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Eye On Boise

Otter being considered for Secretary of Agriculture? Maybe?

Butch Otter (Betsy Z. Russell)
Butch Otter (Betsy Z. Russell)

Given the on-and-off announcements about various prospective Trump appointees in recent days, it’s with some hesitance that I pass along this maybe-news: Idaho Gov. Butch Otter now is supposedly among the candidates being vetted for Secretary of Agriculture.

Otter is in San Diego at a Western Governors Association conference; I just spoke with Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who has been serving as acting governor this week while Otter’s out of state, and he said he’d just heard from Otter Communications Director Mark Warbis that Otter Press Secretary Jon Hanian had “confirmed that yes, the governor is being vetted.”

“This is the first I heard of it,” said Little, who would step up to become governor if Otter took a cabinet position. “That’s news to me.”

Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary, who was with Otter for the WGA conference in San Diego, returned my call just now from the San Francisco airport, where he's en route back to Idaho. “What the governor did tell me is that he said he can confirm he is being vetted as one of the candidates being considered for that position," Hanian said. "But that’s really all we know. We don’t know who the other candidates are; we don’t have a time frame.”

Little already has announced that he’s running for governor in 2018, when Otter will have completed his third and final four-year term. Former state Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, also has announced his candidacy, and 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador has been mulling a possible run.

Little said earlier, when Otter was rumored to be in the running for the Secretary of the Interior slot along with Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Otter showed Little a two-page list of potential candidates, “and his name wasn’t even on that.” And in the past five days, the national rumor mill had Trump selecting Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers for Interior, then also considering Labrador and Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke but keeping McMorris Rodgers atop the list, and then tapping Zinke instead.

If there’s a similar long list floating around for Secretary of Agriculture, Little said, he wouldn’t be surprised if Otter’s on it. “There’s probably multiple vetting teams,” he said.

Little noted that Otter’s the governor of a state with major agricultural interests. “It’s reasonable, with the governor’s experience in his private life, in Congress, as governor,” Little said. Plus, Otter and First Lady Lori Otter were the honorary campaign chairs for the Trump presidential campaign in Idaho.

“I think he’d be great,” Little said. “Right now, one of the biggest challenges facing agriculture is the value of the dollar and what that does to commodity prices. And frankly, because of Butch’s experience in trade, nobody understands that better. Obviously in Idaho we’d be delighted because he’d be over the Forest Service.” Little noted that Otter helped establish a state-federal timber harvesting partnership under federal Good Neighbor Authority that’s drawing attention from other states; in September, the Idaho Department of Lands auctioned off its first federal timber sale under the project, in the Nez Perce National Forest. A second project in the Payette National Forest is under way. “That’s very much to his credit,” Little said.

“I think he’d be a great secretary. But he’s a good governor. So whatever he wants to do,” Little said. “You know, the proof will be in the final announcement.”

Otter returns to Idaho tonight.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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