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Eye On Boise

Off on vacation…

I’m headed off for vacation now, to join family to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday. I’ll be back in the office on Monday Aug. 11, but I will post a few items between now and then – including the outcome of Saturday’s Idaho GOP leadership contest. For the most part, though, I’ll be off the grid; will catch up when I return.

Grandma thanks Idaho trooper for traffic stop

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A woman who got a speeding ticket while on a recent vacation to Idaho wrote a note to the Idaho State Police thanking the trooper for the kindness he showed her grandchildren during the stop. KBOI-TV reports (http://bit.ly/1xARlC8) the Idaho State Police shared the note on Wednesday. The woman wrote that Officer Mike Nielsen made the stop a good experience for her grandchildren by talking with them calmly and giving them stickers. She says she wasn't left out and got her “very own sticker shock.” The letter did not say how much she was fined.

State considers changes to grazing fees

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lands officials are considering increasing how much ranchers pay to graze on state lands for the first time in more than 20 years. The Times-News (http://bit.ly/WMZDMm) reports that Idaho's grazing fees are lower than its neighboring states but the state hasn't updated its fee formula since 1993. Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan says the state could change the rate depending on the quality of forage in an area a rancher wants to graze in. However, Idaho Cattle Association president Jared Brackett says ranchers could opt to graze on federal lands, where fees are significantly lower than those charged by the state. Callihan says the department will collect public input on how to change its grazing rates over the next year.

Balukoff hits airwaves with first campaign ad of Idaho guv’s race

The first campaign commercial of Idaho’s governor’s race is out, and it’s from GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s Democratic challenger, millionaire businessman A.J. Balukoff. “Tired of business as usual in Boise? Then take a look at A.J. Balukoff, a successful businessman who’s created jobs by bringing people together to get things done,” the ad begins.

“It’s a good positive ad introducing himself to the people of Idaho, in terms of his background and that he’ll run on a change platform,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University emeritus professor and longtime observer of Idaho politics. “We don’t know exactly what he will do, but he needs to introduce himself. He’s not well-known outside the Boise valley.” You can read my full ad-watch story here at spokesman.com, and watch the commercial here.

Otter names Clezie, Fischer to Idaho Fish & Game Commission

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has appointed two new members to the state Fish & Game Commission: Lane Clezie of Pocatello, to succeed Randy Budge, and Blake Fischer of Meridian, to succeed Bob Barowsky of Fruitland. Otter said the two are “experienced, passionate sportsmen.” Click below for his full announcement.

 

Risch: Cut off all U.S. funds to Iran until Abedini is released

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch today told the U.S. State Department’s Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman that the United States should cut off all funds to Iran until Idaho Pastor Saeed Abedini and two other Americans who are imprisoned in Iran are released. Abedini, of Boise, has been imprisoned in Iran since 2012 on charges related to Christian evangelizing. Risch said he’s sure the move would work.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today on the topic “Iran: Status of the P-5+1,” Risch told Sherman, “I have urged that you do something about getting Pastor Abedini and the other two Americans released. As you know, I was incredibly critical of you guys because you cut billions loose without demanding this tiny, tiny little thing as far as Iran is concerned. I wanna ratchet that up again – you did it again.”

“You’ve cut billions loose without getting those guys released,” Risch said. “Do me a favor, do America a favor, do the Abedini family a favor, and tell ‘em next time you’re not going to give ‘em any more money unless they cut these three people loose. I can almost guarantee you they’re gonna do that. You’re talking about billions of dollars and you’re talking about three people that we really, really need out of prisons in Iran. Try it, just try it and see what happens. I’m willing to betcha they’re going to cut those three loose in return for the money that you have available to give ‘em.”

P-5+1 is a group of six world powers, consisting of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, that have been negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program since 2006. Risch has posted the exchange on YouTube here.

Nels Mitchell, Risch’s Democratic challenger, had this response to Risch’s comments:

“We all care deeply about securing the freedom of our loved ones who are being unjustly held prison by the Iranian government.  My sympathies are with Pastor Saeed Abedini and his family.  I sincerely hope that the United States is doing everything possible to obtain the release of Pastor Abedini and the others who are wrongly imprisoned.  That said, I am concerned to see Sen. Risch using his position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to berate a State Department officer.  I doubt that kind of grandstanding advances the mission.  I am also concerned that Sen. Risch may not have all of his facts right.  I am not aware that the United States is giving away billions of dollars to Iran, which is what Risch seems to be saying in his remarks.”

Reaction to GOP ruling: ‘He changed the locks, discarded documents, and fired staff’

In more of the reaction to yesterday’s court ruling on leadership of the Idaho Republican Party, the two party officials whom Barry Peterson unsuccessfully sued, Mike Mathews and Cindy Siddoway, have issued a statement on the results. “I am happy that the August 2nd meeting called by the grassroots of the party will go forward.  I look forward to holding elections to end any confusion in party leadership,” Mathews said. He was the party’s first vice-chairman, but according to the judge’s ruling, there are now no state officers, though the locally chosen central committee members remain in place.

Siddoway, the party’s national committeewoman, serves a four-year term rather than a two-year one like the officers, so she’s still in office as a state party official. She, national committeeman Damond Watkins, and whomever is elected chairman at the Aug. 2 meeting will attend an upcoming Republican National Committee meeting as Idaho’s representatives. “I am pleased to see that Idaho will have full representation at the upcoming RNC meeting in Chicago,” Siddoway said. “It is now critically important that all the loyal party members come to Boise to cast their vote for officers.”

Mathews and Siddoway said in their statement: “Since the GOP convention adjourned in June, Peterson has attempted to hold on to the chairmanship.  He changed locks on the office, discarded documents, and fired staff.  Even when the National Republican Committee said that it would not recognize Peterson as Idaho’s chairman, he persisted.” Click below for their full statement. 

Jason Risch, counsel to the Idaho Republican Party, shown above leaving the Twin Falls county courthouse with attorney Timothy Hopkins, who represented Mathews and Siddoway in court yesterday, said, “I appreciate the judge’s thoughtful consideration of this issue. It was very clear that he had done his homework and read the rules and come to an appropriate decision.”

Dan Popkey to become Rep. Labrador’s new press secretary

Dan Popkey, longtime political reporter and columnist for the Idaho Statesman, is leaving journalism to become the Meridian-based press secretary for 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, Labrador announced today. “I’ve learned that one has to have an exceptional communications strategy to effectively represent Idaho in Congress,” Labrador said in a statement. “I know that Dan will help me better communicate my message to constituents and the media.”

Click below for Labrador's full announcement. The Statesman announced today that Popkey's resignation, after nearly three decades with the newspaper, is effective immediately; he starts his new job Monday.

Troupis: Party needs to unify

Christ Troupis, attorney for Barry Peterson in his unsuccessful lawsuit to remain Idaho Republican Party chairman, said Peterson pursued it in order to address concerns from some in the party that party rules weren’t being followed.  “We don’t want to preserve a conflict,” he said, noting that no appeals were contemplated. Troupis, who unsuccessfully challenged GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in the primary this year, said the party needs to unify.

Peterson accepts ruling, says he won’t run again on Aug. 2

Barry Peterson had this to say after 5th District Judge Randy Stoker ruled he’s no longer chairman of the Idaho Republican Party: “The judge made a ruling, and I’m comfortable with what the judge did.” As for what the party does next, he said, “I’m not the chairman, so it’s not up to me.” Peterson said he won’t appeal and never intended to.

He also said he won’t run for state party chairman on Aug. 2, when the state party Central Committee chooses the new leaders. He said he’s heard of three candidates: Steve Yates, Doug Pickett and Mike Duff. “I’m happy for all of them,” he said.

Christ Troupis, Peterson’s attorney, said Peterson met with Gov. Butch Otter yesterday and offered to resign as party chairman, “And the governor said you can’t resign because you’re no longer chairman,” Troupis said. “Barry wanted the process for the integrity of the party.”

Peterson declined to discuss his meeting with Otter. “We visited on Saturday, on Sunday, and on Monday,” he said. “On each day, I got a different reflection of the governor. … It was clear to me that the lobbyists and his staff had significant influence on his position.”

Judge: Peterson is no longer Idaho GOP chairman

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker today rejected a bid from embattled former Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson to hold onto the chairmanship by blocking a scheduled Aug. 2 state central committee meeting to choose new leaders. “His term has expired,” Stoker told the court.

The judge’s ruling came after extensive arguments that lasted for more than two hours in court this morning in Twin Falls. “This is not a question of this court taking any position with regard to what the Republican Party should do in this state,” Stoker said. “I have no dog in this fight, so to speak.”

The Aug. 2 party central committee to choose new leaders will go forward, the judge ruled. “It is your business what you do there,” he told the party members from both sides. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Some of the back-and-forth in court: ‘The party is in trouble’

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled GOP Chairman Barry Peterson and six supporters, told the court this morning, “We believe the chairman was re-elected at the convention by the delegates.” Judge Randy Stoker asked him, “Let’s go back to what happened at the convention. You agree, it’s undisputed, that the parliamentarian of the Republican Party has publicly said, ‘I made a mistake.’” Parliamentarian Cornel Rasor said after the convention that he erred in advising that adjourning the convention would have the effect of extending current officers’ terms for another two years. “Why is that not the end of this dispute?” the judge asked Troupis. “Isn’t that a political determination?”

“I agree,” Troupis said. “All of those were political actions. The delegates acted in reliance upon the statement, if you adjourn like this, these officers remain in place. The subsequent statement ‘I made a mistake’? Well, there’s a lot of politicians who make those kinds of statements. … Maybe he didn’t make a mistake. … I happen to disagree with him.” Troupis said, “What he said that was relied upon by the convention delegates at the convention, he can’t recant after the convention and say, ‘Oops, my foul.’ The point is the vote was taken based upon what he said.” He added, “I wish the parliamentarian had been more careful at the time, but the fact that he wasn’t doesn’t un-ring the bell.”

That prompted this question from the judge: “I know what your clients think they voted on. … What did the other 521 people think? How am I supposed to know?” Troupis responded, “You can’t.” When the judge suggested the only way to know was to call in all 521 to testify, Troupis said he didn’t think that was necessary. “They were told this is the effect of your vote, and they voted in accord with that,” he said.

Troupis said, “There’s an entire side of the party that is very disgruntled and upset right now and the party is in trouble.” To that, the judge said, “That may be, but that’s not something that I can fix, is it.”

Judge denies motion to dismiss, will hear full Idaho GOP case this morning on merits…

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker has denied the motion to dismiss Barry Peterson’s lawsuit over chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, saying he’ll instead move to hear the full merits of the case this morning, after a 10-minute break. The judge said he believes state statute cites party rules, so they can be enforced by the court. “I think that this case involves both political questions and questions of whether there has been a statutory and therefore a rule violation,” Stoker said. “It’s a mixed issue.” A 1908 Idaho Supreme Court case involving a fight between competing delegations in the Idaho Democratic Party set the precedent on that, he said.

“The court has no stake in who is elected chairman or vice chairman or secretary or treasurer of this party or any other party,” Stoker said. “The issue that I have is are you following the rules, it’s just that simple.” He said his decision to deny the motion to dismiss shouldn’t be taken as a sign he’s leaning either way on the case as a whole. Peterson is seeking an injunction to block the Idaho Republican Party from holding an Aug. 2 state central committee meeting to select new leaders.

Role of First Amendment in Idaho Republican Party case…

Christ Troupis, attorney for Barry Peterson, argued that the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees are implicated in the Idaho Republican Party lawsuit Peterson’s brought in an attempt to keep the chairmanship. “All political activity is First Amendment protected,” Troupis told the court. “Any loss of First Amendment rights is an irreparable injury.”

Tim Hopkins, attorney for the two party officials Peterson sued, told the court, “My God, nobody’s short on freedom of speech in these instances. … I don’t think there’s been any limitation or restriction on anybody’s freedom to speak.” Hopkins said, “The efforts here to create  legal question out of what is clearly a political feud, if you will … It has no sound basis in law for the court’s consideration.”

Judge tells court he’ll decide Idaho GOP case today

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker told the court his morning that he will rule today in the Idaho Republican Party lawsuit, in which two wings of the party are fighting over the chairmanship. “‘This is a very unique proceeding,” Stoker said. “I’m going to give you a ruling at the end of the day.”

More than two dozen people are in the audience. The judge told the court he’s studied all the briefing and affidavits, pored over Idaho Republican Party rules and watched video of the state GOP convention and a rules committee meeting.

Among the arguments: Timothy Hopkins, attorney for party Vice Chairman Mike Mathews and National Committeewoman Cindy Siddoway, told the court: “There are winners and losers inevitably in a political setting like this one, but there is not irreparable injury.” Therefore, he argued, no injunction is warranted.

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled Chairman Barry Peterson, cited Bush vs. Gore and the Idaho closed GOP primary case. “The courts involve themselves in the affairs of political parties every day,” he said.

The audience is quiet and attentive. A sign in the corridor outside warns that a ringing cell phone in court can bring a $100 fine.

Embattled GOP chairman contends he’s facing ‘hostile takeover’ by ‘rogue members’

Lots of interesting stuff in the court filings in the Idaho Republican Party case, including a link to a YouTube video of the final four minutes of the Idaho GOP convention; you can watch it here. In it, convention Chairman Raul Labrador calls for adjourning the convention, and a motion is made to suspend the rules to allow the convention to continue past its scheduled ending point. Asked by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, what happens if the convention adjourns without any votes on leadership, Labrador confers with parliamentarian Cornel Rasor and then says, “Platform stays the same, the officers stay the same.” A voice vote is taken, with the “no” votes much louder, and Labrador says, “The nays have it and we are adjourned.”

However, Rasor later told the Lewiston Tribune he “inadvertently misread the rules.” “It was my fault, not Raul’s,” Rasor told Tribune reporter Bill Spence in a June 25 article that’s among the documents filed in court. State party rules specifically say there “shall be no automatic succession to the office of state chairman.”

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled Chairman Barry Peterson and six of his supporters, contends it doesn’t matter – the 527 delegates at the convention thought that was the result of adjourning. Any other interpretation, he wrote in court documents, “threaten(s) to nullify the votes of 527 convention delegates.”

Timothy Hopkins, attorney for party Vice Chairman Mike Mathews and National Committeewoman Cindy Siddoway, whom Peterson has sued in an attempt to halt an Aug. 2 party central committee meeting to choose new leaders, wrote, “No vote for chairman was held. No vote for any officer was held.”

“The entirety of plaintiff’s claim for relief is based on a significant mistake and misreading of the rules at the end of the convention,” Hopkins wrote. “No constitution or statute permits a group of individuals to conjure a right to use mistaken information in order to lay claim to party leadership positions.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

State: Prison takeover had ‘challenges’

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho prison officials say they had to have thousands of dollars' worth of medications shipped overnight to the state's largest prison after the former operator, Corrections Corporation of America, left the facility without a promised 8-day supply of inmate medications. IDOC officials also say they discovered that some chronically ill inmates went without needed medical care and that some records were missing when they assumed control of the prison last month. But CCA officials say those claims are without merit and don't match the condition of the facility CCA handed over to the state. CCA spokesman Steve Owens also says no one from the Idaho Department of Correction has contacted the Nashville, Tennessee-based company to communicate any concerns. The IDOC Board will discuss the issue during a meeting on Wednesday.

UPDATE: On July 30, the state revised its estimates downward. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Balukoff knocks Otter for destroying public records, also incorrectly says records law is in Constitution

A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor, is criticizing GOP Gov. Butch Otter for destroying 22 of the 37 applications for two recent openings on the state Board of Education, saying Otter isn’t following through with his pledge to emphasize openness in government, made when he appointed a state public records ombudsman in his office this spring. However, in his statement, he mixes up the Idaho Public Records Law and the state Constitution. “That was my error,” said Mike Lanza, communications director for Balukoff’s campaign; he said a corrected statement is in the works. “We’re talking about the law here,” Lanza said. (Update: A corrected statement was posted within an hour.)

Balukoff said, “Gov. Otter made a great show of this appointment, which followed a request from newspaper publishers for better government compliance with the freedom of information and public-records laws. The Otter administration’s handling of this episode raises two questions: How committed is the governor to obeying state open-records law? And why would his administration conceal from us some applicants for a high-profile state board?”

Balukoff also charged that Otter’s move violated the state Constitution, incorrectly attributing a passage from the Public Records Act to the Idaho Constitution. “The public has the constitutional right to know who’s seeking positions in government, and there was no legitimate reason to have destroyed those records,” he said.

Otter’s public records ombudsman, Cally Younger, told Idaho Education News that the applications were destroyed because they contained personal information; the news outlet had requested all the applications. But those that weren’t destroyed, and were released, also contained personal information such as driver’s license numbers; it was redacted, or blacked out, in the released versions.

Lanza said, “The language is pretty darn clear in that statute – it seems to be clear to us, anyway, as to what the government should be doing.” Balukoff’s full statement is online here.

Senator suggests secret review by lawmakers before releasing OPE reports

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, has been pushing to let lawmakers review reports from the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations in closed meetings and suggest changes before they’re released publicly, the AP reports. The OPE conducts detailed and often controversial investigations into how state agencies operate and points to savings, efficiencies or improvements; its director, Rakesh Mohan, staunchly opposes any such change in the rules because it would alter the office’s  independence and credibility.

“What happens in executive session is not public,” Mohan told the AP. “How easy would it be for me to say no if they want something changed? They are my bosses. I am willing to say no, but does the public know that?”

Mortimer is the co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, which oversees OPE; it’s a bipartisan panel. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, the other co-chair, told AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi that she doubts its rules will be amended. “We don't want to do anything that steps on the independence of the reports,” Ringo said. Click below for the full AP report.

‘Selfie’ seekers spook bull elk in Garden City, force F&G to relocate it

Folks snapping “selfies” with a bull elk that was foraging for food in a vacant lot in Garden City last night caused the antlered animal to become spooked and take off gallivanting through Garden City. “Spectators … were getting too close to the elk,” according to an Idaho Fish & Game news release. “This interaction caused the stress which led to the young bull running through the Garden City neighborhood, including Veterans Parkway,” which is a big, busy thoroughfare with heavy traffic.

F&G Conservation Office Bill London said, “When people get this close to a wild animal, the stress not only creates potential harm to the animal and to the public, the increased adrenaline can also make it difficult to tranquilize an animal.” Garden City Police and Fish & Game officials responded to the 9:15 p.m. call, and the elk eventually was tranquilized and loaded into a horse trailer, and driven to a more placid location north of Horseshoe Bend. There, it was released unharmed.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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