Our View, Idaho's governor: Otter shows adaptability

May 22, 2013 

In the context of Idaho gubernatorial term years, it has been a while since Gov. Butch Otter has come before the Statesman's Editorial Board.

We chose "term time" to note this epoch because midway through the discussion on Tuesday, Otter made it clear he is planning to run for a third term in 2014 - though he is not yet ready to make his official announcement.

There was a bit of catching up to do about a lot of issues, including international trade missions, health care exchange retrofitting and education reform.

During this discussion, a pattern emerged of a man with a combination of traits we admire even though we won’t always agree with the policy surrounding them. The traits we like include pragmatism and a willingness to find the best Idaho version of things you are going to have to accept when the debate is over.

For instance, the affable Otter made it clear that if he were still in Congress, he would have voted to repeal Obamacare “for the 38th time” as the Republican-run House of Representatives did earlier this week. But he is not in Congress and Obamacare is now growing roots in his state in the form of the Idaho insurance exchange — which faces a number or deadlines, not the least of which is Oct. 1, when open enrollment could commence.

Otter can’t control the arrival of health care reform in his state, but he believes in attempting to control and limit what he can, such as Medicaid expansion.

We were among those favoring Medicaid expansion during the legislative session, and still think legislators made a mistake by passing on it this year. Otter has a different take. He’s convinced the program has no “results-­oriented direction.”

When challenged about that decision, Otter likened establishing an “entitlement” to getting a tattoo. “You don’t wake up the next morning and say, gosh, I shouldn’t have done that,” he said.

We like Otter’s candidness on issues and appreciate his support of educational reforms such as the soon-to-be-implemented education concept known as “Common Core.” Before it became popular for some in the conservative spectrum to label this system of education standards as federally and internationally conspiratorial, it was just something Idaho and some other states were considering adopting. Otter makes the well-worn point that Idaho Core and/or Common Core have nothing to do with curriculum, but rather standards of achievement.

Much as he sees Idaho implementing its own version of Obamacare as a states’ rights matter, he frames adopting Common Core in the same way. This is Idaho’s chance to affiliate with other states and have a more equal voice at the table — not forced acceptance of some federal directive.

“It was voluntary. It was collaborative,” Otter said, adding that joining with other states in these discussions could also have the impact of lessening the “monopoly” some big states have in influencing textbook content.

Otter’s instincts to go against the grain of many conservatives and look out for what is best for Idaho will win him more respect than compliments, but we appreciate that path.

Our View is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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