BOISE — More than 1,000 people gathered Thursday to remember and say goodbye to an “American statesman and an Idaho icon.”
This was Mike Simpson’s description of Cecil Andrus, four-time governor of Idaho. Now a congressman, Simpson was a Republican state House member during Andrus’s last two terms as governor and Speaker of the House for Andrus’s last couple of years in office.
“It used to frustrate Republicans that in the most Republican state in the nation we could not elect a Republican governor,” Simpson remembered.
Eventually, Simpson said, he realized “there must have been a lot of Republicans voting for this Cecil Andrus guy … They weren’t voting for a Democrat, they weren’t voting for a Republican, they were voting for a man.”
Andrus, who was governor from 1971 to 1977, U.S. Interior Secretary in the Jimmy Carter administration, and governor again from 1987 to 1995, died last week. Among the policies he is most remembered for is his commitment to education — he was a strong advocate for increased public education spending and pushed the bill that created kindergartens in Idaho — and environmental conservation.
He was elected in 1970 partially due to opposition to a proposed mine in the White Clouds and helped to protect new lands as well as fighting for causes such as removing nuclear waste from Idaho. Andrus’s advocacy for protecting the Boulder-White Clouds culminated in 2015, when after years of effort a bill sponsored by Simpson and establishing wilderness protection for much of the area passed Congress.
Andrus’s body lay in state at the Capitol rotunda from noon Wednesday till noon Thursday, his casket draped in the American flag and watched over by an honor guard from the Idaho National Guard and the Idaho State Police. Late Thursday morning a steady stream of mourners were still coming to pay their respects.
A U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Far East combat zone during the Korean War, Andrus will be buried with full military honors in Pioneer Cemetery on Friday.
The remembrance ceremony was held in the ballroom at Boise State University’s Student Union, an institution to which Andrus had some notable connections — BSU’s Andrus Center for Public Policy is named after him. Andrus even signed the bill in 1974 turning the former college into BSU. His former press secretary and chief of staff Marc Johnson shared the story of how that bill briefly became a political bargaining chip when Andrus used the implied threat of a veto to get an Ada County Republican senator to vote for one of his nominees to the Public Utilities Commission.
Johnson and John Hough, another of Andrus’s former press secretaries and chiefs of staff, shared sometimes humorous stories from the campaign trail and the Capitol about the man who, Johnson said, was regarded as “a role model, mentor, inspiration and surrogate father” by his staff.
Andrus, Johnson said, had lived “a quintessentially American life,” rising from humble beginnings to his high station. Working for Andrus, he said, was the highlight of his career. He said Andrus viewed politics as an honorable profession and government as a way to help others.
“He never bad-mouthed government,” Johnson said. “He knew that government was the tool to make those improvements. And he never forgot from where he came.”
Tracy Andrus, one of his three daughters, shared her memories of a father who, they learned at a young age, had to be shared with others, but who was committed to them, sharing his passion for the outdoors, teaching his daughters to fish at a young age and doting on his granddaughters. When he finally had a grandson, he immediately bought the infant a lifelong fishing and hunting license.
“He was at his best greeting friends and strangers alike,” she said. “He truly liked getting to know people, exchanging quips, and kneeling down and looking a child in the eyes as … he made a new lifelong friend.”
Tracy Andrus shared stories of her father “saving the day” for her, including a time when her younger sister broke her arm and Tracy accidentally brought her to the wrong hospital. (It didn’t have an emergency room.) Her father found them.
“I don’t know what important matters of state went unattended that day,” she said. “I only know that our father, our personal guardian angel, had once again saved the day.”
Simpson credited much of what has informed his own approach to politics to Andrus.
“I learned from him there are many good things you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit,” Simpson said. “I learned we spend too much time yelling at each other and not enough time talking to each other. … And most importantly, I learned that the word ‘compromise’ is not a bad thing.”
Simpson compared the creation of the Boulder White-Clouds wilderness to a relay race — he only carried the baton over the finish line. Andrus and others were there before he was.
“I stood on the shoulders of giants who deserve much more credit than I do,” he said.