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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’ Edit

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.

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.

Idaho state treasurer defends record, calls critical state audits ‘politically motivated’

In his 16 years as Idaho’s state treasurer, Ron Crane has built up the state’s credit rating, launched a popular college savings program and a free annual control-your-finances conference for women, and helped create a bond bank that lets local school bonds and other local-government debt take advantage of the state’s favorable interest rates, potentially saving property taxpayers millions. But he’s best known for a series of critical state audit findings over the past five years, the most recent suggesting that Crane made an inappropriate transfer between two funds that cost the state’s taxpayers more than $10 million.

Crane vigorously disputes the audit finding, contending his office did nothing wrong and made reasonable decisions based on what it knew at the time. “As to the charges of the audit, I maintain and will maintain that they were politically motivated,” Crane said in an interview. “We think there’s an excellent explanation for each one. When voters understand what the real explanation is, they will agree with our position.”

The audit findings have prompted a longtime Twin Falls CPA, Deborah Silver, to challenge Crane in this year’s general election. “I would absolutely follow the auditors’ suggestions, no argument, no excuses,” said Silver, a Democrat who taught accounting at the College of Southern Idaho for five years and has operated a CPA firm with her husband in Twin Falls for nearly three decades. “This is a job that I can do.”

The Spokesman-Review asked David Burgstahler, the Julius A. Roller Professor of Accounting at the University of Washington, to review the audit finding about the fund transfer and Crane’s detailed response. “I found the auditor’s conclusions pretty convincing,” Burgstahler said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Eight migrant kids from border surge have come to sponsors in Idaho; Otter not happy

Eight migrant children from Central America apprehended at the Mexican border already have been sent to Idaho, according to a U.S. Health & Human Services report quoted late yesterday by the Associated Press, though they’ve gone to sponsors, not to state custody; that means they’ve been taken in by relatives, family friends or foster parents.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who yesterday sent a letter to top federal officials declaring that the Gem State won’t take any of the unaccompanied minors who arrived illegally at the southern border as part of a surge of tens of thousands, wasn’t happy about the report. “Assuming this report is true, HHS has not provided any information  about this nor did it go through any of the established channels  to inform the Governor’s Office that this was happening,” Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, said in an email.

“We are working now to determine the veracity of this report. Should it prove to be true, it underscores the importance of the letter the governor released yesterday putting the federal government on notice, that Idaho will not be used as a staging area or a destination for the crisis the federal government has created. Just as troubling is the fact that they are ignoring states and the impacts associated with placing these undocumented migrants without the knowledge or consent of state governments.”

The report cited by the AP said 269 children from the border surge have come to Northwest states between Jan. 1 and July 7 of this year – 211 to sponsors in Washington, 50 to sponsors in Oregon and eight to sponsors in Idaho. The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement has the data posted here. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber released a statement saying his state welcomes the children and that the border surge was a reminder of Congress’ failure to enact immigration reform. “These children are fleeing their homelands because of overwhelming violence and economic hardship, and they do not deserve to become political fodder,” Kitzhaber said.

Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, said today, “There are more than 200 children who have been placed with sponsors in Washington state. These are children who have seen and experienced traumatic violence and disruption in their communities. The federal government has identified care givers, some of whom are family members, who have agreed to take these children in. This is clearly an improvement over holding children in detention facilities. Our state will provide the support and services they need as they await their court proceedings.”

Two new Idaho GOP chair hopefuls emerge in two days

Two new candidates for Idaho Republican Party chairman have emerged in the past two days: Cassia County Republican Chairman Douglas Pickett, and former Dick Cheney aide and three-year Idaho Falls resident Steve Yates. This comes as the party is headed to court in a lawsuit filed by its last elected chairman, Barry Peterson, who maintains he’s still in charge despite the failure of the June state party convention to elect anyone as state party chair; while other party leaders have scheduled a state Central Committee meeting for Aug. 2 to choose new leaders, Peterson’s called a competing meeting for Aug. 9.

He’s asking a judge to declare his meeting the legitimate one, though those endorsing the Aug. 2 meeting date so far have included Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Jim Risch, Congressman Mike Simpson, and the legal counsel for the Republican National Committee, who advised the RNC that the Aug. 2 meeting’s choice would be the legitimate chairman.

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports today that Pickett has been a party activist for 14 years, serving as a precinct committeeman, youth committeeman and state committeeman. In 2012, he ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, in the primary, garnering 44 percent of the vote; Popkey’s full report is online here.

Yates said he’s spent 24 years working public policy issues at the federal level and moved his family and business, D.C. International Advisory, to Idaho Falls in 2011; he’s a regular analyst on Fox News. Yates ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, in the May primary, losing narrowly with 48.9 percent of the vote.

Labrador bill to ease ‘80s-era federal drug sentencing laws gaining support in D.C.

Bipartisan legislation introduced last year by Idaho 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador and a bipartisan group of senators and representatives aimed at relaxing harsh 1980s-era federal drug sentencing laws is gaining support in Washington, D.C. The Washington Post editorialized strongly in favor of the measure today, and Labrador reported today that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, endorsed the bill today in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

The measure already is backed by a diverse array of groups ranging from Heritage Action to the ACLU to the American Correctional Association and the NAACP. It would give federal judges more discretion on how they sentence drug offenders who otherwise would be subject to mandatory minimum sentences; and allow inmates already serving the harsh sentences to petition for reductions.

Today’s Washington Post editorial said under current laws, a defendant convicted of possessing just 10 grams of certain drugs who has one prior felony drug offense must receive at least 20 years in prison.  “The drug war’s foremost legacy is a skyrocketing prison population,” the Post wrote. It touted both Labrador’s bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, and a second measure on prisoner reintegration and recidivism reduction; sponsors of the two are considering combining them. Either way, “both bills should pass,” the Post wrote.

Labrador and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., introduced the sentencing bill last October; it is companion legislation to a Senate measure sponsored by a bipartisan group including Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “We must be strict, but also smart, when it comes to federal criminal sentencing,” Labrador said then. “The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach Congress put on the books has tied the hands of judges without improving public safety. Nearly half of the inmates filling our federal prisons are incarcerated for drug offenses. Many of them do not need overly harsh penalties. And yet judges are forced to impose these penalties, even if they don’t want to.”

The bill, HR 3382, has 47 cosponsors; the Senate version, which already has cleared the Judiciary Committee, has 28 cosponsors.

Guv’s office destroyed Board of Ed applications due to ‘sensitive personal information’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s office destroyed 22 of the 37 applications it received for two recent State Board of Education openings, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, because it said they contained “sensitive personal information.” Richert filed a public records request under the Idaho Public Records Act for the applications, but only got 15 of them.

Richert noted that in the applications the governor’s office did release, personal information such as driver’s license numbers was blacked out; you can read his full report here.

Feds never asked Idaho to take captured immigrant kids; Otter was acting ‘pre-emptively’

Asked if Idaho has been contacted by federal officials about housing or staging unaccompanied minor immigrants captured at the southern border up north here in the Gem State, Gov. Butch Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, responded, “The short answer is no.”

“We have not received any information to suggest that undocumented UAM immigrants are headed this way nor have we heard that Idaho will be a destination,” Hanian said in an email. “However, the governor felt it was important to act preemptively on this issue in an effort to avoid the kind of chaos that the federal government has forced on a multitude of other states where illegal immigrants have been brought in without the knowledge or consent of those states.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com

Sho-Ban Hotel, at Exit 80, to mark new 80 mph speeds with $80 room special

The plush Shoshone-Bannock Hotel & Event Center in eastern Idaho has come up with a creative way to capitalize on the state’s move to up speed limits on rural southern Idaho interstates to 80 mph tomorrow: It’s offering a special $80-per-room rate, noting that the Fort Hall hotel is at Exit 80 (on I-15) and the rate is in honor of the 80 mph speeds that motorists now can legally drive to get there. Tomorrow from 8 a.m. to midnight, the hotel will offer the special rate, good for a single night’s stay between July 24 and 31. “We want to help our guests take advantage of our location,” said Echo Marshall, director of sales and marketing; you can read the full announcement here.

Occupy Boise: Idaho should pay $175K in legal fees

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Members of Occupy Boise are asking a federal judge to order the state of Idaho to pay more than $175,000 in attorney costs and legal fees after the group won a lawsuit over rules designed to curb protests and rallies around the Capitol. Under federal law, the winner of a lawsuit can generally seek to recover attorney's fees and costs from the losing side. The amount must be approved by a judge and can be appealed, just like the verdict itself. The lawsuit was filed in 2012 after the state tried to evict Occupy Boise protesters from a tent city set up near Idaho's Statehouse in 2011. Winmill found that the state's efforts to quell or limit the protest violated Occupy Boise members' free speech rights.

Click below for a full report.

Otter fires off letter to feds saying Idaho won’t take any immigrant kids captured at southern border

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today fired off a letter to three top federal officials declaring that he wants “to immediately eliminate the chance of the federal government using Idaho as a destination or a staging area for the influx of unaccompanied and illegal immigrants entering the United States through our southern border.” There was no indication that Idaho – which borders Canada, not Mexico – had been targeted for any such use; the governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about that.

Otter, in a letter he also copied to the four members of the state’s congressional delegation, wrote, “It should be understood that the State of Idaho and its subdivisions will not be actively involved in addressing the humanitarian crisis the federal government has created. Idaho will not open itself to the unwelcome challenges with which other states have struggled at the federal government’s hands.” You can read Otter’s full letter here.

Otter’s letter was addressed to U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Leon Rodriguez. 

Taxpayers Union releases poll on online taxes, Idaho retailers, lawmaker dispute results

The National Taxpayers Union says it’s conducted a poll in Idaho that shows Idahoans oppose taxes on online sales, with questions such as, “Please tell me if you agree or disagree with the following statement. Out-of-state tax collectors, such as those from the state of New York, should not gain new power to audit and take into New York courts, online retailers who operate from Idaho. Do you strongly agree/disagree with it, or just somewhat agree/disagree with it?” Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they agreed.

But the debate in Idaho has been about national and out-of-state retailers selling their products in Idaho without collecting Idaho’s sales tax – putting local retailers at a price disadvantage. “Currently, a legal loophole, created before the Internet even existed, is encouraging customers to make purchases from online out-of-state retailers so they can avoid paying sales tax,” said Pat Nagel, owner of Idaho Camera and a member of the Idaho Retailers Association. “Our government has put Idaho stores at a six percent price disadvantage. We want to continue serving the customers in our community for years to come but in order for that to happen something has to change – Congress has to pass e-Fairness legislation.”

That’s the legislation the National Taxpayers Union opposes. In announcing its poll today, which the group said was conducted June 3-4, included 400 likely Idaho voters and has a margin of error of 4.9 percent, the group said, “When it comes to a federal law allowing out-of-state tax collectors to reach into the pockets of Idaho’s online merchants, by a 52-32 percent margin Gem State voters have a resounding and simple answer: Just, no!” The poll results were announced today by the NTU and the R Street Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based “free-market think tank” that’s in the midst of a 20-state tour to announce similar poll results.

The group strongly opposes the bill pending in Congress that’s dubbed the “Marketplace Fairness Act” and would allow states that participate in the multi-state streamlined sales tax project to require online retailers who make sales to their states to collect and remit sales taxes. Idaho initially was part of the project, but then dropped out, and lawmakers have been resisting legislation to rejoin, though Idaho retailers have been pushing for the move, saying they’re losing more and more of their business to untaxed online retailers. Idaho law already requires Idahoans who make online purchases from out of state to pay the taxes; they're supposed to report and pay them on their state income tax returns, though few do.

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, who has sponsored legislation on the issue, issued a statement today noting that Idaho passed a new law this year creating a savings account for any future online sales taxes it collects, to be put toward tax relief. “The National Taxpayers Union wants to continue incentivizing Idahoans to shop outside of our state by keeping an outdated tax loophole intact,” Clow said.

You can read Clow’s statement here; and the R Street/NTU press release here. Pam Eaton, head of the Idaho Retailers Association, said, “There are two sides to every story. If Idahoans are going to have an accurate discussion on e-Fairness, all the information has to be laid out on the table.” Her press release was headed, “Don’t let poll fool you – eFairness is good for Idaho.”

 

Morrison Center makes international ranking, thanks to Idahoans flocking to see ‘Wicked’

The Morrison Center on the BSU campus has made the list of the top 50 theatre venues in the world for ticket sales in the first half of 2014, thanks in part to an extended 24-performance run of “Wicked” that drew Idahoans in droves. The 10-story, 2,037-seat performing arts center was listed 44th in the rankings for ticket sales to qualifying national presentations by Pollstar, an international trade publication. “The 2014 season was extremely successful,” said James Patrick, the center’s executive director, who called the “Wicked” run “unprecedented.”

The non-profit Morrison Center opened in 1984; it was a dream of the late Harry Morrison, whose late widow, Velma, championed it; the center’s full name is the Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts.

No changes likely for Idaho insurance exchange customers from conflicting court rulings

After two conflicting appellate court rulings yesterday - in Washington, D.C. and in Richmond, Va. - about whether federal subsidies apply to those purchasing health insurance in states that haven’t set up their own insurance exchanges, Idaho’s exchange, YourHealthIdaho.org, announced that Idahoans should see no change in their subsidies, the Idaho Statesman reports. Amy Dowd, YourHealthIdaho executive director, said in a statement, “As a state-based marketplace, Your Health Idaho has requested official guidance to confirm that this ruling does not impact Idahoans. … As we have known for some time, the benefits of being a state-based health insurance exchange far outweigh Idaho being on the federal exchange. As Idaho transitions to our own technology, we are even more confident in Idaho’s decision to maintain control of the exchange in Idaho.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter issued a statement, the Statesman reported, saying, “While it has no immediate impact on Idaho, I hope the decision in the D.C. case eventually carries the day before the U.S. Supreme Court and leads to the end of Obamacare. But for now, it doesn’t reduce or eliminate federal control over healthcare matters in states with federal exchanges. If anything, the uncertainty from today’s conflicting decisions could make things worse for them.”

Statesman reporter Audrey Dutton reports that almost 70,000 of the 76,000 people in Idaho who bought insurance through Idaho’s exchange are getting subsidies; her full report is online here.

JUMP project to display 52 antique tractors from J.R. Simplot’s collection

The Simplot Corp.’s JUMP building project now under construction in downtown Boise – JUMP stands for “Jack’s Urban Meeting Place” – will house a display of 52 antique tractors that the late J.R. Simplot collected and long wanted to put on display, the Capital Press reports today. Simplot, the Idaho potato and microchip magnate who died in 2008, purchased 110 antique tractors in 1998 at an auction in Billings, Mont., reporter Sean Ellis reports; they include rare tractors from around the world. The JUMP project also will include Simplot’s new corporate headquarters; public art; studios and gathering spaces; an outdoor amphitheater and urban park; you can read Ellis’ full report here.

Mama beaver, kit fail in bid to make Eagle grocery store their new home

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: EAGLE, Idaho (AP) — A beaver and her baby have been captured after trying to get into a southwest Idaho grocery store and will be released into the wild. An Ada County sheriff's deputy responded Monday morning about 6 a.m. to an Eagle grocery store where the adult beaver and her kit repeatedly tried to enter. The Idaho Humane Society arrived and captured the pair near a bin filled with willow bundles and turned them over to another group. Animals in Distress spokesman Tony Hicks says the beaver and her kit will be released north of Idaho City in an area with plentiful willow and aspen bark. Hicks says it's not clear why the two left several ponds near the grocery store.

Land Board members laud record earnings from both lands, endowment fund

The state Land Board, which consists of the state's top five elected officials and is chaired by the governor, has sent out an opinion piece to Idaho news media hailing the endowment's record earnings in the past year, from the record 18.8 percent return on investments in the endowment fund to a 14-year high of $102 million from state endowment lands. That included the take from a record 347 million board feet of timber that was logged from the endowment lands, part of it consisting of trees that had been damaged by wildfire or insects, and from a hotly bid-for $1 million lease to use state lands to recreate Evel Knievel’s 1974 attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls. “Together with our state land managers and the fund managers who invest the revenues they work hard to generate, we’re showing Idahoans that active management of State endowment trust lands and prudent investment of financial assets benefit us all,” the board said in the piece; you can read it in full below.

Idaho's endowment chiefly benefits the state's public schools, which are the beneficiary for 85 percent of the state's endowment land. The other beneficiaries, which like the schools were designated at statehood, are the agricultural college (U of I); charitable institutions (a catch-all that includes Idaho State University, industrial training school, State Hospital North, Idaho veterans homes, and the School for the Deaf and Blind); normal school (covers ISU Department of Education and Lewis-Clark State College); penitentiary; school of science (U of I); mental hospital (State Hospital South); University of Idaho; and the Capitol endowment. 

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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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