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Carlson: Remembering Doc Robins

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

“Benewah County has an opportunity which may never come this way again.” – St. Maries Gazette Record, June 6, 1946

The above item was the last point in a campaign ad for C.A. “Doc” Robins, a former three-term Benewah County State Senator running for the 1946 Republican gubernatorial nomination.

The 61-year-old Robins easily defeated former two-term Idaho Governor C.A. “Bott” Bottolfsen in the primary and went on to defeat incumbent Governor Arnold Williams by a landslide in November.

Robins was the first governor of Idaho from the northern part of the state in more than 50 years and surely will be, as the ad suggests, the only governor with ties to Benewah County ever.

Ask people on the streets of St. Maries today who “Doc” Robins was and the vast majority don’t have a clue. There is no sign as one enters St. Maries that it used to be the hometown of arguably one of the most influential people in Idaho’s political history. Nor is there any notice erected anywhere in the county.

And that’s a shame.

Robins, a physician, was not only a fine governor, by all accounts he also was a warm, wonderful human being who cared deeply about his patients, was always approachable and certainly possessed an exceptional bedside manner. He delivered most of the babies born in the county for many years.

His fellow state senators elected him that body’s president for the 1943 session of the Idaho Legislature. Re-elected to a fourth consecutive term in 1944, he surely would have been elected its president again. But he resigned from the Senate rather than leave St. Maries without any doctor, which would have been the case had he attended the 1945 legislative session.

Politically, 1946 was an incredibly important year with electoral outcomes heavily influencing the future of the state and its politics. The epoch-changing events began with the death of Republican U.S. Senator John Thomas on Nov. 10, 1945.

On Nov. 17 Democratic Governor Charles Gossett resigned as governor, an act which elevated his Lieutenant Governor, Arnold Williams, to the governorship. Williams then appointed Gossett to the vacant Senate seat. The gamesmanship did not set well with the voters in part because Williams became Idaho’s first Mormon governor at a time when there was still a bias against members of the LDS church, particularly among north Idahoans.

Idaho’s other U.S. Senator, the “Singing Cowboy,” Democrat Glen Taylor, a charismatic progressive (he would become Henry Wallace’s running mate on the 1948 presidential ballot) had been elected in 1944.

When Democrat George Donart, a Boise attorney, decided to challenge the former governor, Taylor threw his support to Donart. Returning to Idaho two weeks before the June primary, Taylor stumped the state for 11 straight days making 40 appearances that carried Donart to a 3000 vote victory over Gossett.

Second District Congressman Henry Dworshak easily won the Republican nomination. In November, he also won the Senate seat back for the GOP, defeating Donart by almost the same margin “Doc” Robins had accumulated over Governor Williams.

Governor Robins was the first to serve under a new law that provided a governor serve only one four-year term. He accomplished much during that one term (the subject of a future column) and easily could have won re-election. Instead, he was succeeded by the more conservative former Hells Canyon sheep rancher and then Grangeville auto dealer, Len B. Jordan.

Though the Legislature again changed the governor’s term of office during Jordan’s one term, to unlimited consecutive terms, Jordan declined to seek a second term saying the voters had elected him in 1950 thinking he would serve just one term and he felt honor-bound by that vote not to seek a second term.

“Doc” also began a 24-year Republican stranglehold on the governorship that was finally broken in 1970 by Cecil Andrus. And Andrus’ lieutenant governor, John V Evans, who succeeded Andrus, became the first Mormon ever elected governor when he won his first full-term in 1978.

The modern era of Idaho governors, though, all began with the 1946 election of the decent, talented medical doctor from St. Maries, C. A. “Doc” Robins.

The endorsement of Robins’ candidacy in a line above the Gazette-Record’s masthead in that same June 6th issue said it all: “Disregard Party Lines and Vote for Dr. C.A. Robins for Governor.”

By a two to one margin in both the primary and general election, Benewah county voters did, as did voters statewide.

(Editor’s note: The G-R is holding a “drop by” open house on August 4th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for folks with personal memories or stories of “Doc” Robins to come and share them with Chris and Dan Hammes. Stories, letters and photos may be used in a “Doc” Robins Retrospective being prepared for publication in September.)

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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