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The Otter message

malloy CHUCK

In Idaho

Judging by his margin of victory, Gov. Butch Otter sealed the deal on this election long before the Oct. 30 debate on Idaho Public Television. But if there were any doubts about Otter in rural Idaho, where Otter practically is a political folk hero, they were quickly dashed in the debate.

From a rural perspective, Otter, the rodeo cowboy, was going against all the forces of evil. There was a Democratic egghead, a smooth-talking lawyer and a liberal media panel that peppered him with questions about issues that didn’t amount to a jar of tobacco spit – mainly, the prison scandal and settlement amounts.
Otter, the smart politician he is, turned the situation in his favor. He fought back, putting the rich Democrat, the lawyer and the liberal press in their place. A few times, he stood toe to toe with John Bujak, looking him straight in the eye – which, given Bujak’s physical stature, was like staring down Mean Joe Greene.

Somewhere in rural Idaho, someone had to be saying, “You tell ‘em, Butch.” The rural folk couldn’t care less if the settlement amount with Corrections Corporation of America was $1 million, or $1.3 million, or whether he participated in negotiations that gave the CCA a golden parachute. One thing people in rural Idaho can understand is how to deal with tough times, and Otter played those cards just right. It’s easy for people in Boise to talk about spending more for education and raising taxes; it’s a lot tougher for people in rural Idaho to come up with the cash.

For almost an hour and a half, Otter showed a side of him that has been missing for so long. He’s the guy who, as a legislator, voted “not no, but HELL NO,” on a bill he didn’t like. As lieutenant governor, he vetoed a bill to raise the drinking age when the governor was out of town because he didn’t want to yield to the federal government’s blackmail. As a congressman, Otter stood up to a Republican president at the height of his popularity to oppose the Patriot Act, because he thought it trampled on people’s civil rights.

During the talk about the Patriot Act, calls of “You tell ‘em, Butch,” didn’t just come from rural Idaho. Otter was a champion of the people and even the editorial pages gave him credit.

The last time I saw Otter with spunk and energy was in 2009 when Otter was pushing for a 2-cent gas tax to repair Idaho roads. He stood up to Republican legislators, including now-Congressman Raul Labrador, and told it like it was. Idaho roads were crumbling and a 2-cent gas tax was the least painful way of paying for the needed work. Otter was beaten down on that issue by House Republicans and Otter turned into just another politician trying to keep his job. The strategy for Republicans in 2010, when Otter was seeking re-election the first time, was for everybody to be unified. The governor’s office and leadership in both chambers were using almost identical talking points to illustrate how the GOP was effectively managing Idaho through difficult economic times. State sovereignty resolutions poured out of the chute like popcorn during that session – showing that the GOP was firmly committed to standing up to the federal government.

Otter’s go-along, get-along, approach remained throughout his second term. Sure, there was fuss over a state health exchange, common core and Luna laws, but he had the blessing of legislative leadership at every turn. His last State of the State speech, which contained a litany of references about government programs, government partnerships and rhetoric about “what government has, and can, do for you,” was an example of what Otter had become.

So now, Otter is heading for a third term and I hope to see more of the old Butch Otter, who had unquestionably high principles and convictions. I hope to see the Butch Otter who puts the people ahead of the cronies and power brokers. In reality, Otter has nothing to accomplish or prove in the next four years. He’s unstoppable in elections and he already has achieved greatness in the eyes of voters.

The message from this election is that Otter can stay in office for as long as he wants.

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