BOISE — In Boise's downtown, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter stared down a bank of TV cameras and tore down Washington, D.C. Wolves were the target of his ire this time, but it could easily have been health care reform or wilderness or the U.S. Forest Service.
Otter had just ended state wolf management under the Endangered Species Act, after U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ruled out a public hunt. Enough is enough, said the Republican, who sees states — particularly in the Rocky Mountain West — as the fingers in the dike holding back a flood of federal abuse.
"They've not kept one of their promises," Otter said. "It's just time for us to draw the line and say, 'It's over with.'"
For Democrat Keith Allred, his rival's wolf decision Monday shows why Idaho needs a new leader: Otter shuns working collaboratively, or consults only narrow special interests, before tackling problems that demand cooperation, Allred said.
In 2009, Otter pushed millions in gas tax and registration fee hikes, something Allred calls misguided as the economy stumbled and Idaho residents lost their jobs. Otter supported Exxon Mobil Corp.'s bid to ship oil equipment through north central Idaho to Canada's tar sands, without consulting residents now fighting the big loads.
And Otter's administration didn't do enough to inform dentists last month they were being booted from a state Medicaid program, Allred said. On Tuesday, dentists were allowed back in.
"In each of these cases, the decisions turned out to be terrible ones, because Butch Otter didn't know what he was talking about," said Allred, who taught public policy at Harvard University before returning to Idaho in 2003.
With Otter, voters Nov. 2 have a lean 68-year-old former U.S. representative who would make Idaho a bulwark in the states' rights fight. This year, he was the first governor to require his state to sue over President Obama's mandate for all residents to eventually buy health insurance.
Karl Stressman, head of the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association in Colorado Springs, met Idaho's governor six years ago on a California trail ride. They've become friends and team-roping partners, including at Pocatello and Caldwell rodeos this year.
Otter, a former football player at the College of Idaho, doesn't like to lose, Stressman said.
"The guy has got grit," Stressman said. "You just get that feeling when you are around him."
And in Allred, voters have a 46-year-old mediator who ran a nonpartisan government reform group, The Common Interest, before his first political run.
Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, worked across the Charles River in Cambridge, Mass., from Allred's offices at the Kennedy School of Government. Both were leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in predominantly Catholic Boston.
But Christensen, a lifelong Republican, said it was Allred's approach to bringing together opposing sides that caught his eye. For instance, Allred in 2001 helped in remedying a century-old fight between American Indians and non-Indians over how to prosecute crimes on north central Idaho's Nez Perce Reservation.
"He practiced what he taught, which is: We've got to figure out what we have in common and not focus on the things that divide us," Christensen said.
Allred faces a steep challenge.
His fundraising has been respectable — he's brought in $732,000 this year, to Otter's $1 million — but there hasn't been a Democratic governor in Idaho since Cecil Andrus won in 1990. The Legislature is three-quarters GOP; all seven statewide seats are, too. In 2006, Otter won 52 percent, while Democrat Jerry Brady had just 44 percent.
Otter and Allred differ on policy.
Ending some of Idaho's $1.7 billion in sales tax exemptions, as Allred proposes in his plan to lower Idaho's income tax rate, would amount to a tax hike for those businesses that now benefit, Otter said.
Otter has won backing from groups such as the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, which accuses Allred of favoring rosy budget projections that would have left Idaho with a budget deficit in 2010 and 2011 amid the deepest recession since the Great Depression.
Allred, who said the claims are inaccurate, contends modest economic growth will leave Idaho with more money next July than Otter has reckoned and blames the governor and Republican Legislature for cutting education spending by $128 million.
Idaho could have done better, Allred insists — including by hiring more auditors to target income tax scofflaws.
"Under the Otter administration, we let tax deadbeats steal textbooks out from under Idaho school kids," Allred said.
Trimming Idaho's budget was difficult but necessary, said Otter, who dismisses Allred's plan of polling Idaho residents to develop a legislative agenda as "theoretical."
"Being the right kind of public servant demands that you take action," Otter said. "You don't have an hour, let alone days, to seek out what you should do."
Otter makes no apologies for leading Idaho on its own course.
When he ended wolf management duties, he told reporters he didn't tell Montana, Wyoming or the Nez Perce Indian Tribe because "we make these decisions in Idaho."
Allred said this "shoot-from-the-hip" style undermines Idaho's control of its own destiny.
"Otter has unilaterally given away Idaho's ability to manage its wolf population without warning or adequate consultation," he said.
NAME: C.L. "Butch" Otter
EDUCATION: St. Teresa's Academy, now Bishop Kelly High School (Boise); bachelor's from College of Idaho
OCCUPATION: Congressman, rancher, business interests
EXPERIENCE: Idaho House of Representatives 1972-76; unsuccessful campaign for governor 1978; lieutenant governor 1986-2000; U.S. representative 2000-2006; Idaho governor 2007-present
NAME: Keith Allred
AGE: 46Comment on this story
EDUCATION: Twin Falls High School; Ph.D. in conflict resolution from the University of California, Los Angeles
OCCUPATION: professor, activist and lobbyist for The Common Interest
EXPERIENCE: first partisan political race; Allred was on the faculty of Columbia University in New York and Harvard University in Massachusetts, where he taught at the John F. Kennedy School of Government