Robert E. Smylie
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Robert E. Smylie

Robert Smylie
Robert E. Smylie.jpg
Smylie in 1955
24th Governor of Idaho

January 3, 1955 - January 2, 1967
LieutenantBerkeley Larsen
W. E. Drevlow
Len Jordan
Don Samuelson
Attorney General of Idaho

November 24, 1947 - January 3, 1955
GovernorC. A. Robins
Len Jordan
Robert Ailshie
Graydon W. Smith
Personal details
Robert Eben Smylie

(1914-10-31)October 31, 1914
Marcus, Iowa, U.S.
DiedJuly 17, 2004(2004-07-17) (aged 89)
Boise, Idaho, U.S.
Resting placePioneer Cemetery
Boise, Idaho
Political partyRepublican
Lucille Irwin
(m. 1943)
Children2 sons
EducationCollege of Idaho (BA)
George Washington University (LLB)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service U.S. Coast Guard
Years of service1942-1946
Battles/warsWorld War II

Robert Eben Smylie (October 31, 1914 - July 17, 2004) was an American politician and attorney from Idaho. A member of the Idaho Republican Party, he served as the 24th Governor of Idaho for twelve years, from 1955 to 1967.[1]

Early years

Born in Marcus, Iowa, Smylie graduated from high school in Cresco in 1932 at the height of the Depression.[2] Offered a place to live by an uncle, he moved to Idaho to attend the College of Idaho in Caldwell. During the school year, he participated in debate, the yearbook, football, and student government, and hitchhiked back to Iowa in the summers.

After his graduation in 1938 he moved to Washington D.C., where he simultaneously clerked at the law firm of Covington Burling, was a U.S. Capitol policeman, and attended George Washington University Law School until his graduation in 1942. He married Lucile Irwin on December 4, 1943 and the couple had two sons.[2]


Having begun practicing law in Washington, D.C., Smylie left his practice in 1942 to join the U.S. Coast Guard as a lawyer and was stationed in Philadelphia and the Philippines during World War II. He returned to his private practice in 1946.

In January 1947, Smylie became a deputy attorney general in Idaho,[3] under newly elected Robert Ailshie.[4] Later that year, Ailshie unexpectedly died of a heart attack at age 39[5] and Smylie was appointed attorney general at age 33 by Governor C. A. Robins. After he was elected to a full term in 1950,[6] Smylie ran for governor in 1954, as the seat was not eligible for re-election at the time and was held by Republican Len Jordan. Starting with the 1946 election, Idaho changed from two-year to four-year terms for governor, but with the change it disallowed self-succession (re-election). Smylie was elected governor in 1954 and successfully lobbied the 1955 legislature to propose an amendment to the state constitution to allow gubernatorial re-election, which was approved by voters in the 1956 general election.[7][8] Smylie was re-elected in 1958 and 1962. He was its first governor born in the 20th century.

During his tenure, a state park system was created,[9] and a sales tax adopted. In February 1955, following a prompt from a BBC reporter, Smylie fast-tracked legislation to remove the anomaly of Idaho being the only one of the 48 states that did not observe George Washington's Birthday as a holiday.[10] While governor, Smylie served as chair of the Western Governors Association (1959-1961) and as chair of the Republican Governors Association. He was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1960.[11] Smylie served on the National Governor's Conference Executive Committee from 1956 to 1957, from 1959 to 1960, and in 1963.[12]

Smylie ran for a fourth term in 1966, but was soundly defeated (61 to 39%) in the Republican primary[13] by his successor, Don Samuelson, whom he had encouraged to run for the state senate six years earlier.[1] Smylie attributed his support of the newly implemented sales tax of three per cent in 1965 as a major factor in his defeat.[14][15][16][17] The sales tax was easily approved by voters in the November election;[18] it stayed at three per cent until and is now

Election results

Idaho Gubernatorial Elections: Results 1954-1962
  Year   Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct
1954 Clark Hamilton     104,647     45.8%   Robert Smylie   124,038     54.2%  
1958 A.M. Derr 117,236 49.0% Robert Smylie (inc.) 121,810 51.0%
1962 Vernon Smith 115,876 45.4% Robert Smylie (inc.) 139,578 54.6%

Later years

Leaving the governor's office after a dozen years at age 52, Smylie returned to the practice of law in 1967. He served as Trustee, Chair of Trustees, and as acting President of the College of Idaho.[14] Smylie ran for the open U.S. Senate seat in 1972,[21] but finished fourth in the Republican primary, won by Jim McClure.[22][23]


A former governor for more than 37 years, Smylie died in Boise at age 89 on July 17, 2004, and his wife Lucile died less than six weeks later. They are interred at Pioneer Cemetery in Boise.[1] Lucile's sister Virgil was the widow of D. Worth Clark, Democratic U.S. Senator from Idaho.[24]


  1. ^ a b c Boone, Rebecca (July 18, 2004). "Former Gov. Smylie dies at 89". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. p. B1.
  2. ^ a b "Gov. Robert Eben Smylie". Basque Museum. (Idaho Statesman obituary). July 20, 2004. Retrieved 2012.
  3. ^ "Attorney General names Idaho aides". Spokane Daily Chronicle. (Washington). January 8, 1947. p. 3.
  4. ^ "Robert Ailshie". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). advertisement. June 9, 1946. p. 22.
  5. ^ "Attorney General Robert Ailshie dead of heart attack at home". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). November 17, 1947. p. 1.
  6. ^ "REpublicans rack up almost clean sweep of Idaho candidates". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. November 9, 1950. p. 1.
  7. ^ "Idaho voters adopt three amendments". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. November 7, 1956. p. 1.
  8. ^ Corlett, John (March 31, 1963). "It's mystery why law barring self-succession not repealed". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). p. 5.
  9. ^ "Smylie accorded dedication honor for parks legacy". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. September 20, 1998. p. B3.
  10. ^ Cooke, Alistair (November 28, 1997). "Alistair Cooke's Letter from America 28 November 1997 - US Holidays". Boston University Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. BBC. p. 3. Retrieved 2014.
  11. ^ "Robert E. Smylie". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 2012.
  12. ^ "Robert E. Smylie". National Governors Association. Retrieved 2012.
  13. ^ Myers, Robert (August 4, 1966). "1964 post-election fight seen as factor in Smylie's sound defeat by Samuelson". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. p. 1.
  14. ^ a b "Robert Smylie, ex-Idaho governor". Allegheny Times. Associated Press. July 19, 2004. p. A4.
  15. ^ Boissat, Bruce (July 30, 1966). "Governor Smylie in deep trouble". Owosso Argus-Times. (Michigan). NEA. p. 4.
  16. ^ "Goldwater isn't taking sides on Smylie-Samuelson". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. July 29, 1966. p. 1.
  17. ^ "Smylie loses, Herndon holds edge on Andrus". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press. August 3, 1966. p. 1.
  18. ^ "Conservatism given credit by Samuelson". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. November 10, 1966. p. 1.
  19. ^ Sher, Jeff (March 29, 1984). "Idaho legislature OKs sales tax hike". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). p. 17.
  20. ^ "Sales tax rate history". State of Idaho. Retrieved 2013.
  21. ^ "Smylie to seek seat in Senate". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. September 4, 1971. p. 1.
  22. ^ "McClure, Davis are rival Senate nominees". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. August 9, 1972. p. 1.
  23. ^ Hall, Bill (August 10, 1972). "McClure and Davis win by sections". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). p. 4.
  24. ^ "D. Worth Clark, ex-Senator, dies". Spokane Daily Chronicle. (Washington). United Press. June 20, 1955. p. 6.

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Robert Ailshie
Attorney General of Idaho
Succeeded by
Graydon W. Smith
Party political offices
Preceded by
Len Jordan
Republican nominee for Governor of Idaho
1954, 1958, 1962
Succeeded by
Don Samuelson
New office Chair of the Republican Governors Association
Succeeded by
John Love
Political offices
Preceded by
Len Jordan
Governor of Idaho
Succeeded by
Don Samuelson

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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