More than 85 supporters gathered to cheer chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane this evening as he announced his candidacy for Idaho Secretary of State – and to sample free BBQ provided by a candidate who’s also a national BBQ champion. Among GOP notables in the crowd: Several elected county clerks from around the state; Ada County elected officials; former state Sen. Mary Hartung, who said she’s known McGrane for 23 years; state Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise; and longtime Idaho GOP activist Phil Reberger, who said he sees “a lot of potential” in the 32-year-old candidate. McGrane is entering a potentially crowded race, with former state House Speaker Lawerence Denney already in the race and several others considering it.
Canyon County Clerk Chris Yamamoto, who’s also a GOP precinct chairman in his county, told the crowd, “Phil McGrane knows what we do, he knows how we do it, and Phil knows what we need.” Yamamoto said McGrane helped his neighboring county when it looked like it couldn’t get new precincts in place in time for a May primary after a late-stretching redistricting process, and he’s helped other counties in the state as well with sterling results. Twin Falls County Clerk Kristina Glascock gave McGrane similar kudos.
McGrane, an attorney and elections specialist, said, “Having worked for so many years to ensure that people have the right to vote, I have a deeply profound respect for institutions that are built upon this right. … I believe our party, or any party, is strongest when our success is based upon its principles and not when a select few try to bend the rules in their favor.” He pledged to “ensure the transparency and integrity of Idaho's government.”
Other candidates considering the race include former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise; current state Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene; and current state Rep. Holli High Woodings, D-Boise.
Kendra Wisenbaker, a 5th grade teacher in the Meridian School District, says she taught the American revolution differently to her class this year, in line with the new Idaho Core Standards. “My kids have never been so excited about the American revolution, because we’re tying it in to reading and writing,” she said. “They’re eating it up.” The difference: The subject matter extends outside their Social Studies textbook and into their reading and writing assignments, and the students are getting engaged, including through reading a book entitled, “George vs. George,” about George Washington and King George III. “With these new standards has come this idea that you have to integrate,” Wisenbaker said.
Wisenbaker, pictured at right, joined a panel sponsored by Idaho Business for Education this afternoon to discuss the new Idaho Core Standards and how they’re working in Idaho’s schools, which began teaching to the new standards this year, after lawmakers approved them in 2011. Don Coberly, Boise School District superintendent, said, “It’s going very well, and I feel like kids are getting a new depth of understanding in math and language arts.” In math, he said students still need to get the right answer, but they must learn to explain how they got there, so they understand what it means, rather than just memorize.
Though the standards have some vocal opponents, Anne Ritter, chair of the Meridian School Board and immediate past president of the Idaho School Boards Association, said there are only small pockets of opposition around the state and in her district; the ISBA gave the standards “resounding approval” at its recent meeting in Coeur d’Alene, she said. “I think the trustees reflect their communities,” she said. “I have found if I send the parents to the standards themselves, it alleviates a lot of fear.” For more on the Idaho Core Standards, click here.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho inmate has been ordered to serve 33 months in prison and repay more than $59,000 collected by purporting to be a claimant in class-action lawsuits and bankruptcy settlements across the country. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill also ordered three years of supervised release for 53-year-old Mark Anthony Brown, now serving time in the state prison in Orofino on grand theft and burglary. Brown pleaded guilty in August to two counts of mail fraud. Prosecutors say between 2007 and 2013 he took part in a scheme to fraudulently collect money by getting involved in at least 22 class action and bankruptcy cases. Prosecutors say Brown submitted claim forms to those overseeing case settlements and received part of the proceeds, which were then deposited into his prison account.
The state and several of its largest school districts are at odds about using a new, eight-hour exam on Idaho’s third-through 11th-grade students this spring, Idaho Education News reports; the districts want to rely on other year-end tests, including the SAT – which all Idaho 11th graders already are taking at state expense – rather than go with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test in a year when it essentially will be just a test of the test, and won’t provide useful student data. You can read reporter Kevin Richert’s full report here.
He notes that the disagreement has nothing to do with the Idaho Core Standards themselves, new math and English language arts standards that are designed to encourage critical thinking and emphasize writing skills. Idaho schools have begun teaching to the standards this year.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Some Republican leaders in Boise have drafted a resolution calling for Rep. Mark Patterson's resignation and may meet on the matter next Tuesday. Officials in District 15, which Patterson represents, say they're still mulling plans to discuss Patterson's future. Dan Luker, District 15's secretary, said the situation remains “fluid” and that no meeting agenda has been finalized. But other District 15 leaders including Sen. Fred Martin are pushing to meet to resolve uncertainty over Patterson's political future one month before the 2014 Legislature. Martin hopes Patterson resigns voluntarily. Patterson has been the focus of attention since his concealed weapons permit was revoked in October by Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney for not disclosing his 1974 guilty plea in a Florida rape case on his application. Patterson couldn't be reached Tuesday.
Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Idaho and Clearwater counties have filed a federal lawsuit over a Clearwater National Forest travel plan that closed off 200 miles of national forest trails to motorized vehicles, contending the Forest Service didn't adequately consult with local officials when they enacted the plan last year. “We thought we better take a stand,” Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert told The Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/1bA6PyL). “We get ran over all the time by the Forest Service. We picked a battle where we think we are on solid ground and hope we will prevail.” Click below for a full report from the Lewiston Tribune via the Associated Press.
The personal wealth of Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff is vast, Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports this morning, and Balukoff has been very open about it, including his ability to at least partially self-fund his campaign; he has that in common with current Gov. Butch Otter, a multi-millionaire who in August forgave a $131,000 loan to his own campaign. Popkey reports that Balukoff’s net worth is between $40 million and $50 million; plus, his wife, Susie, one of four heirs to the Skagg’s drugstore fortune, has an inheritance worth $20 million. Popkey’s full report is online here.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — There's a new interim director of the University of Idaho's marquee public-policy research center that's been beset by leadership turnover. The UI on Monday named Priscilla Salant interim director of the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research. Salant takes over from Marty Peterson, who is retiring for a second time after serving for 20 years as a special assistant to UI's president. Peterson stepped in during 2012 when the former McClure Center director, political science professor David Adler, bolted after two years for a similar post at Boise State University. Before taking this assignment, Salant had led UI's university's outreach and engagement efforts since 2006 at the school's Office of Community Partnerships. The university didn't provide details of its search for a permanent McClure Center leader.
Chris Petersen was introduced as the University of Washington's new head football coach at a press conference today in Seattle; click below for the full AP report. On his departure from Boise State after incredible success - and after years of spurning offers from other schools - Petersen said, “It was just time. We've done some really good things there and I think for me to take the next step as a coach, as a teacher and a person to grow, I needed to take that next step.”
Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said Petersen was the only one offered the job; he'll make $18 million in guaranteed compensation as part of his five-year agreement with available bonuses that could add another $1 million per season. Petersen will make $3.2 million in 2014 with a $200,000 increase each season, topping out at $4 million in 2018. “I think we paid coach Petersen market rate and we're going to be competitive in the market,” Woodward said.
Petersen said he's been overwhelmed by the reaction from those in Boise, comparing it to being eulogized, rather than the bitterness that has accompanied other coaching changes. “It's kind of strange when you read all this stuff. It's almost like you died. It's kind of weird. What I think is my heart and soul has been in Boise so long and they appreciate that and I wasn't going to run out of there for just anything, money or a bigger stadium or anything like that. That's never what I've been about and I think people realize that. I think they realize the timing was right, the fit was right and I think they're good with it because it was truly those things.”
About 75 well-bundled teachers and their supporters gathered on the Statehouse steps this afternoon to rally for improving Idaho schools and press for state lawmakers to enact the 20 recommendations of the governor’s education stakeholders task force, which range from a new teacher career ladder system to restoring funds cut from schools since 2009. “During the recent recession, there were only a handful of states who suffered more severe cuts than Idaho did,” Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr told the crowd. “This cannot continue. … Legislators need to step up and fund our public schools.” She was greeted with cheers from the surprisingly cheerful crowd, which stood amid small clumps of ice and snow, mostly huddled together on one side of the giant Statehouse Christmas tree.
Cyr called the task force plan “a solid step forward for improving education in Idaho.” Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, also got cheers from the crowd when he said, “I’m one of those rare animals that you’ll see around the Statehouse – I’m a Democrat.” He said minority Democrats have “a small voice,” but said, “It’s like going to bed with a mosquito in your bed – you never know how irritating a small person can be.”
Aaron White, of White Electric and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said he wants his two young sons to get a good education and grow up to find good jobs, all without leaving the state.
Phil McGrane, chief deputy Ada County clerk, has scheduled his announcement for 5 p.m. tomorrow in the first-floor public hearing room at the Ada County Courthouse, 200 W. Front St., as he mulls a race for Idaho Secretary of State. What makes McGrane stand out in what’s shaping up to be a crowded GOP primary for the seat that will open when longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa retires: His campaign co-chairs are the county clerks of four Idaho counties, and his campaign committee includes five more county clerks from counties all around the state. Plus, he says the list is growing.
McGrane said county clerks and their deputies – like him – are very interested in seeing Idaho’s elections well-run, as they’re the ones who do the work on the ground in the counties. “When you look at the responsibilities of the Secretary of State’s office, elections are a major component, and a component I think the public cares the most about in the process,” McGrane said. He added, “Many of them reached out to me. We kind of have a united interest in this race.”
He doesn’t think it’s his campaign committee that differentiates him from the group of prospective candidates, however. “I think my experience running elections is what makes my candidacy stand out,” he said. “As far as the people that I’m aware of, I’m the only non-legislator among the group, but I’m also the only person who actually has had time actually running and administering Idaho’s election law.”
One more oddity: McGrane is a national award-winning competitive barbecuer, and a fellow competitor and caterer who runs Spuds BBQ will be providing free BBQ to those who attend McGrane’s announcement.
Others in the race: Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney announced his candidacy even before Ysursa withdrew his. Former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, and current Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, are considering a run. And Rep. Holli High Woodings, D-Boise, told Eye on Boise on Friday that she, too, is considering the race. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years,” she said; Woodings said she’ll decide in “the next couple of weeks or so.” Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, considered the race earlier, but decided to seek another Senate term instead.
More than half of states now have legislation permitting schools to keep epinephrine auto-injectors on hand to treat students or staff who have unexpected severe allergic reactions, and the Treasure Valley Food Allergy Network is working on proposed legislation for Idaho. Under current law, Idaho schools can’t keep Epi-Pens or other injectors on hand unless they’ve been prescribed for a specific person. Starla Higdon, a pharmacist and head of the allergy network, presented the proposed legislation to the Idaho Legislature’s Health Care Task Force today, but the senators and representatives on the panel took no action. The bill still could be brought forward when lawmakers convene in January.
Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, expressed concern about a clause removing liability for school personnel who administer the injections in good faith even if parents haven’t given advance consent. “I have a little bit of concern with that,” he said. Others questioned the cost to schools. Higdon said the manufacturer of the Epi-Pen has a program that will provide four injectors to each school for free, and discounts on additional ones. A new federal law just signed last month also offers states incentives for passing such legislation.
There’s been a flurry of states passing legislation since a Virginia first-grader died of an allergic reaction in 2012 when an epinephrine injection could have saved her life. Closer to home, a Spokane third-grader with severe peanut allergies died after eating a peanut butter cookie on a school field trip in 2001. “I understand the difficulty,” said Task Force Co-Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who said he has a granddaughter with severe food allergies. He said of the bill, “It may be a start, but it may need some work as well.”
When Gov. Butch Otter addressed the Associated General Contractors winter meeting on Friday, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports, he was clear about his biggest challenge in the coming year, and why it’s not increasing transportation funding or expanding Medicaid to 100,000 uninsured Idahoans. “Greatest challenge? Gettin’ me re-elected,” Otter told the group, joining in a big laugh. And, Popkey reports, that’s why Otter’s predicting a quick, relatively controversy-free legislative session, putting off the Medicaid debate for another year and launching a poll to see where Idahoans stand on road and bridge improvements, in advance of more debate later on, should he win a third term. Popkey’s full post is online here; click below for an AP version of Popkey's Sunday story on the planned poll.
Musing about what his “tea party” identification means, Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador said today, “I always used to joke around that I was tea party before tea party was cool.” But he noted that he never joined the Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House. “I think any time you try to formalize a movement like that, you actually take away some of its legitimacy,” he told reporters. “The tea party is kind of an amorphous group that has a bunch of different definitions.”
He said in his view, “It’s about being somebody who’s not necessarily beholden to the special interest groups. That’s why I sometimes identify with the tea party, sometimes identify with the libertarian side, I sometimes identify with the so-called conservatives. … What you have is a bunch of people … that are frustrated with business as usual.” He defined that business-as-usual as, “In order to talk to a politician, have a politician pay attention to you, you actually have to just donate money to their campaign.”
Longtime Idaho political observer Jim Weathery called Labrador’s definition “pretty broad and amorphous – it would apply to a lot of populist groups.” But he noted, “There certainly is a lot of populism within the tea party movement.”
Idaho ranks 26th in the nation for funding programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, according to a new report from a coalition of public health organizations. The report, “A Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 15 Years Later,” says Idaho spends $2.2 million a year on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, just 2.8 percent of the $77.3 million it’s collecting this year from the nationwide tobacco settlement and from cigarette taxes. However, other states fared worse; nationally, states are spending just 1.9 percent of their tobacco settlement proceeds and taxes on prevention and cessation.
The report also noted that Idaho’s 57 cents-per-pack cigarette tax ranks 42nd in the nation; the current average among states is $1.53 per pack. Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, “To protect kids from tobacco, Idaho should significantly raise its tobacco tax and increase funding for tobacco prevention. States are being truly penny-wise and pound-foolish when they shortchange these programs.”
The report estimated that tobacco companies spend $42.9 million a year to market their products in Idaho, 20 times what the state spends on tobacco prevention. The report says 14.3 percent of Idaho high school students smoke; nationally, that figure is 18.1 percent. Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S.; you can see the full report here.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A woman is suing the city of Post Falls and police officials after her northern Idaho home was searched without a warrant. In a lawsuit filed in Coeur d'Alene's U.S. District Court last week, Melissa A. Miller contends she sustained physical injuries, emotional pain and other damages because of the search. According to the lawsuit, Miller and several others were at the home two years ago when police entered and said they were searching for a runaway juvenile. Miller objected to the search and was handcuffed. Police didn't find the juvenile, but did find marijuana in rooms that were rented to someone else. Miller was charged with possession but the charge was dropped after a judge said the search was illegal. The city has not yet responded to the lawsuit.
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation members have voted to raise the state brand renewal fee by $25 to increase funding for wolf-control efforts by Idaho Wildlife Services, the Capital Press reports. The agency has lost substantial federal funding since 2010 due to federal budget cuts; the brand fee increase would raise about $100,000 a year. Sheep growers also have increased their wool assessment fee by 2 cents per pound to raise about $25,000.
The newspaper reported that a sportsmen group has offered to match the increase from livestock producers and that Gov. Butch Otter is expected to seek up to $250,000 from the state's general fund. “We need $400,000; I think we'll be closer to $500,000 when all is said and done,” said Blackfoot rancher Chris Dalley; click below for a full report from the AP.
During a conference call with reporters today, Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador was asked about minimum wage protests across the country among fast food workers. “I’m against raising the minimum wage,” Labrador said. He said minimum-wage jobs allow entry-level workers to “acquire the skills that are necessary, so they can move up … the job ladders. If you make it more difficult for people to hire them at minimum wage, it’s impossible for them … to gain the experience that they need so they can make more money in the future.”
He added, “I lived with this in my own life. … My mom worked at McDonalds at one point in her life. She decided she wanted to make more money, so she got into the management program at McDonalds. That’s how you move up the chain. … Every time she had a job she would start at the bottom, and she would work her way up into management. She was still not making a ton of money, but that’s how people get ahead in life.”
He predicted “an explosion of unemployment if we start raising the minimum wage.” Idaho has the highest percentage of minimum-wage workers in the nation, at 7.7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national rate is 4.7 percent.
The state’s minimum wage matches the federal rate at $7.25 per hour; its minimum for tipped employees is $3.35 per hour. An initiative currently is circulating to raise Idaho’s minimum wage to $9.80 in phases over the next four years; last week, initiative backer Anne Nesse said about a tenth of the required signatures have been gathered to place the measure on the ballot, with about four months to go.
What a fabulous surprise for Treasure Valley skiers, when Bogus Basin opened yesterday on just one day’s notice. I certainly didn’t expect to be laying down tracks through untouched powder at my home ski resort over the weekend, but there we were! The non-profit resort sprang into action Saturday after receiving close to 5 inches of snow, opening Sunday with three front-side lifts and welcoming nearly 2,000 skiers and snowboarders. Considering the thin base of just 17 inches, the conditions were surprisingly good, and the first tracks were sweet.
I forgot my phone and don’t have a picture to post, but it was particularly beautiful first thing in the morning, with blue skies and sunshine across the cold sparkle. And cold it was; below zero, even. Fortunately, the remedy for cold toes was easily at hand – a hot chocolate break in the lodge. Bogus will be open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through the week, 9 a.m. on weekends, and will open more of the mountain when conditions allow; lift tickets are now discounted to $25.
Idaho’s state tax revenues for November came in $8 million higher than forecast, thanks largely to stronger than expected individual and corporate income tax collections, which were high enough to offset a slightly lower than anticipated sales tax month. The month’s revenue figures were 4.2 percent over forecast. For the fiscal year to date, tax revenues are now almost exactly on forecast, running ahead by $6.5 million, or 0.6 percent. You can see the full monthly General Fund Revenue Report here.