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Posts tagged as “Governor Butch Otter”

No barking in the night-time

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Two years ago at this point, Idaho was headed for a major clash within the Republican Party.

It was two years ago last week that Russell Fulcher, then a state senator from Meridian, announced he would oppose incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter in the Republican primary. That launched the most serious opposition from inside his own party to an Idaho governor in almost 50 years, though Otter would go on to win it decisively.

Months before that, in June 2013, Bryan Smith launched his campaign for the 2nd District U.S. House seat, opposing veteran Republican incumbent Mike Simpson in the May 2014 primary. He campaigned steadily for nearly a year before losing, by a strong margin, on election day.

In starting their campaigns well before the end of the year before the election year, Fulcher and Smith - who were not alone in Idaho in launching primary competition campaigns along that schedule - were doing the smart thing. Money is an important factor in many campaigns, but time is often an underrated asset, or liability if you have too little of it. I even think of the two as being mathematically related: Extra time, or money, can help make up for a deficiency on the other side of the equation. And Fulcher and Smith must have entered their campaigns knowing they were likely to be outspent (as they eventually were), so the extra time was a helpful element.

One point here is that, even with lengthy campaign efforts, each fell short, and it wasn’t especially close.

Another point is that no one this year has been making similar effort in the year-before to start an insurgent campaign the way those two did.

By this point in the last election cycle, as I noted, a significant clash between wings of the Republican Party in the state was already well in the making, and it became a big and highly unusual conflict, with what amounted to two separate slates going to war with each other in the primary. The election delivered a clear win to one of those sides - the incumbent, more establishment side - but it didn’t end the splits or the conflict, as demonstrated in the rancorous party convention of 2014.

That seemed to set up the likelihood of another, similar, battle for 2016. But no such battle seems to be coming together. Look around and you’re not seeing announcements of primary challenges around the state, a contrast to the last cycle.

There are several possible reasons. One of the biggest is simply the lack of major offices to run for: Above the legislative level, that would be just the two U.S. House seats, and both incumbents (Republicans Raul Labrador and Simpson) look likely to seek re-election and are strongly entrenched.

Nor is there, offhand, any particular reason to anticipate major fireworks on the legislative level. Put aside the presidential race and Idaho’s politics in 2016 look pretty quiet. In state, political people probably are thinking more about 2018 (when, among other things, Otter likely will step aside and open the office for someone else) than 2016.

It may be that some of the activism within the Republican Party could be diverted to the presidential nomination contest, where some of those same debates could play out (in a proxy way).

But the absence of Idaho dogs barking in the night-time, as the Sherlock Holmes story had it, may translate to an absence of heated politics in the state next year.

Tethered

In trying to evaluate the evolving end game of the Idaho Legislature, threatening to become the longest-ever next week, you're finding more immovable objects than irresistible forces.

The Idaho House has adjourned sine die - for the year - or so its majority hopes. That hope will die after three days, since the Idaho Senate is not adjourning, yet, and seems likely not to right away. And since in Idaho neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the approval of the other, the Idaho House will be back for more business. Probably on Monday.

(And yes, we've seen this happen before. The most memorable occasion we recall, from back in the 80s, it was the Senate that tried to adjourn, and was dragged back by the House.)

For all that, we're leaning toward the idea that the Idaho House's take on the sticking point issue - transportation funding - is the side more likely to prevail.

Evidence for this comes from Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's Capitol for a Day visit to the small farm town of Midvale, the kind of conservative and traditional and Republican kind of place that ordinarily should be Otter's kind of place. Yesterday, however, in the Idaho Statesman's report, "Gov. Butch Otter spent six hours Tuesday fending off accusations he's abandoned rural Idaho and surrendered state sovereignty to the U.S. government."

And that he wants to raise taxes all over the place.

The mood was angry, we'd guess Otter was stunned by the reaction. This really was, literally, exactly Otter's kind of place, what should be about as friendly a piece of real estate as you'd find in Idaho for this kind of governor.

Otter is now offering compromises, one of which was rejected by the House before its attempt at adjournment. We'd guess there will be more attempts at compromise as soon as they return. And this will go on until the House majority gets something it finds acceptable.

The House is tethered into the driver's seat.

Sounds of silence

This isn't a suggestion you'll often see in this space, but nevertheless: The executive and legislative branches in Idaho, if they want to adjourn the legislative session any time remotely soon, need to go behind closed doors and say and do practically nothing publicly.

The problem all sides now have is that they violated the first rule of negotiation: They have have given themselves no room for maneuver or compromise. The one advantage all sides - Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, the Idaho Senate and the Idaho House - have had, is that they are governed by natural political allies. They have no particular need or desire to damage the other side. The disadvantage is that their respective bottom lines have become so clear that there's no longer any way (so far as we can see) that anyone can win, without someone taking a big fall. The positions have become so hardened that circumstances have become erratic - "bizarre," Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said, and he's right.

Meetings of legislators among themselves and with the governor may be the best hope for finding some way for the loser in this conflict to save as much face as possible. Imagine the governor and his sharpest critics in the legislature locked in a room for eight hours; you'd have to guess they'd come up with something.

But every public statement, every public vote or veto, draws the canyon all the deeper. This session of the Legislature, which has completed nearly all its business, is on track to become the longest ever, as of next week.