Leading Men

The history of The College of Idaho and the governorship

January 2014 - Since its beginning, The College of Idaho has encouraged students to lead.

Professors challenge young minds to think critically and consider new perspectives. Small class sizes maximize opportunities for students to be heard and become involved in campus leadership. A broad and deep curriculum allows graduates to pursue careers in divers fields.

Our faculty’s focus since the very beginning has been on producing disciplined, independent thinkers,” C of I President Marv Henberg said. “And as a result, we produce graduates who are grounded in knowledge and yet have been encouraged to think in a different way about that knowledge. And I think that is a trait shared by many successful leaders.” 

It comes as little surprise, then, that seven of Idaho’s 32 governors have had close ties to the C of I. Two – the late, great Robert E. Smylie ’38 and current chief of state C.L. “Butch” Otter ’67 – are graduates. Two others were members of the College’s original faculty and three have served on the C of I Board of Trustees. These are their stories.

EARLY BEGINNINGS

Ties between the C of I and the governorship date back to the earliest days of both the College and the state. Idaho was admitted into the union in 1890, one year before the College was established. In 1894, founding C of I President William Judson Boone made his first of two runs for the governor’s office, carrying the banner of the Prohibition Party. He garnered 178 votes. In 1900, Boone again was a candidate, this time tallying 914 votes. But, despite his momentum, Boone thereafter refrained from political impulses, instead focusing his energy on the College and the Presbyterian Church.

While Boone stepped out of the political arena, one of his peers from the College’s original faculty went on to become Idaho’s youngest governor. Frank Steunenberg, a Caldwell businessman, served a pair of 2-year terms between 1897 and 1901. Steunenberg’s tenure was marked by violent labor unrest in the mines of northern Idaho, causing him to invoke martial law during his second term.

Four years after he left office, Steunenberg met a tragic end when he was assassinated outside of his Caldwell home by Harry Orchard, who later confessed to being a hired killer for the Western Federation of Miners. The murder and ensuing trial were one of the biggest sagas of the era, garnering both national and international attention.

Idaho’s sixth governor, John T. Morrison, was another of Boone’s original faculty members at the College. Morrison, who had been a fraternity brother of Boone at the College of Wooster in Ohio, rejoined his former schoolmate in Caldwell, where he opened a law practice with John C. Rice. That firm drew up the articles of incorporation for Idaho’s first private college.

Morrison served one term as governor from 1903 to 1905. He avoided the fractious local issues of mining disputes and range wars between cattle and sheep interests and, according to the late Idaho historian Merle Wells, “joined in bringing a new era to Idaho politics that finally had considerable impact upon the state.”

The third Idaho governor with ties to the College was H.C. Baldridge, who served two terms from 1927 to 1931. Baldridge was a chairman of the C of I Board of Trustees for more than a decade, and he became Idaho’s 14th governor after a long career in state government. His accomplishments in office included bolstering the state highway system, the state hospitals and the state penitentiary. He also made a proposal to the federal government that resulted in the United States Forest Service designating more than one million acres of central Idaho land as roadless wilderness.

“[Baldridge’s] integrity has never been challenged,” said historian Mary J. Tate. “He was respected for his fairness and kindness.”

THE SMYLIE YEARS

The first College of Idaho alumnus to be elected governor was Robert E. Smylie ’38, who was elected in 1954 and served three consecutive four-year terms, becoming the first – and still only – Idaho governor to do so.

The late Smylie, who passed away in 2004, is remembered as one of the great men in the history of both the College and the state of Idaho. He came to the Gem State from rural Iowa, where his formative years were marked by the Great Depression. As student at the College, Smylie played football, served as yearbook editor and was elected student body president.

“Robert Smylie was a true Coyote who bled purple and gold,” said C of I political economy professor Jasper LiCalzi. “While an undergraduate, he was a star football player and yet still swept the old field house to help pay for his tuition. Smylie was, and will always be, an inspiration for young people with a dream of making their world a better place.”

After graduation, Smylie attended George Washington University Law School. He then spent four years in the Coast Guard during World War II, serving first as an enlisted man and later as an officer.

Smylie became active in Idaho politics after the war. He was appointed assistant attorney general in 1947 and the same year, at the age of 33, was appointed attorney general. Three years later he won election as attorney general. His administration as governor addressed issues relating to public education and its funding, natural resources, public health and the creation of a modern state park system. His participation in broad political affairs also brought Idaho much national publicity.

“Governor Smylie had more accomplishments in his three terms than any other governor in the history of the state,” LiCalzi said. “He did what was right and not what was politically expedient – his support for the state sales tax brought Idaho into the modern era, yet probably ended his political career.

“This state and country can only hope we will have leaders in the future who show the courage of their convictions in the same manner Robert Smylie did in service to all Idahoans.”

After leaving office in 1967, Smylie practiced law in Boise. Through the years, his loyalty to his alma mater was unrivaled. He served as the College’s acting president in 1974 and is one of two Board of Trustees members to have been awarded the distinction of “Trustee for Life.” His legacy at the College includes the creation of the Robert E. Smylie Archives in Sterry Hall, a repository that emphasizes state and local government as well as the College’s history and proud heritage of public service.

During Smylie’s funeral, C of I history professor Howard Berger paid tribute to the man who gave so much to his state and his school.

“Idaho is simply a much better place to live because of the life and career of Robert E. Smylie,” Berger said.

THE MODERN ERA

Next in the line of governors linked to The College of Idaho was Cecil Andrus, another former chairman of the Board of Trustees who became the longest-serving governor in the history of the state. Andrus first was elected in 1970 and earned reelection in 1974 before resigning in 1977 to become Secretary of the Interior for four years during the administration of President Jimmy Carter. Andrus returned to Idaho and was elected to a third term as governor in 1986 and an unprecedented fourth term in 1990.

According to LiCalzi, Andrus was the first American politician to make an environmental issue the lead issue in a campaign for elective office. In the ensuing years, Andrus came to be identified with numerous environmental success stories including the passage of the Alaska Lands Act and National Surface Mining Act of 1977 and establishing the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, the Snake River Birds of Prey Area and the Sawtooth and Hells Canyon National Recreation Areas. Reminders of his successes dot the Idaho landscape, including the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University and Cecil D. Andrus Elementary School in Boise.

Andrus was followed by Philip E. Batt, a longtime Idaho politician and former member of the C of I Board of Trustees. Batt, a Canyon County native, is widely credited with rebuilding the Idaho Republican Party’s structure and rejuvenating party enthusiasm statewide.

Batt’s term as governor was marked by fiscal conservancy and an eye to Idaho’s future. He directed the modernization of the state’s computer system, improved conditions for agricultural workers and successfully negotiated favorable terms for the storage of nuclear waste in Idaho. Throughout his political career and outside of the office, Batt was known for his sharp wit and sense of humor.  In spite of demonstrated popularity in the polls, he decided to serve a single term as governor.

AN IDAHO LEADER

Idaho’s 32nd and current governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter, is a native Idahoan whose political resume in the Gem State is virtually unmatched. Otter played football and studied political science at the C of I, becoming the first member of his family to graduate from college in 1967. After college, Otter served honorably in the Idaho Army National Guard´s 116th Armored Cavalry and went on to enjoy a successful career in business, primarily with the J.R. Simplot Company.

Otter entered politics in 1973, serving the first of two terms as a representative for the people of Canyon County in the Idaho House of Representatives. In 1986, Otter was elected lieutenant governor of Idaho, a position he was reelected to in 1990, 1994 and 1998. He is the longest-serving lieutenant governor in state history, having held the office under Andrus, Batt and Dirk Kempthorne.

Midway through his fourth term as lieutenant governor, Otter was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served three terms in Congress, representing Idaho's 1st District for six years before returning home for the first of his two successful gubernatorial campaigns.  

“Successful leadership requires equal parts flexibility and determination, principle and pragmatism, self-awareness and empathy, responsibility and accountability,” Otter said. “My time at The College of Idaho improved my capacity for all those qualities. At every stage of my career, there’s been a learning curve. The College of Idaho prepared me to be a lifetime learner, which is a tool that never lets you down.”

A Republican, Otter espouses a conservative/libertarian point of view, emphasizing the need for elected officials to keep the people’s needs in mind. Upon his election in 2006, Otter said his goal as governor “is to empower Idaho to be all that America was meant to be, and to empower Idahoans to be the architects of their own destiny.” To date, he has continued to stress empowering Idahoans, promoting responsible government and enhancing economic opportunities as his political points of emphasis.

“Gov. Otter has been a great leader in Idaho and an enormous help to the College for a long time,” Henberg said. “He is a genuinely warm and open human being; even if you disagree with him politically, you can’t dislike the man. And I would say the same of Gov. Andrus and Gov. Batt. All three are men of great integrity who are very proud of their service here, and they continue to do great things for the College and for our state.” 

Otter has not yet announced whether he will run for a third term as governor in 2014. If he does so successfully, he will be the second Idaho governor to serve three consecutive terms.

The other, fittingly, was Smylie. And, like Henberg, Otter has no doubt The College of Idaho will continue to produce great leaders for generations to come.

“What sets The College of Idaho apart is the independent culture, the close-knit faculty and student body and a real focus on the individual,” Otter said. “Excellence and the qualities of leadership are unapologetically promoted, and great things are expected. That will continue as long as the College maintains those principles and keeps serving the needs of those who understand that exceptional communities start with exceptional people.”