Gov.-elect Brad Little and his wife, Teresa, were at the Nampa Festival of Trees Gala last week at the Ford Idaho Center. They were in a group chatting with College of Idaho co-president Jim Everett.
My wife and I stopped to chat for a bit, and I called Little “lieutenant governor” but then added, “I guess I should start calling you governor now.” He responded, “Well, I guess you can just call me Brad.”
For those who have always lived in Idaho, you might take that little exchange for granted.
Having lived in New York, California, New Jersey and Ohio, I continue to be struck by moments like that.
When my wife and I first moved to Idaho in 2006, Butch Otter was running for governor for the first time, and he and several other Republican candidates were doing the usual GOP campaign bus tour. Nicola and I had lived in Idaho all of about two months at the time, and we had owned the Kuna Melba News for about two weeks.
The bus pulled up into Bernie Fisher Park, just right across the street from the Kuna Melba News office on Main Street. I grabbed my notebook and a camera and made my way over to the bus to cover the visit as a news event.
I introduced myself around and asked some questions, then the group started across the park to meet with business owners on Main Street. Lori Otter took my arm and started asking me questions about the paper and my family and how we had come to Idaho.
I thought to myself, “What is even happening right now? I’m strolling through the park arm-in-arm with the soon-to-be-first lady of Idaho.” Welcome to Idaho.
Over the next few years, I would occasionally bump into the governor and the first lady, as well as U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, U.S. Reps. Bill Sali and Walt Minnick, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, candidates for governor, of course our local state legislators, the state superintendent of public instruction and most of the state elected officials.
One year, at the “Capital for a Day” event in Melba, I was chatting with Phil Hardy, who was the spokesman for U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and an Idaho transplant himself. We were in the Melba Senior Center watching regular-old folk chit-chatting with the highest officers in the state of Idaho. Hardy looked at me and said, “Isn’t this incredible? Where else can you bend the ear of the governor about the condition of the roads or walk up and talk to the state schools superintendent about curriculum.”
It really is astonishing.
Gov. and Lori Otter had another occasion to visit Kuna a couple of years later, and I happened to have my two sons with me. The Otters were gracious enough to pose for a photo with my sons, who were probably 5 and 8 at the time, and asked them a few questions about school and sports.
Shortly after that, I saw Otter at a news event I was covering, and he said, “How are those two boys of yours?” Say what you will of his politics, but few could refute Otter has the human touch.
We talk about our “citizen Legislature” in Idaho a lot. For sure, it has its drawbacks, but one of its biggest benefits is that we bump into our decision-makers at the grocery store or at the rodeo or at a festival of trees gala.
From strolling across the park with the first lady to chatting with the governor at the festival of trees, I’ve always been amazed — and grateful — for how accessible our elected officials are in Idaho. It’s a hallmark of this state, and I hope it always stays that way.