Risch: My Door's Open

Idaho's newest Gov shuffles the staff deck


Idaho's newest governor, Jim Risch, is apparently a people person. So much so that he's inviting The People to a once-taboo hideout: the hilltop mansion that used to belong to J.R. Simplot.

The mansion invite was the first whiff of what is starting out to be a very different administration than that of Dirk Kempthorne, now serving as President Bush's Secretary of the Interior since his inauguration last week in Washington, D.C.. Instead of a passel of "policy advisers" under Kempthorne, Risch on Tuesday named a set of "constituent service" leaders to fill out his kitchenette cabinet for the brief seven months he'll have as governor.

"This office gets a tremendous amount of constituent inquiries," Risch said. Instead of developing policy, he said, he wants his staff reacting to those inquiries. Case in point: Risch visited with Eagle residents fretting about flood damage to their neighborhoods due to a fast-flowing Boise River. After sitting down with them, Risch ordered the Idaho National Guard to help repair a breach in a canal that was allowing water to soak the area.

Citizens who contact the governor's office, Risch said, "need a direct answer, they need an honest answer."

This people-first agenda isn't a bad one to pursue for a guy running for office; he is on the ballot in November to take his old lieutenant governor's job back, and is opposed by former Democratic Congressman Larry LaRocco.

Risch wisely resisted comparisons to his former boss. But it's noteworthy that his new staff is absent many of the faces that gathered under the Kempthorne banner: Brian Whitlock, Kempthorne's chief of staff, is apparently out. Mike Journee, Kempthorne's press secretary, has taken a PR job. David Lehman, Kempthorne's policy director, was also nowhere to be seen this week.

First on Risch's short agenda will be to write a new rule management proposal for millions of acres of Idaho roadless areas, a directive from Bush's Department of Agriculture. Risch called the job of crafting the rule "the No. 1 thing biting at me."

One significant holdover from the Kempthorne administration will be there to help: Jim Yost, formerly an advisor to Kempthorne on natural resource issues, has a similar title under the Risch administration. The roadless area proposal isn't small potatoes: depending on how Risch writes it, conservation groups worry, the plan could open millions of acres of pristine roadless forests to development.

Meanwhile, festivities are ongoing: the public can come to the Risch inauguration Friday at noon, on the Statehouse steps. Following that, if they get one of the first-come, first-serve tickets, they can head to the mansion. The Simplot invite was the brainchild of Risch's wife, Vicki. Using private funds, she and Governor Risch have set up a hotline for the limited supply of free tickets you'll need. Call 1-800-543-6992.