Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher can do a lot of things in his official capacity – including casting votes and helping his First District constituents navigate the federal government’s maze. But he might not be much assistance when it comes to career counseling.
“Yeah, I’m a real genius,” he said, chuckling. “I left a commercial real estate brokerage business at the peak of the market in Idaho to get my head kicked in.”
And all that for a job in which the pay is comparatively low, the hours are horrible and the travel is brutal. But after almost one year in Congress, Fulcher says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s an honor to serve the people of Idaho,” he says. And even with all the hoopla surrounding the impeachment of President Trump, which Fulcher opposed along with his House Republican colleagues.
A year ago, Fulcher – as with other freshmen – went to Washington with an open mind and a sense of optimism. He wasn’t especially pleased about Democrats being in the majority, but it didn’t douse his enthusiasm. Along the way, he met some freshman Democrats who had similar thoughts about breaking the partisan gridlock and moving in a new direction.
Fulcher spent his early days getting to know his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and even had a pleasant chat with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It was all good … until impeachment started taking center stage. Then, partisanship hit a fever pitch. Some of the issues that motivated Fulcher to run in the first place, such as health care and the national debt, went by the wayside. There was no refuge in the committee rooms.
“When you walk into a room that is already politically charged, the first thing you have to do is diffuse people. It’s diffuse first, then we can talk. That kind of thing keeps you awake at night,” Fulcher says.
On one committee bill on a Colorado wilderness legislation, Fulcher offered an amendment that included a plan to combat wildfires. His amendment was voted down, but not necessarily on its merits.
“I was told that if it was any good, it should have had Democratic sponsorship,” he said.
It was quite a culture shock for Fulcher, who spent a decade as a state senator. There were some partisan differences during his time in the Idaho statehouse, but nothing like what he has seen during the past year. “The Idaho Legislature is a fine-tuned machine compared to this,” Fulcher says.
But the experience has not been all negative. For one, he has built a solid working relationship with Second District Congressman Mike Simpson – something that hasn’t been in place since Butch Otter held the First District seat in 2006. Fulcher also works closely with Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch.
“There’s Jim, Mike and Mike – and we talk all the time,” Fulcher says. “The metric here is, there are four of us here to do what’s best for the state. We don’t always agree on everything, but I’d say that we’re on the same page about 95 percent of the time.”
Although the legislative process can be frustrating, it is not so much in the area of constituent services – which is a more unsung part of a congressman’s job. Fulcher perks up when talking about the overall accomplishments from his offices in Coeur d’Alene, Lewiston and Meridian.
“There are 170 active cases, but that doesn’t include the many thousands that have been closed – regarding matters such as veteran-related pay and benefits earned, but not remitted. When it’s necessary, I’ll make the calls myself,” Fulcher says.
On balance, Fulcher says, his first year in Congress has been an interesting ride. He has no regrets about his career choice, and doesn’t plan to leave this job anytime soon. His congressional seat appears to be safe, given the conservative nature of the First District.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at email@example.com.