BOISE – Sitting in the governor’s chair on the Capitol’s second floor, Lt. Gov. Mark Ricks acknowledged he was in unfamiliar territory.
Gov. Jim Risch was in Nevada for two days at a Republican Governors Association meeting, so Ricks flew in on Thursday’s 11:20 a.m. shuttle from Idaho Falls. It’s only his second stint as acting commander in chief of all things Idaho, after a trial run in August while Risch was in Charleston, S.C., at the National Governors Association.
Ricks, who served 16 years in the state Senate before retiring a dozen years ago, said no pressing business was on his plate while the boss was out of town.
Still, he knows one thing he won’t do.
“One of my good friends, when he became aware I was going to asked to be lieutenant governor, told me, ‘I’ve got some advice for you: Don’t call out the National Guard,’ ” Ricks said. “I’m anticipating that if something comes up, Gov. Risch will call.”
Risch, promoted in June after former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne became U.S. interior secretary, named Ricks as his part-time second-in-command two weeks later, a move seen by political observers as a nod to Idaho’s less-populous eastern half.
Ricks, 81, who was president of the Idaho Falls Mormon temple until 2002 and served a stint at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ historical site in Nauvoo, Ill., in the 1990s, has so far relished being Risch’s eyes and ears in the agrarian country where he’s grown russet burbanks and norkotah potatoes on the family farm for most of his life.
“The people over here were just elated when I was chosen to be the lieutenant governor, because it gives them some representation,” he said. “Most of the people in eastern Idaho have the attitude that state government exists in the town of Boise.”
He’s the great-grandson of Thomas Ricks, founder of Mormon-owned Brigham Young University-Idaho, which until five years ago was known as Ricks College.
Ricks, who presided over the Aug. 25 special session in which lawmakers passed Gov. Risch’s plan to cut $260 million from Idaho’s property taxes paid by homeowners, farmers and businesses, said people aren’t shy about telling him what they think about state government – or who they think should be running it.
“Most of the people that have contacted me in eastern Idaho wish (Risch) was running for governor,” Ricks said.
Risch made the decision to run for re-election as lieutenant governor against Democrat Larry LaRocco in November 2005. That’s in part because U.S. Rep. C.L. “Butch” Otter, R-Idaho, the GOP candidate running against Democrat Jerry Brady, had announced his gubernatorial intentions a year earlier and had a big fundraising lead.
Risch hasn’t said if he’ll run for governor in 2010.
Ricks has stayed busy.
On July 16, he was in Edmonton, Alberta, with Department of Commerce and Labor officials as part of the Idaho delegation to an economic summit that included 600 business people and government officials from Idaho, Oregon, Washington and several Canadian provinces.
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