In the heat of any battle for political edge or victory, I wish people would take more time to extend the kindness and understanding to the living that we do to the dead and dying; that we don't wait for people to exit this world to extend a courtesy, share appreciation or say thanks; that we say nothing about a living person that we wouldn't feel comfortable conveying at that person's funeral.
That said, there is very little ideologically that I have in common with the two people I'm going to write about in today's commentary. Both men died this month. I am thankful I got to know them.
John Evans was the first governor from Idaho who I really got to know. Evans had been out of elective office for 10 years when I met him in 1996. He was the president of the local bank, and I was an editor and a reporter at the South Idaho Press in Burley. Evans was charming, interesting, every bit the gentleman. He welcomed me to meetings he was chairing, usually on local transportation issues, and always, always, always took my calls.
I met Ralph "Moon" Wheeler in the late 1990s. A state senator from American Falls, Wheeler was engaging and upbeat. Wheeler's gait was forever impacted by polio; he depended on a four-wheel rollator to get around the Statehouse. My favorite memory of Moon Wheeler was spending time discussing the politics of the day in his fourth floor Statehouse office (now a public gallery). Wheeler would open his window, letting in the frigid winter air so that he could enjoy a nice cigar.
We differ politically. Evans, a Democrat, took positions that I do not support. Idaho became a right-to-work state over his veto. During the recession of the 1980s, he raised taxes rather than adjust the size of government. No one has ever accused Evans of being particularly aligned with the political Right, and Evans even lost an election bid to one of my favorite Idaho politicians, Steve Symms. But I still liked Evans a great deal.
Wheeler, a Republican, also worked on causes that tended to favor government intervention. Passage of statewide pre-kindergarten and support for more mental health programs were among Wheeler's interests. Even after he left the Legislature in 2002, no one would ever mistake him for a conservative or a fan of free market policies. But Wheeler was always someone I enjoyed seeing and engaging.
I'm very lucky. In my line of work, I get to meet some interesting people. We are bound by a love of our state and country, a hopefulness about what Idaho can or should be, and some capacity to do something about it.
I'm grateful for the chance to know John Evans and Moon Wheeler, as well as many others who have left their mark on Idaho and tried, in their own way, to make Idaho a better place. We have that in common, and we should not forget just how important that one commonality is.
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