Idaho Gov. Butch Otter celebrated the success of the Blaine County Senior Connection during a visit to Hailey on Tuesday.
He also expressed support for breaking down barriers that could keep organizations in the Wood River Valley from moving ahead with educational programs in association with Boise State University.
Otter spoke to about 20 local residents and community leaders at the Senior Connection in Hailey, saying the facility was “very inviting” and perhaps a model for other organizations serving the elderly.
“We are not bashful about stealing great ideas,” Otter said to Kimberly Coonis, executive director of the Senior Connection.
The Senior Connection provides numerous services to help and entertain seniors. It is funded by grants, private donations and a new Medicaid provision geared toward keeping the elderly at home, rather than in institutions.
Coonis said no one is turned away from Senior Connection programs because they cannot pay.
Otter said his 99-year-old mother is in an assisted-living facility, where she engages with friends to stay alert and healthy. He criticized government programs for the elderly, which he said have removed personal family responsibility and have led to “warehousing” of seniors.
“The more independent we can keep people and the more we can keep them at home, the better. Creating a social environment is good for them,” Otter said.
The governor addressed concerns raised by Hailey Community Development Director Micah Austin that organizations eager to develop programs in association with Boise State University had hit a “stumbling block” when told that the Wood River Valley was in Idaho State University’s “academic territory.”
“I believe in competition,” said Otter, who said he was against such examples of “parochialism.” He advised Austin to challenge ISU to match or beat what BSU could offer in terms of programs and partnerships.
“I know of no academic territory map, and if there is one I would be the first to start breaking down the barriers,” Otter said.
Otter also was critical of the state law that places a per-capita limit on the number of available liquor licenses, especially in resort areas like the Wood River Valley, which he said are “short-changed” by the restriction.
Otter also expressed enthusiasm for the success of local organizations in establishing five direct flights from major cities to Friedman Memorial Airport.
“There are plenty of places bigger than this that don’t get one direct flight,” he said.
Otter said the state economy was in “good shape,” and expected to grow by $2 billion next year, with unemployment at 4.7 percent, down from 8.9 percent four years ago.
Otter said 48 percent of the state’s $2.9 billion budget would be spent on education, with an emphasis on developing job skills for an increasingly tech-savvy environment. He said a new Simplot potato-processing plant in northern Idaho, which would have employed 1,200 people when he worked at the company, now instead employs 250 people at computer keyboards.
“We are trying to match the educational system with the potential future workforce,” he said.
The governor also touted a recent deal with Taiwan to buy $470 million of wheat and cereal grains, including “everything we could produce on the Palouse,” Otter said.
“This is a big deal for farmers. It shows that Taiwan has trust in our produce and confidence that we can deliver,” he said.
Otter is running for a third term in office. The election is in November.
Tony Evans: email@example.com
Editor’s note: To read a story about Otter’s Democratic challenger visiting the Wood River Valley this week, see the Friday, July 25, edition of the Idaho Mountain Express.