If one lives long enough, as the great Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, “its deja vu all over again.”
The latest example is the squabble between legislative leadership and Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter over whether he vetoed the bill removing the grocery sales tax in a timely manner.
Current law allows the governor to take ten days after a legislature adjourns and after he has received the bill to decide whether to veto or not. Some still today contend that the ten-day clock begins ticking from the moment the Legislature adjourned, which in their defense appears to be what the Idaho Constitution says.
However, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in July of 1978 in favor of language saying “upon receipt” in the Governor’s office. That supposedly settled the matter in favor of Governor Cecil D. Andrus in a lawsuit he brought against then Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa for failure to recognize his veto of two bills on the grounds that they weren’t vetoed within the ten days.
Of course by July of 1978 Andrus had been the Secretary of the Interior in the Carter Administration for 18 months, but the case had proceeded in the Court because of the question and the precedence it would establish.
In Cenarrusa’s defense he was acting on the advice of the then chief legal officer for the state, Attorney General Wayne Kidwell, a former Ada County prosecutor and State Senate Majority Leader. Therein lies the real background story that is missing from today’s media reports on this old matter being revisited.
The lawsuit cited two vetoes, but there was only one that really mattered: the veto of a bill within ten days of receipt in the governor’s office sponsored and driven by the attorney general to consolidate all attorneys working for the state under his office. This included attorneys working for cabinet agencies.
It was a raw, naked power grab by the attorney general who also harbored ambitions to run for governor in 1978 whether or not Andrus might be going for a third term.
Knowing his ambitions and hard Republican partisanship, Andrus did not trust the former state senator. Kidwell also had a hair-trigger temper. In the 70’s the AG’s office was on the same floor as the governor’s office. Upon learning of the veto, Kidwell, who should not have been surprised, nonetheless confronted the governor in the hall between their offices.
Playing the role of a “surprised” and personally hurt victim, Kidwell’s temper quickly rose and the confrontation devolved into an unseemly shouting match. Andrus, who can on occasion display his own temper, probably thought about decking the obnoxious attorney general, but restrained himself.
The irony is that earlier in Kidwell’s term as AG, in an extraordinary display of compassion, Andrus literally saved Kidwell’s political career.
The setting was a meeting of the Idaho Land Board, the five constitutionally elected statewide officers who are the trustees of the State lands. They were voting on some minor matter and when the vote came Kidwell was on the short end of a 4 to 1 count.
It was then, according to observers present, that Kidwell started to lose control of himself. Despite their political animosity, Andrus, who could have sat back and let Kidwell irreparably lose it altogether, instead called for a 15 minute recess, stood up, walked around the table to assist Kidwell out of his chair, and escorted Kidwell into his office..
To this day no one knows what Andrus said to Kidwell, but it’s a pretty safe bet he told him to get control of himself and displayed some compassion for his political adversary. Andrus knew what few people were aware of, that the Kidwells had recently lost a child, and were understandably devastated by the loss. What is known is that Kidwelll regained his composure and went back to his office. He did not return to the Land board meeting itself that day.
In today’s highly partisan atmosphere in which people with differing views are treated as the enemy and considered evil, its hard to imagine that kind of true compassion.
Its all about power, who has it and how ruthlesssly they can wield it. Some critics of Governor Otter’s veto are now talking about trying to change the law, but the betting is they’ll not succeed. Now, as Paul Harvey used to say on his noontime radio show, you know the rest of the story.
Incidentally, Kidwell chose not to run for re-election in 1978 and was succeeded by David Leroy. Kidwell later served with distinction for six years on the Idaho Supreme Court from 1999 to 2004.