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October 9, 2006, Seattlepi.com

Hundreds in Idaho mourn former Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage


MERIDIAN, Idaho -- A roster of Idaho's top politicians joined ranchers in blue jeans and bolo ties and mourners in black suits to remember steely former Republican U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage at a memorial service Monday.

"I say now to the almighty God - and I'm not quite sure why you called her - but she's there now: stand back and give her rein," U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said in an eulogy before hundreds gathered in a suburban Boise chapel.

Chenoweth-Hage died Oct. 2 after a car driven by her daughter-in-law flipped on a rural road near Tonopah, Nev. She was 68.

She represented Idaho's 1st Congressional District for three terms - from 1994 to 2000. On the national stage she often stood out, roiling opponents with her disdain for "big government," while gaining a homegrown reputation as a Western rights crusader.

As a congresswoman, she famously held "endangered salmon bakes," serving canned salmon to protest the fish's endangered species status. She once accused federal agents of using black helicopter gunships to harass ranchers, but later backed off the claim.

U.S. Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, R-Idaho, who succeeded Chenoweth-Hage, said she built a Republican dynasty in Idaho, starting with her speeches in small homes and grange halls as the state GOP's executive director in the 1970s and ending with her speeches as a congresswoman in the 1990s.

Otter said that during votes where he refused to budge from unpopular conservative positions, House members would say "Helen would be proud."

"It wasn't quite meant as a compliment," Otter said in a tearful speech. "It was meant to say, 'you'll never be as conservative as Helen, so quit trying.' Well, I didn't quit trying and I'll never quit trying."

Craig said Chenoweth-Hage's unwavering stances, particularly on the management of the nation's 193 million aces of national forests, continue to influence policy makers six years after she left Washington, D.C.

He said her push to allow more logging near towns like Orofino - where she started a rural health clinic - is reflected in the so-called Healthy Forest Initiative, signed by President Bush in 2003.

"The Healthy Forest Initiative today, the first major piece of forest legislation passed in two decades, was in part the result of a conspiracy between Helen Chenoweth and Larry Craig about how we get communities like Orofino back on their feet and working again," Craig said.

Dozens of current and former Idaho politicians, including Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Gov. Jim Risch, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, attended the service.

Chenoweth-Hage was also remembered by her two children and her large extended family from a second marriage to Nevada rancher Wayne Hage.

Hage, who wrangled with the federal government for decades over private property rights and came to be the public face of the Sagebrush Rebellion, died of cancer in June.

Family members remembered Chenoweth-Hage for the bountiful meals she cooked for ranch hands in Nevada, her little-known talent as a classical bass violinist and her enthusiasm for "The Law," by 19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat, a linchpin of libertarian literature.

"She treated the dusty cowboy sitting at her dining room table, and probably getting dirt all over the floor with his dirty boots, with the same respect she had for a colleague in Congress," said grandson Dominick Keenan. "There was no front. Only Helen."

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