In last night’s heated debate between the three leading candidates for governor of Idaho, there was much back-and-forth over the Corrections Corporation of America and the state’s $1 million settlement with the firm for understaffing the state’s largest prison and over-billing the state. Here’s a fact-check on some of the disputed points the candidates raised:
SETTLEMENT AMOUNT: Gov. Butch Otter said the settlement was for $1.3 million, not $1 million. You can see the settlement here. On Page 1 of the nine-page settlement, under “Release and Discharge,” it says, “In consideration of the sum of ONE MILLION DOLLARS AND 00/100 ($1,000,000), paid by CCA, the receipt and sufficiency of which Releasor acknowledges … Releasor does hereby fully, forever, irrevocably, and unconditionally release, acquit, and forever discharge Releasee from any and all claims … of any kind, whether known or unknown, suspected or unsuspected … arising out of the staffing of the ICC and existing on or before the date of this Settlement Agreement.”
Asked about the $1 million settlement during the debate, Otter said, “No, that was not the amount. … It was well in excess of a million dollars. … In fact, there was a bill outstanding for over $300,000 that was also part of the final negotiations.”
On Feb. 4, 2014, the Idaho State Department of Correction and CCA issued a joint statement announcing the $1 million settlement. “CCA will pay $1 million in compensation to the State of Idaho,” the joint statement said. “Additionally, the State of Idaho has denied CCA an annual inflationary increase in the amount of approximately $350,000.”
BOTTOM LINE: That denial of the inflationary increase isn’t mentioned in the signed settlement, though it may have been a part of the negotiations.
“OFF THE HOOK”: A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for the governor, said during the debate, “The governor just admitted he doesn’t know if $1.3 million was a fair settlement or not. It seems like it’s prudent to do the investigation and understand what went on before you let a company off the hook.”
Otter responded, “A.J. knows different. A.J. knows if he’s done his homework, he knows that that contract is not final. That negotiation is not final. … If the FBI comes up with something, then all bets are off.”
“No, they’re not,” Balukoff responded. Otter said, “The criminal can go forward for anything else that’s found out.” Balukoff said, “That agreement and forgiveness of civil penalties does not go away.” Otter snapped back, “That’s not true.”
Balukoff said, “They can go after the people that have committed crimes, they can go after them for criminal, but the settlement for civil damages exonerated them for whatever other damages may be discovered.”
BOTTOM LINE: The exact wording from the settlement is, “The Parties desire to finally and fully resolve all disputed claims arising out of the staffing discrepancies.”
As I reported on Oct. 17, the settlement agreement itself says all civil claims are settled over the staffing issues, and doesn’t discuss criminal liability. In response to a public records request, the governor’s office provided a Feb. 17, 2014 email exchange between Mark Warbis, a top aide to Otter, and Mark Kubinski, lead deputy attorney general for the Idaho Department of Correction, on that question.
Warbis writes, “Does this release and discharge apply only to civil claims, or could this potentially block the pursuit of criminal claims should they emerge?” Kubinski responds, “The release section only applies to civil claims. The signatories are Division of Purchasing, IDOC and the Board, none of whom have any authority to waive any potential criminal charges. I’m comfortable with the language as drafted.”
“CONTRACT IS OPENED UP”: During the debate, Libertarian candidate John Bujak said, “I have a little more information as a lawyer, I’ve seen some of the litigation that’s gone through the federal courts related to what was going on there due to the lack of supervision. The state has been exposed to the liability through the lack of supervision to a greater degree. I think the settlement was premature. I don’t think that number was a good number, and I would have liked to see more investigation before any kind of settlement was struck regarding the private prison.”
Otter responded, “A good lawyer would have read the entire contract on the negotiation, and would have found out that at the end, new information on a new subject, the whole contract is opened up. That’s in the contract, John.”
Bujak responded,”As a civil lawyer, whenever you settle a civil case you don't leave open-ended liability. The whole notion is it's risk management. Now, maybe they can be opened up to some additional liability in the criminal context, but there’s no additional civil liability that can be imposed under that contract. That civil liability was simply put to bed for a million bucks.”
Otter retorted, “Not true.”
BOTTOM LINE: There is no provision at the end of the nine-page settlement that matches Otter’s description. Prior to its signatures, it ends with this clause on Page 5: “Effectiveness. This Settlement Agreement shall become effective upon the date of execution by the last Party to execute the Settlement Agreement.”
Last-minute campaign money continues to fly ahead of Tuesday’s election; you can see all the latest independent expenditure reports here, and the statewide candidates’ 48-hour notices here. Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News tallied up the 48-hour reports, which are required for contributions or independent expenditures of $1,000 or more from Oct. 20 to Nov. 1, and reports that the past two weeks have seen a $1.5 million spending spree in the governor’s race, including fundraising by both the leading candidates, incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff, and independent expenditures by outside groups largely backing Otter and opposing Balukoff. His full report is online here.
When the Idaho GOP campaign bus tour rolled into Gooding on Oct. 24, the students and staff at North Valley Academy Public Charter School were ready. The entire student body, in the colorful uniforms that are required at the patriotism-themed charter school, assembled on the lawn in front of the school, the school string orchestra played, and the kids sang the national anthem.
According to an Idaho Republican Party Facebook post, campaign signs for the various Republican candidates were planted in the lawn along the sidewalk at the front of the school for the half-hour event. Among candidates re-posting the party’s post was GOP candidate for state schools superintendent Sherri Ybarra, who participated in the bus tour; both her post and the party’s said, “The Idaho GOP Bus Tour received a warm welcome at North Valley Academy in Gooding. Their student band played for us and did an amazing job! We’re on our way to Wendell!” However, Kaycee Emery, spokeswoman for the Otter for Idaho campaign, said Ybarra wasn't at that stop, though she was at others on other days. Emery said the Gooding stop, unlike others, included no stump speeches.
“I don’t believe it was a campaign event,” said the school’s board chairwoman and founder, Deby Infanger. “For us it was a visit from the governor.” She added, “It was outside. And he does what governors do, he supports public education, and I think it was very appropriate to thank him and sing the national anthem with him.” Infanger said she was out of town and didn’t attend the event, but said, “We gave the governor a plaque and thanked him for his support of education.”
The event took place during the school day, from 1:30 to 2 p.m. on a Friday. But the state Board of Education’s Code of Ethics for Idaho Professional Educators strictly forbids using schools “for the promotion of political candidates or for political activities.” Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna sent a memo in May of 2011 to all district superintendents, charter school administrators and school board trustees outlining the prohibitions, and warning against “allowing the use of the school to further political agendas in conjunction with any school activity or event.”
In his memo, he wrote, “If substantiated, each is a violation of the Code of Ethics and is punishable by a letter of reprimand, the placing of conditions on the educator’s certificate or the suspension or revocation of the educator’s certificate. … Those whose certificates are suspended or revoked can no longer be employed by an Idaho public school.”
Luna urged educators to “ensure that your professional employees do not put their certification at risk by violating the Code of Ethics for Idaho Professional Educators.”
Brady Moore, spokesman for Luna, said today that the state’s Professional Standards Commission will neither confirm nor deny whether it is looking into the GOP bus tour event at the public charter school, or whether it has received a complaint. The soonest the Professional Standards Commission could hold a hearing on the issue would be its next meeting in January, he said. “So it’s kind of hard to say at this point whether or not it would be a violation,” Moore said.
“Any certified person could technically be penalized by the professional standards commission, if it’s found to be a violation,” Moore said. “It can go all the way from a letter of revocation to a letter that says, ‘Don’t do that again.’”
David Johnston, executive director of the Idaho Republican Party, said he was on the bus tour. “It was a great stop,” he said. “The pictures, I think, said it all. It was a great crowd, a good turnout. We rolled up there and everybody was out on the front lawn, and the band did a great job on their performance.” Johnston said he wasn’t aware that the academy was a public school. “We didn’t stop at any other schools,” he said.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has launched a new campaign ad in the final days before the election, featuring former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney endorsing him. Romney urges Idaho voters to “get out and vote,” and says, “What’s happening under Butch Otter ought to happen to every state, and you’re lucky to have this man as your governor.” The ad is running statewide both on TV and radio, Otter’s campaign said, including the Spokane broadcast TV market. Romney’s comments came during a campaign stop for Otter and GOP Sen. Jim Risch in Boise last week; Risch also has a new TV ad out featuring Romney’s endorsement. You can read my full AdWatch story here.
The full, 90-minute debate between Idaho GOP Gov. Butch Otter, Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff and Libertarian challenger John Bujak can be viewed online here. It was a lively and often heated debate that saw the candidates clash on an array of issues as Tuesday's election approaches. The debate, which was broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television, is part of the “Idaho Debates,” co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho. It was the final debate in the race before the election.
A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, has analyzed a year’s worth of incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s detailed calendars, and concluded that Otter is a “part-time governor,” working only 27 hours a week in 2013, or 32.8 if receptions and travel time are added in. “Gov. Otter treats his job like he’s in semi-retirement,” Balukoff said in a statement today. “Many Idahoans are working 50 or 60 or more hours a week in two or three jobs and still barely scraping by. Idaho needs and deserves a governor who’s on the job more than part-time.”
In January of 2011, then-Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey did a similar analysis, comparing Otter’s schedule for 2011 to 2009, before he was re-elected for his second term. He found that in 2011, Otter largely took Mondays off; took 41 personal days, a 28 percent increase over two years earlier; and his official appointments were down 21 percent and unofficial appointments down 64 percent.
Otter had no comment on the report then; in a statement today, his campaign said, “Being governor is not a typical 8 to 5 occupation. Gov. Otter is governor 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Mr Balukoff probably doesn't realize that the job of governor is a 24-hour calling.” You can see Balukoff’s full analysis here, and his full statement here; click below for the Otter campaign's full statement.
Jana Jones, the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of schools, has been named in a guardianship dispute with her brother-in-law, Idaho Education News reports today. The brother-in-law, Michael Von Jones of Twin Falls, charges that Jones and her husband convinced his parents to write off a loan made to the couple for a business, and charges that the parents need a guardian and conservator. A doctor found that the couple was capable of living independently, but the brother-in-law is pressing for a second opinion; the other siblings and the parents are objecting to the brother-in-law’s move. Al Barrus, attorney for Jones' in-laws, Ross V. and Lorraina Jones, called the brother-in-law's filing a “smear campaign.”
John Ohman, an attorney for Jones and her husband, Ross J. Jones, said the brother-in-law is engaging in a “mean-spirited” attempt at political sabotage; he served Jones with court papers in the sealed case at a political debate in Twin Falls. “Jana Jones has no involvement in the guardianship or conservatorship at all,” Ohman told EdNews reporter Kevin Richert. Jana Jones told Richert she was “disgusted” by the move, and said of her husband’s parents, “They are very supportive of me, and they always have been.” The couple has contributed $1,500 to her campaign, including a $1,000 contribution on Oct. 18. Richert’s full report is online here.
Idaho's final gubernatorial debate showcased the most heated exchanges yet between the candidates seeking the seat, the AP reports. GOP Gov. Butch Otter faced off against Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff and Libertarian candidate John Bujak. The three agreed on little, writes AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi, and often interrupted the moderator and debate panel to respond to zingers thrown out by their opponents, while discussing education, the economy and same-sex marriage. Click below for the AP's full report.
Also, the Twin Falls Times-News has a full report here on the debate, headlined, “Otter on defensive on CCA in last debate.” Reporter Nathan Brown writes that both Balukoff and Bujak slammed Otter's handling of the private prison matter, including a $1 million settlement with Corrections Corp. of America releasing the company from civil liability for understaffing the state's largest prison and overbilling the state, and his handling of the state's current troubled contract for the Idaho Education Network, a broadband network linking the state's high schools. Otter said he doesn't know if the CCA settlement was fair. “I'll know when the FBI is done investigating,” he said.
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on tonight’s lieutenant governor debate, the only debate in the race between GOP Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Democratic challenger Bert Marley. In the polite but pointed televised debate, Little and Marley outlined sharply differing views of how Idaho’s faring as it works to recover from a big economic downturn.
The lieutenant governor debate, which ran 30 minutes, followed a heated debate in the governor’s race, in which GOP incumbent Butch Otter, Libertarian John Bujak and Democrat A.J. Balukoff clashed on everything from Idaho’s private prison debacle to education to jobs. Among the interesting moments: Otter referred at one point to his opponents by a combined name: “Balujak.” After Bujak was asked about his legal woes in Canyon County – which resulted in multiple acquittals – he said, “I’m surprised that I get the questions about scandal, with Gov. Otter standing next to me.” Balukoff called for scrapping the troubled contract for the Idaho Education Network: “Undo that contract, rebid it,” he said.
Otter said Idaho’s never been able to meet its constitutional mandate to adequately fund schools because of the state’s rural nature, and only now with initiatives like the IEN is it beginning to bring more uniformity to education. Balukoff and Bujak both disagreed; Balukoff said Idaho did a pretty good job funding school operations before the 2006 law that shifted funding from property taxes to the sales tax.
Otter said he’d sign a bill to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act, if lawmakers send it to his desk, but said he’s “not ready to surrender” on same-sex marriage. Bujak said, “At this point the ship has sailed. … You’re just throwing good money after bad.” Balukoff asked, “Friends, is our state better off under Gov. Otter? The answer is no.”
Meanwhile, the two candidates for state superintendent of schools, Republican Sherri Ybarra and Democrat Jana Jones, met for their final debate – this one organized and run by high school students in Idaho Falls. Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin has a full report here.
Prior to the start of tonight's final debate in the governor's race, the candidates - Gov. Butch Otter, Libertarian John Bujak and Democrat A.J. Balukoff - drew to determine the order for their opening and closing remarks; Bruce Reichert, executive producer at Idaho Public TV, used his vintage white cowboy hat to hold the lots. Tonight's debate runs 90 minutes and starts at 7 p.m. I'm on the reporter panel, along with Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News and Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman; Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public TV is the moderator.
Tonight's gubernatorial debate will be followed by the lieutenant governor debate between incumbent Brad Little and Democratic challenger Bert Marley. Check here later for links to full coverage of both debates.
The final debate in Idaho’s governor’s race is tonight at 7 p.m. on Idaho Public Television. It’s part of the “Idaho Debates,” co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho. Tonight’s debate will run for 90 minutes and feature three candidates: GOP Gov. Butch Otter, who is seeking a third term; Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff; and Libertarian challenger John Bujak.
After the governor’s debate, the candidates for Idaho lieutenant governor, incumbent Republican Brad Little and Democratic challenger Bert Marley, will face off in a 30-minute debate at 8:30 p.m.
The Idaho Debates conclude on Sunday with the final matchup, between 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson and Democratic challenger – and former 2nd District congressman – Richard Stallings. That debate will air at 7 p.m.
After they’re broadcast, the Idaho Debates are available for viewing online here. That includes all seven debates – in the races for governor, lieutenant governor, 1st and 2nd District congressional races, state treasurer, Secretary of State, and state superintendent of schools. An eighth debate had been scheduled in the U.S. Senate race between GOP Sen. Jim Risch and Democratic challenger Nels Mitchell, but Risch declined to participate. Risch did agree to a single debate against Mitchell on Boise TV state KTVB; that debate can be seen online here.
Kochava, a high-tech company that launched in Sandpoint in 2011, how now been approved for the same type of state Tax Reimbursement Incentive that Amy’s Kitchen received yesterday for a new plant in Pocatello, the state of Idaho and city of Sandpoint announced today. The firm plans to add 35 new employees in the coming months and 50 over the next five years; it will get a rebate of 28 percent of its state corporate income, sales and payroll taxes for the next five years.
Kochava had 26 employees in Sandpoint in June; a year earlier, it had just eight. The new tax break, approved by lawmakers this year, started July 1; it’s for new or expanding companies that will add at least 20 jobs in rural areas or at least 50 in urban areas, if the jobs pay at least the county average wage. The incentive can be for up to 30 percent of a firm’s state corporate income, sales and payroll taxes for up to 15 years; a state commission decides who gets how much.
The first recipient was SkyWest, for a new facility in Boise; the second was frozen food producer Amy’s Kitchen, which announced yesterday that it will move into an abandoned Heinz plant in Pocatello. That firm also was awarded a 75 percent break on its property taxes by the local county commissioners; no property tax break has been announced for Kochava. Amy’s Kitchen was awarded a 26 percent tax rebate on its state taxes for 15 years. Skywest got a 25 percent tax break for 12 years. Some economists say tax breaks like this don't work, as the growth would come anyway; Northwest Nazarene University economist Peter Crabb told the Idaho Statesman today, “We're giving away the farm again.”
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said of the Kochava announcement, “This is great news! This is exactly what I hoped would be the outcome of my support for the governor’s initiative – growing jobs of existing businesses right here at home.” Click below for the state’s full news release from Gov. Butch Otter’s office.
Bonner County is seeking disaffection and splits within its Republican Party, Bonner Bee correspondent David Gunter writes today, in an extensive piece examining the state of politics in the county and how they reflect the state. “I’ve heard the comment from some longtime Republicans that, ‘This isn’t fun any more,’” Bonner County Republican Central Committee Chairman Danielle Ahrens told the Bee. The full article is online here.
The Idaho Statesman and Boise State Public Radio are running an extensive, five-part reporting project this week on Idaho’s mental health system, titled, “In Crisis.” Among the revelations so far: Involuntary mental commitment cases in the state rose from 2,337 in 2007 to 4,686 in 2013. The state is short on both treatment facilities and providers, and its suicide rate is 48 percent higher than the national average. More than 22 percent of uninsured adults who don’t qualify for Medicaid now – but would if the state expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act – were in “serious psychological distress.” And prisons and jails are among the state’s top mental health care providers.
The series also reported that Idaho's per-capita spending on mental health was the nation's lowest except for Puerto Rico at $37, but the state Department of Health & Welfare disputes that figure, saying a glitch in how data was examined for a Kaiser Family Foundation report comparing states left out part of Idaho's spending, which H&W says actually came to $143.56 for fiscal year 2010, above the national average of $120.56. You can see the full series, which continues tomorrow, online here and here; it includes audio, video, data and more.
Gov. Butch Otter was in Pocatello yesterday to announce that Amy’s Kitchen, a manufacturer of frozen vegetarian food, will move into the vacant H.J. Heinz plant there, lured in part by the state’s new Tax Reimbursement Incentive Act. Amy’s Kitchen will get rebates on 26 percent of its state corporate income, sales and payroll taxes for 15 years. It also will get a 75 percent break on its property taxes, approved by the Bannock County Board of Commissioners, on the plant and any future investments.
Amy’s expects to hire 200 people in the coming months at salaries of just over $33,000 a year, slightly over the county’s average wage, and could employ up to 1,000 people within 15 years. The Heinz plant formerly had 400 workers.
Idaho Statesman reporter Zach Kyle reports today that the state tax incentive for Amy’s is estimated at $6.7 million. The new tax reimbursement incentive law took effect July 1; Skywest was its first recipient, for a plant in Boise. State Commerce Director Jeff Sayer told Kyle that Idaho competed with New Mexico to win the Amy’s plant; and that the state is now negotiating similar tax incentives with companies considering relocating or expanding in Post Falls and Sandpoint.
Two economists told the Statesman that tax incentives don’t work, and companies getting the breaks might have come to Idaho anyway. “We’re giving away the farm again,” said Peter Crabb, an economics professor at Northwest Nazarene University. Kyle’s full report is online here.
Otter, in a news release, said the plant is scheduled to open in December, and called it “exciting news for both the community and the state.” Bannock County Commission Chairman Howard Manwaring said, “It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”
There’s more skating and hockey-playing than political images in the latest ad in Idaho’s governor’s race, as Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff dons an Idaho Steelheads hockey uniform for his final campaign commercial of the race. “In politics, taking shots at your opponent is just business as usual for some,” Balukoff says in the ad, “but skating around Idaho’s problems with cheap shots won’t get results. … It’s time Idaho families get a fair shot.”
The commercial takes aim at negative ads that have been airing in the race, both from outside groups backing GOP Gov. Butch Otter and from Otter’s campaign, whose latest ad accuses Balukoff of “falsely smearing” Otter over a private prison scandal. It comes as an array of messages from various groups is airing in Idaho, as the race comes down to the wire ahead of Tuesday’s election.
“I think it’s a clever ad, and it addresses the negative advertising that he’s been a recipient of,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and longtime observer of Idaho politics. “It might attract some voters who have tuned out to all the negative ads that are so prominently displayed right now.” You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com, including a look at controversial radio ads airing in eastern Idaho that claim to be from Balukoff’s campaign, but actually are from an Otter supporter.
Here’s an interesting tidbit: After reading in the Twin Falls Times-News today that A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, donated to Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns both in 2007 and in 2012, I searched FEC records for Balukoff’s donations in federal races. Both those donations showed up, $2,300 in 2007 and $2,500 in 2012. So did several others – donations both to Republicans and Democrats over the years. In federal campaigns, Balukoff has donated to Democrats Shirley Ringo, Nels Mitchell and Walt Minnick; and to Republicans Larry Craig (2001), Mike Simpson (1998), Mark Stubbs (1998).
And, perhaps most interesting of all was this donation: In 2004, Balukoff donated $250 to a GOP candidate for Congress – Butch Otter. Mike Lanza, Balukoff’s campaign spokesman, said, “He once believed that Butch Otter would deliver on his promises. He no longer believes that.”
An analysis of the “politics of the pratfall” in this year’s race for Idaho state superintendent of schools, penned by Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert, examines how a series of high-profile blunders by the GOP candidate, Sherri Ybarra, could resonate in the race between Ybarra and Democratic rival Jana Jones. “It becomes a pattern, and I think that’s a big issue,” College of Idaho political scientist Jasper LiCalzi told Richert. Longtime Idaho political observer Jim Weatherby told Richert, “This will be a real test of the power of the ‘R’ behind her name.” Richert’s full article is online here.
Meanwhile, Richert reports today that Ybarra, who has stressed throughout her campaign that she's still working full-time in education as an administrator in the Mountain Home School District, has taken time off to campaign, but neither she nor the district would provide details; that report is online here.
Seven more people have come forward to say they were sexually abused by staffers at a state-run juvenile detention center in southwestern Idaho, the AP reports today. The new allegations were detailed in a tort claim filed with the state late Tuesday afternoon, and bring the number of former detainees at the Idaho Department of Juvenile Correction detention center in Nampa alleging sexual abuse there to at least 10. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is predicting 58 percent turnout in the Nov. 4 general election – that’s 58 percent of registered voters, and is equal to roughly 39 to 40 percent of Idaho’s voting-age population. “It’s not something to write home about,” he said. “I am disturbed, troubled and concerned about the decline in voter participation.”
In a brown-bag luncheon speech to ISU alumni in Boise today, Ysursa said Idaho’s voter turnout has been on a steady decline since the record 1980 election in which Steve Symms defeated Idaho Sen. Frank Church. That trend has continued even though Idaho has removed many obstacles to voting – it’s one of just eight states with election-day registration at the polls, and it now offers no-excuse absentee voting and early voting.
“What is the answer to increasing voter turnout?” Ysursa asked. “I’ve been trying to figure that out for 40 years. … I do know that the process needs to be inclusive and not exclusive.” Click below for more.