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Clock ticks in Idaho’s race for governor

Wed., July 29, 2009

Democrats looking for candidate; Otter quiet

BOISE – Idaho has a half dozen lesser-known candidates out stumping for governor, but no word yet from the two major parties – including that of Gov. Butch Otter – on who will top their tickets.

On Tuesday, the Idaho Democratic Party launched a candidate recruitment committee for the 2010 elections, which party Chairman Keith Roark said will look most closely at the governor’s race.

“We intend to offer a better alternative – someone who has a clear vision for Idaho’s future, especially our economic future,” he said.

Otter, a Republican, said he applauds the effort, but added, “It would be unfortunate if they had to talk somebody into doing it, because these things are tough enough when you do it and you’ve got fire in your belly.”

Otter said he wouldn’t “lock myself down to a deadline” on when he’ll announce his intentions, but said, “I can tell you we’ve got a committee that is working on candidate recruitment as well – not for the office of governor, I can assure you – but candidate recruitment where we think we can marshal our resources and make a difference.”

Longtime Idaho political observer Jim Weatherby, a political scientist emeritus at Boise State University, said it’s not unduly late for an incumbent governor to announce his intentions; former Gov. Phil Batt made his announcement the September of the year before the election. But it is getting late for a major-party challenger to step forward. “They should be raising money,” Weatherby said.

Three Republicans, two independents and one Democrat have filed the preliminary paperwork with the state to become candidates and begin raising money; Otter’s paperwork, first filed in 2004, carries over. “I’m raising money,” he said.

Former state Rep. Jana Kemp, a moderate Republican from Boise, is running as an independent, focusing on education.

Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman, a Republican who’s also held office as a Democrat, is running as a Republican.

Pro-Life, the candidate formerly known as Marvin Richardson, is running as an independent. Rex Rammell, former elk rancher and unsuccessful independent candidate for U.S. Senate, is running as a Republican.

Lee R. Chaney Jr., of Preston, is running as a Democrat, although on his campaign Web site he says he’s neither a Democrat nor a Republican: “I am one of the People.” And Ron “Pete” Peterson, a retired state employee, amateur comedian and former Otter supporter, is running as a Republican, declaring, “I do not have the slightest interest in becoming Idaho’s next governor. I just want someone other than Butch.”

Peterson launched his campaign Monday at a Boise bikini bar.

Weatherby said he sometimes wonders why such candidates run.

“It fulfills some need, I guess, to be recognized, or in some cases to focus on an issue,” he said. “You can’t … talk about Pro-Life without talking about abortion.” Also, protest candidates such as Peterson can inflict an “embarrassment factor” on major candidates by garnering a share of the votes in a primary, when turnout is low.

“Obviously, that’s the beauty of our system, that anybody that wants to get out and hustle can get their name on the ballot,” Otter said. “The mix is pretty, let’s say, interesting.”

He added, “The voters are going to know, I believe, as we get into the substance of the race, that these are serious times that require serious consideration. … We’ve got some heavy lifting to do.”

These candidates, Weatherby said, do bring color and interest to the race, even if they don’t have much to say on major policy issues.

“It reminds people that there is a gubernatorial election,” he said, “and if you were following our major parties, you wouldn’t know that.”

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