When Cecil Andrus first ran for governor, in 1966, his campaign manager was Leo Krulitz, a brilliant young attorney from Mullan, a graduate of Stanford and Harvard Law. He came up with what he thought would be the winning slogan: Cecil Andrus for governor — “My kind of man.”
In today’s politically correct world, Krulitz would probably come up with something else. The slogan did not resonate with the electorate even back then. Andrus lost.
In saying so long to the longest-serving and most successful, progressive governor in Idaho history, it is important to understand the man behind the public figure.
Andrus was an extraordinary person who filled the multiple roles required with grace, character and panache.
He genuinely liked people and had a photographic memory for people’s names. If he met a person once then did not see them for years, he would still instantly recall their name.
Despite his phenomenal political success, he was at heart a humble man. “I put my pants on one leg at a time just like every other man,” he would state. He always drove his own car and rejected security details. He never was one to brag, either. He let success speak for itself.
He had a great sense of humor and took pleasure in telling self-deprecating stories. While speaking once, he rubbed his hand across his balding head and said, “Grass doesn’t grow on a busy street.” A voice from the rear of the audience loudly piped up, “Neither does it grow on a rock.”
He was a natural teacher who always took time to explain the teaching moment, whether it involved kneeling down to look in the eye of a youngster seeking an autograph or underscoring a life lesson in a matter troubling an aide. He cared about the person, regardless of their station in life.
He was a religious man but didn’t wear it on his sleeve. He let his actions, his compassion, his caring speak for his adherence to Gospel values. For years he participated in a monthly Bible group that few knew about.
Largely self-educated, few knew he was a prodigious reader.
He was a devoted father who loved his daughters and knew the best thing a man could do for his children was to love and respect their mother. Like most dads, he had a soft touch for his girls, but he always had time to offer them advice and counsel when asked.
He loved to hunt and fly-fish in Idaho’s great outdoors. A holdover from his own hard-scrabble youth was a sense of need to fill the freezer each fall with the deer, elk, ducks, geese and pheasants he brought home. He ate what he killed and was a genuine conservationist.
He kept and trained a hunting dog, which always became a devoted companion that he and Carol would walk in the Boise Foothills. His latest bird dog, Maisy, was next to him when he died.
He wasn’t afraid to show emotion and shed tears in front of others. I once I walked into his living room to see him sitting in his recliner with big tears rolling down his cheeks. An Idaho Fish and Game TV ad he’d recorded several years earlier was running, showing him and a hunting dog he deeply missed.
He understood the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions, of not being afraid to admit a mistake now and then. He never pretended to be perfect. Like the “gyppo logger” and sawmill operator he was before being elected to the Idaho Senate and entering the industrial insurance business, he could get angry. Those who lied to him never had a second chance, and the only time I ever saw his eyes flash and thought he was about to punch someone was when his integrity was questioned.
He stood on life’s stage as a giant, often surrounded by pygmies. It is doubtful Idaho will see the likes of him again.
Chris Carlson served as a spokesman for former Gov. Andrus. He wrote the book, “Cecil Andrus: Idaho’s Greatest Governor.” This is excerpted from his Ridenbaugh Press Carlson Chronicle.