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 primary 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 2013, the federal government said states could decide whether to let those noncompliant plans continue or not. Idaho opted to let all of them continue.
The “government dependence” claim is based on the amount of federal funds included in Idaho’s overall 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; in 2014, it’s $2.4 billion. That’s an increase of 33 percent in dollars, but a rise of just 3 percentage points in the share of the state’s budget.
Overall, Fulcher’s new commercial goes after Otter, trying to tie him to Democratic President Barack Obama and suggesting that he should retire. The ad’s closing scene features a cowboy on horseback, riding off into the sunset.
Other than the inaccurate claims, Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and longtime observer of Idaho state government, 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, 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 the feds at bay.
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.
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.”
The ads are running statewide but only on cable TV in North Idaho, not in the Spokane broadcast market.