Cutting away from the pack

Keith Allred chats about his run for governor in uber-Republican Idaho ... as a Democrat

  • Keith Allred

    Photo courtesy Allred family
  • Keith Allred and his daughter, Anna, ride Idaho, one of the family's horses, near McCall, Idaho in 2006.

    Photo courtesy Allred family
 

Page 2

HCN Describe a typical day on the campaign trail. What's surprised you most?

ALLRED Like any campaign, we're touring the state and meeting with people in the various communities. What's unusual is the amount of time we spend with Republicans. In Idaho Falls, one of the most heavily Republican areas in the state, we had three days of meetings coordinated by Sharon Perry, a campaign coordinator for Gov. (Butch) Otter in the 2006 election. She's a prominent Republican, and she came to us and asked if she could work on our campaign this election. That made a splash in the news and opened a lot of doors that had not been open to Democratic candidates in the past. Here somebody had put her whole political future on the line by publicly supporting a Democrat.

HCN There's a broad perception Democrats will suffer in this fall's elections. How do you assess your chances?

ALLRED In most years, even a candidate as independent as I am would not have much of a chance running as a Democrat in Idaho. But the mood in the country isn't so much anti-Democratic as anti-incumbent, and Gov. Otter is the weakest we've had in Idaho in my lifetime. He has not been successful on a single priority he has had -- and this is operating with a 75 percent majority of his own party in the Legislature. Last year, we had the second-longest session in Idaho history, and nothing got done. There came a point where Gov. Otter was proposing to raise car and pickup registration fees by 138 percent while raising heavy truck registration fees by 5 percent simply because the heavy truck industry wouldn't agree to any higher rate. Americans and Idahoans are frustrated with partisanship and special interest influence.

HCN How has The Common Interest sought to address these problems?

ALLRED The Common Interest has 1,600 members: Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Together we identify those practical solutions that can get at least two-thirds support within our diverse group, then we champion those in the Legislature.

Likewise, as governor, I will use The Common Interest collaborative polling process on high-priority issues.

HCN Is your ultimate ambition to eliminate political parties?

ALLRED No -- I think parties can be quite useful. For any given policy, I would want a conservative and a liberal lens. It's useful to be skeptical of anything that would require more taxpayer dollars. And, on the other side, it's useful to ask what government could do well and appropriately. Parties play that function.

HCN Have your academic credentials and experiences been a help or hindrance when working with Idaho lawmakers? How do you reply to those who attack you as an Ivy League East Coast liberal?

ALLRED I think if I didn't have a biography of a fifth-generation Idahoan who grew up working on his family's cattle ranches, it would be a hindrance. When I was a sophomore in high school, my grandpa called to tell me he had had to let the last of his hired hands go. He was going to have to focus on his real estate business if he was going to hang on to the ranch. This was 1981. The cattle market had plummeted. He asked me to help. At age 16, I had 1,200 acres and 400 head of cattle to work on my own. That's not the typical profile of a Harvard professor. What people want to know first is, "Does he share our values? Does he get who we are?" If they're sure that that's true, then the more education and experience and skills a leader has, the better.

HCN If you win, what will be your first three actions as governor?

ALLRED The legislative session will start right after I'm sworn in. (First) I'll establish more equitable roads funding, where car and pickup drivers are not subsidizing the heavy trucking industry. Then I'll begin immediately the process of collaborative polling on K-12 investments and which tax exemptions ought to be closed to reduce the overall tax rate.

HCN Outside the campaign trail, what do you do for fun?

ALLRED We've got three horses, and I spend a lot of time riding the foothills near our place with the kids. I used to compete on cutting horses and went to the national championships in 2003 and 2004. I love cutting because of the combination of power and grace that the horse has to show to be successful. Like all sports, when you're at your best, it's quiet and effortless.

HCN Will politics ever be quiet and effortless?

ALLRED No, but I think it can be quieter and more rational than it is.

Jeremy N. Smith writes about books and other subjects at jeremynsmith.com. His stories and essays have appeared in Audubon, the Chicago Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor, and other publications.

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