By Kimberlee Kruesi/Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — If Lt. Gov. Brad Little wins his bid to be Idaho’s next governor in 2018, he will be the only candidate to already have hands-on experience with the job.
The two-term Republican has served as acting governor 373 times since taking over the second-in-command position in 2009, according to records requested by The Associated Press.
Under the Idaho Constitution, serving as acting governor is part of a lieutenant governor’s duties whenever the elected governor is out of state or unable to execute the powers of the office. It can range from stepping in for a few hours while the governor undergoes minor surgery to a full week when the governor is a on a trade mission.
However, scrutiny has increased now that Little is running for governor — even though being lieutenant governor has traditionally been seen as a natural stepping stone to the state’s top office.
Little said he would never make any major decisions as acting governor without first talking to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter.
“I’m pushing Idaho’s agenda,” he said.
Most recently, Little issued an executive order asking for a review of the occupational licenses system. Otter was out of state attending his grandson’s graduation.
Licensing reform has long been favored by conservative groups, several of whom argued Little’s order last month was part of an effort to “parade” his conservative credentials to woo voters.
“People will speculate if there’s some grand conspiracy, but the lieutenant governor is allowed to act as governor, which includes promoting his own agenda,” said Jim Weatherby, a Boise State University professor emeritus of political science.
Neither the legislative library, lieutenant governor’s office or state controller keep records on how many times previous lieutenant governors have served as acting governor, so there’s no way to compare Little’s record to his predecessors.
But it is possible to make a salary comparison.
Idaho’s lieutenant governors receive a slight pay boost every time they take over as acting governor. Little had earned $70,989 as of 2016 for serving as acting governor over the past eight years, according to state controller records. The current annual salary for lieutenant governor is $43,552.
He spent the most time as acting governor in 2013, when he earned $14,105 for filling in 64 times. It was rumored Little would run for governor that year, but he chose to seek re-election, and Otter ran for a third term.
In 2016, Little was acting governor 63 times and earned $10,907. He announced his run for governor that year.
Meanwhile, Otter earned slightly more than Little during his time as Idaho’s long-serving lieutenant governor. He held the post for 14 years, from 1987 and 2001.
The records show how much lieutenant governors were paid for serving as acting governors, but they do not reveal how much lieutenant governors were paid per hour or how many days they served in the role.
The records only go back to 1990 but show Otter earning $76,257 in total. His highest-earning year was 1999, collecting $15,505.
“I served as many as 80 days a year,” Otter said. “He (Little) has done nothing in my absence that he hasn’t talked to me about before. I tell him, ‘That’s great. You have all the powers. You have responsibilities and all the liabilities the day I cross that border.'”
The lieutenant governor to earn the most as acting governor is now-U.S. Sen. Jim Risch.
He earned $16,672 in 2005, the same year he became governor after former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne took over as Interior secretary.
Three other top Republican candidates are running for governor: U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, former state Sen. Russ Fulcher of Meridian and Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist.
No major Democratic gubernatorial candidates have announced if they are running in 2018.