"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.

Review: Andrus, by Chris Carlson

Andrus book

The title, Andrus: Idaho’s Greatest Governor, would give you to think that this is a biography, albeit a hagiographic one. It is better taken as the writer, Chris Carlson (whose columns show up here about weekly), indicated in his substitle, as a reminiscence – a work of memory, through his eyes, in considerable part unchecked in any rigorous way. And, within that frame, it might be taken as this: The story of the mentor relationship between Carlson and Cecil Andrus. That’s the thread that runs through the book.

The first part of the book, about Andrus’ early life and early political years, is relatively biographical, and those interested in Andrus’ background will find plenty of new material here. Carlson has a number of stories to tell from his years working for Andrus, mainly in a press and public relations capacity. He also tells some of his own story, his short time on the Northwest Power Planning Council (as it was called then), the founding of the Gallatin Group, and more. There’s a long chapter as well concerning concerning the campaign surrounding the Washington death with dignity/assisted suicide ballot issue (Initiative 1000, which passed in 2008); Carlson was one of the leading organizers against it. Andrus did not take a role in that campaign (so far as Carlson relates), but the lessons he imparted over the years were taken into that campaign.

That suggests some of the results of the mentoring relationship that is Carlson’s main subject here. Andrus, elected governor four times and Interior secretary for a full presidential term (the only one to last all of Jimmy Carter’s administration), is one of the strongest personalities Idaho has had in the last half-century. If he enters the room, you know it – and you enjoy it (ordinarily). He’s among the rare people seemingly at home anywhere, with just about anyone. And he learned, along the way, a lot about how the world works – another major theme of Carlson’s.

On one occasion, some years back, I had occasion to ask Andrus for advice on a matter relating to a political campaign. The exact bedeviling problem at hand is now forgotten (by me anyway), but Andrus’ advice was not, and especially the effect it had: It lasted no more than two or three sentences, and he hadn’t finished speaking before I knew he was exactly correct. And he was. It was the gift of cutting through clutter.

Carlson also subtitles his book, “Idaho’s Greatest Governor,” and the back cover text says he “inarguably, has had the greatest impact on Idaho in modern times.” That raises a subject we’ll be addressing here a few months from now in another book, looking at the influential people in Idaho history. However exactly you rank him, Andrus has been powerfully impactful on the state. And, as this book maintains, on a lot of individual people as well.

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