Kempthorne has been asked about top EPA position - Governor says White House asked if he would consider post

Bob Fick
Associated Press
Spokesman Review


BOISE -- Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne acknowledged for the first time on Monday that he was contacted by the White House two months ago about replacing Christie Whitman as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The call was simply, `Would you entertain it, would you consider it?"' Kempthorne said on the Statehouse steps after a ceremony marking the 35th anniversary of the only all-Idaho military platoon in state history.

Kempthorne said that if the president calls, as a citizen he has to say he will consider it.

It is the statement Kempthorne has made most times he has been asked about the EPA job since his name surfaced following Whitman's May 21 announcement that she would resign.

On numerous occasions, however, he has followed that statement with the comment, "but there hasn't been a call."

Kempthorne, just seven months into his second term as governor, said there have been other calls from the White House since then, but he remained adamant that he has never been offered the job.

"They call periodically just to say, `We appreciate your understanding and your patience,"' he said.

The former U.S. senator who will become chairman of the National Governors Association this month said that now that President Bush is on vacation there may be a decision on a new administrator.

Whitman said in late June that Bush might wait until fall, after the Senate returns from summer recess, to nominate a permanent replacement.

Kempthorne did not provide the specific date of the original telephone call but conceded that it occurred before a June 13 meeting in Washington with aides to President Bush.

On returning to Idaho from that trip, Kempthorne said that meeting included discussion of Whitman's resignation but only from the standpoint of what governors wanted to see from the agency and its administrator.

Other than that meeting, he specifically said on June 14 that he had not talked with anyone in the administration at any time about the EPA job in any context.

Kempthorne Chief of Staff Brian Whitlock rejected the suggestion of inconsistency in the statements, reiterating the governor's contention that he has never been offered the job and that has been the focus of the speculation.

After Bush won the presidency in 2000, Kempthorne campaigned for a job in the administration and a return to Washington but came away with nothing.


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