Usually something — a new idea, a major policy initiative, an area of interest — jumps out when a governor delivers a State of the State address.
In Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s State of the State address Monday, it was this: The most overtly campaign-oriented State of the State I’ve ever heard.
Little does have a serious campaign challenge coming up in the next few months, and not only for himself but also for his political allies who will be waging a possibly bitter battle against serious opposition in the Republican primary.
In his speech to the Legislature and to the state, Little seemed more than aware of this: That reality seemed to dominate him. He was almost two-thirds of the way through the speech before he began to deliver what sounds like the heart of a normal State of the State. And that was in a relatively brief speech, by far his shortest State of the State, and only about two-thirds as long as last year’s. (Brevity ordinarily is a virtue, but you do need to get the job done.)
Why do I say this? You can start with the references to the Biden administration. Throwing a quick hit of shade in the direction of a presidency of the other party isn’t something new. Governors of both parties routinely do a bit of it. But ordinarily, it’s just a quick side jaunt. The subject at hand, after all, is supposed to be the state of the state.
But Little went much further than the norm in the first two-thirds of his speech, over and over and over: “While President Biden divides Americans in his attempts to elevate the role of government in citizens’ lives ... Biden’s polarizing vaccine mandates … as Bidenflation surges … while President Biden continues to dismiss the catastrophe at the U.S.-Mexico border … President Biden’s flawed border policies … Biden’s inaction as inflation swells under Biden’s watch … With Bidenflation exploding.”
And there were the traditional “D.C. is awful” remarks, but again more of those than usual: “While D.C. is digging the country into a $29 trillion hole ... While D.C. continues to crank out onerous new regulations … While D.C. wants to raise taxes on all citizens.”
All of which would have fit in well enough at a Republican Lincoln Day dinner (which circuit is just getting underway), but a State of the State is supposed to be a report about the condition of the state and recommendations for the future, a slice of governing, not campaigning. Little got to some of that, but at the tail end of the speech.
There was another element to this speech that seemed unusual for its obviousness.
These speeches almost always have an element of self-congratulation, reports of conditions going well and efforts by the speaker that paid off. Usually governors go out of their way to throw some praise at the Legislature as well. This speech contained not much of that. (Nor did it get around to a lot of significant problems in Idaho — from housing affordability to the notably high COVID-19 death rate to widespread attacks on education — but many governors ignore such things in their State of the State addresses.)
Little’s self-praise included some larger elements (economic and regulatory, mainly) but keyed off a statement in which he cited people he knew who influenced him, and then this:
“Leaders give people confidence and show the way through humble strength. Leaders go through life with a spirit of service. Leaders listen. The voice of a leader is effective, not just loud. Every day I endeavor to live up to the example of my mentors. That is what the people of Idaho deserve from their governor, and it is what they deserve from all those elected to public office.”
So in putting a label on his legislative proposals, and making the linkage unavoidable, he said, “My plan is called LEADING IDAHO.” (The caps are his.)
It was a speech underwritten and delivered on behalf of Idaho’s taxpayers — who do include non-Republicans as well as party members — suitable for framing at the next Lincoln Day dinner.
The campaign is on.