Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, a 1964 Whitman College graduate, never knows what a day might hold. But one thing he’s sure about: He knows what’s going to happen whenever he gets into a conversation these days – the health care issue.
“In one form or another, it is in every discussion,” Minnick said.
A recent PBS NewsHour segment featured Minnick as he made stops in Idaho to talk to constituents about his position on health care: He wants insurance policies available to all, but not at the cost of worsening the deficit. He was firm on his disapproval of a public option that competes with private insurance companies.
Minnick, a freshman Congressman, who serves on the House’s agriculture and financial services committees, describes himself as a fiscal conservative, one of the 52 “Blue Dog Democrats.” He knows he has an interesting road ahead as he represents a western Idaho district that has only voted for a Democrat twice since 1966.
But Minnick said the knowledge, life-long friends and values he received at Whitman College help him navigate.
“The Whitman years largely formed my value system,” Minnick said. Also, “The lifelong friends I made at Whitman both helped me get elected by providing financial and networking support, and they help shape my thinking on a bevy of social and financial issues.”
In the 1970s, while working for the White House Office of Management and Budget, he resigned from the Nixon Administration in protest the day after Nixon fired a special prosecutor investigating the Watergate burglary.
Minnick earned an economics degree at Whitman and then attended Harvard for business and law degrees. He said it was at Whitman where he grew more confident in his ability to compete intellectually and that Whitman’s excellent education provided a solid background for his work at Harvard.
He said Whitman enabled its students to grow in various directions, whether athletic, social, musical and so on. Minnick was involved in campus and fraternity politics, student government, the student newspaper and the debate team, which was ranked number one for three years.
Minnick said his favorite professor, David Stevens, “made economics come alive.” He said Stevens had a genuine concern for his students as people and was willing to “go to the end of the earth” to help before and after they graduated.
After Harvard, Minnick spent two years in the U.S. Army, and worked in the Nixon White House before moving to Idaho for a 35-year career as a businessman, first rising through the ranks to CEO of Trus Joist, a wood-products company that grew to more than $700 million in sales. He then founded Summerwinds, which would grow to become one of the 10 largest retail-nursery chains nationally.
Minnick remembers advanced calculus and freshman philosophy as his most challenging intellectual experiences at Whitman: “They truly tested as well as fascinated my rather pragmatic, reality-tested approach to problem solving.”
And now in D.C., for Minnick, the problem solving continues.