When I became chief of staff to the Governor of Idaho in 1991 it was a case of good news and bad news. It was an honor and responsibility and therefore good news to have that job and title. The bad news was I had to follow Mike Mitchell.
There is a dinner in Lewiston tonight honoring the long-time state legislator, state transportation board member, former candidate for Lt. Governor and chief of staff to Cecil Andrus. Mike Mitchell deserves to take some bows and enjoy the limelight. He has it coming. Those of us lucky enough to have worked with and enjoyed the friendship and company of the “little giant,” know Mitchell simply as a state government expert. The guy has forgotten more about how things work in state government than most legislators ever learn.
During my time covering the Idaho Legislature and later working for Andrus, I saw Mike master the state budget process as a member of the legislature’s most powerful and important committee – Joint Finance and Appropriations. He knew the ins and outs of the correction system, he served with real distinction on the Transportation Board, he knew public school funding and where the higher education system worked and didn’t. Few legislators or executive branch officials worked harder to master the details, that is to understand why things work well or need to be fixed, than Mike Mitchell.
Mitchell is a committed Democrat with friends all over the political spectrum in part, I think, because he was scrupulously fair and honest in his dealings with everyone – even reporters with half-baked notions – and he has a sense of humor.
A favorite story: Mike once placed an expensive cigar on a chair side table near a swimming pool and, while dozing in the sun, the cigar rolled off onto the deck near his chair. Waking from the nap, and anticipating re-lighting the cigar, he inadvertently stepped on the stogie while standing up. There was a very noticeable crunch and the frugal and funny Mitchell immediately quipped, “I sure hope that was my watch…”
It is an easy talking point for politicians to criticize government. We all have our pet peeves. But a guy like Mike Mitchell proves the truth of the old notion that public service, in all of its manifestations, can be, and with good people on the job truly is, a noble calling.
A lot of the hard and essential work Mike Mitchell performed for Idaho for the last several decades won’t ever get recorded in the history books. Too bad. But he can know as he takes a bow in Lewiston tonight that it made a big difference to thousands and thousands of people. Mike Mitchell gets the title he most deserves – he is one of the good guys who has made a real difference in Idaho.