Paradox Politics


Paradox Politics

also on

and available as a Kindle eBook

Paradox Politics: People and Power in Idaho. By Randy Stapilus. 300 pages. ISBN 978-0-945648-15-4 List price $15.95.

Here is the story of Idaho’s power brokers, those well-known and those behind the scenes, and the story of Idaho politics up to 1988 – of well-known figures like Cecil Andrus, Robert Smylie, Frank Church, Jim McClure, and many others – and the backroom players most Idahoans never heard of, like Lloyd Adams and Tom McCall. In this new edition, the author provides more than 100 notes updating and expanding on the original text.

Sample chapter

From the introduction to the 2nd edition:

For those who have suggested, for an uncomfortable number of years, that Paradox Politics be updated …

(Or: If you’re thinking of buying this book, you need to read this first) …

Paradox Politics: People and Power in Idaho was conceived in early 1987 and birthed a year and a half later – more than 20 years ago, and at the time it broke some ground. In an entirely different way, I’m hoping this new edition of the book will break some ground as well.

Take yourself back to 1988 – a whole different world in so many ways. No Internet, no e-mail (other than for a handful of computer geeks). Idaho was different then, and certainly its politics was. Steve Symms was one of the senators, and Cecil Andrus the governor. Politics in the state was competitive in a way it has not been since.

  • Andrus as governor, 1988

There was also little in print, in the form of books, about public affairs in Idaho. The only biography or autobiography by or about a recent Idaho public official then available concerned former Senator Glen Taylor, who left office in 1951. I was a political reporter at the time for the Idaho Statesman in Boise (and had been writing politics for about a decade) and undertook the book partly out of frustration that the pieces of the Idaho political puzzle had never been set down in print. Like everyone else, I had to pick them up item by item, slowly, learning over years what my teachers had learned over years.

There may, in hindsight, in fact have been something useful in that … Paradox, which brought together the running narrative of Idaho politics, and a few related topics, for the last half-century, did seem to bring some people up to speed on Idaho faster than they could have done otherwise. It received a cordial response – I was gratified to see – around the state. It won a state library association award as book of the year for 1988. It was named by the Idaho Centennial Commission as one of the state centennial books in 1990. It received a batch of nice reviews, especially pleasing since many of the reviewers are not known for pulling punches. When that blunt-spoken curmudgeon and lifetime student of Idaho Perry Swisher gave it a thumbs up, I felt confident the book hit reasonably near the mark in telling its story.

And so much for all that. For me, the years since have seen a departure from the news media and into publishing of various sorts, especially monthyly publications including the Idaho Public Affairs Digest and the Snake River Basin Adjudication Digest. (Paradox Politics was supposed to be a one-shot for Ridenbaugh Press, but life does take its unexpected turns.) Paradox has sold well for a book of its kind, well enough to be called a local best-seller, though that still translates to a microscopically smaller scale than the books that come with 30% discounts at Barnes & Noble. Through the years, I’ve been asked regularly whether Paradox will be updated with a new edition. I’ve invariably waffled in my reply, for a number of reasons.

For one, Paradox was a bear to organize in the first place, and a revision to bring events up to date, to 2009, would be even tougher. Politics, and the nature of Idaho, has been so different in this last decade that it almost doesn’t fit Paradox at all. The period from the late 80s up to now (and possibly the next few years as well) make for a story all their own, and I have begun mapping out plans for writing another book about it.

For a second, I have been doing updates. In 1990, specifically with the idea of expanding on and updating Paradox, Ridenbaugh Press published its second book: The Idaho Political Almanac 1990. We published updated political almanacs through 2002.

There’s a third: Paradox is no longer the only long book-form explication of recent Idaho politics and public affairs. A raft of such books have been issued in recent years, most of them in the form of biographies or autobiographies. Books by or about Robert Smylie, Frank Church, Cecil Andrus, James McClure, Phil Batt, Don Samuelson, Perry Swisher, J.R. Simplot and others – not to mention two new histories of the Idaho National Engineering & Environmental Laboratory – all have appeared in the last few years, since Paradox was published. (And I wholeheartedly recommend them all to anyone interested in Idaho public affairs. I’d like to think that Paradox helped kick-start some of that action.) It’s like the joke of the dancing bear – that people were so taken with the dancing bear not because it danced so well, but because it danced at all. Paradox remains alone in as a neutral (i.e., non-participant’s) account, but it is no longer the only dancing bear on the stage of recent Idaho writing on politics.

Still, there are some compelling arguments in favor of – doing something – with Paradox.

For one thing, it’s still out there, and for the moment stands as written all those years ago, even when its author isn’t standing in the same place. People are still using it as reference, although – while the history pretty much up – Idaho politics in the years since has taken directions that are drastically different from those described here. It is increasingly becoming a history book, as opposed to a study of current affairs (which it was in 1988), but it should continue to be useful.
For another thing, I know more now than I did then.

And for one more thing, the first edition is nearly out of print. And in some way, shape or form, I’d like to keep it out there.

So by way of a short statement of intent:

This version does not change the original book text. (Most of the photos, too). None of it has been conveniently revised to match later conclusions or events. (We did correct typos that cropped up in the original production process, however.)

What’s new is a bunch of footnotes, by way of updating and correcting – making the book maybe a little more useful to a generation later. Reference notes are, as in the original, in the back of the book; all the footnotes you see here are new to this edition. They offer additional information, updates and new interpretation, and in a few cases corrections to errors in the original. (If there are more errors, someone please let me know.)

The object is not to bring to the story of Idaho and its politics fully up to date. It is intended to help bring the subjects referred to here up to current context, so that a reader in this millennium will have a better handle on how these events relate to more recent times. And to reflect, in a number of cases, a better understanding of some of the people, places, events and trends reflected in the book.

Paradox remains book about politics in Idaho during the half-century or so up to 1988; but it now also includes more information and commentary based on what I didn’t know, or didn’t understand, or hadn‘t happened yet, in the period from there to here. And in a number of cases, this new edition tells you “whatever happened to” a number of the key players in the original story.

Reviewing these chapters, and writing these updates, I had to reflect on just how much has changed. And you’ll see a number of those reflections here. And some amendments to earlier thinking.

So this revision, by itself, may provide a useful look at where Idaho has not only been, but where it come.

At least until the next book comes along …

Randy Stapilus
May 2009

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *