For the week of January 27, 1999   thru February 2, 1999  

Brazen handout of political spoils

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne handed out seven juicy political plums to seven special people when he manufactured the new Policy Management Bureau from thin air.

Seven hand-picked advisors were handed jobs that pay between $42,000 and $85,000. Some will work only part-time. The bill to taxpayers will be a whopping $538,000—unless the governor’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature step in and put a stop to it.

Kempthorne created the bureau without anyone’s knowledge by plucking money out of existing programs in 10 state departments. By the time the Legislature convened, the advisors had been hired.

It was nothing less than a brazen handout of political spoils.

Idaho governors historically have been more subtle about political paybacks. They simply made sure that top state jobs were filled by their supporters. Then, they asked for their advice.

Kempthorne’s Policy Management Bureau will be nothing less than a shadow cabinet. For example, not only will the governor get advice from newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction Marilyn Howard, he will get advice from newly appointed education advisor Tom Morley, who was defeated in his bid for superintendent in the Republican primary. Morely will get $85,000 a year for his efforts.

Kempthorne’s emissary and budget director Jeff Malmen was busy last week trying to sell the new bureaucracy to the Legislature. He said it is a way to manage the state’s budget and get "accountability" back into government.

We’re not sure accountability ever disappeared from state government. The policy bureau is a solution in search of a problem, which could be a governor who was elected with a notably skimpy platform.

If the budget director is looking for accountability, he should seek it first from his boss the governor.

Including advisors, the cost of the new governor’s office will increase by 40%. Former Gov Phil Batt spent $1.5 million while Kempthorne will spend $2.1 million. In the meantime, the good governor is telling other departments to cut back or hold the line.

To make matters worse, Kempthorne has hired a full-time assistant for his wife, who also occupies an office in the statehouse. Either Idahoans are going to become famous for terrible eyesight or her name was missing from the November ballot.

It’s enough to make one wonder if Kempthorne will soon want to change the name of his beloved GOP to the Government of the Open Purse.


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