On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby and co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz for a discussion of current events and election politics. Also, Davlin and Kunz discuss Idaho college tuition hikes and the state Republican Party’s platform survey for candidates, and Davlin and Seth Ogilvie interview two legislative candidates facing off in the primary – both Democrats from District 19, Troy Rohn and Melissa Wintrow. It’s the latest in a series of looks at legislative races around the state. The show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.
Poachers are likely killing far more game animals than wolves are, state wildlife officials in northern Idaho say. Officials tell the Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/1jdj31p) in a story on Friday that last year in northern Idaho they confirmed poaching of 30 elk, four moose, 13 mule deer and 57 whitetail deer, according to an AP report from the Tribune. Officials say a realistic detection rate is 5 percent, meaning poachers are likely killing about 600 elk, 80 moose, 260 mule deer and 1,000 whitetail annually.
“It's real easy for people to blow a gasket about wolf predation,” said Idaho Fish and Game District Conservation Officer George Fischer. “They are very passionate about it, they are very irate about it and they are livid about it. Yet there is a two-legged wolf out there that is probably killing as many or more than wolves. Wolves are causing an impact, there is no doubt about it; I don't want to downplay that at all, but two-legged wolves are probably killing more or stealing more game than wolves. That is the shock-and-awe message.”
Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Mike Keckler says poachers strike throughout Idaho. “Poaching is an issue throughout the state,” he said. Click below for the full AP/Lewiston Trib report.
Unemployment in Idaho fell to 5.2 percent in March, the lowest rate in five and a half years, the Idaho Department of Labor reports. That seasonally adjusted rate was the eighth straight month to show a decline; nationally, the rate was 6.7 percent in March, the same as it was in February. You can read Labor’s full announcement here.
County breakdowns showed Kootenai County’s jobless rate was 6.3 percent in March, down from 6.5 percent in February and 7.7 percent in March of 2013. Bonner County was at 7.6 percent, unchanged from February but well below the 9.3 percent from a year earlier. Shoshone County saw a small rise in unemployment from February to March, from 10.5 percent to 10.7 percent, though it, too, had improved from its March 2013 level of 11.3 percent. The city of Coeur d’Alene showed a 5.8 percent unemployment rate in March, down from 7.3 percent a year earlier.
Gov. Butch Otter has been holding a series of mock signing ceremonies for bills he signed into law this year earlier and quietly. This morning, as he celebrated with backers of HB 598, this year’s “cloud services” sales tax exemption bill, Otter was asked why he didn’t just go public when he took the action.
“It was all the timing,” he said. “Quite frankly, every one of the bills, it’s been timing. When we have a mock session, it’s a result of the folks wanting to get together one more time, saying, ‘Job well done,’ and making sure those that worked the hardest on it got the credit for it, and that’s not always possible during the waning days of the session, or the 10 days after.” Otter said if he’d waited to sign HB 598 until all its backers were available, “Then it would’ve become law without my signature, and I was so supportive of this, that wasn’t going to happen.”
The bill expands a law that passed last year to exempt software services delivered through the “cloud” from sales tax, under the argument that those are services, not tangible personal property. This year’s bill is much more broad; the state Tax Commission objected that its fiscal note wasn’t accurate, and its wording could lead to exempting numerous other software sales that could cost the state as much as $40 million a year in lost sales taxes. That would include not only services delivered through the “cloud,” but also downloaded software and so-called “load and leave” software that companies have installed on their systems.
Asked about those concerns, Otter said, “Well, just like with any legislation, it’s going to be a work in progress. And if we’ve got unintended consequences … then we’ll have to make those changes.” He said, “I heard what the Tax Commission was saying. They told me what they were going to say when they went up to talk about it, and I said, ‘Well, then it’s going to be up to you guys to come back and say, ‘Here’s how we achieve what we intended here, but at the same time clean up the unintended consequences that we cause.’”
Joining Otter at today’s ceremony were House Majority Leader Mike Moyle; Idaho Technology Council President Jay Larsen; Kount.com Vice President Rich Stuppy, the council’s chairman; Hawley Troxell attorney Rick Smith, whom Larsen describe as “our tax guru here,” Micron lobbyist Mike Reynoldson; and more. “We had so many industry folks really support this legislation, and we’re so thrilled about this passing and the support we’re getting from our state government,” Larsen said. He said tech folks across the country are “starting to say, 'What's happening in Idaho?'”
Otter signed the bill into law April 4; it takes effect July 1. Its fiscal note says “the fiscal impact is not expected to be significant and is estimated here at $2 million to $5 million annually.”
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A former professional boxer from Idaho who made a name for himself as the “Emmett Eliminator” by smashing his way through the cruiserweight division can add another title: lottery winner. Idaho Lottery officials announced Thursday that Kenny Keene is the Weekly Grand winner and will receive $1,000 a week for 52 weeks. The 45-year-old Keene retired from boxing in 2006 with a 51-4 record. Before retiring, he thrilled fans with a straight ahead brawler style, winning cruiserweight titles from the International Boxing Association, International Boxing Council, and World Boxing Federation. He now runs Kenny Keene's Bail Bonds in Emmett.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has sent an op-ed piece out to Idaho news media urging the Air Force to keep both Idaho bases, Gowen Field and Mountain Home Air Force Base. Otter says he'll make that pitch to Air Force Chief of Staff Mark A. Welsh III when he visits Idaho in May, based on “the tremendous value that both facilities represent.” With expansive flight areas over lightly populated terrain, “extraordinary flying weather,” and strong community support, Otter said, the two bases should be “the darlings of Pentagon planners.”
Otter, who is currently facing challenges in both the primary and general elections in his bid for a third term as governor, writes, “Please support our members of Congress and me in fighting to secure the mission and future of Gowen Field and Mountain Home. If we roll over while Idaho's sentinels of freedom are dithered away, the shame and the loss will be our own.” Click below for his full article.
Emma Atchley of eastern Idaho has been elected president of the State Board of Education, taking over from Don Soltman, who finished up his term as president today; he was elected secretary for the coming year. The board also elected Rod Lewis of Boise as its vice president. “Don has done an outstanding job, and we appreciate all he has accomplished,” Atchley said. “The students of our state are fortunate to have such diligent, thoughtful leaders working on their behalf.”
Former longtime state Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, has been named the new state president of the Idaho AARP. Trail, who served 16 years in the House and is the former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has been an AARP member for 24 years, the seniors group said. He’ll now take on the group’s highest volunteer position, replacing Peggy Munson, who will continue on the organization’s executive council. Munson is a retired geriatric nurse; Trail is a retired college educator with a doctorate in psychology and degrees in education and animal science.
“During my entire career, I served in positions committed to social concerns, education and public service,” Trail said. “This appointment represents a culmination of that work. … I look forward to engaging and energizing volunteers to carry out AARP’s vision, mission and strategic priorities in the state.”
Idaho State Board of Education member Milford Terrell has announced that he’ll step down from the board on June 30, three years before the expiration of his current five-year term. “I’ve served as a volunteer for 30 years for six governors on numerous boards and committees,” said Terrell, who is in his third term on the board. “My wife and I have decided it’s time to scale back on some of these activities.”
Board President Don Soltman praised Terrell, saying, “His wise counsel and tireless efforts will be greatly missed.” It’ll be up to Gov. Butch Otter to appoint a new member to serve out the remainder of Terrell’s term.
The Coeur d’Alene Casino in Worley, operated by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, is advertising a May 2 opening date for its new poker room, saying Idaho’s constitutional ban on poker games doesn’t apply to the tribal-owned casino. The tribe plans to offer Texas Hold ‘Em and Omaha games; poker is widely offered at commercial card rooms across the North Idaho state line in Washington and at tribal casinos in that state. But the Idaho Lottery Commission is objecting, and has requested a review from the National Indian Gaming Commission. “Poker is specifically prohibited in Idaho,” said Jeff Anderson, lottery commission director. You can read our full story here by S-R reporter Becky Kramer.
Idaho’s State Board of Education has approved tuition increases for next year of 4 percent at BSU and the University of Idaho, 2 percent at Lewis-Clark State College and 3.5 percent at Idaho State University. The board trimmed back the requested increases for both BSU and UI, which had sought a 4.7 percent tuition and fee increase; board members said they wanted to hold the hikes to no more than 4 percent. “The board recognizes how difficult it is for our students to bear the cost of their public higher education,” said board President Don Soltman.
The state board is meeting today and tomorrow in Moscow; you can see their full tuition and fee announcement here. Oddly, not addressed in the announcement – but covered in the chart at the end – is Eastern Idaho Technical College’s request for a 6.3 percent increase in tuition and fees, which the board approved. That jumps annual tuition and fees at the school from $2,122 to $2,256. The board’s announcement is headed “Tuition and fees held at low levels,” and notes that full-time tuition and fees in Idaho are low compared to peer institutions both in the west and nationwide.
BSU requested a 6.1 percent increase for full-time students and 1.5 percent for part-time; the board approved 5.5 percent for full-time and 1.5 percent for part-time, for an average across the student body of 4 percent. Tuition and fees to attend BSU full-time will rise from $6,292 this year to $6,640 next year; at the U of I, it’ll go from $6,524 this year to $6,784 next year.
Two of the four Republican candidates for state superintendent of schools didn’t cast votes in the state’s first closed GOP primary two years ago, Idaho Education News reports, and one of the four – Sherri Ybarra – didn’t vote in the 2012 general election in which Idaho voters resoundingly rejected the controversial “Students Come First” school reform laws.
Idaho EdNews reports that Ybarra voted only on the unaffiliated ballot in the 2012 primary, and Jensen didn’t vote at all in that primary, despite a long voting history; he told the news outlet he sat that one out because he didn’t support the idea of closing the primary. “I just think everyone should have an opportunity to vote in the primary election,” Jensen told Idaho Education News today. While he describes himself as politically conservative, Jensen says he avoided aligning with a party for years, in part because his wife has served for 23 years on the American Falls City Council, a nonpartisan post. “We have just always remained nonpartisan in our political endeavors.”
Ybarra offered no explanation for her failure to vote in the 2012 general election, telling Idaho EdNews in an emailed statement, “I am a Republican, with Republican values, since my childhood. The state superintendent of public Instruction serves all students, all parents, and all stakeholders, regardless of when a box is ‘checked.’ Ronald Reagan explained it best: ‘Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.’” You can read the full report here, from reporters Jennifer Swindell, Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin.
A Brooklyn, N.Y. attorney who's never been to Idaho is not only running again for a U.S. Senate seat from the state, after doing the same four years ago – he's also running for Senate seats in Alaska and Oregon this year. “I’m just making myself available to the people of more than one state,” said William Bryk. “The voters have not yet taken advantage of the opportunity to retain my services, but one lives in hope.”
Bryk, 59, is one of two Democrats facing off for the chance to challenge Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch; the other, Nels Mitchell, is an Idaho attorney who announced early and is running a spirited campaign targeting one of Idaho’s longest-serving GOP politicians. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Greg Chaney, who is unopposed on the GOP ballot for a House seat in Canyon County but whose domestic violence and multiple-bankruptcy record caused an uproar in Canyon County GOP politics, announced at a county central committee meeting last night that he’ll stay in the race. The Idaho Press-Tribune reports that Chaney said, “I just want to reassure that it was never my intention to misstate or misrepresent anything that’s happened in the past. I also feel very strongly that I have a unique position to carry the conservative voice forward for Canyon County.”
Chaney said he has found God and changed his ways, and he and his third wife now live frugally; he plans to campaign on a platform of family values and fiscal responsibility. Meanwhile, Brian Bishop, a Harvard-educated attorney in Caldwell, has launched a write-in campaign against Chaney in the GOP primary in legislative District 10. The seat is question is now held by retiring longtime Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — Idaho officials have filed a lawsuit against a timber company and its contractor contending they're responsible for a wildfire that killed a 20-year-old Forest Service firefighter and burned more than 300 acres in northern Idaho. The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1gGpWtJ) the state filed the lawsuit Monday in 2nd District Court seeking an unspecified amount in monetary damages for costs in fighting the fire. Anne Veseth of Moscow died Aug. 12, 2012, after being struck and killed by a falling tree while fighting the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino. The lawsuit names Potlatch Land and Lumber, Potlatch Forest Holdings, Clearwater Paper Corp., Potlatch Corp., and DABCO Inc., a Kamiah-based logging contractor. Idaho officials contend a logging crew started the fire using equipment that didn't meet Forest Service standards required by law.
After a Statehouse press conference yesterday in which 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador and state Treasurer Ron Crane formally endorsed Lawerence Denney in the four-way GOP contest for Idaho Secretary of State, Denney sent out a news release questioning the ethics of current Secretary of State Ben Ysursa for endorsing one of his rivals, Phil McGrane. “I was surprised to see our current Secretary of State endorse somebody in this race,” Denney said. “Because of the appearance of conflict of interest, as Secretary of State, I will not serve as anyone’s campaign chairman for any campaign over which I serve as the chief election judge. Doing otherwise sends the wrong message for the chief elections officer.”
Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports today that Ysursa said he doesn’t count ballots and isn’t playing favorites. “Within these walls, it’s all by the books,” he said. “I think I’ve proven that over 40 years. People who know me know that the fact that I think Mr. McGrane is the best candidate and should be nominated will have nothing to do with the duties of my office.”
Popkey also reported that when Ysursa ran for the post in 2002 after years as chief deputy to then-Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, Cenarrusa endorsed Ysursa in the primary, in which he defeated GOP rival Evan Frasure. Frasure is running again this year, as is former Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise; the winner of the four-way GOP primary will face Rep. Holli Woodings, D-Boise, in November.
The Idaho Debates will feature a series of nine debates in Idaho races in advance of the May 20 primary election, the Idaho Press Club, the League of Women Voters of Idaho and Idaho Public Television announced today. The Idaho Debates have featured face-offs between Idaho election candidates for more than 30 years; this year’s primary debates, broadcast statewide, continue that tradition.
Here are the debate dates and times:
GOP GOVERNOR’s RACE: May 14, 8 p.m. Gov. Butch Otter is seeking a third term; in the Republican primary, he faces opponents including Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian; Harley Brown and Walt Bayes.
SECRETARY OF STATE, GOP: May 13, 7 p.m. Four candidates are facing off in the Republican primary for Secretary of State; the victor will face Democratic Rep. Holli Woodings in November.
2nd CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT, GOP: May 11, 7 p.m. This GOP primary race features longtime Congressman Mike Simpson and challenger Bryan Smith.
IDAHO SUPREME COURT: May 9, 8 p.m. Justice Joel Horton faces a challenge from Boise attorney Breck Seiniger; the primary election is the final contest in this non-partisan race.
LT. GOVERNOR, GOP: May 9, 8:30 p.m. Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little will debate challenger Jim Chmelik.
SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION, GOP: May 8, 8 p.m. Candidates vying in the four-way GOP race for state superintendent of schools will face off; the winner of that primary will face Democrat Jana Jones in the November general election.
STATE CONTROLLER, GOP: May 2, 8 p.m. State Controller Brandon Woolf debates GOP challenger Todd Hatfield.
STATE TREASURER, DEMOCRATS: May 2, 8:30 p.m. Two Democratic candidates for state treasurer, Deborah Silver of Twin Falls and W. Lane Startin of Boise, will face off; the victor in that primary race will face incumbent GOP Treasurer Ron Crane in November.
ATTORNEY GENERAL, GOP: May 1, 8 p.m. Third-term Attorney General Lawrence Wasden faces Boise attorney C.T. “Chris” Troupis in the GOP primary contest.
That’s nine debates on seven days, all in the month of May, all broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television. As always, the Idaho Press Club will provide the Idaho reporters who will serve as panelists questioning the candidates; the League of Women Voters will handle time-keeping duties; and Idaho Public TV will provide the moderators and produce and broadcast the debates.
Two former Boise State University students are suing the school because they say athletic officials ignored their reports of sexual assault and harassment by a star athlete, the AP reports; the women are represented by nationally known attorney Gloria Allred, who has handled similar lawsuits in several other states. They contend that multiple Boise State University athletic officials knew the athlete who abused them had a record of serially harassing and assaulting fellow students, and that the school's failure to take action spurred the athlete to continue the behavior.
The lawsuit says a “men's star track and field athlete” openly sexually harassed female athletes at practices and coaches didn't intervene. BSU relieved its head track and field coach, J.W. Hardy, from his coaching duties in April 2013. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
Monica Hopkins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho since 2008, will leave in May for a similar position with the organization in Washington, D.C., the group announced today. Hopkins' last day will be May 16; in her new job, she’ll be executive director of the ACLU in the Nation’s Capital. The Idaho ACLU said it plans “a very deliberate and thoughtful process” to select Hopkins’ replacement; you can read their full announcement here.
Canyon County GOP politics are in an uproar after the GOP candidate, unopposed in the primary, for longtime Rep. Darrell Bolz’ seat turned out to have a criminal record for domestic violence; Idaho Statesman reporters Dan Popkey and Cynthia Sewell report today that the candidate, Greg Chaney, also has two bankruptcies on his record. He told the Statesman he’s now found God and he and his third wife are living frugally; Chaney’s record was first disclosed last week by the Idaho Press-Tribune.
But here’s the political fallout: Bolz told the Statesman he’s having second thoughts about supporting Chaney – whom he escorted around the Capitol at the close of the session. “It’s very disconcerting, OK?” Bolz told Popkey. A new write-in GOP candidate has emerged for the seat, Brian Bishop, a Harvard-educated attorney in Caldwell and BYU graduate who says he’s very serious about his run. And Chaney now says he might withdraw, after meeting with Bishop tonight at a Canyon County Republican Central Committee meeting. Canyon County GOP Chairwoman Melinda Smyser told the Statesman that all candidates, including Chaney and Bishop, will have a chance to speak at the 7 p.m. meeting at the Canyon County Courthouse, which will be open to the public.
Legislative District 10 is the same one where then-Sen. John McGee resigned in disgrace in 2012 after a sexual harassment scandal involving a female Senate aide, a year after he’d kept his Senate GOP leadership post despite a DUI conviction. The other current District 10 representative, Brandon Hixon, 32, was elected two years ago despite revelations that he’d had five misdemeanors by age 21. Said Bolz, “People are just beginning to wonder what the devil’s going on in District 10.” Popkey and Sewell’s full report is online here.