David Adler Honors James A. McClure
McClure Center Director, David Gray Adler, has written a tribute to Senator McClure, which will appear in various newspapers across Idaho.
Jim McClure: Rare Politician From a Bygone Era
by David Gray Adler
On June 22, 2007, on a sunlit afternoon framed by a deep- blue Idaho sky, Senator Jim McClure, in one of his last public appearances, shared with the City Club of Idaho Falls, in its inaugural meeting, his deep disappointment in the United States Senate that he loved, but now barely recognized, a body characterized by stridency, extremism and intolerance. He bemoaned the unwillingness of members to surmount a partisan divide that blocked compromise on the crucial issues and challenges that confronted the nation. There was in his heartfelt plea to the Senate and, by extension, to Americans everywhere, from the cottages of New England to the cabins of Idaho, the voice of a man who exuded a sunny optimism and expected more from his countrymen: “We have every right to disagree with each other, but we should do so agreeably.”
Of his many distinguished contributions to Idaho, his commitment to civil discourse and political civility - the twin engines of the republic - and his sense of decorum in the arena, may well be his finest and most important legacies. There is hazard in this estimation, of course, for a man as unpretentious as Senator McClure may not have devoted much time or energy to thoughts about his legacy. In any case, an assessment of his legacy is made more difficult by the scope of his Senate work and the manner in which he undertook it. He was renowned among his colleagues in the Senate for his willingness to engage in serious fact-finding, which he viewed as an essential function of legislators everywhere. Facts, evidence and details, he was fond of saying, were critical to good legislation and good governance. A strong and effective advocate for his state’s interests, he was widely admired as a champion of Idaho’s industries - mining, timber and agriculture - and exalted, as a pragmatic Chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, for his earnest pursuit of a coherent national energy policy, one grounded in energy independence for America, which he rightly perceived as critical to our nation’s economic and security needs.
There is no denying, moreover, the achievement of a rich and diverse legacy measured, in part, by the deep loyalty that he inspired in the legions of former staff members - “McClure Staffers” - who, despite the years that had passed since they worked at his side in Washington remained a vital part of the extended McClure Family. That steadfast loyalty, and friendship, rare in Washington circles, was born of Jim’s sincere interest in the lives of his colleagues, and those of their children and grandchildren. Jim’s decision - really a Joint Resolution undertaken with his wife, Louise - to create the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research at the University of Idaho, will entail a long-lasting contribution to the state and the nation, as it pursues workable solutions to those policy and public affairs challenges that confront the American citizenry.
The human qualities that defined Jim McClure, including his wit and self-deprecating sense of humor, his basic humility, decency and sincerity, his kind and generous nature, and the courtesy and respect that he extended, were all part of his constitutional design. These fine qualities were in evidence, for example, in the last days of the life of his colleague, Senator Frank Church, when Senator McClure rose on the floor of the Senate to persuade the chamber that all of the valued work that Senator Church had undertaken to preserve in Idaho millions of acres of wilderness should bear the name of his friend. With that gesture, the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness was officially born.
Jim McClure was, without question, a man of deeply conservative political principles. He stood his ground and defended his principles, of course, but he was also pragmatic, and understood that in a Democracy, the path to policy solutions and good governance required negotiation, compromise and bi-partisan cooperation. Humble enough to know that he didn’t have all the answers, he was a good listener, soaking up facts and information, as well as the views and opinions of those with whom he disagreed. He could look beyond political differences, as he did those which, on occasion separated the two of us, but which did not deter him from offering either praise for a lecture well-delivered or encouragement to join the University of Idaho. In a political climate marred by stridency, threats and volatility, and by growing disinterest in facts, evidence and tolerance, and at a moment in our nation’s history when the need for civil discourse and political civility has never been higher, there is much to be learned from the statesman from Payette whose life in the arena was a model of decorum.
David Gray Adler is James A. McClure Professor, and Director of the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Research at the University of Idaho. He has lectured nationally and internationally on the Constitution and the Presidency.