Otter: I’m ready to run, but not ready to announce

Gov. Butch Otter said Friday he is preparing to become the first governor to seek a third consecutive four-year term since Republican Gov. Bob Smylie won a third term in 1962.

Otter, 70, first said he planned to run in 2014 at the North Idaho Governor’s Ball in December 2011. He’s continued to raise money, but declined on Friday to say when Idahoans could expect a formal announcement of his re-election bid.

“No comment,” Otter said at his annual breakfast with the Idaho Press Club.

Question: “There will be one?”

Otter: “No comment.”

Question: “Is that backing away?”

Otter: “No, no, it’s not backing away. I’m just not going to be pushed into a calendar. I got a lotta other things on my mind right now. You know, I just — I am planning on it. I’m fundraising. I’m doing those things that I can, at the same time that I’m trying to govern the state of Idaho.”

Otter said he doesn’t relish a chance to defeat Congressman Raul Labrador in the May 2014 GOP primary. Labrador has said he is “humbled” to be urged to run against Otter and that he’ll make a decision by mid-year.

I asked Otter if he’d like to even the score with Labrador, who built his name by challenging Otter. Among Labrador’s successful scraps with the governor: helping unseat Otter’s choice for GOP chairman in 2008; working to defeat his transportation tax increases in 2009; and beating First Lady Lori Otter’s choice in the 2010 GOP congressional primary. Now, Labrador is lobbying state lawmakers against Otter’s state-run health exchange, the 2013′s Legislature’s top fight.

Otter refused the bait, saying, “I don’t hope anybody but me runs for governor.”

Otter then told a story I’d never heard about how President George W. Bush handled Otter’s opposition to Bush initiatives while Otter was in Congress, including the Patriot Act, budgets and trade. Otter recalled having blasted Bush’s free trade initiatives by rhyming NAFTA and CAFTA, saying, “And the next thing we’re gonna get is the SHAFTA!”

“That didn’t diminish my affection for the president, it didn’t diminish my understanding where he was coming from. I simply disagreed with him,” Otter said.

Otter said Bush eased any possible tension during a White House dinner for the National Governors Association, when Otter was in his first term.

Seated at a table with First Lady Laura Bush and between then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Otter said he was interrupted halfway through his salad.

“I felt this tap on my shoulder and I looked up and it was the president. And he said, ‘Butch, can I see you for a minute?’ And so we went over to what I call the Adams Room, it’s a green room. He didn’t say it exactly in these words, but it comes awfully close to presenting the picture.

“He said, ‘Butch, how does it feel to come to the White House without getting your rear end chewed out?’”

The lesson, suggested Otter, is magnanimity is becoming in a chief executive, even when a leading member of your party is opposing you on a key issue.

“The president took those remarks not as an enemy, but as somebody that just had a legitimate disagreement with him. I have always tried to keep my campaigns on a level where we’re discussing the issues.

“And when we have legitimate differences — and I think this is a legitimate difference — not only with Raul, but I think it’s a legitimate difference with a lotta folks that disagree with me on the insurance exchange, which is the issue du jour.”

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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