Writings and observations

A question

carlson CHRIS


Some Idaho political reporters have pointed out that if Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter is elected to a third consecutive term on November 4th he will be only the second governor in state history to accomplish that feat.

The first was Robert E. Smylie, who served 12 years from 1955 to 1967. Over the years since Statehood (July 3rd, 1890) the Idaho Legislature has gone back and forth on the issue of term limits for a governor and how long a term was to be.

In the state’s early history governors were elected just to two year terms and at times could run as often as they liked. In the mid-1940’s, however, it was decided that a governor should serve only one four year term. This might have been a delayed reaction to Governor C. Ben Ross, who won three consecutive two-year terms in the 1930’s.

The first governor the change applied to was C.A. “Doc” Robins, a medical doctor from St. Maries and the first governor from north Idaho. He served from 1947 to 1951 and his tenure saw implementation of many progressive reforms.

He was succeeded by a Grangeville legislator, car dealer and former Hells Canyon sheep rancher named Len. B. Jordan, who served from 1951 to 1955. During his tenure the Legislature decided to lift term limits on the governor’s term altogether.

Jordan then could have run for several more terms but in an unusual act of integrity declined to do so. He told the media of that day that the people of Idaho had elected him thinking he would serve just the one term. He said it would violate the bond of trust he had with the voters and he would not do that.

The governor who has served the most time in office is of course Cecil Andrus, who was elected four times but the 14 years he served were not consecutive.

Idaho’s Constitution is one of those that gives a Lieutenant Governor all the powers of the elected governor when the governor is out of state. Not only can he exercise these powers he also is paid at the considerably higher pay level of a governor.

Butch Otter served 14 years in the post. Elected in 1986 when Andrus was elected to his third term, he and Andrus worked an arrangement whereby Butch pulled no fast ones when Andrus was out of state. On occasion Andrus would sanction Otter selecting a Republican to fill a vacancy in a legislative seat or county commission.

During his 14 year tenure Butch served 8 year under Andrus, 4 years under Batt and the first 2 years of Dirk Kempthorne’s tenure.

Curious to know how many days during those 14 years Butch filled in and was in reality the Governor, I asked current Lt. Governor Brad Little for the information.

Brad’s aide, Greg Wilson, was surprised at how challenging it was. He went to the Controller’s office which reviewed Otter’s pay slips to come up with the total hours. One then had to divide the total pay by the daily pay rate.

It would be a travesty if during those 14 years Butch had served as governor more than two years thus enabling him to claim (if elected to a third term) that upon completion of his third term, if one added the days he was “acting governor,” he, not Andrus was the longest serving governor.

Complicating this effort was the inability of the Controller’s office to provide the data for the first three years Butch filled the job. The only solution was to take the average of the 11 years add it to the missing years.

Totals based on pay slips:

1990 total pay divided by daily rate of $151.10= 20.75 days
1991 (same) = 29.5 days
1992 (same) = 39.5 days
1993 (same) = 21.5 days
1994 (same) = 51.5 days
1995 Total pay divided by daily rate of $176.70=39.25 days
1996 (same) =28.25 days
1997 (same) =30.5 days
1998 (same) =17.75 days
1999 Total pay divided by daily rate of $186.81 = 83 days
2000 Total pay divided by daily rate of $192.99 = 64.25 days
2001 (same) = 3.75 days
TOTAL 429.5 days
Average for those 11 years is 39 days times three* 117 days

If Butch wins a third term, he can claim to have served the second longest tenure of an Idaho governor, 13 and a half years, with Andrus still holding the record.

Whether or not Governor Otter ends up serving only 9 and a half years,, answer this question: name one positive accomplishment during his tenure. There’s a long list of negatives, from eviscerating funding for education to going easy on the federal government to stay on schedule for clean up of nuclear waste to busted economic stimulus plans. Send him back to his ranch, folks.

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