“I’ve wept about this,” Popkey says. “I haven’t cried this week. But in the couple of days before the decision, yeah I lost it a time or two.”
Popkey shocked many in Idaho when he resigned from a job he’d held for three decades to lead Labrador’s communications team. Instead of covering politicians, Popkey now works for one.
“It was the right moment,” he says. “I’m 55 and I’ve been thinking about a second act. The Congressman came to me. It was not an easy decision. I loved what I did at the Statesman and I had a relationship with readers that I’m missing.”
Popkey began working in Labrador’s Meridian office Monday. He says money was not a factor in his decision to leave the reporting business. He calls any difference in pay between the Statesman and his new congressional office “a wash.”
Popkey acknowledges there is a level of risk involved with joining the staff of a congressman who is up for reelection every two years. "And this is guy who takes chances." he says. "I think he (Labrador) has great promise, but I think my job security was better had I stayed where I was."
Popkey says it's unclear what Labrador will do in the future; whether it's run for governor, the U.S. Senate or a higher office. "I think I'm reading him correctly, he does not know what he's going to do," Popkey adds. "To suggest that working for Raul Labrador is an assurance of long term professional success, I think he's a little too unpredictable for that."
Popkey first covered the Eagle, Idaho Republican when Labrador was elected to the state Legislature in 2006. Popkey says he was impressed with Labrador’s guts, character and curiosity. "I always thought he had a gift," says Popkey.
He wrote a long profile of Labrador when he launched a long-shot Congressional bid in 2010. More recently, the reporter met Labrador’s family before making his decision.
“I think I know him better than people might think,” Popkey says. “And it gave me comfort that it would be a good match. People think I’m a left-winger and think that he’s a Tea Party guy. And we’re both far more complex than that.”
Popkey says he was hesitant to do interviews about his career change, but added that he spoke with Boise State Public Radio at the insistence of the Congressman and staffer Doug Taylor.
As for the personal anxiety he’s felt lately, Popkey expects it to continue. He says his dominant emotion since leaving the paper has been grief.
“And I hear that takes a long time sometimes to get through.”
Find Scott Graf on Twitter @ScottGrafRadio
Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio