When a few years back then-Governor Dirk Kempthorne battled with the Idaho Legislature and dragged it out to a record length, he seemed to emerge strengthened, and the legislature almost a bit chastened. That could still happen in this new squabble over transportation funding, which presently looks to extend the already second-longest-ever session out into May.
The prevailing view in Boise, though, seems to be that Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter isn't likely to get the best of it. That was view voiced across the spectrum and by a number of people who personally and/or philosophically like Otter. Mash their views, and you get a sense that he's picked the wrong battle at the wrong time, and that his legendary personal charm is failing him now.
The Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert (in a post headlines "Why Butch Otter is losing the battle") offered this: "Otter is contriving a crisis. He has no other option. And he risks political backlash. He risks being seen as the guy who insists on raising taxes during a recession — and who insists on holding the Legislature captive, at a taxpayer cost of $30,000 a day."
Is there political subtext? Of course there is.
From Dennis Mansfield (who, it should be noted, years ago ran in a Republican primary against Otter): "I'm thinking that Governor Otter hoped for a whole heck of a better 'gig' than the one he got in 2006. It's like watching a photocopy of a photocopy of former Gov. Kempthorne's last couple of years in office...only earlier, isn't it? Ahh, the anguish.... Let it be known that I'm startin' to think that Butch positioned his old friend Brad Little as Lt. Gov, with a keen eye on a possible self-exit strategy for 2010...and the waters around him are being 'chummed'."
The question of whether Otter will seek a second term next year remains out. (An opt-out does feel a bit more likely now than, say, six months ago.)
Still. We asked one veteran Republican observer (who counts himself a long-time fan of Otter): Short of dropping out, is there political meaning if Otter loses this battle? He's highly unlikely to lose to a Democrat, right? The Republican agreed with that.
But what about a primary challenge? Suppose Otter got a challenge from a well-established, strong contender who could prospectively run a serious campaign - such as, to pull a name out of the air, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle. Could Otter be vulnerable? The Republican's take: Otter would probably win, but not definitely, and it could well be close.
In Idaho in recent years, few legislative battles have had much political impact in the elections that followed. This one just possibly might.