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Former Gov. Phil Batt, a ‘titan’ in Idaho Republican politics, dead at 96

Vaughn Ward, right, greets former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt, left, in this March 2015 photo. Batt died Saturday, on his 96th birthday.   (BETSY RUSSELL)
By Steve Kiggins The Times-News (Twin Falls)

Phil Batt, a guiding force in Idaho Republican politics for nearly four decades, including as the state’s 29th governor, died Saturday on his 96th birthday.

Gov. Brad Little ordered all flags lowered at state buildings and facilities in honor of Batt until his day of interment, and the governor’s office announced in a news release that Batt’s body would lie in state at the Capitol with details to come.

Batt, who served in the Idaho Legislature and as lieutenant governor and chair of the Idaho Republican Party before winning the 1994 gubernatorial election, died on the 160th anniversary of Idaho’s establishment of a U.S. territory.

“Governor Phil Batt was the epitome of a public servant, having served as Governor, Lt. Governor, and Senator. His legacy is distinguished by his unrelenting human rights leadership, determined fiscal conservatism, and enduring love of Idaho,” Little said in a statement.

“It is fitting Phil Batt was born and passed on ‘Idaho Day,’ the celebration of the anniversary of the day President Abraham Lincoln created the Idaho Territory in 1863. Teresa and I send our love and condolences to his wife Francee, his children, and many, many friends.”

Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke described Batt as “the embodiment of a dedicated public servant” in a statement.

“A man of fairness and decency, Gov. Batt served our community with a commitment to protect our lands, fight for human rights, and ensure fiscal responsibility,” Bedke said.

On Twitter, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson said, “I know of no one who loved Idaho more than Phil.”

Batt was born on March 4, 1927, in Wilder, and he went on to study at the University of Idaho between 16 months of service in World War II. His career in state politics included stints in the House (1965-67) and Senate (1967-79) before he served as John Evans’ lieutenant governor (1979-83).

After Batt lost his first bid for the governor’s office in 1982, he returned to the Senate and served until 1988. Following two years as chair of the state GOP party, Batt defeated Larry EchoHawk in 1994 for the Republicans’ first gubernatorial victory in 28 years.

No Democrat has since won the state’s top office.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, also a former Idaho governor and lieutenant governor, called Batt “a close personal friend” and described him as “one of my earliest mentors” in state politics.

“He was a titan in Idaho politics and cared deeply about our great state,” Risch said. “From his long and distinguished service in the Idaho Senate to his years as Governor, Phil set the course and is responsible for the Idaho we know and love today. He will be missed.”

The state’s other U.S. senator, Mike Crapo, also credited Batt’s mentorship and remembered him as a “strong and thoughtful leader, dedicated to the people of Idaho and advancing human rights in the state.”

In a statement, Crapo said, “His longstanding friendship and mentorship to me helped guide my professional and personal life. Back in 1981, I was asked and agreed to serve as the co-chair of the Bonneville County campaign for Phil Batt when he began his first run for governor. And I have learned much from him over these last four decades. As Idahoans remember him, much will be said about his legacy to Idaho and the debt of gratitude that we owe to him. His was a life well-lived, and he will have my unending admiration and respect.”

Batt died “peacefully at his home,” according to Little’s statement.