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Eye On Boise

ACLU: Hitching Post falls under religious exemption, no challenge planned

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho says it will not challenge a northern Idaho wedding chapel's refusal to conduct gay marriages because the chapel falls under a religious exemption. Interim Executive Director Leo Morales said in a news conference Thursday that the Hitching Post became a religious corporation in Idaho nearly a month ago. Morales says the ACLU believes that under that exemption, the chapel does not have to comply with the city of Coeur d'Alene's ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation because the chapel only provides religious services. A Christian religious rights legal organization filed a federal lawsuit last week against the city contending the chapel could be compelled to perform gay marriages under the city's anti-discrimination ordinance. Gay marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15.

Balukoff explains the bow ties…

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, stopped in at the paper's Coeur d'Alene office for a quick Q-and-A with D.F. Oliveria, who writes the S-R’s Huckleberries Online blog. Among the questions he fielded: “What’s with the bow tie?”

“I like bow ties,” Balukoff said. “They’re more festive. I know how to tie them. And I don’t have to worry about the tie getting in my soup.” You can see Oliveria’s full “five questions” interview here; it appears he actually asked eight questions, some more serious than others.

Last-minute campaign money flying

It’s that time, the period shortly before the election when things happen quickly. Campaign contributions or independent expenditures of $1,000 or more now have to be disclosed within 48 hours. There are three independent expenditure notices thus far: The “American Comeback Committee Idaho PAC,” which is affiliated with the Republican Governors Association, has reported spending $33,645 on Monday for literature/printing in support of Butch Otter and against A.J. Balukoff, all paid to Paces Direct LLC in Atlanta, Ga.; the RGA already has run two TV ads in Idaho attacking Balukoff.

And the Idaho Republican Party has reported a $24,871 independent expenditure for broadcast advertising in support of Butch Otter, through a payment to Strategic Media Services Inc. of Arlington, Va. Party Executive Director Dave Johnston said that’s for a new radio ad the party is launching touting Otter, to run in selected markets around the state. “We put together a radio ad that talks about pro things about our governor, so that’s hitting the airwaves,” he said. There may or may not be more to come. “We’ll see,” Johnston said. “We’re adjusting on the fly … as the campaign cycle gets closer and closer. … So it depends on how the remaining week goes.”

The third independent expenditure report, from “Idahoans for a Strong Economy” and benefiting candidates Talkington, Burgoyne, Kloc, McCrostie and Wood, reports $1,870 spent for a mailing.

Meanwhile, as of mid-afternoon today, Otter has filed 48-hour reports showing eight contributions totaling $27,000, including $5,000 each from the Idaho Republican Party, Babcock & Wilcox Co. of Lynchburg, Va., Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers of Washington., D.C., and Val Holms of Helena, Mont. Balukoff has filed 48-hour reports showing four new $1,000 donations, plus another $100,000 of his own money that he’s kicked into his campaign.

Lawerence Denney, the GOP candidate for Idaho Secretary of State, reported two $5,000 contributions, one from the Idaho Republican Party and one from Richard Larsen of Rexburg. And Jana Jones, the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of schools, reported a $1,000 contribution yesterday from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, while GOP rival Sherri Ybarra received $5,000 yesterday from the Idaho Republican Party. Also, state Treasurer Ron Crane reported a $5,000 donation from Richard Larsen Farms in Rexburg. You can see the statewide candidates’ filings here, and the independent expenditure reports here.

Thousands of Idaho high school seniors to participate in Idaho Mock Student Election

More than 3,000 high school seniors are registered for the Idaho Student Mock Election, Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa announced today, and high school government teachers still can register their students through Oct. 30. The mock election, which has been held in even-numbered election years since 2004, will run from Oct. 26-31; students will cast votes for actual statewide candidates on computers in their classrooms.

“I commend all the students and teachers participating in this statewide voting exercise,” Ysursa said. “The mock election experience will encourage our young citizens to become lifelong informed voters. It is gratifying to see students exercise their right to vote and their participation is a strong indication that the democratic process is alive and well in Idaho.”

Results from the mock election will be posted Nov. 3 on the Secretary of State’s website; the exercise allows high school government teachers in Idaho to develop civic education lessons based around the Nov. 4 general election.  For more information, contact the Secretary of State’s office at or 334-2852.

Hewlett-Packard CEO says firm’s Boise operation will grow, not shrink

Mitt Romney might have been the biggest name Wednesday at the inaugural Governor's Trade and Business Conference at the Boise Centre, reporter Zach Kyle writes in today’s Idaho Statesman, but Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman broke the biggest news: That H-P’s Boise campus will grow, not shrink, when the company splits.

“As we separate H-P into two companies, we will be consolidating sites,” Whitman said. “Boise is a site we want to build on. We want to bring people from other parts of the United States to Boise.” Kyle reports that the company recently announced that it will split into HP Inc., which will focus on personal computers and printers, and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, which will focus on software and services. His full report is online here. Click below for a report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi on a campaign stop with Gov. Butch Otter and Sen. Jim Risch that Romney made during his trip to Boise; Kyle’s report also includes Romney’s comments at the business conference critical of the policies of President Barack Obama, who beat Romney in the 2012 presidential election.

Capitol footage in Otter campaign ad came from ‘Add the Words’ documentary

The Lewiston Tribune reports today that part of the footage in one of Gov. Butch Otter’s campaign ads came from an unlikely source – out-takes from the “Add the Words” documentary. Tribune reporter Joel Mills writes that the footage is an interior view of the state capitol dome that appears in Otter’s “Business Testimonial” ad. “I rewound it and said, ‘Oh my God, that’s my shot,’” filmmaker Michael Gough told the Tribune.

The feature-length documentary film told the story of protesters at the 2014 Idaho Legislature who called for a hearing on legislation to amend the Idaho Human Rights Act by adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” to prohibit discrimination on those bases. No hearing was granted, and hundreds of protesters were arrested.

Gough told the Tribune he put some of the unused, generic shots from the project on a stock footage website, where anyone can purchase them. About a month ago, he got word that someone had bought a five-second clip of the dome for $75; Gough didn’t know who until he spotted the footage in the Otter ad. “I was excited because somebody actually paid $75 for it,” he said.

Otter said recently in a political debate that he expects a hearing to be granted on the anti-discrimination bill next year, and blamed the “antics” of protesters for lawmakers’ refusal to grant a hearing this year. Otter also has been an outspoken opponent of allowing same-sex couples to marry in Idaho, though federal courts have thrown out Idaho’s ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional; this week, Otter asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear Idaho’s case. The Tribune’s report is online here, though a subscription is needed to see the full story. You can see Otter's campaign ad online here; the dome footage is at the 12-second mark.

Ybarra campaign on advanced degree: ‘She changed her mind’

Here’s a link to my full, updated story at on today’s news about state Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Sherri Ybarra, who claimed for months that she expected to get a doctorate in education in August, giving her a top educational credential when she’d take office, if she’s elected in November. But in August, Ybarra had only been enrolled in the doctoral program at the University of Idaho for one semester. That month, she received an educational specialist degree, not a doctorate.

Ybarra’s campaign spokeswoman, Melinda Nothern, said there was no intentional misrepresentation. “She’s been working toward this for a long time,” Nothern said. Nothern said Ybarra decided to apply some of her credits toward the lesser degree in August, and keep working toward the doctorate. “She changed her mind,” Nothern said.

Jana Jones, Ybarra’s opponent in the election, who earned her doctorate in education at Idaho State University in 2001, said there’s “no way” to earn a doctorate in education in a single semester. She said, “I was working full-time, so it was supposed to be five years and it ended up being six.”

Ybarra campaign: Change in course of study led to different degree, still planning to pursue doctorate

Sherri Ybarra’s campaign spokeswoman, Melinda Nothern, said today that Ybarra had hoped to earn her doctorate in education by August, but instead changed her course of study and applied some of her credits toward an educational specialist degree, which she received in August. “She’s still enrolled and still working toward her doctorate,” Nothern said.

The university couldn’t immediately confirm that. The issue arose after Ybarra, who is running for Idaho state superintendent of schools, said throughout her campaign that she expected to receive her doctorate in August, then appeared to refer on her campaign website to the degree she did receive in August as a type of doctoral degree, though it was an educational specialist degree. Nothern said, “She still has a dissertation to do, she’s still actively going to pursue that, is pursuing that.”

University spokeswoman Andrea Barlow has confirmed that in the summer semester of 2014, Ybarra was enrolled in both the educational specialist program and the Ed.D doctorate program. In the spring semester of 2014, however, and in all semesters prior to that, she was enrolled only in the educational specialist program.

Idaho schools chief hopeful Ybarra earned specialist degree, not doctorate

Sherri Ybarra, the Republican candidate for Idaho state superintendent of schools, has claimed throughout her campaign that she was working on her doctorate in education at the University of Idaho and would receive it in August, but the university reports today that she instead received an educational specialist degree, not a doctorate. University spokeswoman Andrea Barlow said Ybarra was awarded an educational specialist degree with an emphasis in education leadership.

Ybarra’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment; she now says on her campaign website that she received an “EdDs in Educational Leadership” in August of 2014. The U of I offers an Ed.D degree, a doctorate in education, and a Ph.D degree, a more research-based educational doctorate. It doesn’t offer a doctorate matching Ybarra’s description. Its educational specialist degree is referred to as an Ed.S degree.

Jerry Evans, former longtime Republican state superintendent of schools in Idaho, said, “There’s a lot of difference between an educational specialist and a doctorate.” He noted that the specialist degree is the certification that’s required to serve as a school district superintendent in Idaho; a doctorate is not required. “I had the specialist, but I didn’t have the doctorate,” he said. “It goes well beyond.” You can read my full story here at

The University of Idaho’s educational specialist degree requires 30 credits above a master’s degree, Barlow said. An Ed.D degree requires extensive additional study, exams, and a dissertation.

AdWatch: In rare move, Idaho Secretary of State candidate hits the airwaves

In an unusual move for an Idaho Secretary of State candidate, Holli Woodings is running a statewide TV commercial touting her candidacy and her commitment to making it easier to vote in Idaho; the ad is airing in the Boise, Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Spokane markets.

While Woodings doesn’t mention her GOP opponent, Lawerence Denney, in the ad, it draws a contrast to his campaign theme of enhancing security in elections; Denney co-sponsored Idaho’s voter photo I.D. law and has called for additional measures to combat potential voter fraud, including using technology to scan voters’ fingerprints or signatures at the polls. In a debate against Woodings on statewide TV, Denney declared, “I will not give up the security of the ballot for convenience.”

In the ad, Woodings, a Democrat, cites the leadership of Idaho’s current and former secretaries of state as “40 years of nonpartisan ethical leadership.” Both current Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and his longtime predecessor, the late Pete Cenarrusa, earned praise from all parties for their handling of the state’s elections, though both are Republicans.

“She’s really trying to win the argument over who is the most qualified candidate to assume the nonpartisan professional service orientation of the Ysursa-Cenarrusa years,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. “I think it’s quite an effective ad in introducing her. She doesn’t have the name I.D. that Denney has. … She needs a lot of independents and Republicans to be successful, and this ad could help her.” You can read my full AdWatch story here at, and watch the commercial here.

Navy vet gets approval to be buried with late wife at Idaho Veterans Cemetery

Today was the third time that 74-year-old Navy veteran Madelynn Lee Taylor visited the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery to make arrangements to be buried there together with the remains of her late wife, Jean Mixner, but today’s outcome was different – Taylor completed all the necessary paperwork, picked out the plaque, and an interment ceremony was set for Mixner for next week.

“It’s done!” a relieved Taylor said as she left the cemetery office, throwing both hands into the air in triumph.

Her original application for the burial had been denied, citing Idaho’s ban on recognition of same-sex marriage. Taylor and Mixner were legally married in California in 2008. But now that courts have overturned Idaho’s ban as unconstitutional, the state can legally recognize the two women’s marriage. Cemetery Director James Earp welcomed Taylor to her appointment at the cemetery office today, helped her through the paperwork, and congratulated her with a handshake when it was done.

Accompanied by her pastor, the Rev. Renee McCall of Liberating Spirit Metropolitan Community Church, her lawyer, Deborah Ferguson, and an array of friends and supporters, Taylor let her relief show. “It’s a good day – we get to get Jean out of the closet!” she joked. McCall responded, “I just know she’s up there smiling and shining – she’s proud of you.” Said Taylor: “She’s dancing.”

Taylor filed a federal lawsuit against the state over the denial, but that’s moot now; the case is expected to be dismissed soon. Said Ferguson: “Lee deserves credit for shining a powerful light on the injustice and indignity caused by Idaho’s former exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. Her persistence, visibility, and refusal to accept inequality are a model for us all.”

Big crowd pans tiered licensing plan at state Board of Ed hearing

About 250 people, including educators, administrators and parents, packed the cafeteria at Meridian’s Mountain View High School last night for a raucous State Board of Education hearing on a tiered licensure plan for teachers – and no one testified in favor of the proposal, Idaho Education News reports. Even Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, a House Education Committee member, used his testimony to suggest technical changes, writes EdNews reporter Kevin Richert.

Opponent after opponent urged the State Board to start over, scrapping the plan entirely. ”There are just too many variables for the state to start another initiative,” Weiser School District Superintendent Wil Overgaard said. “Slow down and get it right.”

The state board will take the next 30 to 60 days reviewing public comments and will decide how to adjust the plan, state board member Rod Lewis said after the three-hour hearing. He told EdNews he still expects a plan to come before the 2015 Legislature, but he expects some adjustments; Richert’s full report is online here.

Otter’s other late-night filing to 9th Circuit: Motion to file 35-page, rather than 15-page, en banc petition

Well, here’s the answer about the over-length petition Idaho Gov. Butch Otter filed to the 9th Circuit late last night: He also filed a motion, which was unopposed by the plaintiffs, for permission to file an over-length brief of up to 35 pages, though court rules limit en banc petitions to 15 pages; you can read the motion here. Otter’s reasoning? “The panel misunderstood, and for the most part ignored, Governor Otter’s fundamental argument regarding how the panel’s redefinition of an institution thousands of years old into a genderless union will negatively impact that institution, and with it Idaho and its citizens, especially children of heterosexuals. This needs to be carefully explained.”

Otter petition to 9th Circuit: ‘Policy-making masquerading as law’

It’s been a long day, but now, a bit after 10 p.m. Boise time, Gov. Butch Otter’s petition for an en banc review of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case finally has been filed. You can read it here. Its conclusion says, “The panel’s decision appears to be judicial policymaking masquerading as law. But it is bad law, conflicting with numerous decisions of this Court, other circuits and the Supreme Court. And it is even worse policy, creating enormous risks to Idaho’s present and future children—including serious risks of increased fatherlessness, reduced parental financial and emotional support, increased crime, and greater psychological problems—with their attendant costs to Idaho and its citizens. For all these reasons, the panel decision merits en banc review.”

Otter had an outside attorney to help with the 83-page filing, Gene Schaerr of Washington, D.C. The argument itself, outside of all tables of content, attachments and so forth, runs 25 pages. Here’s the odd thing: The 9th Circuit’s rules about en banc petitions are very specific, according to its guide to practice for attorneys, which is posted on the 9th Circuit’s website here. The deadline is 14 days after the decision; because the decision was issued Oct. 7, today is the deadline. And, the practice guide says, on Page 79, “Length. A petition for rehearing is limited to 15 pages. Fed. R. App. P. 35(b)(2).”

Does that matter? Might Otter’s petition be disqualified because it exceeds the limit? I don’t know the answers to these questions and it’s too late to ask anyone. But I’ll be interested to find out in the morning.

Idaho schools chief rivals spar over Luna legacy

Idaho’s current state superintendent of schools – the first non-educator ever to hold the position – loomed large in the debate Tuesday night between the two educators vying to succeed him. “If you liked Tom Luna, you’re going to love Sherri Ybarra,” Democratic candidate Jana Jones said of her GOP opponent. “We can’t afford to have another four years of a superintendent who is well-intended but ill-prepared.”

Ybarra also made some comments critical of Luna, a Republican who proposed a controversial set of school-reform laws that voters rejected in 2012. “Right now, I think that teachers are feeling very disrespected,” Ybarra said, “and I think they feel that the public does not support them and their leader does not support them. It’s important to remember that being on the front lines, I do support them.”

But she also said she’d “take the opportunity that our current leader has given me to transition in and spend two months closely studying” the school budget and the job. You can read my full story here at on tonight’s debate, which was broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television. It included some agreement - on Idaho Core standards and restoring local control to school districts - but lots of disagreement, particularly on the school budget.

Closing comments from Jones, Ybarra

In their closing comments:

Jana Jones, Democratic candidate for state schools superintendent, said, “It’s been a great evening, and hopefully you understand the differences between the two of us.” She said. “The office shouldn’t be about politics and partisanship, it should be about doing what’s best for Idaho’s kids. And what I want for our kids is simple: I want safe schools, highly qualified teachers, modern up-to-date classrooms with technology that supports our teachers and our kids, and strong, rigorous stands that help prepare our kids for the future of their choice. My opponent said that she will carry forward Tom Luna’s agenda and walk side by side with the Legislature that has led our schools to the race to the bottom. I believe there’s a better way. It’s time to end the era of the one-size-fits-all top-down approach to educating our kids. My pledge to you is to return local control to our school boards, to our superintendents and our teachers, and to be the kind of superintendent that is inclusive and that will listen, and most importantly, provide leadership you can trust.”

Sherri Ybarra, the Republican candidate, said, “It was my pleasure to talk about one of my most favorite subjects which happen to be education. You really do have a stark difference in choices of candidates for this position. I am a conservative leader with a vision for the future. My opponent has the old tax and spend mentality. I have proven that my vision for Idaho works and that I will be a tireless advocate for our more than 250,000 students in grades K-12. I have a focus on maintaining what our kids need. I have been on the front lines with my sleeves rolled up earning the very respect of the team that I’m going to need to lead forward in education. And I think about our students, and how they deserve a state superintendent of public instruction who has been there for nearly 20 years on the front line, who has not taken a break from education, who has not been working in a business world and making those accusations about our current leader and doing the exact same thing.  I have a focus on our students, I will always maintain a focus on our students.” She then repeated, “I am a conservative leader with a vision for the future.”

Ybarra on voting history: ‘That’s my plan, is to repay Idaho’ as schools chief

Asked about her statement at an earlier debate that running for state superintendent is one way she can “repay” Idaho for having not voted in a general election since she moved to the state in 1996, GOP candidate Sherri Ybarra repeated that statement, during the “Idaho Debates” tonight on Idaho Public TV. “I think the questions was asked, what is your voting history, and I had put that right out there from Day 1 that it was pretty inconsistent and that I wanted to pay back Idaho,” Ybarra said. “That’s a civic duty. And if elected, this will be a civic duty that I will repay Idaho through for my lack of having a consistent voting history.”

“And I would be honored to do that,” Ybarra said. “And I think in moving forward, that’s what we do as Idahoans, we don’t focus on the negative and the past, we move forward, we recognize it and we say how can we make it better and what’s your plan. That’s my plan, is to repay Idaho.”

Schools chief rivals spar over state budget, funding for schools

Asked about the budget for Idaho’s schools, GOP candidate for state schools superintendent Sherri Ybarra said, “Money has nothing to do with achievement, there’s a lot of research out there about that. It’s better to be low and steady than to be erratic and be all over the map.”

Asked about her statement in an earlier debate that she’s support current Superintendent Tom Luna’s proposed budget for schools for next year, which calls for a 6.9 percent increase, Ybarra said, “That was Mr. Luna’s budget. … I know and understand that I can amend that at any time, and so I’m going to take the opportunity that our current leader has given me to transition in and spend two months closely studying that.” She said, “I do have an idea of a couple of places that I would like to look at that really would give … (control) back to local school districts. Local school districts know what they’re doing.”

Jana Jones, the Democratic candidate, said, “I understand the public school budget currently. … We don’t have time to wait a year for somebody to study and figure out where those things are going before those decisions are made. We need a superintendent that can get in there right now and get to work.” She said school districts are telling her that they don’t have the resources they need now.

Ybarra said the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee supports her, but Jones said there are lots of members on JFAC and Ybarra hasn’t talked to all of them. “I’m sorry that my opponent is misinformed, and she doesn’t know who JFAC is, but they are listed on my website and they most certainly do support me,” Ybarra said.

Ybarra’s campaign website has been down much of the day, and is down now; while she has in the past listed a few lawmakers among her supporters there - including two members of the joint committee - JFAC has 20 members from both parties.

“I do know what JFAC is, I’ve actually testified in front of JFAC several times,” Jones told Ybarra, “and not every member of JFAC is on your website.”

Rivals for state schools chief debate how to improve student achievement

In the “Idaho Debates” tonight on Idaho Public TV, Republican Sherri Ybarra and Democrat Jana Jones, the two candidates for Idaho state superintendent of public instruction, have debated questions about student achievement in reading, math and more. Among their responses:

Both Ybarra and Jones, asked how they’d improve student achievement in Idaho so Idaho’s students will be prepared for jobs, pointed to the new Idaho Core standards, saying Idaho needs higher standards for its students. “It’s an opportunity to do things different and improve,” Ybarra said.

Jones said Idaho’s math initiative has fallen short because the “new math” hasn’t been well enough explained to parents. “We need to work with our families a lot better, so that they can support their kids in a much more meaningful way when it comes to the math,” she said.

Jones said the state’s “star” rating system for school achievement isn’t working well, while Ybarra said it is. “You need to have multiple indicators of how a school is doing … not just one assessment,” Jones said. She called for working with school districts around the state to “let them help us define what that star rating should look like, what should be the indicators we use … rather than putting it on hold until we get SBAC results in the spring.”

Ybarra said, “The star rating, that was based on growth, and that fits in nicely with my platform of address the whole child. We all know that each one of our students is different. So the old method before, that was called Adequate Yearly Progress by the government … it fit every one of our students into a box … a certain score on the test. … So we applied for a waiver and we went to the growth model … which worked very well for the schools and they enjoyed it.”

Jones in debate: ‘If you liked Tom Luna, you’re going to love Sherri Ybarra’

In her opening comments in their live debate tonight, Democratic candidate for state school superintendent Jana Jones said of her GOP opponent, Sherri Ybarra, “She has said that she will carry on and move forward Tom Luna’s recommended budget, as well as move into the office right next door to him the day after the election so he could train her on how to do the job. If you liked Tom Luna, you’re going to love Sherri Ybarra. We can't afford to have another four years of a superintendent who is well-intended but ill-prepared.” Jones said, “I know what needs to be done and more importantly I know how to do it.”

Ybarra said, “I have nearly 20 years of experience on the front lines. … I have taken a team of teachers and students from failing status to four-star status, and that’s exactly what this job is about.”

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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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