Former state Sen. John Hansen, a Republican from Idaho Falls, died Sunday evening after suffering a heart attack.
Hansen was an attorney who served as a state senator for six terms (12 years) before retiring in 1998. He has been described as a “steelheader” — after the fish known for swimming upstream — for his penchant for bucking the political currents.
“He was such a thoughtful, caring individual, and it showed whether it was in his legal work or when he was serving in the Legislature, or just with neighbors and friends,” Hansen’s wife Michele Hansen said. “He cared about people.”
Together, Michele and John have six children and six grandchildren.
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Michele Hansen said her husband was kind, an outdoorsman and had a great sense of humor.
She said her husband— and his whole family— loved politics so much that family members would time how long it took for the conversation at family gatherings to turn to politics.
“(Politics) was a love and concern of all the family, and it wasn’t the partisan type we have today,” Michele Hansen said.
She said her husband has a reputation for being willing to put partisan politics aside to reach mutually beneficial solutions.
“He was a very collaborative individual with the community and his campaigns,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls. “He reached across a broad political spectrum to include some very remarkable thought leaders.”
Marty Trillhaase, a journalist who covered the Idaho State Legislature in the late 1980s and early ’90s for the Lewiston Tribune and later as the editorial page editor for the Post Register, said Hansen worked with Democratic lawmakers and governors while putting himself at odds with fellow Republicans.
“John Hansen was part of a vanishing breed of Republican legislators: a pragmatist who somehow forgot that being pro-education and pro-environment were not core values within his political party,” Trillhaase said.
Hansen graduated from the University of Idaho in 1959 with degrees in agricultural economics and law. He also attended one year of undergraduate school at American University in Beirut, Lebanon.
He practiced law in Boise and Idaho Falls before founding a law partnership with his brother, Orval Hansen, of which he eventually became senior partner after his brother was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Throughout his career with the senate, he served as chairman of the Human Resources Committee, a member of the Resource and Environment Committee, Idaho commissioner and vice chairman of the Education Commission of the States and a member and chairman of the Six State Pacific Fisheries Legislative Task Force.
Michele Hansen said the family is planning a celebration of her husband’s life for the spring.