Writings and observations

carlson CHRIS


The governor-elect handed me a letter as we were dining one December 1986 evening in Boise. Cecil Andrus had narrowly been returned to the governorship the previous month after an absence of ten years. The letter was from the regional representative of the National Rifle Association requesting a meeting at the governor’s earliest convenience.

Presumably, the NRA, recognized then as now as one of the most influential lobbying organization in the nation’s capital and in many state capitals, wanted a “kiss and make up” meeting with Andrus. Despite the incontestable fact that Andrus was a true sportsman, a fisherman and a hunter who went after his elk and his deer every fall, and filled the rest of the freezer with ducks, geese and pheasant, the NRA had endorsed Andrus’ opponent, the non-hunter, Lt. Governor David Leroy.

In responding to their endorsement questionnaire, Leroy had apparently gone right down the line endorsing every NRA position. Andrus, on the other hand, took exception and would not endorse the sale of “cop-killer” bullets or the elimination of waiting periods for background checks. Things he thought were just common-sense positions turned out to be litmus tests for purity. Leroy, despite not owning any firearms, therefore received the endorsement.

It was more than just an endorsement. My former business associate and the 1986 campaign press secretary detailed in his The Johnson Post blog this week the attempt by the NRA in the waning days of the campaign to tilt the election towards Leroy. Direct mail pieces as well as print and radio ads touting their endorsement of Leroy over Andrus suddenly mushroomed across the state.

In most western states to have the NRA come out after a candidate so aggressively is the kiss of death.

Andrus withstood the attack although it no doubt contributed to his closest race ever because almost the state’s entire “hook and bullet” crowd knew he was one of them. He made sure they all knew. Each election he purchased from the Idaho Fish & Game agency the list of all those holding Idaho fishing and/or hunting licenses and his campaign would put together a special mailing detailing his stance on various issues of importance to them. Additionally, the mailing invariably had a couple of pictures of the governor posing with an elk he had shot, or his limit of pheasants, or a fine steelhead he had caught on a fly.

A charge that Andrus was anti-gun and not supportive of the Second Amendment had no legs because there was no truth to it. That, however, did not stop the NRA from trying to defeat him. To say he was angry is an understatement.

So, what do you think I should do he repeated. “Well, you won so why not be
magnanimous, give them their meeting and make them grovel some,” I replied.
“Besides, you don’t really want to pick a fight with them and forever incur their enmity, do you?” I countered.

“Give me the letter back, he said. Taking out his felt tip pin, he wrote in big black bold ink across the top of the first page “You’ve got to be kidding.” Then he signed it. He handed it back to me and said, “Put it in the mail.” Which I did.

Needless to say, the NRA did not endorse his race for a fourth term in 1990.

Andrus continues to applaud the gun safety courses they teach, their recruitment of more women, and contends there are many within the organization who support reasonable restrictions designed to protect the innocent, just as he does.

In his view, though, they often act cynically and hypocritically. In the case of the NRA, their extremism in defense of the Second Amendment has become a vice not a virtue.

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Carlson Idaho