Interior Secretary nominee knows motorcycling
March 17, 2006
Editor's note: President Bush has nominated Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne as Interior Secretary, to manage the nation's vast tracts of public land. Kempthorne was a U.S. senator from 1993-98 and has been governor since 1998. But of particular interest to motorcyclists is the fact that Kempthorne became an avid rider during his first term as governor.
In 2001, AMA Director of Communications Bill Wood sat down with Kempthorne and discovered that there's an enthusiastic but serious and safety-minded motorcyclist in the Idaho governor's office.
Here's his interview from 2001:
“Recently, I realized there’s a fascination I have when I look at these machines. ”
You could be talking to any new motorcyclist, full of enthusiasm and eager for new experiences. Except this isn’t any new motorcyclist—it’s the governor.
Meet Dirk Kempthorne.
When we set up our trip to Idaho, we quickly discovered that motorcyclists had thoroughly infiltrated the state’s government. But when we found out that the governor had recently taken up motorcycling, and that he’d be glad to sit down and talk bikes with us, we were impressed.
The cool thing about Kempthorne’s riding career is that here’s a guy who could have bought himself a bike and been on the road in no time. But he didn’t take any shortcuts.
After stumbling around in a pasture on a small dirt bike, he called Ron Shepard, head of Idaho’s STAR rider-ed program, and signed up for a class. There’s no law that requires it—he just wanted to start out right.
And after successfully completing that course, passing his license exam and buying himself the Harley he’d always wanted, Kempthorne decided to get more training before taking his wife as a passenger.
“One afternoon, she got on the back of the bike, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m not ready for this,’ ” he notes. “This is too precious a cargo—my wife, the mother of my children—to try something.”
So he called Shepard again, and set up additional training for himself and his wife. Now, he rides regularly with her or with his 20-year-old son.
“He suddenly thinks his dad is cool,” Kempthorne says with a smile.
The governor admits that he’s taken that approach in part because he knows his riding will attract more attention to motorcycling.
“A lot of people will see that I’m riding, and they’ll want to know how,” he says. “I want everything about my motorcycle riding to be associated with safety.”
But there’s more to it than that. In fact, Kempthorne took his commitment a step further by signing up as a member of the Idaho Coalition for Motorcycle Safety, a riders group that helped in the creation of the state’s rider-education program. Again, it’s something he didn’t have to do, but he wanted to.
“Here you have a coalition whose mission is safety,” he says. “I want to be part of it.”
In addition to that, though, Kempthorne has another agenda. He wants to thoroughly enjoy the riding opportunities in his state.
“Tomorrow,” he tells us, “I’ve got a conference in Sun Valley, and I’ll go by motorcycle. I’ll go not by the quickest route, but by the most beautiful route.”
There are already several stories of “Idaho 1” traveling across the state, with the governor taking in the scenery on his own. And he notes that from time to time, when he pulls into a gas station, he’ll find a state police car there with a patrolman at the wheel who’ll give him a nod, then radio in a report to headquarters.
The attractions of those rides? They’ll sound familiar to anyone who’s spent time on a motorcycle.
“It’s that continual experience,” Kempthorne says. “It’s different from being a passive driver. At the end of two hours, I’m tired because I’ve been fully involved in riding.”
Even though he’s new to riding, Kempthorne already knows what Idaho has to offer. And he’s hoping other motorcyclists will discover the state as well.
“When I buy these books about the 10 best rides in the country,” he says, “there’s one missing, and that’s the one in Idaho.”
But he’s got a plan to fix that.
“I’d like to extend a warm and enthusiastic welcome to motorcyclists,” he says. “I look forward to seeing them on our highways and sharing good adventures.”
So consider yourself invited, but beware. Based on our experience, once you go riding in Idaho, you’ll be hooked.