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Pat McDonald

From law enforcement to law making


Pat McDonald doesn't waste time in transition. He moved from being an officer with the Burley Police Department one day to the Idaho State Police the next. Thirty-three years later, he went from being a captain with ISP to being a U.S. marshal in one day. And when Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter called him Jan. 13, saying he had chosen McDonald to fill the Idaho House seat vacated by GOP Rep. Mark Patterson, the 67-year-old McDonald was sworn into office in the House chamber... you guessed it... the next day.

As McDonald's new colleagues were filing into the Statehouse, Boise Weekly sat down with the new lawmaker for a pre-dawn conversation under the rotunda to talk about the challenge of being an Idaho peace officer, guns on campuses and his years as a public servant.

You came onto the ISP force in the late 1960s, when the Idaho Legislature approved more funding for troopers. Do we currently have adequate ranks for the ISP?

Typically if you have everyone across the state deployed, you'll have 33-35 troops on active patrol. For a state this size, that's not enough. For heaven's sake, District 6 [in Eastern Idaho] is 21,760 square miles. That's just one district, with 18 highways. When I was stationed at Glenns Ferry--my first assignment--I had one highway 92 miles long.

I'm guessing that you saw quite a bit of unpleasantness over the years.

Man's inhumanity to man. You never get used to it.

But how does a cop manage that?


And how about the spouse of a cop?

I really don't know. My wife had to get me out of the hospital a couple of times. I was a motorcycle officer for a while, and I went down a couple of times. One time, I spent four or five days in the hospital, two of them unconscious. Plus, you see a lot of people who are... well, they're dead. I had one accident where I had 33 people injured. A little girl was killed. A bus accident. You see those things...

I need to mention that you looked away with a fixed stare for a moment. Were you just picturing that accident scene?

I'll never forget that. You never get over it.

When did you first consider being a legislator?

I really made the decision last June that I would run for office.

But, at the time, that would have meant you would have run against Mark Patterson in this May's GOP primary. Did you know him?

I talked to him on the phone once, as a constituent. In fact, he told me that he only wanted to serve one, maybe two terms. I thought if he was only going to be here that short a time, I should take a shot at it.

Patterson's biography now includes the word "disgraced." [Patterson resigned in early January after it was learned that he had been arrested in Florida during the 1970s on a charge of rape.]

I'm sure it's been hard on him. I never even met him in person.

Tell me about Gov. Otter calling you with the news of your appointment.

I've known the governor for more than 30 years, but he was sick that day and I didn't recognize his voice. He said, "Pat, this is Butch." And I only know one Butch. That was on a Monday. I was sworn in on a Tuesday.

Which legislators have you been spending the most time with in learning the ropes?

Majority Leader [Mike] Moyle, Reps. [Robert] Anderst, [Steven] Miller, [Joe] Palmer and [Julie] VanOrden. They've all made me feel welcome.

Let's talk about some of the issues that you're currently facing. House Speaker Scott Bedke says that we're not paying state employees and, in particular, Idaho teachers, enough.

We're not. I suspect we can do something about that. The governor's task force recommendations have been very helpful and we're seeing some serious movement toward proper compensation.

Should retired law enforcement officers or individuals with Idaho's enhanced concealed-carry permits be allowed to bring firearms on our campuses?

Good question. I don't have a problem with what I've heard so far--if the person is trained well. But they absolutely must secure that weapon. You just can't leave a gun out on a table in a dorm.

Can Idaho manage public lands better than the federal government?

Absolutely, yes. I would be surprised if somebody doesn't bring that issue up soon. There are some very intelligent people here to manage that land.

Did you have any particular feelings about a private, out-of-state company managing the Idaho Correctional Center?

As a U.S. marshal, we dealt quite a bit with them.

But that didn't end well. [Gov. Otter decided earlier this month to take back the keys to the ICC after 16 years of scandals and lawsuits involving its private operator, Corrections Corporation of America.]

Did they do it right all the time? No. Can the state do it better? I think they can. If you're going to manage a prison, you can't do it from somewhere else.

How many terms would you like to serve?

It's always good to have new blood come in. I think three or four terms would be plenty.

You've spent your entire adult life in public service. Is this in your DNA?

Years ago, I was a tactical training officer for ISP and when new cadets would come in, I would put a sign above the door: "Always Be Contributing." You've got to try to make a place better than the way you found it when you came in. That's really all I want.