One way to get some perspective on Idaho government today is to look back to how it once was. Let’s go back a century and see what happened then.
The governor then was John Haines, a Republican real estate developer who was elected on a small-government platform; he was serving just one two-year term (and would lose a bid for re-election in 1914). The Legislature was even more Republican then than it is now, 21-3 in the Senate 56-4 in the House.
So what did they do in the 1913-14 term? What follows is a short description, extracted from the book Idaho 100 (by your scribe and Martin Peterson, published in fall 2012); Haines ranked number 54 on that list. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it: Compare and contrast to their present-day counterparts …
An Iowa native, Haines spent his early adulthood dealing real estate in Kansas, only to be wiped out by a severe drought in the late 1890s. Along with many others, he headed west, to Idaho. On the way, he encountered several other would-be realtors, and when they got to Boise they formed the W.E. Pierce and Company real estate firm. It rapidly became the leading realty firm in Idaho, and played an important role in the development of southwest Idaho—Boise in particular. That development became all the more important because the senior partner, W.E. Pierce, was elected Boise mayor in 1903, and Haines succeeded him in 1907. The office of mayor gave Haines the platform to run for governor in 1912, in a race he only barely won over Democrat James Hawley, after running hard on a campaign of fiscal austerity.
He turned out, once elected, to have a head for reform, in all sorts of areas. He pushed for non-partisan election of judges (who then ran on party tickets; his suggestion would be taken after a few years). He pressed for the full range of progressive political issues, including the recall and referendum.
Governing during a session when legislators were preoccupied with choosing a new U.S. senator, he argued for passage of the 17th amendment to turn that over to the voters. And, amid the political confusion, he became central in the 1913 session in setting an agenda for passing what he considered very important items. He got them.
One was creation of a state Board of Education. Idaho already had a board of regents for the University of Idaho, but the new board would be united with it and oversee education statewide. That same system survives a century later.
So has Haines’s proposal for a public utility commission. He pushed the idea at a time when electric power companies were just starting to merge, when other utilities were beginning to turn into larger companies. Idaho presumably would have wound up regulating them in some fashion in later years; but if it had been done at a point when utility lobbyists became much more powerful, the regulatory structure might have looked a lot different.
He also proposed creating the Workman’s Compensation Board (later, and currently, the Industrial Commission), which is still active in essentially the same form.
Haines was a close watcher of the legislature, proposing and vetoing with great frequency (and sometimes even vetoing bills that grew out of his proposals). The counties of Gooding, Franklin, Jefferson, Minidoka, and Power were created in 1913, with his explicit approval. He vetoed creation of Valley County by splitting Boise County, however, saying the change would leave Boise County with too little valuation. That would have to wait another few years.
In all, Haines’ two years as governor marked one of the most critical legislative periods in Idaho history.Share on Facebook