Hey, cowboy: Long may you ride

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There’s every reason to believe Brad Little will be an excellent governor when he takes office in less than a month.

But there’s no question that Idaho’s going to miss C.L. “Butch” Otter.

Clement Leroy, as his mother called him, stopped by Coeur d’Alene last week to pay his respects to the local business community, which he has correctly identified as one of the most powerful economic engines in the state. Now that he’s almost our ex-governor, we can share a little story.

Around the time of the Great Recession over an off-the-record coffee at The Coeur d’Alene Resort, Gov. Otter told this newspaper’s editor what he loves about people in these parts. Paraphrasing only slightly here, he said: People in North Idaho will come to me with their problems. But unlike people in some other parts of the state, folks from North Idaho will also come to me with their solutions.

That was music to Otter’s ears. It should be SOP everywhere government and citizenry intersect. For among his many strengths, Butch Otter understood the role of government as well as anybody.

We go back to the most important candidate endorsement editorial this newspaper produced in the past 20 years. Published Oct. 29, 2010, when the ravages of the Great Recession had brought Idaho nearly to its knees, The Press strongly encouraged voters to re-elect Butch Otter governor. An excerpt from that editorial — you can read it at https://bit.ly/2PmnIEx — described the governor this way:

“Otter is a rugged individualist who throws caution to the wind when he bucks broncos yet meticulously manages your hard-earned tax dollars. He’s an entrepreneur, someone with a CEO’s background and mentality and a super salesman’s keen eye and thick skin. He’s fearless in personally recruiting businesses from neighboring states, selling them on Idaho’s lifestyle and business-friendly environment. He’s rock solid in his determination to keep Idaho’s tax structure optimal for businesses not just to survive, but to thrive. He understands that a good education is key to a good job, but he also knows the difference between spending wisely and spending lavishly.

“Otter is old-school where it matters most. He preaches personal responsibility and practices it, too. He’s fond of saying that the only hand you can always count on to help you up is at the end of your own sleeve. We need his perspective and energy if we’re going to keep taxes low, the budget balanced and all state departments effective and efficient.”

Like all strong politicians, Otter had his detractors. Among them were faces from the far-right fringe who painted the hard-charging cowboy as a radical liberal bent on destroying the state. That’s much more a statement of the fringe’s detachment from reality as it is any kind of accurate assessment of Idaho’s 32nd governor.

During his farewell visit last week, Otter said he’ll leave it up to newspapers to put his legacy into words. After 12 outstanding years as governor and half a lifetime as a public servant, that’s a task not for newspapers, but for a worthy biographer.

Gov. Otter — Butch — we wish you and Lori the very best life has to offer. You’ve certainly earned it.

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