BOISE – U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick is trying to reinvent how politicians choose candidates for federal appointments in Idaho.
As the state’s only Democrat in Congress, Minnick is responsible for making recommendations to President Barack Obama on who should fill four federal positions in Idaho that are coming open with the new presidential administration. But instead of choosing someone who worked in his office or donated money to his campaign, Minnick plans an open application process. Every Idahoan is welcome to apply.
The open positions are U.S. marshal and U.S. attorney for Idaho, state administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, and state director of USDA Rural Development.
Jasper LiCalzi, 51, political economics department chairman at the College of Idaho, said each state’s ranking congressman of the president’s party recommends people who can fill federal appointments at the state level.
“These are patronage positions and they are positions that congressmen get to give away,” LiCalzi said.
Minnick’s plan “is very innovative, not just for Idaho but across the country,” LiCalzi said.
Minnick’s spokesman, John Foster, said the first-term congressman wanted to broaden the field of people to choose from.
“Tradition in other states is whoever is responsible for making recommendations to the president has just made his picks,” Foster said. “When you only look to the usual subjects you don’t know who you’ll be overlooking.”
Foster said this process could add new skills to the positions.
“I think some of the qualities for these positions are solid and traditional but with the changing face of technology some of the qualities are changing, too,” Foster said.
Applications are due by Feb. 6.
Committees of five to eight people will review the applications and forward the top picks to Minnick, who will interview the contenders before sending his recommendations to Obama.
The president then nominates a candidate to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
The committees will be made up of people who have experience relating to each position, including those who have held the jobs. Names of the committee members should be released next week.
Though anyone can apply, having skills relevant to the position wouldn’t hurt, Foster said.
“For U.S. attorney you clearly need to be an attorney,” he said.
Foster said having an application process is a good way to get more people involved in government.
“Our hope is that we not only get the most qualified people but more people will feel like they’re a part of the process,” Foster said. “If a kid just out of high school wants to be rural director he might not get the job but we’ll find a way to get him involved.”
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