Dirk Kempthorne’s appearance before a congressional panel this week is the latest facet of a political career of mediocre talent, long on luck, timing and connections.

Kempthorne was, among other things, one of the Interior Secretaries of Pres. Bush II; 2006 – 2009. Because of that, he was called to the federal hearing room to testify about Interior’s supposed oversight of offshore drilling in those years. His predecessor and successor were also quizzed.

Kempthorne … Republican to his jockey shorts … will never tell anyone anything about oil drilling oversight that doesn’t sound like “We did our jobs and had no idea any catastrophe like the B-P blowout could occur.” Not be the brightest pol in the room but he’s loyal.

I’ve known Kempthorne since before he got into Idaho elective politics, parlaying being a Republican in this country’s most Republican state into national jobs. Always an opportunist to the core. And lucky. Damned lucky. Some smarter Idaho Republican operatives saw his marketability early on and had more to do with his climbing the political ladder than he did.

His first “political” job was student body president at the University of Idaho. After that, he was an Idaho state employee. Then, during a stint as a lobbyist, he was run by Republicans in a “non-partisan” election for mayor of Boise when the previous mayor had angered so many people there was an “anybody-but-him” atmosphere among the citizenry. You could have elected Mickey Mouse that year. Success? Timing!

Kempthorne’s years as mayor were undistinguished. All he had to do was stay out of the way, keep quiet and let the pent-up commercial and housing development markets have their head. He did basically that. And Idaho’s largest city exploded. Success? Timing!

Some of the aforementioned Republican pros were impressed with Kempthorne’s ability to look good (he did a pinup calendar spread), his folksy ability with people, a quick smile and his ability to follow the company line. So when the Idaho governor’s chair was open, they had their horse. Remember, in Idaho, then and since, you can put a large “R” on the flank of a Golden Retriever and elect him to anything. Success? Timing!

On my radio talk show at the time, I called him the “mayor of Idaho.” He put in a few years with an overwhelmingly Republican legislature and a Democrat minority so small their caucuses could be held in someone’s home. Again, a relatively undistinguished tenure except for a statewide road project that is still causing headaches a decade later.

A U.S. Senate seat opened in Idaho and the Republican team boosted him up into it. Again, slap an “R” on the product and Idahoans will buy it by the case. Again, too, service until 2006 without anything remarkable. But always a trusted GOP vote. On anything. Success? Timing!

Kempthorne got to know Bush at Republican governor’s meetings. When Bush needed an Interior secretary in is second term, he called Dirk.

Kempthorne was at Interior from ‘06 to ‘09. Not much to be remembered for except one thing: an office bathroom that cost taxpayers $236,000. Yep. $236,000. National media and people from Idaho would go to Washington DC asking to see Kempthorne’s “throne.”

Well, those days are gone now. But Kempthorne, after spending a career advocating smaller government and less government, accomplished one thing. He put the combination of city, state and federal service into a nice government retirement package. And his contacts into lobbying. Many Idaho Republican former office holders, believing in the same smaller role for government, also cash monthly government retirement checks. Thinking people in Idaho got over the irony of that long ago.

Eventually, the B-P disaster will die down. Courts will award some damages. Some low level government employees may have to take early retirement. One or more miscreants may actually go to jail.

But the Kempthorne legacy will survive untrammeled and untarnished. Whatever it is. Success? Timing.

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