Dave McGraw said the best advice he received as a Latah County commissioner came on his first day in office nine years ago from then-commissioner Jennifer Barrett, who also happened to be McGraw’s physical education teacher back in the day.
“She took me in her office and said, ‘You know, leave the whole R (Republican) and D (Democrat) thing in the parking lot. We don’t have time for it. You’re here to do what’s right and what’s best for the citizens of Latah County,’ ” McGraw said Barrett told him. “And I have always remembered that. I’ve always remembered that in everything I’ve done, and she is so right.”
McGraw received the “H. Sydney Duncombe Award for Excellence in County Government” last week in front of hundreds of county officials from across the state at the Idaho Association of Counties’ Midwinter Legislative Conference in Boise.
He said the award blindsided him.
“This is absolutely the pillar of my political career to date,” said McGraw, who credited his wife, Leslie, and other Latah County elected officials and employees for the award.
Latah County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Thompson and then-Latah County Commissioner Jack Nelson were the last two Latah County representatives to receive the award. Thompson earned it in 2011 and Nelson in 2010.
Benewah County Commissioner Jack Buell received it in 1998.
“These are people I absolutely admire and respect, and to be counted amongst that fraternity of receiving that award, is just an incredible honor to me,” McGraw said.
The award can be given to any Idaho resident, “from the public or private sector, employed or retired, who has provided excellence in the development and promotion of county government in Idaho,” according to IAC.
Most of the past winners were elected county officials.
Duncombe was a professor of political science and served as director of the Bureau of Public Affairs Research for the University of Idaho, according to IAC. He taught and assisted hundreds of students and county officials, providing a better understanding of county and local government in Idaho.
Latah County Commissioner Tom Lamar is chairman of the Idaho Association of Counties District 2, which encompasses five north-central Idaho counties and which nominated McGraw.
Lamar said each of the six IAC districts in the state choose a nominee for the award from their district. The six district leaders then make cases for their nominees and vote.
He said he learned in August that McGraw won the award, so he has kept the secret from his colleague for five and a half months.
Lamar, who has served alongside McGraw since 2015, said McGraw is “amazing on many levels,” noting that he serves on several boards and committees.
Lamar echoed the comments McGraw learned from Barrett almost one decade ago. “He’s really good, too, at reminding everybody that works here that we check our political parties outside in the parking lot, and we all work together and we’re always thinking about everybody that we’re representing and working for within Latah County,” Lamar said.
For example, Lamar, a Democrat, said he was elected chairman of the Latah County Commissioners by two Republicans — McGraw and former Commissioner Richard Walser.
“I don’t think twice about the fact that he’s in a different political party than me when we make this nomination,” Lamar said. “It’s just that he’s a hard worker and he’s the one that deserves the award.”
He said McGraw choked back tears when his nomination form, which Lamar wrote, was being read last week in Boise.
“It was pretty emotional I think for a lot of people in the room,” Lamar said. “And the feeling that I had was like, that’s my brother. That’s my best friend. … So it was just really neat to see him get that recognition and for him to be able to share that with others because he truly has the spirit of excellence in community government, and that’s what the award is all about.”
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to email@example.com.