The frustration must be immense. Jim Risch will (very likely) become governor of Idaho in a few weeks, replacing Interior Secretary-designate Dirk Kempthorne, only to relinquish the job at the end of the year. A job for which, not so long ago, he was set to run this year. And then go back to being the light-gov, the fill-in, the understudy.
This is the last day of candidate filing in Idaho (and we’ll file on that later today too), and Risch still had barely enough time to have withdrawn his candidacy for a second term as lieutenant governor and filed for governor. His announcement this morning that he will not do that, but seek re-election instead, may end some overnight suspense in Boise, but in spite of it all doesn’t come as a surprise.
Risch is a pragmatic guy, no tilter at windmills. By saying, as he did in November, that he would not run for governor, he effectively released all his supporters to run over to the camp of C.L. “Butch” Otter, whose campaign juggernaut is extremely well funded and organized at this point. With two months left until the primary election, the odds against success had to be overwhelming, even with the incumbency advantage. Risch, one of the smarter political analysts in the state, must understand that as well as anyone.
There is another factor, though, that follows from a thread running through Risch’s many years in and around public office: His respect for institutions. His regard for the institution of the state Senate, as an institution, surfaced often in his years of debate, observation and voting there. Risch has been one of the leading voices in support of preserving the old Ada County courthouse – again, a regard for tradition and institution. Many of Risch’s predecessors as lieutenant governor have spoken, at some point or another, of abolishing the office; Risch (to our knowledge) never has, but does seem to have some regard for the office as such. Looking across the hallway to the governor’s office, the same thought processes probably carry through: That the office itself is something worthy of treating with high respect, and not casually.
In explaining his decision for a re-elect campaign, Risch was quoted as saying this morning, “The decision comes down to this: Do I want to engage in a difficult campaign or do I want to discharge the duties of governor? I’ve chosen the latter.” Risch’s personal history suggests that framing had to do with more than lofty rhetoric, and it may speak well of his prospects as he prepares for his new, albeit temporary, job.
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