TWIN FALLS — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter declined to participate in a Sept. 24 Twin Falls Times-News debate against his challenger, Democrat A.J. Balukoff.
Instead, Otter will attend debates in Coeur d’Alene on Oct. 3; Idaho Falls, Oct. 9; Nampa Oct. 14 with KTVB-TV, where Otter campaign spokeswoman Kaycee Emery was a reporter, anchor and producer for three years; and Oct. 30 on Idaho Public Television in Boise.
Emery did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
“I sometimes feel we’re the sad, sorry stepchild (in the Magic Valley),” said Steve Milligan, Twin Falls County Republican chairman. “There are 150,000 of us here in the Magic Valley. But I think they look at us and say, ‘They’re going to vote Republican anyway.’ It really ticks me off something terrible. They need to come here so we can maintain our Republican leadership.”
Milligan noted that state Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, beat Otter handily in the May primary in Kootenai and Ada counties, although he lost overall. “So Otter’s going to have to spend considerable effort in the Treasure Valley and northern Idaho.”
Still, Milligan said he’s disappointed.
“As much as we like to think we carry a big stick (in the Magic Valley), it’s been apparent we don’t. … I see our influence waning,” he said.
A statement from Otter’s office said KTVB’s broadcast debate “will reach the Treasure Valley and Magic Valley markets …”
But Times-News Publisher Travis Quast said, “Boise broadcast signals are weak at best in the Magic Valley, unless you have the luxury of cable or satellite TV. I believe rural residents in our area are going to find it difficult to tune in and hear their future governor debate. We had partnered with our local TV station … to broadcast this debate in our local area.”
The Times-News tried since early July to confirm the date for the debate with Otter’s office, but didn’t receive an answer until Tuesday evening.
“I’m disappointed,” said state Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. “It has to be timing. He was here at the fairs.… A.J. is not a Magic Valley person, and perhaps Butch feels comfortable with those who know him here.”
Twin Falls City Councilman Greg Lanting said, “Obviously, I’d like to see him. … I don’t think it’s a swipe. But I am disappointed.”
Balukoff was disappointed Otter is “willing to go to the Magic Valley for a ribbon-cutting, but not to come into that district to debate issues,” Balukoff spokesman Mike Lanza said.