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The story of Idaho’s 18th governor and the political statement that denied him a second term

East Idaho Governs

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of stories about former Gem State governors from eastern Idaho.

IDAHO FALLS – Chase Addison Clark had clinched a narrow victory as Idaho’s 18th governor.

The year was 1940 and the 45-year-old Idaho Falls Democrat had come out on top after earning 50.48% of the vote (about 120,000 total votes) against his Republican opponent, Clarence Bottolfsen, of Arco.

Michael Moore, who wrote an article about Clark in 2015, tells Bottolfsen had defeated Clark’s brother, Barzilla, in the 1938 gubernatorial race.

Chase succeeded Barzilla as Idaho Falls mayor in 1936 and after four years decided to throw his hat in the ring for governor.

“They were very close,” Barzilla’s granddaughter, Patricia Young, says of Barzilla and Chase. “When my grandfather was defeated (as governor), Chase wasn’t going to let that happen to his older brother, so he ran for governor and got elected.”

Chase, whose father had served as Idaho Falls’ first mayor and whose daughter would grow up to marry the man who became Idaho’s longest-serving U.S. senator, was thrilled at the prospect of continuing the Clark family tradition of public service.

But the victory would be short-lived. A disparaging remark directed at a wartime enemy denied him a second shot as Idaho’s leader.

Entering politics

Chase’s election as the Gem State’s Chief Executive was the fulfillment of a plan dating back decades earlier. Sometime in the 1920s, he and his wife, Jean Burnett, along with Barzilla and his wife, Ethel Peck, were “holing up” at the family’s Robinson Bar Ranch in the Stanley Basin.

“Why are you two fellas loafing around up here going to seed?” a neighbor asked the duo, according to a 1991 article from The Post Register. “Why don’t you go back in the world and do something for yourselves?”

The friendly nudge is just what the men needed and Chase, who ran a successful law practice in Mackay at the time, had already served two terms in the Idaho House of Representatives.

RELATED | How an Idaho Falls democrat became the state’s 16th governor and started a political dynasty

He moved back to Idaho Falls and went on to serve two terms in the Idaho Senate.

“He got into state legislative politics during the time of the progressive era in Idaho and all around the nation,” Moore says.

At that time, the Democratic Party in Idaho was split into two factions. In his book “Idaho’s Governors,” Robert Sims points out that both parties were equal in their ability to appeal to voters. Between 1936 and 1946, the governor’s seat alternated between both parties every two years (a governor’s term was two years at that time).

Moore describes Chase as a progressive democrat who supported FDR and his New Deal programs.

“While supportive of the Roosevelt administration, Clark was … politically astute enough to realize that Idahoans were antipathetic to many of the social welfare elements of the New Deal. Clark stands as a curious mixture of support for the national New Deal and an advocate of strong states’ rights as well,” Sims writes.

As a legislator, Clark also supported many reform measures, such as the ratification of amendments for the progressive income tax and the direct election of U.S. senators.

He supported the creation of a public utility commission and Idaho’s first workman’s compensation law.

Clark was elected Governor after serving two terms as Idaho Falls’ mayor.

Leading the state during wartime

On Dec. 8, 1941 — a day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — FDR officially declared war on Japan in a live address to Congress. Much of Clark’s time as Idaho’s chief executive was spent preparing the state for entrance into World War II.

“He was instrumental in defense and other programs. He helped establish the Farragut Naval Training Center in Sandpoint, Gowen Field in Boise and the Naval Ordnance factory in Pocatello,” Moore says.

RELATED | Memories of Pearl Harbor and why it matters to you 77 years later

Chase, like his brother, was lenient in his attitude toward prison administration in Idaho and ultimately removed the warden of the state penitentiary because he felt “his methods were too severe.”

“Clark generously approved pardons for men able to enter the armed forces. His actions resulted in a reduction in the number of state prison inmates from 500 to fewer than 200. Clark was strongly criticized for this, and it became a campaign issue in 1942,” writes Sims.

An executive order signed by FDR in 1942 gave military leaders the right to remove Japanese people on the West Coast — even those who were U.S. citizens — and place them in internment camps throughout the country. One of these camps was in Idaho and Chase supported the relocation of Japanese people to this camp.

Moore references some disparaging remarks Chase made about the Japanese while he was governor that he says tarnished his reputation and marred his record.

“In a speech in Grangeville in May 1942, Clark said that ‘the Jap problem’ could best be solved by returning all people of Japanese descent to Japan and ‘then sink the island.’ He went on to say that Japanese people ‘live like rats’ and declared ‘I don’t want them in Idaho,'” Moore explains.

Though Moore says these remarks were “a blot” on Chase’s record, there was a lot of prejudice against Japanese people at that time and this was not an uncommon attitude.

Still, Clark’s 65-year-old grandson, Chase Church, says his grandfather’s statement came with a price. Ultimately, he was not re-elected for a second term because of it.

chase and jean
Photo of Chase Clark with his wife, Jean, taken from Mackay blog.

‘Clark gave a great deal to his state and its people’

When Chase lost the election later that year, FDR appointed him as a U.S. District Judge in Idaho, a position he held until his retirement in 1964. He died two years later, on Dec. 29, 1966, at the age of 83.

Church was 9 years old when his grandfather passed and he remembers it as a rough Christmas that year.

He was living in New York City at the time because his dad, Frank, who was serving as a U.S. Senator for Idaho, was representing the U.S. at the United Nations. A family member called and said Clark had a stroke and Church recalls flying home to Idaho to visit him in the hospital.

“He was in the hospital for about a week (before he died), so that was a really rough Christmas for me,” he says.

Clark is buried near his brother, Barzilla, in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Idaho Falls.

From his early days in the Legislature to his time as mayor, governor and federal judge, few people have been involved in public service in as many capacities as Clark.

As Sims writes in his book,

“Clark gave a great deal to his state and its people. As former Senator and Governor Len Jordan said in a tribute to Clark, his ‘career of public service … earned him a permanent and highly honored place in Idaho’s history.'”

Lessons learned from ‘a fascinating life’

Clark’s interest in politics and serving in public office is a trait that he passed on to his posterity.

His daughter, Bethine, married Frank Church in 1947, who served as a U.S. Senator for Idaho from 1957 to 1981. The Frank Church Wilderness Area was named in his honor in 1984 when he died.

chase clark fam
Museum of Idaho

Though not technically an elected official, Bethine was Frank’s political partner for 24 years and traveled extensively with him on the campaign trail. She was known as Idaho’s “third Senator” because of her active partnership, according to Boise State University, and she mentored numerous Democratic candidates for local, state, and federal office.

Chase Church is Frank and Bethine’s adopted son, and as a kid, he would often accompany his father to political events. He vaguely remembers meeting John F. Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention in 1960.

“That was when John F. Kennedy was nominated,” says Church. “My father was the keynote speaker. I remember him bringing me up on stage to meet JFK and … shake his hand.”

Despite growing up in a politically active household, Church has chosen a much different path and did not pursue a career in politics.

He’s spent most of his life working in the electronics industry. He’s now semi-retired in California, where he and his wife work with kids in foster care.

Though Church only had a few short years with Clark, he remembers his grandfather with fondness and describes him as an elderly, white-haired man who was “gentle and kind.”

He recalls a story about his grandpa acquiring lots of land in Mackay in his younger days. It was the height of the Great Depression and he would trade his legal services to help pay for it.

Church has some stock certificates from his grandpa dating back to that era when Clark was the director of a bank in Mackay.

“There were a lot of people who lost everything they had because they put it all in this bank. He felt so bad about it that he sold all of his land to help people get through the Depression.”

Church is grateful for what his grandfather taught him about being honest and taking care of others.

And the greatest lesson he learned came from his father, who taught him the importance of compromise and being willing to listen to someone else’s point of view.

“The only way he could get things done back in the old days — whether you were Republican or Democrat — people were able to compromise on things. They were able to hammer out agreements … and you might not get everything you wanted, but the other guy at least got something, too, and they were able to make things work. (Politicians) don’t seem to be able to do that today,” Church says.

chas and fam with LBJ
Chase and Jean Clark, left, with President Lyndon B. Johnson and their daughter, Bethine Church. | Chase Church