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EDITORIAL: We could use more Jim Clarks today

| June 14, 2024 1:00 AM

Common sense and Idaho values were on constant display back when Jim Clark served the citizens as a member of the state House of Representatives.

From 1996 to 2010, Clark personified the kind of tough but principled approach to lawmaking that helped shape Idaho into the magnet that’s drawn multitudes here, people seeking a saner, safer way of life.

Formerly of Hayden Lake, Clark, 80, died June 3 in Utah, succumbing to the ravages of Alzheimer’s. Those who knew Jim are certain he did not go down without one hell of a fight.

Clark grew up in Pennsylvania as a tough, smart kid. His prowess on the football field led to an athletic scholarship at Arizona State University, but injury ended his playing days. He shifted to a career in the Army from 1966 to 1987, including service in Vietnam, but worked on his education along the way.

Clark ended up with a master’s in international relations from Troy State University in Alabama and an MBA from University of Idaho. As a business owner and adjunct professor, Clark was part of a North Idaho legislative group that will be remembered as one of the very best.

During his tenure, Clark’s terms overlapped those of stalwart fellow Republicans from Kootenai County including Jim Hammond, Hilde Kellogg, John Goedde, Frank Henderson and Bob Nonini. All were smart, stout conservatives who shared, for the most part, an unwavering focus on issues that mattered: public education, taxes, jobs, public safety and business.

Clark might have hit harder than the rest when circumstances dictated — reminiscent of the linebacker who led with his helmet when that was not only allowed by the rules, but encouraged by coaches — yet with Jim it wasn’t personal. 

Over his final four terms, Clark served in the House with Rep. George Sayler, a Coeur d'Alene High School history teacher and the last Democrat from Kootenai County elected to the Legislature. While nobody could confuse Clark’s politics with Sayler’s, they shared a level of respect based on intelligently tackling everyday problems from different angles. 

Clark was a regular visitor to The Press, always open to discuss issues in depth, sometimes off the record to ensure a more complete level of understanding. That was a different time, when elected officials tended to work hard to communicate with constituents and face tough questions in groups or one-on-ones. Jim generally thought he was right about just about everything — and after listening to his rationale and the data that formed his conclusion, you’d be hard put to disagree.

When you did find yourselves fuming on opposite sides of the fence? Jim Clark’s big grin would quickly let the air out of the temper balloon, leaving room for respectful disagreement and the continued pursuit of addressing real issues and real problems.

It’s doubtful that had he ever lost an election, Clark would have blamed anyone or anything but himself. He had what too many politicians lack today: an enduring sense of responsibility and accountability coupled with the intelligence to doggedly pursue what matters most. 

Those attributes ultimately defined his work as a legislator and still serve as a model that can be restored if more focus is put on nuts-and-bolts issues and less on cultural, religious and political disagreements.

The Press extends sincere condolences to Jim’s wife, Vickie, and their family. Idaho bids a fond farewell to one of its fiercest and finest fighters.