Election Central

Otter to complete Totalitarian Trifecta with mission to Russia

Judging by his travel schedule, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter doesn’t appear much concerned about a possible primary challenge from Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher.

According to Otter’s official schedule released Friday, he leaves Nov. 15 for a nine-day schlep to Mother Russia.

It’s not clear whether he’ll meet spymaster President Vladimir Putin or NSA leaker Edward Snowden, but the mission will make stops in Moscow and St. Petersburg — or Leningrad, as it was known during its run as the cultural gem of the Evil Empire. Now, the Idaho Department of Commerce touts Russia as world’s 11th-largest economy and for having the largest per capita GDP of the “BRIC Countries,” Brazil, Russia, India and China.

In 2010, Otter led a trade mission to China, the former Red Menace that’s now the world’s second-largest economy. That trip came after Otter won 55 percent of the vote in a six-way primary. After his return, he won the general election with 59 percent. But the visit helped feed conspiracy theories among some conservatives that the Chinese would establish a sovereign beachhead in Idaho.

In his first year as governor in 2007, Otter went to Cuba on a trade mission. That followed up visits to the Communist relic he made as a member of Congress in 2003 and 2004. Otter’s February 2004 visit included then-Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and a meeting with Father of the Revolution Fidel Castro. Earlier this year, Otter visited Vietnam, the country where 58,000 Americans died trying to stop the Communist dominoes, but balanced the trip with stops in capitalist havens South Korea and Taiwan.

I asked Otter’s office and his campaign whether the governor has any concerns that GOP primary voters may look askance at a leader so comfortable with the former pillars of world communism.

I received a response this afternoon from Megan Ronk, chief administrative officer of the Department of Commerce. Her statement follows:

“It’s important to note that it is Idaho companies that drive the locations for these trade missions.  The Departments of Commerce and Agriculture collectively survey Idaho businesses to solicit their input into international locations where they believe they have the greatest opportunities for sales and where a visit from the Governor would have an impact in securing relationships and/or opening any barriers to trade.  We respond to the needs of business, and the Governor has been a tremendous advocate for Idaho companies seeking new markets for growth.

“The Governor’s visits to Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Russia this year – in addition to other trade missions conducted throughout the Governor’s tenure – are reflective of our desire to support the needs of our Idaho companies in helping them achieve success both domestically and internationally.  Enhancing export opportunities was one of the strategies for achieving the Governor’s Project 60 goals – and 2012 was a record-breaking year for exports with global sales of Idaho products hitting more than $6.1 billion.

“The Russia mission will include stops in both Moscow and St. Petersburg.  The Governor will be traveling with 17 Commerce and Agriculture companies representing a variety of industries.  Again, based on the demands of companies this mission filled up faster than any other in recent history – in fact, we had to turn companies away due to being oversubscribed which is a testament to the value companies see in having the Governor support their efforts to explore foreign opportunities.”

I’ve also asked Fulcher’s campaign whether he’ll make hay over Otter’s travels. An update will follow, if warranted.

NOTE TO DENNIS RODMAN: If Otter’s re-elected — or not — you might just want to invite the Spud Guv on your next jaunt to North Korea.





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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Posted in Election Central, Idaho Politics