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Eye On Boise

Winter delivers just in time for Boise’s non-profit, community-owned ski area

It didn’t look promising a week ago, but winter has delivered for Boise’s non-profit, community-owned ski resort, Bogus Basin, which is now reporting a 25-inch base and has received close to another six inches today.

Yesterday, under sunny blue skies, Bogus opened the No. 6 Pine Creek chairlift on its backside at noon, unleashing several hours of powder bliss for the skiers who lined up at the rope before it dropped to allow them in, then reveled in conditions that caused people to shout involuntary “WooHOOs” even after coming in to the lodge.

Today, they opened the No. 3 Superior chair, the other side of the backside, again allowing a first-of-the-season chance at unskied powder for happy Bogus skiers. By mid-day today, it was snowing hard, and the snow-course marker at 4:30 p.m. showed close to 6 new inches; when I left today, it was snowing hard enough to cover up tracks.

The snow came just in time to let Bogus open for the key holiday week that is make-or-break for most ski resorts, including this locals’ favorite. Coverage overall is very good, especially on the runs. 

Well-wishers honor Ysursa at Capitol ceremony

Close to 150 people gathered in the rotunda of the state Capitol today to offer their well-wishes to longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who is retiring after 12 years as Idaho’s elected secretary of state and 40 years in the office. Here, folks are lined up down the Capitol’s hallway for a chance to congratulate Ysursa. “He is one of the most outstanding public servants in Idaho’s history, in my opinion,” said former Gov. Phil Batt, who joined the crowd. “He not only did his job well, but he sets a good tone for the entire state.”

Gov. Butch Otter, who’s known Ysursa for 50 years, addressed the crowd, saying, “He’s done that office a tremendous amount of good in credibility and transparency.” Otter said both of Ysursa and his mentor and predecessor, the late Pete Cenarrusa, “Whenever I got an answer from Ben (or Pete) … I never went anyplace else. … We all need to strive for that kind of credibility and that kind of reputation. … His values are the core Idaho values.”

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones said, “I think he’s done a superb job.” State Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said, “Few people have had as much impact as Ben has in terms of how elections have occurred. That’s one of the very most fundamental rights … and Ben has been on the forefront of defending that for decades.”

Longtime Statehouse reporter Quane Kenyon, now retired, said, “Ben and Pete go together in my mind, because they were a tremendous amount of help to people who cover elections in this state. You never had any doubt that anything they told you would be true.”

Said Bruce Newcomb, former speaker of the Idaho House and now government relations chief for Boise State University, said, “It’s been really a pleasure to serve with somebody who’s so honorable and non-partisan, and upheld the integrity of the office that Pete Cenarrusa put together. … He set the mark high.”

Ysursa himself said, “It’s kind of bittersweet and kind of nostalgic.” He said, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Pete Cenarrusa. They don’t come better than Pete and Freda.” Ysursa also invited folks to Leku Ona later in the day for drinks and reminiscences. “It’s been my honor and privilege to serve the people of the state of Idaho,” he said.

A large cake served to the well-wishers was emblazoned, “Thank you for 40 years of service, Congratulations Ben. Best wishes on your retirement,” with the three words of Ysursa’s longtime campaign slogan, “Fairness,” “Efficiency” and “Service,” flanking the frosted message.

Backside of Bogus set for limited opening Tuesday at noon

Bogus Basin has announced that, thanks to a foot of new snow in the past 72 hours, it will open the No. 6 Pine Creek chairlift on the mountain’s backside on Tuesday, starting at noon. That’s a big step, opening up much more terrain at the local non-profit ski hill during this week’s holiday rush. The ski resort said limited grooming will be done on the Pine Creek side of the mountain on Nugget cat track, Lower Nugget and Easiest Way Down. Also, the Pioneer Lodge will open on Tuesday, and night skiing will start Friday night. Ticket prices will rise to $49 full-day for adults. For now, lifts are open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There’s more info here.

Fund has more than enough to cover court-ordered legal fees in marriage case

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said today that he’ll confer with the other members of the state’s Constitutional Defense Council – the speaker of the House, president pro-tem of the Senate, and Attorney General – before calling a meeting of the council to pay a new $401,663 judgment for attorney fees in Idaho’s thus-far unsuccessful bid to defend its ban on same-sex marriage. But Otter said he’s glad the Legislature last year, at his urging, deposited another $1 million in the fund, giving it a balance that can easily cover the payment with plenty left over.

“I always anticipated that we would try to keep a million dollars in that fund, so it would suggest to those who want to bring a constitutional question to us that we’d be prepared at a moment’s notice to take it on,” Otter said today. In 2012, the balance in the fund was down to just a bit over $300,000; lawmakers that year put in another half-million. This year’s million-dollar addition brought the fund up to nearly $1.7 million, well in excess of the current bill, which started accruing interest on Friday.

Here are the past expenditures Idaho’s Constitutional Defense Council has made from the state’s Constitutional Defense Fund – all for attorney fees:

  • $190,547 to Elam & Burke in 1995-96 for attorney fees in case involving nuclear waste shipments to Idaho National Laboratory
  • $47,606 for attorney fees awarded in the Idaho Coalition United for Bears v. Cenarrussa case, regarding ballot initiatives, in 2004
  • $380,526 for attorney fees awarded to Planned Parenthood in 2006 for case involving anti-abortion legislation that was found unconstitutional
  • $66,000 for attorney fees awarded to Planned Parenthood in 2008 for another case involving anti-abortion legislation that was found unconstitutional
  • $75,000 for attorney fees awarded to the Pocatello Education Association in 2009 for a case involving unconstitutional legislation related to donations to unions
  • $54,350 for attorney fees awarded in Daien v. Ysursa in 2011, a case involving ballot access for independent presidential candidates

Lawmakers have deposited $2.5 million in the fund since its inception in 1995.

Constitutional Defense Council could convene to pay legal-fees bill

When the Idaho Legislature appropriated $1 million to the state Constitutional Defense Fund this year, some protested that they didn’t want to put that much money toward litigation against gay marriage. The money wasn’t tabbed for any particular case; it merely refilled the fund that, by law, can be spent “to examine and challenge, by legal action or legislation, federal mandates, court rulings, and authority of the federal government, or any activity that threatens the sovereignty and authority of the state and the well-being of its citizens.”

The fund has “historically been used to pay legal settlements (primarily attorney fees) that have been awarded through the courts,” according to state budget documents. Now that a federal court has ordered the state of Idaho to pay $401,663 in attorney fees and costs to the prevailing side in the same-sex marriage case, the fund is likely to be tapped for that purpose.

“I don’t know that we’ll have to have a meeting before the legislative session begins, but I assume that the council will take it up to discuss whether to pay that out of the Constitutional Defense Fund or not,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, who serves on Idaho’s Constitutional Defense Council, which oversees the fund, along with House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; Idaho Gov. Butch Otter; and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “I’m sure we’ll get together to discuss it,” Hill said. “The governor has not contacted me today to arrange for a meeting. I assume I’ll hear from him or his chief of staff or his attorneys in the very near future.”

According to state law, any one of the four members of the council can call a meeting, and its decisions are by majority vote. Interest on the $401,663 judgment started accruing Friday, so the longer the state waits, the more it’ll cost.

Marriage case attorney on fees: ‘Reasonable and fair’

Deborah Ferguson, lead attorney for the four Idaho couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage, issued this statement on the order for the state to pay $401,663 of their attorney fees and costs:

“Judge Dale found our request for attorneys fees was reasonable and fair, with minor adjustments. Under the law, Congress has determined that lawyers who represent persons with valid civil rights violations are entitled to reasonable fees. This is especially so, when they prevail on all issues, as the Idaho plaintiffs have done.” 

Court orders Idaho to pay more than $400K in attorney fees, costs to prevailing side in gay marriage case

The state of Idaho must pay more than $400,000 in attorney fees and costs to the lawyers who represented the four lesbian couples who successfully sued to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, a federal court has ruled. “There is no dispute that Plaintiffs are the prevailing parties and are therefore entitled to an award of reasonable attorney fees and litigation expenses,” wrote U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale, in an order issued late Friday.

The lawyers had sought $467,843; the state’s lawyers had argued for cutting that by more than half to $204,049. But Dale ruled that with only a few small exceptions, the legal team led by Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson was entitled to the amounts it claimed, setting the payment at $401,663. “In order to ensure that lawyers would be willing to represent persons with legitimate civil rights grievances, Congress determined that it would be necessary to compensate lawyers for all time reasonably expended on a case,” the judge wrote, quoting a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case.

The four couples won their case in U.S. District Court last May, when Dale ruled that Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process guarantees and overturned it. The state appealed to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but lost there, too. It now has a pending request for the 9th Circuit to reconsider its ruling, and has announced plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho in October.

Idaho already has spent nearly $87,000 on private attorneys to help with its court fight to defend the ban, in addition to its in-house counsel costs; that figure was tallied before Gov. Butch Otter’s filing last week to the U.S. Supreme Court asking the high court to wait for Idaho’s case before taking up the gay marriage issue. The state didn’t dispute that the couples’ lawyers were owed fees and costs, but it argued they should be paid for fewer hours and at lower rates. You can read my full story here at, and read the judge’s ruling here.

Ysursa: ‘It’s been a good run’

After 40 years in state government, Ben Ysursa has some strong opinions about how things ought to work in Idaho – and how, on occasion, they have. For example, when both of the state's political parties came together, working side by side, they successfully passed a ballot measure to create the College of Western Idaho, now the state's fastest-growing community college.

“It was just gratifying to see it,” Ysursa said. “We need to get a cause like that again, that we can all agree on and go forward with. … It was a good joint effort to see how things can work when politics is out of it, so to speak.”

Another example he points to is election-day voter registration. Idaho’s one of just eight states that allows voters to register at the polls on Election Day. The reason: When Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act in 1994, it required states to follow an array of new federal rules about voter registration, including keeping voters on the rolls for eight years even if they don’t vote.

“Idaho was going to have some real out-of-date lists and things of that nature,” Ysursa said. But Ysursa, an attorney and then chief deputy secretary of state, discovered that if Idaho enacted election-day registration, it’d be exempt from all the other rules.

“It was: Do we have a federal mandate, or do we want to run our own elections?” Ysursa recalled. Both parties liked the idea, he said. “Both Republicans and Democrats thought election-day registration was a good idea, was going to get more of their folks registered. Our office and the clerks saw it as a way of making Idaho run Idaho elections, and not have the federal intrusion.” You can read my full Sunday story here at on Ysursa’s reflections on his career, as he prepares to retire from office as the state’s longtime Secretary of State.

Army has completed Bergdahl investigation, briefed defense secretary this afternoon

The Army has finished its investigation into Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s disappearance from his base in Afghanistan in 2009 and briefed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this afternoon, the Associated Press is reporting. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Lolita Baldor in Washington, D.C. There’s no word yet on the conclusions of the investigation; the report could include recommendations on whether the Hailey, Idaho soldier should be charged with any criminal violations or forced to leave the Army. He was captured by the Taliban and held by insurgents in Afghanistan for five years before being returned to the United States in a controversial prisoner swap last May.

Former Times-News reporter named paper’s new editor

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Matt Christensen has been named the new editor of the Times-News and in south central Idaho. Christensen is returning to the paper after starting his journalism career at the Twin Falls daily in 2005 as a features and natural resource reporter. Most recently, Christensen served as the editor of the Montana Standard in Butte since 2013. He was the city editor of the Winona Daily News in Minnesota from 2008 to 2011 and then city editor of the La Crosse Tribune in Wisconsin. Times-News ( Publisher Travis Quast says Christensen brings experience in helping newsrooms evolve in a digital age. Christensen replaces Autumn Phillips, who recently became the editor of The Southern in Carbondale, Ill.

IEA chief on new career ladder plan for teacher pay: ‘A really flawed process’

Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, says her group has major concerns about the new teacher “career ladder” legislation endorsed yesterday by the state Board of Education, which would phase in substantial raises for Idaho teachers if they meet standards for evaluations and student achievement.

“First of all, it’s a really flawed process,” she said, adding that she and another teacher from the IEA served on the governor’s education improvement task force, but neither was invited to work on the career ladder legislation. “People haven’t been involved in this process,” Cyr said. “I’m sorry that they brought forward again another piece, just like the Luna laws, that hasn’t been vetted with the public and hasn’t included all of us working on it to bring it forward.”

“I think, too, that we’re going to continue our mass exodus of teachers from Idaho,” Cyr said. “Basically what we’re going to get is an inexperienced pool of teachers who, once they reach a point, they’re going to leave Idaho to go to other places that don’t base their pay on how their students perform or on their local evaluations. And I think at the hearings the public said loud and clear, local evaluations should be to help teachers grow as a professional. Charlotte Danielson (author of the evaluation framework tied to the new career ladder) never intended her model to be used in this way.”

Idaho jobless rate falls below 4% for first time since ‘08, as shift to service sector continues

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell below 4 percent in November for the first time since early 2008, the Idaho Department of Labor reports. The 3.9 percent jobless rate in November was down two-tenths of a percentage point from October; a year earlier, it was 5.7 percent. The national unemployment rate remained unchanged in November from October’s level of 5.8 percent; there’s more info here.

Ada County came in at a 3.2 percent unemployment rate in November, up from 2.9 percent in October; Canyon County was at 4.7 percent, up from 4 percent in October; and Kootenai County was at 4.5 percent, up from 3.9 percent.

State Labor analysts are predicting that the average number of jobs for 2014 could be slightly higher than the previous peak in 2007; the numbers include a continued shift to service-sector jobs, which accounted for 84.5 percent of all Idaho jobs in November, up from 84.3 percent in October.

State Ed Board unanimously backs new career ladder plan for teacher pay

Idaho’s state Board of Education today voted unanimously to endorse proposed legislation to set up a “career ladder” for Idaho teachers, phasing in big pay increases if teachers meet performance standards. Funding for base salaries for beginning teachers would rise from $31,750 to $40,000 over five years, and for top-level teachers, from $47,000 to $58,000 for those at the top level. There also would be pay increases for attaining higher levels of education, at three levels: Bachelor’s degree plus 24 credits; master’s degree; and doctorate; you can read my full story here at

In the first year of the implementation of the career ladder, the 2015-16 school year, beginning teacher base pay would rise from $31,750 to $33,600. Top level teachers’ base pay would rise from $47,000 to $47,803. “It is a little weighted for those just entering the profession,” said board spokesman Marilyn Whitney. The career ladder plan would be in addition to the $16 million that school districts are now authorized to receive each year for leadership bonuses for teachers recognized by their districts for everything from mentoring to teaching dual-credit classes to earning additional endorsements.

“The career ladder represents a major step forward in how Idaho pays teachers,” said Board President Emma Atchley. “Idaho public school salaries would become more competitive with other states and the private sector. We believe this plan will be crucial in attracting and retaining great teachers and will significantly improve the quality of education for our students.” Richard Westerberg, another board member and chairman of the governor’s education improvement task force, which recommended the career ladder approach, said, “The need and time for higher salaries is now. The plan provides for robust, effective and meaningful teacher mentoring programs and would allow districts to reward their best teachers.”

The career ladder, if approved by lawmakers and signed into law by the governor, would replace the current salary grid in which the amount of funding the state sends districts for teacher pay bumps up based on factors including 14 experience levels and seven education levels. Full details of the new career ladder, including the proposed legislation, spreadsheets showing its year-by-year impact, and explanations, are online here at the state board’s website.

Ybarra names special ed chief: Boise district’s special ed supervisor

State schools Supt.-elect Sherri Ybarra has announced another of the key staffers she’ll bring on when she takes office in January, Idaho Education News reports: Charlotte Silva, whose 30-year career in education most recently includes serving as the Boise school district’s special education supervisor, will be Ybarra’s special education director. Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News reports that Ybarra said in a statement, “The hiring of Dr. Silva demonstrates the commitment this administration and I will make to all of Idaho students. Students who enter Idaho’s education system with special needs face unique and difficult challenges every day. I believe Dr. Silva is an education professional whose experience will make a considerable contribution for all our special needs students. We are excited to have her join the administration.” Corbin’s full report is online here.

Fed agency betting $2M in taxpayer money that it’ll win Snake River dredging lawsuit

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is making a high-stakes bet that it will prevail in a pending lawsuit over Snake River dredging, NPR’s Northwest News Network reports, ordering its contractor to begin preparation work to dredge around Lewiston and Clarkston on Jan. 12, while a federal judge will hear arguments in a lawsuit over the dredging on Jan. 2. In a new court filing, writes reporter Tom Banse, Lt. Col. Timothy Vail, the Army Corps' district commander, estimated an injunction would leave taxpayers on the hook for “upwards of $2,000,000” to pay the contractor to mobilize and then demobilize.

A Seattle attorney for environmental groups that sued over the dredging, Steve Mashuda of Earthjustice, told Banse, “The Corps is basically rolling the dice and assuming they'll come up in their favor. If it were up to me, I would wait to hear from the court before putting so much money at risk.” The Nez Perce Tribe also has joined the legal challenge to the dredging. Banse’s full report is online here at Boise State Public Radio.

Bogus Basin announces Friday opening

Bogus Basin has announced that it will open for skiing on Friday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with three chairlifts on the front side of the mountain operating: Deer Point (#1), Showcase (#4), and Coach (#7), along with the Easy Rider magic carpet and a small terrain park in Stewart’s Bowl. Lift tickets will be discounted to $35 for adults for the limited opening. A limited opening also is planned for the Nordic center, with tickets half-price at $11, or $8 for Nordic skiers who arrive after 1 p.m. Round-trip bus service will begin Saturday, as will holiday hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Jan. 4. Click below for Bogus’ full announcement.

Public invited to Monday retirement celebration for Ysursa in the Capitol

The public is invited to a retirement celebration on Monday, Dec. 22, honoring Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who is retiring after 12 years as Idaho’s secretary of state and 40 years in the office, including many years as chief deputy to then-Secretary of State Pete Cenarrussa. The celebration will be from 2-4 p.m. in the 2nd floor rotunda of the state Capitol, and is intended to wish Ysursa “Agur Eta Zorionak!” That’s Basque for “Goodbye and Good Luck in Your Retirement.”

Student journalist makes waves: Plagiarism with a purpose

A local high school newspaper included a plagiarized editorial in its latest issue – intentionally. Student writer Harmony Soto, after first contacting Boise Weekly writer George Prentice for permission, published his piece as her own – then acknowledged it in a biting editorial note, reports Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports. “You may find parts of this article similar to previous articles written by George Prentice for the Boise Weekly,” Soto wrote. “We could apologize and say this is a mistake on part of the Borah Senator Staff, but if our new state superintendent was able to get away with it, is it even worth it?”

The student was commenting on a plagiarism scandal that arose during state schools Superintendent-elect Sherri Ybarra’s campaign, in which Ybarra acknowledged that campaign staffers copied some material on her campaign website from the campaign website of her Democratic opponent, Jana Jones. Prentice told Davlin, “I’m not certain how I feel about having my work plagiarized. On the other hand, I’m fascinated that it’s part of a bigger conversation about quite a bit of aggregating and borrowing and just flat-out stealing that is going on, that I can’t remember any time in my lifetime as much as I see now. If it is part of the bigger conversation, that’s not a bad conversation to have.”

Davlin’s full report is online here at her blog, “Idaho Reports in Blog Form.”

Brundage to open Friday for the ski season

Brundage Mountain has announced it will open Friday for the ski season, with three lifts, the BlueBird Quad, Lakeview Lift and Easy Street, operating from 9:30 to 4:30 and seven-day operations planned. Early-season conditions remain on the lower half of the mountain, according to spokeswoman April Whitney, due to recent warm temperatures, so the Bear Chair and the lower portions of some runs won't be open, but conditions are expected to be excellent on the Lakeview side; Brundage has gotten 6 inches of new snow since Saturday, and has a 10-inch base but 36 inches at the summit. “Terrain for beginners will, unfortunately, be limited,” Whitney said. “We have some snow in the forecast and will open more terrain as soon as it's safe and feasible to do so.” Lift tickets will be discounted to $48 for adults; there's more info here. Meanwhile, Bogus Basin, which is reporting a 13” base, is hoping to open for the holiday break by this weekend but has made no announcement; there's a chance of snow in the forecast from tonight through the weekend.

Otter: Supreme Court should hear Idaho’s input before deciding on gay marriage

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter believes the state’s arguments against gay marriage are so compelling and comprehensive that the U.S. Supreme Court should wait until it gets Idaho’s case before deciding on the issue. In arguments filed with the nation’s highest court, lawyers for Otter said waiting for Idaho’s case would help Supreme Court justices resolve “the marriage-litigation wave in all respects.”

Attorneys Gene Schaerr and Tom Perry filed those arguments in a friend-of-the-court brief for a petition to have the Supreme Court hear a same-sex marriage case out of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; you can read Otter’s 31-page brief here.

Otter lists several reasons why he thinks Idaho’s case is the “best vehicle” for the whole same-sex marriage issue to be decided. Among them: Idaho’s case includes both the question of in-state marriages and recognition of out-of-state marriages; it would test the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals’ application of a heightened standard of scrutiny for discrimination based on sexual orientation; it brings up religious liberty issues; and Idaho officials, unlike those in many states, have mounted a vigorous defense of their ban on gay marriage.

The legal brief cites “the enormous societal risks accompanying a genderless-marriage regime,” and says, “Common sense and a wealth of social-science data teach that children do best emotionally, socially, intellectually and economically when reared in an intact home by both biological parents.” “Of all the pending court of appeals cases,” the lawyers write, Idaho’s “is the only one in which public officials presented a robust ‘institutional’ defense of the man-woman definition of marriage.”

Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the four Idaho couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage, said she’d oppose any petition for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up Idaho’s case, “as the 9th Circuit correctly decided the marriage equality issue.” Idaho’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships was overturned last May in federal court; the state appealed to the 9th Circuit but lost there, too. Idaho has a request pending for reconsideration from the 9th Circuit, but Otter’s brief says if it’s not granted within days, he will file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 5. Same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15. You can read my full story here at

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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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