Fulcher to stay in leadership post in Senate

Otter’s primary election challenger hopes to be welcomed, despite his threat to the governor.

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comJanuary 3, 2014 


    The last time a member of legislative leadership ran for governor was when Senate Majority Leader Roger Fairchild, R-Fruitland, sought the GOP nomination to oppose Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus, who was seeking a fourth term.

    Fairchild resigned from the Senate and Andrus appointed his replacement, then-Rep. Mary Hartung, R-Payette.

    “I didn’t think it was wise to use one position as a springboard for a higher one,” Fairchild told the Statesman on Thursday. “If I was going to have the higher one, I had to earn it.”

    Fairchild said the 1989 session and his relationship with Andrus were productive, even pleasant, and he didn’t want election-related conflict. “I took a lot of pride in that and I didn’t want it thrown away with a rancorous year,” Fairchild said.

    “I was majority leader and he was governor in the opposite party and I just didn’t think there was enough room in the building for both of us. He outranked me, so I just figured it was incumbent upon me to leave. I wasn’t going to expect him to resign.”

    Fairchild said he’s not suggesting that Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher follow his example. “I don’t know him and I don’t know his situation,” said Fairchild, who manufactures organic apple cider vinegar at Golden Valley Vinegar in Fruitland.

    Fairchild won a three-way primary with 37 percent of the vote. Andrus won easily in the general election. Fairchild, whose unconventional campaign included refusing contributions from corporations, carried 32 percent of the vote and just one of 44 counties.


    Saturday: Is this the year that Idaho regulates payday lenders?

    Sunday: Will the GOP primary overshadow the session? What happens to Idaho’s uninsured if lawmakers don’t expand Medicaid?

    Monday: Idaho businesses’ 2014 wish list? Incentives and tax breaks.

    Tuesday: Gov. Otter outlines his budget and priorities in his State of the State Address.

    At IdahoStatesman.com: See what Otter and legislative leaders tell reporters at a Legislature preview Friday and read about the governor’s speech and budget on Monday afternoon.

    Idaho Politics app: Get complete coverage and other resources throughout the session from our app for iOS and Android. Find it at your phone’s app store.

Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher plans to remain in his position and continue weekly strategy meetings with Gov. Butch Otter while living a “dual life” that focuses on removing Otter from office.

“I’m just going to keep doing my job,” the Meridian Republican said Thursday. “I’m here to work for the people. I’m not here to be comfortable and I’m not here to make it comfortable for others. He’s in the executive branch, I’m in the legislative branch. Open discourse is healthy.”

Otter declined comment on whether he’ll bar Fulcher from the weekly sessions he hosts in his office. Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said Otter was busy Thursday preparing for his State of the State Address, which will open the 2014 Legislature on Monday.

“As an aside — and as is his custom — he prefers to speak directly to lawmakers who have questions instead of using the media as an intermediary,” Hanian said.

Fulcher said he hasn’t spoken with the governor since announcing in November his bid to deny Otter a third term. “Frankly, I just haven’t had time,” Fulcher said. “I’m going to try to do that.”

The Legislature’s top four GOP leaders are supporting Otter: Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill; House Speaker Scott Bedke; Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis; and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle.

Bedke said he worries about how the race will affect the relationship between the branches. Hill said he welcomes Fulcher’s decision to remain in leadership, but he said Otter controls whether he’ll continue to share his private thoughts about legislative strategy with Fulcher in the room.

“Certainly, within our leadership team, I don’t see a problem,” Hill said. “We have different points of view and that’s good. As far as how awkward that might be for meetings with the governor, you’re going to have to leave that up to those two. I’m not really concerned about it.”

Fulcher has one open ally in the eight-man GOP leadership, House Republican Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude. Both represent the same southwest Ada County district, and Vander Woude considers Fulcher a mentor.

Vander Woude recently told Otter’s campaign manager, Jayson Ronk, that he’ll be backing Fulcher.

“He asked me if I was on ‘Team Otter,’ ” Vander Woude said. “I said, ‘No, I gotta support my senator.’ ”

Vander Woude said he’s curious to learn whether Otter will block Fulcher and him from the Thursday breakfasts he hosts for GOP leaders, which sometimes feature famed cinnamon rolls baked by Otter special assistant Claudia Simplot-Nally.

“I’m trying to imagine that one, whether they’ll allow the senator to be there and if they’ll still be upfront and tell you exactly what’s going on,” Vander Woude said. “Or, if the senator’s not allowed to be there, whether I’m allowed to be there.”

Hill said that’s Otter’s call: “It’s his meeting. It’s on his turf. He invites whoever he wants to.”

Asked how he’d react to being uninvited, Fulcher said, “I’d just be disappointed. I don’t know what else to say.”

Bedke said he’s concerned that Fulcher’s presence would compromise the effectiveness of the cooperation between Republicans, who have run the Legislature since 1961 and the held the governorship since 1995.

“You want to have a good, candid conversation,” Bedke said. “You don’t want somebody taking notes to play ‘gotcha’ later on. And that’s a two-way street — that game could also apply to the governor.”

But Bedke said Fulcher, as the challenger to the leader of the party, bears a burden.

“Sen. Fulcher under-stands this changes things and I think he needs to act accordingly,” Bedke said. “I don’t want this whole session to be dominated by a primary politics sideshow. We need to be about the people’s business. The primary will take care of itself.”

The primary will be held May 20.

“I realize this is going to take some getting used to for all of us,” Fulcher said. “Is it going to be awkward? Yeah. Is it going to be uncomfortable? Yeah. You know what? That’s life.”

Two members of GOP leadership have yet to announce an endorsement. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder said he has decided but will keep silent until after the Legislature adjourns.

“I just think it’s best to get though the session and try not to let that interfere,” the Boisean said.

House Assistant Republican Leader Brent Crane said he won’t decide until after adjournment. Crane said that won’t affect his leadership duties, and he said he will not breach his vow of secrecy about leadership’s dealings with Otter even if he backs Fulcher.

“Whatever goes on in those meetings, stays in those meetings,” Crane said.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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