The May 20 Republican primary race for governor is by far the most interesting and competitive one Idaho has seen in years, if not decades.
If that's not enough, there is a subplot: a fight for the heart and soul of the Idaho GOP that pits people who think they are conservative against those eager to shuffle a few more steps to the right in an effort to steal their thunder.
And then, come November, the Republican gubernatorial nominee will square off against a potentially well-funded Democrat, A. J. Balukoff, in the general election.
To inform us further about themselves, we asked the four candidates - two-term incumbent Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Russ Fulcher, Harley Brown and Walter Bayes - to write a series of Guest Opinions on the topics of Common Core/education, health care/Medicaid expansion and prison transition/reform. We are grateful they all did, for us and our readers.
Added to this was information gained from observations, emails and conversations (by telephone or face to face) with these four men. Otter and Fulcher emerged as the two most viable candidates because they have either done the job or have familiarity with our legislative process.
We have chosen Otter in the GOP primary because - despite some missteps and flat-footed moves with regard to the Students Come First overhaul and oversight of prisons - he pivoted correctly to get Idaho back on a course for progress and success. He commissioned his Task Force for Improving Education and linked it to a better-educated and prepared workforce that can lure economic investment and shore up Idaho's economic future. That sums up Otter's K-through-Career plan.
There is buy-in from the Legislature and, most importantly, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on the education funding. There is an ongoing plan with input from an eclectic, bipartisan task force, including educators, lawmakers, union representatives and business owners. Otter's plans to bolster our economy have legs in the directions of technology, agriculture and trade.
Though Fulcher earned our respect for his principled views and enthusiasm, we think some of his ideas are incomplete and could be counterproductive. He wants to scrap Common Core, though in 2011 he voted to implement it. His sticking points include his belief that the Idaho Core Standards are not reflective of what Idahoans want and that the testing mechanisms to measure success are flawed. Unfortunately, he has bought into the myth that Common Core involves some quid pro quo with the federal government.
We disagree. Are the Idaho Core Standards a work in progress? Yes. Is the task force considering tweaking the testing? Yes. Are these problems fatal? No. Fulcher's disregard for the new standards of the education reforms could derail fragile momentum.
At the forefront of Fulcher's stated economic strategy is the desire to wrest away management of public lands now controlled by the federal government and exploit them more for Idaho's benefit. Many have tried (see Sagebrush Rebellion history). We don't see a gridlock-prone U.S. Congress ready to hand control over at the blush of a request. That will be a long, hard fight, and what do we do in the meantime?
Fulcher's ideas for the Land Board are to guide investment more toward "sustainable" land use, such as expanded timber and grazing revenues - if only he could get increased access to those public lands.
We prefer Otter's experience and view, which follows the state constitutional mandate to make the maximum return over the long term, regardless of the resource or investment.
There is no doubting the affection and dedication Otter and Fulcher have for our state. But Otter is a proven leader who deserves his party's nomination.