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Idaho Governor New Interior Secretary

by Pat McCoy
Capital Press, March 24, 2006

(Evan Vucci) President Bush announces Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, left, as the new Secretary of the Interior in the Oval Office on March 16 in Washington. President George W. Bush picked a California native, Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, to take over the Interior Department, less than a week after Secretary Gale Norton announced her resignation.

"Dirk understands that those who live closest to the land know how to manage it best," Bush said March 16 in making the announcement, "and he will work closely with state and local leaders to ensure wise stewardship of our resources. Dirk has had a long and abiding love for nature."

The president said Kempthorne has broad experience needed for managing the 388 parts of the National Park system, 544 wildlife refuges and more than 260 million acres of multiple-use lands located mainly in 12 Western states.

Kempthorne promised to be "a responsible steward of the land and the natural resources with which our nation has been blessed."

If confirmed, Kempthorne will be the second Idaho governor to give up his state office to become Secretary of the Interior. The first was Cecil Andrus, who accepted the same cabinet post under former President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

The confirmation process is expected to take about a month. Washington insiders believe that because Kempthorne is a former U.S. Senator and there is a Republican majority in the Senate, his confirmation is unlikely to be blocked.

National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Public Lands Council both immediately expressed support for Kempthorne's nomination.

"We are confident that Gov. Kempthorne will carry on Secretary Gale Norton's legacy in the Department of Interior by engaging and balancing all interests to come to positive solutions on resource issues," said Jay Truitt, vice president of government affairs for National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

"Gov. Kempthorne has been a strong leader for wildlife and ranchers' interest," Truitt said. "He understands Western issues and we have complete confidence in his ability to manage the nation's public lands."

Kempthorne's appointment was not welcomed by environmental groups.

The League of Conservation Voters, the main lobbying arm for environmental groups, said its scorekeeping shows Kempthorne hostile to their interests.

"During his career in Congress, Gov. Kempthorne earned a paltry 1 percent lifetime LCV score. Enough said," declared Tony Massaro, a senior vice president of the group.

"Gov. Kempthorne has a huge job ahead of him as the nation's chief advocate for wildlife and wildlands," said Suzanne Asha Stone, Northwestern Rockies representative for the Defenders of Wildlife. "But he's got a lot of damage to undo after six years under the Norton administration, so we are hoping he will embrace the chance to return the Interior Department to its proper role as steward of our nation's natural heritage."

Kempthorne, 54, was born Oct. 29, 1951, in San Diego. He has been a resident of Idaho for 35 years. He was mayor of Boise from 1986 to 1993, served one term in the U.S. Senate from 1993 to 1999, then returned to Idaho to run for governor in 1999.

The governor earned a bachelor of science degree in political science from the University of Idaho in 1975. He was student body president during his junior year. His past professional experience included public affairs manager for FMC Corp., executive vice president of the Idaho Home Builders Association and executive assistant to the director of the Idaho Department of Lands.

He and his wife Patricia have two grown children.

The governor announced some months ago he would not run for reelection.

As Secretary of the Interior, Kempthorne would be able to work for Endangered Species Act reform, an issue he fought for while in the U.S. Senate. His successor, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has taken up the same cause, stressing reauthorization rather than reforming the controversial, politically-polarizing law.

Two more controversial issues he would likely have to deal with: An effort by the Bush administration to open 3.6 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling, over the objections of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; and opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.

Kempthorne is also known for working on compromises. Among his successes: The Nez Perce Water Agreement, which got the state over what many consider the final hurdle before the massive Snake River Basin Adjudication can be completed; state management of Idaho's wolf population; and furthering the Bush administration's Healthy Forests Initiative.

Pat McCoy is based in Boise.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Idaho Governor New Interior Secretary
Capital Press, March 24, 2006

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