President Bush announces Idaho Gov.
Dirk Kempthorne, left, as the new
Secretary of the Interior in the Oval
Office on March 16 in Washington. - AP
Mr. Kempthorne goes to Washington
Capital Press Staff Writer
Six years in the U.S. Senate trying to reform
the Endangered Species Act, and a long history
of building successful compromises earned
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne the nomination as
the next U.S. Secretary of the Interior March
President Bush made the announcement less than
a week after former Secretary Gale Norton
resigned, leaving a lot of Idahoans
figuratively pinching themselves awake on St.
Patrick’s Day in the midst of a whirlwind of
national media attention.
Assuming he is confirmed by the Senate,
Kempthorne will head for Washington, D.C., in
about a month. That is long enough that this
year’s state legislative session should be
over and all bills signed, but the governor
will resign his current office. Lt. Gov. Jim
Risch will become Idaho’s 31st governor.
Several state legislators were mentioned as
potential candidates to replace him as
lieutenant governor, including several
prominent leaders who have already announced
they plan to retire and won’t seek
Among them: Speaker of the House and rancher
Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, who will retire this
year after 10 terms in the Legislature.
Kempthorne’s nomination was announced barely
24 hours before Idaho’s deadline to file for
public office, setting off a lot of
speculation that Risch, already a candidate
for re-election as lieutenant governor, might
switch and file for governor. On March 17, he
announced he was not going to do so.
“If I entered a political campaign for
governor at this time, I think it would not
serve the people of the state of Idaho very
well. I have a choice to make and that is to
conduct a very aggressive, difficult, highly
contentious campaign, or being the chief
executive officer of this state,” Risch said.
It is no secret that he wants to serve as
governor some day, Risch said, leaving open a
future campaign for that office.
Kempthorne’s name was mentioned as a possible
nominee for Interior secretary within hours
after Norton announced her resignation. The
chance of his being chosen was discussed
favorably on March 15 during the weekly
meeting of Food Producers of Idaho, an
umbrella organization of most of Idaho’s
producer associations and various affiliates.
During that discussion, FPI Executive
Secretary Rick Waitley mentioned the
possibility of writing a letter in support of
Kempthorne, but drew some chuckles by saying
the organization would not want to give the
wrong impression – that they were anxious for
the governor to leave office.
That was not the case, he said.
Even so, the actual nomination by President
Bush brought an outburst of pride in a native
son from across the state.
If confirmed, Kempthorne will be the second
Idahoan to resign as governor to become
Secretary of the Interior. The first was Cecil
Andrus, who accepted the same cabinet post
under former President Jimmy Carter in 1977.
The confirmation process is expected to take
about a month. Being a former U.S. Senator
will likely help. Congress is traditionally
supportive of one of its own.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the
Public Lands Council both immediately
expressed support for Kempthorne.
“We are confident that Gov. Kempthorne will
carry on Secretary Gale Norton’s legacy in the
Department of Interior by engaging and
balancing all interests to come to positive
solutions on resource issues,” said Jay
Truitt, NCBA vice president of government
affairs. “Gov. Kempthorne has been a strong
leader for wildlife and ranchers’ interest. He
understands western issues, and we have
complete confidence in his ability to manage
the nation’s public lands.”
More negative comments came from environmental
interests, many of whom did not support
“Gov. Kempthorne has a huge job ahead of him
as the nation’s chief advocate for wildlife
and wildlands. But he’s got a lot of damage to
undo after six years under the Norton
administration, so we are hoping he will
embrace the chance to return the Interior
Department to its proper role as steward of
our nation’s natural heritage,” said Suzanne
Asha Stone, Northwestern Rockies
representative, Defenders of Wildlife.
Kempthorne, 54, was born Oct. 29, 1951, in San
Diego, Calif. He has been a resident of Idaho
for 35 years. He was mayor of Boise from 1986
to 1993, served one term in the U.S. Senate
from 1993 to 1999, then returned to Idaho to
run for governor in 1999. He will step down
before finishing his second term in that
The governor earned a bachelor of science
degree in political science from the
University of Idaho in 1975. He was student
body president during his junior year. His
past professional experience included public
affairs manager for FMC Corp., executive vice
president of the Idaho Home Builders
Association, and executive assistant to the
director of the Idaho Department of Lands.
He and his wife Patricia have two grown
children and a son-in-law. She has already
announced she will continue to reside in
Idaho, and commute for the 2 1/2 years
remaining in the Bush administration.
The governor announced some months ago he
would not run for reelection. That set off
wide speculation about his future plans.
As Secretary of the Interior, Kempthorne would
be able to work for ESA reform, an issue he
concentrated on unsuccessfully while in the
U.S. Senate. His successor, Sen. Mike Crapo,
R-Idaho, has taken up the same cause,
stressing reauthorization rather than
reforming the controversial,
Two more controversial issues he would likely
have to deal with: an effort by the Bush
administration to open 3.6 million acres in
the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling,
over the objections of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush;
and opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge for drilling.
Norton stressed what she called the four C’s:
communication, cooperation and consultation in
the service for conservation. It’s an effort
Kempthorne is likely to continue. He is also
known for working on compromises. Among his
successes: the Nez Perce Water Agreement,
which got the state over what many consider
the final hurdle before the massive Snake
River Basin Adjudication can be completed;
state management of Idaho’s wolf population;
and furthering the Bush administration’s
Healthy Forests Initiative.
Pat McCoy is based in Boise. Her e-mail
address is email@example.com.