Sales tax was a divisive issue, almost as divisive as the Viet Nam War was becoming. But airplanes would change the course of that year’s election as much as issues.
First, a leading contender for the Republican nomination for Congress from Idaho’s First Congressional District crashed his airplane near Osburn. John N. Mattmiller, who had run unsuccessfully for the seat in 1964, was piloting his four-place Piper Comanche over North Idaho’s Silver Valley when the crash happened. An experienced pilot, Mattmiller had survived a crash five years earlier that had broken both legs.
According to witnesses, the Comanche dropped out of the overcast into the narrow valley, apparently looking for a place to land. Mattmiller narrowly missed the KWAL radio tower in Osburn. The plane seemed to be headed for a landing on U.S. 10, about five miles from his destination at the Smelterville airport. Mattmiller pulled up when he saw a tanker truck on the highway, and banked the plane around, perhaps for another landing attempt. That’s when he struck a powerline, bringing the plane down hard. Mattmiller, and a passenger both died instantly.
Mattmiller’s untimely death opened up the primary for a young state senator named Jim McClure. McClure was elected to Congress and served in the House of Representatives until 1973 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He served there until his retirement in 1991.
In the primary for governor, Samuelson surprised Smylie, defeating the long-serving governor soundly. Herndon sneaked by Cecil Andrus by about 1,300 votes setting up a general election bout with Samuelson.
Then came the second crash. On September 14, 1966, Herndon was in Pocatello looking for a flight to Coeur d’Alene where he had an afternoon speaking engagement. Nothing commercial was flying because the Pocatello and Idaho Falls airports were socked in with fog.
Herndon made a highway dash for Twin Falls where he chartered an airplane. Two men from Oklahoma City who had business in North Idaho shared the charter with Herndon.
Herndon and the pilot, Bill Bir of Twin Falls, were in the front seats of the Piper Apache. Oddly, when the plane came out of the clouds and plowed into a forested hillside ten miles west of Stanley, the Oklahoma passengers in back were killed instantly. Herndon and the pilot were badly injured. The pilot was airlifted from the crash site to a Sun Valley hospital. He survived. Charles Herndon died before he could be taken from the crash site.
The runner-up in the Democratic primary was named to replace Herndon on the ticket. That was the first time Cecil D. Andrus faced Don Samuelson. Samuelson won the first match, becoming Idaho’s 25th governor. Four years later, Andrus would become the 26th governor of Idaho, defeating Samuelson. He would eventually win four elections to that post and become Secretary of the Interior in President Jimmy Carter’s cabinet.