BOISE – Top Idaho Republicans – Gov. Butch Otter, U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt – all condemned fellow Republican Rex Rammell on Friday after he amplified his “joke” about wanting to buy a license to hunt President Barack Obama.
Otter, whom Rammell is challenging in the 2010 GOP primary, said, “Reckless and inflammatory statements like these gravely damage confidence in the political process and the good citizens who serve the public. As governor, as an Idaho Republican and as a citizen of our state, I reject and condemn this kind of rhetoric. There is no place for it in Idaho.”
“Rex Rammell’s comments are in very poor taste and should not have been said,” said Crapo. “Remarks like these should not even be made jokingly. We are engaged in a critical national debate over many major issues facing our country today. Remarks like these are not only unhelpful in that debate, but they undermine it. He should apologize for those remarks and for the perception they may have created.”
Said Simpson: “It is absolutely irresponsible to say such inflammatory things, especially for someone who seeks to be a leader in Idaho. I know our great state is filled with people who do not share Rex Rammell’s views and we should not let isolated situations dictate how our state is perceived. Our citizens are innovative, progressive and charitable. Look at any community in Idaho and you will find people who help their neighbors without hesitation, regardless of race.”
Added Risch: “I disgree often with the president and his policies. But the comment was totally unacceptable and should not have been made. The comment does not accurately reflect the respect the people of Idaho have for the Office of President and our constitutional form of government.”
Rammell, however, continued to press his “joke,” originally made Tuesday in the context of Idaho issuing its first hunting tags for wolves this fall. On Friday morning, Rammell issued a statement in a press release and on Twitter: “Anyone who understands the law, knows I was just joking, because Idaho has no jurisdiction to issue hunting tags in Washington, D.C.”
Batt responded to both of Rammell’s comments, telling the Idaho Statesman, “I think those are absolutely irresponsible statements. Totally irresponsible, maybe criminal. You’re not allowed to threaten the president, with good reason. We’ve had some tragic assassinations in our history and we don’t want to encourage them, even in a joking way.”
Rammell refused to apologize. Instead, he criticized Crapo for his Owyhee Canyonlands legislation and said Batt should be “jailed” for not stopping the federal government from reintroducing wolves to Idaho in 1995.
“Senator Crapo should apologize for giving away 2 million more acres to the environmentalists in the 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Act and Phil Batt should go to jail for allowing the wolves to enter Idaho in the first place,” Rammell wrote in an e-mail to the Statesman. “What they did are truly crimes.”
Rammell has become national news, appearing in Associated Press stories, the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News and other outlets. A Google News search at noon Friday turned up 213 articles.
Batt said he believes Rammell is seeking publicity for his campaign for governor. Last year, Rammell ran for the U.S. Senate against Risch as an independent, getting just 5 percent of the vote.
Batt is concerned that coverage of Rammell’s remarks will revive the image of Idaho as a haven for racism, a notion that gained currency in the 1980s when the Aryan Nations was headquartered in North Idaho. Batt put considerable effort into rebuilding Idaho’s image. The Idaho Department of Commerce has worked to portray the state as welcoming to diversity, in part because employers have reported problems recruiting minority workers.
“Even though Idaho has had a very minimal amount of overt racism and discrimination, it’s haunted us for years,” Batt said. “And each little indiscretion tends to magnify it. It’s really too bad.”
The Rammell story broke Thursday in the Twin Falls Times-News, which reported on a GOP barbecue Tuesday in Twin Falls.
After an audience member shouted a question about “Obama tags” during a discussion on wolves, Rammell responded, “The Obama tags? We’d buy some of those.”
Asked about his comment by the Times-News on Wednesday, Rammell said, “I was just being sarcastic. That was just a joke,” Rammell said. “I would never support him being assassinated.”
As for whether Rammell may be hearing from law enforcement, an FBI spokeswoman in Salt Lake City declined comment Friday, saying the agency neither confirms nor denies investigations.
Asked whether he had been contacted by law enforcement, Rammell e-mailed the Statesman, writing, “Yes; the CIA contacted me. They said the FBI was getting a lot of chatter about the incident and it appeared the spin was getting out of control.”
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