BOISE – Two of Gov. Butch Otter’s opponents in the GOP primary are critical of his high-profile legal fight against federal health care reform, and say they’d approach it differently.
Sharon Ullman, an Ada County commissioner, said, “In Ada County, I believe we’re actually solving problems, not just talking about what we’re going to do to fight Obama.”
She pointed to a pilot project she’s helped develop in the county to have Idaho State University health sciences students, in partnership with the local health department and the state Department of Health and Welfare, provide preventive health screenings to low-income uninsured patients. For those with medical problems, information is provided on how to get low-cost treatment at clinics with sliding-scale fees.
Ullman also faulted Otter for proposing an increase in the county share of catastrophic medical costs for indigent residents before a state fund kicks in.
“We need to be – instead of pointing fingers back and forth from one level of government to another – we need to be solving the problem, and preventive care does that – it’s part of reducing the cost,” Ullman said.
Rex Rammell, a former elk rancher, calls the health care reform lawsuit “ridiculous,” saying, “It’s not going to go anywhere. … It’s all grandstanding, it’s election-year politics.”
Rammell said his solution is rather than suing, to simply refuse to go along with federal requirements. “I don’t think we need the lawsuit,” he said. “I think what we need to do is just say no, just simply defy them.”
At a bill-signing ceremony this year at which Otter talked about the legal challenge, Otter said if the state loses the case, it’d have to follow the rule of law.
Rammell said, “If I’m the governor, we’re just not gonna do it – that’s the difference between Rex Rammell and Butch Otter.”
Others on the ballot for the GOP primary include Walt Bayes of Wilder; Ron “Pete” Peterson of Boise; and Tamara Wells of Post Falls.
On the Democratic side, candidate Keith Allred has called for taking advantage of a provision of the federal health care reform law that allows states to opt out of its requirements if they develop their own health care plans that meet certain standards.
Batt: ‘Day of reckoning’
Former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt stepped back into the political spotlight last week when he endorsed congressional candidate Vaughn Ward; Batt, now 83, is retired. Asked what he’s been up to, he said he doesn’t do much of anything but play a little golf.
He still watches Idaho politics and government, though. He said when lawmakers made sharp cuts in the state budget this year, “I don’t think they had any choice. They may have been a little ham-handed at times. … I think they did the right thing.”
He added, “Those sales tax exemptions are going to be on the table one of these days. I think they were right to put it off.” Batt said he’s still disappointed, however, that the Legislature didn’t address Otter’s call in the past few years to step up highway maintenance funding. “There’s gonna be a day of reckoning on that,” Batt said.
Laws’ quiet passage
Among the dozens of bills quietly signed into law in the past week and a half by Otter: HB 496, requiring Idaho voters to show photo identification when they go to the polls; HB 531a, making secret the names of all Fish and Game hunting and fishing license and tag holders; and HB 589, the “Idaho Firearms Freedom Act,” declaring guns manufactured in Idaho exempt from federal laws, including registration requirements, in an attempt to spur a multi-state federal lawsuit challenging the reach of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
There was SB 1385, softening statutory rape penalties for consensual sex between teenagers of certain ages; SB 1335a, making enrollment in the state’s immunization reminder registry automatic unless parents “opt out;” and HB 692a, cutting pay for the state’s top elected officials by 4 percent next year, restoring it to this year’s level a year later, and then granting them raises in the following two years.
Otter hasn’t vetoed a single bill passed by this year’s Legislature.
Buying power rises
The Idaho Department of Labor reports that despite the recession, Hispanic economic influence in Idaho has continued to grow. “The buying power of all 1.5 million Idahoans rose fractionally from 2008 to 2009, but Hispanic buying power grew 10 times faster than the buying power of the state’s non-Hispanic majority, according to estimates from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia,” the department reported. “Last year was the sixth straight year Idaho Hispanics have fared better than Hispanics nationwide.”
Buying power is the after-tax personal income people have to spend on everything from necessities to luxuries; it doesn’t include money borrowed or saved from previous years, or money spent in the state by visitors from other states or countries.