As Lt. Gov. Brad Little approaches an age when people start thinking about slowing it down with their professional careers, he’s looking to accelerate his – as a candidate for governor in 2018.
It’s certainly not a shocking announcement from the 62-year-old Little, who has been lieutenant governor since 2009, but it ends any shred of speculation about Gov. Butch Otter running for a fourth term – or serving as governor for life.
Announcing early is a smart move for Little. In Idaho, governors tend to be anointed, not elected – and Democrats are hardly a threat. The coronation process worked with former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne when he left his U.S. Senate post to move back to Idaho, and again with Otter, who staked out his claim for the governorship well before the 2006 campaign. It was enough to discourage Jim Risch, the sitting governor in 2006, to step aside rather than challenge Otter. But shed no tears for Risch, who now holds a safe U.S. Senate seat.
Ten years ago, it was Otter’s turn, and the same can be said for Little in 2018. The resume is there politically, and with plenty of hands-on experience in state government.
But not everybody is a fan. Some of the more conservative legislators think he’s too moderate (translation: liberal) in his thinking. There are those who would rather see someone with a more conservative track record, such as Congressman Raul Labrador, or former Sen. Russ Fulcher, who came surprisingly close to upsetting Otter in the 2014 primary.
For now, Wayne Hoffman, director of the conservative-based Idaho Freedom Foundation, is giving Little the benefit of the doubt.
“I’ve always said that Little has an opportunity to be a conservative free market hero. I’ve told him that myself,” Hoffman said. “I hope he will seize the moment. If he can do that, it would negate the need for a Labrador or Fulcher to get in. If he doesn’t, you can guarantee someone will go for it.”
What Hoffman says he and his followers don’t want is, “four more years of the same big government cronyism we’ve been enduring. Little, Labrador, Fulcher, or some other candidate really have an opportunity to jump in and lead the state in a conservative policy direction we hoped we’d get with Otter, but didn’t.”
Little certainly will campaign as a conservative, but I doubt if he will become Hoffman’s ideal candidate -- which opens the door for Labrador or Fulcher. Labrador is a perennially-rumored candidate for governor, but I’d be surprised to see him run. Labrador has found a niche in Congress as one of the conservative power brokers in the House, and that would be a tough gig to give up. I could see him going for a U.S. Senate vacancy at some point, but governing doesn’t seem to fit his style. Labrador appears better suited to challenging the status quo than being part of the status quo. Fulcher, too, would be a viable candidate after his spirited run two years ago. But he has been in relative obscurity since then, and four years is a long time to be away from the public’s eye.
One thing Little has going for him is that he is as Idaho as the potato itself. As longtime political historian Randy Stapilus observes, Little comes from one of Idaho’s major pioneer families, running his large ranching operation at Emmett for three decades.
“He has been an actual cowboy – the real thing, not a rodeo enthusiast, but a working cattleman,” Stapilus wrote recently.
But his thought pattern goes far beyond roping and branding cattle. He talks about the need for better jobs, higher wages and making improvements in the education system.
“We must keep stepping up efforts to improve education in order to better prepare our students for the 21st century work force,” Little said in a letter announcing his candidacy. “We must act aggressively to retain and attract better jobs through the free market.”
He says he and his wife, Teresa, “want to give our grandchildren – the fifth generation of Littles in Idaho – the best possible chance to grow and prosper right here at home.”
Those are noble goals, for sure. Along with his vision, he brings to the campaign high integrity, intelligence and a proven ability to work with almost anybody – which are nice traits to have for anybody running for governor.