Otter takes oath behind closed doors

From the Idaho Statesman

Gov.-elect Butch Otter signed his official oath of office without announcing it Thursday, ignoring requests from news media outlets to witness the event on the public’s behalf.

Otter will have a ceremonial swearing-in Friday at the Capitol and had originally planned to take the legally required oath on Monday, the day he takes office.

As first reported Friday on IdahoStatesman.com, Otter signed the oath at 12:05 p.m. Thursday with Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and Deputy Secretary of State Miren Artiach in Artiach’s office. There were no other witnesses and no public announcement. The oath will be stamped to record its receipt on Monday, Artiach said.

Ysursa said Otter came alone on the spur of the moment, although he first made sure Artiach, a notary public, had not gone to lunch. Dressed in a blazer, tie, khaki pants and cowboy boots, Otter signed the oath form “on a magazine or something,” Ysursa said. “The thing was over in a matter of minutes,” he said.

Otter did not respond to repeated requests for comment Friday. His spokesman said he could not reach him.

“He doesn’t want to distract from the public event on the 5th, and he felt like this thing was kind of a tempest in a teapot and a storm of the media’s creation,” spokesman Jon Hanian said. “He says this is not a big deal. It is purely ceremonial and perfunctory and not that big a deal.”

Hanian said Otter still plans to take the oath again privately for out-of-state family members on Monday, with U.S. District Judge Ed Lodge administering it. Hanian said he did not know where or when that would happen, and he said the public and press are not invited.

Otter’s actions are completely legal, Artiach said. Four other statewide elected officials have taken and signed their oaths early, too. “As long as they’re in here by the date they take office, there is no issue,” she said. “He’s not pretending in any way to have already taken office.”

Idaho’s two previous elected governors, Phil Batt and Dirk Kempthorne, allowed reporters to witness their oaths. After Otter said he wouldn’t allow that, the Idaho Statesman and the Associated Press asked him Wednesday to change his mind.

Statesman Managing Editor Bill Manny said Friday that he thought the point had been made that the public, through the press, should be able to witness Otter’s constitutional assumption of power. The paper has no plans to pursue the matter further, he said.

“We’re terribly disappointed the governor-elect didn’t see fit to include the public and press in what is a very vital moment for our state and government,” Manny said.

Jim Weatherby, a retired Boise State University political scientist, said Thursday’s oath could indicate that Otter won’t be open with the press.

“All of this may very well be much ado about nothing, and I hope it is — that it is merely an isolated event of questionable public relations,” Weatherby said. “However, if this becomes part of a pattern of denying access, then it does not auger well with for new administration.”

Idaho’s constitution says the governor, like all executive officers, must take office on the first Monday in January after the election. An Idaho law says the oath must be taken before he “enters upon the duties of his office.”

Artiach said it’s not uncommon for a public official to take the oath before its official due date, especially when that date falls on the New Year’s holiday.

But Idaho Press Club lawyer Allen Derr said he reads the constitution to say the governor should take the oath on the day he takes office, not before.

“I think that’s skirting what I consider to be the clear terms of the constitution,” Derr said. “The constitution starts a four-year term on the first Monday of January, and the old governor’s term doesn’t end before then.”

Derr said official government actions should be taken in public. “I can’t imagine a governor not wanting to do it in the open,” Derr said.

It is not known how many previous oaths of office were open to the public or press, but Artiach said many previous governors have more than one oath on file. Most recently, seven-month Gov. Jim Risch took the oath privately at home.

Seventy-eight percent of people said Otter should let the media in to cover his oath, according to an unscientific online poll of 1,755 people conducted Thursday at IdahoStatesman.com.

Other elected officials also have taken their oaths early this year, Artiach said. On file already are signed oaths from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Treasurer Ron Crane, Schools Superintendent-elect Tom Luna, and Ysursa. State Controller-elect Donna Jones and Lt. Gov.-elect Risch, now governor, will take their oaths on Monday. Of these officers, only Risch has announced that his Sun Valley oath-taking will be open to the press.

Topics Editor David Staatscontributed to this story. Contact Shawna Gamache at 377-6416 or sgamache@idahostatesman.com.

From the Idaho Statesman

Not an IDOG member yet?