Now that Hillary Clinton is about to shatter the glass ceiling hanging over the White House’ Oval Office, one has to ask when is Idaho going to get with the program?
All of the states touching Idaho’s border save Nevada, have had at least one female governor. Oregon and Washington have had two. Some have been as good if not better than any male who has held the office. One need look no further than former Washington Governor Christine Gregoire. History will treat her tenure (2005-2013) far more kindly than Washington’s first female governor, Dixy Lee Ray (1981-1985), who despised the press and the media returned the love in kind.
Governor Ray was upset in the 1984 Democratic primary by State Senator Jim McDermott, who many thought would coast to election only to be upset himself by King County Executive John Spellman in the general.
Oregon’s first female chief executive was veteran legislator Barbara Roberts. A bit like Dixy Lee Ray, she had a tart tongue, sharp wit and a hard time masking her intelligence. She chose not to seek a second term. Indeed, if there is one common denominator among the female chief executives in the states bordering Idaho, all except Gregoire only served one term: Barbara Roberts of Oregon, 1991-1995; Olene Walker of Utah, 2003-2005;Judy Martz of Montana, 2001-2005; and, Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming, 1925-1927.
So how come no female figure has emerged in Idaho? There’s no easy answer as both parties have had talented women who could handle the job with ease as well if not better than many of the men who have served as governor.
On the Republican side many thought Louise Shadduck, who started her career as a journalist in her hometown of Coeur d’Alene, working for the Coeur d’Alene Press. She almost single-handidly over the years built up the Republican Party in Kootenai county. She mentored a number of Republican males who went onto public service, both elected and non-elected. Talented Republicans from Steve Symms to Phil Reberger to David Leroy considered Louise a mentor.
She was the first female administrative assistant to an Idaho governor, serving Governor C.A. “Doc” Robins from 1946 to 1950. She became the first female head of a department when under Governor Bob Smylie she created and ran the forerunner of the Department of Commerce and Economic Development.
She seemed a sure bet to be Idaho’s first female governor but an attempt to unseat Gracie Pfost from the First District Congressional seat did not succeed. It was, however, another first for Ms. Shadduck. It was the first time in the nation’s history both major political parties chose female standard bearers in a congressional race. Louise never put her name on a ballot again.
The only Republican female actually to file for governor was State Senator Rachael Gilbert from Boise. She ran second, however, to Middleton State Senator Roger Fairchild in the 1990 Republican primary, losing by some 5000 votes.
Among current GOP officeholders the best bet for a female to break that glass ceiling would be JFAC co-chair Shawn Keough from Sandpoint. A moderate, pro-education Republican she has proven to be a tough campaigner rebuffing three serious primary challenges from hard right-wing Tea Party types.
Though she has never expressed any interest in being governor some pundits speculate that current Lt. Governor Brad Little might encourage her to run for his job when he runs for governor in 2018 with the thought they might be an attractive winning “ticket.” If Little were to then move onto the Senate Keough might inherit the job.
Another more than qualified Republican female is Sandy Patano, former Senator Larry Craig’s State Director. Intelligent, articulate, a superb strategist and a long-time political activist, she would be a good bet also—if she ran.
There’s one other dark horse possibility: rumors persist that the reason Governor Otter is raising funds for his PAC is that while he won’t run for a fourth term, his wife, Lori, just might. No slouch at campaigning, she could be a formidable candidate and if she won the primary a lock to break that glass ceiling.
When one turns to the Democratic side it says something that few names come to mind. Former Governor Cecil Andrus always thought Orofino State Senator Marguerite McLaughlin would have made a terrfic governor and he encouraged her to run. Despite rumors to the contrary, Andrus never pushed daughter Tracey to run for Boise mayor or any other elective office. Nonetheless, had she ever sought to be governor she too would have been a good bet to break the ceiling.
Likewise, former Democratic National committeewoman Jeanne Buell from Worley could have been a credible, winning candidate. None of these folks ran, however. Among today’s current crop of Democrat officeholders only former State Senator Holli Woodings is a possibility. Minority Leader Senator Michelle Stinnett has said never.
There’s a bright young talent working in Democratic state headquarters, however. Her name is Shelby Scott. If she doesn’t return to her native Nevada, she might be a good Democrat bet in 2026.