Roy Eiguren was chosen by Gov. Phil in 1998 to be the first chairman of the recent Capitol Commission. This interview was conducted in the summer of 2009.
What is your involvement with the Capitol building? I was a page in the Idaho State Legislature in 1970. I have this vivid recollection of having gone out on the base of the rotunda as a group of pages, and taking a tour all the way to the top. What a magnificent building! In 1974, I served as an intern in the Secretary of State’s office, and had the chance to poke around, look at different parts of the building, and thought what an incredible building.
But it really came home to me in January of 1979 when I became Deputy Attorney General, and I was assigned, with great pleasure, one of the chambers of a Supreme Court justice that was in the building. It was an interesting experience because, my boss, Dave Leroy, is a great aficionado of history. He said, “Let’s see if we can recreate this office suite in the way it looked when it was completed in 1911.” So we did some historical research. We went into what had been the conference room of the Supreme Court, which was three small cubicles for staff, and we kind of looked around and looked above the false dropped ceiling and saw this magnificent crown dental work as it’s called, up in the upper reaches. So we spent a lot of time and a lot of effort recreating that space. That really, in me, engendered a tremendous interest in this building and the history of this building.
So fast-forward to 1997. I have and had a very close relationship with then-Governor Phil Batt. We’re from the same part of the world and have known each other for a long time. I’ll never forget one afternoon, actually it was in the fall of 1997, and I went in and met with the Gov on several issues, and Gov Batt, in that unique way of his, “Roy, Roy, we need to think about some legacy issues here. What should I be thinking about?” I said, “Gov, I think you should give some consideration to restoring the state capitol. It’s a magnificent building; it looks beautiful. But I’ve done a little bit of research here, and I found out that none of it’s in compliance with the life safety codes. The original plumbing is still here. The good news is it delivers water to where it’s supposed to. The bad news, to places where it shouldn’t be going. And so I think there needs to be some thought given to how we go about that process.”
So I was detailed by the governor to do some research and concluded that we needed to recreate a Capitol Commission.
What is the history of Capitol Commissions? The first Capitol Commission was created in 1905, and it had several elected officials including the governor on it, as well as several citizens. Their role was to plan for a new Capitol building and to put it into effect. So, among other things they did, they went to the great state of Mississippi, and actually followed the model of the Mississippi state capitol, which actually today is a museum. If you go Mississippi, to Jackson, the building looks remarkably like this building.
But the long and short of it is, we put together the legislation that was enacted into law in 1998 that created, for the second time, an Idaho State Capitol Commission. It also provided for an endowment for this building. When Idaho became a state, as most folks know, the federal Government gifted large tracks of real estate, for the schools, for the universities, for the prison, but they also dedicated or gifted several hundred thousand acres for public buildings.
We learned in our research that those lands had actually been sold off - they were never endowed - but they were sold off in large measure to build this building. From 1905 until 1911 when they ran out of money. So the main part of the building was completed, but the wings were not added until 1919-1920.
Part of what we did is track down the residue of those lands. We found that there were 32,000 acres of prime timberland owned by the state, primarily in Valley County, near Cascade, and put that into endowed status. That gave us a funding mechanism for the commission to begin its work, which began in July of 1998.
During the time that I was privileged to serve as the chairman, which was from July of 1998 until my term expired in 2003, we put together as a commission, the plan for restoration of the capitol building. That was focused on a number of things, which actually resulted in our strategic mission statement which is on the website today.
The first question was, “Do we convert this building to a museum, as some states have done, or do we keep it as a working building?” Obviously, the answer was: we want it to be a working building.
Two, as to the allocation of space, “How should we go about doing it?” We made a decision that remains true today, and that is that the people that we believe should be in this building on a continual basis make public policy. That means the Governor, the Lt Governor, and the legislature.
Three, we made a decision on what approach we wanted to take to the renovation and restoration of the building. Our catch line was that we want to bring the building back to its historical grandeur. It was a tremendous statement for the state of Idaho when this was built. There was only about two hundred thousand people in the state. The main structure cost over $2 million, which was a very substantial amount of money at the time. But it was done by our predecessors as a statement to Idaho, its excellence, its sovereignty, and as a result we wanted to go back to those original antecedents and incorporate that into the restoration.
Explain the process the Capitol Commission went through to make possible this latest restoration.
We met with all of the elected constitutional officers. We met with most members of the legislature to get their input, and it corroborated our thinking. We wanted to make this the show place for the state. We didn’t want to make it a museum, wanted to make it a working building. But we also wanted to kind of reopen it up to the public, because, in the 1960s, steps were made to change the nature of the building. That was the culture of the time.
What we learned in all that process was that there was a strong interest in opening up a lot of these spaces that had been covered over in some way, returning back to their historical luster, and two, make the building as accessible as possible to the public, because it is the “people’s house.”
So we began that process of consulting people. We engaged a group of architects that had actually been in charge of restorations of other state capitol buildings; the state of Montana whose building is almost identical to ours in size and built about the same time; Wisconsin; Utah; a number of states. As result of that, we got the benefit of their thinking and incorporated that into our master plan which was produced in 1999- 2000.
That served basically as the planning document for the restoration of the capitol. From there we actually moved forward towards trying to implement that and were successful in the year 2001 to obtain funding to complete the overall master plan, which at the time was priced out at $84 million: $32 million in surplus funds and $32 million in bonds. As we all know in 2003, the economy went south, and so the legislature re-appropriated the money to take back to the General Fund, and so we weren’t able to complete the restoration as we had planned, in time for the 100th birthday of the capitol in 2005.
So, a lot of starts and stops, but was there always a forward vision? Yes, and that forward vision came from a lot of people. It first started with Phil Batt. He is a visionary, and thought it very important that we restore the capitol. He knew, we knew that 80 percent of the cost that we would spend on the restoration, basically was to bring it into conformance with code requirements. That was very important from a life safety standpoint.
We had a lot visionary leaders in the legislature. Mike Simpson was then the Speaker of the House. He was a very strong proponent of moving this forward, and actually personally carried the legislation in the House. Jerry Twigs, who was then Pro Tempe in the Senate, carried it in the Senate. So we had complete buy-in, and I was pleased to report that the legislation passed unanimously. There was actually no dissenting vote, which was significant.
Once we put the capitol commission into place and began this process, there was no stopping. I mean we did, as a group, create a vision with input from all of these folks, and the vision was, this is a very special building for the people of Idaho, it’s very unique. It’s a statement of who we are, and was back in 1905 when they started. It would be the same thing at the beginning of the 21st century. And so once the vision was created and the documents developed, we moved forward on it, and that momentum started and it carries through to this very day.
When you were chairman, was there discussion about expanding the building with wings? When I served as chair, there was no discussion about the wings. I’m personally not a proponent of the wings. There were discussions about doing it at the time, but the commission when I chaired it actually focused on other alternatives, and, in particular, we focused on the state on Montana whose building as I’ve mentioned is identical to ours in size and was restored about ten years before ours, but was built at the same.
The decision in Montana was to essentially take the space that was used by non-policy-making people, the Treasurer, the Attorney General among others, and to move them to offices adjacent to the capitol building, and use that space for the space that’s now in the wings. Also, the thought we had was that the Annex now, the Ada County Courthouse and the Borah building, which are, we think as a commission, excellent, excellent pieces of architecture, could be connected with underground tunnels, and serve as the added space necessary for some of the functions here.
As an ex-commission chairman, what are your thoughts now? I’m remarkably pleased with the way this has come to conclusion. Those that succeeded me in the chairmanship and on the commission have done a magnificent job. They’ve maintained that vision. There’s been very strong support from the state’s elected leadership and from the legislature. So, it’s very much what I personally envisioned when we began this process in the fall of 1997. In addition to that, I’ve spent time, I’ve toured this building several times during the restoration, I’ve gone through the wings, and I’m comfortable that that was the right decision.
But as Bill Roden and others have mentioned, it’s going to completely change the complexion, I think, of the legislative process. The other thing is, just as a simple matter, it’s three very long city blocks from one end of this building to the other when you incorporate the wings. And so there’s a lot mileage involved in that. In addition to that, it will clearly change the nature and character of the legislative process, which I think in the main, in many ways is good. We’re going to have meeting rooms that are appropriately sized for the 21st century. The technology will be first class, which is clearly needed. There’ll be a lot of facilities that will be accessible to the public. That’ll be a plus. So in the main, I’m very pleased by it. I’m thrilled by it.
As someone who personally seeks access to lawmakers from time to time, how does the expansion affect things? It will change the nature of things. It will not be as intimate and as close in as it’s been. And there’s a good side and a bad side to that. I think it will clearly make for a better legislative process just in terms of the way legislation is processed. I think the addition of all of the technology is very significant and will change the nature of how business is done in committees, power point presentations, where that’s not the case now.
How should the public respond to the modified People’s House? I think the people should respond with great enthusiasm and extreme pleasure. This is their building, it’s the people’s house, and it’s something that all Idahoans should be very proud of. It really is the symbol of the state. I had the privilege of writing the preamble to the Capitol commission statute that talks about what a statement this building is in terms of our citizens, in terms of sovereignty, in terms of our territorial integrity. So, they should be very happy.
Back 100 years ago there were some unhappy folks who objected to the cost of the Capitol. We picked up all these old newspaper articles, and there were a lot of nay-sayers. Little known fact, but the Idaho constitution provided that for the first 20 years of statehood, if the legislature put on the ballot moving the capitol from Boise to some other location, they could do so.
And there was a raging debate in the legislature about, you know, we spent all this money, this was in 1907or 1908, the building isn’t complete, we’ll never finish this, we ought to move it somewhere else. So the folks from Idaho Falls, and obviously, predictably Lewiston, made a play to get the legislature to put that on the ballot. It didn’t happen. What saved the day, quite candidly, was for the first time in the history of Idaho, we issued bonds. The constitution allows the opportunity for people to vote on the issuance of bonds for public buildings. They did that, and those proceeds were the only thing that caused this building to be completed, as it was, in 1911.
The first use of the building was in 1912 when members of the executive branch and the Supreme Court came into these chambers. From 1912 until 1920, the legislature actually sat in the old territorial state capitol building, which was to the east of us. The wings weren’t completed until 1920, and the legislature for the first time moved into their quarters in 1921.
It does seem like the criticism this time around is rather muted. I will give the commission that I chaired a lot of credit for that. We engaged in a very significant public outreach. The members of the commission traveled throughout the state, held town hall meetings to get input in addition to the consultation that I talked about with legislature and executive branch officials.
We did a lot of work with the media to get our message out, and I compliment the media for doing a great job. You might recall back in that time frame there were a lot of media articles, and television news stories about the capitol. So I think that got people acclimated to it. The message went out that we’re really focused on trying to maintain the integrity of this building. We’ve got real problems; we’ve 37 HVAC systems. We’ve got the original plumbing. The electrical systems were original with only one update in 1967.
They understood that we need to do something; and so the question was, how do we go about doing it, and how much money are we going to spend? I think the commission from 2003 on has done a great job in terms of moving that forward. I compliment members of the legislature that saw the opportunity to use a special tax, the tobacco tax as a mechanism to debt service on the bonds. And so it all moved together quite seamlessly. So the public acceptance of this restoration started way back 11 years ago.
I, like a lot of folks, bring clients and guests from throughout the world to the building, and they’ve always been awed by it. It’s a magnificent structure. I truly hope that the commission will continue on with what we started, to emulate what John Tourtellotte called the bright beacon of liberty. It’s the bright white shining light that makes for a better meeting place for the development of public policy.
To that end, I truly hope that they will maintain his original architectural integrity as it relates to not putting things on the wall. I mean, his plan was that you would not put murals and pictures and all that up on the walls. I think that’s going to be a tough issue for the commission because they have to make that decision, and there are a lot of competing political pressures on what to do or not to do.