Writings and observations

carlson CHRIS


Idaho’s political cognoscenti (a nice way of saying “junkies”) would probably agree with the statement that historically most of Idaho’s outstanding governors first cut their teeth with service in the Idaho Legislature.

Democrats like John Evans and Cecil Andrus, and Republicans like Phil Batt and C.A. “Doc” Robins come immediately to mind.

Conversely, governors who have struggled to govern well and often clashed with the Legislature’s leadership seldom have any legislative service or at best one term in the distant past. Current Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter and former Governor Dirk Kempthorne immediately come to mind.

Politics is all about relationships, and working with fellow citizens for the common good. It is not for the faint-hearted and as has been often pointed out it is a contact sport. Governors who emerge from the Legislature have built-in advantages regarding relationships with fellow legislators and often a solid knowledge of the state’s budget as well as how state agencies operate.

On June 5 a panel at Idaho State University co-sponsored by the Idaho State Journal. Purpose of the panel was to discuss the future direction of Idaho’s politics. Not surprisingly I predicted that Governor Otter would seek a third term largely because both he and First Lady like the limelight.

His paucity of accomplishments when one looks at his dismal record makes one wonder why he would even want a third term. In this writer’s opinion the litany of failures does not begin to warrant re-election, but he is the incumbent and incumbents tend to win.

I also predicted First District congressman Raul Labrador would not challenge Butch but instead would stay in the Congress, and that his reelection campaign would be run by John Foster, a former aide to one-term Democratic congressman Walt Minnick. Foster has since become a Republican and emphatically denies he will be running Labrador’s campaign.

I surprised the audience though when I said if Otter did not run there were only four Republicans I considered to be really qualified to be governor:

Lt. Governor Brad Little, House Speaker Scott Bedke, Sandpoint State Senator Shawn Keough, and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis from Idaho Falls.

Besides Senator Davis, there was one other panel member that as we went along I realized had the potential to be a good governor – former Democratic Pocatello State Representative James Ruchti, who served in the House from 2006 through 2010.

A 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Ruchti completed his fiveyear obligation and was honorably discharged. He went on to the University of Idaho Law School from which he received his Juris Doctorate in 2001.

He has been in private practice ever since. Though he loved the Legislature he left to pay more attention to his law practice and generate more income to ensure he and wife Wendy’s two children would be well-educated.

Ruchti gave several well-worded and thoughtful answers to questions from the audience and pre-empted every panel member on a question about whether a controversial city ordinance regarding additional protection’s for the Gay, Lesbian and Trans-Gender community should be put to a city-wide vote.

“You don’t vote on human rights, period,” Ruchti said. It was an answer every panel member appeared to agree with, including Majority Leader Davis, who also provided the audience with thoughtful, well-considered answers.

Ruchti ended the panel session with an impassioned plea for Idaho to come up with another true transformational leader to overcome the harsh partisan environment, a leader who could inspire the voters to follow a more constructive path.

In my book Idaho’s Democrats would be smart to look to Ruchti to carry their gubernatorial banner in 2014 rather than Boise school board president A.J. Balukoff, a retired Certified Public Accountant who though a passionate advocate for education and a genuine philanthropist, has no legislative experience.

Idaho’s Republicans would be smart also to keep grooming the solid bench they have in Little, Bedke, Keough and Davis. All are thoughtful conservatives who understand governors are elected to solve problems. None are lock-step ideologues who will toady to the absurdities of the Tea Party kooks in their midst.

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