Letters from the West

The two women who seem to have the edge right now for Interior secretary

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., left, leaves as President-elect Donald Trump walks into the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse Sunday, Nov. 20.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., left, leaves as President-elect Donald Trump walks into the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse Sunday, Nov. 20. AP

Two women have emerged as the top candidates for Interior secretary, each with a different strength that may signal some Trump initiatives in the West.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a strong advocate for increased oil and gas drilling, is considered the leading contender, Politico reported this week. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., also has been listed as a candidate for the job. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s name also had been bandied about as a contender, but Otter told the Statesman Tuesday he had not talked to Trump about a job.

Both women were placed on the list of 13 vice chairs of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team Tuesday. Both met with Trump a week ago.

The Interior secretary is the nation’s top wildlife manager and landlord, overseeing 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.

Fallin doesn’t come from a traditional western public land state, the usual source for Interior secretaries. Oklahoma has just 575,000 acres of public land, while Washington has about 10 million. But Oklahoma does have Indian tribes and Fallin just reached a water settlement with tribes recently.

McMorris Rodgers is well-versed in western water law, a critical issue right now with legal issues in California over the Sacramento Delta that has the state and feds fighting over how to address a federal court decision over the Endangered Species Act. She is arguably the strongest advocate in Congress for keeping the four lower Snake Dams in her district despite their impacts on endangered Idaho salmon.

An early test of how President-elect Trump will work with western states will the stance he takes on the four private dams Pacificorp, California, Oregon, the Obama administration and the Klamath tribes have agreed to remove on the Klamath River to help salmon and the ecosystem. Rodgers would bring strong feelings to this issue.

But she also has deep experience working with Indian tribes and knows issues like sage grouse. Picking Fallin would raise concerns from hunters, anglers and others worried about the sale or transfer to states of federal lands.

Her Oklahoma constituents don’t have the same relationship with public lands that McMorris Rodgers’ do.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

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