Letters from the West

Interior Secretary Otter? Idaho governor mentioned in Trump transition speculation

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, right, and U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador share a laugh during a press conference at the Boise Airport in 2015. Both are being mentioned as possible appointees for the Trump administration.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, right, and U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador share a laugh during a press conference at the Boise Airport in 2015. Both are being mentioned as possible appointees for the Trump administration. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is among the Republicans President-elect Donald Trump is supposedly considering for Interior secretary, bringing the state into the national political parlor game this Thanksgiving week.

My sources have told me that Otter is on the list, but that’s something that would be pretty hard to confirm even if I was in Washington or hanging out at Trump Tower in New York. This week, Reuters included Otter on its list for the nation’s top wildlife manager and landlord of more than 500 million acres of national parks, federal rangeland and wildlife refuges. That includes more than 16 million acres in Idaho, from the Owyhee Canyonlands to Yellowstone National Park.

The list of others supposedly under consideration: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin; Alaska’s former Gov. Sarah Palin; Lucas Oil co-founder Forrest Lucas; venture capitalist Robert Grady; Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis; and Utah Rep. Rob Bishop. Sandra Mitchell, executive director of the Idaho Recreation Council, wrote a guest opinion for the Statesman that put Otter at the top of her list of western governors she hopes Trump picks to head the agency with 70,000 employees. Otter, along with the others, had no comment.

To put this speculation in perspective, many of the same sources also told me that Idaho U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador, who campaigned for Trump in the weeks before the election, is under consideration for a senior post at the Department of Justice. But according to Labrador press secretary Dan Popkey, they are wrong.

“The congressman has not had any discussions with the president-elect about a job in the Justice Department or any other department,” Popkey said.

“Congressman Labrador has met with President-elect Trump several times over the last few months,” Popkey said. “They had conversations about the president-elect’s desire to serve the nation and how they could work together.”

If Otter, 74, were to get Interior, he would be the third Idahoan to hold the post that has for many years been filled by a westerner: Democrat Cecil Andrus served under Jimmy Carter; Dirk Kempthorne, who served under George W. Bush, charmed a Boise City Club audience this week with the story about how he got Boise’s fighting Downtown interests to collaborate in the 1980s to begin Boise’s urban renaissance.

Then there is issue of succession, and the 2018 governor’s race. Were Otter tapped for a Trump cabinet, Lt. Gov. Brad Little would become governor. He already has announced that he’s running for governor in 2018, as has former State Sen. Russ Fulcher. And Congressman Labrador is expected to announce sometime before this spring whether he, too, will jump into the governor’s race.

Little as sitting governor might give Labrador pause about running. But if Labrador does jump in, don’t rule out more candidates getting in as well — especially someone from eastern Idaho who might be try to emerge from a crowded Republican primary with 26 percent of the vote.

Who might be interested in Labrador’s western Idaho congressional seat if it opens up? Is former Lt. Gov. David Leroy interested? House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane of Nampa? Up-and-coming Coeur d’Alene Rep. Luke Malek? How about any of a dozen other Republicans?

Some of the lobbyists, congressional staffers and party insiders I have chatted with have said they have gotten calls asking if they are interested in one of the other 4,000 jobs Trump has to fill. When the job is something like deputy Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, they are honored to hear they are considered and don’t mind boasting — as long as it doesn’t become public. And some of the speculators may have motives. How many want Otter elevated? How many want Labrador gone?

Most say accepting an appointment would depend on the job that is offered. But people live in Idaho because they love life in Idaho. Washington, D.C., is a completely different lifestyle; Idahoans who have lived there say they like it, but few make it their permanent homes. Still, Idaho is filled with Republicans and this is a Republican administration, so there are sure to be some folks who will make the trip.

When your president calls and asks you to serve, what else do you say?

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

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