Writings and observations

His way

One of the ponderables – toward the beginning – of the short Idaho governorship of Jim Risch was, to what extent was he simply doing his own thing and to what extent was he coordinating with probable future governor and fellow Republican C.L. “Butch” Otter?

Jim RischRisch made a number of major appointments early on, for example; were these run past Otter, so that they would not be short-timers? Risch and his staff put considerable work into developing a governor’s budget proposal; to what extent was he doing something Otter would be willing to submit?

We now have at least partial answers, and the upshot seems to be: Risch was mostly out there on his own. Otter’s few comments about the Risch budget seemed a little dismissive – no particular optimism about his support for it. And early on, he dismissed several Risch appointees (Vaughn Killeen at Corrections, Carolyn Terteling-Payne at human resources, for two) and a large batch of Risch re-appointees he could have unseated months ago.

That’s not to suggest the Risch and Otter people did not communicate, but it does suggest Risch was very much doing what he wanted to do, irrespective of what Otter would do later on.

That seems of a piece with the Risch governorship generally, which has been in many ways the strongest governorship since Cecil Andrus left the job 12 years ago. The two governors in between, Republicans Phil Batt and Dirk Kempthorne, each had their moments; both got stronger in the job as time went on. But neither seemed to have the sense of joy in pulling what former Governor Robert Smylie liked to call “the levers of power” the way Risch (or Andrus, or Smylie) did. You got from Risch the sense (compare it too, to Teddy Roosevelt) that he was riding a tiger and loving every minute of it. He seemed to love that job – not the title, the doing of it. You get the sense that if his title reverted to lieutenant governor but he could keep the authority, he’s been perfectly happy.

None of this is a bad thing; the image of the weary, reluctant Cincinnatus has been badly overused. Risch, who didn’t hide his pleasure in the office, may have sensed that people like seeing a person who enjoys the work, doing it; and he;s probably right. People who enjoy a job, really throw themselves into it, probably do it better.

All of which may have led to some of his most intriguing appointments becoming short-timers. But then, for someone like Risch, there may have been no other way but to do it his way.

bullet Not a lot of thoughts yet on the roster in the new Otter Administration.

There is this, strikingly: The number of non-appointments of office holders who date back to the Batt days – a decade or more atop a department. Pam Ahrens at administration, Karl Dreher at water resources, Pat Takasugi at agriculture – all in place for close to a dozen years now, an unusually long stretch for such a job. (As at federal agencies, a run of two terms – eight years – usually is considered longer than the norm.) Not everyone of such long tenure will be gone; Roger Madsen at labor-commerce, for example, was an early Batt appointment, and will work for the new administration. But generally, Otter seemed to want to some shake-up from previous years.

Not that this means bringing in a lot of entirely new names, so far: Bill Deal at insurance, Celia Gould at agriculture, to name two, are familiar names at the Statehouse for a couple of decades, and not many others are out-of-the-blue appointments either.

A number of changes in names – about the norm, under the circumstances – but not necessarily, so far, a big change in direction.

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