Writings and observations

McClure
James McClure

In 1978 the Idaho State Journal newspaper was running profiles of candidates for office, and to illustrate them, in addition to pictures, we had caricatures of the candidates drawn by the staff cartoonist (which the paper actually had back then). How to caricature the Republican Senate incumbent, James McClure, then seeking his second term in the Senate? He didn’t lend to easy caricature; what we came up with, which still seems about right, was an image of a small-town lawyer.

McClure, who died in Boise Saturday, seemed to fit that. He was not hard to picture on the streets of Payette, where he was raised and practiced law for some years; there was a low-key manner about him that fit the smaller picture more than the larger. Serious, but not over-intense; he could talk and work cordially, it seemed, with almost anyone (a bigger compliment in these days than it would have been thought back then). Not exactly a wonk, though he was plenty well-informed, but concerned with details – you could equally see him parsing a contract or a piece of legislation. A conservative whose standing as such was never questioned, but most especially grounded – more and more, it seemed, as the years went by – in the practical effects of what he was doing. One flexible enough to develop a wilderness proposal for Idaho with Democratic Governor Cecil Andrus. A small-town lawyer as naturally-skilled legislator.

It was one of the differences in politics in those days that a person of such calm demeanor, not flamboyant and not a bomb thrower of any kind, could do so well in politics. He was as successful in Idaho politics as anyone, ever – never lost an election from campaigns for county prosecutor in the 50s through his last Senate run in 1984, and served 24 years in Congress – and for quite while was a major figure in the Senate as well. He was a pivotal figure in Idaho, as well, uniting various conservative strands that had been in conflict with each other, and starting the move in Northern Idaho from its historic Democratic base toward Republican allegiance.

In 2007 an authorized biography, McClure of Idaho, came out and outlines the details of what McClure did. When reviewed here, one passage about McClure the person stood out:

“You need to know that Jim McClure fancies himself as the consummate do-it-yourselfer. He did all the wiring and plumbing and heating installations in his Payette house during the years when it was undergoing remodeling, and he did the same thing in his cabin on Payette Lake outside of McCall. There isn’t anything around a house that he thinks he can’t install or repair.”

A lot of today’s legislators could do worse than to be so described.

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The Associated Press reports that after the Senate State Affairs Committee voted down the nullification (which is what it was) bill on Friday, pro-nullification activist Lori Shewmaker, of the group Idahoans for Liberty, took verbal shots at the senators on their way out. One by one, she called out to them, “Coward.”

Which was ironic in the deepest sense: It was a demonstration of what some of those senators’ votes were much closer to true profiles in courage.

The point here isn’t so much about the virtues in the measure, which are altogether lacking – even if you want to see the 2010 federal health care law overturned (as we, here, do not), the effective way to attack it, as Idaho already is, is through the courts. The Supreme Court will have its say on that eventually. The idea that states can independently decide which federal laws they will obey and which not is so old and so regularly discredited over so many years that, like clothes fashions, it’s new again. At least in Idaho. But put aside whether the bill was a good one.

The most active core of the right in Idaho is plenty enthusiastic about it. Idahoans for Liberty, which began as a Ron Paul support group, slogans “U.S. Constitution (every issue, every time)” – except, apparently, when it comes to providing health care. On their 2010 endorsement page, atop the list of endorsed candidates, you’ll find this note: “I personally agree with the idea that some of the candidates running under the Independent or Constitution parties would, in some cases, be better choices, but they have little chance of winning. That, in turn, would take votes away from the Republican candidates. The better option is to change the Republican party from within.”

Brought around to 2012, that will mean running candidates against any Republicans who go crosswise with them, and based on the 2010 Tea Party track record, there seems little doubt such primaries will be ferociously prosecuted.

So while the State Affairs Democrats’ (Edgar Malepeai, Michelle Stennett) no votes on the bill made sense, they were not career-threateners – no one would have expected the Democrats to vote otherwise. The vote by the Republicans – Brent Hill, Bart Davis, Curt McKenzie, John McGee and Patti Anne Lodge (who was surrounded by the outraged as the meeting adjourned), was another matter. (Two others, Russ Fulcher, a bill sponsor, and Chuck Winder, voted for the bill.) They looked directly into the fury- not too strong a word, the audience overall was very much angrily in favor of the bill – and voted to its contrary. And even though probably none were in favor of the health care bill.

One man told Hill, just before angrily walking off, “You know we’re left with no alternative but to defend ourselves.” Now that has an ominous sound to it.

Which may be just politically ominous, and certainly does suggest the shape of Republican primaries in Idaho this next cycle. So: Which Republicans on State Affairs showed some guts, those who ran with the angry crowd or those who stood up to it?

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