Sen. Fulcher launches challenge against Idaho Gov. Otter

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comNovember 23, 2013 

Taking heart from the success of tea party Republicans in Idaho and across the country, Sen. Russ Fulcher said Saturday morning he plans to end GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s 28-year run in high office.

The five-term state senator’s top issue is opposition to Otter’s decision to enact a state-run health insurance exchange in cooperation with President Obama.

"It was our governor that led the charge to put the Affordable Care Act voluntarily in the state of Idaho," Fulcher told more than 200 enthusiastic supporters at a campaign kick-off event Saturday morning at the Courtyard by Marriott -- not far from the Meridian farm where he grew up.

Fulcher emphasized Otter's role implementing the health care plan in an interview with the Statesman Friday before be began the three-city announcement tour.

“There are no surprises in what’s going on,” said Fulcher, 51. “A lot of us knew this was going to be a disaster from the get-go.”

Fulcher said he wants to reform health care by cutting costs, win state control of federal lands, reduce Idaho’s dependancy on federal programs and improve education.

“We have to reduce the tether to the federal government,” Fulcher told the Statesman. “We’ve got to reduce that dependency. It’s the single-biggest influx of money to the state and they’re bankrupt.”

He cited the popularity of young tea party-affiliated politicians including Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador, and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Marco Rubio, R-Florida.

“Those are examples similar to what I think is about to happen in Idaho,” Fulcher said. “I think we’re at one of those points in history where it’s time for a change and I think people will respond to that.”

Fulcher said he is undaunted by the advantages Otter, 71, has with 14 years as lieutenant governor, six years in Congress and seven years as governor. “I believe I’m going to win,” Fulcher said.

Otter was unavailable for comment, but his campaign manager, Jayson Ronk, issued a one-sentence statement: “The governor has a campaign plan in place that we intend to execute.”

After a month-long exploratory campaign, Fulcher said it’s clear GOP voters are hungry for new blood. “We are so fractured as a party that it’s difficult to imagine what’s the base anymore. I can probably rattle off 10 different groups that once upon a time called themselves Republicans that don’t any more. They’re looking for a different path.”

After eight years in the Senate, 23 years in technology and the last seven years in commercial real estate, Fulcher argued that he’s the man to help right the ship.

“We’re in an information age,” he said. “I believe that we’ve got to have leadership that still has the values and heritage of our roots but also understands the industry and the vision for the future.”

Fulcher said there is no organized slate of like-minded candidates. “It’s hard enough to manage my own campaign, much less try to get involved in somebody else’s,” he said. “But it’s also fair to say we are in a philosophical divide in politics in Idaho.”

He said candidates including Labrador, 2nd District congressional hopeful Bryan Smith, Rep. Lawerence Denney for secretary of state and Todd Hatfield for controller could bring an insurgent symbiosis.

“When you’ve got solid contenders — more than one — it has a tendency to drive up the vote, get out the vote,” Fulcher said. “So that has the potential of just motivating people to the polls, which is probably the single biggest factor.”

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

For more on Fulcher’s campaign for governor, read Sunday’s Idaho Statesman.

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