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Otter Not Planning To Spend Surplus

Gov. Butch Otter is rejecting the notion that a projected $162 million in unexpected revenue means the 2014 Legislature should aim to boost spending. Otter said he’s “bound and determined that the government is not going to grow back at the same rate that the economy grows” and said the lessons of the Great Recession prove government can do with less by exercising fiscal discipline, co-locating agencies and engaging in partnerships outside of government. “That all suggests to me that there’s no reason to go back to the old way of doing things: because we got a little extra money, let’s spend it,” Otter said in a Tuesday afternoon meeting with the Idaho Statesman editorial board/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Sounds like Gov. Otter is proud of Idaho's ranking as second-to-last state in the nation for spending per capita on public school students. Am I reading this right?

Read more here: http://blogs.idahostatesman.com/otter-to-ferguson-keep-your-hands-off-idahos-surplus/#storylink=cpy

Otter will accept reinstated housing stipend

Gov. Butch Otter will accept the $4,500 a month boost in his pay that’s coming June 1 when his housing stipend resumes, Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, confirmed Friday. The state paid the housing stipend to governors until the 2009 when the hilltop mansion donated by the late J.R. Simplot to the state for a governor’s mansion opened for use after renovations, but Otter never lived there; he’s Simplot’s ex-son-in-law. Instead, he continued to live at his ranch in Star, just west of Boise. Now, the mansion’s being handed back over to the Simplot family.

Otter, a multimillionaire, accepted the payments earlier, saying if other governors got the payments, he’d take them as well; Hanian said the governor’s reasoning hasn’t changed. You can read my full Sunday column here at spokesman.com.

The $54,000 a year in housing stipends will be on top of the governor’s $117,000 a year salary; by law, that salary will rise another 1.7 percent on Jan. 1, 2014 to $119,000.

Idaho to restart $4,500 monthly housing allowance for governor June 1

Idaho plans to resume paying a $4,500 monthly governor's housing stipend to Gov. Butch Otter starting June 1, the AP reports, as it clears out furniture from the vacant governor's mansion in Boise where he never lived in preparation for returning the home to J.R. Simplot's family. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller. The state decided earlier this year to give the hilltop mansion back to the descendants of Simplot, the billionaire potato mogul who donated the 7,400-square-foot home to be used as a residence for Idaho's chief executive in 2004, four years before he died at age 99. Otter, Simplot's former son-in-law, declined to live in it, however, and escalating costs of about $180,000 annually to water the expansive lawn and maintain the 33-year-old home threatened to quickly drain what had once been a $1.5 million fund to cover housing expenses for the state's chief executive. It's dwindled to just $775,000, as maintenance, electricity and repair costs added up.

The decision to restore the housing stipend to 2009 levels — it was discontinued after the house was ready to live in following renovations — was unanimous among the Republican and Democratic members of the Governor's Housing Committee. The panel concluded the $54,000 annual cost was a relative bargain, compared to keeping the home. "It's a lot cheaper than $179,000," said Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, who said future governors may not be from the Boise area and could require support beyond their salary to maintain a second residence and entertain official guests, as Otter does now at his ranch west of Boise.

Coast Guard issues permit, ‘Race the St. Joe’ jet boat race is back on

The "Race the St. Joe" jet boat race near St. Maries on May 17-19 is back on, after the U.S. Coast Guard today issued a permit for the event. Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho's congressional delegation had pleaded with the Coast Guard to permit this year's race, rather than first require a lengthy environmental assessment that would have taken until far past the race date. The permit was issued today.

Commander Eric Belleque, chief of external affairs for Coast Guard District 13, said Friday that environmental concerns were being addressed "by requirements imposed by federal, state and local agencies on the event sponsors," and that he was confident the permit would be issued in time. Otter's letter to the Coast Guard included a memo from Idaho Fish & Game addressing concerns over eagle nests and bull trout, and recommending that zones be established around eagle nests for the event and spectators and vehicles kept out of those zones. With those steps, Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore said the event wouldn't impact sensitive wildlife in the area.

Belleque said, "As environmental stewards, the Coast Guard is responsible for ensuring that our marine event permit process complies with the letter and spirit of the law." Click below for Otter's full announcement.

Governor, congressional delegation push Coast Guard to OK St. Joe jet boat race

Both Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho’s congressional delegation fired off letters to the Coast Guard yesterday pushing for approval of the jet boat race on the St. Joe River in North Idaho that had been scheduled for May 17-19 – until the Coast Guard launched an environmental assessment process that will take until long after the race date has passed. “We ask that you use your authority to issue the permit to allow the races to proceed as planned,” Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo and 1stDistrict Rep. Raul Labrador wrote to Coast Guard Rear Admiral Keith A. Taylor. Wrote the governor, “Since the race is in less than two weeks, I am requesting the USCG use its discretion to assess the merits of the complaint and exercise its authority to issue a permit by May 10, 2013, to ensure that the race can take place.”

Both said the event had all its needed permits from the state and Benewah and Shoshone counties, but after a protest was received, the need for a Coast Guard permit was triggered – and the Coast Guard said it would take a 135-day environmental assessment before that could be issued. “This series of events has placed the race organizers in a no-win situation,” the senators and congressman wrote. “They did not need a permit from the USCB until a complaint was filed, and the complaint was not filed in time for the USCG to complete an environmental assessment so that a permit could be issued before the dates of the races.”

Otter attached a memo to his letter from Idaho Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore saying the proposed races wouldn’t have significant impact on bull trout; and potential impacts on bald eagle nests could be mitigated by setting up a zone around each nest site a quarter-mile in radius, on both sides of the river, where no spectators could gather or park to watch the race, and monitoring the nest sites both before and after the race.

Wrote Otter, “As you can see from the biological science, the jet boat race should be permitted if proper steps are taken by race organizers.” He argued, “The Race the Joe! Jet boat race has an important positive economic impact to the surrounding communities.”

The congressional delegation encouraged the Coast Guard to complete the environmental assessment for future events, but let this year’s race go forward. You can read the governor’s letter here, and the delegation’s letter here.

Otter sent letters pitching Idaho to 79 gun, ammo makers in 28 states

When Idaho Gov. Butch Otter decided to go after gun and ammo manufacturers elsewhere in a bid to convince them to move their businesses to Idaho, he didn’t do it in a small way. The governor penned a two-page letter that went out to 79 gun and ammunition manufacturers in 28 states. “Here in Idaho, gun ownership is more than a constitutional right; it’s a way of life,” Otter said in the letter. “That’s why I’m personally extending an invitation for you to grow your bottom line here in Idaho and joint the business momentum we are experiencing in Idaho.”

He added, “In Idaho, we know what ‘business friendly’ means. We cherish and defend freedom, and we protect the Second Amendment. Those principles are in the very fiber of who we are, and we welcome the opportunity to show you our great state and be a partner in your future success.” You can read the April 25 letter here.

Otter signs first two pardons as governor, both for first-time drug-sale offenders

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has pardoned two first-time offenders who were convicted of selling drugs to undercover officers, years after they served their time, paid all restitution and fines, met and exceeded the terms of their parole and lived for years in society as employed, productive citizens. They are the only pardons Otter’s signed since he first was elected governor in 2006. “I do not condone the sale or manufacture of illegal drugs,” Otter wrote in his orders approving the pardons of each of the two men, Eric Robert Hinckley, 37, and Robert Frank Thornton, 57. “Notwithstanding these concerns, there are several mitigating factors that weigh in favor of clemency.”

Hinckley was convicted of delivery of a controlled substance in 2002 in Bonneville County, for selling methamphetamine. Since completing his sentence and his parole, he’s obtained a college degree, married and held the same job for nine years. Thornton was convicted of two counts of delivery of a controlled substance, cocaine, in an undercover police operation in Ada County in 1992. Like Hinckley, he pled guilty, completed his sentence and parole; since then, he’s been a law-abiding citizen for 17 years; he is employed as a construction supervisor. Both men are married with children and own homes. “This is the way it’s supposed to work,” Otter said in a statement. “We send people to prison to protect the public, for punishment and as a deterrent. But we also send them to prison to be rehabilitated and, we hope, to be redeemed as citizens, neighbors, fathers, husbands and taxpayers. Too often it doesn’t work out that way. But for Robert Thornton and Eric Hinckley, it did. I’m proud of them. I’m confident they’ll stay on track.”

Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, said although the orders were dated April 8, Otter just signed them last week. “So we just put it out,” he said. “He was doing is own due diligence; that’s what took so long.” The two cases had “unique circumstances,” Hanian said, including unanimous recommendations from the state Commission on Pardons and Parole to grant pardons. “These are the first two pardons that the governor has ever signed,” Hanian said. “It’s unusual that one reaches the governor’s office.”

How about the ‘Official Month of Many Proclamations,’ perhaps?

May is a multi-purpose month in Idaho, according to seven official proclamations (so far) signed by Gov. Butch Otter. May 2013 in Idaho has now been officially proclaimed as 2nd Amendment Protection Month, Building Safety Month, Community Action Month, Electrical Safety Month, Lupus Awareness Month, Mental Health Month, and Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.

“This time of year is our peak for proclamations,” said Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary; May and June are the busiest months. The governor signs lots of proclamations declaring official days, weeks or months, usually at the request of various organizations. But no organization requested today’s “2nd Amendment Protection Month” proclamation, Hanian said. “In this case, he initiated this. … This was something he wanted to do.”

“He wants gun manufacturers to know that while there are some states going after the 2nd Amendment, in Idaho we plan to uphold it,” Hanian said. “We want them to know that here in Idaho, the welcome mat is out.”

Otter to gun, ammo makers: Come to Idaho

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today proclaimed May to be “2nd Amendment Protection Month” and is inviting arms and ammunition manufacturers to consider relocating to the Gem State. “The National Rifle Association ranks Idaho as a gun-friendly state whose laws are among the least restrictive in the nation,” Otter said in his official proclamation. “The state of Idaho openly embraces companies in the arms and ammunition manufacturing sector to expand or relocate to the state.”

The governor also sent letters to industry leaders to press his invitation, writing, “In Idaho, we know what ‘business friendly’ means.”

His proclamation and efforts were touted in a press release from the state’s Department of Commerce, which quoted Fred Newcome, vice president of sales for PNW Arms, which recently relocated to Potlatch, Idaho, saying, “Idaho offered us an opportunity to relocate somewhere where we could be in a more comfortable environment.”

The department said in its release, “Idaho already is home to a robust, thriving arms and ammunition industry with over 180 companies that manufacture custom arms, aftermarket parts and specialized ammunition. The state embraces this industry sector and has a number of statutes in place restricting lawsuits against firearms or ammunition manufactures and limiting product liability.” Click here for a link to the governor's full proclamation; click below for the full Commerce announcement. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Otter calls Asia trade mission a success

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has returned from a six-day trade mission to Asia, and reports that he views the mission to South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam as a success. During the trip, the Idaho Department of Commerce signed a memorandum of understanding with the Taiwan Industrial Development Bureau on cooperation in research and development of geothermal energy. Two fresh produce importers in Taipei singed up to import onions from the Idaho-Eastern Oregon region this fall; the Idaho Potato Commission identified market segments it can tap in Korea and Vietnam; and Idaho food products, wine and vodka were featured at a promotion in Taipei that included a chef demonstration by Rod Jessick, executive chef at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.

Click below for the governor’s full announcement.

2014 Elections: Blockbuster Or Bore?

Thirteen months out from the 2014 Idaho primaries, and a little more than 18 months away from the general election, what can we expect? Perhaps a snoozer? Randy Stapilus — a longtime Northwest political observer and former Idaho newspaper editor — advances that theory in a weekend column making the rounds. By already formally announcing his bid for a second term, Sen. Jim Risch probably “cleared the field of serious opposition,” says Stapilus. And incumbent Gov. Butch Otter may well be doing the same by signaling his plans to seek a third term. Writes Stapilus: “The closest thing to a wild card among major offices seems to be superintendent of public instruction, mainly because incumbent Tom Luna endured a big crashing ballot issue defeat last year on school overhaul, the centerpiece of his two terms in office”/Kevin Richert, The EDge. More here.

Question: Is Idaho Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna vulnerable if he seeks re-election in 2014?

State insurance exchange board opens first meeting…

The board of Idaho’s new state-based health insurance exchange board opened its first meeting this morning in the Lincoln Auditorium in the state Capitol; it is being video streamed live online here. “We have a challenge ahead of us,” said interim exchange board chairman Stephen Weeg, the retired head of a community health center, Health West, in eastern Idaho. “There was a huge amount of work on the part of a lot of people … to see Idaho create its own health insurance exchange. And the little task that we have before us is between now and October, get a business started and make an exchange operational and make it work for the citizens of Idaho.”

The 19-member board is scheduled to meet from 8:30 to 4 today, and tomorrow until noon. Today’s agenda includes overviews of the law that set up the exchange and Idaho Open Meeting Law requirements; a review of the exchange’s scope and requirements and the roles of the state departments of insurance and health and welfare; and setting of key tasks and time frames. Tomorrow morning at 9, the board is scheduled to go into executive session for a telephone interview with a candidate for executive director of the exchange.

The exchange will provide a voluntary marketplace for Idahoans to compare and buy health insurance plans online and access new government subsidies. David Hensley, Gov. Butch Otter’s chief of staff, told the board, “We’re going to be counting on each and every one of you to make this successful. … One of the most critical things to the governor is the openness, accountability and transparency of this board. He believes that we are directly responsible to the people of Idaho.”

Weeg encouraged all the board members to be active participants, saying, "My sense on this is that we'll need the collective intelligence of all of us and best work from all of us in order to make this work."

Five months after voters rejected them, teacher contract curbs from Prop 1 are back on the books

Five months after Idaho voters strongly rejected them, a series of laws limiting school teacher contract rights in the state is back on the books.   Gov. Butch Otter has signed five controversial bills into law to revive parts of voter-rejected Proposition 1, on everything from limiting negotiated teacher contract terms to just one year to allowing school districts to cut teacher pay from one year to the next without declaring financial emergencies. Four of the five bills have emergency clauses making them effective immediately – one, the bill limiting contract terms to one year, is retroactive to Nov. 21, 2012, the day the voters’ Nov. 7 decision took effect.

“Maybe there was some partisanship in those, I fully understand that,” Otter said. “I don’t think I could’ve asked, nor did I ask the Legislature to only address those things that they were going to get total, unanimous support for. I said where you can find consensus, come forward with ‘em, and we’ll work on ‘em, and we’ll work on ‘em together.” He said, “I think we picked the low-hanging fruit, and the low-hanging fruit was those things that seemed reasonable, those things that reached a consensus and those things the Legislature passed. And I’m proud.”

Otter pointed to other measures that won broad support, some of which passed without a dissenting vote in either house. One of those revived a little-remarked provision from Proposition 1 to require all teacher negotiations to take place in public; another revived a requirement for master labor agreements to be posted on school districts’ websites. A third, HB 261, forbids teacher layoffs from being done solely by seniority; that’s a change from Proposition 1’s provision that seniority not be considered at all, and the bill passed unanimously.

But the five bills, like the 2011 “Students Come First” school reform laws that Idaho voters repealed through three historic referenda in November, all passed with little or no Democratic support and with bipartisan opposition in both houses. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Otter, delegation poised for trade trip to Asia

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and a delegation of business leaders are getting ready to head to Asia to peddle and promote some Idaho's top-ticket products. The Republican governor and crew leave Friday with stops planned in South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. Taiwan is the state's third largest trade partner and South Korea is a top five export destination for Idaho businesses. As for Vietnam, state commerce officials view the country as an emerging trade partner. Some of the governor's travel partners include the Idaho Wheat Commission and The Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, which represents about 300 growers and 35 shippers. Food and agriculture products account for nearly $950 million in annual export sales, second only to the semiconductor and industrial equipment sector. The delegation is expected to return April 27.

Otter names St. Maries attorney to 1st District court bench

Gov. Butch Otter has appointed St. Maries attorney Richard S. Christensen to be a 1st District judge, filling a vacancy that will open May 1 when current 1st District Judge John Luster retires. Christensen, 57, is a former prosecutor and former deputy Idaho attorney general; most recently he's been in private practice in St. Maries. Click below for Otter's full announcement.

Otter lets organ donor bill become law without his signature, signs teacher pay-cut bill

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has allowed a twice-amended bill to promote organ donation to become law without his signature. The bill, SB 1072aa, allows Idahoans to make a voluntary $2 contribution to an organ donation fund when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses; the money would go to maintaining a statewide organ donation registry.

Otter, in a transmittal letter, said that while he supports organ donation as “a simple and effective way for citizens to save or dramatically improve a life,” he has concerns about how the program would work at the Idaho Transportation Department and how it would impact ITD’s vehicle registration systems. He directed ITD, the Legislature and others involved with the bill to make sure the department’s costs for collecting the donations and administering the new fund would be covered by the donations.

SB 1072aa was one of just two bills that remained for Otter to act on yesterday from this year’s legislative session; the other was SB 1040, a controversial bill to allow school districts to cut teacher pay or contract days from one year to the next without declaring a financial emergency. That measure was the last bill to pass in this year’s session, after a bitter hour-long debate in the House. Otter quietly signed it yesterday, and so far hasn’t said why he decided to make it law. It’s among a group of bills pushed by the Idaho School Boards Association this year to revive voter-rejected curbs on teacher collective bargaining rights that were voted down in Proposition 1 in November.

Ed Task Force Brings Show To Town

Twenty-four people testified to the Task Force for Improving Education tonight in Coeur d’Alene, as the governor’s education stakeholder task force held its fourth public forum and its best-attended one yet. “It’s good to see a packed house,” said Richard Westerberg, task force chairman and state Board of Education member. Seven of the 31 task force members attended. By my count, among the 24 who testified over the course of the two-hour forum at North Idaho College, there were some overriding themes: Seven pleaded for more state funding and less reliance on local property tax override levies; six called for less emphasis on test scores and standardized testing in Idaho’s schools (said one grandmother of four, “We’re driving our kids crazy”); and five called for increased teacher pay/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.


Question: After watching our Legislature and Gov. Otter trash public education for the past two sessions with their unabashed support of Luna Laws and lower education funding, I have zero faith in this task force process. I consider it a show, nothing more. Am I being too cynical?

Otter vetoes wolf management fund shift bill, Bujak bill

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has vetoed a pair of bills, including legislation that called for diverting money from Idaho Fish and Game to a program aimed at managing problem wolves. That bill sponsored by Midvale Republican Rep. Judy Boyle would have moved $100,000 currently used for hunter access to a separate program focused on eliminating wolves that prey on livestock and prized game like elk and deer. Otter vetoed the bill Thursday, saying it could create a rift between sportsman and livestock producers — two groups he says are vital to controlling predatory wolves. He also says stakeholders weren't consulted or given the chance to review the proposal. Otter also killed a second bill Thursday that would shift power to the attorney general to investigate misconduct by elected county officials.

Here are links to the governor’s veto messages on HB 278, the wolf funds bill, and SB 1080, the Bujak bill.

Otter names members of new insurance exchange board

Gov. Butch Otter today announced the members of the 19-member board of Idaho's new state-based health insurance exchange, including 14 he appointed; two non-voting ex-officio members, the directors of the state departments of Insurance and Health & Welfare; and three lawmakers appointed by legislative leaders. The legislators named to the board were Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell; Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon; and Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston.

The governor's appointees include a doctor, a nurse, employers, health insurers, and three consumer representatives. “I’m grateful that people with the talent, experience and ability to serve effectively on this board accepted the challenge,” Otter said in a statement. “We have decided to build and operate a voluntary, state-based health insurance exchange rather than defaulting to total federal control. The folks who have agreed to serve on the board will be our eyes, ears and most importantly the voices of Idaho in this process.” Click below for the governor's full announcement.

Idaho marks 32nd official state Holocaust commemoration with crowd of 200+

More than 200 people gathered in the Lincoln Auditorium in the state Capitol today for Idaho’s 32nd consecutive annual observance of and memorial for the Holocaust. Gov. Butch Otter, shown standing at right here at the ceremony’s closing while Rabbi Dan Fink, left, leads the audience in prayer, read a proclamation declaring this week to be “Days of Remembrance Week” and inviting “all citizens to remember the victims, the survivors and their liberators.”

“The Holocaust is one of the most terrible episodes in the history of the world,” the governor said. “We the people of the state of Idaho should always remember the terrible events of the Holocaust, and should remain vigilant against bigotry and tyranny.”

Also participating in the ceremony were Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Holocaust survivors and their families, World War II veterans, religious leaders from various faiths, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, the Boise Philharmonic Master Chorale and more. Eleven electric candles – actual flames are prohibited in the Capitol – were lit in memory of the victims and events. Michael Shaw, center, provided sign language interpretation of the ceremony for the hearing impaired. Little shared the history of the annual official state commemoration, which started under then-Gov. John Evans.

Otter Signs Heavy-Truck Bill, But …

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has signed legislation allowing extra-heavy trucks on non-freeway routes statewide, but says he wants the Idaho Transportation Department to hold public hearings and take other steps before designating any new routes – including Highway 95 in North Idaho - for the big, 129,000-pound trucks. “Safety must be the highest priority,” Otter wrote in a signing letter sent to lawmakers today. “The process of considering nominated routes also must include timely, well-noticed public hearings and notification of adjacent property owners.” Senate Bill 1117 was pushed by Idaho Forest Group in Coeur d’Alene, but opposed by an array of local officials in North Idaho who contend the extra-big trucks are unsuitable for North Idaho’s twisting routes and wetter weather/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.

Question: Seems to me that Otter should have vetoed this bill and scheduled the hearings first. Hearings are an elected officials way of deflecting criticism. Heavier trucks will endanger lives further on already dangerous Highway 95. That's a no-brainer. Shame on the Legislature for passing this bill & Otter for signing it. Thoughts?

Otter appoints Powell as ISP chief

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has appointed Lt. Col. Ralph Powell director of the Idaho State Police, also elevating Powell to the rank of colonel. Powell has been acting director since Col. Jerry Russell retired in January; he’s been deputy director since 2012 and is a 30-year ISP veteran. Click below for Otter’s full announcement.

Pivotal Vote Defines New Speaker

Idaho is poised to have its own state-based health insurance exchange. But getting that far required a unique coalition - Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter, a libertarian governor who broke with many of his fellow GOP governors; a freshman class of Idaho House Republicans and a solid House Democratic caucus. The measure cleared the House Wednesday on a 41-29 vote - after another version won Senate passage by 23-12. It involved the most unlikely of bills - creation of a state-based exchange is part and parcel of Obamacare. And it came in the most unexpected of places - the same Legislature that only two years earlier so detested Obamacare that it openly flirted with nullifying the federal law in open defiance of the U.S. Constitution. One man stitched it all together, House Speaker Scott Bedke (pictured), R-Oakley/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here.

Question: Is the 41-29 House vote on a state-run exchange an indication that the uber-cons aren't as strong as they were two years ago?

Otter calls on feds to protect INL cleanup from sequestration cuts

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter called on the U.S. Department of Energy today to protect court-ordered cleanup work at the Idaho National Laboratory from sequestration cuts, saying, "Safety and the environment are non-negotiable terms for the State of Idaho.” Otter told the department, "INL is a significant asset and Idaho is prepared to exercise leadership to ensure the Lab remains the nation’s flagship nuclear research facility,” and added, "I strongly believe that in times of sustained reductions in discretionary spending, the federal government can and should consolidate its nuclear work in Idaho." Click below for the governor's full news release. 

Otter Opinion: State-based exchange best

At my request and after careful, deliberate consideration, the Idaho Senate recently approved legislation affirming my choice of a state-based health insurance exchange.

That bill now goes to the Idaho House of Representatives, where debate figures to be just as passionate. That's understandable, since most members of the Idaho Legislature share my intense opposition to the so-called Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

But the issue before us has nothing to do with how we feel about Obamacare, how we feel about overreaching federal authority and the government's failure in this gargantuan and unworkable piece of law to address the essential goals of more affordable and accessible health care. More here. Governor Butch Otter, special to Cda Press
Do you support the state-based exchange advocated by Governor Otter?



A sign that Labrador won’t challenge Otter after all?

Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports today that 1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador had been scheduled to appear at two eastern Idaho county GOP "Lincoln Day" events last weekend, but instead canceled. That suggests he may be backing off from the idea of challenging Gov. Butch Otter in 2014; Labrador has said he's mulling that but hasn't decided.

"If he was trying to do everything he could to challenge Gov. Butch Otter in the May 2014 primary, he would have been on the stump rather than with his family in Eagle," Popkey writes; the eastern Idaho GOP events offered a chance for exposure in the 2nd Congressional District, where Labrador isn't as well known as in his own 1st District. "Coupled with Labrador's co-hosting of a fundraiser for Otter's re-election campaign Monday in Washington, D.C., the cancellations signal that he might be shying from the risk of facing a well-funded, well-liked governor who has been in statewide or congressional office continuously since 1987," Popkey writes; you can read his full report here.

Volunteers helping keep Idaho state parks open in lean times

PARKS — Idaho’s state parks are staying open thanks in part to thousands of volunteers, the state’s parks chief told lawmakers this morning.

See S-R reporter Betsy Russell's story on the hurdles Idaho parks are facing.

Milk Producers back governor’s state-based insurance exchange proposal

The Milk Producers of Idaho have come out in favor of Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal for a state-based health insurance exchange in Idaho. “The board strongly felt that it is important to have decisions regarding health insurance coverage in Idaho to be determined by Idahoans and not federal bureaucrats,” said Brent Olmstead, the group’s executive director. “Whether we like it or not, the Supreme Court has upheld the PPACA. It is the law and simply ignoring it is not a viable option.” You can read the dairy group’s full announcement here.

Buchanan appointed 1st District judge

Bonner County Magistrate Judge Barbara Buchanan has been appointed a district judge by Gov. Butch Otter, making her the first woman to be appointed to the 1st Judicial District bench. Buchanan, a Sandpoint resident and Moscow native, will be the only district judge serving Bonner and Boundary counties; she replaces Judge Steve Verby, who is moving to senior status. “The Idaho court system is in a period of change," Buchanan said in a statement. "We are embarking on an innovative new program to deliver justice more quickly, efficiently and effectivel.I am excited to be part of that process.”

She has served as a magistrate judge for 18 years and holds law and bachelor's degrees from the University of Idaho; click below for Otter's full announcement.

Labrador says he’ll decide early this year whether to run for Idaho guv

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador says he's waiting to see what happens in Congress and efforts to reform immigration before deciding whether to run for Idaho governor. Labrador is among several Republicans who have been contemplating a bid to be the state's next chief executive. Labrador told the Idaho Statesman his top priority is getting something done on changing the nation's immigration system and laws. The second-term congressman says he is likely to make a decision early this year whether to run for governor in 2014. Labrador says contrary to what many people may think, he hasn't made up his mind on running for the state's highest office. Meanwhile, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has said he intends to seek a third term, though Otter has not yet made a formal announcement.