Dan Rudolph straddles borders as much as he straddles the aisles of the Idaho Legislature. Representing Idaho's 6th legislative district—perhaps the most moderate of the Gem State's political divides—Rudolph is accountable to constituents in blue-collar Nez Perce County and rural Lewis County.
"Their priorities are radically different," said Rudolph. "In Idaho politics, the paradigm is urban vs. rural. My district is exactly that."
Rudolph is no stranger to entering territory where others fear to tread.
"When I first met the girl who would become my wife, I was the captain of the Lewiston High football team and she was a cheerleader for Clarkston [Wash.] High," said Rudolph, glancing across the table at Rosanna, his wife of nearly 40 years.
Rudolph's life has taken many unexpected turns, including the fact that his first dream of becoming a doctor was waylaid when, just out of college, his younger sister needed a kidney transplant. Medical bills stacked up and Rudolph needed to take a job at his father-in-law's Lewiston car dealership. Rudolph built up the business, ultimately taking over the dealership, but was hit with another unexpected turn of events when, in 2009, General Motors declared bankruptcy, shuttering the dealership. Rudolph returned to his initial love for science and began teaching lab classes at Lewis-Clark State College while pursuing a master's degree at the University of Idaho. Now, Rudolph teaches a full load of anatomy and physiology courses at LCSC and Walla Walla Community College in Washington state. Never one to sit still, Rudolph, a Democrat, mounted an unlikely and successful 2014 challenge, unseating Republican Rep. Thyra Stevenson.
Was there an event that led you to the decision to put your name on a ballot?
A group of people I admired asked me to.
You defeated an incumbent.
I was cocky enough to think I could beat her.
That race was just about as close as it gets.
I won by 25 votes.
Some of the most successful legislators in the history of your district have been known to be political moderates.
Including former Sen. Joe Stegner, former Rep. Frank Bruneel, both Republicans. I live in one of the most moderate districts in Idaho. I'm certainly a moderate Democrat.
Which leads us to how you chose to mount a campaign in your district.
Don't get "too Boise." Let me tell you what I mean by that. We were taking photos for a campaign ad. In one, my wife and I were in our casual clothes, leaning against our pickup truck in front of Lake Winchester. We had thousands of likes on our Facebook page. In another, there was me in a suit on the steps of the Idaho Capitol. Quite simply, it's not reflective of my community. It was more reflective of the government in Boise.
You serve on the House Transportation Committee and I'm guessing there is no bigger divide between rural and urban Idaho than the transportation debate.
In Boise, you care about congestion and public transportation. They're non sequiturs in rural Idaho, where we care about getting our product to market or getting our kids to school.
The transportation bill that passed through the 2015 Legislature was nowhere near what Idaho needs to maintain its roads.
It's my belief that, yes, we should build on what we started in 2015, but it's my brain that tells me it won't happen. It's an election year and nearly two dozen legislators have taken an oath that they would never, ever raise taxes for anything.
Speaking of transportation, the drive from Lewiston to Boise this time of year is a bit treacherous. How often do you go home?
Every other weekend. But we have to buy airplane tickets months and months in advance. I get to Lewiston every other week.
Are your constituents tuned in to what's happening at the Statehouse during the session?
Not as much as you might think. When the Legislature is in session, it's a big deal here in the Treasure Valley. I promise you, in Nez Perce and Lewis counties? Not so much.