Cecil Andrus, Idaho’s only four-term governor, dies at 85

(UPDATED, 9:50 a.m., with additional reactions.)

Cecil Andrus rode the debate over Central Idaho mining to the governor’s office in 1970.

But Andrus’ unprecedented 14 years as governor also brought milestones in education, including a state kindergarten law passed on his watch.

Andrus, 85, died Thursday, from complications stemming from lung cancer.

Cecil Andrus

Idaho’s only four-term governor, Andrus unseated Republican incumbent Don Samuelson in November 1970. The centerpiece of his win was Andrus’ opposition to a molybdenum mining proposal in Central Idaho — a debate that predated the creation of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and, later, the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness.

Andrus was re-elected in 1974, and in his second term, education issues took prominence.

In 1975, the Democratic Andrus convinced the Republican Legislature to pass a law creating optional kindergarten. Previously, Idaho law was silent on kindergarten. Andrus would later call the kindergarten law one of his proudest political accomplishments.

Andrus stepped down in the middle of his second term. In 1977, he joined President Carter’s Cabinet as interior secretary, becoming the first Idahoan to hold a cabinet appointment.

But Andrus would return to Idaho — and to Idaho’s highest elected office.

Andrus was narrowly re-elected in 1986 and breezed to a fourth term in 1990. He retired at the end of his fourth term, and remains the last Democrat to hold the governor’s office.

Andrus’ final two terms in office thrust him into the national spotlight, as he blocked nuclear waste shipments to Idaho to protest the federal government’s delays in waste cleanup. Closer to home, Andrus frequently sparred with Republican legislators over education funding.

It was a fight that was still on Andrus’ mind in October 2013, when he accepted an award from Idaho Voices for Children honoring his work on behalf of kids.

“I’m going to offend a few of the legislators here, and I really don’t care,” said Andrus, as he chided legislators for putting tax cuts before reversing recession-era education budget cuts.

“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.”

Andrus died Thursday, and news of his passing broke later that evening. Among the first politicians to react to the news was state Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise.

“He was the real deal!” Buckner-Webb wrote on her Facebook page. “The consummate gentleman, he epitomized leadership, citizenship and great love for family, friends and the people of Idaho.”

On Friday, Gov. Butch Otter and other Republican elected officials praised Andrus.

“He was a mentor to me and many others, raising our standards and inspiring us to think big,” Otter said in a statement. “He combined stubborn idealism with common sense – a lunch-bucket liberal proudly reflecting his timber country upbringing and values.”

“It was fitting that (Andrus) cut his political teeth protecting Castle Peak as I think they both have a lot in common,” Rep. Mike Simpson said. “They are giants in Idaho and icons to those who believe conservation is a necessity and not a luxury.”

A private funeral is planned for Wednesday in Boise. Andrus will lie in state at the Capitol from noon Wednesday to noon Thursday, and a public memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Jordan Ballroom of Boise State University’s Student Union Building.

More reading: Click here for a statement and news release on Andrus’ passing  More about Andrus’ life and political career from Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman and Kimberlee Kruesi and Keith Ridler of the Associated Press.