Former Idaho GOP Sen. Herb Carlson dead at 94

Sen. Herb Carlson, a Republican with a heroic life story he largely kept to himself, died April 18 at his home in Eagle.

Carlson was elected in 1982 and reelected five times, bringing a moderate voice to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and chairing the Senate Agriculture Committee.

His legislative achievements included boosting public school appropriations, helping protect 171 miles of the upper Boise River Basin from development and early work that contributed to state management of endangered species.

He also was: an executive at Mountain Bell; a farmer and rancher; football umpire in the Big Sky Conference; a member of the Idaho Industrial Commission; director of the state Department of Agriculture; and director of the state Disability Determination Service.

I met Carlson in 1987, covering my first session of the Legislature. He was gracious, thoughtful and kind, a gentleman of the highest order.

But until I read a draft of Carlson’s obituary, to be published in the Statesman Thursday, I was ignorant about what a remarkable life he lived.

Raised in Wisconsin by Swedish immigrant parents, Carlson rode a freight train from Milwaukee to Moscow, where he was a 5-foot-7, 165-pound running back for the University of Idaho.

Enlisting in the Army during World War II, he caught the eye of General George Marshall at Ft. Benning and was picked for officer candidate school. He learned to speak Japanese and served as an intelligence officer in post-war in Japan, apprehending war criminals and battling Chinese Communists attempting to infiltrate the new Japanese government.

His work at Mountain Bell was across the spectrum: lineman, toll repairman, central office repairman, plant superintendent, construction manager and PR manager.

This from the obit isn’t a surprise: “The only people Herb disliked were liars and bullies.”

Carlson’s wife of 75 years, Lorrain, died at 92 in May 2011. The next day, Carlson had a heart attack from which he never fully recovered. Lorrain taught 2nd grade in Eagle for 25 years.

Their children, other family and friends will celebrate Herb and Lorrain on June 16 at 4 p.m. at the home of his son, James, and daughter-in-law Meg, 2109 Claremont Dr. in Boise. They invite friends of Herb and Lorrain to attend.




Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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