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They also serve

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

“They also serve…”

The full quote from the 17th century English poet, John Milton (1608-1674; author of Paradise Lost), is “They also serve who only stand and wait.” It’s from another of his writings, On His Blindness, made poignant by the poet’s own blindness.

It’s a reminder that most are supporting cast on the stage of life to a few star players whose light outshines others and who are more noted by historians. That said, their roles, seemingly insignificant, are necessary to fill out the drama. Every star needs a supporting cast to help them stand out in life’s movable parade.

These thoughts were prompted recently following a discussion with two of the four most noteworthy stars from the Idaho State Senate freshman class of 1961. This is the class whose stars and role players, with seasoning and maturity, four years later led Idaho into modernity by debating, then adopting and sending to the voters for ratification the first ever sales tax designed to better fund public education and meet the stated first goal of Idaho’s state constitution.

Fifty years later two of the “stars” who played critical roles in the sales tax debate and passage are still alive with sharp memories: former four-term Governor Cecil D. Andrus, who in 1961 was elected to the Senate as a Democrat from Clearwater County, and former Majority Leader Bill Roden, a Republican from Ada County.

Curious about the other lesser known members of their class and what each might recall of these supporting players, I called both recently.

Coincidentally, both Andrus and Roden started by recalling the same anecdote. It seems the Statesman’s then political editor, John Corlett, ran profiles during the session on new members from both the House and Senate. Corlett wrote up a glowing profile of Roden in 1961 in which he said Bill, at 29, was the youngest person ever elected to the Idaho Senate.

Andrus, almost a year younger than Roden, not only took exception, according to Roden, he demanded and obtained a retraction and a correction from the Statesman. Andrus didn’t deny it. The anecdote is more a reflection of how competitive in all things politicians are than it is a vanity item.

Both obviously hold the other in high regard. Andrus, chuckling, said Roden was really a Democrat at heart and that his father had been a long-time Democrat. Roden, who considers himself a moderate Republican in the mold of three-term Republican Governor Robert E. Smylie, laughed heartily when told Andrus considered him a Democrat and the first of the so-called RHINO’s!

Two conservative members of that class, both opposed to adopting a sales tax and still went on to higher office, were State Senator Jim McClure (Payette County), and Bonner County State Senator Don Samuelson. McClure carved out a long career as a congressman and a U.S. Senator, while Samuelson served one term as governor, defeating Andrus in 1966 and then losing a rematch in 1970.

In today’s political environment it is stunning to realize it was progressive Republicans like Pocatello’s Perry Swisher who fought hard and took the lead for adopting a sales tax dedicated to properly funding public education in the mid-60’s, but its true. Roden cites another member of that class, Watt Prather from Boundary County as being the real thinker for the “Rat Pack,” a nickname given to Roden and his supporters.

Co-chair with McClure of the “Economy Bloc” (senators of both parties who opposed the sales tax) was Bill Dee (Idaho County). Dee would always make a motion to cut every budget regardless of need by 5 percent, Andrus recalled. Likewise both Andrus and Roden recalled Senator Joe Ausich (Custer County) who boasted he never voted for any appropriation bill.

Andrus also recalled Cy Chase (Benewah County) who supported Dee for Minority Leader in 1963 over Cece, who lost by one vote. Always a good vote-counter one could tell Andrus was saying that Cy had double-crossed him. Later Chase became minority leader, a position from which every day he and Roden would engage in verbal combat over the issue of the day.

Andrus and Roden also fondly recalled Cecil Sandberg, a mortician (Bingham County). Solid and steady, he was especially good when the legislature had to redistrict itself. Andrus noted though that Sandberg was quick to get caskets exempted from any sales tax—just the beginning of a series of exemptions that over the years has gutted the sales tax’s ability to achieve its intended purpose.

Other members of that class: Ray Burge (Power County), Rollie Campbell (Valley County), Vince Nally (Gem County), Hal Wallington (Blaine County), and J.E. Yensen (Boise County). All played some role which while history may not have recorded it, still was a part in the play.

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

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