For the week of September 30 thru October 6, 1998  

Andrus and the politics of the new West

Express Staff Writer

Cecil Andrus can claim two unprecedented firsts in the history of public service in Idaho.

On Nov. 6, 1990, he became the first person in the history of Idaho to be elected governor for four terms, and when he resigned his post in 1977 to become Secretary of the Interior in the Carter Administration, he became the first Idahoan to serve in a presidential cabinet.

Now Andrus can add author to his impressive list of credentials and the results of his latest endeavor are impressive indeed.

The book, Cecil Andrus: Politics Western Style, comes after three years of his talking into a tape recorder and tells how an ex-lumberjack invented his own political style, converted the president of the United States from bait fishing to fly-fishing, how he wouldn’t let the feds turn Idaho into a nuclear-waste dump, and how he became a conservationist dedicated to reestablishing wild salmon and steelhead runs.

It also tells about Nelson Rockefeller’s off-color language, Bill Clinton’s endless entertaining of admirers, and about the "intellectually challenged" state Rep. Helen Chenoweth who couldn’t understand why salmon were considered an endangered species when you could buy canned salmon in a store."

"I was urged to write the book by some of my friends and family members," he said in an interview held during a book signing at Chapter One in Ketchum last Saturday. "I wasn’t convinced. There isn’t enough sex and violence in my life to write a book. I’m not an author – I’m a lumberjack and a political accident – but I said ‘I’ll try it.’"

Andrus’ style is salty, down-home, direct. There’s no spin control here just lots of anecdotes, homilies and western metaphors. Through his long, strange trip through American politics, he has maintained both his humor – and his humility.

"I’ve spent 35 years trying to improve education, protect the environment, and give people a fair shake," he said. "I’ve been very fortunate the people of this state listened to me. And I listened to them. I went around the country sitting on curbs listening to the people. If you don’t listen to the people, you’re stupid."

He also listened to their leaders and in some cases was underwhelmed.

"She’s [Chenoweth] a disaster," he exclaimed. "What got her into trouble recently was having sex with an individual. She condemned Clinton for his involvement with Monica Lewinsky. It was her hypocrisy that go her into trouble. I think that’s going to make a difference in the upcoming congressional election."

About Clinton, who he’s known since the president was 30 years old, "I am dismayed. I have difficulty understanding how an intelligent man can do that to himself and his career. The problem is it rubs off on everyone else. Bill Clinton will disappear in the political interest but the damage has been done to the symbol of the office.

"I’ve known him a long time. I can’t condone what takes place back there. He had the potential to be a good president. He has literally botched the whole thing."

"He will not resign until they bring him a note card that says we have 78 votes for an impeachment. The Republicans will probably vote for impeachment…but nothing will happen until March or April.

"I think he cannot survive. My preference would be to discipline him in some way – beat him with willow switches or put him in the stockade."


In Andrus’ four-year tenure as secretary, he played a pivotal role in developing a common-sense approach to off-shore oil leasing, and his leadership was instrumental in resolving the bitter dispute over the Alaska wilderness lands and in piloting the Alaska lands legislation through the Congress

He says he tried to govern "like a normal guy" – this may be why while governor he kept his front door unlocked and continued to mow his own lawn, cook his own breakfast, drive to work, and fly coach. His constant contact with his constituency, he says, led to his success.

"Staying in touch is the prime prerequisite to staying alive as an Idaho Democrat," he writes. "The state has elected Republicans so dumb they need to be watered, but any Democrat who hopes to stick around must have the adaptive skills of a coyote."

Although Andrus is out of public office, he is still concerned over issues like the extinction of Idaho salmon and steelhead, the breaching of dams, the preservation of wilderness, including the White Clouds, and the disposition of nuclear waste temporarily stored at the INEEL.

The book should focus attention back to the environment and would seem to any Idahoan time well spent.

As for Andrus, when asked about the book, "I’m kind of pleased with it," he says with a smile.


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