Rivals for Idaho governor launch new ads, claims
BOISE – Both Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and his Republican challenger, state Sen. Russ Fulcher, have launched new TV commercials in the final days leading up to Tuesday’s election, but Fulcher’s contains two false claims and an exaggeration.
Fulcher’s ad, titled “It’s Time,” recites a litany of criticisms of Otter’s record in two terms as governor, as various claims flash on the screen, including “105,000 Idahoans lost insurance” and “Government dependence up 82 percent.” Neither of those claims is true.
The lost-insurance claim is based on a November 2013 state-by-state breakdown of how many people’s insurance plans would be canceled because they didn’t meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. But in December of 2013, the federal government said states could decide whether to let those non-compliant plans continue or not. Idaho opted to let all of them continue.
“Idaho did make the decision to allow people to keep those plans, and we did as well as an insurance company,” said Josh Jordan, spokesman for Blue Cross of Idaho, Idaho’s largest insurer. “So anyone who had insurance going into it was able to keep the plan they had.”
The “government dependence” claim is based on the amount of federal funds included in Idaho’s overall, all-funds state budget, according to Fulcher’s campaign, comparing fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2003.
But Otter took office in 2007. In that year, the state’s total budget included $1.8 billion in federal funds, 33.1 percent of the total. In 2014, it’s $2.4 billion, 36 percent of the total. That’s an increase of 33 percent in dollars, but a rise of just three percentage points in the share of the state’s budget. It’s no 82 percent increase.
“Our all-funds budgets have always had a significant component of federal funds, and to argue it would increase by 82 percent over a short period of time is highly questionable,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and longtime observer of Idaho state government and politics.
Fulcher’s other claims include that Otter’s held elected office for 40 years; that’s an exaggeration. Otter has served eight years as governor, six as a congressman, 14 as lieutenant governor and four years in the Legislature in the 1970s. That adds up to 32 years.
Fulcher also charges that Otter “infringed on our religious rights” and “tried to raise taxes.” His campaign said the religious rights claim refers to a failed amendment Fulcher proposed to the insurance exchange bill that Otter opposed. Otter did propose increased gas taxes in 2008 and 2009 to upgrade Idaho roads, but the Legislature rejected the proposals.
Overall, Fulcher’s new commercial goes after Otter, trying to tie him to Democratic President Barack Obama and suggest that he should retire. The ad’s closing scene features a cowboy on horseback, riding off into the sunset, as the announcer, with a heavy cowboy accent (“AH-daho” instead of “Idaho”), says, “While Butch Otter has earned our thanks, he hasn’t earned yet another term. Russ Fulcher for Governor. Because it’s time.”
China Gum, Fulcher’s campaign manager, said the ad’s message is “to explain why it’s time for new leadership.”
Other than the inaccurate claims, Weatherby called the ad “pretty well-done,” and designed to appeal to “the Republican base who strongly dislike Obama’s policy if not Obama himself.”
Otter’s new commercial features the cowboy governor sitting on a hay bale on his ranch, leading his horse and riding his horse, while talking about how his move to set up a state health insurance exchange was a move to keep Washington, D.C. from running things in Idaho. “We had two choices: Let Washington run our health care system, or do it ourselves. Some folks would rather complain, do nothing, and let Barack Obama run Idaho. I won’t let that happen,” Otter says.
Otter’s claim – that if Idaho didn’t set up a state-operated insurance exchange, the federal government would have operated one for it – is accurate. Opponents of Otter’s exchange, including Fulcher, contend it’s no better than a federal exchange because it must follow federal rules. But the 76,000 Idahoans who’ve signed up for insurance plans through the exchange so far are paying lower fees than those charged at federal exchanges, at 1.5 percent of plan cost vs. 3.5 percent.
The YourHealthIdaho exchange estimates that Idahoans saved $4.4 million as a result.
Otter also claims that he’s “long fought against Washington interference.” That’s certainly a philosophical position Otter’s long claimed.
Otter’s ad, Weatherby said, shows a “presumed front-runner individually responding to his opponent, but not directly – projecting the positive rather than the negative message.”
Voters seeing both these ads, which are running statewide but only on cable TV in North Idaho, not in the Spokane broadcast market, will be left with a question, Weatherby said: “Who do you trust, who do you believe? Because they can’t both be accurate.”