Forget Senate seniority, forget the Republican revolution.
The most powerful Idahoan in Washington, D.C., is easily Democrat Bruce Reed, a near-native of Coeur d’Alene and now President Bill Clinton’s top domestic policy adviser.
Clinton announced Reed’s appointment Friday, promoting him from assistant to chief to replace Carol Rasco. Reed is “an original thinker, someone who long ago rejected that easy answers form any part of the political spectrum … a driving force behind our efforts,” Clinton said.
Reed is the son of Coeur d’Alene attorney Scott Reed and longtime Idaho Sen. Mary Lou Reed, who is winding down six terms in the Legislature. He assumes this powerful role at age 36.
“One of his real problems is he looks younger than 36,” jokes his father. His son jovially agrees. “When I started people told me I looked about 12,” Reed said. “I’m almost at the point that I can pass for 21.”
The Reeds learned of their son’s ascension Wednesday. “Naturally, it wasn’t an enormous surprise,” Scott Reed said. “Of course, we’re very proud. It reflects a lot of work on his part.”
Reed was a rumored favorite for the top domestic adviser’s position in 1992. When he didn’t land the job, the Wall Street Journal speculated he was too conservative for Clinton.
Still, his fingerprints are all over Clinton’s policies. U.S. News and World Report called him “Bill Clinton’s Vicar of Ideas.”
Reed worked on the Clinton crime bill that put more cops on the street. He had a significant role in the push to reform welfare and reinvent government. During the last year, his assignment has been developing Clinton’s domestic agenda for the second term.
“I’m probably better off having had the last four years to learn the ropes,” Reed said. And “growing up in Idaho and working in politics, I never expected things to turn out this well.”
Reed was born in Boise when his father was working there as an assistant U.S. attorney. The family soon moved to Coeur d’Alene.
His claims to fame include producing neighborhood newspapers with his sister - The Fernan Hill Times and later the Blackwell Sun Times. The Fernan Hill paper was produced on a machine “halfway between a mimeograph and a Xerox,” Reed remembers. “I distinctly remember a front page photo that was a big black glob. The text wasn’t much good either.”
Reed was valedictorian of the Class of 1978 at Coeur d’Alene High School. His wife and lifelong pal, Bonnie LePard, was salutatorian.
She proposed to him at a baseball game and they spent much of their honeymoon at the ballpark.
Reed earned an English degree at Princeton. He took a semester off in 1980 to work for Frank Church during Church’s unsuccessful bid to continue representing Idaho in the U.S. Senate.
After he finished at Princeton in 1982, he was spokesman for Larry LaRocco’s failed campaign for the U.S. House. He earned his master’s degree in English literature at Oxford in 1984 as a Rhodes Scholar.
“I came back to the U.S. and Bonnie went to law school at New York University and I found a job with Gore as a speechwriter in 1985,” Reed said. Al Gore was then a senator from Tennessee.
Four years later Reed became policy adviser for the Democratic Leadership Council. The council was created to put a more centrist face on the traditionally liberal party. Then Arkansas Gov. Clinton was chairman of the group and Reed and Clinton became friends.
When Clinton entered the presidential race in 1992, Reed signed on, writing speeches and helping draft the Democratic platform. When Clinton went to Washington, Reed also went to the White House.
LePard landed at the Justice Department, prosecuting environmental crimes. She was one of three attorneys that pursued Exxon after its tanker went aground and fouled Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
LePard is now on leave to be with their children, Julia, 3 and Nelson, 1.
Reed spends his time with both Clinton and Gore. Clinton, he says, “knows more about domestic policy than I do. And I try to keep that a secret.”
It’s tough to be a husband and a father and one of the top White House aides. “It’s not easy and I’m lucky that I have such a patient wife,” Reed said.
“Bonnie is a saint.”
It helps that his daughter was born during Clinton’s first 100 days, forcing Reed to set his priorities early on, he said. He also says he’s not a Washington, D.C., workaholic - paring his normal workday to 12 hours and learning which meetings he has to attend and which he can skip.
The flip side to the demands: “It’s wonderful for the kids to get to grow up around the White House,” Reed said.
“Our daughter learned to walk in the Oval Office on her first birthday.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo