Interior Secretary Gale Norton leaving post

By John Miller Associated Press

Idaho governor a possible Norton
replacement

Boise, Idaho (AP) – With Interior Secretary Gale Norton calling
it quits, some groups in Washington, D.C., say an informal short
list of possible replacements has already emerged, including Idaho
Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.

Others mentioned by lobbyists and conservationists as possible
nominees include former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, Colorado Gov.
Bill Owens, former U.S. Rep. Scott McGinnis, R-Colo., former U.S.
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and Assistant Interior Secretary Lynn
Scarlett, Norton’s No. 2 aide.

‘When the news came out about Norton, everyone started
speculating on who the next secretary might be and Gov.
Kempthorne’s name immediately comes up,’ said David Alberswerth of
The Wilderness Society in Washington D.C. ‘He probably is the sort
of person this administration would look for and he was very
popular when he was a senator among both Democrats and Republicans,
so he wouldn’t have any trouble getting confirmed.’

Kempthorne, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1993 to 1998, is
finishing his final year as governor. In January, Kempthorne told a
gathering of Idaho business leaders he’s in the ‘glide slope’ of
his final year and has begun ‘looking at his options’ for future
employment.

He’s been a candidate for federal appointments in the past.

In 2003, he was passed over for the top Environmental Protection
Agency job when President Bush chose another western governor, Mike
Leavitt of Utah, to replace Christine Todd Whitman in that
post.

Kempthorne and Bush have deepened ties recently. The 54-year-old
governor hosted President Bush for a three-day vacation last August
at a resort in Idaho’s central Rocky Mountains.

In addition, Kempthorne has worked with the Bush administration
and Norton on issues including efforts to remove Idaho wolves from
federal protections, the repeal of former President Clinton’s rules
governing roadless areas, and resolution of a 20-year water dispute
with the Nez Perce Tribe.

‘The people of Idaho are grateful for Gale Norton’s partnership
and friendship over the past five years,’ Kempthorne said Friday in
a statement. ‘Gale Norton has been a tremendous partner with
Idaho.’

Still, ‘We have no comment of any kind regarding any speculation
around her resignation today,’ Mike Journee, Kempthorne’s press
secretary, told The Associated Press separately.

Kempthorne, Norton and U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, appeared
together in a ceremony in Kempthorne’s office on Jan. 5 to announce
Idaho’s assumption of day-to-day management of more than 600 wolves
that roam Idaho following their re-introduction to the state in
1995.

‘Secretary Norton played a vital role in pushing’ efforts to
reform how American forests are managed ‘and bringing common sense
to endangered species recovery,’ Craig said. ‘She’s been innovative
and brought a great deal of respect to’ the Interior
Department.

Political observers say Kempthorne is a natural to come up in
speculation over who will replace her, in part because of his
allegiance to Bush.

‘He’s as loyal to Bush as just about anybody has been,’ said
Randy Stapilus, co-author of the 2005 book ‘Governing Idaho.’ ‘He’s
been bandied about for all sorts of things, for any of a variety of
offices. He’d make a very presentable candidate for Interior, as a
governor and former senator.’

In late August, Kempthorne went mountain biking and fishing with
Bush during the president’s vacation at Tamarack Resort in the
Idaho Rockies.

Afterward, he was asked by The Associated Press if he had
discussed any potential appointment in Washington with the
President.

‘Only dinner,’ he joked.

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