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Otter on current political discourse: ‘You’ve gotta hate the other person, and I just don’t’

By BETSY Z. RUSSELL Idaho PressMay 17, 2019

BOISE — The National Institute for Civil Discourse on Tuesday named its first state-level advisory board — in Idaho — which will be co-chaired by former Republican Gov. Butch Otter and former Democratic Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick.

When asked why he wanted to join in the new “CommonSense American” movement, Otter said, “Well, I’ll tell you what: I can’t think of, along with Walt, better campaigns that were more civil. And boy, if we need anything, I think, in politics today, it’s civility.”

Keith Allred — who ran against Otter in 2010 — is the institute’s executive director and leader of the movement.

“Keith and I disagree on a lot of things, but we’ve agreed on a lot of things as well,” Otter said. “And when we disagreed ... it didn’t turn into that lack of understanding; being a gentleman, understanding that that person has an opinion. But that didn’t make him an enemy.”

Otter said in today’s politics, there are too many personalities.

“You’ve gotta hate the other person,” he said.

“And I just don’t. I have never in 25 races, I have never been comfortable in saying bad things about my opponent.”

Other members of the new board include Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong; former Micron CEO Mark Durcan; former Simplot CEO Bill Whitacre; Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise; and more.

“Like most Idahoans, I haven’t been deeply involved in politics,” Armstrong said in a news release. “But I strongly believe that we as citizens have to do our part to bring common sense to politics. I am thrilled to work with my fellow board members to spread civility across the state and set an example for the country.”

The new state board will participate in a public event 7 p.m. Friday at Boise State University to discuss how Idahoans can be a part of the effort; you can pre-register online for the free event at commonsenseamerican.org.

“The Idaho State Advisory Board has tremendous potential to do real good and set an example for the nation,” Allred said. “It speaks volumes that Gov. Otter and I have joined forces to express our conviction that we must engage our differences with greater civility and respect.”

The group’s national advisory board includes such luminaries as the late former President George H.W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton; former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Gen. Colin Powell; and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Allred’s “CommonSense American” movement, which enlists ordinary citizen members from all points of view to review issues, then lobbies in favor of positions supported by two-thirds of the members, is a program of the institute.

“I think it can establish a standard,” Otter said. “It shouldn’t be your purpose just to make the opponent uncomfortable. Disagree, sure. But do it in a civil way.”

Minnick said, “I couldn’t agree more with everything Butch has just said. When I was sworn in, the two Republican senators and my (House) colleague Mike Simpson came to my swearing-in, and then they took me to lunch, and there was never a delegation meeting that I was not invited to and able to participate fully in because we happen to be different parties. … It’s nice to serve with people who have that view of the issues and the opposition. We get a lot more done.”

Both said they’re concerned about the current level of discourse in Washington, D.C.

“I thought it was bad when I was there,” Otter said; he served three terms in the U.S. House from 2001 to 2007. “I wasn’t really used to that in the Idaho Legislature.”

He said he did remember one fistfight on the floor of the Idaho Senate, but that was back in the early 1970s when he served in the state House.

“But there’s been some good heated debate,” Otter said. “One of the best people that I loved to debate and one of the smartest people I ever served with was Perry Swisher. Perry could get to the center of the issue, the epicenter of the whole thing quicker than anybody else could, and I always loved debating him because he made me more secure where I was, even though I was on the opposite side.”

Otter said, “A bunch of us would go out and have a beer after fighting all day, discussing things all day long. They called it fighting then, and it didn’t seem like it was fighting. It seemed like it was earnest disagreement of opinion.”

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