CALDWELL, Idaho – Phil Batt wasn’t Idaho’s flashiest governor, but the onion farmer from Wilder was one of its most respected, both for his fiscal restraint and his political vision.
So when Batt, now 83, stepped away from his retirement on Tuesday to endorse Vaughn Ward in an Idaho GOP congressional primary race, it resounded.
“I think the governor understands the gravity of the situation, with trying to take back this seat,” said Ward, who faces Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, and three other Republicans in the GOP primary race for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District seat – which now is held by Democrat Walt Minnick.
Batt said he’s not particularly displeased with the performance of Minnick, a conservative “Blue Dog” Democrat. But he said his biggest concern is the fiscal state of the nation, and while he faults both parties for the state of affairs, he’s convinced the best fix is a turnover of power back to Republicans, starting with the U.S. House.
“I’m concerned we’re headed to the financial precipice,” Batt declared, and called Ward “a fiscal conservative who will turn off this disgraceful federal money spout that is heading us into bankruptcy.”
When Batt was chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, he rebuilt it from a low point at which Idaho’s state Senate was split 21-21 between Republicans and Democrats, into the powerhouse it is today, controlling every statewide elective office, three of four seats in the congressional delegation and two-thirds of the Legislature.
Batt followed that with a term as governor from 1994 to 1998 that saw significant reforms, from easing certain sentencing laws for minor offenses that were quickly filling the state’s prisons to successfully fighting to extend workers’ compensation coverage to farm workers. Known then as “Governor Tightwad,” Batt also became famous for his penny-pinching ways and took pride in substantially trimming the number of state employees.
Batt joined an array of GOP elected officials from the Canyon County area in endorsing Ward on Tuesday, including several state lawmakers, two county sheriffs and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna.
Labrador, meanwhile, has racked up endorsements from former 1st District GOP Congressman Bill Sali and an array of conservative state lawmakers.
Batt said he decided to endorse Ward, a decorated Iraq and Afghanistan vet and former aide to then-U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne, because “I think he’s a better-qualified candidate, a deeper thinker, a harder worker.
“The elections are fast approaching, and it’s time for us to get off the fences and get involved – and that’s what I’m doing today.”