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With tears and laughter, Idahoans recall Cecil Andrus

The late Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus lies in state in the rotunda of the Idaho state Capitol on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. (Betsy Z. Russell)
The late Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus lies in state in the rotunda of the Idaho state Capitol on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. (Betsy Z. Russell)

Laughter mixed with tears last week as Idahoans remembered the late Cecil Andrus, the state’s longest-serving governor and a proud Democrat who nevertheless counted Republicans among his closest friends and worked with all sides to get far-ranging results for his beloved state.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a Republican who served as Andrus’ lieutenant governor for two terms, acknowledged that the two had their differences. But, he said, “This Republican and that Democrat decided long before that we were going to do and agree upon what was best for Idaho.”

“It never occurred to us to be too strident, too dogmatic or unwilling to compromise in the public interest,” Otter told mourners at the state Capitol. “A lot of folks now in Washington, D.C., and right here in this building could take a lesson from Cecil Andrus, about how to treat people that you work with, whether you agree with them or not. And it’s not just about getting things done, it’s about taking the long view. It’s about realizing that those people you disagree with are as earnest and sincere as you are.”

Otter said to laughter, “I told Cece several times, ‘Cece, I know you’re sincere about this, but you’re just sincerely wrong.’ He told me the same thing.”

Former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt, also a Republican and a longtime close friend of Andrus, sounded a similar theme. “I worked with Gov. Andrus for over half a century. We demonstrated, with many others, that you don’t have to be from the same party in order to get results.”

An Andrus story

Former longtime Spokane County Treasurer Skip Chilberg, back in the early 1970s, served as budget director under then-Gov. Andrus. He shared his favorite Andrus story:

“I was meeting with Andrus privately when his receptionist entered and said a certain man was insisting on meeting with him,” Chilberg recalled. “He said, ‘Send him in’ and told me, ‘This won’t take long.’ The man was seeking a big ‘favor’ from the governor, and reminded him how much money he had contributed to his campaign. Without saying anything, Cece pulled a file out of a drawer in his desk and started thumbing through it. Finally he said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ He then pulled out his personal checkbook, wrote out a check and handed it to the man, and said ‘This ought to take care of it,’ and ushered the man out of his office without another word.”

“I always remembered that incident throughout my political career,” Chilberg said. “It’s the reason I never accepted a contribution larger than $250 – because I didn’t want to be in a position where I had to write out a check to anyone for a larger amount than that!”

Andrus the neighbor

Retired District Judge Mike Wetherell wore an old-style “Andrus” campaign button to Andrus’ public memorial service in Boise last week. Asked what year it’s from, he said, “I think this is from the first time he ran in ’66.”

Wetherell was Andrus’ neighbor for 30 years, living just two doors down.

His favorite story: Wetherell had foot surgery a few years back and was laid up for a while. It was winter, and he started worrying about getting someone to come clear the snow from his home. But as soon as he brought it up, he discovered that Andrus, the neighbor, had already arisen at 6 a.m., “and he got his snowblower out and he did my sidewalk. That’s the kind of stuff he did.” He added, “This is when he was 80 years old.”

Andrus the campaigner

John Hough, longtime aide to Andrus, recalled his first time working on an Andrus-for-governor campaign in 1970, as a Lewiston resident heading into the unknown environs of southern Idaho. Andrus asked Hough to drop him off at one end of the small town of Challis so he could campaign along Main Street, and when he picked him up at the other end, he reported that it hadn’t gone well. As they headed out of town, “We didn’t get very far,” Hough remembered. “There was this band of sheep crossing the highway, and we stopped.”

Andrus said, “One more try,” and hopped out to make his pitch to the sheepherder. “He said, ‘Who else is running?’ ” Andrus listed his opponents, two in the primary and the sitting GOP governor, Don Samuelson. “The sheepherder said, ‘Well, sir, you’d be my second choice,’” Hough told the crowd at Andrus’ memorial service.

That prompted Andrus to ask the herder which candidate was his first choice. “The guy looked him right in the eye and he didn’t blink, and he said, ‘Any one of the other three.’ ” Amid laughter, Hough said, “That’s a true story. That was part of my introduction to Idaho politics.”


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