Otter’s potential

Walking down a Statehouse sidewalk a few minutes ago with John Watts, newly hired as lobbyist for a collection of Idaho chambers of commerce, we spotted a familiar face running toward in the Statehouse in our direction: C.L. “Butch” Otter, the governor-elect.

It was a quick round of smiling and laughing – a standard Otter run-in. He turned to Watts and said, “Thanks for those nice comments you wrote to me.” Then to us: “And thanks for those nice comments you’re gonna write about me.” And on our way.

Another person might not have put it over, or it might even have sounded a bit ominous; but there was none of that here. Otter is pure charm. He has the gift of instant likability to a degree most politicians will only ever wish for.

By way of those comments on this site about what he’s doing, we’ll all have to wait. Our standard is to give incoming officeholders a break between election and inaugural, and not pre-judge. We’ll see how Otter, and his counterparts in other offices, do after they’re sworn in.

But maybe a few comments about Otter’s potential are warranted. Our take is that, even bearing in mind his flawed campaign in running for the job, he has the raw materials to fashion a strong governorship.

There is, for one thing, that charm.

A governor’s legal authority is limited. He has the power to appoint, in some cases to hire and fire, in limited areas to simply decide matters or in even fewer to command. But governors are often in the position of having to persuade and cajole.

Otter could excel at this. He has a long run in Idaho politics and public affairs, more than a third of a century, and he knows a whole lot of people in the state. He is favorably regarded more often than not; when people meet him, they tend to like him. He has not made a lot of enemies. There are groups of people around the state who dislike things Otter has done, mainly in his personal life, but he has over time won over a significant number. He is personally persuasive.

He has another advantage in dealing with people. Otter’s a kind of friendliness sometimes mistaken for simple good-ol-boy shallowness. He is smarter than a lot of people probably will think he is; and that is a whole lot better than the reverse.

Some of this comes from his particular kinds of life experiences. The last couple of governors, Dirk Kempthorne and Jim Risch, have been involved with Idaho government a long time too. But their career paths have been more straightforward, and in odd ways their experiences of life more circumscribed. Otter has been through various kinds of professional and business operations, worked for public and private entities, served in the legislature and executive branches, traveled unusually widely, gone through divorce and scandal and uproar. Not all of it has been happy or something he’d probably want on a resume. But as life experience, it’s given him food for thought and reflection. People who knew Otter before and after a number of those key events in the early 90s, for example, were struck by the difference in the man.

He is often described as a libertarian, period. There’s some evidence for that even in his congressional career (his criticism of the Patriot Act, his initial stance on land sales). But there’s also lots of evidence that he has, over the years, broadened his perspective. And his new bride, with her background in public education, may contribute to that as well.

Otter has the potential to make that next commentary a pretty good one. Starting next month, we’ll see what he does with the potential.

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One Comment

  1. gregsm said:

    I’ve been fortunate to know Butch for a number of years, and consider myself fortunate to have a strong mutual friendship. As I mentioned on KIVI when I was doing election night analysis and commentary, “you have to try to dislike Butch Otter.”

    December 7, 2006

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