Writings and observations

carlson CHRIS


For years, the conventional wisdom among Idaho political insiders has been the state’s two best campaigners were Cecil Andrus, the Democrat, and George Hansen, the Republican. Each had the rare ability to walk into a room of strangers and leave a half hour later with everyone feeling they had personally connected with the candidate and liking him, regardless of party affiliation.

Each had charisma and command presence, in part because each was more than six feet tall. Each had a keen intellect that could reduce complex issues to digestible parts. Each used humor effectively, though Andrus was better at self-deprecation. Neither were great orators but each could speak in lay-man’s language with passion and listen with compassion.

Each had a great memory. They rarely forgot a name or the face. Both had the stamina to begin a day greeting Idaho National Lab bus riders at 4 a.m. and give a stem winder speech that night. They had intensely loyal followers for many years, and some are still around. Hansen and Andrus worked their way up in politics, Andrus starting as the state senator from Clearwater County in 1960 and Hansen as Mayor of Alameda, a suburb of Pocatello in 1960.

Hansen was the first to achieve higher office, knocking off then Democratic incumbent Second District Congressman Ralph Harding from Blackfoot in 1964 in spite of the landslide presidential election of Lyndon Baines Johnson (the last time a Democrat president took Idaho). Hansen quickly turned his sights on Frank Church’s Senate seat, but lost a hard fought race in 1968.

Andrus lost both the 1966 primary race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and then the general election to Republican Don Samuelson. Andrus defeated Samuelson in a rematch in 1970 and went on to win the governorship three more times.

The Second District seat was taken by Orval Hansen (no relation to George), an attorney and state senator from Idaho Falls who served in the House until 1974 when George Hansen decided to reclaim his old seat. He easily dispatched the other Hansen in the Republican primary. George Hansen served 10 controversy-filled years before narrowly losing the 1984 election to Richard Stallings, a history professor at Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho).

Before returning to the House, though, George Hansen took one more run at the U.S. Senate seeking the seat being vacated by Len Jordan in 1972. Hansen lost the August primary in a four-way race to First District Congressman Jim McClure, who also defeated former three-term governor Robert E. Smylie and Glen Wegner, a young lawyer and doctor from Kendrick.

In October, reporter Daryl Lembke, of The Los Angeles Times’ San Francisco bureau visited Idaho to profile the increasingly close race between McClure and the Democrat’s nominee, popular and charismatic Bud Davis, the president (on leave) of Idaho State University. Among those who the reporter visited was Hansen.

Hansen let loose with a charge that went mostly unreported in Idaho media except for the weekly Intermountain Observer which reprinted Lembke’s story about two weeks before the election. Hansen charged that in the fall of 1971 he met with McClure and representatives of four major Idaho corporations – Idaho Power, Boise-Cascade, J.R. Simplot and Morrison-Knudsen.

At that meeting, McClure and the four corporate poobahs tried to entice Hansen to drop out of the race. They feared that if George stayed in he and McClure would split the conservative vote thus handing the nomination to former Governor Smylie, a liberal no longer liked by many Republicans and who finished last in the primary.

And what was the quo for this quid pro should Hansen have accepted? Hansen said the four major businesses and McClure pledged to support Hansen as the Republican’s preferred nominee for governor to run in 1974 against Cecil Andrus. Hansen refused and bitterly condemned, according to Lembke, “a powerful few making it their business to arrange the political climate in Idaho .”

Even more surprising, McClure confirmed Hansen’s story to Lembke, telling him he saw nothing wrong with attempting to prevent fragmenting the conservative vote.

All this came as news to Cecil Andrus who said this was the first he had heard of it, when contacted and asked to comment. “I am sure this all would have been a surprise to Lt. Governor Jack Murphy,” Andrus said, adding “Murphy always thought he was the only candidate the GOP ever thought of running against me.”

Andrus slaughtered Murphy, 73 per cent to 25 per cent, and undoubtedly would have also defeated Hansen, but more like 58 per cent to 42 per cent. But it would have been a heavyweight bout worth watching.

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A Willamette River waterfront sculpture in downtown Corvallis, looking out toward the old Benton County building. (photo/Randy Stapilus)


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rainey BARRETT


A few days after the 2012 general election, we opined in this space the President had become stronger and Congress weaker – that the election had altered the balance of power in favor of the White House. A couple of correspondents said we were wrong – that the President had received no “mandate” and Republicans still controlled the House of Representatives.

In the weeks since, the President’s approval rating has gone up while Congress is now down to unprecedented polling levels – falling in favorability below colonoscopies and root canals. Obama has – with full assistance of that Republican “majority” – secured a stronger bargaining position while Congress – especially the House – has become a swamp.

To the aforementioned skeptics, we now safely advise – it’s gonna get worse for the GOP. And it will be at their own hand.

Several Republican 2016 presidential wannabee’s are already flitting about the country, doing dozens of media interviews, popping more antacid pills because of all the rubber chicken dinners attended and proposing all sorts of new legislation to make the party more “open and welcoming” They’re demonstrating – in spades – they haven’t a clue how to improve the standing or acceptance of the GOP. It’s just so much verbal flatulence.

In weeks since the election, there’s been a single, lifelong Republican voice worth the hearing. After accurately quoting the ignorance of former Republican governors Palin and Sununu, he said this:

“Let me be candid. My party is full of racists and the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander-in-chief and president and everything to do with the color of his skin. And that’s despicable.”

Colin Powell also accused his own party of ignorance – of intolerance of different views – of demanding ideological purity rather that proposing solutions to the nation’s many problems – of failing to offer an acceptable and viable alternative to the Democrat Party – of failing to understand the fundamental changes of ethnicity taking place in this country today.

To the minorities the GOP is trying to attract – to the independents with whom the GOP must connect – to disaffected Republican moderates who have been exiled from the GOP table – Colin Powells may be the most respected Republican voice in the country today. If other Republicans of similar stature don’t follow his lead – if the Party continues to ignore such right-thinking – there will be Democrats living uninterruptedly in the White House for the next 30 years or more. And controlling Congress.

To the Rubios, the Santorums, the Bachmans, ol’ Newt and the other rabbits out there, all that’s needed are some speeches, some new immigration legislation – some talk of a “big tent” – some new curtains in the windows. So, that’s what they’re proposing. And they’re dead wrong.

What’s absolutely necessary – before any of that – is a change of culture within the Party. Culture. Top to bottom. Culture defined by doing. Culture defined by change. Culture defined by action. That’s really what Powell was saying.

But don’t look for significant action despite the wisdom of his words. Don’t look for any fundamental changes within the Party. Because to change the basic culture you have to change the people in charge – the people who make decisions – the people who have the power. And they’re not about to easily give that up. The far right worked long and hard within the national Republican Party organization for several decades before getting their hands on the machinery of committee structure – control of nominations- of electing “their people” to office. They run the place. And changing the culture is not in their DNA. Because they typify the culture that needs changing most.

Powell’s message was, it seems to me, directed as much to Republican moderates – if any there be – as it was to the right wing now calling the shots. I think he was saying to all Republicans to the left of the fringy right – We’ve lost our relevancy – we need to regain our balance – we need to demonstrate Republicans are responsible and responsive. We need to go back to our roots and conduct ourselves and our party by articulating and doing what we learned and used to do very well. And, if those things are going to happen, you and I are the ones to do it.

Though 2014 is far, far away – and 2016 even further – if the heartfelt admonitions and advice from a most respected American are unheeded within his party – the outcomes of those future contests are not hard to predict. There will be no viable second party in our two-party system.

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