Bush to Replace Norton with Idaho Governor

Breaking news from Reuters:

President George W. Bush on Thursday chose Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne as his choice to replace Gale Norton as Interior secretary, a Republican official said.

Bush was expected to make a formal announcement at 5:30 p.m. EST on Thursday.

UPDATE: In 2003, Kempthorne was rumored to be Bush’s choice to head the EPA. He didn’t end up getting the job, but Knight-Ridder wrote this analysis:

During Kempthorne’s four-and-a-half-year tenure as governor, Idaho’s pristine air has gotten dirtier, more rivers have been polluted, fewer polluters have been inspected and more toxins have contaminated the air, water and land, according to a Knight Ridder analysis of Idaho pollution data from EPA and state records.

UPDATE II: Kempthorne has very close ties to the same industries he would oversee in the Interior Department. In his last reelection campaign, he raised $86,000 “from timber, mining and energy industries” that wanted greater access to national forests in his state:

Two of Kempthorne’s top three donors for the 2002 campaign were the Coeur D’Alene Mines Corp., which gave $13,922, and the Potlatch Corp., a forest products company, which gave $12,034, according to the non-partisan Institute on Money in State Politics.

UPDATE III: Why didn’t Kempthorne get the EPA job in 2003? Robert Novak wrote in June 2003 that it may have been because the conservative base was unhappy:

Kempthorne’s free market critics did not like his sponsorship, as a U.S. senator in 1997, of legislation that would have given only huge land owners a way to avoid the Endangered Species Act. He also won passage of the 1996 safe drinking water bill, which led to arsenic standards imposed by President Bill Clinton as he left office in 2000.

Another rumor was that Kempthorne’s willingness to talk openly to the press about his candidacy for the job angered Bush:

Knowledgeable sources tell the Bulletin this morning that President Bush passed over Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne for the post of Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency because Kempthorne talked to the press about the progress of the nomination process. …

One source, who works on environmental policy for business interests, said, “Talking to the press is not a way to ingratiate oneself with this Administration. If you are inside the Administration and you do it, you won’t be around for long and if you are outside the Bush team and you talk to the press, you will stay outside. I think that is the lesson from the surprise announcement.” [White House Bulletin, 8/12/03]

UPDATE IV: “During his career in Congress, Governor Kempthorne earned a paltry 1% lifetime [League of Conservation Voters] score. Enough said.”