BOISE – The contest to choose Idaho’s next governor begins in earnest, with GOP Congressman Butch Otter facing Democrat Jerry Brady of Idaho Falls.
Both handily won their parties’ nominations Tuesday, with Otter defeating three Republican challengers and Brady beating one Democratic rival.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, early results showed former Congressman Larry LaRocco leading military retiree Dan Romero in the Democratic contest to challenge GOP Lt. Gov. Jim Risch in the fall. Risch was unopposed in the primary.
Otter, who has been an announced candidate for governor since before he even took his oath of office for his current term in Congress, is among Idaho’s most-elected politicians. He served longer than anyone in history as lieutenant governor – a part-time job that nevertheless requires statewide election every four years – before winning three terms in Congress.
Brady, the great-grandson of Idaho Gov. James H. Brady, is an attorney who’s been a newspaper publisher, congressional aide, Peace Corps official and economic development leader. Four years ago, he took just under 42 percent of the vote in his challenge to GOP Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s re-election bid.
Also on the ballot in November are two third-party candidates – Libertarian Ted Dunlap and Constitution Party candidate Marvin P. Richardson, who legally changed his middle name to “Pro-Life.”
As Republicans milled around at the party’s election-night bash at a Boise hotel, Otter addressed them by speaker-phone. “My apologies for not being with you,” he told the crowd.
Otter was calling from Washington, D.C., where he opted to spend election night this year, citing his congressional duties. On Tuesday afternoon, as other Idaho candidates stumped to get out the vote in the light-turnout primary, Otter participated in a congressional subcommittee hearing on the “Antifreeze Bittering Act of 2006.”
That was typical of a primary election season in which Otter never debated his main primary election challenger, health care company owner Dan Adamson of Pocatello. Adamson bitterly criticized Otter and dumped thousands of his own money into his campaign, but got little attention in the low-key primary, while candidates Walter Bayes, an anti-abortion protester, and Jack Alan Johnson, a carpenter, spent little to get their messages out.
Otter said Idaho is at a “crossroads,” adding, “I think we’ve got great potential in the world marketplace.”
Brady has been speaking out on issues from property tax reform to sales of public lands. One of his messages caught on big when he pointed out that Otter was co-sponsoring legislation in Congress to sell off millions of acres of public lands, including 5 million acres in Idaho, to raise money for hurricane relief.
Otter at first defended the bill, then, stung by an outcry from back home led by hunters, anglers and others who use public lands, withdrew his sponsorship and said it had been a mistake. “I was wrong,” he declared. “My critics are correct that this bill is not the right approach.”
Brady turned the issue into a centerpiece of his campaign, making “Idaho is not for sale” his campaign theme. “I’m going to defend our public lands, not sell out our air and water, and I’m going to see to it that we don’t sell cheaply the labor of Idaho’s working people,” Brady declared.
The two major-party candidates also have differed on property tax reform, with Otter opposing this year’s increase in the homeowner’s exemption, and Brady backing twice the increase.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, LaRocco was a last-minute entry for the chance to face Risch, whom LaRocco ran against 20 years ago for the state Senate. As his lead over Romero widened on election night, LaRocco said he plans to spend half a million dollars on his campaign for lieutenant governor. “We know what it’s going to cost – we’re going to be competitive,” he said.