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Eye On Boise

Guv’s top aide has been a lightning rod

Gov. Butch Otter’s administration chief and close friend, Mike Gwartney, has been something of a lightning rod for controversy throughout Otter’s term in office, attracting the ire of state workers for proposing cuts to health benefits and clashing with lawmakers on everything from activities in the newly renovated state Capitol - a project he oversaw - to his plans to trim health coverage for state retirees and part-time state workers. Gwartney, 69, who’s retiring from state service today, is a retired corporate executive who served as chairman and CEO of Farmers and Merchants State Bank and chairman of Regence BlueShield of Idaho; was vice president for human resources at Boise Cascade Corp.; and was a member of the Idaho House from 1976 to 1982.

When Gwartney first was named head of the Department of Administration, Otter was planning to phase the department out; instead, it grew and took on new duties, including consolidating information technology systems for all state agencies and handling the controversial Idaho Education Network project to link Idaho schools with a broadband network; that’s now been shifted to the state Department of Education. In a 2008 interview, Gwartney said, “I’ve learned a couple things. You can’t run state government like you run a business. There’s more transparency, deservedly so. There are more people looking over your shoulder - the Legislature, the governor’s staff. But on the other hand, you can bring business practices to government.”

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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