Even as a boy, Brad Little knew he wanted to be part of his family’s southwestern Idaho ranch. The open space, the satisfaction of hard work well done, the reward of sheep and cattle all called him.
Idaho’s 42nd Lieutenant Governor admits he came to politics accidentally.
Today this third-generation Idahoan is just as committed to continuing his family’s long history of public service as he is to the family’s ranching interests.
Brad grew up in Emmett working, hunting and playing on the sheep ranch ran by his father and started by his grandfather Andy Little, who emigrated to Idaho from Scotland in 1894 and grew the ranch into one of the most well-known sheep operations in the country. Brad learned the values of hard work, perseverance, and faith from his parents and grandparents.
His father also introduced him to the conservative Republican values Brad still holds today. His father was an ardent Republican, a state legislator and one of Idaho’s Republican National Committee members. One of Brad’s first introductions to politics was campaigning with his father for Barry Goldwater in 1964 and handing out candy with “Goldwater for President” tags on Halloween.
A 1977 graduate of the University of Idaho, Little, 64, easily remembers the summer breaks during his time in Moscow at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“One summer I was probably on horseback 75 days out of those three months,” he recalls.
After finishing his agriculture business degree, Brad was offered a job as assistant manager of a western feedlot but he chose to return to the ranch.
“It was a steep learning curve, and I made a lot of mistakes,” Little concedes, but his innate grasp of the economy – agricultural, state, national, and even global – served him well.
In 1978 he married Teresa Soulen, the daughter of another rancher in the region, and settled into the evolving business of livestock production on an operation that ranged from Emmett to Cascade in western Idaho. As his trusted advisor, Little often turns to his wife in times of quandary, asking himself, “What would Teresa do?”
By the early 1990s Little had served a term as president of the Idaho Wool Growers Association, as well as stints as chairman of the American Sheep Industry’s Public Lands and Governmental committees. That was before economics made him decide to sell off the family’s sheep operation. By the turn of the 21st century Little was specializing in cattle.
His political career began in earnest in May 2001 when he was appointed by then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to a State Senate seat from western Idaho that was vacated. He was elected and re-elected to that Senate seat four times, never receiving less than 65 percent of the vote. He quickly became part of the Senate’s leadership team as Republican Caucus chairman and was recognized nationally for his leadership by the Council of State Governments.
Little became Lieutenant Governor in January 2009 when Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter appointed him to a vacancy created by Jim Risch’s move to the U.S Senate. Little was elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014 with no less than 62 percent of the vote.
Affable and easygoing, Little ranged beyond agriculture and government to serve as chairman of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry in the mid-1980s and as a board member through two decades as well as a director for a diverse array of organizations including the Idaho Foundation for Excellence in Education, the University of Idaho Foundation, the Idaho Community Foundation and the Emmett Public School Foundation.
His involvement in these nonagricultural groups expanded his views on many issues.
“When I go to these other meetings, you have these epiphany moments –‘So THAT’S what they’re about.’”
Still, Little believes government must be limited to its proper role.
“I start off with a libertarian view – why should government do this?”
The Littles have opened some ranch land for the Gem County Cycle Park, the largest free off-road vehicle park in the West, and for trails in the Boise and Eagle foothills.
Little played a major role in the 2001 federal lawsuit that eventually blocked President Bill Clinton’s 11th-hour rule banning logging, mining and leasing on 58 million acres of roadless area, including 9.3 million acres in Idaho. That action cleared the way for adoption of Idaho’s state-specific management plan for its targeted acreage, which was endorsed by the Idaho Conservation League, timber companies, local governments, hunters and recreationists.
His business interests go well beyond the ranch. Little is a director of the Idaho headquartered company, Performance Design Inc., a small business that manufactures paper punching and document binding systems. He also has served on the board of Home Federal Bank, which later was acquired by Bank of the Cascades.
Little also participated in the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry’s Business Week program, which involves hundreds of high school students and teachers meeting with business leaders from across Idaho to discuss the fundamentals of free enterprise and the entrepreneurialism that characterizes Idaho’s economy.
“Idaho has always just had to work harder. We need to capitalize on that.”
Little has experienced one of Idaho’s most persistent problems firsthand – the loss of its talented young people to other states for better jobs with bigger paychecks. After graduating from the University of Idaho, sons Adam and David moved to Seattle to work as auditors for one of the nation’s big accounting firms. But both returned after several years away.
“For one, they both married Idaho girls,” Little says. His oldest got a law degree from the University of Idaho and works for a Boise firm.
In 2009, “David came back to run the ranch because I got this job and turned a part-time job into full time,” Little said. “But a lot of people don’t have those kinds of opportunities.”
He has been working with several companies on strategies to convince Idaho’s best and brightest to stay in Idaho in the first place and return if they have already left. Idaho’s affordable cost of living, great quality of life and family-friendly atmosphere, he says, must be augmented by world-class educational opportunities that attract better career options.
“My high school classmates, some were second-generation unionized mill workers. The mill in Emmett had hundreds of workers. They’re opening a new mill now with 60. Now you graduate from high school and you can expect to have six or eight career changes,” Little says.
“They need to be prepared so they can be beneficiaries, not victims, of Idaho’s ever evolving economy.”