Canyon County House candidate Travis Manning thought he’d amuse himself and his supporters by satirizing Gov. Butch Otter on his campaign Facebook page. But the Vallivue High School English teacher quickly learned the governor found no humor in the prank.
Manning used a photo of him shaking hands with Otter outside the Statehouse, taken March 28 at a gathering of Democratic candidates.
“Bumped into Gov. Butch Otter last week at the Capitol,” Manning wrote in his April 9 post. “Here he is thanking me for working to save Idaho’s public school system from total annihilation….”
Manning began his political career in 2011 by battling the “Students Come First” K-12 reforms championed by Otter and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and passed by the Republican Legislature. Voters repealed the laws in 2012.
While Otter is smiling broadly and shaking Manning’s hand with vigor in the photo (below), Manning quickly learned the governor wasn’t amused by the use of his image in a campaign aimed at unseating Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell. Hixon, who defeated Manning by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin in 2012, was among 14 freshmen who cast the deciding votes for Otter’s state-run Your Health Idaho health insurance exchange.
“The following post on your campaign website was brought to my attention,” wrote Jon Hanian, a former KBOI-TV reporter who has been Otter’s chief spokesman since taking office in 2007. “The caption is obviously made up entirely and untruthful. The interaction involved no discussion about education. We would ask that you change it.”
Chastened, Manning quiveringly replied the following day.
“Just now saw your email. I check the campaign account about once a day. I just removed them. Of course it was said tongue in cheek with ellipsis at the end of the statement, so know that I wasn’t quoting Gov. Otter directly. Thanks, Travis.”
But later that day, Manning told me, he had a change of heart, citing his training as a journalism and English teacher. “I felt strongly that my picture with caption was part of the long tradition of satirical political speech that citizens have enjoyed in this country for centuries.”
So, he wrote Hanian again and reposted the photo with the original caption and posted the same on his @ManningforIdaho Twitter account.
“All day I’ve thought about your request to remove my Facebook and Twitter comments. And I’ve considered the Bill of Rights and where political speech — including satirical political speech — sits in relation to the 1st Amendment. My contention is that both my Facebook post and Twitter tweet are protected under provisions in the U.S. Constitution, much like political cartoons are.
“So, I am going to respectfully disagree with your position here. Please let me know if you have any further questions.”
Hanian replied the following day, Friday, April 11:
“I noticed that in the first sentence of your biography you use the work ‘honesty’ to describe yourself,” Hanian began.
“I would submit it is not very ‘honest’ to claim to have had a conversation with the Governor that did not occur and assign to him a quote that he did not say. That is simply untruthful.
“If you wish to mislead people by claiming to have had a discussion with the Governor that never happened and then attempt to pass it off as constitutionally protected political satire when you are called on it, that is up to you. However you should know we do not consider your handling of this issue very ethical and certainly not ‘honest.’”
Hanian’s valediction? “Regrettably, Jon.”
Manning says he stewed about the exchange over the weekend and woke up early Monday “feeling very uneasy” and having decided to share the emails with me — despite his fear that doing so might hurt his campaign.
“Gov. Otter has great resources and influence on the political landscape in this state and could attempt to influence my lowly race here in Canyon County, whether directly or through a surrogate,” Manning wrote.
That prospect likely was boosted by his decision to share the emails. But my guess is Manning figures the dustup will also impress potential supporters.
Hanian replied Tuesday to my inquiry about the flap, confirming the accuracy of the emails and describing the brief photo op with Manning. Wrote Hanian:
“I think my two emails encapsulate our concern.
“Basically it was brought to my attention that Mr. Manning was trying to suggest he had a conversation with the Governor about education.
“I pulled up Mr. Manning’s Facebook post and asked the Governor about it. He said other than shaking his hand; there was no real verbal interaction with Mr. Manning. Mr. Manning was standing behind the Governor’s truck as he was trying to leave. He shook his hand and then Mr. Manning got out of the way so the Governor could leave. That was largely the extent of it.
“I sent Mr. Manning an email asking him to change the caption. He at first indicated he would. Then hours later he seemed to have had second thoughts, suggesting we were violating his rights to free speech and now he suggests we are bullying him.
“None of those claims are true. All we asked of him was to be honest.
“(I also noticed he has since pulled the comments from his social media pages from people who seemed to be under the impression that what Mr. Manning suggested actually occurred.)”