From Bizkaia to Boise
His record of holding elected office continually for 52 years is not likely to be bested and the standard he established for running a non-partisan office as Secretary of State has, we can hope, been institutionalized in Idaho.
Pete T. Cenarrusa, the eight-term former Idaho Secretary of State, is 92 now and has been back in the public spotlight the last few weeks thanks to his welcome and worthwhile memoir.
The book – Bizkaia to Boise: The Memoirs of Pete T. Cenarrusa, written with long-time Associated Press reporter Quane Kenyon – is a fine addition to the relatively thin line of books about Idaho politicians and politics.
[Steve Crump had a nice Cenarrusa piece in the Twin Falls Times-News Sunday and the same paper correctly noted in a recent editorial that the Basque sheepherder from Carey is the most important politician the Magic Valley of southern Idaho has ever produced.]
Cenarrusa presided as Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives during the landmark 1965 session when the state’s modern tax structure, including a sales tax, was put in place and the state’s Departments of Parks and Recreation and Water Resources were created. By common consensus that was the greatest legislative session in the state’s history. Governor Don Samuelson appointed Cenarrusa as Secretary of State in 1967 and no one laid an electoral glove on him afterward. He retired in 2003.
There is much worth saying about Pete Cenarrusa, but his real lasting legacy to Idaho may well be the fact that not once in my memory (which dates to the mid-1970’s) was the Secretary of State’s office seen as anything but a professional manager of the state’s elections and its lobbying and campaign finance disclosure process. With the help of a dedicated staff, including current Secretary of State Ben Ysursa [is another Basque in training for this job?] Cenarrusa dispensed good advice, conducted clean recounts and played by the book on Sunshine disclosures.
During a time when it seems that everything is partisan, everything is up for debate, Cenarrusa and his crew kept the playing field fair and tidy. Always the loyal Republican, Cenarrusa never played partisan games with the essential functions of his office. So should it always be.
Pete’s book, published by the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, is available there or in local bookstores. Proceeds help support the Cenarrusa Foundation for Basque Culture at Boise State University.
One quick personal Cenarrusa story: in 1992, while I served as Chief of Staff to Governor Cecil D. Andrus, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to accompany the Governor on an official visit to the Basque region of northern Spain. The trip came about as a result of an invitation from the Lehendakari – the President of the Autonomous Basque government Jose Antonio Ardanza Garro – who had visited Idaho two years earlier.
It was a wonderful and wholly memorable trip climaxed with an Andrus speech to the Basque Parliament, the first time a non-Basque had officially addressed the Parliament. A day or so later, while touring with our Basque’s hosts, we stopped in a small, roadside tavern for some afternoon refreshment. The tavern was near the mountain town of Durango in Bizkaia, the Basque province from which Cenarrusa’s family emigrated to the United States. As we walked into the bar someone mentioned we were the group from Idaho. The bartender looked directly at Cece Andrus and said: “You must know Pete Cenarrusa…”
Now, that’s what you call name recognition – from Biskaia to Boise.