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More last-minute campaign $$: Otter collects, PACs start swapping money around…

On the last-minute campaign cash front, Gov. Butch Otter is today’s big winner, reporting another $13,500 in large contributions, according to 48-hour notices filed with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office. Today’s report included $5,000 contributions to Otter from Hewlett-Packard Company PAC and from Marian Zubizareta of Boise.

Several new independent-expenditure notices also were filed today. The Idaho Realtors PAC reported spending $4,750 on literature, postage and advertising in support of Rep. Cindy Agidius, R-Moscow, who is locked in a tight rematch race with Democratic challenger Paulette Jordan, who lost to Agidius two years ago by just 123 votes.

Two PACs that were among several used two years ago for a controversial money-shuffling maneuver to underwrite unsuccessful efforts to defeat several Republican incumbents are also starting to shift money around again: GUN PAC reported spending $1,166 for literature on behalf of Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, and transferring $2,000 to Free Enterprise PAC for advertising. Meanwhile, Free Enterprise PAC reported spending an identical amount, $1,166, on literature on behalf of Stevenson, and transferring $1,500 to Idaho Chooses Life for advertising.

State’s legal bill for same-sex marriage appeals tops $80,000, still growing

Idaho’s legal bill for challenging a federal judge’s decision overturning the state’s ban on gay marriage has now topped $80,000, and that was before Gov. Butch Otter’s latest appeal to the 9th Circuit. In response to a public records request, Otter’s office has released an Oct. 7 agreement with Washington, D.C. attorney Gene Schaerr to pay a flat fee of $10,000 for two specific legal briefs: One appealing to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay, to keep its decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Idaho from taking effect; and another appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court for the same thing.

Both were filed, and both were unsuccessful; same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15.

Prior to that, Idaho had spent $71,477 to challenge U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s May 2014 decision overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, $66,920 of that for outside lawyers hired to represent Otter. The bills for the stay requests bumped the total up to $81,477, including $76,920 for private attorneys.

Since then, Otter has filed a petition with the 9th Circuit requesting an en banc review, a review by a larger, 11-judge panel, of that court’s earlier ruling by a three-judge panel. Otter also filed a motion for permission to exceed the 15-page limit on such petitions; the court granted the motion and allowed Schaerr to file a 35-page brief on behalf of Otter. The 9th Circuit has now asked the plaintiffs in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case to file a response to Otter’s petition within 21 days.

The governor’s office has not yet responded to requests for information on costs for that legal action. Earlier, in the state’s appeal to the 9th Circuit, Otter was represented by private attorney Monte Stewart, who charged the state $250 an hour. Stewart has withdrawn from representing Idaho; Otter replaced him with Schaerr.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden also participated in the original appeal to the 9th Circuit, but did so using staff attorneys, so there were no outside legal bills. Wasden has announced he’s planning to file an additional appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming weeks.

The state also could be on the hook for the plaintiffs' attorney fees and costs for the original federal case, since the state lost; a pending motion asks the U.S. District Court to order Idaho to pay nearly half a million dollars.

AdWatch: Otter hits back at Balukoff, defends handling of prison scandal

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has launched a new TV ad striking back at Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff, and defending Otter’s handling of a prison scandal. It’s the first time that Otter’s campaign has directly mentioned Balukoff in one of its ads, though two outside groups have been running ads attacking Balukoff and trying to tie him to President Barack Obama.

“This may be as good of evidence as we have that this may be a closer race than at least one or two polls have indicated recently,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. He noted that Otter’s name recognition in the state, as a two-term governor, is close to 100 percent, while Balukoff came into the race virtually unknown outside the Boise area. That would normally prompt a well-known incumbent to avoid giving a little-known challenger any free publicity.

Balukoff, a Boise businessman, is the longtime chairman of the Boise school board; Otter served three terms in Congress and 14 years as lieutenant governor before becoming governor.

Otter’s ad is a direct response to a new commercial Balukoff launched last weekend criticizing Otter’s handling of the state’s troubled contract with private prison firm Corrections Corporation of America; both ads are running statewide, including in the Spokane broadcast TV market. CCA, which until July 1 was being paid $29 million a year to operate the state’s largest prison, was at the center of multiple lawsuits, reports of violence so intense that the prison was dubbed “Gladiator School,” and evidence that CCA had fraudulently overbilled the state for thousands of hours of guard duty that were never worked. In early February, the state dropped all claims against CCA in the staffing dispute in exchange for a $1 million payment.

Weatherby said, “I think the question a lot of viewers might have is: What was dishonest in the Balukoff ad? What are they specifically objecting to? And it’s not clear in this ad.” Balukoff’s ad called the settlement with CCA a “sweetheart deal.” Otter's ad doesn't mention the settlement. You can read my full AdWatch story here, along with links to both ads.

Crane drops plan to challenge Bedke for House speaker

House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, has decided against challenging House Speaker Scott Bedke for the House’s top leadership post, Idaho Reports co-host Melissa Davlin reports today on her blog; you can read her full report here. Crane had said earlier this year he was considering a challenge to Bedke, but now says he wants to remain as assistant majority leader.

Legislative leadership positions will be decided during the Legislature’s organizational session, which is set for Dec. 4, after the November election.

Otter met with CCA officials about understaffing issue in 2013, before recusing himself

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who said in two recent debates against challenger A.J. Balukoff that he “recused” himself from settlement talks with the Corrections Corporation of America over understaffing and falsified staffing records at an Idaho state prison because he’d received campaign contributions from the firm - $20,000 since 2003 – participated in meetings with CCA about the issue as recently as 2013, the Idaho Statesman reports today. Reporter Rocky Barker and Cynthia Sewell report that Otter’s former chief of staff, Jason Kreizenbeck, now a lobbyist for CCA, brought the company’s CEO, Damon Hininger, and other CCA executives to Otter’s office on May 28, 2013 to discuss the company’s state contract and the staffing issue.

Mark Warbis, Otter’s communications director, said CCA officials asked for the meeting to apologize for the understaffing and fraudulent billing that later led to a $1 million settlement with the state, and to ask about extending their contract to run Idaho’s largest state prison. “The governor responded that our intention instead was to consider putting the contract out to bid,” Warbis told the Statesman. The newspaper’s full report is online here.

Warbis told the Statesman that Otter recused himself from settlement talks when formal talks started in 2014. CCA had offered to settle the matter with the state for $170,000 prior to the May 2013 meeting, Warbis said. During the meeting, he said, “CCA might have mentioned that offer, but there was no additional discussion of it.”

Last night, Otter’s campaign launched a new TV ad responding to an ad from Balukoff critical of Otter’s handling of the CCA issue; I’ll have a full AdWatch story later today examining Otter’s new ad.

Of endorsements and JFAC…

Two Idaho news outlets have been fact-checking GOP schools superintendent candidate Sherri Ybarra’s claim in a televised debate this week that she has the backing of the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Both found the claim false, documenting that just a few members of the 20-member panel have endorsed Ybarra.

Here are links to the reports from Idaho Reports co-host Melissa Davlin, who also explains the role of JFAC in the public school budget; and from Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin, who reports that Ybarra’s website lists endorsements from 16 of the state’s 105 legislators and two members of JFAC. The Ybarra campaign also sent Corbin an email claiming endorsements from five other JFAC members; that would still be just seven of the 20 members, and just seven of the panel’s 16 Republicans.

 

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 jmairs@sos.idaho.gov 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 spokesman.com 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 spokesman.com.

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 spokesman.com, 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.

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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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