September 30, 2006 in Idaho

Candidates offering new TV ads

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE – As Idaho’s campaign season moves into full swing, new ads have sprouted on TV from three major candidates – including a controversial one from Republican candidate for governor Butch Otter.

Otter’s first ad decries the GOP-dominated Legislature’s decision to build underground “wings” onto the state Capitol – a decision that followed years of debate and that current Gov. Jim Risch supports as the least expensive alternative.

Democratic candidate for governor Jerry Brady and Republican candidate for Congress Bill Sali also have their first TV ads out this week. Both are positive ads introducing the candidates and their views and featuring Idaho scenery.

Sali’s Democratic opponent, Larry Grant, began running his first ad two weeks earlier, a spot that introduces the candidate as a former vice president of Micron Technology.

None of the introductory ads makes factual claims on issues except Otter’s, which suggests that rather than spending $50 million to build underground wings, Idaho could just use a nearby historic post office building it recently acquired that’s partly vacant, and “take that $50 million and put it into schools, roads or other pressing needs for the taxpayers.”

But that assumes renovating the historic Borah Post Office building to ease overflowing legislative hearing rooms would cost nothing.

Earlier this month, an analysis of costs by the state’s Legislative Services office concluded that remodeling the state-owned old Ada County Courthouse and the Borah building – an alternative that was considered instead of building the wings – would cost at least $46.2 million, about $1 million more than the $45 million wings.

Risch told the Associated Press this week that he originally backed using the old courthouse to ease crowding in the state Capitol, and building a tunnel to connect it to the Statehouse across the street. But, he said, “As time went on, I’d have to say that my final judgment on this was the wings are the cheapest alternative, and they are the preferable option.”

Lawmakers debated the issue hotly for several years before settling on the wings last legislative session. On Wednesday, the Idaho Building Authority approved the sale of $130 million in bonds to cover both an $85 million renovation of the deteriorating state Capitol, and the $45 million wings. Cigarette tax revenues will pay off the bonds.

The underground wings would include large new public hearing rooms. Current legislative meeting rooms are so small that people who come to testify or listen often are forced to stand in hallways outside.

Brady, too, opposes the Capitol wings as too expensive, but he doesn’t mention the issue in his first TV campaign commercial.

Brady’s ad includes family photos and information about his background, and closes with the casually dressed candidate standing in front of a scenic waterfall, saying, “Our way of life is threatened by politicians who raise our taxes and want to sell off our public lands, but Idaho is not for sale, and I’m not either.”

Sali’s ad portrays him as a “Republican leader” as well as a father and grandfather. His ad opens with, “Bill Sali grew up in Idaho, and he’s committed to our conservative values.”

Jim Weatherby, political scientist emeritus at Boise State University, said Otter’s ad is markedly different from the other candidates’ but noted that as a three-term congressman and the state’s longest-serving lieutenant governor, Otter may feel little need to introduce himself. Otter did run more general, introductory ads during the primary election campaign.

“He’s certainly weighing in on what may not be one of the most pressing issues in the state,” Weatherby said, “but he is showing his fundamental conservatism.”

Otter, in his ad, says his opposition to the wings shows he’ll “run government the old-fashioned way, lean and smart.”

“It’s an interesting move,” Weatherby said. “The criticism really is of his own Republican legislators – it’s the Republican Legislature that made this decision.”

The Otter campaign said it has more TV ads in the works.

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