BOISE — Bill Roden, an eight-term state senator and former Senate majority leader and one of Idaho’s most prominent lawyer/lobbyists for decades, has died at his home at the age of 90.
“For nearly 60 years, Bill Roden helped shape the quality of life we enjoy in Idaho,” Gov. Brad Little said in a statement on Thursday. “Bill was always generous in giving his advice and counsel to new legislators and governors, and his advice was not just welcome but needed.”
“Those of us serving in public life aspire to what Bill represented,” Little said. “He was civil at all times, stood for good governance, and worked tirelessly to make Idaho a great place to live. Bill left a huge mark on Idaho that will last for generations to come.”
During Roden’s time in the Idaho Senate, he was most proud of his part in writing the first civil rights legislation for Idaho, writing the Idaho Commercial Code and the Youth Rehabilitation Act, which was the first laws for youth and the judicial system creating juvenile courts.
After leaving the Senate, he began to focus much of his law practice on legislative affairs, and became one of the first lobbyists in Idaho to represent multiple clients. In recent years, his clients included the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Delta Dental, CenturyLink and SelectHealth.
An Army Counter Intelligence Corps veteran, Roden was a graduate of Boise Junior College and the University of Idaho College of Law.
When he returned to Boise after his Army service in 1956 and needed a job, Roden heard from his father that there was a job in the prosecuting attorney’s office. Contacting the office, he learned he’d need “Republican endorsements” to get the job.
“The ironic part was that Bill's parents were Democrats,” his obituary said, “and Bill really had no political affiliation at the time, but Boise was a small town, so after a few phone calls from Bill's dad the recommendations came pouring in. As a result, Bill became a Republican and that began his long and illustrious legal and political career.”
He was elected Ada County prosecuting attorney in 1958, after serving as both a deputy county prosecutor and an Idaho deputy attorney general.
When he was growing up, he lived in and attended school at two Japanese internment camps where his father was employed, making him and his sister the only two white students in the school. The experience made him profoundly aware of the effects of discrimination based on race, ethnicity and other factors.
At a historic, three-day hearing in 2015 on legislation to add discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity under the Idaho Human Rights Act, Roden was among the 134 people to testify in favor of the bill, which then was killed on a party-line committee vote.
“Idaho has a history of tolerance,” he told the House State Affairs Committee, noting that Idaho was the fourth state to give women the right to vote. “That was a vote against discrimination, and Idaho was a leader in that.”
According to his obituary, Roden believed his mission in life, citing Proverbs, was to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
Roden is survived by his sister, Sharon Beaver; two children, daughter Lindy Mansfield and son Tim Roden; six grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. A celebration of his life will be held Sunday, July 14, at 2 p.m. at St. Michael’s Cathedral, with a reception following at the Riverside Hotel. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Women’s and Children’s Alliance or St. Michael’s Discretionary Fund.