A black-hearted Republican friend called recently and asked “are there any Republican governors in Idaho’s history, or anywhere for that matter, you thought did a good job?”
“Sure,” I responded.
“Then name them. I’m getting bored with your continuous haranguing about how lousy a job Butch is doing. You may be right, but say something positive about any Republican governor once in awhile,” he advised.
After pondering this advice for a bit, I decided my friend had a point.
During my 66 years there have been three exceptionally good, well-qualified, progressive and constructive Republican governors who left the state of Idaho in great shape. They did little harm and much good. C.A. “Doc” Robbins from St. Maries (1947 to 1951); Phil Batt from Wilder (1995-1999); and, Robert E. Smylie from Caldwell, (1955-1967).
Looking across the nation but understandably focusing more on the west, several others come to mind: Washington Governor Daniel J. Evans (1965 to 1977); Oregon’s Tom McCall (1967-1975); Utah’s Jon Huntsman, Jr., (2005 to 2009); Montana’s Marc Racicot (1993 to 2001); Nevada’s Paul Laxalt (1967 to 1971); California’s Pete Wilson (1991 to 1999); and, Alaska’s Jay Hammond (1974 to 1982).
Of that entire distinguished group, Hammond was my favorite. Here’s why.
• An incredible ability to see over the horizon, down the road, into the future. From his first elected office as an independent in the House of Representatives in the very first session after Alaskabecame a state in 1959, Hammond recognized the need to conserve some revenue from the development of Alaska’s abundant resources not just for a “rainy day” fund but also to put it into a fund that the Legislature could not touch, a fund designed to give each Alaskan an annual payback for their commitment to the State.
His vision became the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Program with a percentage of the State’s take in taxes of the oil generated in Prudhoe Bay going into a permanent savings account from which only the interest could be spent, but spent on an annual dividend to every Alaska citizen.
• A commitment to protecting Alaska’s priceless environment. As a former backcountry trapper and guide, as well as a Bristol Bay fisherman, Hammond understood the need for balance in cultivating natural resources like fish and wildlife, and doing so without trashing the environment. He easily could have uttered Governor Cecil Andrus’ famous line: First you have to make a living. Then you have to have a living worthwhile.
• An ability to articulate the complexity of most issues, to understand each side of an argument, explain the sides to an audience and then walk through sound reasoning as to the position he was taking. He never pandered to the public or special interest groups.
• An ability to compromise and a recognition that governors are “hired” by the public to solve problems. His constructive role during the acrimonious debate that tore many Alaskans apart regarding just how much land would be preserved for posterity as national parks, wildernesses, wildlife refuges and wild and scenic rivers as required by section 17-d-2 of the Alaska Land Claims Settlement Act was a true profile in courage.
I will always remember the August morning in 1979 when he quietly flew his single engine Cessna 182 float plane into the fishing resort on Lake Iliamna where Andrus and a large press contingent he was taking on a tour of proposed d-2 lands was staying. The Interior secretary jumped aboard and the two of them flew off for a day of fishing as well as sitting on logs, spreading out the maps and reaching agreement on the boundaries of the various set asides.
• A tremendous sense of self-deprecating humor. Hammond was a truly humble person who like Andrus appreciated the humor in situations and could laugh at life’s absurdities.
In fact that’s the bottom line: Jay Hammond was the Republican governor most like Cecil Andrus. Either one of them would have made terrific presidents of the United States.Share on Facebook