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Guv pledges education funding replacement; meets with women at Capitol event

Close to 70 women turned out for Gov. Butch Otter’s “Women’s Day in the Capitol” today, at which 32 female officials of Otter’s administration explained what they and their agencies do, and then the governor and officials took questions from the audience. Questions ranged from education policy to how the state seeks diversity in appointments to boards and commissions, to how the state can help its  most vulnerable residents. Addressing education, Otter told the crowd, “We made a commitment, both myself and the Legislature, that as soon as this economy turns around, education is going to get the first money replaced.”

First Lady Lori Otter was asked why it’s important for women to have leadership roles in state government. “You become the mentor for the next generation coming through,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, anything a boy can do, a girl can do better. … You are only limited by the opportunities that you don’t take.” The governor said he wanted to respond to the “girl can do better” comment. “She only had three brothers - I had five sisters,” he said to laughter.

Asked during a break about the representation of women in his administration, Otter seemed surprised and pleased to learn that of his 77 agency heads, 27 are women. Told that the average salary for the women is well below that of the male agency heads, Otter said he’d have to analyze it more, but he said, “I’m telling you this: If Nancy Merrill became the head of the Department of Corrections, she would get Brent Reinke’s salary. … If there’s inequities, then we oughta correct them where we can and as soon as we can.”

The governor told the audience, “We thought of having the Idaho Women’s Day in the Capitol for the same reasons we have ‘Capitol for a Day,’” his traveling event that he’s taken to 40 counties so far. “The reason for that is to get access that folks normally wouldn’t have.”

Otter: ‘A day for the women’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter will host a “Women’s Day in the Capitol” tomorrow, featuring an array of female state officials in an open forum from 4-7 p.m. and guided tours of the state Capitol. “Women’s Day in the Capitol is actually Capitol for a Day for the women,” Otter said. “And the idea, of course, is to have all the women that are involved in my administration present themselves to the ladies that want to come to the state capitol, visit us and find out what their jobs are and what they do, and also if they have particular women’s issues that they want to discuss with the administrative staff, they can.”

Otter has 32 female state agency officials lined up for the event, for which KTVB-TV anchor Dee Sarton will serve as MC and at which people can ask questions of the governor and his administration on state government issues or the role of women in policy-making and state government.

Here are some stats on women in the Otter Administration, based on state payroll records from the state controller’s office as of Jan. 7, 2010:  Of the 77 state agency heads on the state’s payroll on that date, 50 were men and 27 were women. Average pay for the male state agency heads was $109,658; average pay for the female state agency heads was $88,681.

Those figures include everything from college presidents (four men, one woman) to state tax commissioners (three men, one woman); and from the Department of Administration chief, Mike Gwartney, whose salary is zero, to Otter’s three top female department heads, the heads of the departments of Agriculture, Environmental Quality and Parks. Of the 20 official state departments that make up the state’s executive branch, five are headed by women. In 2007, Otter made Idaho one of just two states in the nation with no women justices on its Supreme Court, when he appointed Joel Horton to replace retiring Justice Linda Copple-Trout, the court’s only woman justice at the time, passing over two female judges who were finalists for the post.

Said Otter, “Women in our statewide community continue to make Idaho the best place in America to live and it is time they are honored with a special day focusing on their important roles in our government, our communities and our lives.”

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About this blog

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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