The rise of the phoenix?

By Chris Carlson

Former Idaho Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor David Leroy is garnering deserved accolades for his efforts to educate Idahoans regarding the state’s historical role under the guidance of President Abraham Lincoln in thwarting southern efforts to bring slavery into the territories west of the Mississippi.

A successful attorney and a dedicated Abraham Lincoln historical buff, he has traveled Idaho with a refined presentation on Lincoln’s role in the formation of the Idaho territory 150 years ago. He and his wife, Nancy, have also collected numerous Lincoln memorabilia which they intend to donate to the State‘s historical museum.

He also fills in the background against which one can measure a mistaken view promulgated by his party’s Tea Party types regarding “nullification.” Leroy’s presentation reminds audiences this nation fought a Civil War led by a beloved President who was saying to hell with this nonsense about a state being able to nullify laws passed by Congress they don’t like.

For Lincoln and Leroy, the operative phrase is “one nation, under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for all,” as we all recite in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Civil War settled the issue of nullification.

Leroy is quintessentially political to his core. He has disarming charm, an ability to tell good stories and to laugh at himself. He also is one of the most calculating, Machiavellian, shrewd, insightful and instinctive politicians to move across the Idaho stage in years.

A rising GOP star in his youth, there seemed no limit to his potential. A Republican version of Minnesota Senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, he was the “happy warrior” exuding energy and joy as he went about fulfilling expectations as a competent attorney general and then lieutenant governor.

When I returned in 1981 to Idaho from four years of exile serving with former Governor Cecil Andrus at the Department of the Interior, Leroy and I became good friends. We often jogged daily and talked politics as we ran.

Then the attorney general, it was clear he aimed to be governor and then a senator someday. A fan of former Governor and Senator Len Jordan, and his wife, Grace, Leroy and his first spouse, Helen, named their daughter Jordan after his hero. He delivered an eloquent and moving eulogy on the occasion of Grace’s passing.

Candidly, I told Leroy if he wanted to be governor he had best contest Phil Batt for the 1982 Republican nomination to challenge Andrus successor John Evans. I thought he could defeat Batt and would have a 50/50 shot at beating Evans who one had to concede was doing a solid job in the governor’s chair.

Leroy felt he should defer to Batt and that 1986 would be a better year for him as he expected Evans to go after Senator Steve Symms. I told him if he waited until 1986 there was a better than even chance he would be up against the heavy-weight champ, that Andrus would reclaim the office he had left to be Interior secretary.

Leroy did not seem deterred by that prospect. Indeed, he seemed to relish the thought that his credential could only be burnished by defeating Andrus. The rest is history. He lost by 3357 votes, one of the closest governor races in Idaho history.

To his credit he did not contest the outcome and drag the process out.

He then entered into his period in the wilderness going through both personal and political changes that saw a divorce and a half hearted race for Congress.

Now in his early 60’s, with a distinguished head of white hair, success in the private sector that has brought rewards like a summer place in France, and a wife that shares his interests, Leroy is basking in the justifiable thanks of his fellow citizens for his Lincoln bequest.

He may also be a modern day version of the mythical phoenix. If Raul Labrador decides to run for governor, David Leroy will be a candidate to succeed him as Idaho’s First District congressman. And if he does, this time he will win. There are indeed successful second and third acts in politics.

A native of Kellogg, journalist Chris Carlson pens his column from his retirement home near Medimont in Northern Idaho. He is a former teacher and was press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus.