Robert Ehlert: Andrus embodies what a politician ought to be

April 8, 2014 

Robert Ehlert


He arrived at the Idaho Statesman 10 minutes before the appointed time of 10:30 a.m. a week ago, commenting that being early is a virtue.

He was unaccompanied, unassuming and, I am pretty sure, unarmed.

Well, there was a slim, ornate leather folder, a gift from Boise State University. In it were some reference materials to which he only sparingly referred. Everything else came right out of his head, his experience - his wisdom.

I can't tell you how refreshing it was to see and hear former Gov. Cecil D. Andrus in action. Alone. Unprompted. Unspinned. Unapologetic. This 82-year-old Idahoan spoke fearlessly and confidently about his take on the past, the present and the future of the Gem State.

He came before the Idaho Statesman editorial board to make the argument for greater protection for the Boulder-White Clouds, whether through legislation or national monument designation. Though he recently stepped aside from his duties at Gallatin Public Affairs after 18 years, watching him in action as a conservationist and state advocate could have been a training video for 99 percent of the hundreds of Idahoans seeking political office.

Except I am not sure the instinctive leadership and statesmanship qualities "Cece" Andrus possesses can be taught or learned. But we can all hope.

Granted, the four-time governor, who also served as President Jimmy Carter's interior secretary, is not running for anything, and at this stage in his life he can thumb his nose at all political convention. Though it is easy to imagine why he is unfettered by polls and public pressures these days, his colleagues and confidants will tell you that is the way he always was. And therein is his strength, and the quality I most admire.

Neither he nor any leader is going to be right on every issue, every time. But few ever doubted what Andrus stood for or against. Beloved by Democrats, he also has the respect of GOP colleagues like golf partner and former Gov. Phil Batt. He counts people like Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, as friends and allies because progress and pragmatism over time are more important than politics.

Political trends can overthrow establishments on any given Tuesday, but the shrill and uncompromising will never inherit the earth for long. Though they may know how to get elected, they eventually will be exposed for their inability to govern.

My advice to the politically inclined is not to study the counterfeit currency that works its way into circulation. The best way to measure the genuine article is to compare it to a genuine Idaho icon.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.

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