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Eye On Olympia

Idaho’s Otter finds retail politics a hard sell in the Silver Valley…

S-R staff writer Erica Curless has a wonderful story this morning about wonderfully-named Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and his “Capitol for a Day” visits around the state.

These are a variation on Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire’s town-hall meetings, but apparently with less advance publicity.

Shoshone County wasn’t too captivated by Gov. Butch Otter’s visit Tuesday, with only a mother and her home-schooled son showing up for the “Capitol for a Day” session.

But if you’re picturing a big, echoing room with three people in it, think again.


About 40 people crammed into the room, but they didn’t exactly count as “average citizens.” All were elected or held some type of government job.

“I’ve never seen so many suits in Wallace in my life,” Mayor Ron Garitone said while welcoming Otter and several directors of state agencies, including Environmental Quality and Housing and Finance. “Someone drove by a little while ago and asked who died.”

Otter has held 11 of these events, at which he offers his time to any resident with a question, problem or compliment.

In Wallace, however,

His offer was met with silence and nervous glances around the room, which was decorated with paper Thanksgiving turkeys and fake leaves.

As Curless reports, even the home-schooled fourth grader was lukewarm on the event, yawning, staring off into the distance and venturing that “it probably won’t be interesting to me for another 16 years.” A visit to the capitol in Boise — in which he posed for a picture in the governor’s stuffed leather chair — was more exciting than actually meeting the man himself. (Aside to Olympia: Why don’t kids here get to sit in the governor’s chair?)

To salvage the day, Mayor Garitone

suggested the governor walk down the street and check out the “probabilistic” center of the universe – a sewer access cover that declares Wallace the official center of the universe. No one can prove it is or isn’t the center, Garitone explained in a 2004 dedication ceremony of the curious city landmark.

But as Randy Stapilus notes, low turnout (and reportorial snickering) shouldn’t detract from what remains a good idea.

The fact that you didn’t have an automatic flash mob at Wallace doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. The fact that the results weren’t entirely under control may mean you were doing something right.

Correction: Otter’s event was actually titled Capital for a Day, which presumably saved everyone the cost of schlepping the dome up Highway 95 and the Lewiston Grade.

Update: A sharp-eyed reader in Olympia notes that former Gov. Gary Locke did exactly the same thing in Yakima, Spokane, Vancouver and Everett.


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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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