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Opinion

Sat., March 12, 2011

McClure, Broder worthy of respect

The last two weeks haven’t been all that easy for me. I lost two longtime friends: Jim McClure, the Idaho senator for whom I worked for 24 years, and David Broder, the Washington Post columnist.

In 1972, McClure, then a three-term congressman, had decided to run for the Senate, and David Broder came to Idaho to cover his race. After speaking to the Popcorn Forum at North Idaho College, McClure came to my office for the Broder interview.

Outside, we had a campaign bus, and the crew was pushing me to keep things on time. So I tried to bring the interview to an end, but McClure said, somewhat impatiently, “We aren’t finished.” So I backed out of the room and closed the door.

After being pressed more to get McClure into the bus, I interrupted again. Broder looked at me, closed his notebook, and said, “I’m done.” Sensing the tension over my interruptions, he turned around and said to McClure, “Now, I can understand why you said such nice things about her at breakfast this morning.”

Jim smiled, and the tension was gone. It is hard to imagine another national (nay, worldwide) newsman being so considerate.

I followed Broder down the hall and caught him in the elevator. I thanked him for his kindness. He told me if I ever came to Washington to let him know, and we could have lunch. In the next 18 years, I was in Washington 10 times, and Dave did indeed buy me lunch, almost every time. Needless to say, we became close friends.

Over the years, I saw David Broder when he covered various political meetings I was attending. I was a delegate to the Republican National Convention every four years from 1972 to 2008, and Dave was always there.

McClure insisted that his employees obey the rules, so I used vacation time for all my political activities. And when I called Dave I charged it to my home phone. He was surprised that I was such a stickler for the rules, so I mailed him a copy of my phone bills as proof. He said that the senator and I were examples of good public servants.

David was surprised at my sense of independence, too. In 1980, Sen. McClure and I both served on the Platform Committee at the Republican Convention, and we voted the same way most of the time. But on one issue – to do away with the Department of Education – we voted differently, and my side won by one vote. Dave Broder was in the audience and couldn’t believe I could get away with that. He said a lot of other senators’ egos couldn’t handle it. In fact, he wrote a column about it the day Ronald Reagan was nominated.

“Today,” he wrote, “it is Ronald Reagan’s day, but it is also Ruthie Johnson’s day.”

After Reagan was elected, those of us in the Western States’ Reagan Group were invited to the White House. I called Dave and told him I could meet him for lunch after the White House meeting was over. When we met, he asked who was at the meeting, and I told him Reagan, Bush, Defense Secretary “Cap” Weinberger, and Treasury Secretary Jim Baker. His face dropped, and he said, “I had no idea it was that high-level of a meeting.”

Well, I decided if he was impressed, I guess I was impressed, too. I was so naïve. I thought that was what everyone got when they went to the White House.

People might wonder how I could be admiring of two men seemingly such polar opposites. McClure was a conservative Republican and David Broder was fiercely independent, often coming down on the liberal side. But the two men weren’t as far apart as you might think.

David Broder was a good and decent man who had an almost instantaneous understanding of the issues. Plus, he had the ability to explain those issues in a way that not only helped us understand them, but in words that at times almost seemed poetic.

Sen. Jim McClure seldom delivered a written speech. When newsmen asked for a copy of what he had just said, they found it hard to believe that he provided so much information extemporaneously with no notes and no teleprompter. He was hardworking, honest and honorable.

We need a lot more men like McClure and Broder.

Ruthie Johnson, Hayden Lake, was a longtime North Idaho aide to the late U.S. Sen. Jim McClure, R-Idaho. She submitted this commentary at the request of The Spokesman-Review.


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