Idaho's state Land Board is holding a special meeting this morning, and the sole item on the agenda is assignment of the lease for Tamarack Resort. The board's currently in a closed executive session, but must reconvene in open session to make any decision. The assignment of the lease to a new ownership group dubbed New TRAC could be a turning point for the financially troubled ski resort near Donnelly; operators hope to run the ski lifts seven days a week in the upcoming season, rather than just four. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Keith Ridler.
The reason for the special meeting: The lease assignment otherwise would have been considered at the next regular Land Board meeting on Oct. 28, but New TRAC said that wouldn't give it the time it needs to gear up for the upcoming ski season, including hiring, marketing, pre-season pass sales, and brush-cutting and building and chairlift maintenance on the mountain. The resort expects to hire 150 to 160 people for the ski season, New TRAC project manager David Papiez told the Land Board in a Sept. 18 letter, and needs to get started now; that's 30 to 40 more employees than it had when the lifts ran only four days a week.
An appeal from the state of Idaho over a court decision that required the state to increase its Medicaid reimbursement rates to private-sector health care providers to keep up with the rising cost of services is among cases the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear, the AP reports. A 2009 lawsuit argued that the state was unfairly keeping Medicaid reimbursement rates at 2006 levels despite studies showing that the cost of providing care had risen. A federal judge agreed, as did the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; the increased reimbursements cost the state an additional $12 million in 2013.
Click below for a full report from AP reporter Sam Hahanel in Washington, D.C. Twenty-seven states are supporting Idaho, which is arguing that the Constitution's supremacy clause doesn't allow private parties to bring this type of lawsuit against a state. The justices will take up the appeal next year.
The Republican Governor’s Association launched an attack ad in Idaho on Wednesday against A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor, decrying him as “a typical politician” and “wrong for Idaho.” The description is “very wide of the mark, and a script written by somebody who apparently doesn’t know the state or A.J. Balukoff very well,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics; you can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com.
Balukoff, a Boise businessman who’s prone to wearing bow ties, has served 17 years as an unpaid, elected member of the Boise School Board, but other than that has never held political office. He’s running against one of Idaho’s longest-serving politicians, GOP Gov. Butch Otter, who’s held public office since the 1970s.
“People complain about negative ads, but they are effective and they do influence people’s votes,” Weatherby said. “This negative ad, however, starts out with a characterization of A.J. Balukoff that I suspect a lot of Idahoans would know is inaccurate. He is far from being a typical politician.” The RGA also is running ads against Democratic candidates for governor in several other states including Hawaii and Kansas.
Maybe this is why Politico picked the Idaho governor’s race as a potential “wild card” yesterday when it was looking at incumbent governors who could lose in November: On Sept. 18, The “Sabato Crystal Ball,” the respected election analysis and forecasting site operated by the University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato, moved Idaho’s governor’s race from the “Safe Republican” category to “Likely Republican.”
“Those looking for a sleeper race this year ought to take a look at Idaho,” Crystal Ball managing editor Kyle Kondik wrote. “In his quest for a third term, Gov. Butch Otter (R) really struggled in his primary, getting only 51% of the vote, and we’ve heard from some sources there that he could be vulnerable. Apparently, Otter is having trouble unifying his party, and deep-pocketed challenger A.J. Balukoff, a conservative Democrat who said he voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, might give disaffected Republicans an alternative (a Libertarian is also running).”
Kondik notes that data is scarce, with the only recent public polls showing Otter still well in the lead. “Based on that information, Otter is seemingly still in decent shape,” he wrote. “However, because of what we’ve been hearing, we’re switching this race from Safe Republican to Likely Republican.” The full post is online here; scroll down through the House and Senate ratings to the gubernatorial races. The site also moved the Pennsylvania governor’s race from “Leans Democratic” to “Likely Democratic,” predicting the GOP incumbent there will lose; and moved the Colorado governor’s race to “Toss-Up.”
The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled that former Canyon County Prosecutor John Bujak - the current Libertarian candidate for governor - violated four of the Idaho State Bar's ethics rules between 2004 and 2011, the Idaho Press-Tribune reported today. The high court ordered a one-year suspension of Bujak's law license for the violations, but since he already had a 19-month interim suspension when the complaint was filed three years ago, the terms of that penalty already are satisfied and Bujak can continue to practice law.
Bujak told the newspaper the ruling was the “last chapter” in a long-running legal case in which he was charged with grand theft by unauthorized control; he gave up his law license pending the resolution of that case, and got it back after his acquittal. “It's been sitting at the Supreme Court since March, presumably under review — I don't know what took them so long review it,” Bujak told Press-Tribune reporter John Funk. “It's just the case finally winding through the other leg of the process.”
The original bar complaint was filed against Bujak in October of 2011, charging that he'd failed to properly deposit checks intended for a client's estate in 2008; and that he'd convinced an elderly client to name himself and his assistant as the beneficiaries to the client's will. Funk reported that another attorney later voided the will, and the client said Bujak convinced her that he and his assistant should be listed as beneficiaries for her protection, but that that could be changed later; he was acquitted of criminal charges in the case in January of 2013. The Press-Tribune's full report is online here; click below for an AP version.
The Republican Governors Association has launched an attack ad against A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, calling him “a typical politician” who wants to raise taxes and “a perfect fit for California, wrong for Idaho.” Balukoff, a longtime Idahoan and Boise businessman, has served 17 years as an unpaid elected member of the Boise School Board, but other than that has never held political office. He’s running against GOP Gov. Butch Otter, who has held public office since the ‘70s and is one of Idaho’s longest-serving politicians. Otter has served eight years as governor, six as a congressman, 14 as lieutenant governor and four years in the Legislature in the 1970s.
I’ll have a full AdWatch story later today examining the claims in the ad; you can watch it here. RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said the ad is running statewide and the ad buy is “in the six-figure range.” Gail Gitchco, RGA communications director, said in a news release announcing the ad, “A.J. Balukoff is a run-of-the-mill, liberal politician, not the leader Idaho deserves.”
Mike Lanza, spokesman for Balukoff’s campaign, said, “The insertion of money from the national party clearly demonstrates that the Washington, D.C., power base of the national GOP recognizes that Butch Otter is in danger of losing the governor's office.” Yesterday, Politico had a story headed “Incumbent governors fear wipeout” listing Idaho as a “wild card,” among states where incumbent governors could lose; the story cited division among Idaho conservatives and Otter's narrow primary win over Russ Fulcher.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig has been ordered to pay $242,535 to the U.S. Treasury for improperly using campaign funds to cover legal expenses incurred after his arrest in a 2007 airport bathroom sex sting. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled Tuesday that Craig illegally converted campaign money as personal expenses while attempting to withdraw his guilty plea to one count of disorderly conduct. Jackson found that Craig's effort was personal and not connected to his duties representing Idahoans in Congress. Craig, meanwhile, argued that Senate rules allow reimbursements for any official travel costs. He says he was traveling between Idaho and Washington D.C. for work. However, the Federal Election Commission countered saying Craig violated campaign laws when he relied on donor dollars to cover his legal expenses.
You can read the judge's decision here, which runs 41 pages. In it, Berman Jackson writes that the sum Craig must pay consists of the “amount he was unjustly enriched” by tapping the campaign funds, $197,535, plus a court-imposed $45,000 penalty, “which the Court finds necessary and appropriate to punish defendants’ misconduct and to deter future misconduct by others.”
The latest TV commercial in Idaho’s governor’s race comes from Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff, and features a Boise teacher talking about his record as head of the Boise School Board. “A.J. Balukoff made a real difference here. As governor he’ll do that for all of Idaho’s students,” Garfield Elementary School teacher Sonia Galaviz says in the commercial.
“It’s a very positive ad, in support of Balukoff and his leadership of Boise schools, but it is a Boise perspective, rather than a statewide perspective,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. “That will resonate in some areas. In other areas that are somewhat anti-Boise, perhaps not.”
The ad touts well-known distinctions the Boise district has earned for student achievement and for higher rates of high school graduates going on to college. Boise High School has long been ranked one of the best high schools in the nation, and the district’s course offerings, programs and facilities exceed those in many Idaho districts.
That’s in part because the Boise district is a charter school district, one of just three, created before Idaho was a state. As such, it has additional property taxing authority, so its funding is more protected than that of most Idaho school districts. However, its per-pupil spending, while above the state average, ranks just 58th out of Idaho’s 159 Idaho school districts and charter schools. You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com.
Tamarack Resort could take a significant step toward a clearer financial picture Thursday when Idaho officials decide whether to transfer a ski area lease to a new company that emerged after a sheriff's bankruptcy sale last spring, the AP reports. But first a majority of the five-member Idaho Land Board will have to be persuaded at the special meeting that Tamarack can afford about $278,000 annually to use the 2,100 acres of state-owned land the ski area is built on overlooking Cascade Lake. The lease represents one of the state's more lucrative deals, writes AP reporter Keith Ridler; it's far more than the estimated $80,000 annually the land would generate if it reverted to timber harvest.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management once again violated federal laws when it issued grazing permits instead of analyzing how grazing could harm sage grouse in four allotments in south-central Idaho. In a ruling released Monday, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill found that the BLM failed to consider stopping grazing in any of the proposed management plans in the agency's Burley Field Office. The decision is round two of a lawsuit led by conservation group Western Watersheds Project that is challenging nearly 600 BLM grazing allotments spread across southern Idaho. Winmill agreed that the BLM is allowed to automatically renew grazing permits without conducting lengthy environmental reviews. However, it must still comply with federal laws requiring the agency to study rangeland degradation.
Four candidates for governor have confirmed that they’ll debate this Friday in Coeur d’Alene – GOP Gov. Butch Otter, Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff, Libertarian candidate John Bujak and independent candidate “Pro-Life.” Jimmy McAndrew of the Coeur Group, which is organizing the noon Friday debate at the Coeur d’Alene Library’s downstairs community room, said the group invited all the candidates on the ballot; all but two, independent Jill Humble and Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey, accepted.
“So we’ve got four,” he said. “Humble declined, I just don’t think she could make it work. We never heard back from Pankey.”
The community room at the library – the same place where the Coeur d’Alene City Council meets – has seating for 160 people to watch the debate, which also will air live on CDA-TV Channel 19, the local cable channel in Coeur d’Alene that airs City Council meetings. After the debate, re-runs are planned and the program will be posted to the channel’s website. “There’s a lot of hours going into prep for this. Our goal is to come up with questions that don’t elicit canned responses,” McAndrew said. He added, “Hopefully, people will come out of there surprised at something or learn something.”
The debate will start at noon, and run for between an hour and 90 minutes. “The library opens at 10, so people are free to stake out their seats by 10 a.m. that morning,” McAndrew said. Organizers are hoping for a big turnout. “We’d love to have it packed,” he said. “It sounds like there’s a fair amount of interest, so I would tell people there’s no harm in getting there a little bit early.”
This will be the first debate in the governor’s race to include Otter; Balukoff and Bujak debated last week in Twin Falls, but Otter didn’t attend.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Another person has filed a legal claim against the Idaho Department of Juvenile Correction contending that he was sexually abused by two staffers while incarcerated at a Nampa detention center. The tort claim, filed Friday, marks the third such claim brought in the past 12 months by a youth formerly held at the Juvenile Correction Center in Nampa. In the legal document, the youth is called only John Doe III. His attorney, Bruce Skaug, wrote in the claim that the boy was 16 when he was sexually abused in 2009 by two staffers — a woman who worked as a nurse at the detention center and another who worked as a medical assistant intern. Idaho Department of Juvenile Correction spokesman Jeff Ray says he can't comment on pending litigation.
Idaho’s state Department of Education is looking for 120 public school parents, teachers, administrators and school board members from all over the state to gather in Boise for four days in December to review test questions for the new statewide testing students will undergo this spring. The review will be Dec. 15-19 and will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. If that’s not enough time to get through all 30,000 test questions, participants may be asked to return to Boise Jan. 6-8, 2015.
The review is required by legislation that passed this year; the department says it’ll cover participants’ travel to Boise at the state rate and the cost of substitutes while teachers participate. There’s more info here.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A group that overcame a court challenge last winter to hold a wolf- and coyote-shooting derby is seeking a permit from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to roughly double the area for a second event this winter. Steve Alder of Idaho for Wildlife says the tentative dates for the derby in the east-central part of the state are Jan. 2-3. The BLM plans to make public an environmental analysis Thursday and take public comments for 15 days. The agency says about 1,500 square miles are involved. Environmental groups say they will contest the permit. A federal judge last year ruled the hunting group didn't need a permit from the U.S. Forest Service after environmental groups sued. The December 2013 event drew 230 people who killed 21 coyotes but no wolves.
The bill for outside legal fees for the Idaho Legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Committee has now swelled to $61,375, according to documents obtained by The Spokesman-Review under the Idaho Public Records Act. The law firm Holland & Hart has submitted invoices to the Legislature for work from April to August totaling $19,613; that’s on top of the $41,762 the firm already had been paid before then.
The joint interim committee, which is looking into how Idaho could demand to take over federal public land within the state, hired Holland & Hart lawyer Bill Myers, former solicitor for the U.S. Department of Interior, to advise it. Myers’ most recent charges to the state, at $420 an hour, include charges for a phone conversation and email with Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood in July; charges to review a Montana Senate resolution and correspond with Montana state staffers; charges to meet with committee co-chairman Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise; charges for legal research; and charges to participate in meetings in Montana and Utah. The joint panel's other co-chairman is Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale.
“I think getting good sound legal advice is well worth it,” Denney told Eye on Boise today. “Of course we have been criticized for not using the Attorney General, but I’m not sure the Attorney General has any attorneys on staff with the time or the expertise that Bill Myers has. So I think for us to get good sound legal advice, I think it’s a good idea for us to hire outside counsel.” Legislative committees can get legal advice from the Attorney General without charge. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
When little-known candidate Sherri Ybarra won a four-way GOP primary race for state superintendent of public instruction in May, some speculation focused on her Basque-sounding last name as an advantage in the race. Basques are one of Idaho’s more colorful longtime ethnic minorities; they're also known for winning Idaho elections, as Basques have held the Idaho Secretary of State’s office for the last half-century, in the form of current Secretary Ben Ysursa and predecessor Pete Cenarrusa.
Asked about it, Ybarra said she’s not Basque, but her husband’s ancestors were, way back. “That is the No. 1 Basque name,” she said. “It’s a lot like ‘Smith.’ ” I wrote about this and other topics in my Sunday column this week, which is online here.
Lawerence Denney already has experience shaping Idaho’s election policy. In the Legislature, he pushed successfully to close Idaho’s GOP primary election to anyone but registered Republicans and fought to require voters to show photo I.D. at the polls to vote. He tried unsuccessfully to fire his own appointee to the state’s bipartisan citizen redistricting commission for being too accommodating to Democrats, and unilaterally quashed a long-sought financial disclosure law for lawmakers. Now Denney, the former House speaker, hopes to lead the state’s elections as secretary of state.
His opponent, Democratic state Rep. Holli Woodings, argues Denney’s brand of partisan politics isn’t the kind of experience that would be good for running fair elections. She praises Ben Ysursa, the longtime Republican secretary of state who is retiring. “If somebody else got into this position who was more partisan or who was part of this movement to limit people’s voices, it could look very different,” she said.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University reports that 22 states have enacted new voting restrictions since 2010, from requiring more and more documentation to qualify to vote to cutting back early-voting access and hours. “There’s definitely an unfortunate trend that we have seen toward restricting access to the ballot,” said Jennifer Clark, counsel for the center’s Democracy Program. “That’s a huge concern. Voting is a fundamental right, from which all other rights spring.”
Denney says he wouldn’t make big changes in how the office is run. “Most of the things that you are in charge of are in Idaho Code, and the only way to be more partisan is to break the law – and I certainly am not going to do that,” Denney said. “You’re pretty much controlled by what the code says.” He added, “If you can tell me how I could be more partisan, please do.”
Ysursa has a different perspective. “As secretary of state, you’re not merely following the dictates – you can lead,” he said. “At times our law is open to interpretation, like everything else. Nobody’s passed a perfect law; sometimes you can have a nuance or interpretation. Where there’s a doubt, you err, if you err at all, in favor of the voting franchise.” You can read my full story here on the race for Idaho Secretary of State this year, from Saturday’s Spokesman-Review.
Though the chief of the U.S. Forest Service now says controversial permit requirements for filming and photography on forest lands never were intended to apply to journalists, crews for Idaho Public Television’s “Outdoor Idaho” program have repeatedly been told they need permits to film. The most recent incidents occurred in August and September in North Idaho and eastern Idaho.
Reporter Melissa Davlin said she and photographer Jay Krajic were allowed to film at a garnet-digging site on Forest Service land in North Idaho, near Clarkia, in mid-August, but the Forest Service contacted her afterward asking her to fill out a retroactive permit application. Earlier this month, an Idaho Public TV employee who was working on an “Outdoor Idaho” project at Bear Lake in eastern Idaho was sent an email notifying her that a “permit is required of anyone filming on National Forest System lands unless it is breaking news.” Both incidents were outside of wilderness areas, on National Forest lands. You can read our full story here at spokesman.com.
With Idaho counties calling on the state to set up a statewide public defense system, a legislative committee was told this week that a new commission will provide recommendations before lawmakers convene in January. “We just want to make sure that what we deliver is thoughtful that we've really looked at any potential consequences and that you have the best information to make your decision with,” Third District Judge Molly Huskey, who sits on the Public Defense Commission, told an interim legislative committee on Thursday, the AP reports. “We won't have an answer for you in October or even possibly in November, but we will have some recommendations.”
In 2010, a report from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association found that Idaho isn't satisfying its Sixth Amendment obligations to defendants, writes AP reporter Rebecca Boone. Among the issues, public defenders' caseloads were too high, some defendants didn't meet their lawyers until they were in the courtroom, and defendants sometimes felt pressured to accept a plea agreement rather than go to trial. Click below for Boone's full report.
Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's debate at the City Club of Boise between the two candidates for state superintendent of schools. After the debate, I asked former Superintendent Jerry Evans for his impressions. Evans, a Republican, hasn’t endorsed either of the two candidates in the race, Democrat Jana Jones or Republican Sherri Ybarra. Evans said, “Both of them make a strong point about engaging a broad array of stakeholders, which is encouraging to me. I think they both made that point rather clearly.”
“I was a little surprised,” he said, “that Sherri kind of ducked the question of the issue of sales tax on out-of-state sales. I thought they both would say, ‘We ought to explore every opportunity to come up with money for our state’s schools.’”
Current GOP Superintendent Tom Luna has been advocating collecting more of the sales taxes owed on online purchases for the past several years as a way to increase funding for schools; Idaho requires the taxes be paid, but people are “virtually on the honor system,” in the words of today’s debate moderator, Jim Weatherby. Idahoans are supposed to report their online purchases and pay the taxes after the fact on their state income tax returns, but few do.
Asked if they’d push to go after sales taxes on Internet sales to better fund schools, the candidates had differing responses. “I don’t think that there’s a superintendent in this room that wouldn’t want more money for education,” Ybarra said. “If I had a humongous pot of money that was never-ending, it would never be enough. But … it is the responsibility of the legislators to decide the tax formula, and how they provide a thorough education. And I will be a champion and standing alongside them to make sure that that happens, adequate funding in education.”
Jones said, “This has been discussed several times in our Legislature, and it’s something that I think we absolutely should explore and take a look at. Again, the legislators are the ones who decide what we tax, what we don’t tax, where we cut, where we don’t cut. But it’s really critical that we make Idaho’s public schools and our children our No. 1 priority, and as a state superintendent I will strongly advocate for those kids to be No. 1 up front with every legislator.” She added, “I will advocate and work with our Legislature on any way that we can ensure that we have funding for our public schools going forward.”
Evans said, “I think when you’re starving to death, you look at every opportunity to find something for that table.”