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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Fulcher rankled by debate’s ‘circus atmosphere’

GOP candidate for governor Russ Fulcher is decrying last week’s gubernatorial debate, saying incumbent Gov. Butch Otter’s insistence on including two marginal candidates created a “circus atmosphere.”

The antics of Harley Brown and Walt Bayes drew national attention, and the debate footage went viral on social media.

“As a result, the ‘debate’ turned from a serious discussion regarding the position for Idaho’s chief executive, to a mockery of the Republican Party and of Idaho,” Fulcher said. “Clearly, the governor wanted to take time away from me and minimize exposure to his failed record as governor.”

Fulcher said, “When I am governor, I will not subject my party or my state to this type of public humiliation.”

The debate, broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television, was the only faceoff that Otter agreed to with Fulcher; Otter also insisted he wouldn’t appear unless all the candidates on the GOP ballot were invited.

He’s made similar demands in past elections, while agreeing to more debates. Otter said he made a promise to Brown in 2000 when Brown was upset about exclusion from a congressional debate that he’d insist Brown be invited to any debate in which Otter participated.

That doesn’t explain Bayes, however, who read a long Bible passage during the gubernatorial debate, said he would shoot authorities who came for his kids and bragged of killing a wolf while they were still endangered.

Otter’s campaign manager, Jayson Ronk, said, “A statewide debate that excludes candidates is an exercise in elitism. If some candidates don’t meet your personal expectations, don’t vote for them. But if they qualify to be on the ballot, they should be able to participate in the process.”

Fulcher: ‘It’s awkward’

With all the attention Brown and Bayes drew in the televised debate, imagine what it’s been like for Fulcher appearing at forums with just those two. “I’ve gone to probably 11 candidate forums in the last 14 days all over the state, by myself I might add, or with Walt Bayes and Harley Brown,” Fulcher told The Spokesman-Review early last week. “Without Governor Otter.”

Asked what it’s been like to appear with the other two candidates, Fulcher said, “It’s awkward, it’s awkward. It’s just, there’s a different motivation and I don’t completely relate to what their motives may or may not be, it’s not clear to me. So it’s hard. On a personal level, as far as I know, I like them personally. But it’s certainly difficult when you’re trying to do a debate or answer questions.”

Cake and smiles

Close to 200 people gathered on the steps of the Ada County Courthouse on Friday morning for what was originally planned as a celebration of the start of legal gay marriage in Idaho. But thanks to a 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals temporary stay, it instead became a feel-good gathering with wedding cake, celebrating a federal judge’s ruling last Tuesday that Idaho’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.

“I think this is awesome,” said a smiling Sue Latta, the lead plaintiff in the successful lawsuit challenging Idaho’s ban. “This is not just for us, this is for everybody, young, old, gay, straight. Here’s what I believe: If we voted on it today, the constitutional amendment would not pass.”

Periodically, cars passing by on busy Front Street honked their horns, prompting people in the crowd to wave and cheer.

Off to one side, four protesters stood quietly with signs opposing gay marriage, including one saying, “My vote should count.”

‘Disintegration of our society’

The Idaho Republican Party issued a statement decrying the ruling overturning Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“The disintegration of marriage will lead to the disintegration of our society,” Chairman Barry Peterson said. “The state has a valid interest in promoting the optimal circumstance for every child – and that is being raised in a home with both a loving mother and father.”

Ringo: Accept ruling

Longtime state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who is running for Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat, sent out a statement calling on Governor Otter to “immediately accept the federal court ruling” and allow Navy veteran Madelynn Lee Taylor to be buried with her late wife, Jean Mixner, at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.

“I know Governor Otter is going to appeal this ruling – he has an election next week, after all – but I hope he’ll make a call to the cemetery’s administration and ask that they find a spot for Jean before he races to court,” Ringo said late last week. “More importantly, I hope he’ll reconsider his position and embrace marriage equality here in Idaho.”

Follow Betsy Z. Russell on the Eye on Boise blog at

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