Perry Swisher fought for Idahos sales tax to fund education, pushed phone companies to install fiber-optic networks and served the state as both a Republican and Democrat.
Swisher was a journalist who worked as a reporter, editor and publisher over a long career that took him across Idaho. But it was in public office that Swisher is best remembered.
Perry was one of Idahos finest legislators, said former Gov. Phil Batt, who served with Swisher in the Idaho Senate. He was not a partisan guy. He was a very good fella to work with.
Swisher died Wednesday morning at Chateau De Boise retirement residence in Boise of congestive heart failure.
He was elected to the Idaho House in 1952 as a Republican, and served in the Senate from 1962 to 1966, also as a Republican.
He is best remembered for leading the fight for Idahos first sales tax. He tried and failed to get it through the Senate in 1963 and then succeeded in 1965, said Charles McDevitt, who carried the bill in the House and later served as chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court.
In 1966, Swisher ran unsuccessfully as a third-party candidate for governor because Republican Don Samuelson was running on a platform of eliminating the sales tax.
The Democratic candidate, Chuck Herndon, also was against the sales tax. But he died in a plane crash and was replaced with only weeks before the election by Cecil Andrus, then a Democratic senator.
Andrus had been the only Democrat to follow Swisher on the critical first 1965 roll-call vote in favor of the sales tax.
Weve lost an Idaho icon, Andrus said Wednesday. Perry was an extremely intelligent, witty and sometimes sharp-tongued adversary.
Samuelson won the governors race, but the sales tax survived. Andrus defeated Samuelson in the 1970 governors race.
McDevitt remembers Swisher as a walking encyclopedia.
An old Chinese proverb says when an old person dies a library burns, McDevitt said. It was quite a library as far as Perry was concerned.
A DEMOCRAT GOES BACK TO THE HOUSE, PUC
In 1976, Swisher returned to the House, this time as a Democrat.
Gov. John Evans in 1979 appointed Swisher to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. AT&T then was a monopoly and the days of the Internet were far in the future, said Conley Ward, a Kuna attorney who served with Swisher on the PUC.
He was way ahead of his time, Conley said. Perry always saw the phone business as a key business driver.
He pushed the phone companies to install fiber optics as soon as it was practical, Ward said.
Swisher also demanded the phone companies provide rural Idahoans with single-party phone service. Even in the 1980s, many rural Idahoans had up to six homes on party lines.
JOURNALISM 'WAS HIS LOVE
As a journalist, Swisher began his career as a stringer for the Salt Lake Tribune. Later he worked as a reporter for the Lewiston Tribune and published the weekly Intermountain from Pocatello.
Later, that merged with the Idaho Observer and Swisher became a regular columnist in the Intermountain Observer until it ended in 1973. Swisher worked again as an editor at the Lewiston Tribune before joining the PUC.
When he retired, he wrote columns that appeared regularly in newspapers across Idaho in the 1990s.
Basically it was journalism that was his love, McDevitt said.
Swisher is survived by his wife, Nicky, son Larry, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A son, Eric, died in 2009.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484