Eye On Boise

Smeed dies at 88

Canyon County libertarian activist Ralph Smeed died yesterday at the age of 88, of pancreatic cancer. Smeed was a prickly Idaho political icon, a mentor of Gov. Butch Otter, a friend of Congressman Walt Minnick, and a confidante of former Sen. Steve Symms. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho Libertarian activist Ralph Smeed dies at 88
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Libertarian activist Ralph Smeed, an Idaho livestock dealer-turned-limited government evangelist who was called a mentor by Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and a friend by Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick, died Tuesday at 88.

Smeed died of pancreatic cancer at a Boise hospital, said his friend, Wayne Hoffman.

The Caldwell, Idaho, native was a delegate at the 1964 Republican National Convention at San Francisco's Cow Palace arena, where he backed archconservative Barry Goldwater over Nelson Rockefeller, who Smeed thought represented the liberal wing of the GOP.

Beginning in 1976, he sponsored his own think-tank, "The Center for the Study of Market Alternatives."

And for two decades, Smeed wrote a column in the Lewiston Tribune, what was then the Nampa-Caldwell Press Tribune and the Idaho Statesman, while funding a Libertarian-leaning library at the College of Idaho.

When Otter ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000, Smeed famously called him "obscenely handsome" and questioned whether his less-charismatic GOP primary rivals would just fade "into the woodwork."

Otter, who grew up in Smeed's hometown, called him one of the ideological influences that helped shape his limited-government politics.

Minnick joined Libertarian-leaning Texas Congressman Ron Paul at an event in March honoring Smeed.

Minnick and Smeed met in the late 1980s when the Democratic congressman was a trustee at the College of Idaho in Caldwell. Smeed followed proceedings at the school like a hawk. He spent two years there in the 1940s.

"Ralph was always prickly, always good humored," Minnick told The Associated Press. "He could deliver a deft jab, but always with a twinkle in his eye. He was 'small government, less spending, less bureaucracy.' He didn't believe Washington was much good for anything. And he sure as heck resented paying for it."

Smeed was born Dec. 30, 1921, into a southwestern Idaho ranching and meatpacking family. His father died in 1949 and Smeed took over the family businesses.

According to his website, Smeed's first experience with what he eventually came to believe was "mindless government bureaucracy" was his Pearl Harbor-inspired attempt in 1941 to enlist in the U.S. Army.

Smeed maintained he was told he couldn't enlist — he had to be drafted.

He and conservative politician Steve Symms co-published a newsletter before Symms was elected to the U.S. House and Senate as a Republican from Idaho. Smeed remained a Symms confidante.

Years ago, Smeed erected a 15-by-36 foot billboard in Caldwell, adorning it with an ever-changing string of political statements. One typical post: "Al Gore says global warming may put Washington, D.C., under 6 ft. of water. So — what's the problem?"

Hoffman said Tuesday that Smeed's friends hope to keep the sign — by now electronic — operating.

Even as he aged, Smeed remained a leading Idaho Libertarian figure who has been cited by the region's tea party adherents as a philosophical godfather.

"He has been fighting the good fight for longer than I have been alive," wrote Challis McAffee, an Idaho Republican official, in a July e-mail alerting other local Paul supporters of Smeed's illness.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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