The LaRocco Incident

Risch out of debate over unspecified LaRocco "incident"


The LaRocco Incident

Risch out of debate over unspecified LaRocco "incident"

So what happened? That was the question Gov. Jim Risch refused to answer when he stalled, then refused to debate Democrat Larry LaRocco on public television this month.

Risch had tried to request an alternative format to the debates--instead of sharing a stage with LaRocco, he wanted two separate speaking opportunities--because of encounters he said he'd had with LaRocco. Debate organizer Elinor Chehey scoffed at Risch's requests, saying the separate venue idea was "not a debate." But Risch stuck to his guns.

"There are some issues regarding some incidents," Risch said. "I don't want to go into that."

And so, the debate was off. Although Risch and LaRocco are still scheduled to appear together in an Oct. 10 debate on KTVB Channel 7, the traditional public television debate sponsored by the Idaho League of Women Voters is off.

So what did LaRocco do?

"I don't know where this comes from," LaRocco said. "It impugns my character to lay this out there without anything to back it up."

Certainly there have been opportunities for tense exchanges over the years. LaRocco and Risch have been political rivals since 1986, when the two faced off in a race for state senate. This year, LaRocco has been the most outspoken critic of Risch's short term as governor.

But old hands from Idaho political circles remain confused. They say that although the '86 race was entertaining, it didn't feature anything that classifies as an "incident."

Rod Gramer was an editor at the Idaho Statesman in 1986. Now working for KGW Channel 8 news in Portland, Gramer drew a blank on the '86 race.

"I cannot remember an incident, myself," Gramer said. "It was quite a slugfest."

Which means The Incident must have been more recent. Risch and LaRocco have shared few venues during this summer's beginning of the campaign for lieutenant governor. Risch has stated that he was too busy acting as governor for politics.

In Twin Falls, LaRocco recalled, the two appeared before a Farm Bureau forum, and actually encountered one another face to face.

"I shook his hand," LaRocco said. "You give your opponent a little country club pat on the back, and you move on."

In April, LaRocco continued, the two appeared together once again, at another forum. LaRocco said he waved to First Lady Vicki Risch.

"She looked through me like I was a plate-glass window," he said.

Risch isn't budging. Nor, it should be said, was Chehey. Although Risch said there were ongoing negotiations, Chehey scoffed at that assertion.

"There haven't been any negotiations," she said.

"Ain't America great, they give us a choice," Risch said. "We ought to compromise. They have their protocol, we have my protocol."