M aybe the face time with President Bush last summer helped turn the trick. Maybe the hammering Vice President Cheney has taken in recent weeks contributed. Maybe the field of people who wanted to sign up with an increasingly beleaguered administration has been shrinking. Whichever, or for whatever other reason, Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne is about to move on out of the region, back to D.C., to become secretary of the Department of Interior.
He was listed from the beginning as a top prospect for the job, but then he's been listed as a prospect for other Bush Administration jobs before, and been turned down. This one happened relativley quickly, without a lot of public vetting of names (some have surfaced, but not for long), and without any public comment to this point from Kempthorne himself. Some advance comment once before may have cost him an earlier opportunity.
This appointment has a number of spinoff angles, various of which we'll address soon. Consideration 1: Kempthorne as interior secretary, and as ex-governor.
He will not have a long time in the job, just somewhat over two years (presumably). How much can get done by way of policy change in that amount of time is unclear. But then, the question may answer itself: Kempthorne probably won't be charting new paths are changing many directions, because the approach and p0licies under Gale Norton are Bush Administration plans that will continue through 2008.
Those policies, and the actions of the office, have developed some controversy. (The tribal gaming problems in the office, while in no way Kempthorne's doing, will continue to be closely watched.) For the moment, though, Kempthorne may avoid most of it. While he has stuck closely to the conservative Republican line on environmental matters, he is smoothly-enough spoken to have avoided lightning-rod status on any of those matters. As governor, environmental issues have not been at the forefront of his efforts, other than on some local endangered species matters (the grizzlies and the wolves, notably). If you don't like the Bush Administration's approach generally on environmental matters, you won't like Kempthorne's. At the same time, he won't stand out from that crowd as especially objectionable, the way James Watt did under Ronald Reagan.
That likely means confirmation by the Senate, of which he is a former member (such a consideration usually helps), will not be a problem. Idaho's congressional delegation has already jumped on board with its support, and the Senate vote isn't likely to be close. (Though it will be interesting to see what criticism doesn materialize.) (more…)