The gloves have come off in Idaho’s governor’s race, with Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff launching a hard-hitting new ad faulting GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s handling of a scandal involving the state’s largest prison. You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com; and watch the commercial here; it’s running statewide, including in the Spokane broadcast TV market.
Idaho took over operation of the Idaho Correctional Center this year from private operator Corrections Corporation of America, after multiple lawsuits, reports of violence so intense that the prison was dubbed “Gladiator School,” and evidence that CCA had fraudulently overbilled the state for thousands of hours of guard duty that never were worked.
Otter, an advocate of privatization, made the announcement reluctantly on Jan. 3; on Feb. 4, he announced a settlement in which the state dropped all claims against CCA in the staffing dispute in exchange for a $1 million payment. At the time, the state had been saying for a year that the Idaho State Police was conducting a criminal investigation, but it turned out no investigation ever had been launched. Otter said then that the ISP had determined none was needed; two weeks later, after meeting with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Otter reversed his stance and called for a criminal investigation by ISP. In March, the FBI stepped in.
“It fails the smell test badly,” Balukoff said, “and we have to wonder what more will come out when the FBI wraps up its ongoing investigation of this debacle.”
The ad includes actual footage of inmate violence at the prison, notes that CCA is a major campaign contributor to Otter – the firm has donated $20,000 to his campaigns since 2003 – and calls the settlement a “sweetheart deal.” Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics, said the ad – the first time Balukoff’s gone negative – could be a “turning point” in the governor’s race.