Andrus wins award, comes out punching

Former Gov. Cecil Andrus on Friday urged a crowd of more than 200 to continue his legacy of fighting for public schools and early childhood education.

Cecil Andrus belt
Cecil Andrus receives his Children’s Champion belt Friday in Boise.

Andrus, the former U.S. secretary of the interior and a four-term Democratic governor, made his remarks after accepting the Idaho Voices for Children 2013 Children’s Champion Award.

IVC officials honored Andrus for establishing public kindergarten in Idaho, increasing public school funding and fighting to make social services accessible to more children.

“Why we are here today is because children, as we all know, are our greatest resource,” Andrus said. “We have a responsibility, we have an obligation to protect them in all manner.”

Idaho Voices for Children is a nonprofit that works to establish policies that promote children’s health, education, safety and family and economic security. The group meets with lawmakers, researches policy initiatives and does lobbying.

Although Andrus said his two proudest accomplishments were establishing kindergarten and seeing Meridian’s Cecil D. Andrus Elementary School named after him, he said his work is far from complete.

He urged IVC members to fight for higher literacy rates among third-graders. He also backed early childhood education, promising Idahoans could decrease corrections spending and prison populations within two generations if early childhood education was funded and made a priority.

“As I sat here a while ago I heard … ‘education is our highest priority,’” Andrus said. “ If education is our highest priority, then we have to put our money where our mouth is.”

Officials gave Andrus a mock boxing championship belt, which they said he earned as the 2013 Children’s Champion.

The gift proved appropriate because Andrus came out swinging during his 25-minute acceptance speech. While Andrus called himself  “a lumberjack and a political accident,” he also threw some jabs at legislators. “I’m going to offend a few of the legislators here, and I really don’t care.”

His biggest gripe was that lawmakers undercut the revenue forecast from longtime state chief economist Michael Ferguson, and passed tax cuts before restoring education budgets that were cut during the Great Recession.

He also lobbed punches at members of both political parties in Congress, Gov. Butch Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

Guests who crammed into a second-floor ballroom at the Grove Hotel gave Andrus a sustained standing ovation – both before and after his speech. Andrus dedicated his award to his supporters, IVC members and everyone who ever fought for education in Idaho.