By now there have been many fine salutes written and spoken about former Idaho Senator James Albertus McClure, who died recently at the age of 86. I have read many, agreed with all and wondered what I could add about this fine and distinguished public servant.
I first met McClure when he was a Member of Congress representing Idaho’s First Congressional district in 1970. I was a rookie reporter in Washington, D.C. working in a news bureau serving some 25 newspaper clients in the Pacific Northwest.
McClure was always a good interview. He was patient, tolerant of ignorant questions young reporters often ask, logical in his answers, spoke to the point and always had a keen sense of humor. He enjoyed conveying his thoughts on issues and could do so intelligently and articulately. He avoided can’t and ideological bromides, those cute sound bites on which television media thrive.
He was conservative to his core (indeed, he supported the right wing Liberty Lobby agenda when first elected to Idaho’s state senate), but he was always a compassionate conservative who cared about people and knew government had a proper role as the place of last resort for those unable to help themselves. He knew that God loved children regardless of the circumstances they were born into or the shortcomings of parents.
In short, he had a wonderful capacity to grow in office, and in each he held that was indeed what happened. He may have started as an ideologue, he definitely finished as a true statesman.
Jim McClure loved working on the solutions to vexing challenges and issues. He could and did work with his hands, rewiring his home and wiring his cabin in McCall. He loved to backpack and was a fine fly fisherman. He especially enjoyed hiking in the Seven Devils above Hells Canyon.
Hence, when Governor Cecil D. Andrus and he got down on their hands and knees to draw the logical boundaries of the proposed Hells Canyon Recreation Area in the mid-70’s, both instinctively followed hydrological divides because they had spent time on the ground learning the lay of the land.
It was with great pleasure that I responded to author Bill Smallwood that I would read an early draft of his authorized biography of McClure. Fittingly, Smallwood and I were sitting around a campfire under the majestic Castle Peak in the White Clouds Mountains of central Idaho, having packed into the area with a group of friends.
Smallwood’s book, “McClure of Idaho,” is must reading for political junkies, particularly with regard to Idaho public affairs and its fascinating political history.
A political mentor years ago gave me the best advice for judging how good or bad a public officeholder is: “Look at their staff,” he said. Are they competent and bright? Are they the kind of people not afraid to challenge the boss if they think he is wrong? Are they loyal? Do they resolutely defend their boss, or do they let others, especially media, criticize him without rebuttal?”
By their staffs ye will know them.
Over the years, Jim McClure n and Idaho n were superbly served by series of chiefs of staff, press secretaries, legislative aides and field office directors. All these people knew the positions of trust they held included serving the people of Idaho well, regardless of political predisposition. They knew that the best politics was carrying out good policy and at all times they were conscious of the fact they represented their boss and the people, who they strived their utmost never to embarrass.
People like the late Jim Goller, who served McClure capably and with distinction as his Idaho state director and chief of staff. He was the mastermind of McClure’s successful Senate and House campaigns. (McClure never lost a race ever.) Or former television anchor Todd Neunschwander, who was his press secretary before becoming the senator’s long-time D.C. chief of staff.
Scootch Pankonin was in a way a typical McClure staffer n competent, loyal, helpful, professional, bright, an excellent sense of humor and loyal as they come. Over the years various folks served McClure. All felt they were the better for having served with the Senator. He was a marvelous teacher and mentor, they would say.
Nearly all of McClure’s aides went on to success with other endeavors. They stay in contact with and help each other. I am certain they constituted a strong support group for Louise McClure and the McClure children during the past two years following the Senator’s stroke.
They would agree with my bottom line assessment which echoes a famous statement made by Will Rogers: “They just ain’t making public servants like him anymore.”Share on Facebook