It was a late summer-like day in early September of 1974. Governor Andrus and I were in a chartered twin engine plane flying from Preston to McCall via Boise because we also had to drop off the United Press International reporter who had covered our event in the far southeast corner of the state.
Shortly after mid-day we found ourselves flying at 10,000 feet over Twin Falls looking down on an assembled throng of thousands gathering to watch Evil Knievel attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon.
In November, Andrus’ name was on the ballot and by September a good chunk of our time was spent on the campaign trail. In fact it was “personal” politics that had taken us to Preston for a 10 a.m. meeting at the Franklin County Fairgrounds with 800 ranchers and farmers.
Andrus had had his fill of the local state senator, Reed Budge, an arch-conservative who opposed anything Andrus sought from the Legislature.
A cattle rancher, Budge was a proud member of “sirloin row,” where the state senators who represented rural interests, sat.
In reviewing pre-filed bills, Andrus had come across one drafted by Budge that he thought was inimical to the best interests of that county. In a rare move for the politically savvy governor, Andrus decided to go into Budge’s district, lay this out for the voters, and urge Budge’s defeat.
Thus it was that we flew into the nearest airport and drove to the Fairgrounds. Hundreds of people had gathered for what everyone expected to be a real showdown. Andrus was calling Budge out, as the saying goes. He had his facts down cold, made it clear what Budge was attempting and urged the crowd to vote for Budge’s opponent.
Senator Budge stood in the back of the room, arms folded with a slight smile on his face. Invited several times to say something, he simply shook his head. Budge knew something Andrus knew but had forgotten - many political issues are so complicated and confusing that people often decide on the basis of “who do they trust.”
These were Budge’s voters, heavily Republican and Mormon. Budge knew he didn’t have to say a word. The governor was a “gentile” from north Idaho, a “Big City” boy and a Democrat. Ninety minutes later we were back on the plane and headed to Boise. Andrus hadn’t made a dent in Budge’s armor.
Being a still wet-behind-the ears press secretary, I thought I would make the smart suggestion that we divert to the Twin Falls airport, put down, call Chris LaRocco, our then Twin Falls County campaign coordinator, to meet us with some brochures and go work that gathering crowd.
After all, it was a large crowd. In that way I thought we would salvage something from the day.
To my surprise, Andrus nixed the suggestion as quickly as I made it. He made several points some may find still relevant.
Paraphrasing, he said if he were to be there his mere appearance would be perceived as an endorsement and he did not want anyone thinking that because he did not endorse the stunt. “It’s going to cost the state’s taxpayers money for which there will be no reimbursement for items like overtime for State Police support for local law enforcement.”
Secondly, Andrus doubted the local units of government, the city and county of Twin Falls, blinded by the thought that the stunt would help generate more tourism, had begun to charge the sponsors enough in permit fees to recover their costs. “It will be a lost leader in the end,” he said.
Third, Andrus said he did not believe in lending the office of governor as a prop for a publicity stunt, especially one that could end in disaster.
“The state shouldn’t consider giving him a permit for the landing site on the north side of the canyon. They should be considering a permit for the bottom of the canyon ‘cuz that’s where he’s going to land. Nope, I hope we’re several hundred miles away by the time he makes the attempt,” he concluded.
I thought about what Andrus had said then as I read the recent news that Idaho, this time around has already garnered a million dollars for the State Endowment Fund from the winning bidder for the next attempt.
Something tells me that were Andrus still governor he would still be several hundred miles away. Shortly after Andrus was first elected he had signs put up on state highways saying “Idaho Is Too Great to Litter.”
I think he rightly sees this kind of stunt as a cheap thrill attracting those hoping to see the latest entry for a “Darwin Award.” It “litters” Idaho’s grandeur and greatness.