Election Central

Nels Mitchell vows to beat ‘career politician’ Idaho Sen. Risch

Democrat Nels Mitchell blamed Republican Sen. Jim Risch for Idaho’s low-wage economy and said that after 37 years in elected office he puts perks ahead of the interests of Idaho.

“I run to replace a career politician with a citizen legislator,”  said Mitchell, a first-time candidate who announced his campaign at the Boise Depot Tuesday. “I run to help restore the vision of our founding fathers. Jim Risch has lost touch with the concept of public service, and, more importantly, with the people of Idaho. It is time for him to retire.”

Mitchell, 60, said he would serve a single six-year term if elected. “I will be beholden to no one but the people of Idaho,” he said.

Mitchell faulted Risch for Idaho’s ranking highest in the country for the proportion of minimum-wage workers and ranking 50th in income. “Someone has not been minding the store and that someone is Jim Risch,” he said.

A lawyer, Mitchell was raised in Boise, graduated from the University of Idaho Law School and spent two years as a law clerk for Idaho-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge J. Blaine Anderson. He then left the state, spending 27 years working in California and New York.

In 2008, Mitchell returned to Boise to practice law with Idaho House Assistant Minority Leader Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and Bill Mauk, a former Democratic Party chairman who ran for the U.S. Senate in 1998. Mitchell said he is closing down his law practice and will campaign full time.

Risch, a Republican, is one of Idaho’s most successful politicians ever. Since being elected Ada County Prosecutor in 1970, he has held elected office for all but eight years. He spent 22 years in the Idaho Senate, including 12 years as Senate majority leader and six years as president pro tem. He was lieutenant governor for 5 years and five months and succeeded to the governorship in 2006, serving seven months. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008.

Risch, 70, announced in April that he’s seeking a second term.

Mitchell was introduced by former Democratic state Sen. Mike Burkett, one of just two candidates to ever defeat Risch. Burkett unseated then Senate President Pro Tem Risch in 1988 in the most expensive race in the history of the Legislature.

“Jim Risch has come down with a bad case of Potomac fever,” Burkett said Tuesday, saying the senator is “addicted to power,” and has forgotten “about the people back home.”

Former Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus, who battled with Risch at the Statehouse, complemented Mitchell after his announcement speech.

“That’s a winning campaign,” Andrus said. “Don’t back up. Go right after him.”

From 1980 to 2007, Mitchell practiced law in California and New York, including three years at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Los Angeles, where he was associate regional director and regional trial counsel in the nine-state Pacific region.

According to a campaign biography, Mitchell skied for Boise High and “still loves to hunt, fish and ski” and “is a westerner through and through.”

In Risch’s first Senate race in 2008, he defeated former 1st District Congressman Larry LaRocco in a five-way contest, with 60 percent of the vote to LaRocco’s 34 percent.

For more on the Mitchell announcement, check the print and online editions of Wednesday’s Idaho Statesman.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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