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.
The Republican Governors Association has been touting a video of Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho A.J. Balukoff being asked by a cameraman who he voted for in the 2008 presidential race, a question Balukoff doesn’t answer, saying instead, “I’ll have to see if I can remember.” Today, the Twin Falls Times-News reports that Balukoff’s campaign says he voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and then for Mitt Romney in 2012. Reporter Nathan Brown writes that Balukoff said he considered voting for John McCain in 2008, but decided against it when he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. “As he’s said before, he doesn’t just vote the party line,” campaign spokesman Mike Lanza told the Times-News. “He tries to check individuals and their experience, and what their ideas are and what they represent.”
Balukoff contributed to Romney’s campaigns in both 2007 and 2012.
Lanza said the video was shot by a cameraman who followed Balukoff around the state for a month, and initially declined to say for whom he was filming, but later acknowledged it was for the RGA. The RGA is the biggest outside spender in Idaho’s governor’s race this year, Brown reports, having spent $700,000 on an independent campaign against Balukoff that’s included three TV commercials. The ads seek to tie Balukoff to Obama. The Times-News’ full report is online here.
Lanza told the Times-News, “Gov. Otter’s allies in Washington, D.C. are pulling out all the stops to try to distort A.J.’s positions and record. They’re doing this in order to avoid a conversation about Gov. Otter’s terrible record on education and jobs in his eight years as governor, not to mention that his insider deals for campaign supporters have now cost Idaho taxpayers millions of dollars, with the tab still growing.”
Otter’s campaign, in a news release sent out yesterday with the RGA video, said, “While voters want straight talk, Balukoff continues to avoid concrete facts, even when it comes to simple questions about his voting record. While he can’t recall who he voted for, it is apparent that Balukoff supports a liberal agenda including higher taxes, Obamacare, and the re-introduction of wolves. Balukoff’s stance on issues is a far cry from values important to Idahoans.”
The election is on Tuesday.
Today’s independent expenditure reports – documenting big independent campaign spending in the final days before the election, which must be reported within 48 hours – include an IACI-linked group, the Idaho Prosperity Fund, spending another $50,000 today on literature attacking Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff; the Idaho Republican Party spending $65,416 Monday on mailings supporting Butch Otter, Lawerence Denney and Sherri Ybarra and opposing A.J. Balukoff, Holli Woodings and Jana Jones; and Idahoans for a Strong Economy, a Democratic group, spending close to $140,000 yesterday and today on mailings, broadcast advertising (including radio ads) and literature supporting Jones and Woodings and opposing Denney. You can see the full reports online here.
The 7-day pre-general election campaign finance reports were due by 5 p.m. today. Here’s what they show in the governor’s race: A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor, reported more than $1.04 million in fundraising during the final reporting period, from Oct. 1-Oct. 19, with $995,000 of that coming from his own funds. Overall, Balukoff reported raising $3.2 million to date, more than $2.7 million of it his own money, and spending all but $7,552. (See below for more on this from Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert.)
Libertarian candidate for governor John Bujak reported raising $11,565 in the final reporting period, including $5,000 each from his parents, Joseph and Jean Bujak of Coeur d’Alene; he raised $29,638 year-to-date, including an earlier $10,000 loan to his campaign, and still had $15,080 in the bank at the close of the reporting period.
Incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter reported raising $184,321 in the final reporting period, through Oct. 19, and $2 million to date, and spending all but $157,719 by the close of the reporting period. Both Otter and Balukoff reported that their biggest expenses during the reporting period were for broadcast advertising, with each spending well over half a million dollars.
The 7-day pre-general election reports only cover contributions and spending through Oct. 19, but big contributions in the final two weeks before the election must be reported on separate reports that are due within 48 hours. Both Otter and Balukoff filed 48-hour reports today. Balukoff reported $101,000 in contributions on Monday, with $100,000 of that his own money. Otter reported $18,400 in new contributions on Monday, with $3,000 from Hayden Beverage Co. and $2,500 from Rod Lewis of Eagle the largest on the list.
Also filing a 48-hour report today: Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who reported receiving a $5,000 campaign contribution from Facebook in Menlo Park, Calif. on Monday.
Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert tallied up Balukoff's reports in the governor's race, including the 48-hour reports, and came up with a total of $3.2 million in personal funds Balukoff has put into his campaign all told. Richert also has an overview of top races here, including two more races in which Democrats have out-raised their Republican opponents: Secretary of State, in which Democratic candidate Holli Woodings loaned her campaign another $100,000 and also collected twice as much in donations as GOP rival Lawerence Denney during the final reporting period; and state superintendent of schools, in which Democratic candidate Jana Jones continued to out-raise GOP rival Sherri Ybarra.
Idaho is paying another $10,000 to outside attorneys for its continued appeals of the federal court decision overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. According to records obtained pursuant to a public records request, Gov. Butch Otter’s office has agreed to pay Washington, D.C. attorney Gene Schaerr $10,000 for filing a petition to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals asking the court to have a larger, 11-judge panel re-hear Idaho’s case in an “en banc” review.
The flat fee of $10,000 is just for the petition; the agreement leaves open the possibility of Otter hiring Schaerr to do additional, related work. You can read it here.
That brings the state’s legal bill to challenge U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s May 2014 decision overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage to $91,477 so far, including $86,920 for private attorneys hired to represent Otter. The figure also includes some costs incurred by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office in the original appeal to the 9th Circuit, but Wasden used staff attorneys, so the expenses were small.
The state also could be on the hook for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs for the original federal lawsuit, since the state lost; a pending motion asks the U.S. District Court to order Idaho to pay nearly half a million dollars. The state also could be asked to pay the plaintiffs’ fees and costs for the state’s unsuccessful appeals.
Idaho’s state Land Board has approved a plan to auction off at least 60 cabin sites at Priest and Payette lakes each year for the next three years. That’s beyond an already-scheduled auction set at Payette Lake for January for 36 cabin sites, six of them vacant. In August, the state auctioned off 59 lots at Priest Lake, with nearly all of them selling for appraised value to the people who had long leased the lots and built cabins on them.
The state endowment has been trying to gradually move out of the business of renting lots on which people build cabins or homes; the practice has led to years of legal fights over appropriate rents for the ground under the lakefront lots. Idaho’s Land Board is required by the state Constitution to manage the endowment lands for maximum long-term returns to the endowment.
The lots selected for each year’s auctions would be randomly selected from among those eligible, state Lands Department real estate services bureau chief Kate Langford told the board. Denny Christenson, president of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, said the plan doesn’t give lessees any certainty as to whether or when they’ll be eligible to participate in an auction; he called for instead auctioning 80 Priest Lake lots each year for the next three years. That would bring the most money to the public school endowment the soonest, Christenson said. State Lands Department Director Tom Schultz said the Land Board could add additional lots in subsequent years if it chose. “We are trying to bring you a package we can deliver on,” he said. The board agreed to look into a way to schedule all eligible leased lots for future auctions so lessees know what’s coming.
Christenson also told the board that his term as president of the lessees’ association is nearly up, and the new president will be former Congressman George Nethercutt, R-Wash.
Idaho’s state Land Board today heard an extensive report from a consulting firm, Callan and Associates, on the asset allocation and governance of the state endowment’s assets, whose earnings largely benefit public schools. Among the findings: Timber land is an excellent investment for Idaho’s endowment, and balances the volatility of the endowment’s financial investments. But Idaho commercial real estate is not. The consultants are recommending “prudent divestment” over time from the endowment’s commercial real estate holdings.
When analyzed on the basis of earnings potential, rather than on land appraisals, timber land currently is 39 percent of the endowment’s assets, the review found. “What you have now is good,” Janet Becker-Wold of Callan and Associates told the Land Board. In fact, financial models would support increasing that to 49 percent, she said, though that might not be practical.
Grazing land, on the other hand, is a “marginal investment,” Becker-Wold said, with “a fairly low expected rate of return.” She said, “You can see that what you do on grazing, in the scheme of asset allocation, it doesn’t move the needle.” Grazing land is only 2 percent of the endowment’s assets when analyzed on the basis of earnings potential, the Callan review found. “And yet in terms of land holding, it’s very large,” Attorney General Lawrence Wasden noted.
Stocks and bonds are “good complements” to the endowment's land investments, Becker-Wold said, and the endowment’s current asset allocation is “appropriate.”
As far as commercial real estate, the review found that Idaho commercial real estate is not a good investment for the endowment. A case could be made that up to 5 percent of assets could be invested in professionally managed commercial real estate assets – not in Idaho but nationwide or global, the review found, and not property by property. No good case could be made for enlarging the endowment’s current investments into Idaho commercial real estate.
The recommendation for Idaho’s current commercial real estate holdings: “Prudent divestment,” Becker-Wold said. There should be “no fire sales,” she said, and “no hurry to get out of it,” as returns are “actually very good” at this point. But, she said, “From a broad investment perspective, we think a more diversified portfolio makes sense.” The review still is being finalized; the final version is scheduled to be submitted to the Land Board on Nov. 18.
Lewiston has become the 9th Idaho city to pass an ordinance banning discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, the Lewiston Tribune reports today. The ordinance also bans discrimination based on familial status; it passed on a 5-2 vote of the Lewiston City Council, after an hour and a half of testimony from a standing-room-only crowd.
Lewiston Tribune reporter Joel Mills reports that the public testimony ran about 2-1 in favor of the ordinance, which includes exemptions for religious entities; his full report is online here. Lewiston joins Boise, Ketchum, Moscow, Coeur d’Alene, Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Victor and Sandpoint; Sandpoint was the first, passing its ordinance in December of 2011. Idaho lawmakers have refused to grant a hearing on a bill to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act for nearly a decade, to ban discrimination on those bases; that's prompted cities to act on their own to pass ordinances protecting their residents.
Today’s tally of last-minute campaign spending shows another big broadcast advertising push in favor of GOP Gov. Butch Otter, to the tune of $50,241 by the Idaho Republican Party, which already had launched a radio ad campaign. And another push against Otter’s Democratic challenger, A.J. Balukoff, by the Idaho Prosperity Fund, a political action committee affiliated with the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry business lobbying group; the IACI group spent another $24,012 for broadcast advertising against Balukoff on Saturday, according to 48-hour reports filed with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office.
Meanwhile, the Conservation Voters for Idaho Action Fund reported spending $7,766 on mailings in support of candidates Fosbury, Rudolph and Rubel; and Michael D. Batt of Idaho Falls reported spending $10,198 on radio advertising against Balukoff in eastern Idaho.
Candidates filing 48-hour reports today included Otter, who reported $4,000 in new contributions including $2,000 from K12 Management Inc. of Herndon, Va.; Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who reported $7,000 in new contributions including $4,000 from Midas Gold Inc.; GOP Secretary of State candidate Lawerence Denney, who reported a $1,000 contribution from Todd Mall of Grand Rapids, Mich.; Democratic candidate for state schools superintendent Jana Jones, who reported a $1,000 contribution from high-tech entrepreneur and human rights activist Greg Carr of Idaho Falls; and GOP state Controller Brandon Woolf, who is unopposed for re-election but reported a $1,000 campaign contribution from Potlatch Corp.
Idaho Education News has posted profiles of the two candidates for state superintendent of schools – Republican Sherri Ybarra here and Democrat Jana Jones here – along with profiles of Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff’s education stands, with Otter here and Balukoff here. All four profiles delve into the candidates’ positions on education issues, background, and leadership style. With the election just one week away, it’s some timely reading material…
Sherri Ybarra, GOP candidate for Idaho state schools superintendent, proudly lists among her educational accomplishments “Educator of the Year 2005” and “Educator of the Year 2006.” But she's never been Idaho's Teacher of the Year, an honor that's been bestowed annually since 1959. Nor has she been the Mountain Home School District's nominee for that state competition.
Instead, in 2005 and 2006, Ybarra was among 10 Mountain Home teachers nominated to compete to be the district's representative in the state Teacher of the Year competition. In 2005, she shared that distinction with two other teachers from West Elementary School, one of whom won the district competition; in 2006, she shared it with one other from her school. The school district’s website lists those honored each year as the district’s “Top Ten Teachers.” Idaho also has Superintendent of the Year and elementary and secondary Principal of the Year awards given out by the state school administrators' association, but no official Educator of the Year.
Ybarra has been clear throughout her campaign, when asked about the honor, that it was a local award for which she was selected by her peers. But she's never clarified that on her website or campaign materials. Her campaign didn’t immediately respond Monday to inquiries about the award.
“I think a lot of people would assume it’s a statewide award, or at least a district-wide award,” said Jim Weatherby, professor emeritus at Boise State University and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. “People read something of more significance into that than just a school designation which she shares with another teacher.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The Republican Governors Association launched a new ad targeting A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, today, but it’s virtually identical to the group’s earlier anti-Balukoff ads. The main difference between the latest version and the previous one is that it’s dropped a video clip of Balukoff briefly losing his place during his opening remarks at a gubernatorial debate in Coeur d’Alene, which the ad used to suggest Balukoff “needs a script.”
At that debate, GOP Gov. Butch Otter visibly read from prepared remarks during his 2-minute opening comments, while Balukoff spoke largely without looking at his text – except when he lost his place.
The claims in the ad are identical to the RGA’s previous ad, attempting to tie Balukoff – a Mitt Romney supporter – to President Barack Obama, and suggesting he’d raise taxes and restrict gun rights. You can see my fact-check of the claims in my two previous AdWatch stories here and here.
One other small change in the latest RGA ad: A citation to an April editorial from the Idaho State Journal that misstated Balukoff’s position on property taxes has been dropped, in favor of a citation to a 2006 Idaho Statesman article about a voter initiative that sought to raise Idaho’s sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent to increase school funding. The initiative failed, after the Legislature and then-Gov. Jim Risch raised the tax to 6 percent to reduce property taxes three months before the election on the initiative. You can see the ad online here.
On the last-minute campaign cash front, A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor, had the biggest numbers today, not only collecting two more $1,000 contributions but also putting another $345,000 of his own money into his campaign. That brings him up above the $2 million mark for the personal funds he's put into his campaign for governor. Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter reported another $13,500 in major contributions, according to 48-hour notices filed with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office; that included $5,000 contributions from Hewlett-Packard Company PAC and from Marian Zubizareta of Boise. The other candidate with a 48-hour notice filed today was Democratic candidate for Secretary of State Holli Woodings, who reported $3,500 in new contributions, including $2,500 from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.
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.
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.
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.
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.