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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of May 28 - June 3, 2003

Opinion Columns

Kempthorne back to Washington?

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Around the state Capitol hallways, political gossips say Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has been panting for a job with the Bush administration, which could explain why he reportedly is on a list of "The Mentioned" for Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

Being "mentioned" on a presidential patronage list has a certain cachet as well as being a trial balloon to see which names draw the most flack or support. There’s no guarantee, of course, that Kempthorne will succeed EPA chief Christie Todd Whitman, who resigned after nobly defending White House environmental policies.

Except for the prestige of being a Cabinet officer, Bush appointees have scant little else to boast about in their jobs. Certainly not freedom of thought.

Remember, former Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill ran afoul of the president and resigned--or was fired--when he couldn’t ape the party line about fiscal policies that he considered folly. And O’Neill’s successor, John Snow, onetime CEO of the giant CSX Corporation, did a 180-degree reversal in public statements about Bush fiscal policies to get the job.

If Kempthorne were conceivably nominated EPA chief, he’d be duty bound to agree to carry out heavy-handed Bush policies, which some would say have turned EPA into the Environmental Destruction Agency.

Perhaps someone can name a Bush policy that advances protection of the environment rather than damaging it. But I can’t think of one.

Perhaps that’s no surprise. The president’s campaign IOUs to lumbering, oil, mining, ranching, off-road vehicle industries, coal-burning industries and a rogue’s gallery of other environmentally unfriendly groups is staggering.

There’s this hope, of course. Since virtually all Bush White House policies are dictated by his longtime political Rasputin, Karl Rove, the new EPA chief might be instructed to toss some crumbs to environmentalists if White House polls indicate a need for temporary election year playacting about environmental concerns.

In which case, Kempthorne would be perfect for dispensing environmental favors that contradict past Bush White House performance.

Gov. Kempthorne is accomplished at political doublespeak. His positions on state finances illustrate the point.

After performing theatrical agonies about Idaho’s desperate financial straits for months and months, and imploring top-to-bottom shared budget suffering, Gov. Kempthorne handed out unseemly raises of as much as 43 percent to close aides while other state employees received none and state agencies were cut to the bone in the name of austerity.

There’s a simple explanation, Kempthorne told taxpayers from his Hawaii vacation hideaway through his press aide. He "saved" the state money by not filling a few vacancies, and instead pays more to aides who remained and assumed more responsibilities.

Of course, Logic 101 suggests, he could’ve saved even more had he not given the raises and told his aides they should suffer along with other raise-less employees.

Kempthorne’s mathematics is the budgeting equivalent of President Bush’s new economics that larger deficits and deeper debt is good for economic prosperity.



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