News » Citizen

Chris Carlson

Andrus biographer recalls his mentor and friend

by

Carlson and Gov. Cecil Andrus will sign copies of Carlson's book, Cecil Andrus: Idaho's Greatest Governor, at the Idaho Capitol on Tuesday, Nov. 8, at 5:30 p.m. and at the Grove Hotel on Thursday, Nov. 10, at 11:45 a.m., when the City Club hosts "A Conversation With Cecil Andrus."

There are at least a half-dozen ways to identify Chris Carlson. He's an ex-newspaper reporter, who worked in Pocatello, Spokane, Wash., and Washington, D.C. He served as press secretary to four-term Gov. Cecil Andrus. He was director of public affairs at the Department of Interior when Andrus served as secretary of the department during the Carter administration (1977-1980), and he is the founder of Gallatin Public Affairs, strategists and advocates for business, government and media. Carlson is also an author, penning Cecil Andrus: Idaho's Greatest Governor, featuring countless anecdotes of his former boss.

All that said, what truly defines Carlson, 64, is his optimism. And he wears his optimism on his sleeve, or at least his head, when he sports a baseball cap featuring the emblem of the come-from-behind St. Louis Cardinals.

I know that you have had more than your share of medical challenges.

Twelve years ago I was given a diagnosis of Parkinson's. My neurologist told me at the time that there was one silver lining: Parkinson's sufferers seldom get cancer. But in November 2005, I called him back and said, "You have one rare bird here." I was diagnosed with carcinoid neuroendocrine cancer and given six months to live.

How radical have your treatments been?

This kind of cancer usually attacks the main organs: your liver, heart and lungs. I went to the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, which was pretty new at the time, and over the course of a year, I had five chemoembolization procedures. I was pretty radioactive--one hot dude for a couple of weeks. I lost a lot of weight. A lot of people figured I was gone. But I wasn't about to roll over for it.

It must have been particularly difficult for your friends and family.

It's pretty hard on a family to sit with you while you go through each procedure. There's no question that there's a special relationship between the governor and me. He came down and sat with me. Marc Johnson [longtime friend and partner at Gallatin] was there. My cancer moved into a dormant stage. You're never cured. It gets you eventually. The longest anybody lived with this cancer is 15 years. The average is just a couple of years. I'm very fortunate.

The first draft of your book was 476 pages, but you edited it down to 256. That's quite a bit to take out.

The governor was absolutely right to tell me to cut this in half. The governor, in his own sweet way, said there was a lot of stuff that was boring. He has a wonderful way of indirectly telling you things, but make no mistake--he can be very direct when he wants to be.

Many people have said that the governor was never to be underestimated. But was he also a man to be feared?

Yes. He internalized, without ever having read, Machiavelli's The Prince. One of Machiavelli's rules was the prince, in order to be respected, had to instill a bit of fear both in his subordinates and in his opponents. The governor had certain cardinal rules. At the top was: no surprises. If he read something in the paper that someone should have told him, that was, let's say, a hanging offense. You were out the door. Another absolute hard rule was that a man's word had to be his bond.

I found a Time magazine from July 1974 listing 200 men and women who were young leaders for the future. The list included Vernon Jordan, Billie Jean King, Carl Sagan, Gloria Steinem, Barbara Walters and Cecil Andrus.

In 1985, my estimation was that the Democratic presidential nomination was going to be wide open in 1988. I told the governor that he would stand out from the field and could win the presidency. Michael Dukakis? Come on. Andrus would have cleaned his clock in any primary in any state.

Why didn't that happen?

He just didn't want to. It wasn't part of the plan. He said the best job in the world was being governor of Idaho and he didn't want to go back to that friggin' D.C.

Did he say friggin'?

No.