Helen Chenoweth-Hage

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Helen Chenoweth-Hage
Helen Chenoweth-Hage.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Idaho's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1995–January 3, 2001
Preceded by Larry LaRocco
Succeeded by C. L. "Butch" Otter
Personal details
Born Helen Margaret Palmer
(1938-01-27)January 27, 1938
Topeka, Kansas
Died October 2, 2006(2006-10-02) (aged 68)
near Tonopah, Nevada
Resting place Pine Creek Ranch
Family Cemetery
Monitor Valley, Nevada
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) E. Wayne Hage
(m. 1999–2006, his death)
Nicholas S. Chenoweth
(m. 1958–1975, divorce)
Children 1 son, 1 daughter
Alma mater Whitworth College (attended)
Profession Consultant

Helen P. Chenoweth-Hage, born Helen Margaret Palmer (January 27, 1938 – October 2, 2006) was a Republican politician from the U.S. state of Idaho, the only Republican woman to ever represent that state in the United States Congress. Since her retirement no woman has been elected to Congress from Idaho.

Early life and career

Born in Kansas, her family moved west to Los Angeles when Helen was a year old, then north to southern Oregon when she was 12, to run a dairy farm near Grants Pass. A musician, horse enthusiast, and athlete, she attended Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington on music scholarship (double bass), where she met Nick Chenoweth while working in a cafeteria; she was a waitress and he was a cook. The two were married in 1958.[1]

They had two children, Michael and Margaret (Meg), both born in Nick's hometown of Orofino, Idaho. The Chenowoths ran a ski shop near the modest Bald Mountain ski area. Later, Helen developed and managed the Northside Medical Clinic, where she initiated a physician recruitment practice for under-served rural communities, while Nick attended the UI law school in Moscow.[1]

The Chenoweths divorced in 1975 and Helen moved to Boise to become executive director of the Idaho Republican Party. Later she went on to serve as then-Congressman Steve Symms' District Director in 1977 through his re-election in 1978,[2] then started her own business, Consulting Associates, and became a noteworthy lobbyist in the Idaho capital city.[1]

Election and Congressional career

In 1994, Chenoweth won the Republican nomination for Idaho's 1st Congressional District over former Lieutenant Governor David H. Leroy and two other challengers.[3] She pledged to serve no more than three terms in the U.S. House if elected. She defeated two-term Democratic incumbent Larry LaRocco by almost 11 points in the Republican wave that saw that party take control of the House for the first time in 40 years. During the campaign, Chenoweth attacked LaRocco for supporting the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993; he was the only Idahoan in either chamber to back the bill. While Chenoweth's victory was one of many instances of historically Republican districts reverting to form after being held by Democrats, it was still surprising considering that LaRocco had won re-election in 1992 by almost 21 points.

With her victory in 1994, Chenoweth became the second woman (after Gracie Pfost) to represent Idaho in Congress and one of few members to be elected by her peers to a committee chair (House Subcommittee on Forest and Forest Health) after only one term.

As one of the "true believers" in the Republican freshman class of 1995, Chenoweth was considered one of the most conservative members of the House, staunchly opposing regulation, and supporting school prayer. One measure placed her as the most conservative woman to serve in Congress between 1937 and 2004.[4] Much was made of her "insistence" on the title "Congressman Chenoweth," (as opposed to the more common "Congresswoman").[5] In fact she simply found the term "Congresswoman" unwieldy herself but was reported not to have objected when others used it in reference to her.

During her tenure, she was referred to by her most outspoken critics as a "poster-child for the militias," and in February 1995 she voiced the suspicion that armed federal agents were landing black helicopters on Idaho ranchers' property to enforce the Endangered Species Act, in line with a longstanding conspiracy theory. "I have never seen them," Chenoweth said in an interview in The New York Times. "But enough people in my district have become concerned that I can't just ignore it. We do have some proof."[6] The Los Angeles Times editorialized that during the campaign she gained national attention by "holding 'endangered salmon bakes' during fundraisers, serving canned salmon to ridicule the listing of Idaho salmon as an endangered species." She was quoted as saying in response, "It's the white, Anglo-Saxon male that's endangered today."[7]

Chenoweth remained a controversial and polarizing figure in Idaho politics throughout her career. While in Congress she articulated and defended a "freedom" philosophy that was simultaneously cherished and derided by supporters and opponents.

Criticism of President Clinton

She was a critic of President Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal and was one of the first to call for his resignation over the affair, although she admitted that she had carried on a six-year illicit romance with married rancher Vernon Ravenscroft,[8] when she worked for his natural-resources consulting firm during the 1980s. Chenoweth claimed that her case was different from the Clinton/Lewinsky case since she was a private citizen at the time, and claimed her case was different because "I've asked for God's forgiveness, and I've received it." [9][10]

Chenoweth faced a challenge in 1996 from Democratic activist Dan Williams, but was reelected in a close contest. Chenoweth defeated Williams again in 1998 by a wider margin. She later said that she regretted limiting herself to three terms[11] and called the whole concept of term limits bad policy. She nonetheless honored her pledge and did not run for reelection to a fourth term in 2000. She was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Butch Otter, a fellow Republican. Since her retirement, no women have represented Idaho in either house of Congress.

Later life

During her final term, Chenoweth married rancher and author Wayne Hage in Boise in 1999[12] and changed her name to Helen Chenoweth-Hage. After leaving Congress, she moved to Hage's Nevada ranch, where the two continued to write and speak on private property rights issues. Wayne Hage died after a battle with cancer at age 68 on June 5, 2006.[13][14]

After leaving Congress, Chenoweth-Hage continued to make headlines. In 2003 at the Boise Airport she was selected by the Transportation Security Administration for a hand search before they would permit her to board a plane for her Nevada home. Chenoweth-Hage requested to see a copy of the regulation granting United States Department of Homeland Security the authority to search her without cause. When the request was denied, she refused to submit to the search and elected to make the 300-mile (480 km) trip by rental car. "Our borders are wide open and yet they're shaking down a 66-year-old white grandmother they greeted by name," she said of the incident. "It's time the American people say no to this kind of invasion. It's a question of personal privacy. There shouldn't be that kind of search without reasonable cause."[15]


On October 2, 2006, Chenoweth-Hage was killed after being thrown from the passenger seat of a sport utility vehicle that overturned on an isolated highway in central Nevada, near Tonopah. She was not wearing a seatbelt. Her (step) daughter-in-law and grandson, who were also in the vehicle, suffered only minor injuries.[16]

Chenoweth-Hage was memorialized at a service held in Meridian, Idaho, on October 9, 2006. She is buried alongside husband Wayne Hage at the Pine Creek Ranch Family Cemetery in Monitor Valley, Nevada. Her first husband, Nick Chenoweth, died in 2002 at age 66.[17]

Electoral history

  • 1998 Race for U.S. House of Representatives – 1st District
    • Helen Chenoweth (R) (inc.), 55%
    • Dan Williams (D), 45%
  • 1996 Race for U.S. House of Representatives – 1st District
    • Helen Chenoweth (R) (inc.), 49%
    • Dan Williams (D), 48%
  • 1994 Race for U.S. House of Representatives – 1st District


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Welch, Craig (October 20, 1996). "Chenoweth unwavering in her views despite financing scandals, national ridicule, she won't swerve from her conservative course". Spokemsan-Review.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Helen Chenoweth dropped from Symms' staff". Lewiston Morning Tribune. November 12, 1978. p. 16A.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "GOP foes at Leroy's heels in congressional primary". Spokesman-Review. May 15, 1994. p. A1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Poole, Keith T. (2004-10-13). "Is John Kerry a Liberal?". Retrieved 2009-11-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Egan, Timothy (January 15, 1996). "A New Populist; Idaho Freshman Embodies G.O.P.'s Hope and Fear in '96". New York Times. Retrieved March 4, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Priorities – May/June 1996 – Sierra Magazine – Sierra Club
  7. THE 1994 CAMPAIGN: WESTERN STATES; Campaigns Focus on 2 Views of West Accessed 30 January 2008
  8. "Vern Ravenscroft, 84, Tuttle resident". Moscow-Pullman Daily News. November 3, 2004. p. 3A.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. http://www1.salon.com/news/1998/09/16news.html
  10. Lives of the Republicans, Part Two Accessed 30 January 2008
  11. Our View: Helen Chenoweth-Hage was a rare politician Accessed 30 January 2008
  12. "Chenoweth and fiance ponder date of nuptials". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. June 30, 1999. p. 9A.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Wayne Hage, 69; battled government on land rights". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. June 9, 2006. Retrieved March 4, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "2006 articles: Wayne Hage". Property Rights Research.org. 2006. Retrieved March 4, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Congressman says pat-downs are getting heavy-handed Accessed 30 January 2008
  16. Archibold, Randal C. (October 4, 2006). "Helen Chenoweth-Hage, 68, Former Representative, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved March 4, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Lewiston Morning Tribune (April 25, 2002). "Nicholas Chenoweth". p. 7A.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Larry LaRocco (D)
United States House of Representatives, Idaho First Congressional District

Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R)
January 4, 1995–January 3, 2001

Succeeded by
C. L. "Butch" Otter (R)