Former press official pens new book on Gov. Andrus

By Dan Popkey

The Idaho Statesman

Published: Sunday, Oct. 23 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

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.

"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.

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