Jan 16 2013

A heavyweight bout that wasn’t

Published by at 9:46 am under Carlson

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

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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