Moving to Idaho to work at Boise State University’s Political Science Department came with a bit of a learning curve. Not a steep one, to be sure, but on the list of things I came to know are the fact that correctly pronouncing Boise requires dropping that Midwestern –z at the end, when and where it is permissible to walk on the foothill trails and that the Gem State really is a two-party state, only the two parties that matter are both part of the GOP.

For me, learning happens best when it comes in story form, and over the time I’ve been here, I’ve heard – and learned from – dozens of anecdotes and vignettes. My favorite, though, and the one at the forefront of my mind as I assembled the essays in this issue of The Blue Review, came via my colleague John Freemuth. John’s précis of the time Secretary of the Interior Cecil Andrus took President Jimmy Carter on a trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River had me amazed – an American president, in the late twentieth century, really flew out and spent a few days in Idaho wilderness! Justin S. Vaughn is guest editor of TBR 5.

The tale inspired fervent scanning of the indexes of books about both Andrus and Carter, to see if I could learn more about this event. The search was largely fruitless, though, as were my usually intrepid Google hunts, and when I later told John I couldn’t find the information I wanted, he did me an immeasurable kindness and connected me with Chris Carlson, who had served as Secretary Andrus’s press representative at the time of the river trip.

Carter in Idaho

via Google News
LMT account of Carter’s 1978 Middle Fork trip, which included 14 chickens, 30 lbs. of Idaho potatoes, 40 lbs. of beef roasts, 30 New York cut steaks, 30 top sirloins and 20 dozen eggs.

Carlson, who has for decades been among the most influential politicos in the state, is a long-time Andrus loyalist and former member of the Andrus Center for Public Policy Board of Directors. Founder of the Northwestern public affairs powerhouse Gallatin Group (now Gallatin Public Affairs), Carlson’s resume includes time served as the director of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Public Affairs, the first appointee to the Northwest Power Planning Council, and as a vice president of public affairs for Kaiser Aluminum. He’s also author of a well-regarded book on Andrus and a recent political memoir, Medimont Reflections: Forty Years of Issues and Idahoans.

Chris Carlson

Chris Carlson

Our hour-long chat covered a wide-range of subjects, from where to fly fish in Southern Idaho to the role Senator Frank Church played in Medicare covering hospice costs to the 1960s Idaho-Columbia University pipeline that led to the start of not only Carlson’s career but so many other influential Idahoans. Mostly, though, we talked about Cecil Andrus, Carlson’s relationship with him and that river trip I was so interested in.

I learned that Carter, who was an avid fisherman, had promised to go on the trip when he was meeting with Andrus during the 1976-77 presidential transition. Andrus, who had flown to Georgia with Carlson and his chief of staff, John D. Hough, proposed the trip during a meeting at Carter’s home in Plains and, according to Carlson, the president-elect agreed on the spot. Less than two years later, the duo and their families were floating down the River of No Return.

During our chat, I also learned a lot about Cecil Andrus the man. Carlson, who sees Andrus as a father figure, noted that despite being largely self-taught, Andrus remains the brightest person he’s ever met. Two central characteristics – his unique ability to “look over the horizon” and a great sense of when to talk policy and when to kick back and relax – likely helped Andrus develop the bond with Carter, one that was initially forged when the two worked alongside one another on National Governors Association committees.

Jimmy Carter 1980a.jpg

Oregonian Photo /flickr
Carter and Andrus deplane at Portland Air Base in 1980, following the eruption of Mt. St. Helens

Their mutual respect and appreciation allowed Andrus, the first Idahoan to serve as a Cabinet secretary, greater sway in leading the Interior Department, where Carlson describes Carter as the coach and Andrus as the quarterback, with the understanding that the quarterback could call his own plays. The nation owes a good deal of gratitude for this arranged autonomy, as Andrus’s stewardship resulted in what became the Alaska Lands Act, which set aside more than 100 million acres in public land and wilderness.

And there you have it. In seeking out some background information regarding an interesting and unique story about a president rafting through Western wilderness, I learned much more about Idaho political history, Western politics, and a man described as “Idaho’s greatest governor” than I had imagined. But that’s how these stories often work.

WHAT’S INSIDE TBR 5?

It is my hope that the essays in this issue of The Blue Review, TBR 5, our second politics issue, spark inquiries for each of you. The topics and approaches of the essays included here range, but all hinge on a central theme; consider reading them something like getting a major in politics with a minor in the American West. The essays are a blend of contributions from academics and practitioners, including:

Finally, to bring the storytelling dimension home, interspersed throughout this issue are brief interviews with Idaho political activists, illustrating how they become politically engaged and why they stay in politics. Harrison Berry and Jessica Murri of the Boise Weekly as well as TBR editor Nathaniel Hoffman conducted these interviews and we have paired them with a short introduction from political scientist Ken Miller of the University of Texas. These individuals represent the past, present and future of Idaho politics.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University or the School of Public Service.