“What happened to Butch Otter?” It's a question I am often asked, both by disappointed Idahoans and from policy leaders throughout the country who expected more from Otter’s turn as state CEO. The question arises from seeing Otter transition from a libertarian-leaning state representative in the 1970s to the statist government-worshiping governor he is today. He’s still a Republican and he still delivers some of the best speeches on the proper role of government and the Constitution. But it’s rare to see him deliver on policy that mirrors his free market, constitutional rhetoric.
I have seen, on occasion, Butch Otter tell legislators that he can’t wait to sign a conservative, constitutionally-principled bill, only to have that same bill be vetoed by the very same governor. What explains such a thing?
Sometimes I imagine that Butch Otter has an incorrigible liberal twin, Dutch Otter, who often escapes his confines, slips into the governor’s office undetected and starts signing or vetoing legislation. It’s only after Doppleganger Dutch has gotten away with his crazy antics — cementing Obamacare into state law, approving a 10.6 percent increase in state spending, or signing a bill requiring a person get permission from the government to work — that Dutch Otter is quietly recaptured and life in the governor’s office returns to normal. But Dutch escapes a lot, and you never know what crazy antics he’ll dream up next.
I suspect it is more plausible that the real Otter has been replaced by shapeshifting aliens who have managed to perfectly replicate the governor’s appearance but were unable to re-create his libertarian governing philosophy. The Real Otter was abducted years ago while he was a congressman, presumably after he voted against the Patriot Act in 2001 and before he voted to expand Medicare in 2003. Real Otter is actually in a spaceship orbiting Saturn, or he is part of a menagerie light years away on Talos IV, curled up in a fetal position hoping someone will figure out that the person we presume is the governor is actually an alien imposter.
Real Otter probably wonders why no one has picked up all the clues Alien Shapeshifter Otter has left, including the ones dropped Thursday when Alien Shapeshifter Otter vetoed House Bill 139, a bill to reduce government regulations via occupational licensure, and vetoed House Bill 202, which would protect Idahoans, never charged with a crime, from losing their things to law enforcement via civil asset forfeiture.
Because of the veto of HB 139, the entrepreneurs I have often written about, who made a living making brides beautiful for their weddings and doing makeup for actors on film sets, won’t be able to work without breaking state law and risking government sanctions. And the veto of HB 202 means Idahoans could still lose all of their valuable possessions if they’re charged but never convicted of a minor drug crime.
What turned Butch Otter from a libertarian-leaning conservative into the establishment Republican politician he is today? My mentor, Idaho’s libertarian curmudgeon Ralph Smeed, used to tell me he included an essay from Otter as a preface to a pamphlet version of Ezra Taft Benson’s “The Proper Role of Government” to “keep Butch honest.” Maurice Clements, who served with Otter in the Legislature in the 1970s would theorize that Otter was never really committed to the ideals he professed to hold all those decades ago.
I, for one, prefer to think that Butch is still the defender of limited government, constitutional government he always was. He’s just in a spaceship somewhere.