Idaho is one of the few states in the nation where a
significant number of people can sing the state's song. This
is due in part to people like veteran political journalist Randy
Stapilus and his co-author, Marty Peterson, the long-time
director of the University of Idaho's governmental affairs.
Together they have produced an entertaining book listing
the 100 most influential people in the 150 years since Idaho
became a territory.
The list is fascinating both because of the diversity of
characters, the famous (J.R. Simplot #11, Frank Church #14,
Joe Albertson #19, Ezra Taft Benson #27, William E. Borah
#69)as well as a few infamous ("Big Bill" Haywood #52,
Richard Butler #88), and the well-known (Robert Smylie
#18, Jim McClure #23, C. Ben Ross #47) as well as the truly
obscure(Wetxuwiis #10, Lafayette Cartee #25, Pinckney
Lugenbeel #34). It reinforces an old notion that it is people
who make and shape history, not external forces or tipping-
point trends. The book should be required reading as a
supplement to any Idaho history textbook.
Their main criteria for placing people on the top 100 list was
a requirement that in some way those listed were to have
had a transformative impact on the state. Many devotees of
Idaho history are going to quibble, and rightly so, about the
rankings. Indeed, the authors appear to have intentionally
selected for its shock value Lloyd Adams, a lobbyist, power
broker and fix-it type who served as the long-time chair of
the Idaho Republican party during the first half of the 20th century as the number one most influential figure.
Most of Idaho's current political cognoscenti will ask, “Lloyd
who?” That he was a venal, ethically-challenged influence
peddler operating out of his law office in Rexburg and
thought nothing of providing favors to friends seems not to
have mattered to the authors.
Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist and former
speech-writer for Ronald Reagan once wrote a book about
the Gipper entitled When Character was King.
Her point was character should still be taken into account
when judging those in the political ring. A secondary point
is that those who enter the ring, who subject themselves to
public scrutiny, place their name on the ballot and serve in
the fish bowl that is modern high public office should always
rank ahead of those who operate behind the scenes.
By any reasonable standard former four-term Idaho
Governor and one term Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus
should have been number one on the list both for his
transformative impact as well as truly beneficial impact on
Idaho. From obtaining funding for Idaho kindergartens,
to obtaining local land-use planning laws, to senior citizen
property tax relief, to creation of the Hells Canyon and
Sawtooth National Recreation areas, to expansion of the
Birds of Prey Natural Area as well as support for Idaho
wilderness areas while Jimmy Carter's Interior secretary,
Andrus will stand the test of time as the most influential
person to ever trod the state's landscape. The authors should
have counted the numerous references throughout the
book to Andrus, who they rated as the 16th most influential
(and the first governor on their list) and it would have been
obvious to them who should have been designated number
In general, their recitation of the history of this array of
fascinating people is also pretty accurate though there is an
occasional lapse such as overlooking the fact that one of
Idaho's truly transformative governors, C.A. "Doc" Robins
(#26)in fact did try for the U.S. Senate in the last year (1950)
of his incredibly productive term rather than quietly retire.
These are minor nits, however, that don't begin to take away
anything from the fine achievement this book is.
The reason this reviewer gives the book 4 and 1/2 stars,
however, relates exclusively to the failure to give Andrus his
due. As his press secretary for almost nine years I concede
Bias aside, Stapilus and Peterson have performed a wonderful
service to the many Idahoans who take pride in the great state
and can sing the words to the state song---words which are
reinforced substantially by this book.
"And here we have Idaho/Winning her way to fame/Silver
and gold in the sunlight blaze/And romance lies in her
name. . ."
Read it, whether an Idahoan or not. You'll be glad you did.