Being Mr Pro-Life 

Senate candidate talks spiritual quest, natural berries and fetus shots

Like any farmer worth his salt, Pro-Life keeps a shotgun and a box of shells by his front door. But this Idaho Christian soldier/organic strawberry farmer shoots blanks.

"I'm pro-gun," he says, as he fumbles with a shellcracker—a shotgun shell that makes a big bang to scare off the birds. Idaho Department of Fish and Game hands them out to farmers.

Pro-Life, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat soon to be vacated by Sen. Larry Craig, is consistent to a point in his consideration of life. He is a vegetarian. He calls the U.S. occupation of Iraq an unjust war and equates it to murder—as in murdering unborn children. He's not keen on birth control, and has 15 children to show for it.

"We try not to kill too many bugs," he said, only a touch of irony in his voice. "We kill a few but we do it organically."

And on the topic of personal safety: "I wouldn't shoot someone for stealing, only if he was going to kill me."

But he's not so pro-life when it comes to capital punishment, which he supports particularly for treason and for offenders who request it. "I think it has to always be an option," he said.

Still, Pro-Life is his name, which he legally changed in 2006. It's technically a surname and appears on his Idaho driver's license with a comma and a blank after it. On Web forms, he goes by Mr (without a period) Pro-Life, but only because they won't allow him to move to the next screen without entering something. The Social Security Administration needed a few days to figure out his new Social Security card, but now sends its government checks to "Pro-Life," so he can buy his powdered carob and hemp protein and thrift store shirts.

In November, Pro-Life qua Pro-Life will appear on the ballot again (he ran for governor in 2006 with a different version of the name), but a hastily passed state law will require a parenthetical reference to his, er, Christian name, Marvin, which some neighbors still call him.

Pro-Life was born Marvin Richardson on a cattle ranch near Rawlings, Wyo. He went to high school in Laramie, Wyo., and then his family moved to Greeley, Colo., where they made a lot of money in the slot machine, vending machine and jukebox business.

His father's business choices, preying on addictive behavior, turned off young Richardson, and cemented his move to the Mormon Church. He converted at 17, eventually bringing his father and other family members into the church. He completed a mission in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona and went to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, to study political science and English, and eventually accounting.

Richardson's dissatisfaction with Mormonism had already begun, but he would not leave the church until the mid-1990s. He looked down on his fellow basketball players for eating steak and potatoes four hours before a game, citing a Mormon scripture about only eating meat in times of famine or cold or winter.

Pro-Life is obviously obsessed with abortion issues, but his exploration of the sentient began at an early age.

"I was a vegetarian before the life issue ever really came on the scene," he said.

He eventually came to believe that Mormons were too lenient on abortion, among the key reasons he has disavowed that faith.

While at BYU, Richardson married his first wife, a marriage that ended badly seven children later.

"She had a psychiatrist who said because I didn't trust the water system, the school system, the government, I was paranoid," he said. "I had a psychiatrist who said her psychiatrist was stupid."

By the mid-1980s, Richardson had married again. He farmed for a while in Colorado, but when his father's sixth wife kicked them off the family farm, he took his wife, Kirsten Faith Richardson, and five of their kids to Mexico for two years. They lived in Playas de Rosarito and Richardson crossed the border to sell irrigation equipment in Southern California, "like a wetback," he said.

Pro-Life says now that he preferred to live cheaply in Mexico rather than to accept government handouts for his family.

The couple lived in Elko, Nev., for about a decade, during which time they had a few more kids, left the Mormon Church, and struck out on their own religious path, increasingly tied to anti-abortion activism.

The journey landed them on a sheltered bench in the foothills west of Emmett, near the little town of Letha, with good sandy loam, abundant ground and canal water, and a market for their pesticide-free berries about an hour away in Boise. It is a scene right out of Mother Earth News, complete with a modest straw-bale home, a sensible sedan and power shakes for lunch.

But in the corner of the house sits a stack of graphic posters of severed baby heads and other fetus parts, purporting to represent the modern practice of abortion in America. Pro-Life does not support public schools, city parks or even Social Security, on which he depends for the bulk of his annual income.

Kirsten Richardson, who may change her surname to Pro-Life, sits among their three varieties of strawberries listening to a book-on-tape about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and filling cardboard flats with berries. She is challenging Emmett Republican Sen. Brad Little for his legislative seat in November. The couple has vowed to run for office every two years until they die.

For now, every afternoon the couple runs a few flats of berries to the Boise Co-op, where they are marked up 80 percent and sold as Richardson Family Farms berries. But Pro-Life also wants organic food to be affordable to poor folks like himself.

In fact, he says strawberries are a good poor man's crop.

"It's one crop that when you're poor, like we are, you can get quite a bit of money from them immediately," he said.

They have had trouble finding the right church to join but settled on North Valley Baptist Church in Eagle, where the pastor is also president of the anti-abortion group Right to Life of Idaho.

"That's about as good of a church as we can find," Pro-Life said. He has criticized Pastor Jason Herring for serving hot dogs and pop at church picnics and for coming down on the wrong side of the war in Iraq.

Herring said Pro-Life is hard-working and not flaky in the least, but that politics will never have the kind of role in his church that Pro-Life would like to see.

"The guy comes in every Sunday morning, you can tell he's exhausted," Herring said.

Pro-Life could be exhausted from picking strawberries. Or it could be Kirsten's doing.

"My wife and I are very sexual," Pro-Life said, in the midst of a conversation on homosexuality, which he views as anti-life. "We really enjoy sex."

Kirsten calls her lanky husband Pro-Vida, because it's more romantic. She calls him Buffy, too. He calls her Smoochie, "for obvious reasons."

Pro-Life points the shotgun out over his strawberry patch and fires the Fish and Game (government-issue) blanks into the air. There is a meek pop, a thin streak of smoke and then a loud bang several hundred yards out.

"I'm anti-Fish and Game," he says.

And then he adds of the upcoming election, "If I win, I'll ask for a recount."

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