It’s certainly fair to ask Steve Yates why he’s running to be lieutenant governor of Idaho.
This is a gentleman who already has worked within the highest levels of the federal government — he was a deputy national security adviser in the White House at age 32 — and owns a resume that includes stints at the Heritage Foundation conservative think tank, as a liaison officer for the NSA at the Department of Commerce, as an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney and as a member of President Donald Trump’s transition team.
Oh, and he speaks fluent Chinese, so he has been involved in trade negotiations with China and Taiwan.
Still just 49, Yates returned to Idaho five years ago to tackle what was then a brutal job as chair of the state Republican party — quelling a revolt in the ranks in 2014, a struggle that involved controlling the fractious Tea Party.
Yates’ star has always been rising, it seems, so why lieutenant governor?
And why now?
Yates gave both a humorous and a serious answer when those questions were put to him during a recent meeting.
First, his opener: “Every single Idahoan wakes up in the morning and says, ‘Who is my lieutenant governor, and who will be my next lieutenant governor?’”
Rim shot, please.
But near the end of the interview, Yates provided a meaningful and heartfelt response.
“The blunt answer is that I love my family,” he said. “I’m at the stage where I need flexibility. A 9-to-5 job doesn’t fit. I don’t want to be coming and going to Washington.
“The lieutenant governor job is great that way. There are times when you are very busy, and other times when you might be free.”
Among other reasons for Yates needing a position that gives him some breathing room, his parents live near Tampa — they survived Hurricane Irma with minor damage — and there aren’t many meaningful roles where you can just grab a plane when you’re needed.
And besides all that:
“Service to the state is important to me,” said Yates, who grew up in Maryland but found a permanent home when he was in college at BYU and visited Twin Falls with a friend.
Yates is considered by some to be a favorite in this race against state Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian; Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon; and former Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls.
Yates has raised considerably more money than any of his rivals to this point and heard minor grumbling because several of his important donors have Chinese or Taiwanese backgrounds.
“What nobody mentions is that I’ve also raised more money from Idahoans than anyone else,” said Yates, who can show a testy side when questioned.
Yates’ default expression may be a smile, yet he’s proven he can cloud over when pushed.
But then, he worked for Dick Cheney, and later managed to haul a fractious Idaho Republican Party into line when things were coming apart at the seams.
Yates has succeeded in several jobs that would have overwhelmed a choir boy.
Besides quizzing Yates on why he’d want this particular position — he’s busy with private consultant jobs to ensure he makes a living — the next obvious question is what he intends to do with it if he wins.
“I think I can bring ideas and values to the position, and help whoever is governor. I’m happy if someone else takes it over the finish line.”
Yates said he’s content with the three main candidates for the top job, a group that includes the current lieutenant governor, Brad Little; U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador; and Boise physician/businessman Tommy Ahlquist.
Despite having definite opinions on key issues facing Idaho — education, health care, the economy — Yates insisted he would be a loyal lieutenant who’d be there to offer advice when asked.
“I truly think that this 2018 election cycle is going to be critical for the state,” he said. “There are major questions in front of us, and I believe I can help.
“That’s the important thing, to help the next governor.”