Otter’s economic ‘magic’ a failure, says top Idaho Democrat

In a searing essay submitted to Idaho newspapers, state Democratic Party Chairman Larry Kenck says GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s economic policies have failed, citing falling wages, higher food stamp rolls and tax cuts for high earners that haven’t paid off.

Kenck argues that Republicans — who have controlled the governor’s office since 1995 and both houses of the Legislature since 1961 — need to be replaced.

“To fix Idaho’s situation, it will take new leaders with new vision, old wisdom and real plans for making Idaho prosperous and for creating the world-class education that our children need,” writes Kenck.

No Democratic candidate has yet announced to challenge Otter, who is seeking a third four-year term in 2014.

A retired Teamsters Union official, Kenck seized on Otter’s remarks last week to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. During his annual address to the business group, Otter suggested appealing to Wal-Mart suppliers as prospective employers and said Idaho’s strategy of empowering the “magic” of the private sector to spur growth put the state in “great shape.”

Kenck noted that three days after Otter’s speech, the Idaho Department of Labor reported that the average hourly wage in Idaho fell to $18.48 in 2012, or 46th in the nation. Idaho’s median wage of $14.58 ranked 43rd among the states.

Kenck’s full essay follows:

IDP Chairman: Magic Will Not Fix Idaho’s Economy

Boise, Idaho—Gov. Otter is desperate to make us forget what has happened to Idaho’s schools and Idaho’s economy under his watch. To a crowd at the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, the governor declared that Idaho’s economy “is in great shape.”

A few days later, this headline came out in Idaho’s largest newspaper, “Idaho Wages Lose Ground in 2012.” The first line painted a bleak picture: “Already among the lowest-paying states, Idaho wages fell even further behind in 2012, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.”

We are now 46th in the nation for average wages.

This should surprise no one—especially the governor. He already knew that Idaho leads the U.S. in the percentage of workers who earn minimum wage. Otter boasted about this fact months ago in letters urging companies to relocate to Idaho and take advantage of our low-wage working families.

Other economic measures suggest Idaho is not in “great shape.” For instance, the number of Idaho households taking food stamps has more than tripled from about 30,000 in 2003 to 100,000 today (that’s 230,000 of our family members, friends and neighbors)—more than half of those folks are children.

Otter’s grand assessment defies reason. But, during his speech to the Boise Chamber, he revealed how his mind works: “We expect to create an environment in state government and the state of Idaho that allows the private sector to work its magic, and its magic would be success.”

There it is. The key difference between the governor’s fantasy world and the real world the rest of us inhabit: Magic.

Only a magical thinker would believe that low wages help communities thrive and young people succeed. Only faith in magic would allow our governor to look over the last 20 years of GOP control and declare success!

The governor will need powerful magic if he is to convince us that his recent embrace of education is a genuine priority.

·      Where was Otter’s opposition when GOP leaders gutted education budgets?

·      Where was Otter when 39 school districts dropped to four-day school weeks because they couldn’t afford a fifth day?

·      Where was Otter for higher education that remains funded at 17% less than in 2008?

·      Where was Otter when state support for public schools dropped from $25,696 per classroom to $20,000?

·      Why did Otter put millions of dollars into rainy day funds instead of lifting Idaho from 49th in the nation for how much we invest in our students?

When we are up to our necks in water, isn’t it time to admit it’s raining? Where would Idaho communities be if we relied on magic for flood control?

No, Governor. Idaho is not in “great shape.” It didn’t happen by accident and it didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t even caused by magical means. You and your fellow GOP leaders prioritized handouts to Idaho’s wealthiest people and corporations. You told us our economy would grow and that our communities and families would prosper.

That didn’t happen.

To fix Idaho’s situation, it will take new leaders with new vision, old wisdom and real plans for making Idaho prosperous and for creating the world-class education that our children need.

We don’t believe in magic, Governor. And we don’t believe in you.



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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