Dick Compton wants to run for governor.
After achieving a degree of political success in Kootenai County, he can see a scenario where he holds a base of support in North Idaho while other contenders divide the vote in the southern part of the state.
He figures his businesslike approach to government will appeal to many - if he can get his message out.
He’s also a realist. If Sen. Dirk Kempthorne announces in the next few days that he is running for governor instead of a second term in the U.S. Senate, Compton will keep his options open.
But, he concedes, “Kempthorne would be a tough competitor and hard to beat. If it’s an open field, that would be a different question. I feel we would have a good chance in an open field.”
That open field could include a lot of people far better known in state politics than Compton - House Speaker Michael Simpson, Lt. Gov. Butch Otter and Senate Majority Leader James Risch.
But that doesn’t bother Compton.
“Other than Otter, the others aren’t known in the other parts of the state,” he said.
Compton, 64, is a North Idaho native who retired after a 32-year career with IBM. He and wife Janette lived in Hong Kong in their last assignment.
They moved back in 1993, Compton said, and “I didn’t know 50 people in Kootenai County when we got here.”
He saw much turmoil in the county at the time as increasing demands for services outstripped the cash to pay for them.
Compton decided to run for the county commission with a message of business-like government and ousted the incumbent in the Republican primary with 62 percent of the vote.
He won a two-year term in 1994, and last election won a four-year term with 64 percent of the vote. His fellow commissioners elected him chairman.
Compton spent about $3,500 in the last election but knows it would take many times that figure to mount a credible campaign for governor.
He estimates at least $100,000 would be needed for the primary, but “I don’t have that kind of money. I would have to raise it.”
At least one of the other prospective candidates has talked about spending $250,000 if Kempthorne doesn’t run. And raising cash in a contested primary is tough because many GOP supporters tend to sit out the intraparty battle and then rally behind the survivor.
That’s what is keeping the field clear until Kempthorne makes a decision. As an incumbent U.S. senator who is viewed as a lead-pipe cinch to be the next governor if he wants, Kempthorne would have little trouble raising money for the state race.
Compton has statewide contacts, but whether they would be enough remains to be seen. He’s been active in the commissioners-clerks association, is on the association’s board of directors and is vice chairman of its legislative committee.
But, he admits, “I’m not a household word, no question about it.”
His appeal would be to business.
“I’ve spent a lifetime in marketing, selling a product. This political arena is not that much different. You are selling a product,” he said.
Compton doesn’t like the idea of a major Idaho political office being handed from one politician to another like an inheritance.
Some political leaders think the decisions were made long ago - that Gov. Phil Batt decided not to run for a second term, clearing the way for Kempthorne, his protege and 1982 campaign manager, to get the job.
But if Kempthorne declares he is running for governor, Compton likely won’t take the plunge against him.