Monday's publication of "Cecil Andrus: Idaho's Greatest Governor" prompted a good deal of chatter about who deserves the title. Chris Carlson, author of the new book, was Andrus' press secretary. Carlson considers Andrus a surrogate father and offers an openly affectionate view.
Steve Smylie, a former four-term GOP lawmaker from Boise, has shared a moving and until now unknown account of his dad, three-term Republican Gov. Bob Smylie. Smylie struggled with alcohol, but after he left office he dedicated one day a week to counseling alcoholics, his son says.
In my story on the book Monday, I mentioned Smylie (1955-1967) and Democrat Ben Ross (1931-1937) as contenders for the "title" of Idaho's greatest guv. I should have included Republican Len Jordan (1951-1955), though his stellar reputation is also based on his U.S. Senate service (1962-73). Republican Phil Batt (1995-1999), despite serving only one term, also deserves mention for his fearless pursuit of principle.
Steve Smylie, who lost a primary race for Superintendent of Public Instruction to Tom Luna in 2006, gave me permission to excerpt an email exchange prompted by my story about Carlson's book.
Smylie began by noting, "Dad would have never permitted anyone to use such a title." Andrus tried to talk Carlson and his publisher out of that claim, but Carlson insisted it was his book and he'd choose the title.
"I have no criticism whatsoever to direct at Cecil, who could absolutely be argued to be one of the greatest Idaho governors," Smylie wrote, but he said Carlson's choice did Andrus a "disservice."
Smylie recalls his father's "crushing defeat" in the 1966 GOP primary where he sought a fourth term "that in the end taught my father that 'any man among you that wishes to be chief must first become the servant of all.' The man that others knew as a hard driving leader, I knew as Dad, and my girls knew as a loving Grandpa.
"Now that I have grandbabies of my own, I finally realize his greatest gift. Not everyone has such a person who was his Dad, his best friend, his hero, and his intellectual sounding board. If anything, his imperfections made me respect him more. That was my good fortune."
Smylie, a longtime teacher in the Boise School District, now teaches at Boise State.
I've saved the best of his reminiscence for last:
"Right before he died, I asked him what accomplishment he was proudest of. He paused, fell silent, and drifted off a bit. A minute or so later he opened his eyes and looked intently at me.
"'You want to know what I'm proudest of? In all my years of service, you never read a single headline about me, or anyone who worked for me, being involved in hanky panky.'
"Dad was an intense man, but painfully shy in many ways. He was far from perfect, he smoked and drank but realized that he had to overcome those demons. He wasn't much of a sit in the amen corner church goer, but he had an abiding faith that was perhaps his greatest gift to me.
"Then he quietly dedicated a day a week for the rest of his active life to counsel people who sought to become clean and sober. When Dad died, I discovered a cache of dozens of cards and notes from the countless people he counseled. He never wanted anyone to know about it, not even me, until after he was gone.
"He cared deeply about his legacy, but not so much that he had to have impressive monuments constructed. When I was campaigning I ran into a fellow who assured me that as a convicted felon, he couldn't vote. 'But your Dad helped me get sober,' he recalled. 'If you are his son, I want to thank you for that.' That sort of a thing caused me to spend my career as a teacher and realize that politics ain't all that it's shaked up to be.
"Funny how I can forget the Public Employee Retirement System, the university system, Idaho's network of roads, a sales tax that saved public schools, a modern public administration, a smoothly functioning state, and a bejeweled necklace of Idaho State Parks. All of these, my Dad helped build, or flat out did it himself. No, I remember someone who simply did what needed to be done and taught me to do the same."
You can follow Idaho Statesman Politics on Twitter.