BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said Wednesday he may appoint a “placeholder” to replace Sen. Larry Craig, rather than a candidate who wants the job permanently, such as Lt. Gov. Jim Risch.
“Many have suggested that Jim Risch should be the appointment,” Otter said. But that poses a problem for the Republican Party, he added, because several others are interested in the seat.
“So then, basically, what I’m doing is making the choice for the Republican Party, if you will, by giving ‘em a leg up, and an important 15 months of seniority in that seat if I were to pick one of those folks,” the governor said.
Otter mentioned two other as-yet-unannounced GOP candidates, former Idaho Attorney General and Lt. Gov. David Leroy and former congressional candidate and state Sen. Dane Watkins. Neither returned calls Wednesday; Leroy was out of the country.
Former Eastern Idaho elk ranch operator Rex Rammell also has announced his candidacy for the seat as a Republican. Otter said there are others in the running.
“There is some advantage to a placeholder, and a placeholder that could carry forward with the needs for Idaho, the issues that Larry was working on, which are very important,” he said.
Former Congressman Larry LaRocco, a Democrat, is running for the seat.
Idaho Democrats, who have been calling on Otter to appoint a placeholder and leave the permanent decision to voters in the next election, praised his suggestion. “Putting a placeholder in there ensures that everyone is going to be on equal footing,” said Chuck Oxley, spokesman for the Idaho Democratic Party.
“I’m glad he is seeing the wisdom of our suggestion.”
Otter also said he has discussed the position several times with 2nd District GOP Rep. Mike Simpson, and “Mike and I continue to talk.” He also mentioned Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden as a possible appointee.
The “perfect placeholder” would be someone who can hold on to Craig’s key committee assignments, Otter said, but he acknowledged that would be difficult.
Craig’s long seniority – he’s in his third term in the Senate after five terms in the House – helped him win those posts.
Otter said a staffer for Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell already told him a new appointee won’t be able to keep Craig’s appropriations committee seat. The Senate is launching into debate on appropriations bills now.
Otter said he was surprised by news reports Tuesday night that Craig might not resign after all, and he quickly called Craig into his office for a meeting Wednesday morning.
After Otter and a casually dressed Craig met for 30 to 45 minutes, the governor announced he’ll continue working toward naming a replacement for Craig by Sept. 30.
“We are proceeding under the assumption that we are going to have a transition at the end of the month,” Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, said after the meeting. “We are working with the senator’s staff to ensure that happens in an orderly fashion.”
Craig spokesman Sid Smith said the senator’s staff also continues to operate as if Craig will step down by month’s end.
“So I think it’s prudent for Gov. Otter to operate under that assumption as well, and he’s shown that he is.”
Otter said he was “surprised” and “concerned” about the news that Craig might not resign, because if that’s the case, “Then I ought not to be interviewing folks to replace him.”
But Otter said he also wants to give any appointee “at least a couple of weeks to … hit the ground running,” rather than wait until the Sept. 30 deadline.
“I don’t intend to wait for that date,” he said.