Politics: Idaho’s once-Democratic District

I love seeing people frown when I describe the Democratic district where I grew up.

Sooner or later, someone will interrupt to say they thought I was an Idaho native.  Even though I have “Fourth Generation Idahoan” tattooed on my forehead, it’s easier for people to believe I grew up elsewhere than to believe Idaho was once awash with Democrats.

Wikipedia reports that Idaho Senator Glen H. Taylor is considered the fourth most liberal member of Congress during the last half of the 20th century.  Taylor promoted civil rights legislation during the 1940s and was the vice presidential candidate on the 1948 Progressive Party ticket.  (The Democrats considered kicking him out of their caucus for this, but didn’t.)

Later, Senator Frank Church would support John Kennedy in his bid for the presidency and vie for the nomination himself in 1976.

And Idaho’s First District was almost continually represented by Democrats from FDR’s inauguration in 1933 until 1967.

Democrat Compton I White, Sr., was swept into office in the midst of the Great Depression and served seven terms in the U.S. House before losing to a Republican in 1946.  In 1948 he won his seat back, only to lose it again in 1950.  Democrat Gracie Pfost of Nampa won the seat in 1952 and served five terms.

When she retired, Compton I White Jr., was elected to his dad’s seat.

These Democrats were strongly supported by Canyon County farmers, as well as by the miners and lumber workers up north.  White, Sr., chaired the House Committee on Irrigation and was instrumental in getting Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams.

Pfost would later earn the nickname “Hell’s Belle” for her efforts to get a high dam in Hell’s Canyon.

My father regarded White’s greatest accomplishment as getting electrical power to Idaho farms.  Like companies in much of the country, Idaho Power didn’t see any profit in installing miles of lines and poles to serve one or two outlying farms.  FDR’s Rural Electrification Administration provided loans to farmer co-ops to set up their own electrical company.  Dad would laugh recalling how once the REA started stringing lines on one side of the road, Idaho Power lines was soon stringing on the other side.

During the summer of 1964, I interned in White, Jr.’s office in Washington, D.C.  At that time he was working to get the Washington dams that made the Port of Lewiston possible, to get a massive north-south power interchange so we could sell excess summer electricity in California, and to ensure that no Idahoan would be blocked from their homes by the Federal plans for Idaho’s forests and wilderness.

I remember White once earnestly talking strategy with his aide in the House lobby while tying the bootie of a baby in a backpack nearby.  The mother never noticed.   He was a regular kind of guy, and the California interns envied me.

Democrats felt they lost control of the First District because reapportionment brought a Republican portion of Ada County into the district.

And, although Republicans have controlled the Idaho legislature more years than Democrats, when I was in high school Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the House by 25-19 and 27-17.

A retired Republican legislator stopped by the Democratic booth at the Canyon County Fair one year and reminisced about the Democratic legislators he’d enjoyed working with.  When I asked him what had happened to all Idaho’s Democrats, he chuckled as he told me environmentalists and civil rights workers had alienated farmers, loggers, and miners.

Now, with the middle class shrinking, the party that puts jobs, schools, and fair taxes first deserves another look.

Idaho Politics: Some were giants

Judy Ferro     [Published by the Idaho Press-Tribune on July 14]

Last week Marc Johnson posted a memorable tribute to former Governor John V. Evans, who died July 8 at the age of 89.  Johnson was a producer and television host at Idaho Public Television during Evan’s 1976 to 1986 tenure.

“Evans took the small town qualities that make a mayor successful – attention to detail, remembering people’s names and needs, and a focus on practical and common sense solutions – and created ten productive years in the Idaho Statehouse. He should be remembered as one of Idaho’s best governors and, moreover, as a very nice and very decent fellow.”

Among the Evans’ accomplishments Johnson includes beginning adjudication of the Snake River water rights, battling the aftermath of the Mount Helena eruption, and ending INEL’s injection of process water into the Snake River aquifer.

Johnson’s description of Evans’ handling of the economic downturn of the late 1970s and early 1980s made me yearn for leaders like Evans today.

“Three times he worked magic…to prevent the kind of broad scale damage to education that we have seen in more recent difficult economic times.”

Earlier, in a column on Idaho Democrats who came to power due to Republican failures, Randy Stapilus mentioned other Idaho greats like Frank Church, Cecil Andrus, and Marilyn Howard

Just reading the names, I get a chill—followed by the urge to roar, “We Democrats have given you giants.  Now give us respect.”

During Frank Church’s 24 years in the U.S. Senate, he became a noted liberal on the national stage.  He fought for U.S. withdrawal from the Viet Nam War, supported the Civil Rights Act, and warned of government spying abroad and at home.

“If this government ever became a tyrant…the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together…no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know.”

Although Cecil Andrus is now 83, many believe he could still win a statewide election.  His intelligence and humor disarm opponents.  I imagine him dealing with a legislative uber-conservative by saying, “OK, that’s what you feel you have to say, but what is it you hope to get right now?”  His genius was working out a compromise that both sides regarded as the best they were going to get.

Andrus is an outdoorsman and conservationist dedicated to seeing that our forests and lakes will be here for our children and grandchildren.  He served as Idaho’s governor from 1971 to 1977, as U.S. Secretary of the Interior from 1977-1981, and as governor again 1987 to 1995.

A truly great man, Andrus puts others at ease.  I talk with him and come away feeling somehow brighter and more capable.

The first time I heard Marilyn Howard speak she convinced me she understood where education had to go and the details that made change both necessary and difficult.  During her tenure, she respected and supported teachers even as she pushed for new tactics and resolve.  Her mantra was, “If it was easy, we’d have done it already.”

Many potential greats never got the chance to serve Idaho because voters didn’t respect the “D” after their names.  These were strong men and women committed to solving problems and making Idaho a great place for all her citizens.  They were dedicated to making Idaho’s economy, communities, and families stronger.

Please take the time to know the Democrats on your ballot this November—Mitchell, Ringo, Balukoff, Marley, Silver, Woodings, Bistline and Jones.  You will find potential greats