By Sean Ellis
A fifth-generation Idahoan, Keith Allred is the Democrat that will likely face Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter in November's general election.
After graduating from Twin Falls in 1983, Allred went to Brown University and Stanford University, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree. He taught leadership at Columbia University and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
In 2003, Allred and his wife, Christine, returned to Idaho to raise their family. They currently live with their two daughters and son in Eagle.
He founded The Common Interest in 2004, a non-profit organization that has brought together 1,600 Idaho citizens of all political stripes to try to solve problems in the Idaho Legislature.
Q: What made you decide to run for governor?
Allred: Our system of government establishes an imperative for citizen engagement. But it also requires leadership. Given the separation of powers, we need leaders who bring people together to find the solutions that can attract broad and diverse support.
Butch Otter is not that kind of leader. He has a long history as a politician, but not as a problem solver. Instead of bringing everyday Idahoans together, he's fallen into a pattern of championing special interest solutions. And these aren't really solutions at all. In fact, they are the problem. But, now, it's not good enough just to defeat bad ideas. These are the worst economic conditions in decades. This is also the weakest leadership from an Idaho governor in my lifetime. In this moment when we have a terrible mismatch between the demands of our times and the leadership that we're being offered, the Democratic Party came to me and asked if I would be their nominee for governor.
Q: What are the main things you hope to accomplish if elected governor?
Allred: I've got two priorities: Jobs and K-12 education. On jobs, we need to unbridle the small business community, and here's how we do that: If we review, through a consensus process, the nearly $1.5 billion worth of tax exemptions that are on Idaho's books, and remove those that are ineffective, we can do two important things. One, we can broaden the tax base; then, at the same time, we can reduce the overall tax rate. Doing that will help small businesses, which provide nearly 80 percent of our jobs.
On education, we need to first stop the damage inflicted by Gov. Otter's pessimistic budgeting. Never before, in Idaho's history, has a governor chosen to inflict budget cuts on our constitutional charge of providing a robust education for our kids. As the father of three, nothing could be more important to me than Idaho's education system.
Q: At this point in the game, what do you feel your chances are?
Allred: The more my wife Christine and I travel this great state, the more we encounter people who are fed up with Otter's irrational pessimism, and who are hoping to find a leader who can provide solutions to Idaho's problems.
At a time when Idaho needs leadership most, Otter is providing the least. I think you'd have to go back to Bob Samuelson to find a weaker incumbent governor.
Q: What are your feelings about possible tax cuts or increases?
Allred: As I mentioned in the discussion about jobs, I believe that Idaho's tax system has a few holes that we can help fill in order to stimulate the economy and help businesses get ahead and expand. We're looking to lower the tax rate, but do so in a revenue-neutral fashion that maintains a broad base.
Q: Tell us about The Common Interest?
Allred: Five years ago, I founded The Common Interest, a citizens' group that works to put practical solutions ahead of special interests and partisan politics in the Idaho Legislature. We now have more than 1,600 members - Democrats, Republicans and independents from across Idaho. With a commitment to spend just one hour per year, our members have racked up a track record of significant legislative achievements.
In the last five years we've had remarkable success. We've lowered property taxes, fought back poorly-devised fee increases pushed by the Otter administration and helped find solutions that make sense to a wide range of everyday Idahoans.
Q: Can you give an example of your work at the Legislature?
Allred: The signature priority of Gov. Otter's administration has been roads funding. This is a problem that deserves our attention, but Otter didn't listen to everyday Idahoans. Instead, he listened to the heavy trucking industry and advocated last year that we raise car and pickup registration fees by 138 percent, while raising heavy truck registration fees by only 5 percent. He proposed this even though the evidence says that car and pickup drivers are already subsidizing the wear and tear that heavy trucks put on our roads. Otter's proposal would have increased that unfairness by raising taxes during the worst recession in a generation. The Common Interest played a pivotal role in defeating that wrong-headed legislation. And that's been the pattern. Repeatedly, Governor Otter identifies a serious problem, listens to a special interest, and advances a proposal that would make the problem worse.
Q: Any worries about getting past the primary?
Allred: Not one. We're excited to engage Governor Otter in debates, and to make it plain to Idahoans that they have a choice: A governor who listens only to a small group of conservative ideologues and special interests, or a problem-solving governor who has spent his entire professional life thinking about and devising solutions that benefit everyday Idahoans across the partisan lines.