Republican candidate for Idaho governor, Ron “Pete” Peterson, said he’s confident that Gov. Butch Otter will lose in the May 25 Republican primary, but unlike other aspirants for office, he doesn’t think he’ll be the one to take down the incumbent. He said he expects former elk rancher Rex Rammell of Idaho Falls or Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman to win the race. Peterson said he doesn’t want the state’s top political job, and has already endorsed an independent candidate in the race.
Ousting Otter has been the focal point of Peterson’s campaign. His official website is BeatButch.com, where people can order bumper stickers, shirts, or underwear with the “Beat Butch” slogan. “It’s kind of a universal sentiment,” Peterson said. “To me, he’s been a disappointment. I thought he would be a really great governor.”
Peterson told IdahoReporter.com that he thinks Otter’s administration has helped ruin the morale of current and former state employees and that Otter went too far last year when he vetoed state spending legislation in an effort to raise some taxes and fees for road construction. "It showed a kind of disconnect and arrogance,” said Peterson, who compared Otter to a character in a Greek tragedy undone by his own hubris.
Discussions of state policy take a back seat to talking about defeating Otter and encouraging voter turnout, but Peterson will answer questions asked of him. He said his campaign strategy has been to travel across the state while wearing a “Beat Butch” shirt and talk with people. “I always say the same thing,” he said. “My name’s Pete. This sounds a little silly, but I’m running against my old buddy Butch for governor. Nine times out of 10, they will point to me and say ‘You’ve got my vote.’ I’ve learned to shut up after that.”
Peterson said his ideas to balance the state budget include removing some sales tax exemptions and taxing Internet sales, but not Otter’s proposed increases on the gas tax and vehicle registration fees to pay for road improvements. He also is in favor of reducing the number of administrative positions in the governor’s office and in Idaho public schools by forcing school districts to consolidate. “That would be a very painful, tough sell, but that’s something that we would need to do to consolidate school districts,” he said.
Peterson also wants to shake up the state Legislature by doubling lawmakers’ salaries from $16,000 a year to $32,000. He said that would encourage less wealthy people to run for state office. “If it was doubled to $32,000 a year, then a logger from Orofino or an unemployed trailer factory worker could take part in the legislative process, and it would become a citizen’s legislature again,” Peterson said. At the same time, he would cut off lawmakers’ per diem on March 15, their daily allowance for expenses that ranges up to $122 a day, to encourage shorter sessions, which he said are needed. “I think legislative sessions go on too long with fliff-floff and fluffy stuff that doesn’t matter,” he said.
New immigration enforcement laws approved by Arizona lawmakers shouldn't be brought to Idaho, according to Peterson, who said he opposed Arizona’s laws because he believes in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Though he’s running in the Republican primary, Peterson has endorsed independent candidate Jana Kemp in the governor’s race. “She would be a much better governor than I would,” he said. Peterson said his endorsement could change depending on the results of the Republican primary.
Otter, Peterson, and the other Republican candidates for governor, including Walt Bayes of Wilder and Tamara Wells of Post Falls, likely won’t meet in a televised debate. Otter declined to participate in an Idaho Public Television (IPTV) debate, while Peterson failed to meet the campaign activity requirements for the debate. Peterson disputes the decisions by the debate organizers and by Otter. “They’re telling me how to run my campaign, and they’re crossing the line here,” said Peterson, who said he’s traveled to all 44 Idaho counties during the past year for his campaign. His website encourages supporters to call members of IPTV and the Idaho Press Club, which decided on which candidates could participate in the debate.
Peterson called Otter’s decision to pull out of the debates because Peterson, Bayes, and Wells were excluded a politically expedient decision. “I don’t buy that idea,” Peterson said. “I think he would’ve gotten hammered by Rammell and Ullman (in the debate).”
Note: IdahoReporter.com writers are members of the Idaho Press Club, but did not review candidates’ campaign activity for the Idaho debates.