The Delegator

Otter builds his administration


If President Bush is "The Decider," Governor-elect Butch Otter is "The Delegator."

One of Otter's chief advisers in Idaho is an old friend who, for the past several years, has made Otter his main political project.

Mike Gwartney, a retired political consultant, said he and Otter go back 35 years.

"We've done business together, we've done ranching together, and we've tried to be cowboys together," Gwartney said.

Now, they're doing administration-building together. Gwartney is heading up Otter's transition office, which opened this week on the first floor of the State Capitol building. Gwartney is the go-to guy for anyone looking for a role in the new Otter administration, which takes over from current Gov. Jim Risch in January. Although the stream of resumes began before the election, Gwartney has begun receiving more in the last week.

"I've been very popular," Gwartney said.

Otter is fond of saying that when he builds a staff, he wants to hire just one person.

"That way, I only have to fire one person," Otter said.

Otter's style is in contrast to the one employed by Risch, who ascended to his post when Dirk Kempthorne was tapped to become the secretary of the Interior. Risch assembled a team quickly, but often interviewed prospects himself.

"That was the thing I worried about most, was putting a team together," said Risch.

Not so for Otter, at least not just yet. Otter is back in Washington, D.C., finishing out his term as a Congressman.

By the end of this week Gwartney will convene a group to sort through resumes and build a staff for the future Governor Otter. Gwartney has less than 10 people in mind for that committee. In a recent radio interview Otter named two more: Darrel Manning and Marty Peterson. Both are bipartisan go-to guys who have been involved at several levels of government, Manning as a former leader of Kempthorne's budget office and Peterson the same. Peterson has lately been on the staff at the University of Idaho. He was registered as lobbyist for UI for the 2006 legislature.

"Darrell is considered, from both a legislative and executive perspective, to be one of the most knowledgeable people about Idaho state government," said Brian Whitlock, Kempthorne's former chief of staff.

Otter announced Tuesday he would make Jeff Malmen his chief of staff. He's another familiar face for Otter; for six years Malmen has run Otter's Congressional office.

Other possible staffers could include Rep. Debbie Field, a Boise Republican who lost her bid for reelection to Democrat Brandon Durst while managing Otter's campaign.

"She said, 'You know, Butch, there was one election that was important to me, one campaign that was important to me, and that was that we start the year 2007 with Butch Otter as governor,'" Otter said.

But Otter has yet to guarantee Field a job.

"If Debbie wants to apply for many of the positions that become available, Debbie is a very talented person," he said. "Given the opportunity, I hope she'll take it."