** Editor's Note: I'd rather not post in regard to Pope John Paul II until the Vatican formally announces his death which, unfortunately, is inevitable--- Just so you all know that I have not overlooked it.
I enrolled in an Idaho Politics class this semester for one reason...Richard Stallings. Stallings is a former Idaho Congressman, currently serves on the Pocatello City Council, and was recently chosen as the chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party. What I didn't know was how entertaining, informative, and amazing the class would turn out to be.
Recently, we addressed the scandals of Idaho politics. It actually began as a commentary on the 2006 governor's race, but just as always, we lost sight of the topic at hand. The scandals began as we discussed our current governor, Dirk Kempthorne. News to few, Kempthorne, while serving as a Congressman in D.C. had an illegitimate child. His asked him to come back home to Idaho (it slightly reminds me of the Bowling for Soup song, "Ohio, Come Back to Texas." Needless to say, the marriage is "rocky" and yet Patricia remains by his side and is one of the most vocal in the fight against breast cancer.
Kempthorne's term is up next year and the race is interesting. Last week Jerry Brady, who ran against Kempthorne in 2002 and did rather well, through his hat into the ring. 19 months before the general election!! Consulting with Stallings, Brady decided to get a head start for fundraising purposes. It's that old belief that if you get started first you will eliminate the competition before they can even get started. Brady's biggest advantage will be who he chooses as his "running mate" (the lt. gov. does not run on the ticket with the governor in Idaho, but supporting a good candidate for lt. gov. would greatly benefit any chance of a liberal win). But, what Brady wasn't expecting was who his competition would be within his own party-- none other than Clint Stennett. That probably means nothing to anyone, but Stennet is currently the democratic minority leader in the Idaho State Senate. Stennett, recently while I was writing letters to everyone and their dogs about tuition, wrote me a very eloquent letter that I will forever keep. He is strong candidate except...there is a major beef between Bonneville county and Blaine county.
If you know anything about the political makeup of Idaho you know that Blaine County is predominately Democrat (the only county in Idaho to go with Gore in 2000) and Bonneville County since the late 40s has been predominately Republican. If a Democrat hopes to win a statewide race it is an unwritten rule that they must get above 28% of the vote in Bonneville County. Clint Stennett, reigning from the Ketchum area really doesn't stand a chance in Bonneville County. The one thing Stennett has working for him is the area in which he is based. The Ketchum/Hailey/Sun Valley area raised a great deal of money for John Kerry last year and could be a great political asset for Stennett.
On the other side of the fence is an interesting race as well. Kempthorne is done when his term ends which leaves no incumbent for the governorship. But Lt. Governor Rische seems to think he has it wrapped up. (19 months before the general election!) Rische's competition? None other than the current U.S. Congressman C.L. "Butch" Otter. Otter who has done relatively well in his bids for Congress has a slight problem...DUIs on his record. In Idaho you have to win the Mormon communities to win the election and not only does Otter have a drinking problem, he is Catholic. 2 strikes against him in the southern portion of Idaho. I'd imagine he will concentrate his campaign efforts in the northern part of the state. Rische is not likes my the main Republican party and has a reputation of having a mean streak. This will work against him, as will Otter's ties to the J.R. Simplot family. You would assume that the congressman would have the aptitude to beat the lieutenant governor, but here's the catch: Senator Crapo is dying.
Sen. Mike Crapo has, as I have said before, been a level head in politics. I like him mostly for his stance on the "human issues" that I am so attached to. Though very conservative, he has been very popular among the Democrats (how ever few there may be) in the state. In the 2004 election, he ran unopposed. He was the only U.S. senator to run unopposed. Senator Crapo was diagnosed with prostate cancer several years ago, went into remission, and it has come back. He is undergoing chemo treatments every day and from what I have heard looks as if he has aged 25 years in the last few months. His staff is expecting him to live through the end of his term.
So what does this have to do with anything? His death will leave a vacancy in the Senate that only the governor has the power to fill. The governor, being a very young man with lofty political ambitions, could very well seek that position, resign as governor, and have Lt. Gov. Rische appoint him to the U.S. Senate. This has happened once in Idaho. In 1945, Governor Charles Gossett, faced with the vacancy left by Sen. Thomas, resigned as governor, and had Lt. Gov. Arnold Williams appoint him to the vacancy. This threw off not only the power in the Senate, but brought the first Mormon to the governorship in Idaho. If this were to happen today--hypothetically if Kempthorne were to resign, he would easily be appointed to the vacancy and would be successful in the next election. His resignation would bring Lt. Gov. Rische to the forefront and in the 2006 governor's race would leave him as the incumbent and virtually unbeatable. This could force Otter into political obscurity.
Whether or not Kempthorne would want the senate seat isn't really a question. He's been in Washington before. But he doesn't really like being a little fish in a big pond. He's much rather be the big fish in a little pond. The real question is whether or not Rische would turn on Kempthorne and not appoint him. It would be political suicide, but he is VERY unpredictable.
I never realized that Idaho politics could be so exciting! This class has given me a great deal of insight into the one-party system that plagues Idaho currently. It has also been helpful as I hadn't had a formal Idaho History lesson since the 4th grade. If any of you ever get the chance to take a class on the history and politics of whichever state you are from, I would certainly encourage it. Also, if you ever get a chance to take a class from a former congressman, take that opportunity. It is a wild ride!