In the final debate between the candidates for governor last night in Twin Falls (read the full story here), it was Democrat Jerry Brady – not GOP Congressman Butch Otter – who garnered the sole outburst of applause from an audience of 250. Otter continually threw jabs at Brady accusing him of being a dam-breacher, wolf-lover and backer of alien amnesty, all of which Brady calmly rejected. “What was surprising to me was he (Otter) was much more negative than Brady was,” said Albertson College of Idaho political scientist Jasper LiCalzi.
The roar of applause from the audience – complete with approving whistles – came an hour into the 90-minute debate on KTVB-TV, after a question about air quality regulations. Otter responded first, saying he’d trust the Idaho Legislature even if it defied the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations. “I believe that the state Legislature probably has a lot more wisdom on what happens in Idaho and should happen in Idaho than any bureaucrat in the EPA sitting on Independence Avenue in Washington, D.C.,” Otter said. “My trust is with the Legislature, and I would work with them to maintain a standard whether or not it fit the federal government mold. I believe we can do what we want to in the state of Idaho.”
Brady responded by citing a proposal by an out-of-state energy company to build a coal-fired power plant in the Magic Valley. “A California utility came here, said, ‘We want to bring Wyoming coal into this valley, we want to burn it, we want to pollute your air, pollute your water, leave all of our ash behind, and ship the electricity out to the West Coast.’ I opposed it,” Brady said. “My opponent supported them, took their side, and took $6,000 from them.” The Legislature supported Magic Valley residents who pushed for a moratorium to block the coal plant, Brady said, but then, when a federal program threatened to allow more mercury emissions in Idaho – the very issue that raised concerns about the coal plant – the Legislature didn’t respond. “I said no, Gov. (Jim) Risch later said no, but the Legislature said yes,” Brady said. “Now, I do not believe we can be sure that the Legislature will make the right decision without a governor who is committed to keeping mercury out of our state.” The room erupted in applause.
It was a key moment in a campaign that’s become increasingly tight as the election approaches. An independent poll sponsored by the Idaho Statesman newspaper and KIVI Channel 6 TV in Nampa, released on Sunday, showed the governor’s race in Idaho a dead heat, with Otter leading Brady by a single percentage point, 44-43, with 12 percent undecided.
LiCalzi said the mercury issue went to the heart of the message Brady’s been pushing in his campaign, that he’d be more diligent than Otter in protecting Idaho’s quality of life. That’s embodied in Brady’s campaign slogan, “Idaho is not for sale,” which refers back to Otter’s sponsorship of legislation in Congress to sell off Idaho public lands, which Otter dropped and apologized for after criticism from Brady and others. “That’s the strongest piece he’s had all along,” LiCalzi said, “and he keeps on using it.” The issue is somewhat reminiscent, he said, of the issue Cecil Andrus first rode into the governorship, when he opposed a mining operation in the White Clouds mountains.
Otter took on the land sale issue head-on in the debate, saying, “I did make a mistake and I admitted that mistake. I think when you’re in politics your burden is even heavier – when you make a mistake you stand up and say so.”