Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A day in the sun

Former state Sen. Clint Stennett honored as Wagon Days grand marshal

Express Staff Writer

Former Idaho state Sen. Clint Stennett and his wife, Michelle Stennett, sit at their home in Ketchum. Clint is the 2010 Wagon Days grand marshal. Photo by Willy Cook

Michelle Stennett sinks into the plush leather loveseat near her husband and pulls an end of the Southwestern blanket over so it covers both their laps.

After some chitchat, I ask Michelle why her husband thinks he was chosen as grand marshal of the 2010 Wagon Days celebration.

She answers, speaking not to me but to her husband, Clint Stennett, former state senator representing Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties from 1998 to 2009.

Michelle answers all my questions by speaking directly to Clint, saying "you" and not "Clint" when referring to him.

She looks intently into his eyes while speaking, his facial expressions providing cues as to if she's speaking correctly for him. But his never-fading smile is clue enough, and he doesn't stop her even once.

"It's pretty humbling to be picked, huh?" she says to him. "A lot of good people in this town. But, in my opinion, you're one of the best. Of course, I'm not biased."

His already present smile grows in amusement, the whiskers of his graying moustache bending outward as the corners of his lips curl high on his cheeks. She smiles as well and silence persists for a moment as they merely look into one another.

It's as if I'm the paper of the walls of their Ketchum home. Just watching, observing. Seen but unnoticed.

She says Clint was probably picked because he retired from the Senate this year, and it's to pay homage to the "straight-shooting" politician for his 11 years in the Senate. All but one of those years, the Democrat served as minority leader—the longest of anyone in the Idaho Senate—and a "mediator." Clint also served in the Idaho House of Representatives for four years preceding his senatorial career.

It's Aug. 11. Michelle says Clint had a seizure a couple of weeks ago due to the trauma he's gone through from treatment for brain cancer. It's a struggle for Clint to talk and move, but his constant facial recognitions and the awareness in his eyes makes it apparent that he's still all there. And Michelle said he's slowly improving.

Clint, 53, was diagnosed in January 2008 and has undergone surgery, chemotherapy and other treatments to treat the cancer. Michelle filled in for him during the 2010 Legislature as he recovered. Before stepping into Clint's shoes, Michelle said she asked him for advice.

"You said, 'You have to just look into your heart, think with your gut and tap into your conscience,'" Michelle says without pause as if the conversation happened yesterday, and still sits in the front of her mind.

She says his political colleagues have professed their respect for Clint, claiming he always voted with his conscience and not merely along party lines.

Michelle is now running for Clint's District 25 Senate seat, having come off an overwhelming victory in the May 25 Democratic primary. She garnered 86 percent of the votes.

Michelle said it's a decision that she and Clint didn't take lightly. And she's not presuming to latch onto Clint's legacy. But some of his work—that they both believe is important—remains unfinished.

"We've both been of the opinion of giving back," she said. "You participate. You're not just a stakeholder."

Her priorities center on maintaining outdoor open space, but she said she wants to balance that with allowing small-town economies to flourish, which often rely on things such as fly-fishing outfitters and other outdoor businesses.

"Small business was always an important thing to you," she said.

She said she and Clint are fully aware that small businesses are struggling and need help from the government.

"And there isn't any partisanship in that," she said. "It's people helping people."

That same altruistic spirit flows throughout their daily lives and relationship, made evident in a mere 45-minute sit-down and sharing of a few words.

"We're a team," Michelle says at the end of our interview, as she grasps Clint's hand sitting atop the blanket covering both their laps.

Trevon Milliard:

Grand marshal reception

A reception with Clint Stennett is set for Friday, Sept. 3, from 5:30-7 p.m. at

Memory Park in Ketchum, on Main Street between Fifth and Sixth streets. The event is open to the public.

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