UPDATE, 12:50 p.m. with comment from Jon Hanian below.
Otter says growing Idaho's economy is his highest priority. His "Project 60" effort aims to boost the gross state product to $60 billion a year. The figure was $55.4 billion in 2010.
Otter's spokesman, Jon Hanian, said Monday that Otter will be at the rodeo from Wednesday to Saturday, joined by his wife, Lori. The couple are paying their expenses and Otter "usually attends this event every year," Hanian said.
(UPDATE: I first asked Hanian why Otter canceled on Nov. 15. He declined to reply, most recently last week. I reiterated my question at 9:17 a.m. today. At 12:40 p.m. today, Hanian replied. His reply is in full below. Hanian also had declined, until today, to answer whether Otter was planning to attend the rodeo.
Hanian said he spoke with Otter Monday and wrote, "The Governor said he did not cancel his participation in the trade mission so he could attend the NFR as you have suggested."
The trip is the state's first to Brazil since 1998, when Otter, as lieutenant governor, went to Brazil, Argentina and Chile. I had written that the trip was Idaho's first to Brazil.)
When announced in February, Otter was to have led the trip, then scheduled for June. The mission was rescheduled for Dec. 3-10 and Otter asked Little to lead the delegation.
Mexico is the United States' third-largest trade partner and Brazil is the world's eighth-largest economy. The trip promises "a deeper understanding of the Brazilian market through a country briefing delivered by the U.S. trade offices in Sao Paulo," according to the Idaho Department of Commerce.
Mexico is Idaho's eighth-largest export destination and No. 2 recipient of agricultural products. Brazil is Idaho's 19th largest export destination.
The mission includes 13 companies, along with the Idaho Farm Bureau, University of Idaho, Idaho Potato Commission and Idaho Bean Commission. According to the Department of Commerce, estimated costs are $6,125 per participant. The trip is aimed at companies "looking to expand sales and build international business relationships" as well as those wanting to strengthen ties to current customers.
Before leaving, Little told me Otter asked him to fill in on the trade mission last summer.
"I don't know what happened, but I've been aware of this for quite some time," Little said. He added that Otter had alerted him to unrest in Rio de Janeiro, sending him a Nov. 14 Wall Street Journal article titled, "Brazilian Police Occupy Lawless Rio Slum."
Little, however, said he believed the trip would be safe.
Commerce Director Jeffery Sayer, who also is on the trip, said before departing that the decision to change dates and delegation leadership was made in the governor’s office.
Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, will be acting governor from Wednesday to Saturday in the absence of both Otter and Little.
Hill said he's confident Little will do a good job, but that Otter might have been more effective. "I don't think it's ever as good (for a governor to send a subordinate)," Hill said. "Particularly if you're dealing with a foreign country. Most foreign countries are very status oriented and they want to deal with the top guy."
Still, Hill said he doesn't begrudge Otter down time. "We all deserve some time off. We all deserve the chance to do things that relieve some of the tension that we have to deal with."
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said Little is a more than suitable replacement. Little led a trade trip to Taiwan in June that included Rusche and Hill. “Brad may be a better fit,” Rusche said. “He knows a lot of the businesses in Idaho. Brad is stepping up, particularly in economic development, trade and business.”
Two companies — Quest Aircraft in Sandpoint and Meyer Industries in Emmett — dropped their interest in the trade mission after Otter canceled. Quest subsequently made its own Latin America visit. Returning in December would have been redundant, said spokeswoman Julie Stone. Ed Meyer said his company decided to go to China instead. Neither said Otter’s withdrawal was a factor.
Ron Nilson, CEO of Ground Force in Post Falls, told me he signed up without regard to who headed the delegation. “Both Brad and Butch are fantastic representatives,” Nilson said last month.
“When they changed it, we said we’re still committed,” Nilson added. “I said to Brad, ‘You’re going to have a tough act to follow to live up to Butch.’ But who knows? If Brad does a better job than Butch then we’ll request Brad to go from now on.”
The Otters have been out of state a good deal in recent weeks.
From Nov. 13-17, they were in Maui at a conference of the California Independent Voter Project. Otter changed his plans to return early in order to be in the state for the Nov. 18 execution of Ezra Paul Rhoades. The voter project paid the the couple's expenses in Hawaii.
From Nov. 29 to Dec. 2, the Otters were in Orlando for a meeting of the Republican Governor's Association. The RGA paid the couple's expenses.
HERE IS JON HANIAN'S REPLY:
I visited with the Governor this morning about your question.
There are 16 Idaho companies that went on this trip. Before their departure this weekend, the governor was fully briefed on what they will be doing and is very optimistic that the companies participating will generate sales and create relationships that will translate into ongoing business opportunities for Idaho businesses. The Governor has every confidence that Lt. Governor Brad Little will be successful in leading this delegation.
I think it is also worth pointing out, that in the past Idaho Governors have sent their Lt. Governor to lead the Idaho delegation on many of these trade missions. Governor Otter was asked to lead them when he was Lt. Governor under Governors Batt and Andrus. In this administration Governor Otter has headed up most of the trade missions. On this particular trip however Lt. Governor Little will be leading the delegation and representing the state as we continue to promote Idaho goods and services abroad.
The Governor said he did not cancel his participation in the trade mission so he could attend the NFR as you have suggested. It is also not accurate to say this is Idaho’s first trade mission to Brazil. As Lt. Governor, Governor Otter went on a trade mission to Argentina, Brazil and Chile in 1998. These discussions about when this particular trade mission would leave began in late spring and early summer of this year. The initial discussions had it leaving in either June, November or December. The Governor made it very clear in the early going that he would be able to go on a trade mission in November, but not in December. As a result this trade mission was tentatively planned for November. The Governor cancelled some events so he could lead this trip. But shortly after doing that, it was decided to move it to December which made his participation impossible.
NOTE: The Department of Commerce brochure shows 17 participants on the trip, 14 companies, plus the Farm Bureau and bean and potato commissions. I've tried to clear up the discrepancy by contacting Hanian and departments of Commerce and Agriculture, but haven't heard back. Dan Popkey
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