Shortly after Richard Stallings launched his campaign to unseat eight-term U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, Stallings was driving on Interstate-84, somewhere between Boise and Twin Falls.
"I was late," Stallings recalled. "And I was doing 85 mph on the interstate."
An Idaho State Police trooper pulled over the speeding vehicle, but Stallings insisted that the officer was "very nice" while encouraging the former congressman--he lost his seat to Simpson in 1998.
"We appreciate your service," said the trooper, "but we don't want to clean you up off the highway."
Stallings will be seeing plenty of that highway in the coming months, as he reintroduces himself to Idaho's 2nd Congressional District--the 14th time he has run for one public office or another, usually with great success.
"But this is a massive district and sometimes you have to drive like mad," he said with a laugh, quickly adding that he wouldn't being pushing his luck with ISP.
Boise Weekly got the 73-year-old Stallings to sit down long enough to talk about his renewed political engagement (he served in the U.S. House from 1985-1993), his strategy to court new voters to win back his old seat, and why he thinks the recent GOP primary did irreparable damage to his November opponent.
I would be remiss if I didn't take note of your U.S. House of Representatives lapel pin.
That probably cost me about $500,000.
Which leads me to ask what it will cost you to run a U.S. House campaign in 2014.
They're saying $1 million. Simpson is sitting on at least that amount ... maybe $2 million. I won't get anywhere near that. If I can get $300,000, I think I can run a pretty effective campaign. But when I go into some rural counties, I hear people say they just hate Congress, yet they'll still vote for Simpson. So, I have to go where the potential new voters are: Boise, Pocatello and Idaho Falls.
But the key is to get those folks registered.
That's not tough for some, but for some minorities or single moms, that's tougher.
What did you learn about Mike Simpson from this latest GOP primary?
He's a coward. Even his supporters say he's a better legislator than what his voting record reflects. He's just afraid. He was terrified of [Bryan] Smith and, as a result, he was forced into some very bad decisions.
His refusal to deal with the minimum wage. That refusal keeps 100,000 Idahoans living in poverty. And it's costing the government more money because we end up providing more food stamps. It's an outrageous indignity, for no other reason than some political nastiness. It's the most inhumane thing I've ever seen done to the most vulnerable people in our society. Even Mitt Romney calls for an increase.
Do you sense that Simpson has painted himself into a far-right corner?
By not standing up to the Tea Party wing of his own party, he's become a lousy, lousy legislator. Another of his vulnerabilities is a lack of immigration reform. About 13 percent of Idaho's population is Hispanic, most of them documented. But they have undocumented friends and family that are hiding in the shadows, yet they're exploited by employers. I agree with Jeb Bush when he said many people had come to the United States illegally as an act of love. But his own party beat the tar out of him.
Is it your sense that Republicans would have a shot at the White House with Jeb Bush?
He would never survive the GOP primaries. I believe they're headed over a cliff by antagonizing the fast-growing part of our population.
Do you believe that you're starting from scratch in your campaign?
I don't. I've got a pretty good name. When I left Congress I had a pretty good reputation, and it will help me tremendously but I'm certain that the Republicans hurt themselves pretty seriously in the primary. The race between Simpson and Smith was just awful. I haven't heard anyone say they think better of Simpson now. I had a teacher ask me, "How do I explain that race to my students?" I said to tell them it was one of the dark moments ... the Darth Vader of politics.
Both you and Simpson are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. How much does any of that play into your contest?
LDS church leadership says it doesn't endorse, but state presidents, bishops and church leaders are often Republican.
But you're not saying that Mike Simpson is the ideal Mormon candidate, are you?
He'll have his glass of scotch and a cigarette. A lot of the community knows that.
So I have to ask: Would I ever see you with a glass of scotch or cigarette?
Oh my, no. But that can also work against you. I've been to places in my district where people say, "We don't trust anyone who doesn't drink." I've been known to have a designated drinker, with two glasses in his hands.
I'm presuming that you would love to debate Mike Simpson as often as possible.
Absolutely. I would love to watch him try to defend Congress.