Capitol & State

When Gov. Evans wanted a new chairman, he got one (w/ video)

Perhaps Gov. Butch Otter could end the simmering summer saga over the Idaho Republican Party chairmanship if he simply asked for Barry Peterson's resignation.

That's what Democratic Gov. John Evans did when he became governor in 1977, telling Boise lawyer John Greenfield he wanted his own man in the job.

When Evans asked Greenfield to quit, Greenfield's reply was, "Why should I do that?"

Evans, who died last week at 89, looked Greenfield in the eye and said, "Because I'm governor and you're not."

Greenfield sought the advice of his father, George, party chairman from 1954-56 and longtime general counsel to the Idaho State AFL-CIO.

Dad's reply: "You'd better do that, kid. If you don't do that and he loses the election, they're never going to forgive you."

Telling the story shortly before Evans' funeral in Boise on Friday, Greenfield added, "I wish the Republicans would think about these things today....It was just common sense....That's what he wanted and he was governor and that was it."

Evans got George Klein as chairman, won the 1978 election, and was re-elected in 1982. Greenfield rebounded, serving 12 years as one of three Idahoans on the Democratic National Committee, 1988-2000.

Otter has lost confidence in Peterson and refused to endorse his bid for re-election, but has attempted to remain above the fray. Otter has said the "grass roots" should elect a chairman, but the GOP convention adjourned June 14 without electing officers. Otter rejected a deal to make his primary challenger, Sen. Russ Fulcher, the new chairman. A faction loyal to Otter has set a State Central Committee meeting Aug. 2 to resolve the impasse; a faction loyal to Peterson has called the same group together Aug. 9.

Greenfield's interview leads off a video of six people attending Evans' funeral who shared their memories.

Next up is former GOP Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who praised Evans' ability to work with Republicans. "We need more of this where everyone is willing to lay aside their partisanship and hold up their citizenship," Kempthorne said.

Zuriel Knowles, an aide to Evans, recalled staff discomfort with the governor's practice of leaving his inner office open to the public. "His open-door policy scared us to death," she said. "There were some strange people that went in."

Former Controller J.D. Williams, now a senior manager at Oracle, to remembered Evans' appointing him to the Idaho Water Resources Board raised his profile. That led to to Williams replacing Joe R. Williams, who retired in 1989 after 30 years in office.

Former GOP House Speaker Bruce Newcomb recalled his early years as a Democrat, when he helped Evans raise money for his first governor's race. Newcomb said Evans has been underappreciated for governing through a long recession.

Finally, former Rep. Steve Scanlin, an aide to Evans, remembered serving a "generous, kind and gentle, gentle man."