Lt. Gov. Jim Risch has said he was interested in running for Sen. Larry Craig’s seat, if the fellow Republican ever opted not to run again. Now that Craig has been forced to resign, some expect Risch could be appointed to the post.
It will be up to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, a Republican, to appoint someone to fill the remainder of Craig’s term.
Otter said Saturday that media reports were “dead wrong” that his mind was already made up. “I haven’t chosen a replacement,” he said.
The governor wouldn’t give a timetable for when he would name a successor to Craig.
Risch also played down speculation. “I have not been promised the job of U.S. senator, nor has there even been a hint that the governor would appoint me to that position,” he said.
Idaho Democratic Party officials said a move by Otter to choose a man who had already expressed interest in running for Craig’s job in 2008 would be a “crass and low attempt” to take advantage of Craig’s downfall for political gain. The governor should appoint somebody with “unimpeachable credentials” whose first goal was to restore Idaho’s dignity in the U.S. Senate — not win the 2008 election, they said.
Craig resigned Saturday, bowing to pressure from fellow Republicans over his disclosure that he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge following his arrest during a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport men’s room.
Democrats suggest placeholders
Democratic Party Chairman Richard Stallings suggested three possible “placeholder appointees” — former Republican state House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, a rancher from southern Idaho; former GOP Gov. Phil Batt, whom Otter has often praised as a champion of fiscal conservative government; and former Democratic Idaho governor and former U.S. Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus.
“All three would restore honor and respect to Idaho’s damaged reputation,” said Chuck Oxley, a spokesman for the state Democrats party.
Former U.S. Rep. Larry LaRocco, has already said he would run for the seat in 2008. He and Risch are old rivals; Risch beat LaRocco last November for lieutenant governor, winning 58 percent to 39 percent.
“This changes the dynamics of the race, and in my favor,” LaRocco said of Craig’s resignation. “Obviously, change is in the air.”
Risch, a lawyer, businessman and rancher from Boise, landed a temporary stint as governor last year when President Bush named Dirk Kempthorne secretary of the Interior. He filled the office until Otter took over in January.
During his seven months at the helm of the third-fastest growing U.S. state in 2006, Risch won praise from both parties, passing property tax reform during an extraordinary August legislative session, overhauling Idaho’s U.S. Forest Service roadless area management plan and signing off on rules that prevent coal-fired power plants from being built in the state.
“His seven-months performance was extraordinary, and changed a lot of minds about Jim Risch,” said Jim Weatherby, a Boise State University professor emeritus of political science.