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Dan Popkey to become Rep. Labrador’s new press secretary

Dan Popkey, longtime political reporter and columnist for the Idaho Statesman, is leaving journalism to become the Meridian-based press secretary for 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, Labrador announced today. “I’ve learned that one has to have an exceptional communications strategy to effectively represent Idaho in Congress,” Labrador said in a statement. “I know that Dan will help me better communicate my message to constituents and the media.”

Click below for Labrador's full announcement. The Statesman announced today that Popkey's resignation, after nearly three decades with the newspaper, is effective immediately.

Troupis: Party needs to unify

Christ Troupis, attorney for Barry Peterson in his unsuccessful lawsuit to remain Idaho Republican Party chairman, said Peterson pursued it in order to address concerns from some in the party that party rules weren’t being followed.  “We don’t want to preserve a conflict,” he said, noting that no appeals were contemplated. Troupis, who unsuccessfully challenged GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in the primary this year, said the party needs to unify.

Peterson accepts ruling, says he won’t run again on Aug. 2

Barry Peterson had this to say after 5th District Judge Randy Stoker ruled he’s no longer chairman of the Idaho Republican Party: “The judge made a ruling, and I’m comfortable with what the judge did.” As for what the party does next, he said, “I’m not the chairman, so it’s not up to me.” Peterson said he won’t appeal and never intended to.

He also said he won’t run for state party chairman on Aug. 2, when the state party Central Committee chooses the new leaders. He said he’s heard of three candidates: Steve Yates, Doug Pickett and Mike Duff. “I’m happy for all of them,” he said.

Christ Troupis, Peterson’s attorney, said Peterson met with Gov. Butch Otter yesterday and offered to resign as party chairman, “And the governor said you can’t resign because you’re no longer chairman,” Troupis said. “Barry wanted the process for the integrity of the party.”

Peterson declined to discuss his meeting with Otter. “We visited on Saturday, on Sunday, and on Monday,” he said. “On each day, I got a different reflection of the governor. … It was clear to me that the lobbyists and his staff had significant influence on his position.”

Judge: Peterson is no longer Idaho GOP chairman

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker today rejected a bid from embattled former Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson to hold onto the chairmanship by blocking a scheduled Aug. 2 state central committee meeting to choose new leaders. “His term has expired,” Stoker told the court.

The judge’s ruling came after extensive arguments that lasted for more than two hours in court this morning in Twin Falls. “This is not a question of this court taking any position with regard to what the Republican Party should do in this state,” Stoker said. “I have no dog in this fight, so to speak.”

The Aug. 2 party central committee to choose new leaders will go forward, the judge ruled. “It is your business what you do there,” he told the party members from both sides. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Some of the back-and-forth in court: ‘The party is in trouble’

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled GOP Chairman Barry Peterson and six supporters, told the court this morning, “We believe the chairman was re-elected at the convention by the delegates.” Judge Randy Stoker asked him, “Let’s go back to what happened at the convention. You agree, it’s undisputed, that the parliamentarian of the Republican Party has publicly said, ‘I made a mistake.’” Parliamentarian Cornel Rasor said after the convention that he erred in advising that adjourning the convention would have the effect of extending current officers’ terms for another two years. “Why is that not the end of this dispute?” the judge asked Troupis. “Isn’t that a political determination?”

“I agree,” Troupis said. “All of those were political actions. The delegates acted in reliance upon the statement, if you adjourn like this, these officers remain in place. The subsequent statement ‘I made a mistake’? Well, there’s a lot of politicians who make those kinds of statements. … Maybe he didn’t make a mistake. … I happen to disagree with him.” Troupis said, “What he said that was relied upon by the convention delegates at the convention, he can’t recant after the convention and say, ‘Oops, my foul.’ The point is the vote was taken based upon what he said.” He added, “I wish the parliamentarian had been more careful at the time, but the fact that he wasn’t doesn’t un-ring the bell.”

That prompted this question from the judge: “I know what your clients think they voted on. … What did the other 521 people think? How am I supposed to know?” Troupis responded, “You can’t.” When the judge suggested the only way to know was to call in all 521 to testify, Troupis said he didn’t think that was necessary. “They were told this is the effect of your vote, and they voted in accord with that,” he said.

Troupis said, “There’s an entire side of the party that is very disgruntled and upset right now and the party is in trouble.” To that, the judge said, “That may be, but that’s not something that I can fix, is it.”

Judge denies motion to dismiss, will hear full Idaho GOP case this morning on merits…

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker has denied the motion to dismiss Barry Peterson’s lawsuit over chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, saying he’ll instead move to hear the full merits of the case this morning, after a 10-minute break. The judge said he believes state statute cites party rules, so they can be enforced by the court. “I think that this case involves both political questions and questions of whether there has been a statutory and therefore a rule violation,” Stoker said. “It’s a mixed issue.” A 1908 Idaho Supreme Court case involving a fight between competing delegations in the Idaho Democratic Party set the precedent on that, he said.

“The court has no stake in who is elected chairman or vice chairman or secretary or treasurer of this party or any other party,” Stoker said. “The issue that I have is are you following the rules, it’s just that simple.” He said his decision to deny the motion to dismiss shouldn’t be taken as a sign he’s leaning either way on the case as a whole. Peterson is seeking an injunction to block the Idaho Republican Party from holding an Aug. 2 state central committee meeting to select new leaders.

Role of First Amendment in Idaho Republican Party case…

Christ Troupis, attorney for Barry Peterson, argued that the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees are implicated in the Idaho Republican Party lawsuit Peterson’s brought in an attempt to keep the chairmanship. “All political activity is First Amendment protected,” Troupis told the court. “Any loss of First Amendment rights is an irreparable injury.”

Tim Hopkins, attorney for the two party officials Peterson sued, told the court, “My God, nobody’s short on freedom of speech in these instances. … I don’t think there’s been any limitation or restriction on anybody’s freedom to speak.” Hopkins said, “The efforts here to create  legal question out of what is clearly a political feud, if you will … It has no sound basis in law for the court’s consideration.”

Judge tells court he’ll decide Idaho GOP case today

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker told the court his morning that he will rule today in the Idaho Republican Party lawsuit, in which two wings of the party are fighting over the chairmanship. “‘This is a very unique proceeding,” Stoker said. “I’m going to give you a ruling at the end of the day.”

More than two dozen people are in the audience. The judge told the court he’s studied all the briefing and affidavits, pored over Idaho Republican Party rules and watched video of the state GOP convention and a rules committee meeting.

Among the arguments: Timothy Hopkins, attorney for party Vice Chairman Mike Mathews and National Committeewoman Cindy Siddoway, told the court: “There are winners and losers inevitably in a political setting like this one, but there is not irreparable injury.” Therefore, he argued, no injunction is warranted.

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled Chairman Barry Peterson, cited Bush vs. Gore and the Idaho closed GOP primary case. “The courts involve themselves in the affairs of political parties every day,” he said.

The audience is quiet and attentive. A sign in the corridor outside warns that a ringing cell phone in court can bring a $100 fine.

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’

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.

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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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