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In a followup to his blast days before the Iowa caucus, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is pressing Newt Gingrich to say whether he had a client when he urged Otter and other Republican congressmen to vote for a $400 billion Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003. Otter is co-chairman of the Idaho presidential campaign of Mitt Romney's, Gingrich's chief opponent for the GOP presidential nomination. Politico reported Thursday night that an unnamed spokesman for Otter said of Gingrich, "If he was under contract then he should release that information." Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary, said Friday morning that he spoke with Politico/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Sure, Otter is a Romney supporter. But why do you think he's embedding himself in this controversy?
Last week, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich called Barack Obama the “food stamp president,” citing a record number of Americans receiving food aid. Idaho has set its own record, as the number of people receiving food stamps rose from about 87,000 in 2007 to about 229,000 in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Now, 15 percent of Idahoans get food stamps. Since Otter became governor in 2007, the food stamp caseload has jumped 163 percent, putting Idaho behind only Nevada’s 172 percent growth rate/Dan Popkey, Statesman. More here. (AP photo of Butch Otter)
Question: Is it a good thing or a bad thing that usage of food stamps have increased so much under the tight-fisted oversight of Gov. Butch Otter?
Among other subjects Gov. Butch Otter addressed in his Q-and-A with the Idaho Press Club this morning:
Otter said he's in discussions with lawmakers about making a switch in priorities in his budget proposal, switching state employee raises or bonuses from being a "surplus-eliminator" that happens only if revenues meet forecasts, to fully including them in the budget - while swapping tax cuts to the "surplus-eliminator" category. That's something many lawmaker are talking about. "We're discussing that - I'm open to the discussion on it," Otter said.
On President Obama's State of the Union speech last night: "It doesn't comport with his actions, so I think it was a great election speech."
On state Tax Commission Chairman Bob Geddes: "There are other things he would like to be considered for, there are other things he is being considered (for). … I think Bob has met all of my expectations … (from) when I pleaded with him to take that job." He added, "I would tell you this, Bob Geddes is going to bloom wherever he's planted. He's a good guy, he's a quick study, and he embeds himself in the job. That's what I saw him do in the Senate, that's what I've seen him do out at the Tax Commission.
Otter declined to wade into the current fracas in his own party over redistricting. "This is a short answer - separate but equal," he said. "That is the legislative domain, and I'm not going there."
While the Legislature debates pushing back Idaho's primary election from May to August, Gov. Butch Otter said today he doesn't like the idea. "It would cause a lot of problems in Idaho, including Bone," he said, referring to the hometown of the measure's sponsor, Rep. Tom Loertscher. Otter said, "The August time is a couple of weeks before school starts, families are trying to get their summer vacation in. The May primary is before school lets out. … I think if we try to put that on in a time when people are otherwise attended of something else, that their primary vote won't be as urgent to them as it is if they're at home working on their job and have their kids in school." He noted Idaho's already-low primary election turnout.
Otter said he plans to inform legislative leaders tomorrow of his opposition. "I'm going to let 'em know what my wishes are tomorrow morning in the leadership meeting. That's one of the things I'm going to relay to them," he said. "There's going to have to be overwhelming reasons and merits to an August primary, which I don't see right now."
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter told the Idaho Press Club today that he's all but given up on establishing a state-based health insurance exchange, unless the federal government gives Idaho more time. "Quite frankly, the clock is running - I don't know that we've got time to put together a state exchange," Otter told the Idaho Press Club this morning. The state needs "at a minimum a year," he said. And, he said, "January of 2013 is our drop-dead date of getting acceptance of a state-based exchange design."
With the U.S. Supreme Court arguments pending this spring and a decision coming in summer on constitutionality of the individual mandate and the national health care reform law as a whole, followed by elections in November that could then change things again, Otter said there's too much uncertainty.
"What we're going to have is one that, if it stays in place, if nothing changes in November, we'll have a federally imposed exchange in the state," Otter said. That's not his preference, Otter said. "I think I've made my thoughts pretty well known on that. I don't like the Affordable Health Care Act. … I can hope that my candidate for the president wins, because he's one of the ones that's said Obamcare is going right out the window if he's the president." Otter has endorsed Mitt Romney for president. Said Otter, "There's not a lot you can do in that environment without wasting a lot of assets."
Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has taken his familiar stand on government control of liquor. The Libertarian-leaning chief executive has again put his foot down against talk of the state getting out of the liquor business. Otter has been adamant in his stand on the matter - the state has a vested interest in maintaining its control of how intoxicating spirits are distributed and sold in Idaho. We respectfully disagree and, as we have opined in the past, would like to see liquor sales handled by private industry. It works well for 32 states, and there's no reason it can't in Idaho/Murf Raquet, Moscow-Pullman Daily News. More here. (SR file photo — Idaho state liquor store in Post Falls)
Question: Is it time for Idaho to follow Washington's lead and get out of the liquor business?
Next Friday, Gov. Butch Otter will bring a bevy of top state officials to tiny Murphy, Idaho - population 97 - for his 51st "Capitol For A Day" event. Click below for Otter's full announcement. “Murphy is one of America’s smallest county seats – but Owyhee County is one of Idaho’s largest counties, as well as being one of the most rural, remote and rugged," Otter said. "Any community that can serve as county seat to such a proudly independent and self-reliant bunch has a lot to teach the rest of us.”
In 2010, as Gov. Butch Otter and legislators wrestled with a second round of deep budget cuts, the governor had breakfast with the Statehouse media corps and famously appealed for a little slack. "I would like to see some compassion (in news reports) that says, 'This is a tough, tough position to be in.' It's not fun. … Do I lose sleep at night? Yeah." In 2011 — freshly re-elected, but facing a third year of budget-cutting — Otter sought no compassion. He passed on the traditional annual session with reporters, sending Lt. Gov. Brad Little in his place. This year, Otter will resume the tradition. He has agreed to a breakfast meeting and question-and-answer session with reporters, sponsored by the Idaho Press Club. The session is scheduled for Jan. 25. The easy pundit fallback here would be to question motives/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: What do you think Gov. Butch Otter's motive is this year in meeting with the Statehouse media corps when he dissed the group last year?
If you’re going to get your facts wrong, it’s a bad idea to botch things up on a complicated and controversial issue. Or to misspeak in front of a room full of reporters. Gov. Butch Otter violated both tenets last week. And this week, he had to do a 180, to the tune of $300 million. Here’s the recap: On Jan. 5, at a legislative preview sponsored by The Associated Press, Otter made his case for a state-run (but federally funded) health exchange, which would allow small businesses or individuals to shop for the most affordable insurance coverage. Otter upped the ante with a new argument: He said the state risked losing $300 million in Medicaid money, should it fail to establish an exchange. Sounds like a compelling argument. Indeed, we wrote at length about it in a Jan. 6 editorial restating our support for a state-run exchange. Trouble is, Otter had his facts wrong, and admitted as much to the AP late Wednesday. Good luck unringing that bell, governor/Idaho Statesman Editorial Board. More here. (AP file photo of Butch Otter at State of the State address)
Question: Do you think Gov. Butch Otter has a good grasp on the issues involved in the complicated health exchange issue?
Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said Idaho will not and has not faced “staggering” state employee layoffs like many other states have during his annual State of the State address delivered Monday. But what does “staggering” mean? Idaho has laid-off 928 people over the last five years. The state’s total workforce has averaged about 24,700 employees during that same time. The Associated Press reports state governments across the country have cut more than 80,000 jobs since the recession began. Some of those cuts mean layoffs. Some cuts mean governments aren’t filling positions that were opened by retirees or people taking new jobs/Emilie Ritter Saunders (pictured), StateImpact. More here.
- Reporter's Notebook: State workforce data rabbit hole/Emilie Ritter Saunders
Question: Do you consider laying off 928 Idaho state workers over 5 years to be a good thing or a bad thing?
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — The governor got a pay raise this year, but he still earns less than half of what some of Idaho's public university presidents take home. The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/wkYE7H ) the state gave Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter a 4 percent salary increase in the current fiscal year. Otter now makes about $115,300, up from $110,700 during the last fiscal year. In comparison, Boise State University President Bob Kustra and University of Idaho President Duane Nellis each earn about $335,000 a year. According to the state controller's office, 261 state employees earned more than the governor as of this month. That's down from last year, when nearly 300 employees made more than Otter, according to a report released last Friday.
ADDITIONAL INFO: Here's an excerpt from a post from this blog on March 30, 2010, regarding HB 692, which passed that year to set raises for top state elected officials for the next four years; under the state constitution, their pay must be set before their terms start, and not changed during the term:
"Here are some of Gov. Butch Otter’s reactions to the just-concluded legislative session:
TOP PAY: The governor praised a pay bill for the state’s top elected officials put together by House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, which cuts pay next year, restores it the following year, then grants raises the next two years. “I think the Legislature did the right thing,” Otter said. “They cut back on all of the officials, and then allowed for hopefully within the growth of the economy increases the third and fourth years out.” Otter said he’s donated any raises he’s received since 2007; he liked the idea of allowing officials to reject raises - now forbidden - but acknowledged that that didn’t get done."
Gov. Butch Otter has named Sara B. Thomas, longtime chief deputy State Appellate Public Defender, to succeed Molly Huskey as head of that office; Huskey was appointed a 3rd District judge last month. Thomas, of Meridian, has been with the office for 13 years; she has a degree in criminal justice administration from BSU and a law degree from the U of I. The state appellate public defender provides representation to indigent defendants convicted of felonies in state district court; the office has a staff of 20. Click below for Otter's full announcment.
Grocery industry lobbyists are eyeing Idaho for a possible liquor privatization push, reports AP reporter John Miller; click below for his full report. Miller reports that an industry lobbyist met with Gov. Butch Otter and other state officials last month over the issue, including inquiries about how to qualify a voter initiative for next November's ballot. In addition, some Idahoans are reporting receiving calls from a pollster with questions gauging their support for liquor privatization and grocery store sales/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.
Question: Should Idaho liquor sales be privatized, like Washington's was?
Anybody who subscribes to Woody Allen's notion that "80 percent of success is showing up" wasn't watching Idaho Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter's State of the State address Monday. Otter was present to deliver his sixth session-opener of Idaho's Legislature. Like his predecessors, it's his job to set an agenda. Some governors offer a detailed blueprint for governing. Others issue a call to action on a handful of initiatives. But Otter's six-page, 28-minute address was devoid of either. He offered a porridge of feel-good slogans — jobs, education and tax cuts - that was thin on passion and weak on detail. Filling in the blanks will be lawmakers who at the end of a 90-day session likely will find a governor willing to sign most anything they put on his desk/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here.
Question: Were you inspired by anything in Butch Otter's State of the State address?
Feel like you're working harder and harder, but falling farther behind? Gov. Otter shares your pain. Despite a 4 percent pay raise, the gap between Otter's salary and that of the highest paid state employee just keeps growing. The governor's fiscal 2012 salary is $115,348, up from $110,734 last year, according to the annual “Rainbow Report” issued by the state controller's office. Boise State University head football coach Chris Peterson was once again the highest-paid state employee, with a $1.17 million annual salary – up 28 percent or $255,000 from the year before. (The report, which was released Friday, didn't include the $375,000 raise the State Board of Education approved for Peterson last week. Nor did it mention that Peterson's salary is paid from revenue generated by the Bronco football program, not state tax dollars)/Lewiston Tribune. More here.
Question: What size of raise did you get in last 12 months?
Gov. Butch Otter made note of his showing up at the Capitol on Monday for the opening of the Legislature after my Sunday report on his lighter schedule. "Just in a teasing fashion, he said 'It's Monday and I guess I'm not supposed to be here,'" Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told me. "It was good humored and poking fun at all involved, at himself and you and the misunderstandings that occur in public life." Davis said Otter made the crack during Monday morning's briefing on his State of the State and Budget Address with bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, recalled Otter's joke this way: "You should be really happy to see me today — it's Monday after all"/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here. (AP photo Matt Cilley)
Question: How many hours do you work a week?
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and his staff visited with Boise State football coach Chris Petersen, pictured, during the summer, Otter said during Monday's "State of the State" speech. "We asked the Coach how he’s been able to keep upgrading the Broncos’ success on the field. We asked how he’s been able to build a national reputation for excellence with what’s considered limited resources by today’s college football standards," Otter said late in his speech. "What I took away from his answer was this: FOCUS. Focus on the challenges at hand. Focus on leveraging your strengths. Focus on improving every day. Focus on what you can control. And focus on helping individual players understand how they can help achieve team goals while reaching their own academic and athletic potential …"/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Do you think it's odd that Gov. Butch Otter & his staff would seek advice from Boise State football coach Chris Petersen?
It is unfortunate that the “new normal” the Governor spoke of today, doesn’t include addressing the culture of corruption that is tolerated by our GOP leadership. The first item of business that the 2012 Idaho Legislature needs to address should be cleaning house. While we are pleased that Governor Otter has finally joined the Idaho Democratic Party in addressing Idahoans top priorities such as job creation, education and healthcare, the most important part of today’s State of the State address was what he didn’t say. He did not say anything about ethics. The Majority Party needs to get their house in order and then they can move on to to the important issues of job creation, the health care exchange, and budget discussions. Idaho Democratic legislators have been pushing for this since 2005/Idaho Democratic Party news release. More here.
Question: Should Gov. Otter have included a statement re: legislative ethics in his State of the State message?
With the state facing a budget surplus for the first time since the recession hit, Gov. Butch Otter says he wants to see “an Idaho focused not on scarcity or what we lack, but on a more prosperous and hopeful future for all of us.” He said, “It's with that Idaho in mind that I set my top two budget and policy priorities for 2012 and this legislative session. And the reality is, those two priorities are inseparable - jobs and education. Almost everything we do this year will have an impact on those two priorities”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.
Other early highlights from State of the State:
- Otter: 'Our new normal'
- Otter calls for 'Hire One Vet' effort
- Otter pays to tribute to troops, those lost
- Otter: 'Sounds promising already'
Question: Do you agree with Gov. Butch Otter that the 2012 legislative focus should be on education & jobs?
Since his landslide re-election, Gov. Butch Otter is spending significantly less time in the office. Otter, 69, typically doesn’t show up at the office Mondays, instead scheduling “general office time” with no appointments. He works from home, according to a former chief of staff. Comparing 12-month periods from Otter’s third year in office with his fifth year, an Idaho Statesman analysis shows:
- 27 percent fewer appointments, both official and unofficial.
- 29 percent fewer hours scheduled for those appointments.
- 33 percent less time spent traveling for official and unofficial purposes, both in Idaho and elsewhere.
- 28 percent increase in personal and vacation days, with 41 days off during the business week over the year. (Complete column by Dan Popkey/Idaho Statesman here)
Question: Gov. Butch Otter says he's still fully engaged in the business of running Idaho. But his schedule so otherwise? What do you think?
In Idaho politics, all eyes will be on Gov. Butch Otter on Monday, as he lays out his agenda and budget proposal to lawmakers for this year's election-year session. Big decisions loom; lawmakers and Otter budgeted so conservatively last year that they’re now sitting on a substantial surplus, even as health care services for the poor have been slashed, universities, schools and state agencies have seen their funding drop sharply and state employees have gone without raises. But the decisions this year will be made in a highly political atmosphere. Every seat in the Legislature is up for election, redistricting has left many lawmakers’ districts in flux, and the state’s first closed Republican primary looms in May, raising the prospect that a lightly attended vote by core partisans could decide the future of Idaho’s GOP-dominated government.
Here's a link to my Sunday story on the upcoming session. Watch here for news as it happens Monday.
The word of the day is “maturity.” As in: “Politicians demonstrate maturity when they put aside their fear about Obamacare and implement the law.” Maturity. Gov. Butch Otter told reporters a few days ago that Idaho must move forward with the creation of a state health insurance exchange, as required by Obamacare, lest the federal government cut its contribution to the state’s Medicaid program. “We’re facing a $300 million expense” if the state doesn’t create a health insurance exchange, Otter warned. “We’re either going to have to raise taxes, which I see no appetite for that, or we’re going to have to cut from someplace else.” Otter said it’s one more reason the state should move ahead with the insurance exchange. I consider Butch Otter a friend. We have a common mentor, the late Ralph Smeed. I think Butch’s heart is in the right place. But by golly, I don’t buy the $300 million claim/Wayne Hoffman, Idaho Freedom Foundation. More here.
Question: Do you hold a "mature" position on the controversial health insurance exchange?
The crisis of confidence that’s left Congress with record-low ratings has infected Idaho government, and top leaders are sensitive to the dismay. Meeting with reporters at the Capitol on Thursday, Gov. Butch Otter and legislative leaders took pains to show they’re engaged, doing the public’s work and open to ethics reforms that until now got no traction. House Speaker Lawerence Denney (pictured) — oft-criticized for letting tax scofflaw Rep. Phil Hart off easy — warmed to a Democratic proposal to make Idaho the 42nd state with an independent ethics commission. Currently, lawmakers may be scrutinized if a complaint is raised by a colleague. The only arbiter is a committee of legislators. “Having the public have the confidence that we did the right thing (is important),” Denney said. “If there were an independent body to look at the facts, it might actually be a good thing”/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: What can Gov. Butch Otter and legislative leadership in Idaho do to restore trust in the Idaho Legislature and state government?
Asked about possible legislation regarding the state Land Board and endowment investments that compete with private business, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said, "If the effort is to limit, then I think you've got to change the Constitution." The Constitution requires endowment lands to be managed "for the long-term financial best interest of the beneficiaries - there is no limitation," he said. "I think that there is a philosophical limitation in Idaho, which I agree with, that we shouldn't be in competition against private business. If it's an effort to clarify the nature of the Land Board's relationship to our assets, that says you're going to be the landlord and that's it, you're not going to be an operator and that's it, then I don't have a problem in clarifying that," he said. "Now there may be other members of the Land Board that might."
Asked whether the endowment's traditional investments, from timber lands to Boise office buildings, don't also in a sense compete with private business, Otter responded, "What would you have us do - sell the lands? These are the assets that we have. These are the assets that were granted at statehood."
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says it's his "obligation" to inform lawmakers of the consequences if they don't move to set up a state-run health insurance exchange - including the possibility that the state could lose $300 million in Medicaid funds. "This is a big deal," Otter said. "I think I'm obligated to explain to everybody what happens if we do nothing, and … the frustrations that we're going through in trying to do something in order to have Idaho's own design. I think that's my obligation."
Asked if he'd play hardball with a reluctant Legislature to get his way on this issue, Otter said, "That's in my State of the State," meaning he won't answer the question now. "We've got a few legislators in the room. I think I've tried to outline, at least for the leadership, exactly what the problems are if we don't do something," he said.
Asked why he chose to announce at a North Idaho fundraiser last month that he'll run for a third term as governor in 2014 - just one year into his current second term — Gov. Butch Otter said, “I didn't choose to make the announcement there. That was not part of my idea and part of my script. It was a fundraiser, and it's a fundraiser, by the way, that I started when I was in the United States Congress, of having a Christmas formal, a Christmas party, in northern Idaho. We do the same thing with a harvest ball in eastern Idaho. However, I responded to a question, and the question was are you planning on running in 2014. And my response was yes/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here. (Joe Jaszewski's Statesman photo: Otter at private swearing-in ceremonies for second term Jan. 3, 2011)
Question: Would you vote for Otter again in 2014?
Gov. Butch Otter reaffirmed his support today for the “Students Come First” school reforms, which shift funds from salaries to technology boosts and make other changes, including removing many of teachers' collective bargaining rights. “I know they're going to be on the ballot this year, and I'm going to do all I can to make sure that they are still law after the November elections,” he declared. The entire “Students Come First” package is up for a referendum vote in November of 2012 on whether or not to rescind it/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise.
Gov. Butch Otter reaffirmed his support today for the "Students Come First" school reforms, which shift funds from salaries to technology boosts and make other changes, including removing many of teachers' collective bargaining rights. "I know they're going to be on the ballot this year, and I'm going to do all I can to make sure that they are still law after the November elections," he declared. The entire "Students Come First" package is up for a referendum vote in November of 2012 on whether or not to rescind it.
Gov. Butch Otter, responding to questions from reporters at today's AP Legislative Preview, was asked about proposed legislation to ban cities and counties from regulating gas well production. "We do see that as a state resource," he said. "But I don't think we want to ignore nor would I want to ignore the counties' input."
On other topics, he said he supports the National Guard Youth Challenge program proposed for north-central Idaho, but said, "I still want to keep it off the general fund. I think it has the merits. … I think it has a potential to build partnerships in the business community that will actually generate a successful program. I think it's a great program."
He reiterated his support for a state health insurance exchange, saying he believes it would help provide accessible and affordable insurance for the citizens of Idaho, regardless of national health care reform legislation.
Otter also said there's about $150 million left in Idaho's GARVEE bonding program for highway improvements. "That's something I think we're going to have to have the discussions for," he said. "No question some of those bridges have deteriorated a little faster than their designed life was. … I think it ought to be considered statewide."
Asked about why he spoke, in his opening comments today, about tax relief but didn't mention restoring cuts to education - something he's long said would be top priority when state revenues improve - Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said he'll address that in his State of the State address on Monday. "I have not relieved myself of my commitment," the governor said.
As for the "Students Come First" school reform plan, which calls for shifting funds from salaries to technology boosts in schools, Otter said that in his upcoming state budget, "We have fully funded Students Come First."