Idaho Gov. Butch Otter dropped something of a bombshell at a campaign fundraiser this week in Coeur d’Alene: He said he’ll run for a third term as governor in 2014.
“He was pretty emphatic about it,” said Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian.
Otter will be 72 in 2014, and if he served out a third term he would be 76 by the time it ended in 2019. He’s only one year into his second four-year term now.
“Who knows whether it’s for real or not,” said longtime Idaho political observer and Boise State University political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby. “I suspect part of this is in reaction to the speculation that he would not even finish his current term, and no governor wants to be considered a lame duck prematurely. Whether he actually runs three years from now may still be subject to question, but at least he’s asserting that he’s going to be around for a while, that he’s not done.”
Otter has taken criticism over the past month for being gone from the state, including a junket to Maui as Idaho approached its first execution in 17 years; a trip to a Republican governors meeting in Florida that left Lt. Gov. Brad Little to replace him for an annual speech to a taxpayers conference; and a decision to skip a state trade mission to Latin America in favor of a trip to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Weatherby said Otter’s announcement comes remarkably early and was “an odd way to do it.” More typically, candidates for Idaho governor make formal announcements and try to “maximize the public attention,” he said, rather than announcing “just to a select few.”
Otter made his announcement at an annual campaign fundraiser dubbed the “North Idaho Governors Ball” to about 200 paying supporters at the Coeur d’Alene Resort golf course. Attendees were surprised, said state Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene, “and then people seemed quite pleased … they cheered and clapped.”
Otter made no public announcement; he was traveling back to Boise from North Idaho on Thursday and was unavailable for comment. His staff had no additional information beyond confirming that Otter had announced at the event.
Otter does have a history of announcing early. When he ran for his first term as governor in 2006, he announced his candidacy two years ahead of time – before he’d even taken the oath of office for the congressional term to which he’d just been elected.
That move was widely perceived as a pre-emptive strike that succeeded in pushing potential rival Jim Risch, now a U.S. senator, out of the race.
Speculation has been increasing over who might run for Idaho governor in 2014, with names including Little, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and freshman U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador being bandied about.
“It may cool down a lot of the speculation,” Weatherby said. He also suggested Otter could be trying to strengthen his hand as he heads into a legislative session that’s likely to see a big fight among majority Republicans over Otter’s proposal to start a state health insurance exchange. The move is backed by business groups and mainstream Republicans but opposed by an increasingly vocal ideological wing of the party.
Otter has served in elected office since 1973, as a state lawmaker, longtime lieutenant governor, three-term congressman and governor.