Idaho’s governor confirmed Thursday that he is in the running to be secretary of agriculture in the Trump administration.
Butch Otter, who was in Twin Falls Thursday for the grand opening of the Crisis Center of South Central Idaho, said that when he applied for a role in Donald Trump’s administration, he was asked to put down the top three positions in which he would be interested. In order, they were secretary of the interior, of agriculture, and head of the International Trade Administration. Trump made it official Thursday that he will ask Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke to be interior secretary.
“We’re at door number two right now,” Otter said.
Otter said he spoke to the president-elect’s son, Donald Trump Jr., when he was being vetted for the Interior position. He said he doesn’t know what the timeline is to make a decision on agriculture secretary, adding that the transition team emphasized to him that, even after Trump makes his pick for a cabinet position, the Senate will still have to vote on confirming his choices in 2017.
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Other candidates for the agriculture job are believed to include North Dakota U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp; Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback; former Georgia Gov. Sonny Purdue; Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller; and Chuck Conner, the chief executive officer of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, according to national news reports.
Otter said he is interested in running the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a number of reasons, one being that he is governor of Idaho, a state where agriculture is crucial to the economy.
“I’ve been involved in it for 74 years,” he said.
He also pointed to his experience with international agricultural trade, including his many years with potato giant Simplot International, during which time he traveled the world looking for markets for the company’s products.
Another reason, he said, is that the U.S. Forest Service, which administers much of the federally owned public land in Idaho and other western states, is part of the Department of Agriculture.
“I’m very interested in the health of our forests, so maybe we’ll cut down on some of the fires,” he said.
Otter said one of the questions he was asked when he was being interviewed was whether he is in favor of “selling off” federally owned forests. Otter said he is not — he said he used to lean toward this position, but changed his view after he became governor and saw how much fire suppression cost.
“I said I would rather be a sharecropper,” he said — meaning he would rather “someone else owns the land and they’ve got the capital invested.”
Otter said he favors increasing the states’ role in forest management and allowing more logging, a position held by many other western conservatives who say this would reduce the number of fires by cutting down on flammable material in the forests. Otter pointed to the large wildfires in the Boise Forest in 2010, which released large amounts of mercury and carbon into the atmosphere.
“It’s an environmental issue as well as a management issue,” he said.
Otter said he isn’t familiar with many of the people Trump is picking for his administration, but he did have kind words for Rick Perry, former Texas governor and Trump’s energy secretary pick. Otter and Perry were in the Western Governors’ Association for eight years together. He also praised U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who Trump has tapped to be secretary of health and human services. Otter and Price were in Congress together for a year, before Otter left to become governor.
If Otter were to be nominated and confirmed as agriculture secretary and step down as governor, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who has already announced his intent to run for the state’s top job in 2018, would become governor. Otter has said he doesn’t plan to run for another term anyway.
Russ Fulcher, a former state senator who challenged Otter in the primary in 2014, also plans to run for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2018.