What would Unda' do?

I'm gonna say Butch's veto stamp is about 4 inches tall and a month late. It is truly of almost comical girth, pressing the word "VETO" across nearly the entire bill to which it is applied. When Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter decided to show off the big red stamp, which he did on Monday, April 20, before a large crowd of reporters and some curious senators, it was a fully expected move.

Which should make it not news.

And while it achieved part of his goal—two seemingly random, retributionary vetoes followed a few hours later by the scuttling of eight budget bills got the Senate to tack 6 cents onto the state fuel tax and raise some registration fees—it did nothing to change the game in the House.

The House has already rejected some half-dozen fuel tax hike proposals, one as low as 2 cents on the gallon. Otter may have one or two cards to play (some anti-tax House members may be swayed by movement of an election consolidation bill that is idled in the Senate), but at press time, an entrenched majority in the House—albeit a slim one—did not have any new reasons to support Otter's road-funding crusade.

So what could Otter have done to get his way?

First of all, if one is truly on a crusade, act like you mean it.

Otter has not been carrying sword and shield into battle. Rather, he has been prancing around with spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations failing to convince either the public or legislators why this is so damned important.

The numbers are convincing. The Idaho Transportation Department is underfunded and there are roads that need attention. But that is not enough to make for a crusade. You don't march on Jerusalem (i.e., raise taxes) because some egghead auditor tells you to. You do it for Jesus (i.e., someone with a vision for neatly banked curves, well manicured shoulders, chip seals so smooth you'd pull over and do a moonwalk before continuing on your way to Kamiah or Rathdrum).

Second, Otter banked on the wrong constituencies. In order to convince lawmakers of the need for road funding, Otter has mobilized a raft of CEOs and lobbyists who stressed the importance of infrastructure and investment in transportation. This is likely convincing to some electeds. But what about the people? As he traveled the state last summer with his PowerPoint on ITD's declining revenue, the rising cost of asphalt and steel and the number of fatal crashes, Otter claims to have met many people in many conservative corners of the state who agreed with his plans.

Where are these people? Why aren't they tearing down the doors of the Annex? Or at least bugging the hell out of some of the House members who appear convincible. Or maybe calling reporters and writing letters to the editor. I mean, didn't that used to be an effective and persuasive tool? And the Idaho Republican Party used to have a decent letter-to-the-editor-writing machine, too.

Third, when it became clear more than a month ago that the House would not look kindly on tax increases, Otter should have explored some different coalitions. Building new funding for the state roads department into a package with local option taxes for transit would have been a decent route to explore.

House Democrats have opposed Otter's single-minded push for road funding, in part because it lacked any nod toward local communities, self-determination or public transit.

Otter could have scored a dozen more votes and built a different dynamic in the House had he gone that route. It is easier to get fired up about local determination and transit—to crusade, if you will—than about asphalt. Otter may have lost House Republican leadership by tying local-option taxes and road funding together, but it's not like Denney-Moyle-Roberts-Bedke, the four House leaders, have helped him in the asphalt department either (though they did each vote to raise taxes for roads).

It might not have worked, but at least it's not beating a dead horse.

Fourth, Otter should have gotten Boise and Ada County on board his plan from the get-go. When he started traveling the state making his case for transportation funding last summer, Otter did not even schedule a road show in Boise—the closest was in Caldwell. After BW pointed this out, a transportation summit coalesced in Boise. But think of the political capital Otter could have had if all the rural communities he visited and Boise leaders were on the same page with his infrastructure vision.

Otter says this is about leadership. But it's also about vision, and focusing on potholes does not convey a very sophisticated vision for the state of Idaho. We agree with Otter that potholes are a "proper role of government." But they are the bones.

Otter needs to figure out where the meat is if he is going to move people, and move people to move their representatives.

Fifth, the whole veto shtick is unbecoming of a true libertarian. Otter vetoed eight bills, saying, "I have no problem with these bills. At some point they will merit positive consideration." He vetoed them for the sole reason of pissing off the Legislature and keeping them in town, which is not a righteous reason to do something.

Libertarian rationalism would not permit such a cravenly political move.

As to the first two bills he vetoed, that action poses problems, too. The first, HB 245, offered a private-sector solution to funding an otherwise worthy government program that Otter dismantled two years ago.

The Parents As Teachers Program trains parents to help their kids succeed in school and Boise Democratic Reps. Brian Cronin and Branden Durst garnered wide bipartisan support to allow the Idaho Children's Trust Fund to pursue private grants and donations to reinstate the program, costing the state nothing.

Otter vetoed it, saying it duplicated efforts and created an expectation that the state would fund it in the future.

"It's stunning that the governor would use as a political football a bill that enjoyed such strong bipartisan support, is embraced by conservatives and liberals alike, and could make a difference in the lives of so many Idaho families," Cronin said in a press release.

The other bill, HB 161, passed both houses unanimously. It requires state agencies and businesses operating in Idaho to report any breaches of private citizen information to the Attorney General's Office within 24 hours and aims to hold government officials accountable for protecting our private information.

The state's chief information security officer supported the bill, and others presented testimony that government is one of the largest sources of personal data leakage.

If getting parents involved in public education and protecting personal data are not proper roles of government, then neither are roads or delivering the mail. Or providing a governor's mansion.

Hey, can someone veto that?

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