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Charley Clark

Charlie Clark

Charlie Clark

Back in 2001, we had this to say in describing Union Pacific lobbyist Charlie Clark (as one of the 100 most influential people in Idaho):

Once an inherently powerful lobby in Idaho, Union Pacific (with its diminishing rail mileage) is less so now, though it still has a substantial employment base in the state, and quite a few farmers and businesses still rely on it for transport service. Clark’s experience and background, however, give UP a strong voice. He’s been at the Legislature since the early 70s (when, still a college student, he served as House Sergeant at Arms), and his close ties with a wide range of legislators and others, and sense of the ebb and flow of legislation, matter. UP took a loss in 1998, with passage of a truck weight bill; but Clark remains a major lobbying presence. He received votes for influence in the transportation field and in eastern Idaho, as well as statewide.

Those are some of the public facts, valid enough as far as they go. There are also the private, or at least less public facts, and Clark was one of those people who understood how they are as important.

Charlie Clark, whose formal title was special representative of the president (of Union Pacific Railroad), and whose government relations territory this year (it had been shifting) covered Idaho, Montana and Utah, died on Sunday. It came as a shock, completely unexpected: He had been walking his beloved dog Rags (who traveled with him almost everywhere), returned home, sat down, and passed away.

He was a good friend of many years duration, from the mid-70s when he was a new (and the youngest to date) sergeant at arms at the Idaho House, and I was starting to cover the Idaho Legislature. Just over a month ago, September 19 by the calendar, we lunched at Old Chicago in downtown Boise, hashing over as usual Idaho and its politics – Charlie was one of its best and closest observers, and professionally a fine participant too.

Charlie Clark was a corporate lobbyist, and here’s the thing: What sticks in memory most about him was the depth of humanity he brought to politics and to his trade. One mutual friend today described him as a “gentleman,” somewhat of the old school, and he was, though lacking entirely any stuffiness or pretense. But that doesn’t quite cover it, any more than saying he was a solid professional, which he also was. I’d call him “Idaho old school.”

Charley knew the substance of his work, and he was a solid train loyalist, ever ready to do battle with the “Department of Trucks”. He was a loyal Republican. None of his allegiances, though, ever seemed to much distort his take on how the real world operates, in the most practical of ways. And that was largely because he got to know people, to understand people, very well. As a lobbyist, that meant he would spent much of the year visiting people – some of them legislators or other political people, and some not – all over the state, meeting them on their turf, getting to understand how they saw the world, see it all through their eyes. As he’d relate some of his findings, I’d find my take on people and situations shifting a bit, often in the direction of gaining new appreciation, certainly gaining depth.

For some years, we’d take occasional daytrips out to the Idaho hinterlands, “political science studies” as Charlie described them, to explore new parts of the state and meet some of the people who lived in them, and find out how they think. He absorbed it all, into a mind able and willing to contain opinions in addition to his own, an ever-diminishing ability in today’s politics.

To say he’ll be missed – as will be said, here too – again doesn’t cover it. Idaho has lost a good person and its political world a disproportionate part of its humanity.

Best wishes and sympathies to Kathy Clark, and to Rags.

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