"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

James 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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