The more the calendar advances in Gov. Butch Otter’s third term, the more we find ourselves looking back at smoke from distant fires, lawsuits, missteps and miscalculations.
We are tired of inhaling the smoke from old problems left simmering, left to languish in court proceedings or otherwise ignored, and that can’t be explained yet because of litigation.
The governor seems stuck in a pattern of taking three steps backward and no steps forward. It is time Otter resets his agenda and gets it pointed in a positive direction.
One member of our editorial board put it this way: It is hard for this governor to put anything behind him because it always reappears in front of him.
If you subtract the press dispatches about Otter appointments to boards, benches, commissions, the Legislature — and his schedule of Capital-For-A-Day dates and trade missions — there is very little record about where the governor has been or where he is going forward with our state in this third term.
We were expecting more of the latter from a man who does not have to get re-elected, whom we still believe is capable of adding branches to his legacy tree. But all we’ve been getting for the past seven months has been similar to what we’ve been getting in the past seven days — abrupt chain-jerks to the past.
The revelation this week in an Associated Press report that Otter knew months before he let on that the federal government “had withheld funding for Idaho’s now-failed school broadband program” is disturbing. It leads to more questions: How did it happen, the timing of former Department of Administration head Teresa Luna informing the Legislature in early 2014 about the loss of federal e-rate funds? She took the brunt of the criticism when the Legislature was informed. So far, Otter’s office has attempted to explain that the impact of the loss of those funds had additional complications that were only later realized. Why did it take so long? It is a bald fact that no money coming in was going to be a problem when no money was going out.
Coming right up will be the fallout from operation veto: the clumsy, questionable and likely indefensible matter in which Otter stopped the Legislature’s passage of SB 1011, which would have ended instant racing at places such as Les Bois Park. The Idaho Senate could not muster the votes to overturn the veto and these slot-machine-like horse racing terminals are still running. But the timing and legality of Otter’s veto, the subject of yet another lawsuit, has brought it front and center again.
That veto is as vulnerable as a lot of other issues left suspended in Otter’s past. The governor could clear a lot of smoke away by simply letting go of some things — by explaining more, not less. It is the lingering doubts that tether him to old issues. Call a press conference and speak to them.
Though questions still swirl around the governor’s handling of the private prison contract and the broadband deal, the governor could lead the charge to create a fail-safe set of contract protocols.
It’s time for Gov. Butch Otter to get out of reverse and find a gear forward.
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