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A perfect campaign speech…almost

by CHUCK MALLOY
| January 17, 2022 9:51 AM

Gov. Brad Little has not yet announced his re-election plans, but it’s not much of a mystery. As he has told reporters, “Don’t bet against it.”

And if (or when) he does run, don’t wager against him using more than a few lines from his State of the State address that kicked off this year’s legislative session. As State of the State messages go, it was a pretty good campaign speech.

He called his plan, “Leading Idaho,” which is the kind of bold talk that plays well in a campaign – but not as well before a crowd of skeptical (if not hostile) politicians. Seated behind him, and peering over his shoulder, were Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who wants Little’s job, and House Speaker Scott Bedke – who is running for lieutenant governor. In the audience, there was Rep. Pricilla Giddings, who is running against Bedke, and two candidates for secretary of state – Sen. Mary Souza and Rep. Dorothy Moon.

Spoiler alert: There will be a lot of politics happening in this year’s session.

But there was more to this tough crowd. It included a band of conservatives who think the governor should be returning more of a record surplus to taxpayers and Democrats who think Little wants to cut taxes too much. It’s a nice backdrop to a messy legislative session. They’d probably be here through July if this were not an election year.

But for now, with his State of the State address out of the way, Little can leave the heavy lifting to lawmakers. Little’s big decision in the immediate future is picking a time, place and date for his re-election announcement and choosing his favorite lines from his State of the State message.

He has a nice list of talking points.

“Idaho’s economy is stronger than ever before. We’re one of only four states with more jobs today than before the pandemic. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Our budget is balanced. We have robust reserves. Idaho businesses and citizens benefit from living and working in the least regulated state in the nation.”

The list goes on. The state is spending more money for education, while providing tax cuts. Again, it’s not enough to satisfy Democrats or right-wing Republicans. And editorial writers will continue to remind us that despite the increases Little is proposing for education, Idaho ranks at or near the nation’s bottom in most education-funding categories. Critics also will point out that Idaho’s record surplus was not entirely the result of skillful management on the part of state government, as Little implies with this comment: “While D.C. is digging the country into a $29 trillion hole, Idaho has a record surplus of $1.9 billion and counting.” Of course, more than half that amount came from the federal government in COVID relief, thus contributing to the $29 trillion national debt.

But there’s nothing unusual about smoke and mirrors in a campaign speech. Yes, we have problems with growth, exploding housing costs and rising property taxes that are not sustainable for many Idahoans. His speech focused on the positives and, to Little’s credit, Idaho is in relatively decent shape.

It’s always good for a Republican in Idaho to take swings at President Biden and those pesky Democrats ruling the roost in Congress. Little offered a few well-timed digs.

“While President Biden divides Americans in his attempts to elevate the role of government in citizens’ lives, coercing Americans with government-imposed vaccine mandates, Idaho says ‘no,’” Little said. “Our lawsuits challenging Biden’s polarizing vaccine mandates are working. I banned divisive vaccine passports. I never mandated masks or vaccines. We responded to a crisis with a balanced approach and kept Idaho open. And while President Biden continues to dismiss the catastrophe at the U.S.-Mexico border, Idaho is banding together with other states to act.”

And, of course, no campaign speech can be complete without talking about children, grandchildren, the love for his wife and the people who have made a difference in his life. He checked all those boxes.

The only thing missing was a thumbs up from former President Trump, which is the Holy Grail of political endorsements. McGeachin managed to land that one.

ctmalloy@outlook. Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook. com

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