Cecil D. Andrus, a Democrat, the only Idahoan elected four times as the state’s governor and the former Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter, has died in Boise. He was 85 years old. Andrus’ death late Thursday resulted from complications related to lung cancer.
Gov. Andrus made innumerable contributions to the State of Idaho and to the nation. His 14 years as Idaho governor are the most in the state’s history. He continued until his death to serve as chairman of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University.
“My colleagues at Boise State and I mourn the loss of a great Idaho leader and friend of Boise State. Cecil Andrus represented the very best about our democratic and representative way of life,” said Boise State President Bob Kustra. “He reminded us of an earlier era where public officials of different persuasions found ways to come together for the good of the country. Cecil Andrus built a brilliant career doing just that. At Boise State, with the Andrus Center for Public Policy, he built on his legacy in government as a passionate voice for conservation and public lands and as an advocate for moderation in our politics. He offered leadership, friendship and grace to me personally and to all on our campus who had the great good fortune to work with him.”
On Feb. 22, 1974, Gov. Andrus signed the bill that granted university status to Boise State, envisioning a bright future for a university in Boise. “It was important to establish a university where the hub of business was located,” he later said.
While Gov. Andrus’ legacy is immeasurable, the School of Public Service is particularly grateful for his work establishing the Center. The Andrus Center advances his legacy by championing wise use of our environmental resources and public lands, proper funding of education for our children and the cultivation of leadership from all segments of our society. In the 20-plus years since Andrus founded the Center, it has convened conferences, produced research and analysis and served as “common ground” for civil, serious discussion about public policy and some of the major issues of our times. It is dedicated to independent, non-partisan policy formation on critical issues confronting Idaho, the American West and the United States.
“The issues that Governor Andrus worked on as a governor and member of the cabinet are just as relevant today as they were during his time in office,” said Boise State School of Public Service Dean Corey Cook. “His rare combination of passion and civility serves as a model for current and future leaders. Gov. Andrus got things done and he got things done the right way.”
Boise State awarded Andrus a Silver Medallion, the university’s highest honor, in 1994, followed by an honorary doctorate in 2004.
“We hope that the legacy of Cecil Andrus will continue forever through the Andrus Center for Public Policy. His leadership on education and the environment and public lands will endure as long as there are children and mountains for them to roam,” said John Freemuth, executive director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy and a Boise State professor of environmental policy.
First elected governor of Idaho in 1970, Andrus was just 39 years old and quickly drew national attention as one of the first western politicians to seek office as a champion of conservation. During that campaign he advocated for the protection of Castle Peak, an iconic 11,815-foot snow capped mountain in central Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains. Andrus also was known for his campaigns to improve Idaho public education, including helping to create kindergarten programs for the first time.
During the course of his career Andrus served as chairman of both the Western and National Governors Associations. He left office in January 1995 having served more than 14 years as the Democratic governor of one of the most Republican states in the nation. Andrus’ tenure ranks him as the 11th longest serving governor in United States history.
Andrus, a strapping 6’2″ former “gyppo logger,” harbored a deep affection for Idaho, the West and the nation’s public lands. He displayed political and governing skills rivaling any governor of the last half of the 20th Century. Idaho has elected only one statewide Democrat since he left office in 1995. Born in Hood River, Oregon, on Aug. 25, 1931, Andrus studied engineering at Oregon State University before enlisting in the United States Navy during the Korean War. He served as a crewmember based in Japan, flying reconnaissance missions over the Korean peninsula.
Following military service Andrus and his wife Carol moved to Orofino, Idaho, where he worked as a lumberjack and sawmill worker. Inspired in part by hearing a speech in Lewiston, Idaho, by then Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, Andrus successfully challenged an incumbent Republican in a state senate race in 1960. The issue in the election was education, a cause Andrus championed for the rest of his career. At age 29 he became the youngest Idaho legislator in the 1961 session.
Andrus lost the 1966 Democratic primary race for governor to a fellow state senator, Charles Herndon, who was then killed in a plane crash six weeks before the general election. The party’s state central committee, with the strong support of then-Senator Frank Church, selected Andrus to replace Herndon. Andrus subsequently lost the general election to Republican Don Samuelson. He often quipped that he had the rare distinction of losing the governorship twice in the same year. Andrus and Church would go on to form a potent political partnership that dominated Idaho politics for a generation.
In a rematch with Samuelson in 1970, Andrus was elected by a 10,000-vote margin. He successfully set about to reorganize state government, enhance the economy and erase a budget deficit without increasing taxes. He won a second term in a landslide in 1974 after championing educational improvements and environmental policies, including stream channel protection and the development of a state water plan.
During this period, Andrus became friends with another young and often unconventional Democrat, then-Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. Carter, who selected Andrus to run the Interior Department during his presidency, said he never considered anyone else for the job.
Andrus served four years as secretary of the Interior and had declared his intention to return to Idaho regardless of the outcome of the 1980 presidential election. The highlight of his Interior tenure was the landmark Alaska Lands legislation, finally passed during the lame duck session of Congress in1980. The legislation added to or created 13 national parks, 16 wildlife refuges, 2 national forests, 2 national monuments, 2 conservation areas, and 26 wild and scenic rivers. The legislation protected more than 104 million acres in Alaska for future generations.
As the Carter Administration’s architect of the conservation legislation, Andrus convinced Carter to invoke the authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act in order to conserve vast stretches of wild Alaska as national monuments and wildlife refuges. Andrus always claimed the use of the controversial law was merely a strategy to force recalcitrant Alaska lawmakers to settle claims over management of the state’s lands that dated to statehood. Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens initially resisted the scale of the conservation effort in his energy rich state, but came to regard Andrus as an astute political operator and honest broker. Andrus in turn praised Stevens as a tough, but honest opponent whose word was good.
After returning to Idaho in 1981, Andrus operated his own consulting business in Boise and served on various corporate boards. In 1986 he sought the governorship for a third time and prevailed by a razor thin margin in a hard fought race against incumbent lieutenant governor, David H. Leroy. Andrus followed through on campaign pledges to enhance the state’s economic development efforts – he appointed a prominent Republican businessman to head the state’s Commerce Department – and, while he was often at odds with the GOP dominated state legislature he forced through increased appropriations for Idaho schools. During his entire time as governor Andrus never enjoyed a Democratic majority in either house of the state legislature, but still had only one veto overturned during his tenure.
Andrus often made the point that economic development and respect for the environment were not mutually exclusive goals. “First, you must make a living, but you must have a living that is worthwhile,” summed up much of his bipartisan political appeal, as did his personal connection with the state’s thousands of hunters and anglers.
Elected for an unprecedented fourth time in 1990 – he won with nearly 70 percent of the vote – Andrus continued to champion environmental protections and successfully challenged the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) over storage of nuclear waste in Idaho.
Andrus often referred to himself as “a political accident,” but engendered widespread support across the political spectrum thanks to a warm personality, a candid, outspoken style and an infectious sense of humor. He never met a stranger and worked every room with a firm handshake and self-deprecating jokes.
Andrus is survived by his wife Carol – they were married in 1949 – and by daughters Tana, Tracy and Kelly and grandchildren Monica, Morgan and Andrew and great granddaughter Casey.
Funeral arrangements, which will be private, are planned for Wednesday, Aug. 30 in Boise. A public lying-in-state ceremony will follow at noon on Aug. 30 in the Idaho Capitol rotunda and continue until noon on Aug. 31. A public memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31 in the Jordan Ballroom in the Boise State University Student Union.
In lieu of flowers, the Andrus family suggests memorial gifts to the Cecil D. Andrus Center Chair for Environment and Public Lands (Fund ID: SE009). Visit give.boisestate.edu or or make checks payable to “Cecil D. Andrus Chair” and mail to: Boise State University Foundation, Cecil D. Andrus Chair (SE009), 1173 W. University Drive, Boise, Idaho 83725
The family warmly thanks each and every individual who has sent cards, letters and flowers and wishes it were possible to personally acknowledge each expression of concern and caring. Please know that your well wishes have meant so much to the entire family as they attempt to deal with the loss of our husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather.