Retiring Rep. JoAn Wood made the Idaho House her home

The Rigby Republican, Idaho’s longest-serving legislator, is leaving with ‘good feelings.’

(IDAHO FALLS) POST REGISTERMarch 6, 2014 

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Bruce Newcomb talks with Rep. JoAn Wood, a Republican from Rigby outside the JFAC meeting room in the Capitol Annex during the 2009 Legislative session.

SHAWN RAECKE — Shawn Raecke / Idaho Statesman

Rep. JoAn Wood, 79, began her 16-term tenure with the Idaho Legislature in 1983, and her long run is coming to an end.

“I’m proud of my time here,” she said. “I leave with good feelings and no regrets. I wanted to go to college when I was younger, but this was my education.”

The face of Byron Mason is as clear in Wood’s mind today as it was in 1941.

Mason, her uncle, died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged the nation into World War II. His death led Wood to pay close attention to what was going on.

“I wanted to see what I could do to make sure I understood, to make sure something like that would never happen again,” she said.

In high school, Wood began writing her congressmen about issues important to her, including the federal government’s interference with states’ rights and regulations that farmers and ranchers were facing from environmental groups.

With the encouragement of her husband, Tom, the mother of five became active in the local Republican Party before she decided to run for office in 1982. It was there that she met her longtime friend and fellow House member, Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis.

For years, Wood and Barrett represented District 35, before redistricting in 2002 placed Barrett in District 8.

“Grass just will not grow under her feet,” Barrett said. “She’s just an energetic, family-oriented, spiritual person — all the things we should go back to being.”

CHANGE AND ACCOMPLISHMENT

Much has changed since Wood entered the political arena, especially with respect to how House members conduct their business.

Before the Capitol Building restoration was completed in 2005, House members sat at their desks on the House floor, Wood said, even when the legislative body wasn’t in session.

Legislators were more accessible to the public and each other, Wood said. Today, they’re confined to cubicles in the two wings of the Capitol.

Perhaps Wood’s proudest moment came with establishment of the Wood Pilot Program in 2008, a problem-solving court in Bonneville County that bears her name. Wood launched the program to give convicted offenders with mental health and drug problems an opportunity to receive more focused treatment.

Wood Court offers an intensely structured program that promotes recovery and self-sufficiency to keep families together, she said. Participants must complete four phases that emphasize employment, education and other productive activities.

Wood also is a longtime fierce supporter of water rights. Her grandfather helped establish the state’s feeder canal system.

“He told me even then, ‘Defend Idaho’s water supply, it’s the most precious resource we have,’ ” she said.

Wood was honored in January by the Idaho Water Users Association. She received the group’s Water Statesman Award for her work and advocacy of water issues, something that undoubtedly would have made her grandfather proud.

“As a farm and ranch partner, she understands completely the crucial role Idaho’s water plays in the state and has used that knowledge to work tirelessly to defend Idaho’s water,” said Norm Semanko, the association’s executive director.

BIG SHOES TO FILL

Longtime Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, has formed a loyal friendship with Wood. Bateman served five terms during his first legislative stint, from 1977 to 1986. He returned after winning election in 2010.

“She’s a champion of the underdog,” Bateman said. “She looks at how legislation affects the common man on the street. A state agency can argue (in favor of issues) until it’s blue in the face, but if she’s not convinced it’s going to help the common man … she’ll oppose it.”

According to Barrett, Wood never wavered from her core values.

“She is what we should do: Have your principles and have your convictions strong enough that when you get over here, they don’t change,” Barrett said. “That’s very difficult for some people, but JoAn managed it.”

TIME WITH FAMILY

After she leaves her legislative post, Wood said she’ll spend time with her large family — five children, 17, grandchildren, 50 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. She also hopes to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as travel and possibly write a book about her time in the Legislature.

For her successor, whoever that might be, Wood offered some advice.

“Come here for the right reason,” she said. “Don’t come here to make yourself big and important. That’s not the reason to come here. Don’t come for the money … because reimbursements don’t begin to come close to covering everything.

“This is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year job. People will call you when they’re in trouble, no matter the time. But that’s when you say, ‘That’s what I’m here for. I’m here for you.’ That is the reason to come here.”

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