Ralph Smeed, the self-styled curmudgeon who promoted libertarian ideas in billboard messages in Caldwell and through newspaper columns, passed away on Tuesday in Boise due to complications from pancreatic cancer. Smeed mentored and advised many Republican leaders in the state, including Gov. Butch Otter, former Sen. Steve Symms, and the late U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth Hage.
“Ralph was a good friend impatient of political expediency or excess,” Otter said in prepared statement. “He was an unyielding and loyal critic, especially to those of us he called friends. With Ralph, you couldn’t just vote his way, you had to understand the vote and do so for the right reasons. I shall miss him.”
“He was one of our states greatest defenders of freedom and he left a tremendous mark on public policy in the state of Idaho,” said Wayne Hoffman, the executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Hoffman presented Smeed with the Friend of Freedom Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this year.
Smeed made friends of various political leanings. “I don’t always agree with Ralph, but he’s a delightful human being,” Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick told IdahoReporter.com earlier this year. “He’s contributed a lot to political discourse in Idaho, and he’s someone I’m proud to call a friend.”
Smeed, who was 88 years old, served in the Army during World War II, and then returned to his hometown of Caldwell. He became active in Republican politics before starting his newspaper column in the Lewiston Morning Tribune in 1974. He also started a think-tank called the Center for the Study of Market Alternatives in 1976, which published some of his writing.
Rick Coffman, a newspaper editor who became friends with Smeed in the early 1970s, carried Smeed’s columns in the Idaho Press-Tribune each Sunday on the editorial page. “Ralph was all about ideas and principles, that those would sustain the country through good times and bad,” Coffman said. “Ralph fought all his life for what he believed – the value of a limited government, individuals having the freedom to choose what is best for them, that when government does something ‘for’ someone it does something else ‘to’ another someone.”
Coffman added, “Ralph is the only person I have ever known who I am convinced did exactly what he wanted to do every day of his life. We should all be so lucky.”
Many people learned of Smeed’s views from his reader board that included both policy opinions and partisan jokes, including “I would rather go hunting with Dick Cheney than riding in a car with Ted Kennedy.” Smeed received some notoriety in the past few years for messages questioning President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
The three word slogan at the top of the reader board, “Making Statism Unpopular,” may been the message he was most interested in promoting.
“He hated statism,” said Ashley Lyman, a professor emeritus in economics at the University of Idaho and friend of Smeed. “He interpreted statism to be something in which the government took responsibility away from the individual and ran your life.”
Lyman said that beyond Smeed’s political views, he will be remembered for his warmth and friendliness that crossed party lines. “As a longtime Idaho resident, Ralph must have his place in history because of his strength, his character, his individualism,” he said.
NOTE: IdahoReporter.com is a product of the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF). Wayne Hoffman is the executive director of IFF and Rick Coffman is an editor of IdahoReporter.com.