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Eye On Boise

Former Sen. Jim McClure dies at age 86

Longtime Idaho Sen. Jim McClure, who served six years in the U.S. House and 18 in the U.S. Senate, has died at the age of 86. He held Idaho's 1st Congressional District seat from 1966 to 1972, and represented Idaho in the Senate from 1972 to 1990. Click below for a full report from Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey.

James A. McClure, former Idaho senator, dies at 86

By Dan Popkey
McClatchy Newspapers

James A. McClure, a former chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and one of the most powerful Idahoans ever to serve in Congress, died Saturday at his home in Garden City, Idaho. He was 86.

McClure suffered a stroke Dec. 12, 2008, and died of complications related to that and subsequent strokes, said his son, Ken.

In May 2009, McClure had several more strokes. After hospitalization and time in a nursing home, he moved home that summer, where he remained until his death.

"He got to die the way you or I would want to," said Ken McClure. "It was just very peaceful, very natural, no intervention, no IVs, no machines, no hospitals. And his family was there."

McClure's last public appearance was April 3, 2009, in Boise, where he accepted the inaugural Legacy of Leading Award from his beloved University of Idaho, where the James A. and Louise McClure Center of Public Policy research carries on his work and that of his public-spirited wife.

At the awards dinner, McClure showed his signature humility, which made him so popular he won all 44 Idaho counties in his last two elections.

"I feel a little awkward accepting an award sitting down, but that's kind of the way it is for me right now," he said.

Known for his grasp of detail and common touch in a 24-year congressional career, the Republican was mourned by former colleagues after the news broke Sunday afternoon.

Howard Baker, a former Senate majority leader and chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan, said: "He was steady, and when I got to positions where I could, I always depended on him for advice. He was special, and he certainly was my friend."

Former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., who recently co-chaired President Obama's deficit reduction panel, remembered McClure's humor, intellect and tenacity.

"I was in awe of him," Simpson said. "He was a superb legislator. He didn't care about anything but the amendments, the hearings, the work, the slaving.

Legislation, if you do it right, is deadly, deadly boring. And he did it with great skill."

"There was nothing phony about the guy," said former Gov. Phil Batt, who considers his 1966 speech to the GOP convention nominating McClure for the U.S. House one of the highlights of a long public life. "He was just a personification of what an honored politician ought to be. He was a real gentleman, and never disparaged anybody unnecessarily." Stories of McClure's common touch abound. He changed a flat tire in suit and tie, refusing to let staff do the job; showed up at the Teton Dam disaster in jeans and asked to be put to work; and insisted on making a campaign stop at a rural Boundary County post office when his aides said miserable weather justified cancellation.

McClure spent six years in the U.S. House and 18 years in the Senate. Only Sens. William Borah and Larry Craig represented Idaho longer.

McClure championed gun rights, natural-resource industries and energy independence. In Idaho, he helped establish the Frank Church Wilderness and the Sawtooth and Hells Canyon national recreation areas. He won Idaho an equal say in regional energy policy under the Northwest Power Act, with Oregon, Washington and Montana.

On a larger stage, he helped secure the Reagan tax cuts, co-authored the law establishing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and was a director of both the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1989, he was a member of the commission that rewrote the Helsinki human rights accords, which spurred dissident groups and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 1984, he ran for Senate majority leader, losing to Bob Dole of Kansas.

After retiring in 1991, he formed a lobbying firm with former staffers and joined the law firm where his son is a partner.

James Albertus McClure was born Dec. 27, 1924, in Payette, to Bill and Marie McClure. He was called "Jamie" as a boy, "Mac" in college and the military, service and "Jim" as a lawyer and member of Congress.

McClure's father was a lawyer, his mother a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. His maternal grandfather, A.L. Freehafer, served in the Idaho Legislature and as a member of the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.

McClure trained as a Navy pilot in World War II, but did not see combat. He earned his bachelor's and law degrees at the University of Idaho. In 1950, he married Louise Miller of Nezperce. They had three children, Marilyn, Ken and Dave.

McClure practiced law with his father in Payette, and served as both county prosecutor and city attorney. In 1960, he was elected to the Idaho Senate as a Republican. In 1966, he won the first of three terms as 1st District congressman. In 1972, he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

He formed the Senate Republican Conference Steering Committee in 1974, a conservative policy group. From 1981 to 1986, he chaired the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee for the Interior Department and related agencies.


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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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