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Remembering Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus: The Man Who Never Gave Up

Remembering Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus: The Man Who Never Gave Up
Cecil.Andru (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for The National Audubon Society)

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Sunday, 27 August 2017 09:27 AM Current | Bio | Archive

From the outpouring of warm comments from Idahoans following the death of Cecil Andrus August 24, one could easily see how the former Democratic governor of the Gem State and U.S. Secretary of the Interior under Jimmy Carter was a political success story.

Andrus (who was one day shy of his 86th birthday) left Oregon State College after less than two years when he eloped with high school sweetheart Carol. He served in the Idaho Senate, won the governorship twice, served in the Cabinet and then came back to serve two more terms in the statehouse—the longest (14 years) tenure of any governor of Idaho.

“He was a humble man, an authentic man, and he possessed admirable self-confidence,” Gary Catron, who worked closely with fellow Idahoan Andrus at the Interior Department, told Newsmax, “In my travels with him, I never once witnessed him pulling rank, He was truly greater than any of us around him and, at the same time, one of us.”

It was his warmth that probably convinced Idahoans to overlook decisions of his they didn’t like. In 1990, shortly after vetoing strong pro-life legislation that was popular in conservative Idaho, the governor won his fourth term with ease.

But there is another quality of Andrus that is worth remembering. Without his tenacity, without his ability to rebound from defeat, he would have been finished and forgotten long ago.

In 1966, then-State Sen. Andrus lost the Democratic primary for governor to Salmon, Idaho attorney Charlie Herndon by heartbreakingly close 1,227 votes. Herndon had the blessings of powerful State Democratic Chairman Tom Boise (that’s right—like the capital of Idaho), who felt that a more moderate candidate than the liberal Andrus could capture the governorship.

If ever there was an opportunity for Democrats in Idaho, it was 1966. Three-term Gov. and centrist Republican Robert Smylie had been beaten in the primary by conservative Don Samuelson.

Stunned at the outcome of the primary, Smylie’s fellow centrists rallied to the independent candidacy of Perry Swisher, state legislator and publisher. Also running as an independent was Lewiston mining company owner Philip Jungert, who campaigned on a pro-gambling, anti-sales tax platform.

All seemed smooth sailing for the Democrats until six weeks before the election. On September 14, flying from Twin Falls to Couer d’Alene for a campaign event, Herndon’s plane struck Elk Mountain and he was killed. Democrats had to pick a new nominee. Andrus seemed the obvious choice but Boss Boise wanted Max Hanson, a more conservative Democrat.

The Democratic State Executive Committee convened at a meeting that was highly-charged, emotional, and chaotic.

“I was a committeewoman and ‘Jap’ [husband Jasper] was a state committeeman during the party conference in Boise following Herndon’s death,” recalled Lillian Inscore 28 years later, “[W]e figured that Cecil would get it [the Democratic nomination], but Max Hanson was [Tom] Boise’s choice. I didn’t like Boise’s method of politics. The night before the special vote in Boise, rumors were rampant, so no one really knew what the final tally would be.”

By a razor-thin vote of 84-to-82, committee members defied their chairman and chose Andrus to replace Herndon on the ballot.

Following a six-week campaign, Andrus did well at the polls. But it wasn’t well enough. Samuelson beat him by a margin of 41-to-38 percent, with 12 percent going to Swisher and 9 percent to Jungert.

In 1970, two years after reclaiming his state senate seat, Andrus again faced Samuelson. On the eve of the voting, most polls showed Samuelson the winner. Gov. Samuelson strongly supported molybdenum (a form of lead) mining in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains. Andrus hit that hard, and, with a strong boost from his state’s growing environmental movement, he upset Samuelson by about 10,000 votes (51-to-49 percent).

In his next three trips to the polls, Andrus would win with little difficulty. But, after a primary loss, capture of an open nomination by one vote, and a defeat in the polls, he could easily have been written off as “loser” a half-century ago. And he would be forgotten today.

He wasn’t. He never gave up.

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John-Gizzi
From the outpouring of warm comments from Idahoans following the death of Cecil Andrus August 24, one could easily see how the former Democratic governor of the Gem State and U.S. Secretary of the Interior under Jimmy Carter was a political success story.Andrus (who was one...
john gizzi, cecil andrus, governor, idaho, passing
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2017-27-27
Sunday, 27 August 2017 09:27 AM
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