foreign Relations Committee meeting.

"There's nothing happening when we're back there and there's nothing happening when we're not back there," Risch told Popkey. "What's the difference?"

It's good that tightly wound Risch has learned to relax. And he's right. There's no use in attempting to fix the nation's problems, like his colleagues in Idaho's congressional delegation. Congressman Mike Simpson and Sen. Mike Crapo haven't been able to facilitate a deficit reduction compromise. Congressman Raul Labrador hasn't passed immigration reform. And let's not even get into Simpson's decade-ong battle to protect the Boulder-White Clouds range.

Risch's legislative agenda borders on nonexistent. Even the National Journal, when naming Risch the nation's most conservative senator, made clear it wasn't exactly sure who he was.

Like Otter, Risch is up for re-election next year. Both 70-somethings plan to run again. Both will win. This is Idaho, and Risch and Otter have what matters most: an "R" after their names.

Unlike Otter, however, Risch will spend his time sipping lemonade and playing bridge at the club. Otter can look forward to another four years of sore feet. Unless something really bad happens. At that point, the old Risch will emerge. Back into the fray shall charge Congress, our fearless 535, led by the junior senator from Idaho.

"I can't explain how dysfunctional it is back there," Risch said. "They're really not bad when it comes to a crisis. If there's a war, you know, like the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, these kinds of crises seem to bring people together."

Until that dark day, however, let the good times roll.

Eat your heart out, Butch.

Corey Taule