Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R)
Elected: 2006, term expires Jan. 2011, 1st term.
Born: May 3, 1942, Caldwell .
Education: Col. of ID, B.A. 1967.
Family: Married (Lori Easley); 4 children.
Military career: ID Natl. Guard, 1967-73.
Elected office: ID House of Reps., 1972-76; ID lt. gov., 1986-2000; U.S. House of Reps., 2000-06.
Professional Career: Rancher; Dir., Food Products Div., Pres., Simplot Livestock, Pres., Simplot Intl., 1963-1993.
Clement Leroy “Butch” Otter is a Republican elected as governor in 2006. He was the sixth of nine children and the first in his family to get a college degree. His father was a journeyman electrician and carpenter and a lifelong Democrat. After high school, Otter entered an abbey to pursue the priesthood but quickly decided that was not his calling. In 1967, at the age of 25, he graduated from the College of Idaho, now known as Albertson College of Idaho. He went to work for his father-in-law, billionaire J.R. Simplot, at the J.R. Simplot Company, one of the largest potato processors in the world and owner of the largest feedlot in the nation. In 1972, Otter won the first of two terms in the state House. He ran for governor in 1978, finishing third in the Republican primary, and in 1986, he was elected lieutenant governor. His career advancement was temporarily halted by a drunk-driving arrest. Otter unsuccessfully tried to talk the police officer out of charging him by explaining that he had not been drinking, but chewing tobacco soaked in Jack Daniels whiskey. The officer didn’t buy it. Otter was convicted in 1993 of drunk driving, dashing his hopes of running for governor the following year. Still, he went on to be re-elected lieutenant governor and held the post longer than anyone in Idaho history. He served under three governors before he was elected to Congress in 2000.
|C.L. "Butch" Otter (R)||237,437||(53%)|
|Jerry Brady (D)||198,845||(44%)|
|C.L. "Butch" Otter (R)||96,045||(70%)|
|Dan Adamson (R)||29,093||(21%)|
|Jack Johnson (R)||7,652||(6%)|
As part of his libertarian political philosophy, Otter is a big supporter of gun ownership and property rights. But he is not the social conservative that other Idaho Republicans have been. (In 1992, he won the “Mr. Tight Jeans” contest at the Rockin’ Rodeo bar in Boise.) During his tenure in the state Legislature, Otter voted against an anti-pornography bill by responding “Hell no!” during the roll call. He also questioned the government’s right to restrict marijuana use. In Congress, where he served three terms, he sought to check the power of the federal government. Having become a ranch owner after his 1993 divorce, he was well-acquainted with the government’s reach. The Environmental Protection Agency had charged him three times with violating the Clean Water Act. In 2001, after fighting the agency for two years, he paid a fine of $50,000 for dredging and filling wetlands without a permit. In Congress, Otter was one of three House Republicans to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act, a tough anti-terrorism enforcement law, because of potential intrusions on privacy and civil liberties. In 2004, he sponsored an amendment with independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont to prevent authorities from using the act to demand information on book buyers or library users. He lost on a tie vote after Republican leaders held the roll call open for 23 extra minutes to turn the outcome their way.
In December 2004, Otter announced his intention to run for governor, giving him an organizational and fundraising head start over then-Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, a Republican who was also considering running. In November 2005, Risch decided to run for re-election as lieutenant governor (later briefly becoming governor when Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne left office in 2006 to serve as President Bush’s Interior secretary). Without competition from Risch, Otter easily outdistanced three opponents in the May 2006 primary, winning with 70%.
He then faced Democrat Jerry Brady, a former publisher of the Idaho Falls Post Register making his second consecutive bid for governor. In heavily Republican Idaho, which hadn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1990, Otter began as the front-runner. But Brady, who highlighted environmental issues and compared himself to former Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus, gained momentum by criticizing Otter’s co-sponsorship of a bill that would have sold millions of acres of federal land in Idaho and the western United States to raise money for Hurricane Katrina relief. Otter eventually rescinded his support for the bill in January 2006. Brady also attacked Otter for accepting $6,000 from a company attempting to build a coal-fired power plant in Idaho. Otter countered by highlighting controversial editorials written by Brady’s newspaper, the second largest in Idaho, including one that called for breaching Snake River dams to protect endangered salmon.
Otter ran a Rose Garden campaign, avoiding the traditional Idaho public-television debate and initially refusing to take a position on Proposition 2, a controversial property-rights initiative that required state and local governments to compensate property owners when the value of their land was reduced by land-use regulations. Otter later came out against the ballot measure. In August, he found time to get married to a former Miss Idaho, whom he had first met at a Fourth of July parade in 1991.
Brady, the great-grandson of former Idaho Republican Governor James Brady, proved to be the more energetic candidate and remained competitive. Polls taken a week before the election showed him within striking distance. Despite national discontent with the Republican Party and a lackluster campaign, Otter won, 53%-44%. He lost eight of the state’s 44 counties, including Boise’s Ada County, the state’s most populous county, and the counties that included Sun Valley and the University of Idaho. In heavily Mormon eastern Idaho, where Otter’s libertarian stands and lifestyle had hurt him in prior statewide elections, he lost just two counties: Bannock, home to Pocatello and Idaho State University, and Teton County, which shares a border with Wyoming’s wealthy Teton County, where Jackson Hole and its ski resort are located.
Soon after taking office, Otter caused a minor controversy by halting construction on a $130 million statehouse-expansion project that the Republican-controlled Legislature had approved the previous year. He objected to the project’s cost and the fact that it represented an expansion of government. Negotiations with the Legislature produced a compromise that reduced the size of the new addition by half and cut out construction of new offices for legislators, though it was unclear if the changes would lessen the project’s total cost.
Otter supported removing gray wolves from the federal government’s Endangered Species List and allowing public hunting of the animals in Idaho. In January 2007, he got national media attention when he stood on the Idaho statehouse steps and proclaimed, “I’m prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf.” He later softened his stance by backing a plan to let the Idaho Department of Fish and Game manage the state’s wolf population. Otter had long been opposed to the federal government’s decision in the 1990s to reintroduce wolves, a practice that some hunters saw as threat to Idaho’s elk and deer populations.
Otter’s ability to attract media attention did not translate into legislative success. In 2007, he proposed increasing the state’s grocery tax credit for the lowest-income Idahoans to $90 a year. Idaho gives people a credit on their taxes as reimbursement for sales taxes they’ve paid on their groceries. The Legislature agreed to increase the credit to $40 for all Idahoans and to $60 for senior citizens; Otter vetoed the bill because it didn’t target the lowest-income groups. The Legislature did pass a highway bill that approved $250 million in borrowing power—Otter originally wanted $264 million—and gave the Idaho Transportation Board the authority to earmark money for road projects, a practice Otter hoped would take politics out of the earmarking process. He bucked the state Republican Party by refusing to support its proposal that voters register with a political party before being eligible to vote in primary elections.
In 2008, Otter also had difficulty getting many of his proposals through the Legislature, even though he had Republican majorities in both chambers. He proposed an 11% increase in the state’s budget, a 5% pay raise for state employees and an increase in vehicle-registration fees to fund road repairs, all of which the Legislature either modified or rejected outright. Otter did not improve his standing with lawmakers when he failed to notify them that he would miss a month of work in the middle of the legislative session to have hip surgery. At the time, Idaho tax revenue was coming up short of projections, prompting lawmakers to decrease Otter’s spending proposals. As the session came to a close, he wrote press releases criticizing legislators for rejecting his proposals. They in turn openly expressed their frustration at his refusal to compromise on many issues. Yet during the session, Otter did sign grocery-tax legislation that was similar to the bill he’d vetoed in 2007.
At the beginning of 2009, Otter’s priority was providing money for road construction. Despite reservations about increased government spending, he decided to accept $1.2 billion in economic-stimulus money from the federal government.