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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Big debates coming in top political races

BOISE – It’s debate season, with major debates set in the coming weeks in Idaho’s top political races, giving voters who tune in a chance to see and compare the candidates.

The two major-party candidates for governor, incumbent Gov. Butch Otter and Democrat Keith Allred, have faced off twice in recent weeks at City Club events in Idaho Falls and Boise; the two also are scheduled for two televised debates in late October, though Otter canceled on a planned Oct. 7 debate in Lewiston.

Otter and Allred will debate live on Idaho Public Television on Oct. 28, in a faceoff sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Idaho Press Club, and an array of partners from the Associated Press to the Idaho State Broadcasters Association; that’s the final debate this year in the “Idaho Debates” series. That debate will be broadcast live statewide, starting at 7 p.m. Pacific time and running for 90 minutes. Also scheduled to participate are independent candidates Jana Kemp and “Pro-Life;” Libertarian candidate Ted Dunlap had not confirmed at press time.

Candidates for governor also are scheduled to debate Oct. 13 at the College of Idaho, in a matchup sponsored by three TV stations, including KREM in Spokane.

In the 1st Congressional District race, incumbent Walt Minnick and GOP challenger Raul Labrador are scheduled to debate on Oct. 14 as part of the Idaho Debates, airing live on Idaho Public TV at 7 p.m. Pacific time. Minnick last week pulled out of another scheduled debate sponsored by KTVB-TV in Boise and KREM.

Here’s the schedule for the three other “Idaho Debates” on Idaho Public TV:

Candidates for state Superintendent of Public Instruction, including incumbent Tom Luna and challenger Stan Olson, will debate Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. Pacific time; the debate will run for an hour.

Candidates for lieutenant governor will face off on Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. for a half-hour debate, followed by the candidates for secretary of state at 7:30.

All of the “Idaho Debates” will take place at the state Capitol before a live audience; after the debates, the audience will participate in a panel discussion that will be broadcast on the Internet. Tickets to attend are free; for more information, go to elections/2010/.

Heated words in 1st CD

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador issued a blistering press release in response to incumbent Rep. Walt Minnick’s decision to back out of a scheduled debate against him on KTVB-TV and its partner KREM-TV; in it, Labrador recalled Minnick’s comments in 2008 about the value of face-to-face matchups, when he challenged then-Rep. Bill Sali to a series of 10 joint town-hall meetings across the district.

“What a difference two years makes; it was all the time it took for Walt Minnick to become a fat cat Washington insider who shows nothing but contempt for the voters of Idaho and for his own previously held values,” Labrador declared. “Washington has tainted Walt Minnick and it’s time for the voters of Idaho to send him into retirement. But before he goes I am asking him to honor his word and stop canceling the few opportunities voters will have to hear both candidates debate and discuss where they stand on the issues.”

John Foster, Minnick’s campaign manager, had this response: “Over the last three months it has become increasingly clear that Raul Labrador knows nothing else but petty name-calling and untruthful attacks. He lies repeatedly about Walt’s record, struggles for support and now demands free television time to prop up his campaign. This latest desperate salvo does little more than reinforce the troubling questions about Raul’s character and qualifications for office.”

Gov. Butch Otter’s chief economist, Mike Ferguson, is retiring at the end of September after serving as the state’s top economic forecaster for nearly three decades under five governors. Ferguson, 60, has been in the spotlight through the state’s economic downturn, because the state’s budgets each year are built on forecasts. This year, the governor and Legislature discounted Ferguson’s projections to cut budgets further out of fear of further downturns, after forecasts proved too optimistic the two previous years.

Ferguson told the AP that the recent years of economic turmoil were “gut-wrenching, absolutely gut-wrenching.”

Candidates tout backers

Both major-party candidates for governor released lists of supporters last week, with incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s list including regional chairmen around the state, from Freeman Duncan in Region 1 to Madison County Commissioner Kimber Ricks in Region 7, and continuing with county and “grassroots leaders” to stretch on for a total of five pages. Democratic challenger Keith Allred’s list was shorter, but there was something notable about it: It was all Republicans. Allred held a press conference on the Statehouse steps with nearly two dozen GOP supporters, from former longtime GOP Ada County Sheriff Vaughn Killeen to current Twin Falls GOP County Commissioner Tom Mikesell.

Former GOP state lawmaker Dennis Hansen, who was appointed to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission by GOP Govs. Phil Batt and Dirk Kempthorne, said, “I am a very strong, committed Republican. … The issues facing Idaho and this nation are some of the most challenging that I have seen. … We need somebody that has the ability and leadership to reach consensus and move us forward, which has lacked the last four years.” Former GOP state Sen. Judi Danielson said Idaho needs “thoughtful” leadership. “The shoot from the hip response is not good for Idaho government,” she said.

Here’s what Otter had to say about his long list of backers: “These community leaders play a vital role in my re-election campaign and I am extremely grateful to have them on my team. We have an important message for the people of Idaho and together we all work throughout the state to make sure every citizen knows we are going in the right direction and we must stay the course.”

Staff changes at campaign

The Labrador congressional campaign has announced two staff changes: Labrador has hired Phil Hardy, who had been serving as the Idaho GOP’s “state victory director” staffer working on behalf of Labrador’s campaign and other GOP campaigns, as his new communications director; and promoted spokeswoman China Veldhouse Gum to the new position of political director.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Republican Party announced that Trevor Thorpe will replace Hardy as victory director. The party’s victory program has placed more than 35,000 calls to voters in the 1st Congressional District in a little over a month, according to Jonathan Parker, the state party executive director.

TV stations release poll

KTVB-TV reports that it joined with two other TV stations, KIFI in Pocatello and KREM in Spokane, to commission a statewide political poll on major Idaho races, with these results: In the 1st Congressional District, incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick led GOP challenger Raul Labrador, 59.8 percent to 29.6 percent, with 5.4 percent favoring independent Dave Olson and 5.2 percent for Libertarian Mike Washburn. For governor, incumbent Gov. Butch Otter led Democratic challenger Keith Allred, 53.6 percent to 34.4 percent, with independent Jana Kemp at 8.6 percent; “Pro-Life” at 1.8 percent; and Libertarian Ted Dunlap at 1.6 percent.

In the race for state superintendent of schools, incumbent Tom Luna led Democratic challenger Stan Olson, 55.5 percent to 44.4 percent; and U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo led Democratic challenger Tom Sullivan 73.5 percent to 15.7 percent, with 10.8 percent for Constitution Party candidate Randy Lynn Bergquist. The stations didn’t announce the margin of error for the poll, but said it had a statewide sample size of 1,347 registered and likely voters over age 18, and was taken Sept. 1-9.

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