Lots of reaction and remembering, very appropriately, to the weekend passing of one of Idaho’s political icons Sen. Jim McClure. Most of the reaction, again appropriately, has described McClure’s time in the U.S. House and Senate as distinguished, thoughtful and productive. Others have noted that he was a work horse, not a show horse; a decent guy in a business that has become more and more characterized by nastiness and blind partisanship.
One of the best and most thoughtful reactions to McClure’s death and his career comes in a great piece by long-time Idaho Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson. Johnson has taken the point in the Idaho environmental community in stressing a new approach to engagement and even collaboration with some of the traditional “enemies” of the conservation community. He writes of not initially thinking much of McClure, but over time coming to realize that the conservative Republican was a fellow you could talk with and maybe even make a deal with.
“I now see,” Johnson writes, “how much wilderness we didn’t get back then working with him and later in the under-appreciated collaboration he had with then-Gov. Cecil Andrus. Those bills were far from perfect. But bills today are also far from perfect, and today’s are more limited in scale. Nothing’s perfect you say? I didn’t know that then. Incidentally, my older mentors didn’t know that, either.”
It is almost a “man bites dog” moment and strong kudos to Johnson for recognizing and admitting that a guy who is a card carrying environmentalist – I say that with affection – could learn a thing or two from a senator who was often caricatured as an apologist for extractive industries. That is the beauty of politics – things are rarely as black and white, cut and dried as some try to make them. Progress is in the gray area of compromise and consensus.
One aspect of McClure’s career deserves special recognition as Idahoans reflect on his importance to the state’s politics. The guy was a legislator. He didn’t see his job as making bombastic speeches, although like any good and effective politician he could do that, he went to Washington, D.C. to get things done. Over a career that included strong advocacy for timber, mining and the Department of Energy, he also offered up conservation oriented legislation that, as my friend Rick Johnson argues, many of us would be glad to have on the books today.
That alone is why Jim McClure and others of his ilk will be long remembered. They used public office to try and do things. His approach is always going to be a good model – at any time in any state.