The U.S. House of Representatives isn’t the same workplace for a Republican Congressman that it was four months ago.

Just ask freshman Rep. Russ Fulcher. Elected to Congress in November, he took office on a day that saw the House flip to Democratic control under Rep. Nancy Pelosi. While visiting Sandpoint last week, Fulcher sat down with the to share his experiences in D.C. since taking office 

“(I came) to the realization that a significant number of members and, more surprisingly, agency heads … spend all their time and energy trying to get rid of the president,” he said of his early days in Congress.

That makes it difficult for Fulcher’s own proposals to get off the ground, including a single-subject bill that would limit legislation to one issue at a time as opposed to condescend funding packages.

Beyond the difference in partisan priorities, it can also be a challenge to bridge the cultural and governmental differences between states, Fulcher said. For instance, he’s found most eastern representatives aren’t aware that the majority of Idaho land is federally owned, which creates funding challenges for state projects.

A third challenge is, in Fulcher’s words, “learning things you’d really prefer not to know.”

“We really do have security threats,” he said. “We really do have bad people who are intent on taking us down.”

Fulcher visited North Idaho in part to meet with regional officials, and he came with some good news: U.S. department heads are increasingly willing to work with states on their issues. 

Even so, local concerns remain. The Federal Emergency Management Agency topped the list of Bonner County officials’ issues, specifically the imposition of flood zone classifications in areas that “may or may not be suitable.” According to Fulcher, that diminishes county authority and put requirements like flood insurance on residents. Another issue is prescribed burns by the U.S. Forest Service, which Fulcher said have occurred without any input from local stakeholders.

When it comes to fighting the danger of wildfires, Fulcher sees encouraging signs in Idaho’s Good Neighbor Authority program, which was recently expanded to include counties. That means that counties can now apply to help the U.S. Forest Service manage woodlands that officials see as vulnerable to wildfire.

“A county can now apply and go through that authorization process without going through the Department of Lands,” Fulcher said.

“I think that’s a good thing, because they can more accurately identify areas that have the excess fuel load and need to be thinned in order to hopefully prevent those fires in the first place,” he added. “So that’s, again, good news.”

For all the challenges in Congress, Fulcher said there is dialogue happening between the parties behind the scenes. At the moment, however, the politics are dominated by two “ultra-strong personalities” in President Donald Trump and House Speaker Pelosi. Nevertheless, he believes the groundwork is there for productive, bipartisan work when the opportunity strikes.

“I don’t want to paint a really bad picture … because there’s a lot of good things, too,” he said. “It just doesn’t catch the attention of the media as much. But I’m encouraged, generally.” 

Author: Cameron Rasmusson

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