OK, this is mostly just a fight over coffee — and where Idaho Gov. Butch Otter buys a cup.
But the flap between the state's chief executive officer and Downtown coffee proprietor David Ledgard really couldn't come at a worse time for Otter. It comes when legislative conservatives appear to be winning a political and public relations battle over raising Idaho's gas tax to fix roads.
Since Otter has chosen to make road repair the defining and consciously public referendum of his term, he has chosen to step into an unforgiving spotlight. In that context, there aren't any "minor" controversies.
Not even a caffeinated buzz over Otter's choice of coffee shop — even though the governor got ambushed on this one.
To hear local blogger Mike Murphy weave the tale, Ledgard cursed out Otter during the coffee confrontation. Ledgard, the owner of Dawson Taylor Coffee Roasters and a card-carrying, dues-paying Buy Idaho member, buttonholed Otter outside Thomas Hammer Coffee, the Washington-headquartered coffee chain that operates a shop across the street from Otter's office — and also across the street from Ledgard's shop.
As we reported this morning, Ledgard apologized for lobbing the s-bomb at the governor, and the governor accepted the apology.
Fair enough. But dropping the s-bomb on a street corner — not to mention swearing at the governor — isn't exactly civil. And it isn't exactly the smartest way to drum up business.
I will claim neutrality in the Thomas Hammer-Dawson Taylor debate; I've frequented both, but I have to sheepishly admit I make most of my coffee runs to a Starbucks near the office.
Object lesson for us all. I could certainly to a better job of buying local; I certainly understand the economic arguments behind it. So should Otter. And as the public face for the Buy Idaho campaign, his consumer habits invite scrutiny.
No elected official wants to perceived as a walking contradiction, or as someone out of touch with real people. A Buy Idaho guy who lets his coffee money trickle out of state. A wealthy man who, for months, accepted a $4,500-a-month state housing housing allowance. A fiscal conservative who is grinding the Legislature to a halt because he wants to raise taxes in a recession. Images matter.
Otter is nothing if not very careful of the image he projects. So this little dustup is about coffee, but not entirely. It comes at a time when some Idahoans are struggling to understand who Otter really is, what he really wants — and whether they really know the man.