Writings and observations

Idaho’s own political dynasty

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

I’ve been watching the Ken Burns’ series on the Roosevelts. They were the most influential American political dynasty of the twentieth century, which is something when you consider that we also had the Kennedys and the Bushes.

But Idaho has had its own political dynasty. A family that, by nearly any measure, has been the most influential political family in Idaho’s relatively brief history. Even those who have heard of it are generally not aware of its extent. It is a family tree that, examined in detail, includes such notables as Governors Robert Smylie and Cecil Andrus and Senator Frank Church. It is also a family that, while heavily Democratic, also includes some influential Republicans.

The tree begins with the arrival of Joseph Addison Clark in Idaho in 1885. He became the first mayor of Idaho Falls, serving from 1900-02. He ran unsuccessfully for governor on the Prohibition ticket in 1904. Two of his sons, Barzilla and Chase, also served as mayors of Idaho Falls. He had a third son, David, who did not hold elective office, but needs to be mentioned because of others in his line of the Clark family who did become major players in state and national politics.

Barzilla Clark served two terms on the Idaho Falls city council and was elected mayor in 1913, serving a single term. He was elected governor in 1936 and served a single two-year term. His daughter Lois married Merlin Young, who served as a state district judge before being appointed federal bankruptcy judge for Idaho. The Young’s daughter Patricia, a state magistrate judge, married Byron Johnson, and Idaho supreme court justice.

Chase Clark served two terms in the Idaho legislature representing Custer County. When his brother Barzilla resigned as mayor of Idaho Falls to become governor, Chase succeeded him as mayor. He was elected governor in 1942 and served a single two-year term. Following his term as governor, he was appointed to the U.S. District Court by President Roosevelt. His daughter Bethine married Boise attorney Frank Church, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1956 and served through 1980. The Church’s son, Chase, was married to Kelly Andrus, daughter of Governor Cecil Andrus and they have two children.

The third brother, David, had a son, D. Worth Clark. He was elected to the U.S. Congress from Idaho’s second district in 1934. After serving two terms in Congress, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served a single term. D. Worth was married to Virgil Irwin. Virgil’s sister, Lucille, was married to Robert Smylie, who served as both Attorney General and Governor of Idaho. The Smylie’s son, Steve, served four terms in the Idaho legislature.

D. Worth’s daughter, Nancy Clark Reynolds, hosted local television shows in Baltimore, Boise and San Francisco. When Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California, Nancy was appointed assistant press secretary and later became a special assistant. After Reagan left the governorship, Nancy moved to Washington, DC, as a lobbyist for Boise Cascade and then Bendix. When Reagan became president, she took a leave of absence and moved into Blair House with the President-elect and First Lady. She was invaluable to the Reagans because she knew Washington better than anyone else around them. And she became invaluable to a growing list of clients because of her closeness to the Reagans. She became Nancy Reagan’s best friend. Her client list included the Motion Picture Association of America and General Motors, among others. She eventually sold her firm to Hill and Knowlton but went on to serve on a number of corporate boards, including Sears, Viacom and Allstate.

For over 100 years the descendants of Joseph Clark have influenced the shaping of public policy at the local, state and federal levels. Today their legacies continue to impact Idahoans through such things as the state parks system, the Wilderness Act, the Idaho Falls municipal power system, annual cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients and many other ways.

It seems doubtful that Idaho will ever again see a family with this level of political influence. But perhaps it still isn’t over. Someday Idaho may see a politico who can claim both Frank Church and Cecil Andrus as his or her grandfathers and Joseph Clark as an ancestor.

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