Militia-Friendly Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage
Wednesday, October 4, 2006
Helen Chenoweth-Hage, 68, the arch-conservative Idaho Republican whose deep suspicion of the government and federal law enforcement carried her to three terms in Congress, died Oct. 2 in a car crash near Tonopah, Nev.
Ms. Chenoweth-Hage, a passenger in a 1999 Ford Expedition driven by her daughter-in-law, was en route to Tonopah about noon Monday and was holding her 5-month-old grandson on her lap. The driver, Yelena Hage, lost control of the vehicle, causing it to roll over, the Nevada Highway Patrol reported. Ms. Chenoweth-Hage, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the vehicle and died at the scene. The baby and his mother were not seriously hurt.
Ms. Chenoweth-Hage, who served from 1995 to 2001 as an unabashed opponent of laws that limited personal freedom, attracted much support from the militia fringe movement that found a home in the interior West during the 1990s.
In turn, she scolded Congress after the Oklahoma City federal building bombing for not trying to understand anti-government activists. She also held hearings on "black helicopters," which militia members believed were filled with United Nations-sponsored storm troopers eager to swoop into the broken-down ranches of the rural West and impose international law. The helicopters were piloted by state wildlife officers patrolling for poachers, National Guardsmen looking for marijuana farms or military aircraft from nearby bases on training missions.
Her extreme positions so alarmed environmentalists and liberals that former Idaho governor Cecil D. Andrus said that if she were to come across a brush fire, her instinct would be to douse it with a pail of gasoline. But her advocacy of issues important to militia supporters didn't seem to bother her more traditionally conservative constituents.
Idaho's wild salmon were not endangered, she said, because she could buy salmon in cans at the grocery store (although what she was buying was farm-raised or Alaskan salmon, which are not endangered). The Internal Revenue Service should be abolished and income taxes replaced with sales taxes, she argued. Yellowstone National Park should be opened to hunters who could kill wolves and elk.
And on a proposal to reintroduce bears in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness: "Introducing grizzlies into Idaho is like pouring a toxic substance into a water supply," she said. "It may only kill one [person] in 10,000 or so, but it is still not a good thing to do."
In the mid-1990s, when three Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service offices in the West were firebombed and federal wildlife managers were threatened with death, she introduced a bill that would have required federal agents to get permission from local sheriffs before they could make an arrest or conduct a search on public land.
Civil rights laws protect everyone except white Anglo-Saxon males, she said in 1994. Idaho, which was 96.3 percent white at the time, had plenty of ethnic diversity, she said, although "the warm-climate community just hasn't found the colder climate that attractive. It's an area of America that has simply never attracted the Afro-American or the Hispanic."
She was born in Topeka, Kan., grew up in Oregon and attended Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash. She managed a medical center in Idaho before her election as executive director of the state Republican Party. She was chief of staff, then campaign manager, for Rep. Steven D. Symms (R-Idaho), before running for Congress.
Ms. Chenoweth-Hage, who insisted on the title "Congressman," believed that most abortions should be illegal and that the government should not pay for abortions for poor women, even in cases of rape or incest. The Scriptures, she asserted, had anointed women as the world's moral guardians.
Days after she ran television ads attacking President Bill Clinton for having an affair with a White House intern, and urging him to resign, she admitted that she had a long-term affair in the 1980s with a married man. The admission didn't hurt her or her family-values platform; she was reelected to her third and final term in 1998.
Her marriage to Nick Chenoweth ended in divorce. Her second husband, Wayne Hage, was a Nevada rancher who was the best-known face of the Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement against what was considered to be excessive federal control over western lands. He died in June.
Survivors, in addition to her grandson, include a son and a daughter from her first marriage.