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Otter won’t desert gay-marriage fight, takes on challengers during election debate

BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced during a political debate Tuesday night that he plans to continue fighting same-sex marriage – though he issued a statement earlier in the day declaring that the state had done “all we can through the courts for now to defend traditional marriage in Idaho.”

Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage has been overturned in court, and the state’s appeals have failed. Same-sex couples can begin legally receiving marriage licenses in the state this morning.

But Otter, debating Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff and Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey on a Boise TV station, said the fight isn’t over.

“We still have a same-sex marriage case in Louisiana,” which he said could end up going to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I’m not giving up on it,” he said. “The voters passed that.”

Idaho voters passed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2006.

Pankey supports same-sex marriage.

“This is just about decency,” he said. “Gov. Otter is frozen in time in 2006. Frankly, I think the people of Idaho have moved along.”

Balukoff told Otter that appealing the same-sex marriage case was “foolish” and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“Governor, we have a pesky document called the United States Constitution,” Balukoff said. “This has never been about defending traditional marriage or defending the Idaho Constitution, it’s about obeying the United States Constitution; which holds supremacy over anything the voters vote for in this state or in any other.”

The candidates also clashed on a wide variety of topics, including school funding and the economy. All three agreed that Idaho’s schools are under-funded but differed on how to address that.

“I would say it could use some more funding,” Otter said, “but I don’t think you can just throw money at a problem and expect to have the great results that A.J. is talking about.”

He said his 20-point reform plan, developed by a stakeholders’ task force, points the way and can be phased in.

Balukoff said he wouldn’t raise taxes.

“The biggest political lie told is there’s no money, and the second-biggest political lie is ‘my opponent’s going to raise your taxes,’ ” he said.

He said governors can’t raise taxes on their own, and noted that the House of Representatives must originate all tax legislation.

“I’m assuming that I’m going to have to work with the budget that we already have without a tax increase,” Balukoff said. “There is money there to fund education.”

Otter questioned Balukoff’s assertion on the budget, making light of his opponent’s profession.

“What we’ve got here is we’ve got an accountant moving figures around,” Otter said. “Money is fungible, but there’s a bottom line in here someplace.”

Otter charged that the Boise School District, which Balukoff has helped oversee as a school board member for the past 17 years, got a “special little deal” in 2006 to give it more funding. Balukoff denied it; he said as a charter school district, created 10 years before statehood, the Boise School District has additional taxing authority.

“We’ve made good use of those additional funds,” Balukoff said. “Our student achievement is the highest in the state. That’s because we have money to support the curriculum that we need.”

Otter responded that the state can’t “borrow money” like the federal government.

“If A.J.’s schools are doing so good, if he wants uniform schools across the state, then give some of that money you’re getting from the state to some of those rural districts that aren’t doing as good as you.”

Otter championed programs like his new tax incentive that helped bring a new SkyWest Airlines facility to Boise. Balukoff said tax incentives amount to “competing on price” and don’t work in the end.

Pankey several times during the debate stressed that Idaho’s economy will improve if it partners with Israel.

“God will bless Idaho if we have an Israel-Idaho high-tech alliance.”

Otter is seeking a third term. In addition to Balukoff and Pankey, he faces Libertarian candidate John Bujak and two independents in November.

During Tuesday’s debate, Otter said he won’t be seeking a fourth term.

“If I did, I’d be running as a bachelor, my wife told me,” he said.


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