BOISE - Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has endorsed candidates in 22 legislative primary races - including five challengers to current GOP incumbents, four of them from North Idaho.
“I have an agreement with the majority leadership in both the House and the Senate,” Otter said. “I will stay out of those contested races where there’s an incumbent, with the exception that if that incumbent has endorsed my opponent, I am free.”
All five – Sens. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, and Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, and Kathy Sims and Ron Mendive, both R-Coeur d’Alene – have endorsed Meridian state Sen. Russ Fulcher in the Republican primary over Otter; some of them have held fundraisers or gatherings for Fulcher.
“I think that frees me up,” Otter declared.
The endorsements in Idaho’s Tuesday primary election come as the state’s Republican Party is deeply split. An illustration: GOP 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador on Thursday endorsed all four of the North Idaho incumbents whose challengers Otter is backing.
“They’ve held true to their campaign promises and have voted the way their constituents wanted,” Labrador said.
Labrador also made waves this week by endorsing Fulcher over Otter.
Otter said the challengers he’s endorsing are better candidates. Of Patrick Whalen, the Post Falls high-tech entrepreneur who’s running against Nonini, Otter said, “Pat’s vision for economic development and education demonstrate that he understands the issues important to northern Idaho. I appreciate Pat’s philosophy of lower taxes, smaller government and better schools.”
Nonini, the former House Education Committee chairman who’s now seeking a second term in the Senate, said Thursday, “I have not supported Otter’s seven-plus years of failed leadership. I was adamantly opposed to welcoming Obamacare into Idaho and, alongside then state Rep. Labrador, I helped defeat the governor’s attempt in the depth of our recession to raise the gas tax on all Idahoans. Idaho is no better off today than it was when he became governor.”
That kind of high-profile split among elected members of the same party has become something of a hallmark of this year’s GOP primary election. It’s the second-ever Idaho GOP primary that’ll be closed to anyone other than registered Republicans, a move Otter opposed.
Otter has endorsed 14 GOP legislative incumbents in the primary, including Sens. Shawn Keough of Sandpoint and John Goedde of Coeur d’Alene, and Reps. George Eskridge of Dover, Ed Morse of Hayden and Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene. He’s backing Stephen Snedden, an attorney and former Sandpoint city councilman, in the three-way GOP contest for the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake; and Greg Gfeller, an Avista executive who’s in a three-way GOP race to replace retiring Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls.
Statewide, his highest-profile endorsement is for Abby Lee, who is running against Senate Resources Chairman Pearce in southern Idaho’s District 9.
Not only is Pearce backing Fulcher and the slate of anti-establishment candidates he’s leading in the GOP primary, he also angered Otter by leading the effort to reject Joan Hurlock, Otter’s nominee for the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, in 2012.
Otter said others who differed with his choice came to him and explained their concerns, but Pearce didn’t. “None of them told her that she would be much better off on the nursing board,” Otter said; Hurlock’s not a nurse.
“That is an affront,” Otter said. “That’s just insensitive. We can disagree, but I think we have to do it as gentlemen and ladies.”
Besides, Otter said he thinks Lee is a “tremendous candidate.”
Pearce, an eight-term senator, has raised $13,000 for his re-election campaign since January. Lee has raised more than $36,000, nearly all of it from individuals in the southwestern Idaho district.