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Eye On Boise

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Idaho’s governor in waiting

If newly re-elected 72-year-old Idaho Gov. Butch Otter didn't complete his full third term, Idaho's new governor would be Brad Little, the second-term lieutenant governor, rancher and former state senator who's been toiling full-time in the part-time, low-paid post since Otter appointed him to it in 2009.

Little's record seems decidedly more moderate than Otter's - he blocked Idaho's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage for two years before reluctantly supporting the final version in 2006. But Little, 60, is an Otter fan who says his differences with the governor are more style than substance. He also says he fully expects Otter to serve out his term, but is ready should he be asked to step up.

That call already has come on a short-term basis: Little has served as acting governor on 247 days since he took office on Jan. 6, 2009. You can read my full story here from today’s Spokesman-Review.

Simpson to Forest Service: Don’t restrict news-gathering, observe 1st Amendment in wilderness

Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson has sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell expressing strong concerns about proposed rules for commercial filming in wilderness areas, asking the Forest Service to make sure the final rule doesn’t place an undue burden on journalists, TV programs, outfitters and guides and other media-related activities that have traditionally enjoyed access to wilderness areas for filming or photography.

“These are people who appreciate wilderness, want to share its values with others, or may want to use their photographs or videos to help promote their business. These are not individuals who are looking to film feature length action movies that would do harm to wilderness areas or involve multiple cameras with large crews and extensive sets,” Simpson wrote.

He also raised First Amendment concerns about the proposed rule, saying it suggests the Forest Service could restrict filming or photography based on content. You can read Simpson’s full letter here. He notes Tidwell’s recent comments, suggesting the rule will be modified so it doesn’t restrict news-gathering. “I am hopeful the final rule will reflect your reasonable interpretation and clearly articulate that legitimate news gathering activities will not require permits in the future,” the 2nd District GOP congressman wrote.

Otter on Reinke resignation: ‘It’s a tough job; Brent has my thanks’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has issued this statement on the resignation of state Corrections Director Brent Reinke:

“I have appreciated Director Reinke’s effort, enthusiasm and empathy throughout my tenure as Governor. It’s a tough job, and nobody in Idaho history has done it longer. Brent has my thanks for his hard work and commitment. I wish him the best in all his future endeavors.”

Reinke took over the Department of Correction in January of 2007, after serving 10 years as the state's director of juvenile corrections; prior to that, he was a Twin Falls County commissioner and business owner.

Reinke resignation letter: ‘It’s time for me to serve in a different way’

Idaho state Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke, in his resignation letter submitted to the Board of Correction today, wrote, “For the past 18 years I have enjoyed the privilege of serving the state of Idaho, first at the Department of Juvenile Corrections and for the past eight years at the Department of Correction. Today, I submit my resignation to the Board of Correction. It's been an incredible run, but it's time for me to serve in a different way.”

Reinke said, “We have truly made a difference for public safety in Idaho these past eight years. The work is not done, but we have a great start.” He thanked and praised the Corrections staff, and signed off with, “As always, I think you for your dedicated service. Remember, 'Safety First!'” You can read his full letter here.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

BLM confirms it’s rescinded permit for wolf, predator derby

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has confirmed that it's rescinded permits it granted two weeks ago for a wolf derby on 3 million acres of public land in Idaho. Joe Kraayenbrink, Idaho Falls district manager for the BLM, said the derby sponsors contacted the BLM's Salmon field office last Thursday with “material and substantive” modifications to how the predator derby would be run. The BLM had spent five months on review before issuing the Nov. 13 permit; Kraayenbrink said at this point, “Ambiguity about details of the Derby operation make it difficult to conclusively determine whether an SRP (Special Recreation Permit) is appropriate under our regulations, and if so what terms and conditions would allow BLM to effectively manage and protect public lands and resources.” 

You can read the BLM's full announcement here. Derby organizers said the event will still take place on private land, as it did last year. No wolves were killed last year, but participants killed 21 coyotes.

Idaho state prisons chief submits resignation

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke is stepping down from his post after leading the department since 2007. His tenure included overseeing the fallout of a private-prison scandal, handling the first two executions since 1994 and enhancing the department's contract oversight. Reinke submitted his resignation Tuesday during a special Idaho Board of Corrections meeting. However, department spokesman Jeff Ray says the board declined to accept his resignation, but will meet sometime next week to finalize Reinke's resignation. Reinke's resignation comes after a 2013 private-prison scandal involving Corrections Corporation of America wrongly telling the state that guards were working shifts that were actually left vacant. The company has since pulled out of Idaho, but the FBI is looking into the situation for possible criminal fraud charges.

Click below for a news release from the Department of Correction.

Stevenson picks up one vote in recount, Election Night outcome unchanged

The recount has been completed in Nez Perce County in the District 6 House race, and the outcome was the same as it was on Election Night: Freshman Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, has lost to Democratic challenger Dan Rudolph. The final figures from the recount showed Rudolph beating Stevenson by 25 votes, down from the 26-vote margin in the final, unofficial count on Election Night; Stevenson gained one vote in the recount. The Lewiston Tribune covered the recount and has a full report here.

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said an audit of the vote-counting machine in the county came out “right on,” with a hand-count of random precincts exactly matching the machine count. “So I didn’t expect any great change in this thing, and there wasn’t,” he said. “And of course the other gentleman has not asked for a recount, and after seeing this, maybe saved his money.”

Unsuccessful GOP challenger Mike Kingsley had considered asking for a recount in the same county after his 48-vote loss to House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston in District 6, but Rusche reported on Facebook on Saturday that Kingsley told him he’d decided against it. “I got a phone call from Mike Kingsley this afternoon,” Rusche wrote. “He told me that he was not seeking to recount our race, and wished me the best for my term of service. Mike was gracious, and I have to admit that as close as the race was I might have considered a recount if things had been reversed. But the history of recounts is that they do not make a large difference in vote totals. Thanks to all who supported me. Congratulations to Mike Kingsley and the Republicans for a tight, well fought race.”

Wolf derby permit reportedly rescinded in face of lawsuit

The permit for a controversial wolf derby in eastern Idaho reportedly has been rescinded by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in the face of a lawsuit. “We have it in writing from their attorney that they’re withdrawing it, and they said they expected to have it withdrawn today and they expected to have an announcement,” said Laird Lucas, director of litigation for Advocates for the West. He said, “BLM’s first-ever approval of a wolf killing derby on public lands undermines wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies and was not in the public interest. So it’s good BLM lawyers realized they needed to yank the permit after we sued.”

BLM officials in Idaho said they couldn’t confirm or deny the news, but are planning a public announcement within the hour.

The derby, which was planned to operate every year for the next five years and target predators including wolves, coyotes, weasels and more, with prizes for those killing the most or top predators, had been initially approved for 3 million acres of public land in Idaho by the BLM. Advocates for the West and Defenders of Wildlife sued, and said the agency received more than 100,000 comments from people strongly opposed to the derby.

“The public spoke loud and clear against this wildlife killing competition and we are glad to see senior officials at the Department of the Interior ultimately respond to the public’s opposition by directing that the permit be withdrawn,” said Suzanne Stone, Defenders of Wildlife senior representative. “By denying the permit, BLM is supporting sound wildlife management practices as opposed to endorsing archaic killing competitions on our public lands that Americans so clearly oppose.”

Lawsuit challenges Snake River dredging

Environmental groups and the Nez Perce Tribe have filed a lawsuit to stop proposed dredging of the lower Snake River to aid barge traffic to Lewiston, the AP reports. The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Seattle, challenges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' approval of a $6.7 million dredging project scheduled to begin next month. Opponents contend barge traffic on the lower Snake River is declining and doesn't justify the dredging, which they say will hurt salmon, steelhead and Pacific lamprey; click below for a full report from AP reporter Nick Geranios in Spokane.

Panel backs changing some misdemeanors to infractions as part of public defense reform

One move to change Idaho’s public defense defense system that’s getting support from an interim legislative committee: Reducing caseloads for public defenders by changing some misdemeanors to infractions, reports Idaho Reports co-host Melissa Davlin. People charged with misdemeanors are entitled to a public defender if they can’t afford their own attorney; not so for infractions, like traffic tickets. Davlin reports that Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, has drafted multiple bills to make such changes; you can read her full post on her blog here.

Lawmakers reject counties’ proposal for state to be in charge of public defense

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers on a committee charged with improving Idaho's broken public defense system have killed a resolution that would have given the state full responsibility for assigning attorneys to indigent defenders. Earlier this year, representatives from the state's 44 counties voted in favor of a resolution calling for Idaho to manage the public defense system. However, members of the Legislature's Public Defense Reform Interim Committee at a meeting Monday agreed that counties should remain in control. According to committee member and Republican state Sen. Dean Mortimer, county officials have local expertise to best address the system. The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho and other legal experts have warned lawmakers since 2010 that Idaho's public defense system is a potential target for lawsuits. The Idaho Association of Counties says the resolution won't be presented again.

Former Sen. Craig appealing federal court decision on misuse of campaign funds for bathroom sex sting defense

Former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, the newly named finance chairman for the Idaho Republican Party, has filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit in Washington, D.C. of a September judge's order that he pay $242,535 to the U.S. Treasury to make up for improper use of campaign funds to cover legal expenses incurred after his 2007 arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Sept. 30 ordered Craig to pay the “amount he was unjustly enriched” by tapping the campaign funds, $197,535, plus a court-imposed $45,000 penalty, “which the Court finds necessary and appropriate to punish defendants’ misconduct and to deter future misconduct by others.”

Craig’s one-page notice of appeal, filed today, simply says he wants to appeal the judge’s decision. He pleaded guilty to one count of disorderly conduct after the arrest, then tried unsuccessfully to rescind the plea; Craig claimed he was on official Senate travel between Idaho and Washington, D.C. at the time of the arrest, so the incident occurred in the course of his official duties and he was justified in tapping campaign funds. Both the Federal Election Commission and the federal judge disagreed. In 2008, the Senate Ethics Committee formally admonished Craig, both for his conduct during and after the incident, and for his use of campaign funds on his legal defense. You can read my full story here at

Suicide prevention hotline marks 2 milestones: 2nd anniversary, and 24/7 operations

The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline will expand to 24/7 staffing this Wednesday, adding Sunday days and Sunday through Thursday overnights to its existing hours. The hotline, at (800) 273-TALK, also is celebrating its second anniversary, and is recruiting volunteers to become trained crisis phone workers, with the next training class set to start Jan. 31. “It’s been a long, challenging but incredibly rewarding journey the past two years to achieve 24/7 suicide hotline response in Idaho,” said executive director John Reusser. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of our amazing funders and community partners, and our dedicated team (of) paid staff, volunteers and interns.”

Idaho has the nation’s eighth-highest suicide rate. You can read the hotline’s full announcement here.

Report finds CdA Basin water quality improving amid cleanup efforts

A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that the cleanup of mining contamination in the Coeur d’Alene Basin has resulted in improved water quality, with concentrations of cadmium, lead and zinc significantly reduced since cleanup activities started in the 1990s, S-R reporter Becky Kramer reports. Overall, the report is “good news for the people of the basin,” said Rick Albright, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup director in Seattle. “We still have a long way to go in our cleanup efforts, but it’s nice to have scientific confirmation that we’ve made solid, measurable progress in reducing metals loads and improving area water quality.” You can read our full story here at

BSU debaters overcome winter travel troubles, win tournament

As we head into this week’s heavy Thanksgiving travel period, here’s a local tale of travel mishaps overcome: Boise State’s Talkin’ Broncos speech and debate team won a major debate tournament – for the fourth straight year – despite a long and harrowing bus trip through winter weather. “Our bus ran into some problems with the snow and ice, and an eight-hour trip turned into a 21-hour trip,” said Manda Hicks, director of forensics, “leaving the competitors with about 90 minutes to change their clothes and go to the tournament. They were running on empty and pushed through to victory.”

The Mahaffey Memorial Tournament in McMinnville, Ore., which took place Nov. 14-16, is a big one for college speech and debate competitors. “Every school wants to win the Mahaffey,” Hicks said. In addition to the team’s tournament win, BSU students won six of the 10 individual events.

Federal grand jury indicts 14 on gang-related drug, firearms charges

A federal grand jury in Boise has indicted 14 gang members and associates of the Norteno, or Northside gang, which is active in Nampa and other parts of the Treasure Valley, for multiple crimes including trafficking in methamphetamine, conspiracy and gun violations. Federal drug trafficking charges carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million.

It’s the sixth major gang prosecution investigated by the multi-agency Treasure Valley Metro Violent Crime Task Force, which includes federal, state and local authorities, since 2009. “These charges mark a significant point in the Metro Task Force’s thorough and aggressive efforts to combat gang violence and drug trafficking in Treasure Valley communities,” said Wendy Olson, U.S. Attorney for Idaho. “Violent street gang members and their associates who engage in criminal conduct have clear and fair notice that law enforcement will identify them, investigate them and bring them to justice. Public safety demands this strong response.” You can read her full announcement here.

Idaho wages grew in 2013, but still just 75.6% of national average

Average wages grew in 36 of Idaho’s 44 counties in 2013, the Idaho Department of Labor reports, although the average wage in the state remained at just 75.6 percent of the national average. That was an improvement from 2012, when Idaho’s average wage was 74.4 percent of the national average.

Ada County’s average wage of $43,937 was above the state average of $37,800, and was 87.9 percent of the national average. Canyon County, at $33,230, was below the state average and 66.4 percent of the national average. Kootenai County, at $34,834, was 69.7 percent of the national average. You can see the Department of Labor’s full report, based on new estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, online here, including breakdowns for all 44 counties.

Boyle on IEN: ‘Crony capitalism, corruption, special favors’

Idaho Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, last week sent a guest editorial out to Idaho newspapers that's sharply critical of the Otter Administration's handling of the now-voided $60 million contract for the Idaho Education Network high school broadband project. “Why did this occur? It is an example of crony capitalism, corruption, special favors for campaign donors, the Governor’s staff moving to lobby and/or work for the very businesses receiving the contracts or from those companies to the Governor’s staff,” she writes. “It is back-slapping, good old boy networks, winks and nods, cover ups, denying involvement, blaming others, attacking those asking questions or with the courage to say the Emperor has NO clothes.” Click below for her full article.

9th Circuit lets Otter file reply, but not 57-page amicus brief

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today granted Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s motion to submit additional arguments in the state’s same-sex marriage case, but rejected without comment his bid to submit a copy of a 57-page amicus brief from a Louisiana case that Otter argued presents “a gold mine of scholarship regarding the practical, real-world impact of redefining marriage.” Otter wants an en banc review, by an 11-judge panel, of the earlier 9th Circuit decision overturning Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, which was made by a three-judge panel. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Idaho since Oct. 15; you can read the court's latest order here.

Idaho AFL-CIO chief: Immigration action ‘rational and humane’

In sharp contrast to statements from Idaho’s all-GOP congressional delegation, Idaho AFL-CIO President Aaron White has issued a statement praising President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. Here’s his full statement:

“We have witnessed an important step toward rational and humane enforcement of immigration law.  On behalf of Idaho’s workers, we appreciate the President’s willingness to act boldly on this matter.  With the extension of work authorization to an estimated 4 million people, the Obama Administration has effectively helped to prevent those unscrupulous employers from using unprotected workers to drive down wages and working conditions for all of us. Unfortunately, more than half of those who currently lack legal protections will remain vulnerable to wage theft, retaliation, and other forms of exploitation.  The labor movement will continue to stand with all workers, regardless of status, to ensure that their voices are heard and their rights are protected.”

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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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