Parlor politics

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Let’s start with what we think we know: 1) Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has said he is running for a third term; 2) First District Congressman Raul Labrador appears to be backing away from challenging the governor because some pundits are making much out of the little amount of fund-raising he has done lately.

Here are some other pertinent “facts”: 1) When in the Legislature then State Rep. Labrador took on the governor twice, and beat him on the issue of increased fuel taxes to further upgrade badly decaying highways and bridges; and, succeeded in replacing the governor’s hand-picked state chairman with Norm Semanko, head of the Idaho Water Users Association.

2) Supposedly this has made the two men political enemies with each hoping he has the chance metaphorically to knife the other.

3) The First Lady, Lori Otter, so enjoys her role that she is the driving force behind the governor seeking a third term.

Then there is the fact that Rep. Labrador is responsible for recruiting the Club for Growth to underwrite Idaho Falls attorney and Tea Partyite Bryan Smith’s primary challenge against long-time Second District congressman Mike Simpson. The former Blackfoot dentist is a close ally of current House Speaker John Boehner.

Now here’s what we don’t know: 1) Congressman Labrador’s longterm goal; 2) What Governor Otter’s real goal is; 3) What Governor Otter may have said to his loyal Lt. Governor, Brad Little, and 4) Whether any scientific polling has been done by anyone.

So, anyone’s guess is as good as anyone else’. Here’s my educated guess.

There is a huge bluff game being played and at this point it appears Governor Otter has bluffed Congressman Labrador into thinking he really is running for a third term. Furthermore, the governor appears to have convinced Labrador that in a head-to-head primary he would kick Labrador’s rear.

To that end there are rumors Governor Otter is quietly preparing a huge north Idaho fund-raiser that will feature – no, not Tea Party darling and the new Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz – but rather the charismatic governor from New Jersey, Chris Christie. Governor Christie is clearly no favorite of the Tea Party so this has about it an “in your face” message to Labrador.

Neither does holding a fund-raiser remove all doubt about the governor’s intentions. He does in fact have a hold-over campaign debt (a loan from himself to his campaign) and the proceeds all could go to paying off the debt to himself.

My guess is that if Governor Otter runs, he would crush the overly ambitious congressman. Labrador’s votes against funding much of the Idaho National Lab activity are simply inexplicable and downright suicidal if he were considering a statewide run. Secondly, Labrador is out of step with much of the Idaho agriculture community’s views on immigration reform.

Neither does Labrador have deep personal Idaho roots nor has he spent years gathering the numerous personal relationships Governor Otter has.

Even with the hefty financial support of a fellow Mormon, like Frank VanderSloot, the millionaire owner of Melaleuca, it would be an expensive campaign.

Here’s the real wild card in this game of bluff: some pundits believe Governor Otter long ago gave his word to Brad Little that he would only serve two terms and then make way for Brad to succeed him. Little was a talented state senator from Gem County and has been a loyal understudy.

He is ready to be governor full-time (and has been part-time more than people think with the number of days Otter has been out of state).

It is hard to see the Emmett native and successful owner of a diversified farm/cattle operation spending another four years playing second fiddle.

Don’t give any credence either to theories that Otter would run, win and then resign and hand the number one job to Little. Governors do not resign (the exception of course being University of Idaho graduate, Sarah Palin, who resigned as Alaska’s governor in order to grab for all the big bucks she could).

Idaho politics being what they are, if Otter indeed has bluffed Labrador out and then does not run, there are few who believe Little would not face a Tea Party challenger. After all, Little, like some of his GOP colleagues, likes to solve problems and recognizes politics is the art of compromise. He even thinks for himself.

In that case, look for the Tea Party to recruit someone like State Treasurer Ron Crane, or the younger Brent Crane, a state representative from Nampa, or former House Speaker Lawerence Denny from Midvale, to go after Little and deny Otter his hand-picked successor in a further paroxysm of spite and Republican self-flagellation.

The sad thing is with the new closed primary they could succeed which would be unfortunate because Little is one of just a small handful of reasonable Republicans that could be excellent governors and to date are better than any names put forward by the Democrats.

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