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Little has right stuff to solve Idaho’s problems

January 6, 2019

The Otter administration became part of the history books on Friday as Brad Little was inaugurated as the state’s 33rd governor at Cecil Andrus Park in Boise.

It’s hard to remember the days when C.L. “Butch” Otter was not leading our state. He’s been our governor for that long — serving for over a decade that included the years known as the Great Recession, one of our nation’s worst ever economic downturns.

Otter provided a steady hand to the state as its longtime governor, though “stability” alone is not really the stuff great legacies are made of.

Idaho did seem to turn a corner under Otter in terms of recognizing the seriousness of the state’s education, health care and economic woes. If admitting you have a problem is the first step in resolving said problem, Idaho successfully entered the admitting stage under Otter.

With Little’s swearing in on Friday, the state seems poised to take the next step in terms of finding real solutions to its woes.

The Emmett native is already saying all the right things as far as wanting to follow through on the voter-mandate to close the Medicaid-gap. Little also wants to increase teachers’ salaries, improve Idaho’s schools and bring a better economy to the state.

While he was running for governor last year, critics often said a Gov. Little would simply be like re-electing Otter to another term. After all, Little served as Otter’s lieutenant governor for the past decade. The two are good friends and seemed to complement each other well.

But in taking a look at who Little has appointed to his administration and what he’s said since being elected, we’re thinking that Little has the potential to be a big improvement over Otter.

Yes, there will be similarities between the two governors, but we’re hopeful Little will turn out to be an upgrade, perhaps a big upgrade.

Two things became apparent during Little’s inauguration ceremony. One is his family’s deep roots in Idaho. Little’s ancestors arrived here via covered wagon in 1877. He has vast knowledge of the state and its people and this will definitely be very helpful to him as far as leading Idaho in an inclusive way.

What else stood out during Little’s inauguration is his disarming sense of humor. Little praised Otter during his speech for having a great ability to spot talent (in reference to Otter picking him to be his lieutenant governor) and then thanked the head of Idaho’s National Guard for solving the Capitol’s goose problem after four A-10 attack jets did a fly-by.

From his joking to uncanny ability to remember people by name after only meeting them once, Little is clearly a likable leader and a real people person. People trust Little because he’s built relationships with them over many years and has built a very good reputation for himself.

His nearly two decades of public service as an Idaho politician leading up to now have definitely prepared him for what’s to come as the state’s top leader. Little served in the state Senate for many years before becoming lieutenant governor in 2009.

He’s worked closely with the administrations of former Idaho governors Dirk Kempthorne and Jim Risch in addition to his time as Otter’s second in command. Little considers former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt to be a personal mentor and Batt along with Kempthorne, Risch and Otter attended Friday’s inauguration at a park named after perhaps Idaho’s greatest governor, the late Cecil Andrus.

At the event Little said that he’ll make “all decisions through one lens: the lens of ensuring the best possible opportunities for us, our children and grandchildren to remain in Idaho, to thrive and enjoy our unparalleled quality of life.”

We believe his words, though more than words will be needed to reverse Idaho’s fortunes. The state’s widely known for its abundance of minimum wage jobs, pay that’s so low for teachers that it’s tough to find any who want to work here, and a health care system that leaves the uninsured to die and fails to provide anything resembling proper mental health services.

Our state government has struggled mightily to solve problems such as Idaho’s high suicide rate, low number of high school students who go on to college and an economy that leaves too many people behind.

Little knows the ins and outs of these problems better than the rest of us because he’s been trying to solve them for many years. Now as governor, he’s in the driver’s seat in terms of coming up with the badly needed solutions.

Little’s administration is also history making in that he’ll be serving with Idaho’s first female lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin of Idaho Falls.

Here’s to hoping that Little and McGeachin can do a lot more than just solve the Capitol’s goose problem.

We believe they can and will.

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