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Idaho Governor Nominated As Next Secretary of the Interior

By Michael Janofsky


Moving quickly to fill the latest vacancy in his cabinet, President Bush on Thursday nominated Gov. Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho to be the next secretary of the interior.

If confirmed by the Senate, where he once served, Kempthorne, a Republican, would replace Gale A. Norton, who resigned on March 10 after having run the Interior Department since the start of Bush’s presidency.

Kempthorne, 54, has been governor since leaving the Senate in 1998 after a single term. He said that he had decided that he would not run this year for a third term as governor.

Bush praised Norton’s leadership of the Interior Department, and said, “Dirk Kempthorne is the right man to build on this progress.”

He added: “Dirk understands that those who live closest to the land know how to manage it best, and he will work closely with state and local leaders to ensure wise stewardship of our resources. Dirk has a long and abiding love for nature.”

In thanking Bush, Kempthorne said he would build consensus on difficult issues, pledging “to you and the American people that I will continue in that role of reaching out and finding solutions.”

Environmental groups, meanwhile, were issuing statements calling Kempthorne a poor choice.

Kempthorne is widely known — even among opponents — as a personable leader with a strong understanding of issues. Before his Senate career, he was mayor of Boise for seven years. Before that, he was an executive for an Idaho homebuilders’ association. .

“He’s a quick study, very organized and a good supervisor,” said James L. Caswell, who runs the Idaho Office of Species Conservation in Boise. In the Senate, Kempthorne was chairman of a subcommittee on drinking water, fisheries and wildlife. He was chairman of the armed forces subcommittee on personnel.

He retains close ties to the Senate, and some members will probably be crucial allies in his confirmation efforts, including Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Sens. Domenici and Inhofe were quick to applaud Bush’s choice. “Everything I know about him tells me he will be confirmed and make an excellent secretary,” Domenici said.