BOISE -- One day ahead of the primary election, we sat down with Idaho's governor as he looks back at what he's accomplished and what's left to be done.
Tuesday's governor's primary will be the first in years that Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter doesn't have a hat in the ring because he is not running for re-election. After 12 years at the helm of the state and almost 40 years in Idaho politics, Otter is packing up at the end of the year.
Tuesday night will be drastically different for him; he tells KTVB he'll be at the Riverside Hotel, where the GOP headquarters are, and he'll hang out as votes come in until he sees a solid direction.
We discussed more than the primary election; the conversation was retrospective and insightful. On Monday, he reflected on his successes and failures and had words of wisdom for the next governor, including crucial efforts that he says are necessary in order for Idaho to continue thriving.
"I think I'm leaving the state in good shape. I think we came through the recession. As I had indicated with the Legislature that if we did the right things that we could help lead this nation out of the recession. We had money in the bank over $400 million we had 2.9 percent unemployment," Gov. Otter said.
A booming economy, fastest earnings growth in the country currently, low unemployment, momentum in public education funding and public lands management are all successes the governor touts. But he certainly recognizes there's still work to be done in the remainder of his term and with the new administration.
"We've got 24,000 jobs we can't fill, so it's important we continue with - we've created two community colleges during my terms in office and that's really the threshold that the unskilled have to go across - or the ones that have to be re-tooled for our economy - that they have to go across in order to fill those kinds of jobs," Otter said, "Being the fastest-growing state in the nation is important but it also has its drawbacks."
The governor says much more needs to be done to improve our infrastructure, including bridges and highway system. He says we can't continue down the road of deferred maintenance when it comes to our roads, because that is deficit spending - the very issue conservatives complain about in Washington, D.C.
"It's our infrastructure that's going to be limiting our economic capabilities in the future if we're not careful," Otter added "The conservative element in the Legislature - which I enjoy most of the time - is what really turned back on all of the efforts that I made to increase early on the money for highways."
His advice for the next CEO of Idaho: Work closely with the Legislature and continue to put education at the center.
"I would hope that the next governor would continue to focus on education because that's the key to our prosperity and key to success of the next generation," Otter added.
Efforts to increase the education budget, create K-12 education and higher education task forces and implement their recommendations have been successful in Otter's last term.
"We didn't know what we were going to be doing in the classroom the next year. So what I've seen is a lot less fighting over the education budget," Otter said.
He says his major frustrations during his time in office have been with federal government involvement, particularly concerning the Affordable Care Act.
"One of my frustrations is the lack of health care - affordable health care - that we have in Idaho. We were doing great until the federal government decided they were going to get involved in a big way in health care. Hence, Obamacare. And that created a lot of dysfunction in the marketplace, put a lot of people at risk and it drove health care costs up instead of doing just the opposite of driving them down.
"Some of the other frustrations have to do with other federal agencies but at least under the Trump administration we're finding a lot more soft landing and a lot more agreement on how we manage our forests in Idaho. In fact, Idaho is now managing a considerable block over three million acres of federal forests in the state," Gov. Otter told KTVB.
If the Medicaid expansion initiative is put on November's ballot, Otter says partnering with the Legislature to fund it is key.
"I hope they are successful. The Legislature is going to have to take some action as a result of that. Because we could have expanded Medicaid a long time ago, I suppose, but with an executive order. But the Legislature still has to pay for it and if the Legislature doesn't believe in it and they're not a partner in it, it just causes a lot more dysfunction," Otter said. "Work it out. This is what the people wanted and they've wanted it by - last figures I saw were in the 75-80 percentile of people that thought that we needed to expand Medicaid in Idaho."
When asked without steering the ship, is there anything that scares him about Idaho's future, the governor responded:
"Well, that all depends upon who the next governor is. It all depends what the makeup of the next Legislature is. If I could wish the next governor anything in the first branch of government, in legislative branch of government, it would be he had same relationship with the leadership and in general with the majority - and I'm not talking about a party, I'm talking about the head count - of the Legislature that I had," Gov. Otter added.
It's known that Otter fully endorses Lt. Governor Brad Little for governor, so we asked if a different candidate wins the primary, how will he handle it? And will he take them under his wing and help them get acclimated?
"If it doesn't come out the way I hope, if Brad Little is not the next governor, it's going to take me a little while to adjust I'm sure because there'll be some disappointment. And what's a little while? I don't know."
KTVB asked the governor what mistakes or failures he made that he wishes he had time to rectify. He says hindsight is 20/20.
"There's a lot of things, way too numerous and some of them are little bitty things. that I wish I had or wish I hadn't done. But I'll tell ya I'll be leaving on a high note, I think. I think the state is in a great place. There isn't anything that I did that can't be rectified if the next governor disagrees with it, no matter whether it was a good thing or a bad thing," Otter told KTVB.
"The next governor - with the help of the Legislature - could totally scrap the task force on higher education and the task force on public schools, on K-12. That's the beauty of elections. In rodeo we call it a re-ride. And they'll be free to do that.
"I hope that things like the task force and the momentum we've got going in education, the agreement, the concern that we have for our education system in Idaho doesn't diminish. And I have to believe the Legislature won't let that happen no matter who's sitting in the governor's office."