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Idaho reaction to Risch: ‘An insult to the people of Idaho and the nation’

March 23, 2018 Updated Fri., March 23, 2018 at 7:46 p.m.

Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

U.S. Sen. Jim Risch’s last-minute attempt to strike a provision from the federal budget deal to honor former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus sparked surprise and some mockery from state leaders on Friday.

Buried on page 786 of the 2,232-page spending bill was a provision adding Cecil Andrus’ name to the White Clouds Wilderness, which is in Idaho’s Sawtooth and Challis National Forests. Andrus was a four-term Democratic Idaho governor who died last year.

According to lawmakers and aides from both parties, Risch, R-Idaho was insisting on blocking the renaming. The battle played out behind the scenes, with no debate on the Senate floor, but GOP leaders held private conversations with Risch to try working something out.

Risch would not comment on the episode to reporters afterward, striding past them and brusquely saying, “I don’t have any comment.”

A government shutdown hung in the balance if the bill didn’t pass by Friday; President Donald Trump has now signed it into law, with the Andrus naming of the White Clouds intact.

But an article from November 2008 about Risch’s election to the Senate in The Spokesman-Review, may provide a clue.

Risch battled with then-Gov. Andrus in the 1980s over education. In 2008, Risch said he worked well with Andrus, who subsequently rebutted that.

“Worked against me is more like it,” the former governor said. “Risch is one of the most partisan people I’ve ever had to deal with. During his time in legislative leadership, cooperation across the aisle and with the governor’s office reached a new low.”

Here’s some of the Idaho reaction to Risch’s efforts against the Andrus naming: .

Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise: “I am incensed by that. He knows the legacy of this man throughout the state of Idaho. He’s made a critical error in judgment. Even if he thought it, he shouldn’t have voiced it – and to hold up the budget? What an insult to the people of Idaho and the people of the nation.”

Boise Mayor David Bieter: “Governor Andrus’ mark upon this state is indelible and he served his country and Idaho with foresight, integrity and charm. It’s unfortunate that Senator Risch’s vision is too narrow to recognize Governor Andrus’ stature and contributions to our state. History will show which of them will be remembered as a great Idahoan and which will not.”

Gov. Butch Otter: “I’m not going to comment, because they were both great friends of mine, they were both great friends.” But he did note that Risch’s move, while partly successful in removing the naming from the Senate version of the budget bill, couldn’t fly without a sign-off from the House – where Idaho GOP Congressman Mike Simpson was the sponsor of the measure. “Simpson indicated he was pretty insistent that it was going to be in the bill,” Otter said.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley: “I don’t know all the history between the two men. It’s a federal issue, not a state issue – I assume they’ll get it worked out.”

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, who spoke out in the House on Thursday afternoon to praise Simpson’s bipartisanship in sponsoring the naming bill: “My take on it is I pledge this: Twenty years from now, when Idaho’s longest consecutive serving governor comes up for some memorialization, whether it be a mountain or a building, I pledge never to block an appropriation because of a grudge.” Erpelding added, “Once again, we’ve made the national news, and we look silly because of a longstanding political feud that Risch nine times out of 10 ended up on the losing end. … His disparaging attempts on Andrus’ name are only frosting on a career that trashed our school system and left teachers underpaid and underfunded.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, who was driving home to eastern Idaho on Friday for his father’s funeral on Monday, said he hadn’t had a chance to read up on what happened. “I have no idea why he did it,” Hill said. “It sounds a little strange, but beyond that, I just can’t comment until I’ve studied it a little more.”

Though Rep. Mike Simpson was traveling Friday and couldn’t be reached for comment, when his renaming bill cleared a House committee in February, he said: “Gov. Andrus meant so much, to so many in Idaho. So do the White Clouds. It is only fitting that this iconic land in Idaho is forever tied to the man who dedicated his public service to protecting it.” Simpson worked for a decade and a half to get the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness designation bill through Congress; it passed last year, with Risch’s support. Simpson’s press secretary, Nikki Wallace, said Friday, “Congressman Simpson is truly pleased that his language to name the White Clouds after Gov. Andrus was signed into law today. Former Gov. Cecil Andrus is extremely deserving of such honor and distinction.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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