State Politics

He wrote Idaho’s civil rights law, shaped its quality of life. Bill Roden dead at 90

Add the Words supporters push for LGBT protections at Idaho’s Capitol

About 600 people attended a rally at the Statehouse in January 2016, advocating for the civil protections of LGBT individuals across Idaho.
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About 600 people attended a rally at the Statehouse in January 2016, advocating for the civil protections of LGBT individuals across Idaho.

A longtime Idaho lobbyist and former legislator, credited with helping establish the state’s civil rights law and sales tax and ending telephone regulation, has died.

William C. “Bill” Roden, 90, named one of Idaho’s Influential 100 in a 2012 book on the people who most shaped the Gem State, died Monday at his Boise home.

“For nearly 60 years, Bill Roden helped shape the quality of life we enjoy in Idaho,” Gov. Brad Little said in a statement. “Bill was always generous in giving his advice and counsel to new legislators and governors, and his advice was not just welcome but needed.”

Roden, who Little said was always civil, stood for good governance and worked tirelessly to make Idaho a great place to live.

“Bill left a huge mark on Idaho that will last for generations to come,” Little said.

Roden and his sister, Sharon, spent part of their childhoods living in the Japanese internment camps at Minidoka and Topaz, Utah, and Minidoka. Roden’s dad, also named William, worked for the federal Work Projects Administration, which built the World War II camps.

The elder Roden and his wife, Dorothy, were opposed to the internment of Japanese-American families from the West Coast and decided the family would live in the camps “so that Bill and his sister Sharon could experience first-hand the impact of the country’s decision to intern the Japanese,” according to his obituary.

Roden graduated from Boise High School in 1947 and went on to Boise Junior College. He and his wife, Betty, later moved to Moscow, where he attended the University of Idaho Law School, graduating in 1953.

Roden served in the U.S. Army’s Counterintelligence Corps, and upon returning to Boise in 1956 he went to work for the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. He first appeared in court during the “Boys of Boise” gay sex scandal.

He served one year there and two years with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. He later served two years as Ada County’s elected prosecutor.

In 1960, Roden was elected to the Idaho Senate, where he served for eight years. A Republican, he served as assistant majority leader and later as Senate majority leader.

In his obituary, his family said he was most proud of his part in writing the first civil rights legislation for Idaho in 1969. Four decades later, he unsuccessfully pushed the Idaho Legislature to add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to the state Human Rights Act.

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Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, left, talks in 2015 with Bill Roden, a former state lawmaker who was among the original cosponsors of Idaho’s first civil rights law in 1961. Hundreds of people signed up to speak to the House State Affairs Committee about a bill to add the words “sexual identity” and “gender identification” to the Human Rights Act. The legislation had been denied a hearing for nine years until then. Katherine Jones Idaho Statesman

After leaving the Legislature, Roden focused his law practice on lobbying. He was one of the first lobbyists to represent multiple clients, and others later followed his lead.

“Bill really understood the legislative process,” said Roy Eiguren, a fellow lobbyist who first met Roden in 1978 when Eiguren was working at the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. “He was a lawyer’s lawyer, which meant he was always well-prepared.”

Eiguren, a partner in Boise’s Eiguren Ellis Public Policy Firm, said in an interview that Roden was “very personable and credible,” and because of his longevity, knew his way around just about any issue that came before the Legislature.

“He joked that he had been a lawyer-lobbyist since territorial days,” Eiguren said.

In 2012, Roden was named No. 86 of the 100 most influential people in Idaho history in the book “Idaho 100: The people who most influenced the Gem State,” by Randy Stapilus and Marty Peterson. Roden ranked higher than former Govs. Phil Batt, William McConnell and Len B. Jordan and department store owner Nathan Falk.

In a 2009 interview with then-Statesman political writer Dan Popkey, Roden said he emulated Bart Brassey, a lobbyist during Roden’s time in the Senate. He said Brassey always made his best case, noted opponents’ objections and let him vote his conscience.

“You never got blindsided,” Roden told Popkey. “That always impressed me. I want them to vote for or against my legislation based on how they actually feel. That may sound altruistic or pollyannaish, but I hope the people I deal with understand that.”

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Coeur d’Alene Tribe lobbyist Bill Roden presents a bill in front of the Senate State Affairs Committee in 2015. Roden asked lawmakers to repeal a law that permitted instant horse racing in Idaho. Kimberlee Kruesi The Associated Press

Roden was predeceased by his parents and his wife, Betty. He is survived by his sister, Sharon Beaver; daughter, Lindy Mansfield; son, Tim Roden; six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

A celebration of life will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 14, at St. Michael’s Episcopal Cathedral, 518 N. 8th St. A reception will follow at the Riverside Hotel, 2900 W. Chinden Blvd.

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