Book of the Week Club: “The Day Before Idaho”

This book was self-published by Perry Swisher: journalist, public administrator and elected official. The book has no title page or copyright and was obviously put together by Swisher himself. In some ways, it is similar to Phil Batt’s autobiography though I found it less entertaining. As with most books written by the subject, the book seems to be more for the gratification of the author than of the reader.

Even in style, this book reminds me of Phil Batt’s book. Swisher begins with an article from the Idaho Falls Post Register, followed by a very disjointed forty pages of a life story and short vignettes made up of prior newspaper columns, none of which are in chronological order. This book also reminds me of Don Samuelson’s autobiography in respect to the dreary details. Why do writers think the rest of us are interested in the mundane details of their early life, including detailed descriptions of all nine of his siblings complete with short life stories including details such as spouses’ and children’s names? The subjects of the columns are dated, tangential and too personal, such as the two on his parents, to interest others. Swisher also seems to have an obsession with semi-colons.

The one section of the book that is of historical importance and interest to us political junkies deals with the election of 1966, which is not adequately covered by Andrus or Samuelson in their books. Besides the race for governor, there was also a referendum on the newly passed sales tax on the ballot in 1966. After Smylie lost to Samuelson in the GOP primary and Herndon won the Democratic primary for governor over Andrus, there were no gubernatorial candidates on the ballot in favor of the sales tax. Andrus’ people urged Swisher to run as an Independent for governor to act as an advocate for the sales tax. In September, Herndon died in a plane crash and the Democratic State Committee named Andrus to take his place. The same people who asked Swisher to run now were pleading for him to pull out of the race. The question that others were left with was: why didn’t Swisher, the pro-sales tax candidate, drop out of the race when Andrus, also pro-sales tax, entered the race? Swisher writes about the sacrifices and commitments of those who supported him. He also saw his candidacy as more than just about the sales tax. In retrospect, Swisher believes Andrus would have lost to Samuelson even if Swisher had pulled out but that the sales tax referendum would have been defeated without him in the race. Swisher also thinks Andrus was a better governor having been beaten in 1966.

Another interesting column is one where Swisher provides a personal portrait of every member of the state legislature in 1965. Most are long forgotten but reading Swisher’s contemporaneous views of Andrus, “Bull” Ellsworth, McClure, Samuelson, Bill Roden, Batt, Cenarrusa, Huntley, Ravenscroft and Helen McKinney confirms many people’s opinion that this was the greatest legislature in the state’s history.

Perry Swisher as a politician, newsman, Public Utilities Commission chair and educator had a profound effect on Idaho. The problem is this book does not do the man justice, even though he wrote it himself.

Go Yotes.

Dr. Jasper M. LiCalzi
Professor
Department of Political Economy
The College of Idaho