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Eye on Boise: Otter backs state’s flip-flop on sale of Five Wives vodka

BOISE – As the brouhaha dies down over Idaho’s initial rejection, then change of heart on allowing Five Wives vodka to be sold in the state – despite concerns that the name could be offensive to the state’s Mormon population – Gov. Butch Otter says his state liquor division chief did the right thing.

“They did the right thing in saying, ‘If people want to special order it, we’ll do that,’ ” Otter said.

Last month, Idaho banned the sale of the Utah-made vodka in Idaho state liquor stores and barred it from special-order sales as well. The provocatively named liquor’s label features a picture of five women tucking up their skirts from an old-fashioned, racy vaudeville act.

“Jeff Anderson let me know that there was some controversy,” Otter said of his state liquor chief. “They run the department. They’re the ones that know what they’ve got the shelf space for, what items move, what don’t.”

Asked if he nudged the liquor division toward its change of heart on sale of the brand in Idaho, the governor said, “No, I did not – they did that on their own. They did both of them on their own.”

The June 6 decision to allow special-order sales of the vodka through any Idaho state liquor store came just hours after a Washington, D.C., law professor and attorney sent Anderson a letter threatening a First Amendment lawsuit over the issue. Anderson announced that he’d agreed to allow the special-order sales “to avoid unnecessary litigation costs,” and would reconsider his decision not to stock the product.

Otter said the state liquor division eliminates numerous items each year from possible sale in Idaho, as it allocates its limited shelf space in state liquor stores. “I don’t know that they go into the label,” he said.

“I suspect something that has some objectionable wording on it, they’re well-founded to do that. I think they have to make that decision.” He added, “We do the same thing I suspect grocery stores do.”

Idaho still has state-controlled liquor sales, even as Washington moves to privatized sales.

Otter said, “I would anticipate that if we start getting a lot of call for Five Wives vodka, well, we’ll probably start stocking it.”

But, he said, “I suppose it could’ve been handled differently. I expect next time it will be.”

Megaloads foes ‘feel gratified’

Opponents of megaload transports through Idaho’s scenic Highway 12 river corridor hailed the news last week that Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil has withdrawn its permit application to the state of Montana for the loads; it’s already transported them to its Canadian oil sands project via other routes. They issued this statement:

“The Rural People of Highway 12-Fighting Goliath feel gratified that the industrialization of the beautiful Lochsa-Clearwater U.S.12 corridor has, for now, been stopped and that the Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil threat to north central Idaho’s outdoor recreation paradise and its single growing industry, tourism, has been removed.”

Meanwhile, a lawsuit from Idaho Rivers United still is pending in federal court, charging that the U.S. Forest Service and the Federal Highway Administration have failed to enforce federal laws including the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act because they haven’t moved to stop megaload transports through the designated wild and scenic river corridor.

Jones recovering from crash

Idaho state Controller Donna Jones, who suffered a broken neck in a one-vehicle rollover on May 25, has been moved to a rehabilitation facility within St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and is making a steady but slow recovery from her injuries.

“She is receiving intensive therapy daily,” Gov. Butch Otter said. Jones is not yet ready to receive visitors, he said, “But she can receive flowers – and chocolates.”

Otter complimented the staff at the state controller’s office for keeping the office’s business on track, paying the state’s bills and payroll and operating the state’s main data center.

Jones credited a seat belt with saving her life in the car accident; she was returning from a personal trip to eastern Idaho when her Cadillac Escalade went off the side of Interstate 84 near Heyburn midday on a Friday; she overcorrected and the vehicle rolled. She was taken by ground ambulance to Minidoka Memorial Hospital in Rupert and then flown to St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, where she arrived in critical condition and underwent surgery; she has remained hospitalized since.

Jones suffered a total of 14 broken bones in the accident, including two vertebrae, but she’s been up and walking, and doctors are pleased with her progress.

“She’s under a pretty good therapy program right now,” Otter said. “It’s going to take a long time.”

Jones, 73, was elected state controller in 2006 and was re-elected in 2010 with 71 percent of the vote. Before that, the Payette native served eight years as executive director of the Idaho Real Estate Commission and 12 years in the Idaho House of Representatives, where she chaired the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at betsyr@ or (208) 336-2854.