Eli M. Oboler Library
Perry Swisher - Biographical Sketch
Perry Swisher had a forty year career as a newspaperman and politician in Idaho. He was born in Bruneau, Idaho, a third generation Idahoan, September 21, 1923. He attended the public schools in Pocatello, graduating from Pocatello High in 1941, and in 1943 he earned a Certificate in Arts from the University of Idaho Southern Branch. In 1968 he received a BA in Government from Idaho State University. He married Isabel Nichols, May 7, 1948, and has two sons (Lawrence & Eric).
Swisher's professional career with newspapers began in 1943 as the Pocatello News Bureau Manager for the Salt Lake Tribune. In 1952 he became editor and publisher of The Intermountain. The Intermountain was a weekly paper primarily serving Alameda (since incorporated into Pocatello), but taking an editorial interest in issues of concern to the region and the state. The paper closed in 1967. From 1969 until 1976 Swisher served as Director of Special Services at Idaho State University where his office worked to help low income and minority students succeed in college. In 1976 he returned to the newspaper business to serve as Managing Editor of the Lewiston Morning Tribune. From 1979 until the present (1985) Swisher has served as a member of the Idaho Public Utilities Commission; he was President of the Commission, 1980-1983.
Swisher has never been far removed from politics. He made his first run for state office in 1944 when, at age 22, he was the youngest legislative candidate in Idaho. He lost that campaign, but finally won election to the Idaho House of Representatives in 1952 as a Republican from normally Democratic Bannock County. He served until 1958, including a stint as Republican Caucus Chairman and as Chairman of the Revenue and Taxation Committee. In 1958 he lost the primary race for the Republican nomination as Lieutenant Governor. He served in the Idaho Senate from 1962 until 1966, ran unsuccessfully as a third party candidate for Governor in 1966, and went back to the House, 1975-1976, as a Democrat. In 1979 Governor John Evans appointed Swisher to the Public Utilities Commission.
Swisher's political career can serve as a summary of the liberal wing of the Republican Party in the years since World War II. Swisher was widely recognized in the 1940s through his work with the Young Republicans organization in the state and as a young legislator in the 1950s as a rising personality among Republicans. His political fortunes, however, were tied to the liberal wing of the party at a time when its influence was on the wane. In 1962 Swisher threatened to change caucuses if his fellow Republicans elected a conservative to the position of majority leader; Swisher's move would have shifted control of the closely balanced Senate to the Democrats. In 1964 Swisher said that he would probably vote for Lyndon Johnson instead of Barry Goldwater "after a good cry". Eventually Swisher did change his party affiliation and served as a Democrat in the legislature, 1975-1976, and was appointed to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission by a Democratic governor. Changes of political affiliation, though not unknown, are hardly usual for political perennials. Swisher's switch of party allegiance involved less of a change on his part than changes within the Republican Party in Idaho. The near disappearance of a liberal wing among Republicans left liberal Republicans with limited choices. They could retire from politics, be defeated as was Orval Hansen, or switch parties as did Swisher. Swisher's political career as a Democrat, however, lacked the promise of state-wide political successes that it had in the 1950's.
The collection of documents that Swisher donated to the Idaho State University Archives contains papers related to a variety of issues and topics, both political and editorial, from the 1950s and 1960s. I will note some topics and periods that are more fully covered than others and make some general comments on the collection.
The material in the collection from the 1960s is more voluminous than that from the previous decade. This is especially true of the part of the collection concerned with Swisher's legislative activities. Bills, records, hearings and letter boxes from the 1960s reflect his involvement in taxation problems, right-to-work, attracting industry, electrical power generation and reapportionment. There is also incoming personal correspondence related to the legislature and to Idaho politics.
One of the recurring topics, one obviously related to the legislature, is Idaho politics. Numerous incoming letters appear. Some are of a personal nature, offering information and/or soliciting comments on the state political scene. Other letters are better described as "constituent service," many letters from Idahoans--some prominent and some not-- solicit Swisher's support on the issues of the day. A second predictable topic is Swisher's business activities, particularly relating to The Intermountain. Numerous correspondents, including Vardis Fisher, wrote in connection with the paper; nearly all of this category pertained to the paper's editorial observations. Several business letters are also present which relate to Swisher's role as Idaho correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor.
Beginning in the early 1960s, items appear with some frequency related to civil rights. Swisher was an outspoken proponent of the cause and served on several Pocatello and Idaho bodies concerned with civil rights. His subsequent job as head of Idaho State University's Special Services would flow naturally from that interest. Also, the collection reflects a continuing interest in the electrical power generation through the Bonneville Power Administration and other regional groups.
Some more general observations are in order. Much material in the collection consists of pamphlets or public reports that an editor-politician would accumulate in a career. The personal papers are overwhelmingly incoming correspondence; Swisher's answers to this personal correspondence are regrettably absent. Nonetheless, many people wrote to Swisher and, particularly in regards to Idaho politics in the 1950s and 1960s, their comments might very well be of interest. A thorough knowledge of issues, names, and personalities from the period would be invaluable in using the collection. It is difficult to imagine an article, even one just on Swisher, based substantially on this collection alone. Supplemental material would be needed. Yet the collection might prove of value to someone examining Idaho politics or Idaho journalism in the 1950s and 1960s.
Merwin Robert Swanson
Idaho State University