Otter: Add the Words protesters may be hurting their own cause, should focus on lawmakers

newsroom@idahostatesman.comMarch 4, 2014 

Correction: A total of 23 protesters were arrested for blocking the four entrances to Gov. Butch Otter's office Tuesday. The number of arrests and office entrances were incorrect in a previous version of this story.

Reacting to Tuesday morning's blockade of his office, Gov. Butch Otter said gay rights advocates may be compromising highway safety and costing taxpayers by delaying the Legislature's targeted March 21 adjournment.

Otter said he understands the frustration of those who can't get a hearing in the Legislature on a bill that would add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the civil rights protections in the Idaho Human Rights Act.

But Otter said the fourth spate of arrests by protesters at the Capitol raises questions that may erode public support.

"I always understand the frustration," Otter replied Tuesday morning to a question from KIVI's Mike Sharp. "But that's not the question here now. The question here now is are they starting to hurt their own cause?

"Our costs of running this place (during the legislative session) is 30,000 bucks a day. When we had to bring folks (ISP troopers) in off of the highway — my report was that they had to bring in everybody off of Canyon County, everybody off of Ada County, some out of Gem County, maybe some out of Elmore County. How many troopers were not out there on the highway and what's the cost of that?"

The first three protests that resulted in 122 arrests by Idaho State Police were in parts of the Capitol controlled by the Legislature, on the third floor that contains the House and Senate chambers and on the garden level where committees meet. Tuesday morning's protest, which brought 23 arrests, blocked Otter and his staff from entering their offices on the second floor.

"My instructions would be they gotta go to the third floor," Otter said. "I can't do anything, I can't do anything down here."

Otter continued: "I've often wondered why they don't create their own forum and then invite us to go to their forum? Because if there's some legislators that don't want to go to the forum, I can understand that, they've got a lot of other things trying to get out of here by the 21st of March."

Otter said he has met with proponents, but reiterated that he can't act until the Legislature sends him a bill.

"I'm just stymied as to why (they blocked his offices). Are they going to go to the Supreme Court next? The Supreme Court can't do anything about it, like I can't do anything about it until we've got legislation."

TUESDAY'S TARGET: OTTER

About two dozen protesters blocked four entrances to Otter's office in the state Capitol early Tuesday. Idaho State Police began arresting the demonstrators just before 8 a.m.

ISP spokeswoman Teresa Baker said 23 people were arrested. Eighteen were charged with misdemeanor unlawful assembly and refusal to disperse, four were charged with misdemeanor trespassing, and one with resisting and obstructing. The reason the charges differed had to do with whether they were blocking a public entrance or a private entrance to the governor's office.

Former State Sen. Nicole LeFavour was the one person charged with resisting and obstructing. LaFavour was "interfering" with arrests of other activists, "encouraging them not to cooperate," Baker said.

All of the charges are misdemeanors, and the penalties are up to 6 months in jail and up to $1,000 fine.

Tuesday's act of civil disobedience was the latest in a series of such protests — four in total, with nearly 150 arrests — at the Capitol. The Add the Words supporters want Idaho lawmakers to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" in the Idaho Human Rights Act. The 1969 law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin and disability.

Idaho's GOP majority has refused to allow a hearing on the Add the Words proposal for the past eight years.

Organizers Tuesday noted Otter's vocal support of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's veto last week of controversial legislation that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gay people for religious reasons.

"We appreciate Governor Otter's congratulations for Governor Jan Brewer when she vetoed Arizona's law allowing people to legally discriminate against gay people for religious reasons," protestor Ty Carson said in a news release. "Such laws have no place in Idaho either or in America today where most people know a gay person or have gay family members."

While Otter was supportive of Brewer's veto, he declined to say whether he would have done the same thing had Idaho lawmakers approved Rep. Lynn Luker's HB 427, which was similar to the Arizona bill. Luker eventually withdrew the legislation.

News broke last week that compromise talks might be in the works among GOP officials, but nothing substantive has emerged.

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