He turns 85 on August 25th. He has always had an ability to turn a phrase, and is particularly quick at utilizing well-known colloquial expressions at appropriate times. So, if asked how he feels about turning 85 he would probably say he’s been “rode hard and put up wet” a few too many times. Then he would crack that smile that lights up his eyes and is an essential part of his charm.
That charm, coupled with a prodigious memory for names and faces, as well as his political skill in solving seemingly intractable problems, inspires people to trust him. Besides, he is just a downright likable human being.
Over the years he has challenged Idahoans to dare to be great, to do more and with less if necessary. His unstinting support for more funding for public education, his insistence that critically important economic development cannot come at the expense of existing business, his belief that one first has to make a living before they can enjoy Idaho’s incredible environment has resonated well with voters.
“He” of course is Cece Andrus, the former four-term governor of the state, former 44th Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, former State Senator from Clearwater county as well as the city of Lewiston. By any measure he is the most successful and greatest governor in Idaho’s history.
He left public office in 1995 but remains the most popular political figure in the state and despite an entire generation having grown up without even having had the chance to vote for him he is more liked and his favorable to unfavorable numbers are higher than any current major officeholder.
He is the essence of Shakespeare’s Henry the Second, the Lion in Winter with teeth still sharp that can take a big bite out of anyone’s hide as the folks at the Department of Energy’s INEL site learned when they tried to bamboozle he and former Governor Phil Batt into abrogating the historic agreement banning future shipments of any nuclear waste into Idaho which has a commitment to take all waste from the site by 2035.
The list of his many accomplishments on behalf of Idahoans and all Americans is long and distinguished - too long to list here. However, perhaps his greatest legacy was his critical role in convincing President Carter to use his powers to create National Monuments in Alaska under the Antiquities Act. It became the critical piece of leverage that forced all parties to come to the table and negotiate the bill that became the historic Alaska lands legislation.
Overnight the National Park Service doubled in size. Ironically the anniversary of the Park Service is coincidentally August 25th. There will celebrations in and on NPS properties all across the nation including West Yellowstone - the nation’s first national park.
Andrus deliberately chose not to be there. He wants to fade away quietly, his time in the limelight having come and gone. He knows his career was made possible by thousands of Idahoans who trusted and supported him, indeed sustained him. He was always so proud and considered it to be a real privilege to represent the great state. He never put on airs; glory never turned his head. While in D.C. he placed his own phone calls, played on a softball team in the Department’s recreational league. He knew who he was, from whence he came and to where he would return.
Like most of us who inevitably age he has faced and handled several life-threatening health challenges in recent years, but he forbid those close to him to say anything not wanting his health challenges to detract from others facing the same. His goal is to live to be 100, thereby beating his father, Hal, who lived to be 99.
Yes indeed, Andrus is still one of the most competitive individuals one will ever meet. He doesn’t like to lose at anything, whether tiddlywinks, fly fishing, goose hunting, golf or elected office. Starting a political career by losing a race for governor twice in the same year is not only humbling, it can be motivational.
One drawback to living so long is one knows and sees far too many friends passing on. He could probably attend a funeral every day somewhere in Idaho. As John Donne wrote in the 16th century, every person’s death diminishes us all and the departure of so many friends and supporters takes a toll on Cece.
Andrus is the natural at so many things but in particular he is a superb teacher who relates to any student whether five or twenty-five or sixty-five.
Neither is he afraid to show his emotions. He is human but also humane.
Once, while visiting he and Carol in Boise, I quietly walked into their living room only to see the good, great governor sitting there with tears rolling down his cheeks. He had happened to catch on television a Fish and Game commercial from a couple years back that featured him and his then favorite hunting dog. The dog was of course gone, but not forgotten.
There are thousands of Idahoans still alive whose lives are better because of Cece. In a spirit of thanksgiving for an extraordinary life of public service join me in wishing the Lion in Winter a happy and healthy 85th.