May 30 2006

Efficient and pointed

Published by at 2:53 pm under Idaho

Jim Risch has been one of the distinctive personalities in Idaho politics for a generation now, and his first substantive press conference as governor today demonstrates several of the key facets of that personality, both as reflected in years past and what’s likely ahead in his next gubernatorial months. Even a read of some of the reports filed from it are enough to note the indicators.

Jim RischThere was efficiency. On the first regular working day of his governership, Risch had his staff in place: Chief of Staff John Sandy, and four deputies, in a thoroughly reorganized office. No sluggishness there; he was set to roll.

There will be no policy advisors in his office, he said – that position would be ended. Instead, the key staffers would be structured as constituent workers: A brilliantly sharp redefinition that reflects both on his predecessor and on the way he wants to define himself and his office.

Kempthorne was big on ceremony, was much noted for it. Risch gave off indications that ceremony is a lesser deal for him, and that should come as a relief. Holding an inaugural ball as a relatively private, campaign finance event seems entirely right under the circumstances, as does (for a variety of reasons) the decision not to try to move into the J.R. Simplot house donated to the state as a governor’s mansion. (They will use it for an inaugural party on Friday.) There’s an aspect of human scale and – can it be said of Risch? – even humility in those calls that many Idahoans likely will find appealing.

The significance of loyalty to Risch was there in Sandy’s appointment; we’d had him temporarily figured for lieutenant governor. Sandy was one of Risch’s closest allies in the state Senate and worked closely with him on his 2002 lieutenant governor campaign, so he seemed a good bet to emerge in a top spot. The four deputies are all experienced Republican hands who have worked with or around Risch for years. They will not have to get used to working with each other.

Risch suggested (didn’t say outright) that department heads will roll next week. If they do then expect – on the basis of today’s announcements – that replacements will be right there, ready to move in.

As for lieutenant governor, Risch said he would make an announcement soon – that it wouldn’t take him “27 days” of vacancy to post the name. That brings in another Risch hallmark: He has an excellent memory about who did what, and who stood where. The last vacancy for lieutenant governor occurred when C.L. “Butch” Otter resigned that office to serve in Congress. Risch remembers the occasion well, since he was passed over for the job – after being kept on the hook for painful weeks – by Governor Dirk Kempthorne in favor of fellow Senator Jack Riggs. In the interim, Risch beat Riggs in 2002 for lieutenant governor and now, as successor to Kempthorne, gets to make the appointment himself. His reference to all that was, no doubt about it, a barbed reference to all that.

It may sound narrow, but master politicians know that much of their clout comes from a good memory. (Cecil Andrus knew as much too.)

The old saying has it that the prospect of hanging in a fortnight concentrates the mind wonderfully. This initial shot at an abbreviated term shows Risch in concentrated form, and generally speaking to good effect.

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