Why Idaho's Governor Wouldn't Debate Without 2 Perennial Election Losers

May 15, 2014

Idaho Public Television aired the debate live on May 14. Boise State Public Radio will air a re-broadcast May 15 at 8 p.m. on KBSX 91.5 FM.
Credit Jim Hadley / Idaho Public Television

Four Republican candidates vying to be Idaho's governor participated Wednesday in a debate that longtime political observers knew had the potential to be...colorful. It certainly was.

The two candidates considered to be the race's only serious contenders, incumbent C.L. "Butch" Otter and state Sen. Russ Fulcher, were joined by two frequent candidates who've never been elected to any statewide office, Harley Brown and Walt Bayes.

The hour-long broadcast on Idaho Public Television felt more like a skit from Saturday Night Live than a serious political debate. It was light on policy ideas and heavy on one-liners. This two minute highlight reel, originally posted to YouTube by Nick McMullin, that's made the rounds through social media Thursday is a pretty fair representation of what went down between the four candidates, debate moderator, and three journalists asking the questions.

Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey has described Brown's sense of humor, a former Navy Seabee, "more fit for a brothel than a Republican primary." Which begs the question, why were Brown and Bayes included in the only debate for governor before the May 20 primary?

Gov. Otter wouldn't have participated unless all four candidates were given the opportunity to be part of the debate, says Idaho Public Television Executive Producer Bruce Reichert.

"There probably would not be a debate otherwise," says Reichert. Plus, Reichert says IPTV requires candidates who are invited to debates to be actively campaigning, which, Reichert says Brown is doing.

The campaign manager for Otter's main opponent, Russ Fulcher, insinuated on Twitter the move was a political one.

Otter's requirement to include perennial candidates like Brown and Bayes goes back more than a decade when Brown and Otter were both running for the U.S. Congress in 2000. Otter got nearly 48 percent of the vote in that Republican primary. Brown took 1.1 percent of the vote.

Sources tell KBSX it was that year that Otter made a promise to Brown, who wasn't invited to participate in a televised debate at another network. As the story goes, Brown was upset, caused a scene and didn't want the debate to continue without him. Otter pulled Brown aside and in exchange for Brown agreeing to leave the stage that day, Otter promised he'd always include Brown in any future debates.

“The governor believes all the candidates should be invited,” says Jayson Ronk, a spokesman for the Otter campaign. “They don’t have to participate, but they should have the opportunity to be included."

If you missed the full debate, you can watch it here. Or, listen to a rebroadcast on KBSX 91.5 FM Thursday at 8 p.m.

Correction: We corrected the spelling of Jayson Ronk's name.
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