Practically everything is "OK" with seven-term Idaho State Rep. Darrell Bolz. He has a habit of punctuating his sentences with an "OK?" to make certain listeners get his drift:
"Friday, March 21 is still our target date to wrap things up here, OK? But honestly, I don't know how good we are at hitting targets, OK?"
Whether it's March 21 or some day soon after, it will be more than sine die; it will be auld lang syne for the Caldwell Republican, who will step away from the Idaho Capitol. In these final days of his Statehouse tenure, Boise Weekly sat down with Bolz to talk about his agricultural roots, his remarkable run of political success and how the Republican Party has shifted while he stayed grounded to his conservative roots.
In between your studies at the University of Idaho, you served in the U.S. Navy. Having grown up in landlocked Idaho, were you anxious to see the open sea?
Absolutely, but I was the only line officer at a Naval Air Atation in Alameda, Calif. I kept calling my duty officer for a transfer, saying I needed to get out to sea. They eventually sent me to a tin can of a boat in dry-dock in Long Beach, Calif. We finally did make one cruise to Vietnam in 1967.
But tensions were dialing up pretty quickly in Vietnam right about then.
That ship was the USS Maddox. It was one of the first U.S. ships to be fired upon, setting off the whole Vietnam conflict.
Tell me about the turning point that led to your decision to enter politics.
If you had asked me in the 1990s if I would ever go into politics, I would have laughed at you, OK? In my years serving as an agricultural agent for the Cooperative Extension Service, I worked with a number of commodity organizations. And we would go back to Washington, D.C., to talk with the USDA, the EPA and our congressional delegations. One year, there were about 40-45 EPA people in the room and they were making decisions on what growers could or could not do. Yet, only two of them had ever seen alfalfa grow. That really hit me, OK?
Did that event inspire you to run for state office?
To be honest, there were a number of people who asked, "What do you want do that for? You have a good name. Why do you want to ruin your reputation" But over the years, I feel pretty good about what I've done.
All these years later, you're now considered a moderate here at the Legislature.
House Speaker [Scott] Bedke came to the Legislature about the same time--me in 2001 and him in 2002. He said, "You know, Darrell, when you and I came here, we were the most conservative class that ever came to this Legislature. And now, we're considered moderates."
Do you find truth in that?
I do. You take a look at the politics today and the Republican Party has swung to the right. I still consider myself a conservative in a lot of respects but not as far to the right as some people are, OK?
But where do you think most Idahoans are on the political spectrum?
They're fairly conservative, but I sense that they're not as far to the right as some people would like to think they are.
Have you talked to anyone who wants your seat in the House?
A few people over the years have told me that they wouldn't run against me but if I ever got out, they said they would consider it. When I first ran for this office, honestly, I thought only three or four terms in the House would be it.
And you kept running.
When the fourth term ended, I talked with my wife and we decided to keep going. Then the fifth, sixth and seventh terms came up, and my wife told me she had some concerns regarding some of the people on the far right, so we thought I should run again. This time, my wife said it was my decision and I've decided to leave, OK?
Through all of your races, you ran with very small campaign war chests.
The first time I thought, "If I win, fine. If I don't, that's OK, too." Through 14 campaigns and seven general elections, I've only had a total of four opponents.
What is your biggest concern during the current legislative session?
I'm concerned about our state's revenues for the coming year in terms of the drought.
Is it fair to say that most Idahoans aren't connecting our water shortage to just how fragile our economy may be?
It's significant. We're within a week or two of our farmers having to decide what they're going to plant this year. Some of the rain we've seen lately is nice, but is it enough to change those farmers' plans? Will they grow higher-value crops of onions, potatoes and sugar beets that require more water? Or will they end up growing grains or beans that use a lot less water? That will make a tremendous difference to our state's economy.
How worried are you?
I'm pretty concerned. Agriculture has driven this state's economy, particularly in the last two or three years at the height of the recession.
What are you going to miss the most about the Legislature?
The people you meet and the things you learn. But I've always been one to get involved, OK? I'm not going to fall off the edge of the table, OK?