Tuesday, October 15, 2002


Brady makes change happen
Love of public service drives Democrat's challenge for Idaho governor's seat
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Betsy Z. Russell
Staff writer


Jerry Brady makes an unusual politician, with his talk about a life of service and working for a better world.

It's no put-on. From helping thousands of poor Venezuelans start businesses to helping run the Peace Corps, from the Washington, D.C., offices of Idaho Sen. Frank Church to a newspaper office in Idaho Falls, Brady's career has followed an unusual track. Now this 66-year-old attorney, scion of an eastern Idaho publishing family and great-grandson of a Republican Idaho governor, is running for governor as a Democrat, taking on a well-known incumbent in a GOP-dominated state.

Asked why he's running, Brady recalls a summer spent in Africa as a college student in 1958. "I got a feel for what it's like to live poor," he said. "I thought, `I'd like to do something about this."'

That led to a series of efforts throughout Brady's life to try to launch new efforts for change. Some, like his Latin American loan program, hatched with a fellow student when he was in la
w school, were widely successful. Today, Accion International makes about 450,000 micro-loans a year throughout Latin America, lending about $700 million. Others, like needling his conservative eastern Idaho hometown with moderate to liberal editorials, brought vitriolic reaction.

"It makes me very happy to be able to run," Brady said. "It will make me very happy to serve, because I've wanted to do this with my life. I do think that politics is service and not self-aggrandizement -- if it isn't, I don't want any part of it."

Brady is challenging Gov. Dirk Kempthorne. Also on the ballot is Libertarian Daniel L.J. Adams.

Here's a look at some of the high and low points in Brady's diverse career, and his background:

Seeing a need

"I'm pretty good at starting things that didn't exist, seeing a need and creating an institution to go fill that need," Brady says.

That's what happened with Accion. As a young law student, Brady wasn't interested in a conventional law practice. He hadn't even graduated when he and a fellow student started Accion, first with the idea of sending Americans to Latin America to work in poor communities. That evolved "toward ways of helping Latin Americans do better for themselves," which led to the idea of small loans for small businesses. "It developed a means by which these loan recipients could succeed," Brady said. "And 97.5 percent of all the loans were repaid, which is pretty high among poor people -- it's higher than among nonpoor people."

Later, after working for Sen. Church, for Congress and for the Peace Corps in Washington, D.C., and building a law practice there, Brady returned to Idaho in 1984 when his father died, and took over the family business. The Brady family had owned the Post Register newspaper in Idaho Falls since 1925, and a local TV station since 1961. Worried that family members eventually would sell the newspaper to a chain, Brady began looking into converting it to employee ownership in 1995. Now, 49 percent of the company is owned by the employees.

"I wanted to keep it out of corporate hands," Brady said. "I think free and independent newspapers are so important."

He's perhaps best known in his region for economic development work. In 1992, Brady became concerned that coming job losses at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory would ruin eastern Idaho's economy. He looked into communities that had successfully faced similar challenges, and found the Tri-Cities in Washington. After a visit there to learn about the Tri-City Industrial Development Council, Brady came home and formed the Eastern Idaho Economic Development Council.

"I called some people together, the mayor, a lawyer, a banker, some other people I thought could be useful," he said. <> We gradually built that out until we had maybe 100 community and corporate sponsors that helped fund the initial operation."

The new group raised $4.4 million for its first five-year effort, and went to work enticing businesses to come to Idaho and to get others to start-up or expand. Using a combination of public and private funds, the development council has now helped create 5,100 jobs in eastern Idaho. It helped create an industrial park next to the research center of the federal lab, started an incubator for new businesses, and negotiated directly with companies. The new jobs come from companies such as Center Partners and Qwest Communications.

Not always popular

In a conservative region of a conservative state, Brady's newspaper has editorialized in favor of dam-breaching, education funding and tribal gaming, with Brady writing some of the editorials over the years himself. The paper supported Idaho Public Television against attempts to shut the network down after it aired a program that dealt with homosexuality, and criticized the state for cutting off all nonemergency dental coverage for poor adults on Medicaid.

"There's no question about it, I am not as conservative in my views in the classic sense as the rest of my community," Brady said.

But he makes no apologies for taking those stands.

"It seems to me that a newspaper ought to run against the grain, if it's warranted," he said.


Brady graduated from Idaho Falls High School in 1954, the University of Notre Dame in 1958, and after a stint in the Army, the University of California Law School in 1962. He was student body president at Notre Dame.

Brady co-founded Accion International, worked as an aide to Sen. Frank Church in Washington, D.C., and served as assistant director and director of public affairs for the Peace Corps. He practiced law in the nation's capital, specializing in international trade and natural gas imports, from 1979 to 1984, before returning to Idaho and becoming vice president, then president of the Post Company and publisher of the Post Register.

An avid reader and golfer, he enjoys backpacking and mountain-biking. He and wife Rickie have five children and four grandchildren.

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