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News >  Idaho

Idaho Lt. Gov. Little prepared to take on role of governor

Little
Little

BOISE – If newly re-elected 72-year-old Idaho Gov. Butch Otter didn’t complete his full third term, Idaho’s new governor would be Brad Little, the second-term lieutenant governor, rancher and former state senator who’s been toiling full-time in the part-time, low-paid post since Otter appointed him to it in 2009.

Little’s record seems decidedly more moderate than Otter’s – he blocked Idaho’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage for two years before reluctantly supporting the final version in 2006. But Little, 60, is an Otter fan who says his differences with the governor are more style than substance. He also says he fully expects Otter to serve out his term but is ready should he be asked to step up.

That call already has come on a short-term basis: Little has served as acting governor on 247 days since he took office on Jan. 6, 2009, with the days per year sharply increasing over his time in office. In addition to serving as acting governor when the governor is out of state or incapacitated, Idaho’s lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate, where he breaks ties, and takes on other duties as assigned by the governor.

Little says he agrees with the governor on issues “95 percent of the time.”

Otter has waged an unsuccessful court fight against same-sex marriage, arguing that children will be harmed.

Little said, “I know full well that there’s gay couples that are better parents than many straight couples, there’s no question about that.” But, he said, “I’m concerned that there are unintended consequences.”

He worries about infringing on religious freedom.

“I absolutely think we shouldn’t discriminate against anybody that’s gay, but I do think that we’re going a little fast, because we don’t know what the ramifications are going to be,” he said.

Little has no quarrel with Otter’s handling of the state’s troubled experiment with a private prison.

“I mean, it’s one of the many things the state has that wasn’t perfect,” he said. “The original reason we did a contract with CCA (Corrections Corp. of America) is nobody wanted to raise taxes or take money away from education to pay for corrections. What’s not noble about that?”

Little says he’s “in lockstep” with Otter on an overall approach: “To ensure the lightest possible hand of government in the lives of citizens and businesses.”

He calls the lieutenant governor’s post “a great job,” saying, “Every day’s a different day. This morning I did education, transportation, an appointment.”

Little says part of the reason he’s willing to work full-time at a part-time job – Idaho’s lieutenant governor is paid $35,700 now, but it’ll rise to $42,275 in January – is because of the built-in expectation that he could have to step up and become governor.

“I feel I’ve got to,” he said. “I mean, I’m getting paid to be prepared to do that. … I don’t anticipate it, but I think it’s part of the job description.”

Four Idaho lieutenant governors have been tapped to step up into the governor’s role mid-term, the most recent in 2006.

Little was a prominent rancher from Emmett and a four-term GOP state senator when Otter appointed him lieutenant governor. He was elected to a full term in 2010 and re-elected this year with nearly 63 percent of the vote, well ahead of Otter’s 53.5 percent.

The scion of a famous Idaho sheep ranching family, Little is a favorite son in his hometown. His grandfather was Andy Little, whom a biography by the late Idaho historian Louise Shadduck dubbed Idaho’s “sheep king.”

“He doesn’t jump to conclusions quickly, he listens to people well and considers all sides of things,” said Gem County Commissioner Lan Smith. “He’s been involved in the community his whole life. His family’s well-respected.”

Little marvels over the variety of issues he deals with in his job, including working with legislators to recruit businesses and brokering disputes between local and state agencies. The lieutenant governor position is unique in that it has, in Little’s words, “a foot in both the executive branch and the legislative branch.”

“I guarantee you, none of this job is what my ag science degree prepared me for,” he says with a grin, his blue eyes glinting.

Little says when he was a student at the University of Idaho, he only took one political science class; former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was among his classmates.

The class led to an internship working for the Legislature’s joint budget committee in 1976, giving Little early exposure to the legislative process and personalities, and a sense of the Legislature’s history few lawmakers can match.

This year, Little co-sponsored a bill with Idaho Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, to crack down on “patent trolls” who badger Idaho companies to pay settlements over trumped-up, vague claims of patent infringement. The bill was strongly backed by one of the state’s largest tech firms, Micron Technology. It passed near-unanimously.

Little says it was an appropriate move for him because as lieutenant governor, he’s focused on economic development and jobs, and he’s hearing that protection for intellectual property is something companies want and need.

“They’re trying to get Congress to do something about it, but right now the states are leading on it,” he said. “Anything we can do to recruit business without writing a big check.”

In his next term, he sees the focus shifting from economic development to education. During the recession, he said, “Survival was critical. … Now, for the economy to thrive, we’ve got to have the workforce.”

He sees three big priorities ahead for the state in the next year, all to be funded from general tax funds: Criminal justice reform, mental health and education.

“And obviously education’s the biggest one,” he said, including K-12 schools, higher education and vocational education.

As a trusted partner, Otter has given Little wide-ranging duties as lieutenant governor, from vetting hundreds of appointees to state boards and commissions to leading international trade missions to attending all Cabinet and legislative leadership meetings – something Otter himself didn’t get to do when he was Idaho’s lieutenant governor for 14 years.

Little says he fully expects Otter to serve out his term and is impressed with the older man’s health, strength and stamina.

Said Little: “He might have a few plastic and titanium parts, but the ones that count the most, the heart and the brain, are working just fine.”

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