For the week of December 23 thru December 29, 1998  

Kempthorne moves closer to the hearts of voters

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Such timing for Idaho Sen. Dirk Kempthorne.

He’s leaving what political junkies call "the world’s most exclusive club" (the Senate with 100 members) to join what may be an even more exclusive, increasingly powerful and more popular club, the nation’s 50 governors.

In governors, Kempthorne will find a more amiable group than Congress, where good manners and lofty speeches often aren’t enough to avoid prickly ideological tensions and bruised friendships.

Some might question Kempthorne’s judgment in giving up a Senate seat to preside over affairs of a western state a continent away from the cosmopolitan culture of Washington.

But Kempthorne knows what he’s doing. Voters increasingly look to state capitals, not Washington, for bolstering of their quality of life. Working as a bloc, governors even shape more national policies. And as titular heads of state political parties, their favor is sought by state delegations in Congress.

Kempthorne will not lack national attention: Idaho is no longer a backwater state, but a hot growth area attracting moneyed retirees and second-home vacationers, as well as new industry and workers in search of something better than urban chaos.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Kempthorne and legislators and bureaucrats with whom he works will have their hands full grappling with problems created by growth.

State problems may lack the glamour of Senate debates on chemical warfare treaties and rescuing Social Security. But the condition of roads, quality of schools, safety on the streets, protection of Idaho’s spectacular environment and natural assets, balancing the demands of competing cultural and economic interests can be more challenging and vital, and closer to the hearts of voters and taxpayers.

Kempthorne and his advisers are off to a good start.

He’s established a "Governor-Elect Transition Office" at the Capitol, where Idahaons apparently are turning with ideas for the new administration.

Letters and suggestions are answered promptly by deputy transition director Michael Bogert – true, a form letter, but thoughtfully addressed with a personal salutation to the sender.

Kempthorne and his team presumably will see potential grist for policies and programs.

Coming away from the acrimonious, partisan atmosphere in Washington that has cost Republican politicians public goodwill, regardless of the principle of their cause, Kempthorne understands the high costs paid by politicians for overbearing partisanship.

In just two weeks, when the curtain rises on the Kempthorne governorship, Idahoans will get some sense of what’s to come for the next four years and whether their new chief executive comprehends the opportunities ahead.

Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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