Here’s one way to chase away potential candidates for lieutenant governor. Enter Steve Yates, the state Republican Party chairman, into the race.
With Yates in, it’s game over. He wins. Sen. Marv Hagedorn of Meridian, the only announced candidate, is a good guy, but he might want to rethink his plans. I’ve heard names of other talented legislators, past or present, who may be interested in running. They might want to look at other offices.
Yates is beyond merely “considering” a run for office. The prospect of serving with a new administration his highly attractive to him. He doesn’t see the part-time lieutenant governor’s job interfering with his business as an international consultant. So unless he finds suddenly that rank-and-file Republicans hate him, you can count him in. And he’s in it to win.
The 48-year-old Yates decided some time ago that he is not running for another term as party chairman, and wanted to step down this summer to give a new party chair a running start at the 2018 election cycle. Some of his close friends, who have known about his plans not to seek re-election as chairman, asked if he would consider running for lieutenant governor. The more he has thought about the idea, the better he likes it. And he says if his entry discourages a crowded field of candidates, so much the better.
“We’re going to have a competitive race for governor, and it would be nice if voters could focus on picking a horse for slot No. 1 – and rest assured the horse in slot No. 2 will do everything to help that person succeed.”
Yates would be a formidable candidate if he were running for that No. 1 slot. For the second position, he’d be practically unbeatable. Three years ago, Yates came aboard in the wake of a broken convention and managed to unite the party’s divided factions enough to push Gov. Butch Otter for a third term and keep Republicans in charge of all the other federal and state offices. Last year, the convention ran smoothly and Republicans continued to dominate in the elections.
It’s a sure thing that Yates would begin a statewide campaign with an army of volunteers, while others would be trying to figure out if there are roads leading to places such as Blanchard or Bone. Unlike any legislators who might be in the race, Yates would have no trouble spinning campaign stories about Kellogg, Weiser, Grangeville and all points between.
“I don’t know of anyone who isn’t a current senator, governor or candidate for governor who has traveled the state as much as I have over the last three years,” Yates said. Along the way, he has worked in the trenches with party central committees, walked the voting precincts and knocked on doors on behalf of candidates. He’s assured to be repaid for his efforts.
Yates, who served as a national security adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, says he didn’t take the party chairman’s job as a stepping stone for his own political career. His purpose was to bring the party together and win elections, which he has done.
He puts a run, and possible service as lieutenant governor, in a similar context. Those serving as lieutenant governor, such as Otter and Sen. Jim Risch, have gone onto bigger and better things. The officeholder today, Brad Little, is running for governor. But Yates gives no thought about prospects for a higher office.
“I operate under the simple truth that no one knows what the future holds,” he said. “There are no guarantees.”
Yates says he’s enjoyed his time as chairman, and will continue working to strengthen the party. But he relishes the idea of being more involved with policy, which the lieutenant governor’s position would allow. And, it’s a move that could strengthen the GOP.
Any one of the GOP gubernatorial candidates could benefit by having a former White House adviser riding in the same car and helping articulate a message and an agenda. Legislators, as sharp and solid as they might be as candidates, simply can’t match Yates’ depth of experience or record of success within the party.