We’ve lost a giant: Cecil Andrus measured up to the myth

Statesman editorial board

Cecil Andrus in Hells Canyon. As governor, he and U.S. Sen. Jim McClure wrote the Idaho boundaries for the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.
Cecil Andrus in Hells Canyon. As governor, he and U.S. Sen. Jim McClure wrote the Idaho boundaries for the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Cecil D. Andrus Papers, Special Collections and Archives, Boise State University

When giants walked the earth

As a child of the Northwest, I grew up hearing the names of giants: Magnuson, Hatfield, McCall, Church, Mansfield, Andrus. I took for granted that we as a region got it, and we elected leaders who got it. It seemed to me that the Northwest way — bipartisan work to build the economy, protect the environment, invest in future generations — would be a model for the nation.

That’s not the way it turned out. Where are today’s leaders like Govs. Tom McCall (Oregon) and Cecil Andrus (Idaho), and senators like Warren Magnuson (Washington) and Mark Hatfield (Oregon) and Mike Mansfield (Montana) and Frank Church (Idaho)?

It’s tempting to say that it’s simple nostalgia, that such leaders had feet of clay and wouldn’t be legends if they had to survive the hyper scrutiny of modern times. But to meet Cecil Andrus was to see that the man measured up to the myth.

I came to Idaho in 2000. Andrus had departed center stage, but he still loomed large. People spoke his name with reverence. Andrus was Idaho. When I did get to meet him, I found a generous, humble, tough man still engaged in the fights he believed in, such as protecting the Boulder-White Clouds and keeping nuclear waste out of the state.

The last time I saw Andrus, he was celebrating the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill with Congressman Mike Simpson and Idaho Conservation League Director Rick Johnson at an Idaho Public Television event. Andrus was the star of the show and at the top of his game, telling jokes, taking shots at Jim Risch (his legislative nemesis) and fist-bumping Simpson for passing the bill that protected Castle Peak, the mountain that, as Andrus said, made him a governor.

Bill Manny, Statesman community engagement editor

Former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, Rep. Mike Simpson, Idaho Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson and the Idaho Statesman’s Rocky Barker talk governing, compromise and public lands at a forum co-sponsored by Idaho Public Television and

The most popular politician in Idaho

When Cece Andrus became governor in 1970, I left the staff of Frank Church and moved back to Idaho to join Andrus’ staff. He was Idaho’s first Democratic governor in a quarter century and, working with a Republican Legislature, he had significant successes during his first term. They included statewide comprehensive land use planning, public kindergartens, huge improvements to U.S. 95, a restructuring of state government and much more.

He was a firm task master who expected no less from those who worked for him. At the first meeting of his department heads he said that anyone facing tax problems, an ugly divorce or drinking problems should leave the administration. When he returned to the governor’s office in 1986 for his second stint in the governorship, I was state budget director. His knowledge of the state’s budget and tax structure was remarkable. Andrus was a legendary governor. And, at the time of his passing, even though he had been out of office for over 20 years, he was still easily the most popular politician in Idaho.

Marty Peterson, Statesman editorial board member

The guts and grit you expect of an Orofino logger

Cecil Andrus was highly respected and well-liked, not for all of his professional accomplishments so much as his decency. His quick wit, easy smile, and equanimity were his constant companions. He also had guts and grit that you would expect of an Orofino logger.

I was fortunate to have a window into his character both as secretary of the Interior and after his government service. As a former general counsel for the Department of the Interior in a subsequent administration, I had a close-up view on some of his most important secretarial decisions. Policy can always be debated, but the clarity of his decisions and the courage behind them are not in doubt.

When I subsequently was nominated for a federal judgeship, Gov. Andrus went on record against his party’s line and supported me. I watched him cheerfully do what he thought was right even though old political allies disapproved. That is a rare commodity these days and even rarer now with his passing.

Bill Myers, Statesman editorial board member

A great friend, a great neighbor

I will leave it to others to comment on Cece Andrus’ numerous outstanding contributions to our state and nation. I want to describe him in more human terms, as a friend of 50 years and a neighbor for 30. You could not ask for a better friend and neighbor.

I will remember him as the young state senator I first met in his first run for governor when I was president of the University of Idaho Young Democrats in 1966. As the newly elected governor who brought many talented young people into government after his second race. As the secretary of Interior who came in to see Sen. Church when I was on Church’s staff in Washington, D.C., and took the time to find out which desk was mine to leave a personal note saying he was sorry to have missed me.

My fondest memories will be when Cece was walking in the morning on the trail behind our house and would take time to talk over the fence. I will remember the man who sat in the front yard and talked to all the neighbors at our get-togethers. Finally I will remember a neighbor with a great sense of humor and who, when I had foot surgery one winter when he was just a young guy of about 80, got out his snow-blower and cleaned my sidewalks three or four times. (I am so happy I finally got to return the favor last winter.)

That is the Cecil Andrus I will remember. He was a great man, but more than that he was a great friend, great neighbor and a decent human being. I will really miss him.

Mike Wetherell, Statesman editorial board member