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Cecil Andrus, record 4-time Idaho Governor dies at 85

August 27, 2017 GMT

Cecil D. Andrus, a former logger who would later serve a record four terms as Idaho governor and become interior secretary for President Jimmy Carter, died Aug. 24 at his home in Boise.

Andrus died of complications from lung cancer at age 85, just a day before his 86th birthday.

“Idaho is better because of Gov. Andrus,” said Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, who knew Andrus for more than 40 years and serves as member on the Andrus Center for Public Policy. “He was a guy that started out working in the woods, and later when he became the interior secretary for Carter, was in charge of all the woods.”

A self-described “political accident,” Andrus was 28 in 1960 when he moved from his home state of Oregon to Orofino, Idaho, where he would work at a lumber mill.

But when a Republican state senator failed to support more financing for a public kindergarten, Andrus openly challenged the senator during a town hall meeting with the exchange garnering laughter from the crowd and enough support for him to secure the same seat that fall.

Re-elected to the senate in 1962 and 1964, Andrus would first run for governor in 1966.

Andrus lost the 1966 election not once, but twice.

After losing in the Democratic primary to Charles Herndon, Andrus thought his race for governor was over. But seven weeks before the November election, Herndon and two others died in a plane crash northwest of Stanley.

Nominated as the candidate to replace Herndon, Andrus also lost in the general election to Republican Don Samuelson by more than 11,000 votes.

Undeterred, Andrus would go on to defeat Samuelson by more than 10,000 votes in the 1970 gubernatorial election.

The first Democrat elected governor of Idaho in more than a quarter century, Andrus called upon the citizens of Idaho, “to work for a better state — to work for a better environment — to work for a better life for your children and mine,” as quoted in the Nov. 4, 1970, issue of the Spokane Daily Chronicle.

“I’ve known him over 40 years and he was one of those guys you liked to be around,” Nye said. “Those of us who knew him well called him the boss.”

Serving two terms as governor from 1971 to 1977, Andrus would answer the call of President Carter to become the secretary of interior in January 1977.

Among other accomplishments, Andrus was instrumental in passing the Alaska Lands Act, which protected millions of acres of Alaskan wilderness.

“As Jimmy Carter said recently, they worked together to make some significant environmental strides to protect the environment forever,” Nye said.

When Carter’s term ended in 1981, Andrus would return to Idaho and after several years away from the political sphere would, for a second time, become the governor of Idaho.

It was during his second stint as Idaho’s top-elected official that Andrus vigorously opposed efforts to store nuclear waste in Idaho.

A former chief justice with the Idaho Supreme Court, Jim Jones served as Andrus’ attorney general during his first term in Idaho after returning from Washington, D.C. Jones called Andrus a “straight-shooter,” and a “congenial fellow.”

“We had frequent opportunities to work together with regard to numerous issues like nuclear waste,” Jones said. “Generally, he took my advice, but other times he didn’t. That didn’t mean from time to time we wouldn’t have a political dust-up, but that wasn’t something that people regarded as personal.”

Since leaving his post as governor in 1995, no Democrat has secured the top seat at the statehouse. Andrus leaves behind a legacy that Nye said was possible because of his non-partisan approach to government.

“Things were different when he was in office and the reason why is because they had to work together,” Nye said. “People were more concerned about good government rather than a single issue.”

Both Jones and Nye remain optimistic that another Democrat could become the future governor of Idaho, citing the pendulum of politics as something that swings back and forth throughout the years.

“I can’t predict when, but I think the pendulum will swing back,” Jones said. “And quite frankly I think there will be some more equality, which will be good for the public interest of Idaho constituents.”

A public memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31, in the Jordan Ballroom of the Boise State University student union.