It really doesn’t matter if you like Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter or not there is one thing we should all agree on and that is he is a political genius. Which is nice that we have such a brilliant political operator managing our state’s affairs, but at what cost?
Recently Idaho Public Television along with the Idaho Press Corp and The Idaho League of Women Voters sponsored a debate that was broadcast across the state.
Otter insisted that he would not participate in the debate unless fringe candidates Harley Brown and Walt Bayes were included along with himself and Senator Russ Fulcher. All four men were vying for the Republican nomination.
Otter clothed his interest in including these two men under a cloak of fairness. Fair enough, I guess. They are candidates for the nomination. Their names are on the ballot and someone will vote for them. In that respect their position as candidates does deserve some respect after all aren’t we all told as third graders that we have the ability and freedom to become whatever we want including President of the United States?
In fact during the opening statements Brown said he was told by a higher authority that he was destined for a higher office than president of his motorcycle club.
Bayes was also backed by a larger power. He has one thing on his mind and that is the prevention of abortion. Bayes might have the truly unique one of the bunch, not because he repeatedly quoted from the Bible often missing the point of a question in favor of reading another verse. What made white-bearded Bayes special was his honesty. He did not expect to win. He stated he is running because it gives him a platform from which to talk about ending abortion.
The ensuing hilarity sent the internet laughing and knee slapping. Gawker.com called the debate a Saturday Night Live sketch and really it was. On one side you have two men, Brown and Bayes, attempting to get their message out despite any semblance of organization. On the other side there was Fulcher trying to compensate by “out-seriousing” everyone else on the panel and in the middle was Otter with that ever-present smile watching the may lay.
Fulcher accused Otter of using Brown and Bayes as a shield against real questions about substantive issues important to Idahoans and frankly it is hard to not agree with Fulcher. There were no groundbreaking answers. Time that could have been allotted to letting the two presumptive candidates actually speak to the people they want to govern.
I am writing this on Monday. The election is Tuesday and this column will be printed on Wednesday so I don’t yet know the outcome of the election. I have my suspicions of how it will go, but I still think there is a bigger concept at play here that deserves discussion even with the primary behind us.
Who are the winners and losers in this situation? With full confidence I say the first and foremost winner was Otter. He can claim being a champion of the underdog and he didn’t have to fill time with actual, detailed answers. Bayes and Brown are winners in that they received more exposure than they ever have before (yes, they have each ran for office prior to this election) and they were able to voice their platforms to Idaho. Bayes and Brown are also losers here too. Had the invitation not been coerced out of the sponsors Brown and Bayes place in the debate would not have been tainted by speculation of Otter’s motives, so no matter how passionate or correct their views are they as people and the views they espouse have been marginalized. Fulcher is also a loser here. No matter what strengths he brings to public service he was over-shadowed by the political theater going on around him. He also did not help himself by trying to be more serious than the other candidates. Unfortunately, he just appeared to be the pouty little boy that was picked last. Finally you and I are also losers here. We did not get to see depth from the candidates that would most likely be considered serious contenders and nationally we do not appear to be serious about our politics.
I am of two minds about this. I appreciate that lesser known and lesser funded candidates had a shot to speak. Otter may have other motives, but at the same time he did one of the most American things; he gave voice to the under-represented.
Then there is the other side of me that says we have to live in reality and Brown and Bayes never had a shot. As the voting public needs to know as much as possible about the real contenders as possible to make the best decision we can.
Either way there will be more political shenanigans to come. While there are 217 days until Christmas there are only 164 days until the November election.
Let the games begin.