Butch Otter Explains it All—Sort Of

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Roughly 150 eager and bright-eyed members of the Boise Young Professionals, wearing smart looking suits and accessories by Blackberry crowded into the Garden Level West Wing at The Capitol yesterday evening. They were there for a meet and greet with Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, where Otter was to explain why they, as young professionals, should stay in Idaho.

Gov. Butch Otter could charter the Star Old Professionals group.
  • Gov. Butch Otter could charter the Star Old Professionals group.
He appeared at the podium in cowboy boots, with a traditional old west long-tail coat, looking just a mustache and a 10-gallon hat short of Wyatt Earp, speaking about animal husbandry and high school football, then name-dropping Albertsons, Simplot and Micron as some of Idaho’s greatest hits, closing with the slightly puzzling summation that BYP members should stay in Idaho because “this is where it’s happening, and this is where it’s going to happen."

Otter then took several audience questions about what he felt the next growth industry would be for Idaho, what he was doing to attract it, why businesses should look to Idaho for an educated workforce when his Legislature kept cutting funds to education, why young people should want to live in Idaho as opposed to neighboring states that didn’t keep cutting funding to state parks and other services that improve quality of life, and if he felt the state’s liquor laws hindered the growth of the food and beverage industry.

Responses included pontification on the differences between a job and a career, pot shots at California’s budget troubles and the school system in Washington D.C., a series of talking points supporting The Idaho Health Freedom Act, and brief touches on technological advances in logging; all doused in party-line rhetoric about taxes.

He did say that he disagreed with the state’s liquor laws and felt they hampered growth, but didn’t feel that he as the governor had any power to do anything about it since it was already in the Constitution.

When the event moderator tried to reframe a jobs question for a more direct answer, Otter broke down the two things he felt entrepreneurs need: electrical infrastructure, and an educated workforce.

Then he explained how Idaho imports much of its power, and was unable to attract software giant Oracle because it couldn’t guarantee the required wattage, as well as grousing that rates would likely have to rise soon.

After that, he addressed education: “Are we ever going to be able to compete with colleges and universities in other states? I don’t think we can,” he said.

Of primary education, his opinion was that “for the most part, it’s what you make of it,” that so long as a student’s family was there to augment the classroom, students would be able to muddle through. “It’s still a mystery to me why we don’t have more students going to college,” he added.

So how did event attendees feel about his presentation?

“It was flat out embarrassing,” said Dave Quintana, a BYP member. “Everything was about old industry, without any mention of tech.” Quintana works three jobs in web development and education.

“He didn’t answer anyone’s questions about anything,” said BYP member Chryssa Rich.

Rich, who is chair of the Ada County Democrats, said that she hadn’t really expected Otter to win her over, but she’d never expected it to be that bad. “He was completely disconnected. He had no idea who he was talking to or why he was here.”

Despite the heavy political bent, frustration reached across the aisle.

“If anything, he gave me more of a reason to run,” said Caroline Pavlinik, a Republican member of BYP. “He offered no specifics, and circumvented every question with the past … I just kept thinking to myself, how many people in this room are involved in animal husbandry?”

Another BYP member who described herself as very conservative, said she is already looking for jobs out of state, because she wants to be in an environment of more motivated people, that Idaho is too full of regressionist mentalities like Gov. Otter's. Not wanting her firm to learn of her job-search, she declined to give her name.

After the event, BYP members met at Bardenay, networking and chatting about what their hopes had been for the event.

“I wanted to see what his vision for the future was. He didn’t have any vision, and that’s scary,” said Tim Basford, an Engineer at Micron.

“What he said about starting your own business; you can do that anywhere. The Idaho garages are the same as the Washington garages,” said Greg, who also declined to give his last name for fear of it coming back to him at work.

“Look, I don’t care about comparisons between now and when he was a kid,” said educational consultant Tucker Slosbrug. “He talked about Idaho being a good place to settle down. But this generation is more transient, we’re interested in jobs that you can come in, do for a few years and then move on. I wanted to know how he planned to make that happen.”

Still, despite the criticisms, BYP founder Ben Quintana (brother of Dave) felt the event was a structural success. “The goal was to give BYP members a chance to have a discussion with the governor. We did that. Everything else, what he said, is interpretive.”

Other BYP members agreed. “If this was a bigger state, like California, an event like this would be $500. It’s great that here in Idaho we had this opportunity,” said one BYP member. “But still, if the election were tomorrow, and this were a stump speech, it wouldn’t even matter who was running against him. He failed.”

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