Gov. Butch Otter says he's spoken with three candidates to replace outgoing GOP Chairman Norm Semanko, who embarrassed Otter in 2008 when he ousted then-Chairman Kirk Sullivan.
"I was roundly criticized by all you guys that I couldn't control my own party and I was probably the only governor in the United States that didn't have his choice as party chairman," Otter told me late last week. "I've been able to work with Norm, but you know, I just don't want that to happen again."
Otter said he's talked with an unspecified number of possible candidates. "Most of the names I've gotten, they're either busy or they're not interested. I would say right now there's probably three that are interested."
Otter declined to name the three.
First District U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, a key player in boosting Semanko in 2008, said Monday that he's hoping to agree on a consensus candidate with Otter, as well as his GOP House colleague, Rep. Mike Simpson, and Idaho Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch.
"My hope is that we can all sit down together and choose somebody that we can all get behind so we don't have that intraparty fight again," Labrador said.
"I have made it clear to people who are interested that it should be somebody who appeals to the establishment and also the grass roots of the party. We have had a divide between the establishment and the grass roots. I think this is a tremendous opportunity for us to unify behind one party chairman. So whatever I can do to help the governor with that, I'm 100 percent behind it."
Labrador aide Phil Hardy said an untold story was "how close" Otter and Labrador have become now that Labrador holds the 1st District seat that Otter held from 2001-2007.
Said Labrador: "I don't know how close we've become; we have a very good relationship."
Semanko told me Friday that he wouldn't run for for a third two-year term as chairman at the state convention in June, saying he informed Otter in late December. Semanko said he revealed his plans to the GOP Executive Committee on Jan. 6.
"Four years is long enough for anyone to serve as chairman," Semanko wrote me in an email. "We have some great success and I am fortunate to serve such a great group of folks throughout the state. To my knowledge, the last person to serve longer was Dennis Olsen -- in the late 1970s. We are very fortunate to have a deep bench and I have no doubt that the Idaho Republican delegates at the state convention will select a capable replacement to fill this volunteer position."
Olsen, the late husband of redistricting commissioner Sheila Olsen, served from 1977 until 1985, when he died at 54 of a heart attack.
Semanko also released a guest opinion Friday to Idaho newspapers saying he would not run again.
During his fall 2011 campaign for mayor of Eagle, Semanko said he planned to step down as chairman were he elected mayor. Mayor Jim Reynolds, however, defeated Semanko 78 percent to 22 percent. Semanko subsequently joined one of Idaho's largest law firms, Moffatt Thomas.
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