Who Is Cecil Andrus?

How the late Idaho governor almost derailed the omnibus

Former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus speaks during the National Audubon Society Gala Dinner at the Plaza Hotel in New York City on March 31, 2015. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for The National Audubon Society)

Cecil who?

The spirit of the late Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus graced the political stage this week when a provision in the omnibus spending package naming the Gem State’s White Clouds Wilderness after the Democrat snarled progress on the legislation, which was needed to fund the government past Friday.

Sen. Jim Risch, an, ahem, colleague from back home, did not take kindly to the provision, sponsored by Rep. Mike Simpson, a fellow Idaho Republican, so he refused to give his consent while the offending language remained. 

Back in 2008, the Idaho Statesman recounted the rivalry between the two men after Risch had come to the Senate. 

“After Risch told a reporter he’d worked cooperatively with Andrus during his run for Senate this year, Andrus issued a blistering rebuttal.

“‘Worked against me is more like it,’ the former four-term governor said. ‘Risch is one of the most partisan people I’ve ever had to deal with. During his time in legislative leadership, cooperation across the aisle and with the governor’s office reached a new low,’” the paper reported.

Eventually, Risch was talked down by GOP leaders and the Senate vote went ahead early Friday, just under 24 hours before government funding was to expire at midnight. Risch pushed for a change to the omnibus to rescind the naming. The House refused to go along, and President Donald Trump signed the legislation into law Friday afternoon. 

Simpson, a senior appropriator, felt so strongly about the matter that the subject line of his press release touting the passage of the omnibus package on Thursday read thusly: “Simpson Delivers Historic Wins for Idaho — Including Renaming the White Clouds Wilderness after former Governor Cecil Andrus.”

So who was Andrus?

  • He was elected governor of Idaho four times, serving from 1971 to 1977 and then from 1987 to 1995. 
  • During his successful gubernatorial campaign in 1970, he campaigned hard to save what would become the White Clouds Wilderness from plans for an open-pit molybdenum mine by the American Smelting & Refining Company. He won. The mine never happened. 
  • He was Interior secretary under President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981, and pushed for the Alaska Lands Bill. 
  • He was a Navy veteran, lumberjack and sawmill manager, an avid hunter and fisherman (and even taught Carter how to cast a fly.)
  • He died Aug. 24, 2017, in Boise at age 85.
  • The introduction to his autobiography, “Cecil Andrus: Politics Western Style,” written with Joel Connelly, starts like this: “Only one label can begin to describe what I am — a Westerner.”

And, perhaps most endearingly for those interested in politics as a profession, he was an unabashed practitioner of what he affectionately described as the art of hornswoggling — getting what you want with methods that often don’t bear close examination.

“I hope to pass on a bit of the joys of hornswoggling, and I fully expect others to master this art and use it to preserve, protect, and defend the American West,” he wrote in his book, adding for good measure, “I’m also hoping this book lures a few more visitors to White Bird Hill.”

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