WINCHESTER — Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter offered his thoughts on a wide range of topics Thursday, during one of the final Capital for a Day events of his long political career.
The daylong meeting at the Winchester Community Center marked the 106th Capital for a Day Otter has held since he took office in 2007. About 70 people attended — although at least a third of them were state employees who were on hand to answer questions or provide assistance.
The governor fielded questions on everything from illicit drug use to football rivalries and dangerous intersections — demonstrating exactly why he began holding these meetings in the first place: “They’re an opportunity for government officials to get out of Boise and visit rural Idaho to hear firsthand from you about your concerns,” he said.
A Lewiston counselor, for example, had a question about opioid addictions.
Otter said educating people about the dangers of prescription drug use may be an effective approach to helping them avoid addictions. That’s difficult to do, though, “when damn near every state around us has legalized marijuana.”
“How do we overcome that? I wish I knew,” he said.
The governor noted one school event he’d attended where parents told their kids how drug use had damaged their lives and their relationships. When it came his turn to speak, Otter offered a different perspective, telling the kids he’d never used illegal drugs.
“I wish I could say that’s because I wanted to be a great father or a great role model, but it was because I was afraid I’d like it,” he said. “I used to smoke, but quit 48 years ago. I remember the relief that came from getting that monkey off my back. I didn’t do drugs because I didn’t ever want to be in that position again, having to get that monkey off my back.”
Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who was one of several cabinet members to join the governor in Winchester, said a new state program that allows pharmacists to check if people are filling prescriptions multiple times is having some success in reducing opioid use.
However, Little suggested the state also needs more substance abuse treatment and prevention services, to help people avoid problems before they end up in jail.
“Unfortunately, with the system we have now, for people who don’t have (financial) resources of their own, you almost need to go into the court system to get treatment,” he said. “We want to be able to provide intervention earlier.”
A more playful question had to do with reigniting the former Governor’s Trophy football competition between the University of Idaho and Boise State University.
Otter, who attended Boise Junior College, the forerunner of BSU, said he was all for resuming the rivalry.
“I didn’t think it was as ‘nasty and inebriated’ as others did,” he said, alluding to an infamous dig by former BSU President Bob Kustra, who favored ending the annual competition.
Otter said the governor can certainly make a request, but it’s up to the two athletic directors to set their school football schedules.
“I’d think it would be great (to resume the games), but it will be up to the next governor to make that request,” he said.
“I think it’s a good idea,” chimed in Little, who is running for governor this year.
One of the more serious questions Thursday had to do with the U.S. Highway 12/95 intersection by the Clearwater River Casino, which has been the site of several fatalities and serious car accidents.
Doral Hoff, Region 2 engineering manager for the Idaho Transportation Department, said he just met with the Nez Perce Tribe’s transportation supervisor to discuss the intersection.
“We’re going to do some heightened awareness signage there, so people know what they’re getting into when they’re coming out (onto the highway),” Hoff said.
Another speed study will be conducted along that corridor, he said, to check if the posted speed limit is appropriate.
“The actual solution is to build an interchange,” Hoff said. “The tribe has hired an engineering outfit to do a final design. The environmental analysis should be done in April, so the final drawings could be done by this time next year. Then it’s a matter of getting the funding in place.”
The transportation department is working with Lewiston Sen. Dan Johnson to address the money piece, he said.
The governor and his cabinet officers also fielded questions Thursday dealing with the rapid growth in Idaho’s prison population, prospects for expanding the state’s logging industry and efforts to extend broadband telecommunications services to rural communities.
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