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Batt Riding High After Nuke Waste Vote

Buoyed by overwhelming public endorsement of his nuclear waste deal, Republican Gov. Phil Batt said Wednesday he is leaning toward seeking a second term in 1998, although the decision will not be made for another year.

“I’m, of course, inclined that way,” said Batt, who put his prestige on the line with the unprecedented agreement with the federal government and who saw 65 percent of the voters agree with him on Tuesday.

“It is heartening,” he said, “and I think that if I were running today, I’d easily be re-elected.”

Batt, who would be 71 when he stages a re-election campaign, said he has been encouraged from many quarters to run again, “and other candidates whom I think are well-qualified who didn’t run have encouraged me to run without exception.”

Late Tuesday, after another Idaho Republican sweep became obvious, state GOP Chairman Ron McMurray told party faithful that keeping Batt in office is a top priority.

“If we can convince the governor to run for another term, that’s going to be the No. 1 thing,” McMurray said.

“I don’t think anyone can beat him.”

Based on Tuesday’s results that saw voters rebuff all Democratic attempts at a political comeback and reject not only the initiative against Batt’s waste agreement but also the One Percent Initiative which the governor had warned would undermine the state’s economy, Batt said he sees his mandate being greater now than it was two years ago when he won the state’s top office by more than eight percentage points.

“I have only one desire,” he said, “to govern Idaho to the best of my ability.”

Former Democratic state Sen. John Peavey of Carey, a leader of the initiative drive to void Batt’s nuclear deal, already has established a Peavey for Governor committee.

He considered seeking the Democratic nomination to face Batt in 1994 but deferred to others and made an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor.

Batt has maintained that Peavey’s involvement in the nuclear waste debate has been motivated to a great extent by his political ambition, although Peavey has been outspoken on the issue of radioactive dumping and nuclear waste management at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory for years.

Tuesday’s voter rejection of the initiative to void the deal, the governor said, should suggest to Peavey that he needs to find another issue.

“He’s riding a very flimsy vehicle if he rides nuclear waste any farther,” Batt said.