Spotlight: Butch Otter
Running to win
Idaho's news media seem to have solved a certain problem (one which libertarians settled long ago). What does one call a politician who shows no hesitancy in combining the "extreme conservative" position of a free market economy with the traditional liberal belief in civil liberties? (In statement form, it is a phrase by which libertarians have been described more times than they can remember.)
The novelty that these views can coexist has captured the imagination of an increasingly large number of people in "Butch" Otter's campaign for the governorship in the November election. Almost every newspaper article seems to carry at least a trace of discussion of the uniqueness of his views. Although running as a Republican, Otter's beliefs have been compared to Roger MacBride's in the state's newspapers. Yet beyond the proximity of viewpoints, the correlation between the two campaigns ends. Otter is running to win; his primary purpose is not educational; and he is taken as a serious contender. His campaign budget for just the primary is projected to be at least 50 percent greater than what is normally spent for such a race.
Otter, 35 years old, gained recognition while a state legislator for his "one-man filibuster" to prevent the passage of laws prohibiting pornography. His goal of "consistency" in the defense of personal freedom has proved an invaluable asset in his attacks against such restrictions.
"I come back and say to them 'You must be for gun control.' They say 'Oh, no, absolutely not.' So I say 'Well, then you must be in favor of two people going out and shooting one another,' and again they say 'No.'
"Well, that's the same way with me. I don't go to triple-X movies or buy those magazines," but he has consistently defended the right of others to do so.
While he is personally opposed to drug use he says, "If a person, of his own free will, wants to use marijuana, I question whether the government has any propriety in telling him he can't—but it does when the result is misuse that harms someone else."
Otter's positions on issues such as abortion, pornography, and drug use seem to be attracting the attention of the more liberal northern part of the state, while his support among the right-wing "puritans" of eastern Idaho is building around his positions on the size of government expenditures. A rare coalition is being built between these normally estranged groups.
His positions on the economy are exemplified by the fact that he thinks that an individual should be allowed to work where he wants without being forced to join a union by the government, and that it is not the role of the State to decide what the working conditions in an industry should or should not be. Otter's belief in a limited government is characteristically shown in his statement that the only valid functions of government are to punish fraud, deception, and trespass.
His primary campaign budget will end up totaling at least $150,000. He is described by the press as being a "public relations dream," who is both articulate and "obscenely handsome." While getting off to an early start in the middle of last year, he still faces formidable opposition from both the state's current attorney general and the superintendent of public instruction. The latter two have the advantage of holding statewide office; but it is believed that a well-run media campaign will overcome this, primarily aided by the fact that Butch Otter is probably as close as one can get to being the perfect media candidate.
While the press seems almost compelled to label Otter a libertarian, he emphasizes that he is a Republican and not a libertarian. He says that, "I didn't know I was a 'libertarian' until some members of the press told me I had a lot of libertarian tendencies." In an attempt to prove that he is in fact different from libertarians, he relies on the issue of abortion. While he doesn't want any abortions inside his family, he would rather leave the final decision in such cases to the family involved instead of the State. This is essentially the position of the current Libertarian Party platform. Otter prefers the title of "constitutional conservative" as a more accurate description of his positions concerning civil liberties.
It should be noted that Butch Otter, the father of four, is a deeply religious Catholic, one who, like California's Gov. Jerry Brown, spent time in a monastery; his political philosophy is strongly based on his religion. He feels that what makes man essentially different from an animal is his soul and free agency. Once one applies these positions to such issues as abortion, the reasoning behind his stands becomes quite clear.
Topping the list of individuals who have influenced Otter's political views is Ralph Smeed, who was a prime mover behind Steve Symms' election to the US House of Representatives. Smeed introduced Otter to Leonard Read of the Foundation for Economic Education, who himself has been a considerable help.
One can see the "real" Butch Otter in his statement that, "The Lord gave us free agency when he gave us our spiritual being so we can distinguish right from wrong. And that free agency is under attack by the State when it (by making laws) says 'You will act this way.' The State is setting itself up as God, as far as I'm concerned, and I think that's dangerous. The government, in effect, is taking away the only real gift the Lord gave us."
Further information concerning Otter's campaign can be obtained by contacting Citizens for Otter, P.O. Box 1744, Boise, ID 83701.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Spotlight: Butch Otter".