He came close to becoming governor of Idaho.
Ray Rigby was for a time a candidate for governor of Idaho, as a Democrat, in 1970. But only for a while; he didn’t file, and wasn’t on the ballot, and didn’t get very close to the office that year. But in the process he and the eventual nominee and governor, Cecil Andrus, became good friends, and four years later he was Andrus’ top choice for lieutenant governor.
In 1974 the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor had some value, both evident and as yet unseen. It was a good year for Idaho Democrats – one of the two best in the last half-century – and the nomination drew four serious candidates. Rigby had strong support but came in second, outdone by fellow state senator John Evans, who had pulled in most of the still-strong labor backing. But that four-way race was highly competitive.
And that was appropriate, because two years later Andrus was tapped for interior secretary, and Evans became governor. It could have been Rigby.
If there was some significance to that, Ray Rigby, who died last week at his lifetime home in Rexburg, never seemed to dwell on it. He had a busy life in his profession and his church as well as in politics. His political adventures back in the 60s and 70s, when he was one of the leading figures in the Idaho Legislature and a serious prospect for higher offices, hardly even figure now in many of the recollections of him.
The biographical article about Rigby in the Idaho Falls Post Register, for example, focused more on water.
And that’s not a mistake. Ray Rigby was a water lawyer and one of the leaders in shaping Idaho state water regulation – his son Jerry, has followed in those footsteps too – and he was one of the people who helped create Idaho’s water regime when it was in formative stages half a century ago, turning into something like what the state has now. Rigby was a practicing lawyer who represented clients, which included many of the larger water operations around eastern Idaho, and he had clear points of view about how things should be. But he was willing to compromise, willing to work with a wide range of people, and willing to experiment.
In the oral history book Through the Waters (disclosure: I published and helped edit it), which tracks the story and history of the Snake River Basin Adjudication, Rigby emerges as a major figure in setting up the state’s water structure after Swan Falls Dam court decision in 1982. (In comments after his death, two of the other major figures in that work, then-Attorney General Jim Jones and his resources division chief, Clive Strong, reaffirmed that.) He was the practical source of the idea of trust waters – a key concept in putting the Snake River water rights agreements in place – and also important because he was so widely trusted, across party lines and across a range of interest groups.
Idaho has one of the best water management systems in the country. The most important ingredient allowing that to happen has been trust, a willingness for people with varying interests to work in good faith with each other. Ray Rigby epitomized that, and he helped make that happen.
He could set a good example for policy makers and political people in Idaho today.