May 07 2014
The passage of time has been good to him. His hair is now a distinguished white and there’s still plenty of it. His smile is still infectious, his voice still stentorian, his personality still charming, his intelligence obvious, and his ability to conduct solid political calculus still considerable.
Twenty-eight years ago he came within 3300 votes of being elected governor and knocking off the acknowledged heavy-weight champion, Cecil D. Andrus, in Andrus’ bid to return to the governorship after an absence of ten years.
Now 66, looking every inch the prosperous attorney he has become, he and I sat down recently over a three hour breakfast to catch up. It was just two old war-horses reminiscing, but both of us still feel youthful in spite of the challenges of advancing age.
I first became acquainted with David when I returned to Idaho in 1981 to accept appointment to the newly formed Northwest Power Planning Council following my service with Andrus at the Interior Department. Leroy was the Attorney General. We started jogging together over the noon hour.
We shared a common interest in Idaho history and politics. We both admired former governor and senator Len B. Jordan, and his wife, Grace. Though we had obvious political differences, I liked Leroy, even though he was one of the more calculating political personalities I’d encountered.
Many thought he was ruthlessly ambitious. Critics would point out details such as naming his daughter Jordan. Or they would cite his cultivation of the behind-the-scenes political power broker, Bill Campbell, a Boise insurance executive.
Or they would note his even then growing interest in President Abraham Lincoln and the Lincoln connection to Idaho. The passage of time has proven that interest to be truly sincere. He and Nancy have spent thousands of dollars acquiring Lincoln memrobilia which they have generously donated to the state. Proving he can still give a heck of a speech, he has traveled the length and breadth of Idaho talking about Lincoln’s tie to Idaho.
When one jogs with another, you talk about a variety of topics from family matters to beliefs and you begin to recognize the outlines of one’s strengths as well as weaknesses. There also is an implicit sanctity of the confessional.
Suffice it to say, I discerned as a “weakness” in Leroy what others would see as a strength – he was, and still is, loyal to a fault. As the 1982 election loomed there were those urging Leroy to run for governor against John Evans. To do so, though, would mean Leroy would have to run over Phil Batt who many in the GOP felt had earned an uncontested shot at Evans.
Leroy knew the calculus well. Though a primary against Batt would have not been easy, as Attorney General he had more name identification than Batt, was younger, and could have won. His odds against Evans would have been 50/50.
When he asked my opinion, I simply said if he wanted to be governor he should make the move in 1982. If he waited until 1986, he would be up against Cece. Talented as he was, he would not beat Andrus. Leroy’s response was to be loyal to his party and to Batt. And he was. He instead ran and was elected Idaho’s 36th Lt. Governor in the fall of 1982.
Knowing then that Leroy was going to challenge the champion, I started much earlier than normal to round up key support for Andrus. When Leroy and campaign manager Helen Chenoweth (who handed David his only other campaign loss, a 1994 defeat in the Republican primary for the First Congessional District) met with Washington Water Power they discovered Andrus and I had locked up their support months earlier.
Still, Leroy ran the toughest race Andrus ever faced. He lost by 3300 votes. Under Idaho law he could have sought a recount. To his credit Leroy spared the taxpayers the expense and the uncertainty.
Four years later Leroy accepted an appointment from President George H.W. Bush to serve as the U. S. Nuclear Waste negotiator with Idaho. He returned to private practice in 1993.
As befits one for whom loyalty is all important, he returned recently from a Bush #41 birthday celebration at Texas A & M. He commented in passing that former Governor Jeb Bush gave some pretty good remarks.
If Jeb Bush is the GOP presidential nominee in 2016, I have a pretty good idea who will be his Idaho campaign coordinator.Share on Facebook