Alan Ehrenhalt is a former executive editor of GOVERNING.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's one of the more unusual "State of the State" stories I"ve seen in a while.
A couple of weeks ago, Idaho Governor Butch Otter was in the midst of his annual address to the state legislature when he suddenly appeared confused, paused for an embarrassingly long time, then resumed. He later said he had lost his place. (You can watch Otter's moment of confusion here, starting at about minute 1:30).
It was only after Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman did a thorough reporting job that the truth came out: Otter was thrown off because the teleprompter showed him Version 8 of the speech, not the Version 9 that he was expecting.
That was more than just a technical issue -- Version 8 contained some controversial language recommending that localities in Idaho have the option of taxing themselves to provide for new roads and bridges. Right now they lack that power, so this would be a rather momentous change.
But legislative leaders didn't like the idea, and somewhere between Version 8 and Version 9 the local option language quietly disappeared. However, nobody remembered to inform the teleprompter people. Otter saw the words in there, and didn't know what to do. Finally he just skipped them.
When Popkey reported all this, however, local governments got excited. They realized that Otter almost certainly did favor local option -- he just agreed to take it out of the speech to avoid creating a public ruckus.
It's anybody's guess what will happen next, but the assumption in Idaho local government seems to be that local option is coming, one way or another. There may be some teleprompter reform on the horizon as well.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.