Writings and observations

Carlson: Selflessly serving

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Among the some 50 members of the Idaho Legislature, who have served notice of retiring or seeking another office, is one many consider virtually irreplaceable. She is State Rep. Wendy Jaquet, the Democrat from the 25th Legislative district that includes Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties.

My former Gallatin Group partner, Marc Johnson, said it best: “It’s tough duty to spend your entire career in the minority. It’s much more difficult to get things done and to be effective you have to work at least three times as hard. I do believe Wendy has been among the two or three most effective Democratic members of the legislature in the last 30 years. She did it the old-fashioned way—by hard work, mastering details, building relationships, displaying good humor and always playing for the long game. Lots of people in politics are ‘show horses.’ Wendy is a work horse and an effective one at that.”

On a recent trip to Boise I sat down with the all-everything for the Democrats to discuss what got her into politics and what drove her to endure so long and well.

Asking the “quintessential” question—“Which high school did you attend?”—quickly provided an insight into her core being. She attended Seattle’s Garfield High. I attended Spokane’s Central Valley High in the mid-60’s, and inevitably when we got to the state basketball tournament we ran into and got drubbed by Garfield.

Of course Garfield, being an inner city high school, had a racially diverse student body whereas CV was close to all lily white., So Garfield, for several years led by an extremely gifted African-American named Levi Fisher, sent us home whether in the first round or in the finals.

I asked Wendy if she remembered Fisher? She immediately starting humming the music played by Garfield’s pep band when the school’s team fell behind. The music almost always transformed the Garfield five into a virtually unstoppable juggernaut. The music was “Peter Gunn” from the television show.

And when the pep band started playing it with that eerie beat you knew you were dead. To me the piece resonated the word “relentless” which is as good a word as there is to summarize Wendy in one word.

Throughout all the years Wendy has labored in the public vineyards she has relentlessly pursued her goals, with humor, elan, and dedication born of the knowledge that she was striving always for the right outcome.

The almost 18-year legislative veteran got her start in politics working in San Francisco for now U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, before then Supervisor Feinstein inherited the Mayor’s post upon the assassination of Mayor George Moscone by a former member of the city council, Dan White, who then hunted down, shot and killed supervisor Harvey Milk.

Her husband, Jim, whom she met while both were attending the University of Washington (he graduated from Seattle’s Roosevelt High) had worked earlier for both Mayor George Alioto and Mayor Moscone. They came to Idaho in 1977 because Jim accepted an offer to become the city administrator in Ketchum, a post he held for 25 years.

While raising their two sons this energetic woman with a B.A. in political science and an M.A. in public administration took on and successfully managed for 13 years the Ketchum-Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce. With that post came an understanding and appreciation for the needs of small businesses as well as their crucial role in an area’s economy. If ever there was a true “business Democrat,” Wendy fits the bill.

Along the way Wendy garnered well-deserved awards recognizing her commitment to people and causes ranging from the arts to the environment, The bottom line though is she cares deeply about people and knows there is a legitimate role for government in assisting those who through no fault of their own need the assistance only a government can provide.

Over the years she has mentored many young women and even a few men willing to listen to her sage counsel. A summary of her legislative history fills pages listing successes against great odds as well as a fascinating list of draft legislation the Republican leadership would not even allow to be printed. Her support for a local option sales tax leaps out.

She suffered defeat all too often, but as Republican lawyer/lobbyist Ken McClure (son of the late Senator) pointed out “she knows how to disagree without being disagreeable.”

Joining her in leaving the legislature will be several others who due to their own hard work and dedication will also be missed: State Senators Diane Bilyeu (29th), Joyce Broadsword (2nd), Edgar Malepeai (30th), Nicole LeFavour, (19th), as well as State Rep. Brian Cronin (19th). And two fine, ethical, decent, intelligent Republican State Senators looked like they would be squaring off against each other until Denton Darrington (27th), the longest serving State Senator in Idaho history (16 terms) decided to retire rather than challenge his friend, Senate Finance chair Dean Cameron (26th).

As Johnson said, all are replaceable. There will be only one Wendy.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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