BOISE — Cecil Andrus was just 39 when he was elected governor in 1970. It wasn't long before he calculated his next move.
Chris Carlson's "Cecil Andrus: Idaho's Greatest Governor" was recently released. Among its revelations is Andrus' early plan to become U.S. interior secretary.
After Watergate, he figured Democrats would win the White House in 1976. But for Andrus to be in a position to take a Cabinet post, he would have to ensure a Democrat would succeed him as governor.
"He left little to chance," writes Carlson.
In the final weekend of the 1974 re-election campaign, Andrus shifted almost all of his pre-paid TV spots to the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, John Evans. Carlson assumed Andrus sought revenge against GOP nominee Vern Ravenscroft, a "turncoat" who'd switched parties after Andrus beat him in the 1970 governor's primary.
Andrus was thinking ahead, not back. Two good friends — Mo Udall of Arizona or Jimmy Carter of Georgia — were running for president in 1976. He read the chessboard perfectly. Carter won and made Andrus his first Cabinet pick.
Andrus protected rivers in Northern California, created urban national parks and saved what is now the Birds of Prey National Conservation Area near Kuna. His masterwork was the biggest land bill in history, protecting 103 million acres in Alaska — 28 percent of the state — doubling the size of the park system and releasing another 250 million acres for development.
After his stint in Washington, D.C., Andrus planned to challenge Idaho's senior Republican Sen. Jim McClure in 1984. "You better have a hole card," Andrus told me last week.
After Carter's defeat in 1980, Andrus had his fill of the national capital. "I came home and one of the first phone calls I made was to Jim McClure. I said, 'Jim, if you hear footsteps, they aren't mine!' He laughed."
Instead, Andrus spent a few years making money. In 1986, he ran for governor again, winning a squeaker. He and McClure became partners in mediating Idaho's wilderness battle, one of the few jobs either man left unfinished.
Retiring as Idaho's only four-term governor in 1995, he became a rainmaker for Gallatin Public Affairs, a regional firm that also included Carlson.
Andrus is uncomfortable with the "greatest governor" title and tried to talk Carlson and publisher Scott Gipson into a less boastful name.
"I think it's indisputable," Carlson said.
"In his mind it is," chuckled Andrus, "but I can give you a whole list of people who would disagree."
Other contenders would include Depression-era Democrat Ben Ross and Republican Robert Smylie, with whom Andrus served in the Idaho Senate.
Carlson calls his work an "authorized reminiscence" and makes no pretense about being scholarly. Carlson, who lives in Kootenai County and writes columns for the St. Maries Gazette Record, lost his father to suicide as a teenager. He calls Andrus a surrogate father.
Some readers might find the book fawning, but it's not all sweetness and light. Carlson notes Andrus' rupture with his father over the shutdown of the family sawmill in Orofino and tells of Andrus refusing an invitation to visit super-lobbyist Tom Boise, who was on his deathbed.
There are dozens of rich anecdotes: dropping campaign literature over the mill town of Headquarters by air; being forced to shut down Shoshone County's brothels after a memo by a Health & Welfare worker advocated training the "girls" as counselors for the johns; LDS Church President Spencer Kimball laying hands on Andrus in gratitude for his work after the Teton Dam collapse; his thinking behind vetoing a 1990 anti-abortion bill despite his pro-life beliefs.
The principal strength of the book, however, is Carlson's insight into the personality of a politician so gifted he could get elected four times as a Democrat.
"He likes people," writes Carlson. "They know it, and they like him in return."
A simple formula for a politician.
With Andrus, it has the benefit of being true. It's more than his legendary memory for the names and woes of regular folks, his prowess as a hunter and fisher, his lumberjack roots in the "slab, sliver and knothole business."
Born in 1931, Andrus didn't have indoor plumbing until his family moved into town — Eugene, Ore. — when he was 11. He bathed on Saturdays in the same galvanized tub his mom used for laundry. The family took fish and game to eat.
"That's no different than millions of people my age," he said.
His genuine appreciation of ordinary people and their struggles won Idahoans' affection. He'd been there. A college dropout and veteran of the Korean War, he knew the value of a nickel. Voters were confident he'd spend their money well. When he fought to mandate land-use planning, establish kindergarten and boost funding for K-12 and higher education, they trusted he was right.
He also was humble, tireless and laughed at himself. Carlson relates one of the governor's many bald jokes. Running his hand over his dome, Andrus chirped, "You know, grass doesn't grow on a busy street!" Then came a zinger from the crowd: "Yeah, it doesn't grow on a rock either!"
A favorite catch phrase was, "Governors are elected to solve problems." Andrus made good on it.
Now 80, he works about 20 hours a week at his Downtown Boise office. He enjoys time with his wife of 62 years, Carol, their three children, three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
He's had a rough patch the past year: prostate cancer, cataract surgery and a broken leg suffered when a dog bowled him over on his morning walk. He's missing his first elk hunting season in 40 years because the leg's not quite ready for the backcountry.Comment on this story
"But I'm going pheasant hunting on Saturday and the chukars are gonna start catching the devil," he said.
Though his hearing's failed a bit, the common touch remains. When photographer Katherine Jones and I arrived at his office he emerged just as the FedEx guy needed a signature.
"What's your last name?" asked the man.
"Andrus," he answered with a big smile and not a hint of regret at fading fame.