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State human resources chief retires

Vicki Tokita has retired as Idaho's director of human resources, Gov. Butch Otter announced; her retirement was effective Jan. 1. Tokita had worked for the state for 37 years, including 19 in human resources; she was named head of the Division of Human Resources in February of 2011. David Fulkerson has been named as interim administrator until a successor is appointed.

Otter praised Tokita's service. “Vicki has done a great job keeping our agencies informed and aligned with our statewide human resources objectives," he said. "Her experience and collaborative style of working through these often difficult issues has set a standard of excellence. I’m confident she has prepared the Division of Human Resources well for the challenges ahead, but Vicki will be sorely missed.”

Tokita said, “I was proud to serve the citizens of Idaho in many capacities, and now I’m off to serve my family.”

Otter offers mussel-encrusted license plate to Interior secretary

At the recent Western Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter brandished a license plate that had been soaked for a year in Lake Mead and was encrusted with invasive quagga mussels, asking Interior Secretary Sally Jewell when the Obama Administration would get inspection and contamination stations up and running at the infested lake to help halt the spread of the invasive species. BSU political science professor Justin Vaughn was in the audience, and reported that Jewell made it clear she’s aware of the issue and said she’d look into it; his full report in the Blue Review is online here. Vaughn reported that Otter offered Jewell the mussel-encrusted license plate to take back to Washington, D.C., but she declined – it’s illegal to transport invasive species.

Idaho Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, soaked 500 of the license plates in the infested lake for displays to help make the point about the threat from the mussels, which haven't yet invaded Idaho. "We'll lose so much if these get into our region," he said, adding that he was "thrilled" to see the issue take center stage so dramatically at the WGA conference.

Otter tamps down expectations for election-year legislative session

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Gov. Butch Otter today continued to tamp down expectations for the election-year legislative session that will convene on Jan. 6, just months before Idaho’s May 20 primary election. Addressing the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho, Otter promised “more of the same” from him, with a lean, cautious approach to new spending or programs, despite the state’s recovering economy. The governor’s already drawn a primary challenge from Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, and a Democratic challenger, A.J. Balukoff; every seat in the Legislature also will be on the ballot.

Idaho Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she expected caution from the governor in an election year, but was “disappointed” by what she heard. “It’s our job to do good policy for the people we represent,” she said. “I hope we actually get something accomplished.”


Otter promises ‘more of the same’ in upcoming legislative session

Gov. Butch Otter told more than 400 local officials, legislators, lobbyists and others gathered for the 67th Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference today that the headline for his agenda for the upcoming legislative session should be “More of the Same.” “I would rather be a little short on the front end, and perhaps under-promise and over-deliver,” Otter said. “And that’s what I think we’ve done in the last seven years with the help of the Legislature, and that’s what I’m planning on doing with the rest of my time on office.”

Otter said the state budget that’s set for the coming year likely will represent an increase of between 3 and 3.5 percent. “I would tell you, in my meetings with the JFAC chairs and leadership, we’re going to focus on replenishing some of those institutions that the Constitution tells us is our responsibility – we’ll focus on those first,” he said. “Then, next, other proper roles of government that we can agree need to be replenished. And finally, well maybe not finally, replenish our savings.”

Said the governor, “I don’t know what we would’ve done in 2008 if we hadn’t had $400 million in savings. … I can tell you there’s nothing tougher to do or more dysfunctional in government than a holdback.”

Dem candidate for governor has vast personal wealth

The personal wealth of Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff is vast, Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports this morning, and Balukoff has been very open about it, including his ability to at least partially self-fund his campaign; he has that in common with current Gov. Butch Otter, a multi-millionaire who in August forgave a $131,000 loan to his own campaign. Popkey reports that Balukoff’s net worth is between $40 million and $50 million; plus, his wife, Susie, one of four heirs to the Skagg’s drugstore fortune, has an inheritance worth $20 million. Popkey’s full report is online here.

Otter to contractors: Re-election looms before Medicaid, road challenges…

When Gov. Butch Otter addressed the Associated General Contractors winter meeting on Friday, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports, he was clear about his biggest challenge in the coming year, and why it’s not increasing transportation funding or expanding Medicaid to 100,000 uninsured Idahoans. “Greatest challenge? Gettin’ me re-elected,” Otter told the group, joining in a big laugh. And, Popkey reports, that’s why Otter’s predicting a quick, relatively controversy-free legislative session, putting off the Medicaid debate for another year and launching a poll to see where Idahoans stand on road and bridge improvements, in advance of more debate later on, should he win a third term. Popkey’s full post is online here; click below for an AP version of Popkey's Sunday story on the planned poll.

Idaho campaigns feature stars: Christie for Otter, ‘Duck Dynasty’ for Denney

Sure, Butch Otter is bringing in big GOP political star Chris Christie for a fundraiser tonight at the Coeur d'Alene Resort, but former House Speaker Lawerence Denney has stars of his own headed to Idaho for a fundraiser for his campaign for Secretary of State: The main characters from the popular "Duck Dynasty" reality show on A&E, who'll talk family values in a stadium show in March and visit with Denney supporters at a VIP reception. “They’re good family-values people and we’re happy to have ‘em coming,” Denney said.

Pulling in out-of-state star power to boost a campaign isn’t uncommon, notes Boise State University emeritus professor Jim Weatherby, especially for a top office like governor. He pointed to presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s campaigning with movie star Chuck Norris, and declaring that he was “Chuck Norris approved.” Christie “certainly has star power,” Weatherby said. “He’s an excellent speaker and I suspect will draw a big crowd.”

As for Denney’s race, Weatherby said, “It’s a little hard sometimes to get a lot of excitement for some of the elected positions like Secretary of State.”

Denney said he put in an offer to get the famously bearded TV stars to come out, and was surprised when they accepted. He’ll pay them a flat fee, and they’ll present “Happy, Happy, Happy: An Evening with A&E’s Duck Dynasty” at the Idaho Center in Nampa on March 29, 2014. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Otter on school reform: ‘Right now we’ve all got a chance to make it a bipartisan issue’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he’s working on a five-year plan to implement the recommendations of his education stakeholders task force. But asked about legislation unveiled by Democratic lawmakers today to adopt all the recommendations into law as a framework for the state, Otter said, “I think it’s great. Basically, I’m taking their (the task force's) framework and I’m putting it into a road map.”

Otter, speaking to the Idaho Tribes Summit this morning, said, “I’m going to be as aggressive as I can, but it’s going to take five years, I believe, in order to put another $270 million into education.” That’s the total price tag for the recommendations less the $82 million that’s just restoring past cuts – so it’s the “new money,” he said. “Getting that money back is going to take a couple years, but it’s high on our agenda. It’s a total bill of $350 million bucks. I think it’s doable, but I think it’s only doable over five years.”

Otter said in his plan, “I feel confident in being able to write that first year … in ink, but the next four years I’ll probably write that in pencil.” He said he’ll want schools to preserve efficiencies they’ve developed during the years of cutbacks, including a $3.8 million annual savings from energy-efficiency improvements ranging from upgraded lightbulbs to new windows and improvements to boilers. “I don’t want to lose those efficiencies,” he said.

Asked if education reform can be a bipartisan issue in Idaho – after the tumult and rancor over the voter-rejected GOP “Students Come First” school reform laws – Otter said “I think it’s got to. I think it could and I think it should.” With the economy turning around, he said, “Right now we’ve all got a chance to make it a bipartisan issue.”

Otter campaign responds to Balukoff announcement in guv’s race

Gov. Butch Otter's re-election campaign released this statement today in response to the announcement from A.J. Balukoff that he'll run for Idaho governor as a Democrat:

“While others campaign and consider their options, Governor Otter is busy governing and continuing to position Idaho at the forefront of growth, job creation and freedom. He’s staying focused on the proper role of government while defending Idaho’s independence, addressing our workforce needs and creating economic opportunity for all Idahoans. That said, the Governor looks forward to discussing with voters the implications of a Democrat working to advance the Obama administration’s big-government priorities here in Idaho.”

You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Otter wants applications for state Board of Ed opening by Dec. 9

Gov. Butch Otter is asking anyone interested in the opening on the state Board of Education to apply by Dec. 9, a week from next Monday. The opening comes after Otter appointed board member Ken Edmunds to head the state Department of Labor; the appointee will serve out Edmunds' term, which runs through March 1, 2018. Otter noted that state law says the best applicant must be chosen for the position, without regard to "locality, occupation, party affiliation or religion."

“The goal in all my appointments to the Board is to find members who can view Idaho’s education system holistically, putting aside parochial connections to any single institution and instead focusing on our statewide needs and opportunities for improvement,” Otter said in a statement.  “Our colleges and universities have the responsibility to help prepare Idaho’s workforce for the future. The Board of Education is charged with ensuring those institutions have the tools and the oversight they need to work collaboratively toward our statewide goals.”

Otter's choice to fill the vacancy would be subject to confirmation by the state Senate. To apply for the vacancy, send a resume and a letter of interest to the governor's office, to the attention of Anne Beebe.

When history rhymes: A look back at the last time an Idaho guv was defeated in the primary…

In his Johnson Post blog, Marc Johnson offers an interesting take today on the historical parallels between this year, when two-term Gov. Butch Otter faces a primary challenge from a member of an insurgent wing of the Idaho Republican Party, state Sen. Russ Fulcher, to 1966, when popular three-term GOP Gov. Robert E. Smylie faced a similar challenge – and unexpectedly lost to Don Samuelson. “The politics of Idaho just became a lot more interesting,” Johnson writes, “and, while it should be said emphatically that Butch Otter has many, many significant advantages as he goes for a third term as governor – a solid conservative record, a winning personality, a polished retail approach to politics, lots of money, and the advantages of incumbency – once in a while history does rhyme.”

Johnson also notes that the eventual outcome of the 1966 political upheaval in Idaho was a 1970 election that began 24 straight years of Democratic control of the Idaho governorship, with the election of Cecil Andrus, “a political phenomenon that seemed unimaginable four decades ago, but that happened in no small part because of the turmoil fostered by the primary defeat of an Idaho governor who seemed unbeatable until he wasn’t.” You can read Johnson’s full piece here.

Fulcher flies around state, announces he’ll challenge Otter

State Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, launched his campaign for governor today, flying from Meridian to Coeur d'Alene to Idaho Falls to announce that he'll run against GOP Gov. Butch Otter in Idaho's May primary. Otter is a second-term governor who's seeking a third term and earlier served three terms in Congress and 14 years as the state's lieutenant governor; Fulcher is a fifth-term state senator who's taken exception to Otter's move to establish a state-based health insurance exchange, rather than letting the federal government run Idaho's exchange. Fulcher, shown here greeting supporters in Idaho Falls, said his first priority would be "reversing Gov. Otter's efforts to implement Obamacare here in Idaho," and added, "I also believe our state is going down the wrong path in areas of education and the adoption of other federal programs."

Otter, who is finishing up a state trade mission to Russia, had no immediate comment, nor did his campaign manager, Jayson Ronk, who told the Associated Press, "The governor has a campaign plan in place that we intend to execute." Click below for a full report from the AP.

Fulcher sets announcements Sat. in Meridian, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls

GOP Sen. Russ Fulcher of Meridian has scheduled announcements in Meridian, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls on Saturday to announce his “decision about a potential gubernatorial bid,” after several weeks of traveling the state to gauge support. Fulcher said he’s reached his decision “after much prayerful consideration;” you can see his full announcement schedule here.

As Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey noted this morning, “Fulcher, who isn’t made of money, surely wouldn’t be flying around the state to say he’s decided not to run.  Despite Otter’s likely financial advantage and incumbency, Fulcher’s in.”

Fulcher, currently the Senate GOP caucus chair, is a fifth-term senator and a commercial real estate agent who worked in high tech for 24 years, including 15 years at Micron Technology and nine years as vice president of sales and marketing for Preco Electronics; he grew up on a Meridian dairy farm, and holds a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Boise State University.

Fulcher’s announcement comes as Otter, the second-term Republican governor, is gone on a nine-day trade mission to Russia.

Otter names Ken Edmunds to replace retiring Roger Madsen as Labor chief

With longtime Idaho Department of Labor Director Roger Madsen's planned retirement taking effect today, Gov. Butch Otter has announced his pick for the new director: Ken Edmunds, a Twin Falls business consultant and current member of the state Board of Education. Madsen, an attorney and former state senator, was first appointed to the post by Gov. Phil Batt in 1995; the next three governors, Dirk Kempthorne, Jim Risch and Otter, all retained him in the post.

“The Department of Labor has had extraordinary leadership under Roger for 18 years," Otter said in his announcement. "I’m confident that Ken will continue that tradition of excellence while bringing valuable perspective to the job of helping prepare Idaho’s workforce for the future.” He added, "Ken’s years on the Board of Education and his private-sector experience will be critically important in positioning the Department of Labor to advance its collaborative efforts with the education and economic development communities and Idaho employers.”

Edmunds has served on the Board of Education since 2008. He holds a master’s degree in accounting from BYU, and has had his own business, financial and real estate consulting business, Edmunds Group, for the past 25 years. His current state board term runs through 2018, so Otter will need to appoint a replacement to the board. Click below for Otter's full announcement.

Edmunds, 58, said he became interested in the job through his interest and work on workforce development and improving Idaho's economy through various state board projects. "It turns out if anything I probably have greater opportunities for workforce development and growing the economy through the Idaho Department of Labor than I would have in any other venue," he said. "It's an exciting opportunity and really just gives me a chance to pursue some of the things that I've become very focused on through the Board of Education."

Edmunds will start on Nov. 25; his salary has not been set yet. "We'll work it out - it's a detail," he said. "It's going to be hard to fill Roger's shoes." Said Edmunds, "He's done a wonderful job. The department is probably as well respected an entity as you're going to find."

Otter names Nye as new district judge

Caldwell attorney Christopher Nye has been appointed by Gov. Butch Otter to be a district judge, filling a new judgeship in the 3rd Judicial District that was created by the Idaho Legislature this year. In addition to Nye, finalists for the post were Kenneth Jorgensen, a deputy Idaho attorney general, and Christopher Topmiller, chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney for Canyon County. Seven attorneys, all men, applied for the position. Click below for Otter’s full announcement.

Ed task force members: There’s agreement on needed changes, now political will needed too

Three members of the governor’s education stakeholders’ task force, which delivered a near-unanimous package of 20 recommendations to improve Idaho’s schools to Gov. Butch Otter this year, told the City Club of Boise today that it’s a mistake to focus on the potential price tag, which could eventually stretch to hundreds of millions of dollars.

“I’ve heard a lot of pushback about the cost - sticker shock’s got everybody,” said Richard Westerberg, a state Board of Education member who chaired the task force. “But I’ve yet to hear the first real criticism of the recommendations in the plan on its function. They’re good recommendations. Can it all be funded in one year? Of course not.” Westerberg said the recommendations are a framework, and the state needs to come up with a plan to accomplish it over time, while also filling in the details. “There’s a whole lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done here,” he said. “You’ve got a really good plan from a bunch of smart, dedicated folks saying, ‘Here’s what we think could help.’ I think the Legislature really wants to do right this year. I’m hopeful.”

Linda Clark, superintendent of the Meridian School District, the state’s largest district, said across the nation, states spend an average of roughly $10,000 per student to educate youngsters, while Idaho spends less than half that. “Can you fund a ‘world class’ school system at 50 percent of the average?” she asked. Years of budget cuts have cost her school district $10 million a year in state funding for basic operations, she said, and left it 117 teachers and 19 administrators below the state allocation. “That results in very high class sizes and very large work portfolios for folks. I’m concerned that as we track that over time, it will have an impact on achievement.”

Mike Lanza, a Boise parent who played a key role in the campaign to overturn the “Students Come First” school reform laws, said, “We’re not attempting to take a small step. … Because we’ve been disinvesting in education, we’ve put ourselves at a disadvantage.” He said, “It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that Idaho is on its way to becoming the Mississippi of the 21st century if we don’t start to do something about this. … We’ve basically created an inexpensive school system, which is not necessarily compatible with a great school system.”

Westerberg said the latest estimates show that by 2020, 60 to 66 percent of jobs in Idaho will require some education beyond high school, whether that’s college or a one-year certification. But now, he said, just over a third of the population gets that. “This state just is not ready for the future of employment,” he said. Meanwhile, the task force members noted that as Idaho has crimped its education funding, it’s fallen in relation to other states in personal income, and risen to first in the nation for the proportion of minimum-wage jobs. All three said a better education system is key to Idaho’s economic future, and noted that, surprisingly, the 31 diverse members of the task force virtually all agreed on what’s needed.

“While this level of collaboration and collegiality is not unprecedented in Idaho, it has been a very long time,” Clark said. Said Lanza, “There’s not a lot of disagreement … on what it takes to deliver education effectively. … We need the political will to do what many people understand needs to be done.”

Otter to leave Fri. on trade mission to Russia

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is getting ready for a nine-day trade mission in Russia.The Republican governor, his staff and Idaho business leaders will leave Boise Friday. The trip caps a busy year of international travel for Otter, who has already made official visits to Vietnam, Taiwan and Korea. The Idaho Statesman reports that (http://bit.ly/1aBdWSD ) Otter will be accompanied by 17 Commerce and Agriculture companies from a variety of industries. The trip to a country that boasts the world's 11th largest economy includes stops in Moscow and St. Petersburg. In his two terms in office, Otter has made a focus of increasing Idaho's exports. Last year was a record-breaking year as global sales of Idaho products totaled more than $6.1 billion.

It’s trick-or-treat time…

It's trick-or-treat time, and among those handing out the treats are Gov. Butch Otter and First Lady Lori Otter, who, dressed in real firefighter outfits, are dispensing candy, books and toothbrushes to costumed kids on the Statehouse steps. Otter recalled visiting Idaho firefighters on the fire lines during this year's tough wildfire season. "Those guys did such a great job, they worked so hard, spent a lot of time away from their families," he said. "We thought, 'Let's honor them.'" Then, looking around, he added, "I hope they think this is honoring them, and not just, 'Who's that idiot with the Pulaski?'"

The Statehouse trick-or-treat runs until 6:30 p.m.; meanwhile, things are gearing up on Boise's Harrison Boulevard, which is Halloween Central in this town, from the elaborate decorations to the throngs of young trick-or-treaters. There are lots and lots and lots of jack-o-lanterns…

Otter wants delay in individual mandate to let Idaho build its own exchange tech platform

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he wants a delay in the individual mandate to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, to allow Idaho's insurance exchange to get its own technology platform up and running, rather than piggybacking on the troubled federal tech site. "Of all the challenges we’re facing with Idaho’s state-based health insurance exchange, none have been more disappointing than the chorus of those who attribute each setback to cronyism or conspiracy, and those whose most constructive criticism is 'I told you so,'” Otter wrote in a statement distributed to Idaho news media today. "When we run into a problem, Idahoans fix it. When we encounter difficulties, Idahoans overcome them. We always have, and we’re working hard to do the same in this case."

Click below for Otter's full statement. He writes, "The technology consulting contract awarded to a former Exchange board member was expeditiously and correctly voided last week. Yes, it should never have happened to begin with, but when it did the process worked." Then he says he wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, requesting the delay. "They say the first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging. Folks, we can stay mired in the would have/could have/should have of this situation and let our partisan or philosophical petulance overtake us, or we can focus instead on climbing out of this hole and asserting our Idaho independence and sovereignty by finishing the job we started last winter," Otter writes. "I choose to climb."

Gov: Swelling prisons, dropping crime rates, high recidivism put Idaho at ‘crossroads’

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on study results released today showing that more than 40 percent of Idaho's prison beds are being taken up by returned probationers and parolees – helping explain why the state’s prison population has jumped by 10 percent in the past five years even as its crime rate, one of the lowest in the nation, has dropped. “Our state is at a crossroads,” Gov. Butch Otter declared, “and we need to choose a path that best protects the public and enables us to be better stewards of tax dollars.”

The study findings, from the Council of State Government’s Justice Center and the Pew Charitable Trusts, were presented to state lawmakers today as part of the criminal justice reinvestment project launched in June by all three branches of Idaho’s state government. A legislative interim committee also heard a presentation from South Dakota officials on their state’s justice reinvestment project; there, state leaders discovered, to their surprise, that 81 percent of their prison inmates were non-violent offenders, incarcerated at great cost. Major reforms followed.

Guv, first lady set 4th annual ‘Trick or Treat at the Capitol’

Gov. Butch Otter and First Lady Lori Otter plan to host their fourth annual "Trick or Treat at the Capitol" next Thursday, when the costumed governor and first lady hand out treats along with toothbrushes, floss and children's books to costumed kids who come to the Capitol steps; this year's event will run from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Pictured above are the governor and first lady's costumes from 2011, when she dressed as a referee, and he dressed as a BSU football player. Other past get-ups have included Lori Otter as Snow White and the governor as a cowboy in 2010; and both in academic caps and gowns festooned with the "Go On" slogan last year, to urge kids to go on to higher education after college. Click below for the details on this year's event.

This year, the two reportedly will be dressed as firefighters.

Report: Fulcher’s legislative record on education matches Otter’s

After Idaho Sen. Russ Fulcher told Eye on Boise this week that he’s not “on the same page” as Gov. Butch Otter on education, Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert analyzed Fulcher’s legislative record on the issue – and found that it mirrored Otter’s position nearly exactly. “Fulcher’s voting record shows that he was in line with Otter on every major education issue of 2013,” Richert reported; you can read his full report here. Fulcher is considering challenging Otter in the GOP primary in May.

Fulcher says it’ll be ‘several weeks’ before he decides whether to challenge Otter

Asked by Eye on Boise why he’s looking at a possible run for governor – against a popular two-term sitting governor from his own party – Idaho Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, said, “I just feel like we’re going down the wrong path.” Fulcher, who filed  paperwork over the weekend allowing him to begin raising funds for a possible challenge to Gov. Butch Otter in the GOP primary, said, “It is not a firm decision at this point, but what it does allow us to do is take the exploratory steps over the next few weeks. … We’ll be talking to people across the state and evaluating whether or not it’s a good idea, and whether or not there appears to be some broad-based support.”

Fulcher said the state health insurance exchange isn’t the only issue on which he differs from Otter. “I don’t think we’re on the same page with the lands issue,” he said. “I don’t think we’re on the same page, at least in terms of approach, with education.” But, he said, “Not all issues are created equal, OK? And this health care issue is a big, big deal. Here we’ve got Idaho voluntarily engaging with a program that Americans don’t want, Idahoans don’t want, and just as predicted, you’ve got the program failing out of the gate.”

Fulcher said it’ll take him “several weeks” to determine whether or not to make the run. “To do it right, you have to interact with people all over the state, so we’ll be embarking on that here in short order,” he said. “My intent is not to try to throw Butch Otter personally in the crosshairs all the time. … I’m much more focused on trying to share an alternate vision and see if there’s receptiveness to it.”

Fulcher, a commercial real estate agent, spent 24 years in high tech, working at Micron Technology for 15 years, followed by nine years as vice president of sales and marketing for Preco Electronics; he grew up on a Meridian dairy farm. He was appointed to the Idaho Senate in 2005 by then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne after the resignation under pressure of then-Sen. Jack Noble amid an ethics scandal. Fulcher said, “I’m more interested in doing what I believe is right than what’s popular. The day that I can’t look myself in the mirror and say that, look, regardless of the circumstances, I stood up for what I believe, then that’s the day I need to be gone.”

In the Senate, where Fulcher is seen as a rising leader of the GOP’s most conservative wing, he’s been an opponent of granting anti-discrimination protections to gays; sponsored successful legislation to make assisted suicide a felony; opposed legislation strengthening state day-care licensing as “government intrusion;” backed highway bonding plans that upgraded I-84 in his district; and sponsored a 2007 law requiring parental consent for minors’ abortions.

Fulcher looking at challenging Gov. Otter in GOP primary

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, says he filed preliminary paperwork Saturday for a primary challenge to GOP Gov. Butch Otter; the Idaho Statesman reported that Fulcher said he was motivated in part by his opposition to Otter's push for a state health insurance exchange. Click below for a full report from the AP and the Statesman.

Fulcher, 51, is a fifth-term state senator who is currently Senate majority caucus chairman; in December of 2010, he lost a race for the top GOP Senate leadership post, Senate president pro-tem. A former Micron executive who is now in the commercial real estate business, Fulcher holds a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Boise State University; he is married with three children.

"Today, I am submitting the appropriate paperwork to begin the exploratory process,” he said in a statement. “I will treat this process with the utmost seriousness and humility it requires. From listening to citizens from across the state to meeting with key community activists, I plan to take this time to seek wise counsel and determine if I am the right person to help Idaho grow while preserving its rich heritage and traditions.”

Otter appoints Hippler as 4th District judge, passes over Bock

Gov. Butch Otter today appointed Boise attorney Steven Hippler to a new district judge position in the 4th Judicial District. Hippler, 47, has been a partner with Givens Pursley since 2002; click below for the governor's full announcement. In addition to Hippler, the finalists for the judgeship included state Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise; Roger Cockerille; and Jason D. Scott.

Otter: ‘Federal dysfunction and mismanagement hurting Idahoans’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says Idahoans are being hurt by “federal dysfunction and mismanagement,” and he’s plenty mad about it.“Many thousands of Idahoans woke up today desperately uncertain about the future, much less their next paycheck,” Otter said in a statement. “Congress and the President are so focused on the political battle inside the Beltway that they’re ignoring the very real problems they’re creating on Main Street.”

Otter said states like Idaho are trying to do “what we can to backfill such programs as highway construction and repairs, but for the most part we aren’t even allowed to step into the breach.” Said Otter, “Our pleas are falling on deaf ears, and our patience is spent.” He announced he’ll head to Washington, D.C. next week to “speak directly with Cabinet members about Idaho’s biggest on-the-ground challenges,” but said he’s “less than optimistic about the response.” Click below for Otter’s full statement.

Otter now says he’s open to considering possible state takeover of troubled private prison

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter now says he’s open to ideas from legislative leaders and others on whether the state should take over running its troubled private prison, or whether a new private operator should be sought.             “I’m going to listen to other people,” Otter said. “I’m not foreclosing that discussion.”

Corrections Corp. of America, the nation’s largest private prison operator, announced last week that it will leave Idaho, and won’t submit a new bid to operate the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise when its contract ends next summer. The state Department of Correction is developing a request for proposals for a new private operator.

“I am confident that I am not the source of all great wisdom,” Otter said. He said he wants to “hear all the ideas from JFAC and all the ideas from leadership, as to what we ought to do.” JFAC is the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which sets the state budget; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Gary Michael named to Lottery Commission

Gary Michael, former chairman and CEO of the Albertson's grocery chain, was appointed to the Idaho Lottery Commission today by Gov. Butch Otter; the commission had a vacancy due to the death of longtime commission Chairman Roger Jones of Glenns Ferry in August. Michael, 73, retired from the grocery chain in 2001.  Otter also elevated lottery Commissioner Mel Fisher to the commission's chairmanship; click below for Otter's full announcement.

Idaho Falls attorney named to bench

Alan Stephens, a longtime attorney in Idaho Falls, has been named to a new post as a 7th District judge by Gov. Butch Otter. “I was impressed once again by the quality and diversity of candidates put forward by the Judicial Council, including a prosecutor and a magistrate," Otter said. "Alan has a long and distinguished career as a civil litigator, and I believe his experience and skill set make him an excellent match for the caseload in the Seventh District.” Click below for Otter's full announcement.

The other two finalists for the judgeship were Stephen J. Clark, a magistrate judge in Salmon, and Bruce L. Pickett, a prosecuting attorney for Bonneville County in Idaho Falls. Amy Wallace Potter also was a candidate for the judgeship but wasn’t selected by the state Judicial Council as a finalist; she’s a lawyer in private practice in Jackson, Wyo. who resides in Victor, Idaho.

Butch Can’t Shake Tight Jeans Past

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s winning a tight jeans contest has become an unwelcome part of his legacy. In the new edition of the “Almanac of American Politics,” word of Otter’s 1992 victory at Boise’s Rockin’ Rodeo lounge appears on page 523 of the 1,904-page book published by National Journal and the University of Chicago Press. Otter was 50 at the time and bested competitors half his age, who were judged on “looks, appearance in jeans, total body shape and sex appeal.” A waitress said the then-lieutenant governor’s win was no upset. “He looked great,” she said. The Almanac has also used the Otter bit in at least two prior editions, 2004 and 2006/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here. (AP file photo: Butch Otter, left, and Karl Stressman, of Colorado Springs, Colo., compete during the team roping Pocatello in 2010)

Question: Should Butch run from or embrace his "tight-jeans" contest win of some time ago?