Carlson: Five to watch

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter says he will seek a third term. Good! With the way he is “mailing it in” that may provide Democrats with the first real opportunity to occupy the executive chair since then Attorney General Larry Echohawk lost to Phil Batt in 1994.

In 2014 it will have been 20 years since an Idaho Democrat held the office. If one thinks history is a guide, and has noted the 24 year cycles, then Butch will get his third term in 2014 and the Democrats won’t recapture the governor’s chair until 2018.

Governor C.A. “Doc” Robins began a 24 year Republican hold on the office when he ousted Arnold Williams in 1946. Cecil Andrus began a 24 year Democratic hold when he ousted Republican Don Samuelson in 1970.

The key question though is can Idaho Democrats pick out a winner in 2014 or 2018, someone who can make the case for moderation and a non-ideological, bi-partisan approach to attacking and solving Idaho’s many challenges?

Democrats may start to get some idea who might be their next standard bearer when they attend the annual Frank Church Dinner on February 25th in Boise. The event is returning to the Riverside Inn and will allow potential candidates to host hospitality rooms.

In the run-up to securing the 2014 nomination here are five individuals to keep an eye on:

1) State Rep. Brian Cronin. If education is the issue, and whether the loony Luna/Otter phony reform package is repealed this November will be a real indicator, the 41-year-old Minority Caucus chair from District 19 is well positioned to speak out forcefully. An education consultant he has an Ed. M in Teaching and Curriculum from Harvard that he received in 1995.

His thoughtful and articulate critique of the many deficiencies in the reform package won respect from proponents who couldn’t help being charmed by his ability to disagree without being disagreeable. The Idaho Education Association would be a source of both funding and volunteers if he were to run.

2) State Senator Michelle Stennett. The 51-year-old Senate Minority Caucus chair represents Blaine County (District 25), the center of the “wine and cheese” liberal Democrats in Idaho. With a minor in business to go along with her degree from the University of Oregon in International Studies and Latin Languages, she also loves to hunt, fish, camp and horseback ride. Thus, she also has a foot in the “lunch-bucket” Democrats camp as well.

With a background in sales and marketing from having worked for the family-owned television stations, as well as five years with Horizon Air and Sun Valley Air, she is a true “business Democrat.” Her priority issues are job creation, an educated workforce and protecting Idaho’s open spaces, clean air and water, and providing for good habitat for wildlife. She could be formidable with an ability to raise money in the wealthiest county in Idaho (Blaine) and solid business contacts cultivated over the years.

3) Mayor Dave Bieter. Safely re-elected to a third term as Boise’s Mayor with 74% of the vote, the former legislator has nowhere to go but up. A talented member of one of the Boise area’s numerous hard-working Basque families, he succeeded his father following Pat’s death in 1999 then won the 19th district seat in his own right. The 52-year-old Bieter is a graduate of Bishop Kelly, majored in International Studies at Minnesota’s St. Thomas University, and then secured his J.D. from the University of Idaho.

There was speculation he might run in 2010 but he chose not to do so. There are persistent reports his wife is not keen on a run for state-wide office. Some even question whether he has the fire in the belly, the burning, all-consuming desire to be governor that is necessary to sustain any aspirant through the inevitable dark day or two all campaigns encounter.

4) Doug Siddoway. Yes there is a true-blue Democrat in the Siddoway family. Doug, 60, is the “black sheep” of this southeastern Idaho sheep ranching family and is a cousin to State Senator Jeff Siddoway. Of Basque heritage (He was adopted as an infant), he is a graduate of South Fremont High in Ashton, Notre Dame, and the University of Utah’s College of Law. He and his wife, Washington State Court of Appeals Judge Laurel Siddoway, have a home and farm in Fremont County and Doug is renewing his Idaho residency.

A thoughtful, soft-spoken business attorney in Spokane, he rolls his own cigarettes and conveys the aura of a solid, common sense westerner. He would eat Butch alive in a debate. May opt to run for a county or state legislative position first and an obvious dark horse but he has genuine cowboy/sheep man charisma and could catch on.

5) Keith Allred. Not sure the 48-year-old, California-born public policy wonk with a PhD in conflict resolution from UCLA is even interested in another gubernatorial run, but if he is it will be interesting to see what he learned from the thumping (32% of the vote) he took and what he would do differently.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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