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Posts published in “Day: August 25, 2017”

Cecil Andrus

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For those a long time around Idaho, losing Cecil Andrus is like losing a member of the family.

When I first arrived in Idaho in 1973, his was one of the few Gem State names I’d ever heard. He was then well into his first term as governor, following his second run for the office. At his death this week he had been a well-known Idahoan and a representative leader of the state for longer than just about anyone I can think of; statistically at least, he was governor longer than anyone else, and never was he a mere caretaker.

But it was a while before this point about him came clear to me: He didn’t get there by dint of deep Idaho roots; he didn’t, in a phrase I’ve heard elsewhere, live on a road named for his grandparents. At the time he first ran for governor, in 1966, he’d been in the state little more than a decade, moving to Orofino from Oregon in the spring of 1955 as a logger. He was elected to the state Senate only half a decade after his Idaho arrival. (Barely a decade after that, he was United State Secretary of the Interior.)

That alone speaks to something unusual about his capabilities in politics. Too often the word “politician” is used as a derogatory; it ought to be a term of praise, and as a natural politician Andrus stands as a good demonstration of why.

Those reasons weren’t immediately obvious back then, and have little to do with his charismatic presence, though Andrus was one of those people whose presence in a room is immediately felt. His urbane surface with well-chosen words and that smart you-know-and-I-know wink developed over time, and his entry into politics famously was said to come in a fit of anger. (A local Republican apparently taunted him that it was a good thing he didn’t run for the legislature, because he would have been clobbered; Andrus took the bait and defeated the Republican incumbent.)

But his instincts about how to run for office and about how to act and govern once there seemed to come from somewhere deeper; seem almost to have been there all along. They seemed rooted where they should, in an understanding of human nature stronger than most people have.

He also had a deep understanding of Idaho, and in turn he helped change the way Idahoans thought about themselves.

When Martin Peterson and I some years back published a list of the most influential Idahoans in state history, we ranked Andrus at 16, and the main argument about that was the contention he should have ranked higher. We did rank him higher than any other governor, and his long-time associate and columnist Chris Carlson built a book about him around the title, “Idaho’s Greatest Governor.” His effects on education, environmental protection and economic development in the state have been enormous.

Peterson and I suggested, “One of Andrus’ greatest impacts may be psychological: He added in 1970 a new dimension to the way Idahoans think about their state, when he campaigned in part on ‘quality of life’ as an important ideological consideration.” It had not much been part of the way Idahoans thought about their state before then, but it has been ever since.

Andrus left the governorship in 1995, and has not sought or held office since. But he has been visible through the years, taking a role on issues, mentoring people and helping candidates, building community activities such as the foundation started under his name.

That’s his role in the family. He carried it superbly.

Trade, growth and ‘tough talk’

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It was a striking headline in the business news site Bloomberg on August 18 that should have garnered more attention than it did in the Gem State:

“Trump-Friendly Idaho Doesn't Put America First.”

That does need some explanation. It doesn’t refer to patriotism as such, but rather Idaho’s business practices: Idaho’s economy is doing well, ranking high among strong state economies, because “its largest employers sell the bulk of their products overseas, count the world's biggest multinational companies among their customers and suppliers, and make most of their money from the technology driving globalization.”

That was Bloomberg’s core conclusion, supported by a raft of data. I found this nugget an interesting contrast: “... the economy of Idaho's southeastern neighbor, Wyoming, is driven more by domestic industries like metals and mining, which provided 20 percent of its gross domestic product. It was the worst U.S. economy during the 12 months ended March 31, with the largest job and tax-revenue losses and second-worst stock market and mortgage delinquencies.”

Idaho’s international focus should come as no surprise. Governor for the last decade, C.L. “Butch” Otter, has made his international business trips, many to Asia and Europe, highlights of his years in office, understandably since international business relationships have been a big part of what he did professionally back to his days at the J.R. Simplot Company.

Over the last 15 years or so, international exports from Idaho have more than doubled - a remarkable expansion many Idahoans may not even have noticed - according to the Idaho Department of Commerce. Many of Idaho’s larger businesses are involved in export.

None of this is really stunning news; even decades ago, international business was important to Idaho business. Nor is it an outlier nationally; a new poll from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs said that “for the first time since the think tank first asked the question in 2004, more than half of Americans — 57 percent — also agreed that trade is good for creating U.S. jobs.” But about half of Republicans nationally say that trade deals mostly benefit other countries, not ours. The issue becomes of bigger import these days because of attitudes toward trade in the Trump Administration, which voters in Idaho helped put into office.

Consider these headlines over the last month from a range of publications internationally: “Trump is 'hostile to trade', says American advising UK”; “Trump may be about to wallop global trade as we know it”; “Trump's Stalled Trade Agenda Leaves Industries in the Lurch”; “Trump's Trade Agenda Divides the Nation's Cities”; “China: Trump trade probe violates international rules”; “NDP trade critic calls Trump's comments about terminating NAFTA 'disconcerting'.” Among many more.

The details of trade agreements are where you find the good-or-bad; specific provisions can be beneficial or not. The talk coming out of the White House, though, has emphasized how “we are going to make some very big changes” (as the president said of the NAFTA this spring).

That’s making a lot of businesses nervous. And regardless who got the votes for the presidency last year, it ought to make Idaho economic developers nervous as well.