“That is the number of days ago that Phil Batt entered public service in this building,” said the former Idaho governor’s chief of staff, Jeff Malmen, under the dome of the Idaho Statehouse on Thursday. “Until this one.”
Batt, Idaho’s 29th governor who served from 1995 to 1999, died, fittingly, on March 4, – Idaho Day – when the state commemorates President Abraham Lincoln signing legislation to create the Idaho Territory. Batt was 96.
Malmen led a public service in the Capitol’s rotunda Thursday morning among a crowd of friends, family and Idaho’s living history – past and present – of political figures, including current and former state legislators, congressmen, mayors, lobbyists and reporters who covered Batt’s administration.
Batt’s body will lie in state in the rotunda until 10 a.m. Friday, at which time he will be honorably transferred from the Capitol to the Cathedral of the Rockies, 717 N. 11th St. in Boise.
Batt’s funeral service, which is open to the public, will begin at 11 a.m. Friday. A reception is scheduled to follow at the same location. Following the reception, Idaho State Police will lead the procession of family and invited friends to the Wilder Cemetery for a private burial service.
Idaho’s current and former Govs. Brad Little, C.L. “Butch” Otter, Jim Risch and Dirk Kempthorne each gave a speech Thursday honoring Batt’s memory and shared personal stories of how Batt helped guide them through their own leadership roles.
“Over the years I’ve witnessed a man who struck that hard-to-achieve balance between compromise and hardline principles, always with the goal of improving the state he dearly loved,” Little said during his remarks. “Yes, this was a kind man. He was also spirited and passionate when he wanted to let you know where he stood.”
Phil Batt’s Idaho life and service
Batt, who was born on March 4, 1927, grew up as a son of Canyon County, learning how to farm in Wilder with his family from the young age of 7. He graduated from Wilder High School and later studied at the University of Idaho using benefits from the G.I. Bill.
A longtime farmer of onions and hops, at age 36, Batt was the youngest person ever elected president of the National Hop Association, according to his obituary.
“He loved the outdoors,” Kempthorne said. “He was absolutely a farmer that loved the soil. He loved working; he loved working side-by-side with farmworkers. And they were so proud of bringing from the earth these magnificent onions.”
In 1965, he entered state politics for the first time, having been elected to the Idaho House of Representatives. Batt served the state in many capacities, including as a state senator, lieutenant governor and chairman of the Republican Party. He also served on the Idaho Transportation Board, and in 2013, the Idaho Transportation Department renamed its Boise headquarters after him.
Those who knew him are quick to point out how Batt repeatedly rejected racism throughout his life – beginning in his teenage years – and his career. He was exposed to injustice after he joined the Army Air Corps at the age of 17 and completed basic training in the South near the end of World War II, according to his obituary.
“Batt had completed his basic training in Mississippi and, in later years, vividly recalled encountering appalling racial segregation during that time, an experience that inspired his career-long support for civil and human rights issues,” the obituary says. “His desire to dignify marginalized people solidified and expanded as he recognized that changes were needed closer at home, bettering the conditions of Idaho farmworkers.”
Boise’s Wassmuth Center to name education building after Batt
Batt’s dedication to human rights issues will be forever enshrined at the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights, where a new education building will be named for him. The two-story education center will be adjacent to the Anne Frank Memorial in downtown Boise.
He loved people – whether it was the farm workers, the migrant workers – he absolutely loved people. All color, ethnicity, preference. It is a lesson for all of us how to treat one another.
– Former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne
Construction on the Wassmuth Center’s Philip E. Batt Building is anticipated to start this spring, with a projected open date of January 2024. The center’s Building Our Future campaign to fund construction of the project has raised $5.1 million with a goal of $6.3 million, according to the center’s website.
Batt’s human rights policy decisions, including sponsoring the bill that would create the Idaho Human Rights Commission and his advocacy for Idaho’s farmworkers, will define Batt’s political career in perpetuity, Kempthorne said.
“He loved people – whether it was the farm workers, the migrant workers – he absolutely loved people. All color, ethnicity, preference,” Kempthorne said. “It is a lesson for all of us how to treat one another. He personified the golden rule. And I believe that is why the Wassmuth Center is naming it the Philip E. Batt building. So appropriate.”
Batt, who played the clarinet and violin, loved listening to, writing, singing and playing music. The Capital High School Singers sang at the Thursday service an original song penned by Batt himself that brought tears to the eyes of many, especially during the clarinet solo.
Idaho governors recall Batt’s mentorship throughout the decades
Each of the Idaho governors who attended the service told stories of how Batt’s advice guided their own decision-making in tough times.
Little remembered just how to the point Batt could be with his advice.
“Listen to the women. Hasn’t that always been the key to life?” Little said Batt told him on the night of Little’s inauguration.
Otter said Batt was no stranger to offering him advice during his own long political career, but that Batt always made sure to communicate his criticism in private, rather than in the public sphere.
Idaho has been truly lucky to have had a man of integrity living among us like Gov. Batt
“He was my mentor,” Otter said. “Twenty-five campaigns against 49 opponents. Phil was with me every year, every campaign, through thick and thin.”
In all things, be fiscally responsible with Idahoans’ hard-earned tax dollars, Risch said Batt told him. Risch said Idaho has weathered many storms, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and come out economically better than other states because of Batt’s example of fiscal responsibility.
“All of that lies on the foundation of Phil Batt. That’s one of the things that he really, really valued,” Risch said.
Each time Risch comes home from the U.S. congressional session in Washington, D.C., he said he’s appreciative of “what we have here in Idaho.”
“That was all done by the architect of our current government in Idaho, and that’s Phil Batt,” Risch said. “All four of us (governors) who followed him, owe him deeply. Every Idahoans owes Phil Batt for what we have today. So Phil, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
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