Thursday, April 30, 2009

REALITY CHECK ABOUT GOVERNOR OTTER

I'm diverting from the primary purpose for the "Dunham Family Blog" today because I'm weary of the political spin about transportation funding in Idaho and Governor Otter in particular. Obviously, as the Executive Director of the Idaho Associated General Contractors, I have an interest in transportation funding.

However, though some legislators dismiss us as a "special interest" (until election time comes around), they should not and cannot escape the truth: Idaho must invest more in our transportation infrastructure for the sake of citizen safety and the state's economy.

What prompts me to divert from family news today is the latest round of Otter-bashing which is as unfair as it is duplicitous. Here's what I sent out to a large group of friends today:

Friends,

I’m sending this to a group of friends in my contact list because I’m frustrated with the erroneous spin being put on Governor Otter’s transportation funding efforts -- in particular his visit to Midvale, Idaho a couple of days ago. I doubt you have the real story if you’ve followed the news.

You might have read the Idaho Statesman’s misleading headline yesterday about Governor Otter’s “Capital for a Day” visit to Midvale followed this morning by Dan Popkey’s Statesman column where he writes “House members took pleasure in the rough treatment Otter got Tuesday when he held Capitol for a Day in Midvale. He got an earful about federal matters largely beyond his control and heard little support for raising fuel taxes. ‘I think the governor got that message (Tuesday) when he was in Midvale,’ said House GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts of McCall.”

Speaking of message, after reading all of that in the Statesman, I have one as well because, I was in Midvale at the same meeting the entire day. Here’s the real story:

• There wasn’t even one legislator in Midvale on Tuesday so recounting what happened that day is hearsay at best;
• The Governor was there before 9:00 a.m. until about 2:45 p.m. fielding a host of questions;
• There were some heated questions in the morning mainly focused on sheep, wolves, the federal government, the federal stimulus package and a long discussion about fire codes thrown in for good measure;
• At about 1:45 the very first transportation related question was asked when a citizen asked the Governor why the Midvale rest area was being refurbished (The answer? Complying with the American’s with Disabilities Act, a crumbling foundation, and safety to alleviate trucks parking on the highway due to inadequate parking);
• There followed a candid – and sometimes light hearted -- discussion about transportation and taxes. For about 45 minutes. NOT ONE citizen suggested there wasn’t a need for additional revenue. Citizens were actually complimentary about the improvements to Highway 95, and people laughed with the Governor as he recounted how treacherous Highway 95 was over 40 years ago when he drove back and forth from Boise Junior College to visit his folks in Council. There were certainly a couple of citizens expressing frustration with taxes but even they acknowledged the need for more revenue;
• There was less than a handful of protestors outside wielding signs such as “Otter’s Folly” (about the rest area though they weren’t in the room to hear the explanation), big horn sheep, taxes, etc. Evidently, none of them felt the need or courage to come into the building to voice their opinion;
• So, out of about 6 hours, the Governor spent about 45 minutes totally focused on transportation. While a few people expressed frustration about raising taxes, not one person disagreed with the Governor about the need;
• That was it. Hardly a “message” to the Governor about his transportation goals.

Throughout the day, the Governor was on-point, informed, engaged, understanding, compassionate, and dedicated. In return, even those most frustrated by sheep, taxes, Obama, and fire codes seemed genuinely affectionate toward the Governor. If this was a battle of ideas between the Governor and legislators among the “folks back home,” Governor Otter was the clear winner.

Oh, by the way, he got a standing ovation at the end.

I went to Midvale because I had heard some legislators suggest the Governor is “out of touch with the people.” I wanted to see for myself. I sat in the back of the room all day. I never once spoke to the Governor. I doubt he even knows I was there. But I wanted to understand the truth rather than rely on misleading headlines and political spin back in Boise.

I’m glad I was there because the reality of the day seems to have been lost in the reporting and in the Capitol Annex.
Mark

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