The AP is reporting that Wayne Hammon, Gov. Butch Otter's budget director since 2007, is leaving to run the Associated General Contractors.
I congratulate Hammon, whose readiness to move on was well-documented after he made the 2011 short list to be the lobbyist for the University of Idaho. That job went to former Sen. Joe Stegner, but Hammon shook off the disappointment and kept working hard during the 2012 session. He now replaces Mark Dunham, who resigned in June because of health reasons. Hammon's state salary was $119,413.
I'll miss Hammon because he represented the counter-culture in the Otter administration, which is led by the least accessible of the five governors I've covered since 1987.
My affection for Hammon is partly selfish. He was great copy.
He accused the Legislature of having "sneaked" the money to buy laptops for lawmakers, after Otter vetoed an appropriation; said no federal stimulus money would go to spur bicycle commuting because "The future of Idaho is not contained in the North End;" and clashed openly with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Cameron over Otter's alleged Svengali, Mike Gwartney.
After the laptop flap in 2009, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said Otter should have canned Hammon, who ran the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency in Idaho during the Bush administration.
"You cut off the mule in the middle of the string that's hanging you up," Moyle jibed, only later forgiving Hammon.
Hammon was happy to play the bad guy, as in 2007, when fresh from the box, he chided the State Board of Education for failing to follow the law and Otter's policy in budget writing.
I saw Hammon as a whiff of fresh air, someone who believed the public had a right to quick and quality information in the course of spending taxpayer money.
With budgets driving the public agenda -- hundreds of millions of dollars in holdbacks, a $1.2 billion federal stimulus, ongoing disagreement about state worker pay and benefits -- Hammon was Otter's go-to guy. Reaching Otter directly requires good luck, typically meeting him in a hallway or staking out an event.
Hammon was always swift to reply on Otter's behalf, providing solid information. Sadly, Hammon's wings were clipped of late, with a PR handler required to listen in or filter his responses.
Otter and Hammon both had extraordinarily difficult jobs to do as the budget cratered. They shied from overstating surpluses, prompting cuts that proved too deep in the eyes of many constituent groups. But cuts may well have been far worse had the Otter crew not been a check on the "Starve the Beast" element in the Legislature, which aims to create structural deficits to permanently shrink state services.
Hammon remained loyal, providing a plausible defense of Otter in a story I wrote about how the governor's workload had dropped by about 30 percent in his fifth year in office.
Hammon was one of the good guys. He's got young children and running the Division of Financial Management is grind-you-down duty, especially so during times as hard as these. His new job, while challenging, should give him more time to enjoy the cherubs. And Wayne, I hope you forgive me for saying nice things about you in public.
Below is Otter's news release on Hammon's departure:
STATE BUDGET DIRECTOR LEAVING TO LEAD IDAHO’S ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS
(BOISE) – Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter today announced the resignation of Wayne Hammon, administrator of the Governor’s Division of Financial Management (DFM), effective September 28. Hammon is leaving to accept the position of executive director for the Idaho Associated General Contractors (AGC).
“It has been a true honor to serve in Governor Otter’s Cabinet. He has been and continues to be more than just a boss to me, but also a mentor and a friend,” Hammon said. “I am proud to have helped play a role in guiding Idaho through some tough economic waters. I believe that with Governor Otter’s continued leadership our great state is on the path to prosperity.”
The Governor named David Fulkerson, currently DFM’s deputy administrator, to serve as interim administrator during the search for Hammon’s permanent replacement.
Hammon became budget director in July 2007, just half a year into Governor Otter’s first term. He managed spending holdbacks prompted by recession in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to keep the State budget balanced and rein in government growth, and oversaw Idaho’s response to and allocation of the massive federal stimulus program called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. He also instituted a nationally recognized zero-base budgeting process that has dramatically changed the way State agencies use and account for taxpayer dollars.
“Wayne has set a high bar for anyone else to clear. He has been in turns decisive and cautious as required, firm when it was called for and consistently responsive and thorough,” Governor Otter said. “He has been a great sounding board and a reliable, trustworthy partner in public service. He will be greatly missed, but I wish him all the success in the world in this new endeavor.”
At AGC, Hammon will succeed Mark Dunham, who resigned in June.
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