Thursday, December 22, 2016

Civil Engineer, Idaho Falls Mayor, and Idaho Governor Barzilla Clark [otd 12/22]

Governor Barzilla Clark.
Bonneville County Historical Society.
Barzilla Worth Clark, sixteenth Governor of the state of Idaho, was born December 22, 1881 in Hadley, Indiana, about twenty miles west of Indianapolis.

The family moved to Idaho Falls (then called Eagle Rock) when Barzilla was about four years old. Described as highly inquisitive and “a tease,” the boy was reportedly well liked by the townspeople.

Barzilla was very active in public school, even serving as school reporter for the Idaho Register newspaper in Idaho Falls. But he wanted to be an engineer like his father, Joseph [blog, December 26]. So, in September 1898, he headed east to attend prep school in Terre Haute, Indiana. He then enrolled at Rose Polytechnic Institute there. However, Barzilla over-did it athletically, to the detriment of his health, and returned to Idaho to recover.

In 1902, the Idaho Register mentioned that he owned ranch property east of town. (Presumably his father helped out with that.) The following year, he acquired ranch and mining properties near Mackay, Idaho, and moved there. Clark also began working more with dam and canal projects for irrigation. In 1905, Barzilla became a licensed professional engineer in Idaho, and also got married.

Three years later, the family moved back to Idaho Falls and Barzilla was elected to the City Council the following spring. Barzilla served another term on the Council, and then became mayor in 1913. Clark pushed for many enhancements for the city, including an improved municipal hydroelectric plant.

In 1914, the mayor entered the Idaho Democratic primary to run for Governor, but lost decisively (727 votes versus 3,121 for his opponent). The following year, he lost his re-election bid for Idaho Falls Mayor by a handful of votes. After that, he spent more than a decade focused on mining properties in Central Idaho.

Still, in 1927, Barzilla ran for Idaho Falls mayor again, won, and began a continuous ten-year span of re-elections to that office. His administrations brought great progress to the city: another large hydroelectric power plant, a new city hall and fire station [blog, Nov 16], the first airport, enlarged municipal parks, and more. Amazingly, he did all that by careful budgeting and planning, with no need to take on long-term debt or impose special tax levies.
Downtown Idaho Falls, 1930s. Bonneville County Historical Society.
Clark ran again for the Governor’s seat, won, and took office in 1937. An analysis in the  Spokesman-Review newspaper (Spokane, Washington, January 4, 1937) noted a host of problems. These included needed revisions in the state liquor laws (post-Prohibition), departmental consolidations, revamping the state police, and much more.

Naturally, money was a huge problem, exacerbated by the fact that a voter referendum had done away with the state sales tax. In theory, progress should have been possible: Democrats enjoyed a 33 to 11 advantage in the state Senate and a huge 50 to 9 majority in the House. But that preponderance was illusionary: Major conflicts among factions within the party over-rode any disagreements they might have had with those few Republicans. Hard-won agreements within the Senate often met opposition in the House, and vice versa.

In the end, little of substance was accomplished under Clark’s administration, other than creation of a state Water Conservation Board. Barzilla’s bid for a second termed ended in the Democratic primary, and he returned to his private business interests in Idaho Falls.

In 1941, Clark published a local history book, Bonneville County in the Making. He died of lung cancer two years later. 
References: [B&W], [Defen]
Barzilla W. Clark Papers, 1937-1938, Manuscript Group 22, University of Idaho, Moscow (June 1979).
Mary Jane Fritzen, Idaho Falls, City of Destiny, Bonneville County Historical Society (1991).
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884–1934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).
Robert C. Sims, Hope A. Benedict (eds.), Idaho’s Governors: Historical Essays on Their Administrations, Boise State University (1992).

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