Idaho lost a brilliant mind and a colorful iconoclast with the passing Wednesday of Perry Swisher — journalist, public servant, firebrand.
The reports of Swisher’s passing covered the facts of his long and varied career as a state legislator, gubernatorial candidate, public utilities commissioner and journalist. But unless I missed, them they didn’t include several of my favorite Swisher episodes, which say a a lot about him as man.
One was his appearance at a Little Feat concert at the Boise Hawks ballpark. The music was loud enough at Swisher’s home not far from there that it kept him awake. His “solution”: to show up at the concert in his pajamas and bathrobe, wielding an ax. It made news for weeks.
As PUC commissioner, he almost singlehandedly increased the telephone company’s request to raise its pay-phone charge from a dime to, as I recall, 15 cents. Swisher said it would be inconvenient for customers to fish around for dimes and nickels and suggested raising the charge to a quarter. The ensuing increase was wildly unpopular. The Statesman captured the prevailing mood by publishing a cartoon of Swisher in a phone booth with a caption reading, “Why not make it 50 cents and call all your friends?” He called the paper in high spirits, said he thought the cartoon was hilarous and asked for the original drawing. He wanted to frame it.
But my favorite Swisher anecdote was his reaction to a letter to the editor of a very good weekly newspaper he published in Pocatello. He thought so little of the letter that he called its author.
“I just wanted to let you know that I’m canceling your subscription,” he said. “I don’t want anybody as stupid as you reading my newspaper.”
I can’t tell you how many journalists have wished they could do that.
They don’t make journalists — or characters — like Perry Swisher anymore.