WASHINGTON — Nicole LeFavour knows too well what it's like to fight battles against incredible odds. LeFavour, Idaho's only openly gay legislator, gave copies of the movie "Brokeback Mountain" for Christmas to 60 fellow members of one of the most conservative legislatures in the nation and pushed in vain a bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Now, LeFavour is leaving the state Senate in frustration. She's taken on another challenge — beating Idaho Republican Congressman Mike Simpson, a well-funded incumbent in office for 14 years who has never had even a close race for re-election.
No Democrat has held the congressional seat since Richard Stallings, who was conservative, left office in 1993. The 2nd Congressional District covers half the state, running from Boise out to the borders of Utah and Wyoming, including Twin Falls, Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Ketchum and Burley.
Boise State University Political Science Professor John Freemuth said it's a district where Simpson likely would be more worried about a challenge from the right wing than from a Democrat.
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"Some of the political science research shows that most people who run a race think they have a chance to win. Something like this just strikes me as awfully improbable," Freemuth said.
But LeFavour said the Idaho Democrats have never before put up a strong challenger against Simpson. "We've never had a candidate who had some pretty substantial fundraising capacity and the potential for pretty broad support," LeFavour said in an interview. "It's time to give that a try."
LeFavour, who is a teacher for at-risk youth, spent eight years in the Idaho Legislature representing the relatively liberal enclave of Boise's north and east ends. But she is quick to note that she grew up rural, in a ranch in Custer County in the middle of the state.
"I've spent all my life in some of the most conservative parts of the state and I think I understand very deeply some of the fierce love of privacy, self sufficiency. And I respect that," said LeFavour, 48.
LeFavour said she decided to leave at the end of the legislative term this year after funding cuts to schools, mental health services, substance abuse treatment and disability services. She said the congressional race will be hard, but not as "soul wrenching" as that.
"Watching good people get hurt is something you can only be a part of for so long," she said.
She's also struggled with the Idaho Legislature's unwillingness to consider a bill to outlaw discrimination against gay people in areas such as housing, jobs and education. LeFavour could not even get the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee to agree to print her anti-discrimination bill, at the same time that the neighboring state of Washington was passing a law allowing for same sex marriages.
LeFavour said she was trying to reach out to her colleagues at Christmas when she gave 60 of them copies of the movie "Brokeback Mountain," an Oscar-winning story of two cowboys who were forced to hide their relationship, and the impact the secrecy had on their lives. She said she included a note and told her colleagues where they could fast-forward over the few semi-explicit scenes.
"I think the note was the important part. I said in it that we all know young people that we hope won't know this much sorrow, older people we hope don't die like this alone," she said.
LeFavour said her goal was to get her fellow members of the Legislature to talk to one another.
"There are so many people in here who have gay family members, just like the rest of Idaho does," she said. "And they just don't know that abut each other and I think they need to."
She said only one lawmaker reacted negatively. But it was a bold move in a Legislature with members such as Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill of Rexburg, Idaho, who will not even watch a movie if it is rated R.
"Personally I wasn't offended. I didn't view it, but I just saw her as promoting a cause she knew was going to be coming up in the legislative session and she wanted to gain more understanding about it," Hill said in an interview.
He described LeFavour as a legislator who "does her homework, is intelligent and is very passionate about the issues important to her."
LeFavour breaks with many Democrats in opposing the requirement in the federal health care law that people must purchase health insurance. But she said federal budget cuts have been short-sighted, hurting people in Idaho and the economy at a time when federal jobs are needed for recovery.
LeFavour said she feels optimistic about her chances in the congressional race, pointing to the recent redrawing of the district lines that put some new Boise neighborhoods in the district
John Foster, a former Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director who went to work defending Republican Gov. Butch Otter's education laws, said he likes LeFavour but is supporting Simpson, who has risen to chair of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. Simpson is influential in Congress and popular in Idaho, he said.
"Objectively, her path to victory is very, very, very difficult," Foster said.
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