The 2007 biography of former Idaho Senator Jim McClure contained a lot of references to a man probably few Idahoans - speaking generally, as opposed to the politically involved - knew much about: Jim Goller, operator of a small business until he hooked up with McClure and worked for him through his years in Congress. Such a quick description comes nowhere close to doing justice, though, or explaining why Goller was (rightly) so prominent in the story of McClure and in Idaho politics.
Goller, who died on Thursday at 81, was the political craft supporting McClure, one of the most successful Idaho politicians ever (three terms in the U.S. Senate, three in the U.S. House, three in the Idaho Senate, spanning 30 years). McClure was a skilled officeholder and a good candidate, but the political work underlying all that, getting McClure elected and keeping him in office, stemmed from Goller. The book (McClure of Idaho by William Smallwood, reviewed here in August) spelled this out pretty thoroughly, but the point works in reverse too: Writing a biography of McClure without Goller as a major player would be either dishonest or impossible, as McClure would be quick to say.
He was a nice guy and a fine conversationalist, but the point here is the effect he had on Idaho politics. Goller became an important figure in Idaho with McClure's first campaign for Congress in 1966, and hindsight shows that to be an important campaign. With it, Goller and McClure set a pattern for Idaho Republican conservatism, a winning formula, that had not been nailed down before that, but that has come to dominate Idaho politics in the four decades since, and is overwhelmingly in political control at present. Goller, who never held elective office and just one substantial appointive one (a seat on the Northwest Power Planning Council, appointed there by Democrat Cecil Andrus), has been one of the most consequential Idaho people of the last couple of generations.
He was something else, too, something fading a bit in the political world around and without him: A tough partisan who never (and that is the right word) demonized the opposition. Which is why an Andrus would describe (in the Idaho Statesman) Goller this way: "a consummate political professional who was widely respected on both sides of the political aisle. He was tough, competent, smart and a worthy adversary and also a very dear friend of mine."