Otter says Idaho’s anti-gay reputation is not hurting business

He will defer to the Legislature on whether to ‘Add the Words.’

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comFebruary 12, 2014 

governor, butch otter, idaho press club

Gov. Butch Otter makes his annual breakfast appearance at the Idaho Press Club.

KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

Gov. Butch Otter said Tuesday he’s seen no evidence that the Legislature’s opposition to extending civil rights protections to gays, called “Add the Words” by supporters, is damaging business recruitment. Nor has he heard business complaints about House Bill 427, which would add legal protections for people who refuse to hire or serve gays based on their religious beliefs.

“I can’t point to one company that I’ve visited with that said, ‘If you don’t do this,’ or even suggested that was a problem,” Otter told the Idaho Press Club. “I don’t know that companies look to the political. They don’t say, ‘Geez, you’re a really red state, that’s why I’m coming here.’

“What they look at is the public policy, they look at the tax policy, they look at predictability,” Otter said. “They look at the enthusiasm that communities have for bringing them in.”

Otter said he’s not worried by last week’s national media coverage of the arrest of 44 protesters outside the Idaho Senate as part of a failed eight-year campaign to “Add the Words” and extend civil rights protections to gays.

“National media bashing Idaho because we seem to be a pretty good target for their dissatisfaction, that’s not gonna bother me that much,” Otter said.

HB 427 CONTROVERSY

Also last week, more than 500 people gathered to oppose the measure authored by Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise. Luker’s bill would expand the Idaho Free Exercise of Religion Act. Luker has cited examples of bakers not wishing to sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples and photographers not wanting to shoot their ceremonies.

“I cannot tell you one company that has said, ‘We’re not coming to Idaho because of Luker’s bill or anything like that,’ ” Otter said.

Luker’s bill is scheduled for amendment in the House on Wednesday.

Former Gov. Phil Batt, a fellow Republican and mentor to Otter, called in October for lawmakers to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act.

The law prohibits discrimination in the workplace, housing, public accommodation and education based on race, sex, color, religion, national origin and disability.

Otter declined further comment on “Add the Words,” he said, because the exclusion of gays is cited in a November civil rights lawsuit seeking to overturn Idaho’s ban on same-sex unions.

“Phil’s entitled to his own ideas and I enjoy a lot of his ideas,” Otter said. “It’s something that Phil is asking, it’s something that could happen. Whether or not this Legislature’s willing to go forward with it is going to be up to them.”

RACIST IMAGE

In the 1990s, Batt led the campaign to push back against Idaho’s national reputation as a racist haven. He convinced lawmakers to expand workers’ compensation insurance to largely Hispanic farmworkers and battled neo-Nazis, calling them “malcontents and screwballs.”

Batt made Idaho’s image problem the centerpiece of his 1998 State of the State Address, gave a civil rights speech to counter a Coeur d’Alene parade marking Hitler’s birthday and went to Sun Valley to meet a national convention of African-America skiers.

“The state should do more of making it plain we do not tolerate racism in the state, and this is basically a loving, caring, neighborly society,” Batt said in 1998.

Businesses, led by Hewlett Packard, also sought to repair Idaho’s image, saying it hurt sales, employee recruitment and tourism.

GOP Gov. Dirk Kempthorne took up where Batt left off, asking lawmakers to help fund the Idaho Hispanic Cultural Center and a national advertising campaign to repair Idaho’s image. In 1999, at the Treasure Valley Inclusiveness Symposium keynoted by Gen. Colin Powell, Kempthorne said: “Through a diverse work force, you have strength.”

Talking to reporters Tuesday, Otter did note that claims that Batt’s workers’ compensation bill would be “a death throe” for agriculture “never happened.”

Facing a tea party challenge in the May 20 GOP primary from Sen. Russ Fulcher, Otter added, “I still have to govern in this age, and I still have to govern with this Legislature.”

Asked what he would tell a gay couple considering jobs in Boise’s high-tech industry, Otter replied, “I’d say we’re a great state to live in, that the employer that you’re willing to work for is a great employer, and good luck, best wishes.”

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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