CARSON CITY, Nev. – Former U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, a Republican who held "endangered salmon bakes" and once accused federal agents of using black helicopter gunships, died Monday in a car crash, her daughter said. She was 68.
Chenoweth-Hage, whose arch-conservative, often libertarian and sometimes extreme views made her popular with militia movements, was the passenger in a one-car crash near Tonopah, Nev., 172 miles northwest of Las Vegas, said her daughter Meg Chenoweth Keenan. No one else was seriously hurt, she said.
The Nevada Highway Patrol said Chenoweth-Hage was pronounced dead at the scene. Though other family members were in the car — including the driver, daughter-in-law Yelena Hage, 24, and Hage's 5-month-old son Bryan.
Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Rocky Gonzalez said Chenoweth-Hage was holding the baby and wasn't wearing a seat belt. Both Chenoweth-Hage and the baby were thrown from the car but the child "miraculously" had only minor injuries, Gonzalez said.
Born in Topeka, Kan., Chenoweth-Hage grew up in Grants Pass, Ore. and attended Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash., before moving to the northern Idaho timber town of Orofino, where she worked at Northside Medical Center.
She ran for Congress in 1994 against Idaho incumbent Democrat Larry LaRocco and gained national attention when she held "endangered salmon bakes," serving canned salmon and ridiculing the listing of Idaho salmon as an endangered species during fundraisers.
An advocate of smaller government and property rights, Chenoweth-Hage won the race and served a self-imposed three-term limit as a U.S. representative.
She was the victim of a "salmon pie" attack while at a field hearing on forest health in Missoula, Mont. in September 2000. She was hit in the head with a "pie" made of rotten canned salmon, forcing the meeting to briefly adjourn while she cleaned salmon flakes from her hair and jacket.
Afterward, the congresswoman joked, "I would like to say that I find it amusing that they used salmon. I guess salmon must not be endangered anymore."
Chenoweth-Hage called for the disarming of federal resource agents in 1995 after claiming that they had landed black helicopters on private land in eastern Idaho to enforce the Endangered Species Act. The claim drew national criticism, and she later conceded she had never personally seen the now-infamous gunships.
Chenoweth married her second husband, Wayne Hage, in 1999. He was a Nevada rancher who came to epitomize Nevada's Sagebrush Rebellion as he battled for decades with the federal government over public lands and private property rights. He died in June at age 69.