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Finishing the debate

malloy CHUCK

In Idaho

Gov. Butch Otter, the longtime “Happy Warrior” of Idaho politics, who prides himself on running “positive campaigns,” has taken on a far different approach against his Democratic challenger, A.J. Balukoff. And Otter is going against political scripture in the process.

Republicans are supposed to cater to the rich while Democrats promote class warfare. What we’re seeing here is a wealthy Republican governor attacking his challenger, a successful businessman, for having too much money and spending large sums to finance his campaign.

“Help us beat our multi-million dollar Democratic opponent,” Otter says in a fund-raising appeal. “(Balukoff) has already started radio and television ads spending roughly $625,000 in the month of August. We need to stop him from buying this election with his self-funding campaign.”

Otter raises much of his campaign funds the old fashioned way – through lobbyists. Otter’s head cheerleader is the powerful Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, which bills itself as non-partisan and usually caters to rich businessmen like Balukoff. But in this campaign, IACI has opened a website ( that lashes Balukoff for standing with President Obama and liberal Democrats.

There’s one big flaw with the premise. Balukoff says he supported Mitt Romney in the last presidential election and contributed generously to his campaign. That hardly makes sense for Idaho’s leading Democratic torch carrier at the moment, but as Balukoff says, he doesn’t care much for partisan politics.

A few things brought up by the Otter campaign are true. Balukoff is a multi-millionaire who plans to spend “what it takes” to get his name and message out statewide. If it takes more than $1 million out of pocket, then so be it.

“I am in this campaign to win,” he said.

Balukoff is taking the right path in this political environment in which money means everything. He cannot rely on the “free media” to run his press releases or cover town hall meetings – as Sen. Russ Fulcher found out in his unsuccessful challenge to Otter in the GOP primary. Balukoff is making many of the same points as Fulcher did regarding the economy and lack of leadership. The difference is Fulcher didn’t have the money to flood the airwaves with his message; Balukoff does.

It’s odd that IACI is putting so much effort into this race, because Balukoff is on the organization’s side on several issues – even more than Otter in some cases. Balukoff says he supports IACI’s positions on a constitutional amendment to reduce the two-thirds voter approval for passage of school board levies, Medicaid expansion and the state health exchange. He stands with IACI in support of Congressman Mike Simpson’s proposal for the Boulder White Clouds wilderness. Otter, by contrast, firmly stands with IACI on only one of those issues – the state health exchange.

IACI’s website, Balukoff says, “reminds me of second graders on a playground saying, ‘A.J. is a liberal, A.J. is a liberal.’

As for Otter, he has never had to go negative against an opponent. Of course, he has never had an opponent with a serious chance of winning. Education and the economy are Balukoff’s two biggest issues, and on those Otter’s record reads like Jimmy Carter’s Greatest Hits.

Before Otter took office seven years ago, eight states were below Idaho in per capita income. Today, only Mississippi has a lower per capita income.
Idaho has one of the highest, if not the highest, percentage of people making the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The rates of high school graduates going onto college has dropped dramatically over the years as tuition rises and financial commitment from the Legislature decreases.

Idaho is dead last in per-pupil spending under Otter’s watch.

Then, there was that disgusting televised primary debate in which Otter insisted on the inclusion of two political circus clowns, which prevented Otter’s chief opponent (Fulcher) from making serious headway. Otter, in setting his own rules, turned Idaho into a national laughingstock, which in itself is a firing offense in the business world. As time goes, Balukoff probably will bring up other issues – including the Corrections Corporation of America’s handling of the prison system – and he has a fat bank account to make sure Idahoans hear about all of them.

Otter and IACI may have started the fight, but Balukoff is prepared to finish it.

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