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The Kitty Gurnsey Collection

MSS 161

Boise State University, Albertsons Library, Special Collections Department

Boise, Idaho


Biographical Sketch

Contents of the Collection



Kitty Gurnsey: A Biographical Sketch

Kitty Gurnsey represented the North and East ends of Boise in the Idaho legislature for twenty-two years.  First elected to the state House of Representatives in 1974, she was reelected ten more times before retiring in 1996.  Mrs. Gurnsey made her mark in the legislature as co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, the House-Senate panel that serves as the state budget-writing committee.  Appointed to JFAC in 1976, she became co-chair in 1980 and served in that capacity for sixteen years.  “In her role as budget co-chairwoman, she brought a flair for numbers and an institutional memory that outlasted three governors and five speakers,” wrote the Idaho Statesman in 1996.  The newspaper called her “the most powerful woman in state government.”  House Speaker Mike Simpson commented, “She runs the state budget like it’s her own checkbook.”  Her papers do, indeed, reflect the close scrutiny she applied to the details of state spending and to state government operations.

Kathleen W. Gurnsey was born on June 23, 1927, in Donnelly, Idaho, the third of six children born to Robert G. Wallace and Thelma Halferty Wallace.  Known as “Kitty” since childhood, she grew up on a ranch in Donnelly and graduated from McCall-Donnelly High School, where she was valedictorian of her class.  She also attended Kinman Business University in Spokane, Washington.  In 1949, while working as a secretary for the U.S. Forest Service in McCall, she met Vern L. Gurnsey, a forester with the Boise Payette Lumber Company. They were married in 1950.  The Gurnseys relocated to Boise, where Vern Gurnsey eventually became a vice president of Boise Cascade Corporation.  They had three children, and Kitty Gurnsey was active on behalf of a number of civic and charitable causes, including the PTA, Red Cross, YMCA, Fundsy, and St. Luke’s Hospital Auxiliary.  In 1970 she was one of theIdaho Statesman’s Outstanding Citizens.  She was also an elder of the Presbyterian Church and an avid golfer and bridge player.  While raising her family, Mrs. Gurnsey took college classes, graduating (after a twenty-year effort) from Boise State University with a degree in business administration in 1976.

Kitty Gurnsey made her first run for the state House of Representatives in 1974, defeating an incumbent legislator for the Republican nomination from her district.  The primary election campaign was decided more by the candidates’ get-out-the-vote efforts than by issues or ideology, though Mrs. Gurnsey did make an argument on behalf of women candidates. “Practically all legislation is connected to the family...and I believe more women should seek public office and participate in the governmental process,” she said in the Statesman.  When she was elected in November, she became just one of nine female legislators in Idaho.  She followed in the footsteps of her grandfathers, Robert Halferty and Frank Wallace, both of whom served in the legislature before her.

During her twenty-two years in the state house, Kitty Gurnsey established a reputation as an independent legislator.  Most often labeled a moderate by political commentators, she openly identified with JFAC’s “Republicrat” coalition, moderate Republicans and Democrats who resisted severe budget cuts in the early 1980s.  She opposed Idaho’s recision of the Equal Rights Amendment, sponsored the legislation that established a state-supported kindergarten program in 1976, opposed the One-percent initiative in 1978, championed public funding of the state women’s commission, and opposed the antiabortion bill (HB 625) of 1990.  She faced primary challenges from an outspoken conservative in 1982 and a right-to-life activist in 1990, and was attacked as a “Democrat in Republican clothing” by a conservative Republican state senator in 1994.  Yet she also faced vigorous Democratic opposition in her reelection efforts, particularly toward the close of her legislative career.  She lost her traditional support from the Idaho Education Association in the late 1980s because of her votes for leaner education appropriations than the association favored.  The IEA backed strong Democratic challengers in the 1988 and 1990 elections, and in the 1990 race Mrs. Gurnsey held on to her seat by only 356 votes.  The political makeup of her district was indeed becoming a problem for her, for by the 1980s it had become the most Democratic district in Boise.  The district’s Senate seat went Democratic in 1976, and the other House seat went to the Democrats in 1982.  So while under fire from some Republicans for not being conservative enough, she was criticized by Democrats in the general elections for being too tight with the budget, particularly with education spending.  She explained her dilemma in a 1983 interview in the Idaho Statesman.  While she characterized herself as a strong supporter of public education, she maintained that the people “have to realize I am chairman of the Appropriations Committee and I am dedicated to balancing the budget.”  In 1992 she told the newspaper that her votes in JFAC had indeed become more conservative, largely because of her long legislative experience and an increasing willingness to challenge state agency funding requests. During her last campaign in 1994, the Statesman, in an editorial endorsing her reelection, described her as a “fiscal conservative but a strong supporter of education.”  She won reelection that last time with fifty-one percent of the vote.  In 1996, without Mrs. Gurnsey on the ballot, the seat finally fell to a Democrat.

Kitty Gurnsey was an active member of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Order of Women Legislators, and the Pacific Northwest Legislative Leadership Forum.  In 1982 she was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Defense to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) and served a three-year term. Service on that committee took her to military posts and conferences across the country.  In 1995, Kitty Gurnsey received the Legislator of the Year award from the National Republican Legislators Association, one of only twelve legislators in the nation so honored that year. She received the Distinguished Community Service award from the Boise Area Chamber of Commerce in 1996, an honorary membership from the Idaho Public Employees Association in 1995, the Distinguished Alumni award from Boise State University in 1991, and BSU’s Silver Medallion in 1996.  She has served as a trustee of the BSU Foundation since 1978.


Sources:    Idaho Political Almanac, by Randy Stapilus (various editions)
                    Biographical material within the collection, including
                    Idaho Statesman clippings dated:
                                 May 17, 1970 (Box 1, folder 1)
                                 June 1, 1974 (Box 1, folder 32)
                                 May 17, 1976 (Box 1, folder 32)
                                 February 22, 1983 (Box 1, folder 33)
                                 May 21, 1992 (Box 1, folder 34)                                                March 8, 1996 (Box l, folder 1)

The Collection


The Kitty Gurnsey collection contains letters, memoranda, speeches, clippings, campaign records,  photos, and other papers from Mrs. Gurnsey’s career in the legislature (1974-1996) and from her campaigns for office.  The bulk of the collection dates after 1989, except for the campaign files, which document the 1974 and 1994 campaigns best.  The collection does not contain all the paperwork that crossed her desk.  There is little constituent correspondence.  Briefing materials presented by the state agencies to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee during the annual budget hearings are not present; nor are the fiscal analyses and briefing papers prepared for JFAC by the Legislative Services Office.  Instead, the collection focuses on Mrs. Gurnsey’s own work as JFAC co-chair, particularly her active oversight role over the budget and state government operations.

Much of the Legislative correspondence (Box 1) consists of personal letters to and from state agency administrators about their budget requests.  Many of the letters are from the administrators responding to particular questions Mrs. Gurnsey raised during the hearings. There is one file of letters from Joe Parkinson of Micron Technologies, Inc., regarding a dispute over patents by the University of Idaho (Box 1, folder 15).

The Issue files (Box 2) contain documents relating to issues and projects in which Mrs. Gurnsey was particularly interested, chiefly in the 1990s.  Undergraduate engineering education in Boise, the proposal to build a governor’s residence, management of state veterans homes, and the marketing of liquor in Idaho are particularly well documented.  The collection contains a study she wrote on liquor marketing in 1975. 

A great many of the Speeches (Box 1) relate to fiscal issues and the Idaho budget. Also included are notes for the floor speech Mrs. Gurnsey delivered on behalf of the kindergarten bill in 1976 (Box 1, folder 24).  The newspaper clippings from her Scrapbooks (Box 1) document in some detail Mrs. Gurnsey’s career as covered by the press. She has kept the original scrapbooks; these clippings are photocopies. Included in these Scrapbook files are also records of her 1974 campaign (Box 1, folder 36).  Mrs. Gurnsey’s opinions on the role of women in government are found throughout the Speeches and Scrapbook clipping files.

The collection was donated to Boise State University by Kitty Gurnsey in January 1997.

For more information about the Idaho budgets and the work of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee for the time Kitty Gurnsey served as co-chair, researchers should refer to the minutes of JFAC which are maintained by the Legislative Services Library in the State Capitol Building.  The Legislative Services Office records all JFAC budget hearings on tape, but at this writing (1997) the policy is to keep those tapes for only five years.   Printed versions of the state budget in its three basic forms (state agency requests, Governor’s recommendations, and final enacted versions) are located in the general collection of the Boise State University Library under various titles, including Executive Budget (call number HJ2053.I2I337),Legislative Budget Book (call number HJ11.I234a), and Idaho Legislative Fiscal Report to the Joint Senate Finance-House Appropriations Committee (call number HJ11.I248a).

Inventory of the Kitty Gurnsey Collection

MSS 161  

in Boise State University, Albertsons Library, Special Collections Department

Box 1: General files

Box   1, Folder    1          Biographical material
Box   1, Folder    2          Biographical questionnaire (1989)
Box   1, Folder    3          Awards

Box   1, Folder    4          Correspondence (General)   (1985-1996)
Box   1, Folder    5          Correspondence: Annual constituent letter (1976-1980)

Box   1, Folder    6          Legislative Correspondence (1977-1985)
Box   1, Folder    7          Legislative Correspondence (1986-1989)
Box   1, Folder    8          Legislative Correspondence (1990)
Box   1, Folder    9          Legislative Correspondence (1991)
Box   1, Folder  10          Legislative Correspondence (1992)
Box   1, Folder  11          Legislative Correspondence (1993)
Box   1, Folder  12          Legislative Correspondence (1994)
Box   1, Folder  13          Legislative Correspondence (1995)
Box   1, Folder  14          Legislative Correspondence (1996)
Box   1, Folder  15          Legislative Correspondence: Joe Parkinson (1993)

Box   1, Folder  16          Speeches (1975-1976)
Box   1, Folder  17          Speeches (1977-1978)
Box   1, Folder  18          Speeches (1979-1980)
Box   1, Folder  19          Speeches (1981-1982)
Box   1, Folder  20          Speeches (1983)
Box   1, Folder  21          Speeches (1984)
Box   1, Folder  22          Speeches (1993)
Box   1, Folder  23          Speeches: Miscellaneous (Undated)
Box   1, Folder  24          Speeches: Kindergarten bill (1976)
Box   1, Folder  25          Speeches: Milton Small “roast”
Box   1, Folder  26          Speeches: School finance (1983)
Box   1, Folder  27          Speeches: Hazardous wastes (1985?)
Box   1, Folder  28          Speeches: Associated Taxpayers of Idaho (1990)
Box   1, Folder  29          Speeches: Boise Cascade (1976?)
Box   1, Folder  30          Speeches: Leadership Boise (1994)
Box   1, Folder  31          Speeches: Privatization/U.S. Forest Service Retirees (1996

Box   1, Folder  32          Scrapbook: Clippings (Photocopies) (1974-1980)
Box   1, Folder  33          Scrapbook: Clippings (Photocopies) (1980-1988)
Box   1, Folder  34          Scrapbook: Clippings (Photocopies) (1989-1993)
Box   1, Folder  35          Scrapbook: Clippings (Photocopies) (1994-1996)
Box   1, Folder  36          Scrapbook: 1974 campaign papers (Photocopies) (1974)
Box   1, Folder  37          Scrapbook: Other material (Photocopies)

Box 2: Issue files

Box   2, Folder    1            1% Initiative (1995-1996)
Box   2, Folder    2            Audit coordination (1988)
Box   2, Folder    3            Boise State University: Building projects (1981-1993)

Box   2, Folder    4            Engineering education: Correspondence (1995)
Box   2, Folder    5            Engineering education: General material (1995)
Box   2, Folder    6            Engineering education: Boise State University (1995)
Box   2, Folder    7            Engineering education: University of Idaho/Boise (1995)

Box   2, Folder    8            Financial exigency (1982)
Box   2, Folder    9            Gooding State School (1984-1987)

Box   2, Folder  10          Governors residence: Committee minutes and correspondence (1993-1995)
Box   2, Folder  11          Governors residence: Division of Public Works (1993-1994)
Box   2, Folder  12          Governors residence: Permanent Building Fund Advisory Council (1993)
Box   2, Folder  13          Governors residence: Proposal, 1972 (1972-1988)
Box   2, Folder  14          Governors residence: Proposed sites: State lands (1993)
Box   2, Folder  15          Governors residence: Proposed sites: Boise (1993)
Box   2, Folder  16          Governors residence: Proposed sites: Eagle (1993)
Box   2, Folder  17          Governors residence: Schematic design (1994)

Box   2  Folder  18          Idaho fiscal history, General Fund (1975-1994)
Box   2, Folder  19          INEL settlement agreement, Nuclear waste (1995)
Box   2, Folder  20          Judiciary: Fiscal oversight (1986-1995)
Box   2, Folder  21          Mammography/Insurance coverage (1991-1992)
Box   2, Folder  22          Marketing Liquor in Idaho: Gurnsey study (1975)
Box   2, Folder  23          Marketing liquor: Background information (1975)
Box   2, Folder  24          Payette Lakes land exchanges (1976-1996)
Box   2, Folder  25          Permanent Building Fund (1985)
Box   2, Folder  26          Square dance (1989)

Box   2, Folder  27          State budget, Fiscal year 1994
Box   2, Folder  28          State budget, Fiscal year 1995
Box   2, Folder  29          State budget, Fiscal year 1996
Box   2, Folder  30          State budget, Fiscal year 1997

Box   2, Folder  31          State employee count (1994)
Box   2, Folder  33          State government travel costs (1989-1992)
Box   2, Folder  32          State General Account: Unexpended balances (1989)
Box   2, Folder  34          Veterans homes (1991-1992)
Box   2, Folder  35          Veterans homes: Management proposals (1991-1992)
Box   2, Folder  36          Veterans homes: Management proposal, National Heritage (1991-1992)
Box   2, Folder  37          Veterans homes: Management proposal, Roe (1991)


Box 3: General Files

Box   3, Folder    1          DACOWITS (1982-1985)
Box   3, Folder    2          DACOWITS
Box   3, Folder    3          Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee
Box   3, Folder    4          Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee: Rules
Box   3, Folder    5          Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee: Rules (1980)
Box   3, Folder    6          National Conference of State Legislatures (1978-1996)
Box   3, Folder    7          National Order of Women Legislators
Box   3, Folder    8          Pacific Northwest Legislative Leadership Forum (1990)
Box   3, Folder    9          Campaign literature (1974-1988)
Box   3, Folder  10          Campaign literature (1990-1994)
Box   3, Folder  11          Campaign records (1976-1992)
Box   3, Folder  12          Campaign records (1994)
Box   3, Folder  13          Political: Miscellaneous
Box   3, Folder  14          Political: 1986 Legislature satire (Card party script)   (1986)
Box   3, Folder  15          Political: White House luncheon memorabilia (1987)

Box 4: Miscellaneous



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Special Collections • 1910 University Drive • Boise, ID 83725-1430 • Phone: 208-426-1204 • Email: Archives