TWIN FALLS — When Russ Fulcher ran for governor in 2014, he carried the Republican primary vote in Idaho’s most populated counties. But he lost big in the Magic Valley, and incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter’s lopsided margins among south-central Idaho’s Republicans helped to guarantee his win.
Fulcher, a former state senator from Meridian, has already declared he is running for governor in 2018, and he doesn’t want to run into the same problem again.
“We’re starting things off here,” Fulcher told the Times-News on Wednesday, on a trip through the Magic Valley. “We’re putting infrastructure in here.”
So far, the only announced candidates for governor are Republicans Fulcher and Lt. Gov. Brad Little. Little announced his plans to run at the end of June, and Fulcher followed suit in late August. Otter is in his third term as governor and has said he is not seeking another.
Fulcher got almost 44 percent of the primary vote when he ran against Otter from the right in 2014, and he carried eight counties including Ada, Canyon and Kootenai, the state’s most populous. Otter got between 60 and 80 percent of the vote in the Magic Valley’s counties, getting 51 percent of the GOP primary vote overall and beating Fulcher by about 12,000 votes statewide.
Fulcher said he doesn’t see a policy reason he should do worse here than elsewhere in the state. He said he had a relatively short time to campaign when he last ran — about six months from the time he announced to Election Day. He was still the Senate Majority Caucus chairman in 2014, so for the first few months of the year his time was divided between the campaign and serving in the Legislature.
“We had to go from ground zero to being a contender in a really short length of time,” he said.
In the video he posted on Facebook announcing his candidacy, Fulcher talks up his background in government and business — he worked for Micron for 20 years, was in the Senate for 10 and works in commercial real estate. He also talks about his policy views and what he saw while in the Senate, decrying the influence of campaign donors on state policy and the state’s dependence on federal dollars and blaming the costs of the Affordable Care Act and high underemployment for Idaho having lower wages than most states. Fulcher opposed the creation of a state health insurance exchange, which Otter supported, and this was one of the issues in the 2014 race.
Fulcher said Wednesday that he views state management of the more than 60 percent of the state’s land that is owned by the federal government as key to reducing underemployment. He said that, as federal regulations on land use have increased, traditional industries like logging and mining have suffered and more people have gotten lower-paying jobs in the service industry.
“Whoever controls the resources controls your destiny ... and we do not control our resources here,” he said.
Fulcher said a change in management won’t happen overnight, but the state needs to come up with a plan to achieve it if it’s going to happen at all.
“There needs to be a long-term plan to very strategically and wisely shift some of the management from the federal government to the local areas,” he said.
Fulcher also said he would like to see a plan developed by Idaho’s business and educational leaders coordinating the labor needs of industries in different parts of the state — the software industry in the Treasure Valley, agriculture and biotechnology in the Magic Valley, resource-based industries in northern Idaho — with programs at the state’s colleges and universities.