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Commentaries and editorials

Looking for a Cecil Andrus

by Editors
The Oregonian, March 20, 2006

Idaho's Dirk Kempthorne can choose to bring
some good ol' Northwest good sense to Interior post -- or not

Like nearly everything else in national politics, the lines were drawn even before President Bush announced his nomination last week of Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to be Secretary of Interior.

Republican Senate leader Bill Frist offered his assessment that Kempthorne is a strong nominee, sure to receive a quick confirmation by the Senate. Various environmental groups took the other view, with Bill Arthur, the Sierra Club's Northwest regional director, offering the consensus take from the left: "I have every confidence that he will be as poor and anti-environment as Interior secretary as his predecessor."

But by far the most intriguing views were offered by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who pointed out that Kempthorne "understands the Northwest and a lot of Interior issues." And Rick Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League, who offered that "it definitely could have been worse, and, given who he works for, it would not have been better."

If confirmed by the Senate, as seems likely, Kempthorne would be the second Idaho governor to take the helm at Interior. Cecil Andrus, four-term governor of Idaho, was named as President Carter's Interior secretary in 1977 and served four years. He earned a reputation for environmental advocacy and independent thinking. While Kempthorne seems an unlikely candidate to emulate Andrus on the first point, maybe we can hope for him to exhibit at least a bit of an independent streak.

As governor of Idaho, Kempthorne already is a participant in the debate over the future of the Columbia River system as an economic lifeline as well as habitat for endangered salmon runs. His local knowledge could be employed constructively, if he chooses, in pushing the federal government to really own up to its responsibilities on the river.

In the five years of the Bush administration, the federal role has moved from actively helpful in saving the river system to the verge of obstruction. Federal judge James Redden seemed to recognize this last year in requiring greater dam spills to aid migrating salmon and in finding deficiencies in the federal salmon recovery plans.

Kempthorne's actual authority in this area would be limited, of course, but he could play a huge political role by advocating a truly balanced approach to recovery that embraces fully the importance of maintaining and restoring habitat for native salmon.

We wouldn't expect to agree with every position Kempthorne advocates at Interior. We think he's wrong, for example, about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (He's for it.) But we do, indeed, "expect better" from any Northwesterner who earns this kind of chance to shape national policy on public lands and the environment.

He will serve us all better if thinks independently and aggressively, keeps his distance from the ideology and ideologues of the administration and, instead, draws on his experience in the independent ways of the Pacific Northwest.

Looking for a Cecil Andrus
The Oregonian, March 20, 2006

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