Letters from the West

Idaho conservation voice, tax fairness leader, lawmaker Robison dies

Ken Robison, a legislator and citizen-advocate pictured in 2005, helped create the homeowner property tax exemption.
Ken Robison, a legislator and citizen-advocate pictured in 2005, helped create the homeowner property tax exemption.

Ken Robison, whose editorials in the Idaho Statesman helped protect the White Cloud Mountains from an open pit mine and who led the successful initiative campaign for the state’s homeowner property tax exemption, died Sunday at 79 after a long illness.

Robison helped shift the Statesman in the 1960s from a conservative editorial policy to a more moderate voice that pushed for keeping more dams out of Hells Canyon, adding the Frank Church River of No Return wilderness and stopping a coal-fired electric plant. Later, in 1982, working with Al Fothergill and as a state lawmaker, he fought the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho and much of the political establishment to pass and protect the homeowner’s exemption, which lowered the property tax on the primary residences of Idahoans.

Conservatives had sought simply to cut property taxes, which were rising on homes many times faster than taxes on other kinds of property. The initiative restored balance to the tax system and gave homeowners relief.

“The people of Idaho owe Ken a big thank you for the property tax protection that he made available,” said former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus. “As a legislator, he was always thinking of the little guy.” 

Robison was born in Nampa and grew up on farms in Jordan Valley, Ore., and Kuna. After graduating from Caldwell High School in 1953, he earned degrees in journalism from Idaho State University and the University of Oregon.

He reported for the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello and the Associated Press in Boise and Denver before coming to the Idaho Statesman in 1967 as editorial writer. In 1976, he won the national Edward J. Meeman award for conservation writing.

“Ken was very intelligent,” said Steve Ahrens, who was a reporter at the Statesman who often found himself on the conservative side of political debates with Robison. “He was a formidable opponent in a debate on the issues.” Ahrens later became the executive director of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry.

Homebound in recent years, Robison in 2014 wrote a history of the conservation movement in Idaho, “Defending Idaho’s Natural Heritage.”

Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League, a group Robison helped form in the 1970s, visited Robison recently and left with two boxes of books to share with his young staff, so they could learn about the work that took place before them.

“Ken had strong opinions about the future of Idaho and, thankfully, he expressed them effectively,” said Johnson.

Robison served one term in the Idaho Senate and nine in the House until 2004, championing conservation, education funding and programs to prevent young people from using alcohol, drugs and tobacco.

He and his wife, Maxene, had two children, Jill (Hanoka) and Greg, who died in 1988.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker