Here’s the situation: Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is out of state this week, vacationing in Texas, and Lt. Gov. Jim Risch is acting governor. This poses the theoretical question: Could Risch make some key appointments while Otter is gone?
Idaho Supreme Court Justice Linda Copple Trout retired on Aug. 31st, so the court has technically had a vacancy ever since. Otter already interviewed all four finalists, but has yet to announce his pick. However, Trout has graciously continued to serve until her replacement is named – so her retirement, so far, has looked a lot like her previous full-time job.
Risch was acting governor yesterday and is today, but Otter will be back in the state on Thursday for the funeral of Congressman Mike Simpson’s brother, Steve, in Blackfoot. It seems unlikely that Risch would act, since he wasn’t in on the interviews of the finalists for the justice seats, and also because he might not want to antagonize the governor while he’s waiting for word from him on yet another appointment – whether Risch or someone else will be named to the U.S. Senate to replace Sen. Larry Craig, assuming that Craig resigns as expected.
Which brings up another theoretical question: Could Risch skip the suspense and just appoint himself to the U.S. Senate today? It’s been done before. In 1945, Idaho Gov. Charles Gossett resigned as governor and had his lieutenant governor appoint him to the U.S. Senate. But the move did him little good. As reported in Randy Stapilus’ book “Paradox Politics,” “Voters rebelled at his self-appointment to the Senate and ousted him in the Democratic primary.” That was the end of Gossett’s once-promising political career.
Gossett didn’t have to take the step of resigning first. Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said, “Oh, no, governors can appoint themselves. I don’t see any prohibition on that.”
But there’s another catch: For a governor to appoint a U.S. senator, the previous senator would have to have either died in office, or submitted a letter to the governor tendering his or her resignation. Though Craig has announced his intent to resign, he hasn’t yet taken that step. Said Ysursa, “There’s no vacancy yet.”