Idaho Governor Faces Primary for Not Nullifying Obamacare

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 22 2013 11:59 AM

Idaho Governor Faces Primary for Not Nullifying Obamacare

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Does Butch Otter look like a sellout to you?

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter was nobody's idea of an Obamacare sellout. The libertarian-leaning Republican, who'd been safely re-elected in 2010, did more than oppose the law. In 2011 he backed an attempt by the conservative edge of his party to nullify it.

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But then the Supreme Court upheld the law, and Barack Obama won re-election. This summer, Otter did a 180—or maybe a 179. Like Florida's Rick Scott, he explained powerfully that he still opposed Obamacare, but, well, it was time to set up an exchange. "I had a philosophical problem with Obamacare from the get-go," he said, "but I'm satisfied that Idaho is doing its level-best to be organic in determining what's best for Idaho." 

This defied the request of the GOP supermajority in the state legislature. One of the most ambitious state senators, a soldier in the anti-Obamacare campaigns, is now challenging Otter, citing the Obamacare flip as a casus belli. Says Russ Fulcher*:

By the next election, Governor Otter will have already served two terms in office, and I am concerned that he has lost touch with the will of the people of Idaho. His regrettable decision to voluntarily thrust Idaho into Obamacare exemplifies this.

Republicans are by and large pleased that SCOTUS's 2012 ruling gave states the flexibility to turn down Medicaid money; they have succeeded frequently in stopping exchanges from being put together. Here's their dark side: Anyone who stops trying to nullify starts being a traitor.

*Correction, Oct. 22, 2013: This post originally misstated Idaho state Sen. Russ Fulcher’s first name as Rich.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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