Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rancher, Businessman, and Party Leader Robert Coulter [otd 8/9]

Robert Coulter.
Family portrait photo.
State Representative and agricultural pioneer Robert Coulter was born August 9, 1875 in Richmond, Kentucky, about eighty-five miles southeast of Louisville. In 1892, he moved to Oregon, where he worked at various jobs, including insurance and real estate, ranching, and boiler room operations. He married in 1901, in Portland, and moved to Washington County, Idaho the following year.

He first ran a dairy operation near Cascade (later county seat of Valley county). Coulter sold that after five years to go into general farming and stock raising. He also helped organize an irrigation company near Weiser.

When boosters formed the Washington County Fair Association, Coulter became one of its first Directors. In 1909, Robert spearheaded formation of a partnership to deal in real estate and mortgage loans. According to H. T. French, in 1914 the firm was “known for one of the largest real estate and loan companies in the county.”

Soon after he arrived in Idaho, he began taking a very active role in Democratic Party politics. For a number of years, he lived near Weiser and served as Secretary of the party Central Committee for Washington County. In the early 1920s, he moved his family back to Cascade.

For quite a long time, Coulter did not seek political office himself, working diligently for other candidates at all levels. In 1922, however, he ran successfully for the state House of Representatives. He would be re-elected for a total of six consecutive terms, running unopposed in at least one of those elections.

In 1931, Governor C. Ben Ross appointed Coulter to be Director of the Bureau of Budget. In that position, Coulter led the preparation of the budget to be presented to the legislature. He was also, ex officio, a member of another board charged with recommending construction of needed public buildings.
Senator Borah, 1937. Library of Congress.

Defenbach’s History of Idaho, published in 1933, characterized him as “one of the most forceful figures in Democratic politics at this time.” He served as Chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party for the first time in 1934-1935. Asked about party prospects, he incautiously predicted that they could defeat popular Republican Senator William E. Borah [blog, June 29] the next time he ran for re-election. Borah won handily.

For most of Coulter’s career in the House, Democrats were the minority party, yet he proved to be a very effective floor leader. When the party attained a majority in 1933, he was elected Speaker of the House. Coulter then apparently did not run for re-election, but filled the position of state Land Commissioner in 1933-1935. He would hold that office again in 1941-1947.

In 1935-1937, Coulter chaired the State Liquor Commission. Some time during this period, he moved to Boise. He served again as Chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party in 1940-1941 and 1942-1943. He ran again for that position in 1952, but was soundly defeated.

Two years later, he retired from the chairmanship of the Ada County Democratic Central Committee. He called that  “the last office I shall hold in the party.”

Coulter lived to be almost one hundred years of age, passing away in August 1974.
References: [Defen], [French]
“Brunt Named Chairman of Idaho Demos,” Idaho Statesman, Boise (September 3, 1952).
“Coulter Retires,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (August 24, 1954).
“Defeat of Borah in 1936 Race Predicted,” San Antonio Express, San Antonio, Texas (December 5, 1934).
Robert Coulter Collection, MS 415, Idaho State Historical Society.

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