So why do students of Idaho political history, and the 30 men who have been its governor, rank the former town-doctor of St. Maries, C.A. Robins, so highly?
To put the answer in medical terms, he wrote needed prescriptions that are still bearing results 60 years after his single four-year term (1946-1950) that governors were then allowed. Many of the advances and reforms he pushed came out of his first legislative session as governor in 1947, a session that long-time Idaho political player and observer Perry Swisher ranks along with the 1965 session as the most accomplished in Idaho’s history.
For openers, take his solid support for public education where he achieved comprehensive reforms, unlike several of his Republican successors, including current Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter. Governor Robins found Idaho bursting with 1,118 school districts in 1946. With the help of the Legislature, hundreds of small school districts were consolidated into less than 200, saving property taxpayers money in unnecessary overhead costs.
In 1947 he also obtained a significant increase in pay for teachers, appalled that Idaho’s teachers were then the poorest paid in the nation. (Some things, though, don’t change, with Idaho teachers again being ranked near the nation’s bottom in base pay.)
He was a major driving force for the transformation of the University of Idaho-Southern Branch into a stand alone Idaho State College independent of the University of Idaho. That set the precedent for the emergence of Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston and the stage for the transformation of Boise Junior College in the early 60’s into Boise State College.
One could argue that with 20/20 hindsight Idaho would have been better off to have stayed with a one university system structure, but that opportunity is long gone.
The politically savvy governor obviously had a great bedside manner. Having been the Senate president during his third legislative term from Benewah County, he knew how to work constructively with lawmakers to achieve passage of needed legislation. He was elected to a fourth term and surely would have been returned to the Senate presidency but resigned before the session commenced rather than leave St. Maries without any doctor. The other doctor in town had left during the time between his election to a fourth term and the beginning of the session in January of 1945.
As Idaho’s governor, he was the force behind the creation of the Department of Labor, the State Tax Commission, the first State Building program, and reformed and modernized the worker’s compensation system. He also abolished the Board of Pardons and replaced it with the three-member Board of Corrections with the purpose of providing more professional management of corrections. (more…)