Now that Idaho’s statewide elected officials have taken the oath of office for the next four years, we can safely start the speculation about four years from now.
You won’t find many “political observers” in Idaho who wouldn’t make book on the fact that the state’s current Lt. Gov. Brad Little is the prohibitive favorite to be the state’s next chief executive when current Gov. Butch Otter is ready to ride to the sunset.
While Gov. Otter is, appropriately, receiving most of the attention at the moment as the state struggles with another year of bleak revenue forecasts, shrinking budgets and many, many tough decisions, Little grabbed a bit of the political spotlight with a very well attended fundraising breakfast in Boise on January 7. That just happened to be the morning that he, Otter and the rest of the statewide electeds were sworn in for their new terms.
While it is dangerous to assume anything in politics, I’m betting that nearly everyone at the Lt. Governor’s breakfast earlier this month entertains the expectation that the affable Little is the odds-on heir apparent. After all, while taking nothing away from his obvious political talents and demonstrated appeal, Little seems to be part of the now established trend in Idaho of the “Light” Governor having the leg up on moving up.
Four of the last six Idaho governors, including Otter, have served as Lt. Governor before gaining the big job. This trend really began when John Evans succeeded Cecil Andrus in 1977 when Andrus went to Washington to serve as Secretary of the Interior. Before Evans got his chance to move into the big office in the west wing of the Statehouse, you have to go all the way back to Arnold Williams in the late 1940’s to find an Idaho Lt. Governor who become Governor.
Andrus returned to the governorship in 1986 and Phil Batt, who had been Lt. Governor under Evans, followed him. Jim Risch, now in the U.S. Senate, was appointed Lt. Governor and moved up when Dirk Kempthorne went to the Bush cabinet. Then it became Otter’s turn in 2006.
Kempthorne is the outlier in this group. He went from the U.S. Senate to the governorship, the first person in Idaho history to do that. Interestingly, only one Idahoan, three-term GOP Gov. Bob Smylie, moved up from the Attorney Generals’ office.
Prior to Evans moving up in the 1980’s, conventional wisdom held that the surest road to the governorship was through the state legislature. Andrus made that move, as did Don Samuelson before him. In fact, of the 19 men who have served as Idaho’s governor since 1920, 13 of them served in the legislature before becoming governor.
So, you want to be governor of Idaho – this sounds simpler than it is – do your time in the state legislature, as Little has done (the Senate is a generally a better stepping stone than the House) and then get yourself elected to the Number Two job. Nothing is ever pre-determined in politics – nothing – but that path is now pretty well-worn in Idaho.