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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.

Occupy Boise: Idaho should pay $175K in legal fees

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Members of Occupy Boise are asking a federal judge to order the state of Idaho to pay more than $175,000 in attorney costs and legal fees after the group won a lawsuit over rules designed to curb protests and rallies around the Capitol. Under federal law, the winner of a lawsuit can generally seek to recover attorney's fees and costs from the losing side. The amount must be approved by a judge and can be appealed, just like the verdict itself. The lawsuit was filed in 2012 after the state tried to evict Occupy Boise protesters from a tent city set up near Idaho's Statehouse in 2011. Winmill found that the state's efforts to quell or limit the protest violated Occupy Boise members' free speech rights.

Click below for a full report.

Otter fires off letter to feds saying Idaho won’t take any immigrant kids captured at southern border

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today fired off a letter to three top federal officials declaring that he wants “to immediately eliminate the chance of the federal government using Idaho as a destination or a staging area for the influx of unaccompanied and illegal immigrants entering the United States through our southern border.” There was no indication that Idaho – which borders Canada, not Mexico – had been targeted for any such use; the governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about that.

Otter, in a letter he also copied to the four members of the state’s congressional delegation, wrote, “It should be understood that the State of Idaho and its subdivisions will not be actively involved in addressing the humanitarian crisis the federal government has created. Idaho will not open itself to the unwelcome challenges with which other states have struggled at the federal government’s hands.” You can read Otter’s full letter here.

Otter’s letter was addressed to U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Leon Rodriguez. 

Taxpayers Union releases poll on online taxes, Idaho retailers, lawmaker dispute results

The National Taxpayers Union says it’s conducted a poll in Idaho that shows Idahoans oppose taxes on online sales, with questions such as, “Please tell me if you agree or disagree with the following statement. Out-of-state tax collectors, such as those from the state of New York, should not gain new power to audit and take into New York courts, online retailers who operate from Idaho. Do you strongly agree/disagree with it, or just somewhat agree/disagree with it?” Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they agreed.

But the debate in Idaho has been about national and out-of-state retailers selling their products in Idaho without collecting Idaho’s sales tax – putting local retailers at a price disadvantage. “Currently, a legal loophole, created before the Internet even existed, is encouraging customers to make purchases from online out-of-state retailers so they can avoid paying sales tax,” said Pat Nagel, owner of Idaho Camera and a member of the Idaho Retailers Association. “Our government has put Idaho stores at a six percent price disadvantage. We want to continue serving the customers in our community for years to come but in order for that to happen something has to change – Congress has to pass e-Fairness legislation.”

That’s the legislation the National Taxpayers Union opposes. In announcing its poll today, which the group said was conducted June 3-4, included 400 likely Idaho voters and has a margin of error of 4.9 percent, the group said, “When it comes to a federal law allowing out-of-state tax collectors to reach into the pockets of Idaho’s online merchants, by a 52-32 percent margin Gem State voters have a resounding and simple answer: Just, no!” The poll results were announced today by the NTU and the R Street Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based “free-market think tank” that’s in the midst of a 20-state tour to announce similar poll results.

The group strongly opposes the bill pending in Congress that’s dubbed the “Marketplace Fairness Act” and would allow states that participate in the multi-state streamlined sales tax project to require online retailers who make sales to their states to collect and remit sales taxes. Idaho initially was part of the project, but then dropped out, and lawmakers have been resisting legislation to rejoin, though Idaho retailers have been pushing for the move, saying they’re losing more and more of their business to untaxed online retailers. Idaho law already requires Idahoans who make online purchases from out of state to pay the taxes; they're supposed to report and pay them on their state income tax returns, though few do.

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, who has sponsored legislation on the issue, issued a statement today noting that Idaho passed a new law this year creating a savings account for any future online sales taxes it collects, to be put toward tax relief. “The National Taxpayers Union wants to continue incentivizing Idahoans to shop outside of our state by keeping an outdated tax loophole intact,” Clow said.

You can read Clow’s statement here; and the R Street/NTU press release here. Pam Eaton, head of the Idaho Retailers Association, said, “There are two sides to every story. If Idahoans are going to have an accurate discussion on e-Fairness, all the information has to be laid out on the table.” Her press release was headed, “Don’t let poll fool you – eFairness is good for Idaho.”

 

Morrison Center makes international ranking, thanks to Idahoans flocking to see ‘Wicked’

The Morrison Center on the BSU campus has made the list of the top 50 theatre venues in the world for ticket sales in the first half of 2014, thanks in part to an extended 24-performance run of “Wicked” that drew Idahoans in droves. The 10-story, 2,037-seat performing arts center was listed 44th in the rankings for ticket sales to qualifying national presentations by Pollstar, an international trade publication. “The 2014 season was extremely successful,” said James Patrick, the center’s executive director, who called the “Wicked” run “unprecedented.”

The non-profit Morrison Center opened in 1984; it was a dream of the late Harry Morrison, whose late widow, Velma, championed it; the center’s full name is the Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts.

No changes likely for Idaho insurance exchange customers from conflicting court rulings

After two conflicting appellate court rulings yesterday - in Washington, D.C. and in Richmond, Va. - about whether federal subsidies apply to those purchasing health insurance in states that haven’t set up their own insurance exchanges, Idaho’s exchange, YourHealthIdaho.org, announced that Idahoans should see no change in their subsidies, the Idaho Statesman reports. Amy Dowd, YourHealthIdaho executive director, said in a statement, “As a state-based marketplace, Your Health Idaho has requested official guidance to confirm that this ruling does not impact Idahoans. … As we have known for some time, the benefits of being a state-based health insurance exchange far outweigh Idaho being on the federal exchange. As Idaho transitions to our own technology, we are even more confident in Idaho’s decision to maintain control of the exchange in Idaho.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter issued a statement, the Statesman reported, saying, “While it has no immediate impact on Idaho, I hope the decision in the D.C. case eventually carries the day before the U.S. Supreme Court and leads to the end of Obamacare. But for now, it doesn’t reduce or eliminate federal control over healthcare matters in states with federal exchanges. If anything, the uncertainty from today’s conflicting decisions could make things worse for them.”

Statesman reporter Audrey Dutton reports that almost 70,000 of the 76,000 people in Idaho who bought insurance through Idaho’s exchange are getting subsidies; her full report is online here.

JUMP project to display 52 antique tractors from J.R. Simplot’s collection

The Simplot Corp.’s JUMP building project now under construction in downtown Boise – JUMP stands for “Jack’s Urban Meeting Place” – will house a display of 52 antique tractors that the late J.R. Simplot collected and long wanted to put on display, the Capital Press reports today. Simplot, the Idaho potato and microchip magnate who died in 2008, purchased 110 antique tractors in 1998 at an auction in Billings, Mont., reporter Sean Ellis reports; they include rare tractors from around the world. The JUMP project also will include Simplot’s new corporate headquarters; public art; studios and gathering spaces; an outdoor amphitheater and urban park; you can read Ellis’ full report here.

Mama beaver, kit fail in bid to make Eagle grocery store their new home

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: EAGLE, Idaho (AP) — A beaver and her baby have been captured after trying to get into a southwest Idaho grocery store and will be released into the wild. An Ada County sheriff's deputy responded Monday morning about 6 a.m. to an Eagle grocery store where the adult beaver and her kit repeatedly tried to enter. The Idaho Humane Society arrived and captured the pair near a bin filled with willow bundles and turned them over to another group. Animals in Distress spokesman Tony Hicks says the beaver and her kit will be released north of Idaho City in an area with plentiful willow and aspen bark. Hicks says it's not clear why the two left several ponds near the grocery store.

Land Board members laud record earnings from both lands, endowment fund

The state Land Board, which consists of the state's top five elected officials and is chaired by the governor, has sent out an opinion piece to Idaho news media hailing the endowment's record earnings in the past year, from the record 18.8 percent return on investments in the endowment fund to a 14-year high of $102 million from state endowment lands. That included the take from a record 347 million board feet of timber that was logged from the endowment lands, part of it consisting of trees that had been damaged by wildfire or insects, and from a hotly bid-for $1 million lease to use state lands to recreate Evel Knievel’s 1974 attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls. “Together with our state land managers and the fund managers who invest the revenues they work hard to generate, we’re showing Idahoans that active management of State endowment trust lands and prudent investment of financial assets benefit us all,” the board said in the piece; you can read it in full below.

Idaho's endowment chiefly benefits the state's public schools, which are the beneficiary for 85 percent of the state's endowment land. The other beneficiaries, which like the schools were designated at statehood, are the agricultural college (U of I); charitable institutions (a catch-all that includes Idaho State University, industrial training school, State Hospital North, Idaho veterans homes, and the School for the Deaf and Blind); normal school (covers ISU Department of Education and Lewis-Clark State College); penitentiary; school of science (U of I); mental hospital (State Hospital South); University of Idaho; and the Capitol endowment. 

New 80 mph speed limits to take effect Thursday, but only once signs are up…

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Transportation Department says speed limits on rural sections of interstates in the southern part of the state will go up to 80 mph starting Thursday. That's an increase from 75 mph on rural sections of Interstates 15, 84 and 86. Speed limits for trucks will increase to 70 mph. The agency says speed limits on interstates in urban areas will remain unchanged at 65 mph. Speeds will also not increase in northern Idaho. Agency officials say the speed limits won't increase until signs are put in place. Lawmakers approved the increases earlier this year.

Sen. John Goedde, former Sen. Melinda Smyser among those passed over for Board of Ed

Among those Gov. Butch Otter passed over for the two recent state Board of Education openings, to whom he appointed David Hill and Debbie Critchfield: Outgoing Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene; former Sen. Melinda Smyser, R-Parma; Trudy Anderson, a retired associate vice president from the University of Idaho; and more. Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert writes today about the selection process, including what both Hill, a former top official at the Idaho National Laboratory, and Critchfield, a board member and current public information officer for the Cassia County School District, said in their applications. You can read his full report here.

Judge: ‘I respect your courage in doing what you did’

The “Add the 4 Words” sentencing hearing has finally wrapped up at nearly 5:45 p.m. Boise time. Judge Michael Oths thanked all those involved – the lawyers, the defendants, the clerks, the marshals, “everybody.” He said, “Everybody’s been respectful of one another today,” adding to titters, “which really is all you’re asking for in the first place. And so I appreciate that.”

He thanked the defendants for sharing their stories. “I respect your courage in doing what you did,” the judge said. “It does take some guts to stand up in civil disobedience and take the penalty, and I respect that.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Protesters’ fines, service hours pegged to number of arrests

Many more people have been sentenced this afternoon, all receiving community service and court costs and some small fines for misdemeanor charges stemming from their arrests at protests at the state Capitol this year in favor of amending the Idaho Human Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Under agreements previously reached, they’re getting 10 hours of community service for each time they were arrested, so someone with two arrests gets 20 hours of community service plus court costs, and the second charge is dropped. Those arrested only once had their charges dropped. Those with higher numbers of arrests - four or more - also are receiving fines at $10 per arrest, like James Tidmarsh, who was arrested five times, pled guilty to two counts, and received a $50 fine, 50 hours of community service and court costs.

Rebecca Lampman of Bruneau, who described herself as a dairy farmer, a mother and a Girl Scout leader, was arrested twice and received 20 hours of public service plus court costs. “I was told by a neighbor at my home that I should be ashamed for publicly supporting ‘those people,’ but I want you to know that I am not,” she told the court. “Silence solves nothing. In fact, with my three children watching, I’m afraid that they might get the message that this response … is in fact appropriate.” She said, “I am ready to accept the consequences of my actions.”

Roughly two dozen people are being sentenced in this hearing this afternoon, but dozens more already have been sentenced, all receiving their penalties under the same formula. In total, 109 individuals have been sentenced for 192 misdemeanor violations incurred at the protests.

Dan Skinner, the Boise lawyer who organized 20 pro-bono attorneys to represent the arrested protesters, said, “I honestly feel like it's a duty for attorneys to work for civil rights. In my mind this is just a continuation of what happened 50 years ago from a legal perspective.”

Protesters tell their stories, receive fines, community service

Among the many people coming before the court for sentencing this afternoon for the “Add the 4 Words” protests at the state Capitol this year:

Judy Cross, who was arrested five times in Add the Words protests, said her first arrest was in 1969, two days after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, after she marched hand in hand with other protesters. “Our crime was holding hands with a black person,” she said. Cross said her husband is a gay Episcopal priest who lost his position because he was gay. “It affected our whole family,” she said. “We lost half our income, we lost our house, our four kids were bullied and harassed at school.” She said, “This has got to change, this has absolutely got to change.” Cross received a $50 fine, 50 hours of community service and court costs.

Keith Blazor, 20, told the court he stood silent after he and his roommate were attacked outside their apartment complex. “She ended up having to have facial reconstructive surgery,” he said. “We were put into a position where we had to either defend ourselves publicly and risk losing our jobs and possibly our apartment, and I refused to do any of the interviews. … She was brave and she did that.” He said members of the transgender and gay community in Idaho sometimes “decide to stay silent and that shouldn’t be the case,” and that’s what brought him here today. He received 20 hours community service and court costs.

Emily Jackson Edney said, “I take full responsibility for the actions that brought me before this court today.” Edney told the court, “I am the T in LGBTQ,” as a transgender person. “But I am so much more than that. I am a son and a daughter of this magnificent city and wonderful state. I am a parent, a grandparent, and soon to be a great-grandparent.” She said, “I have experienced discrimination in this state because of my gender identity and expression. The most egregious was by medical practitioners. … I have no avenue of recourse and neither do my brothers and sisters.” Gay and transgender people should not be “fair game for discrimination and bigotry,” she said. She was sentenced to 30 hours community service and court costs for trespassing in the protests.

Caleb Hansen, the only person today to choose to represent himself rather than have an attorney represent him, said he’s a small business owner in Meridian. “I had no idea that it was legal to discriminate in Idaho based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said. “Most people I’ve talked to since I’ve become involved in the issue had the same reaction as I did, first disbelief, is that real? Second, a little bit of embarrassment. … This is 2014.” He said most people “remain silent,” assuming the government will do the right thing. “Our state Legislature has known about it for nine years now and refused to even hear it,” he said. “So for that reason I went to the state Capitol.” Hansen received 20 hours of community service, with credit for eight hours served in jail based on an earlier agreement, along with court costs.

Ty Carson, who received a $60 fine and 60 hours of community service for two charges, told the court, “No Idahoan, not one of us, should have to live in fear.”

Sentencing hearing: ‘These are moral individuals’

After the break this afternoon, attorney Phillip Gordon – one of 20 lawyers who volunteered to represent the “Add the 4 Words” protesters for free after their arrests – told the court on behalf of his three clients, Salem Djembe, Deborah Graham and Dan Fink, that it’s the first time in his career he’d rather be in court as a defendant than as defense counsel. He said he was “proud, privileged, and very humble” to stand in their presence. “Two of my clients are clerics, and they are acting from the depths of their spiritual traditions,” Gordon said. “These are moral individuals, these are people committed to justice.”

Djembe told the court he was a foster child, and was diagnosed with severe PTSD and depression resulting from his experiences being a transgender person. Now, he’s a foster parent himself, and works to help children at risk including LGBT youth. “There was no one to step up for me at the age of 16 and 17, so it’s my job to do this now,” Djembe said. “I’ve done my part, and I am not ashamed one little bit. … I did that for those kids that are coming.” He received 20 hours of community service and court costs as his sentence.

Graham, an Episcopal priest, received 30 hours of public service and court costs. “It is my duty not just as a Christian but also as a citizen to work peacefully to change laws that harm others,” she told the court. “With my whole heart, mind and soul, I do not want to see more Idahoans suffer discrimination because of who they fall in love with, or suffer severe depression, as I have, because they gave up hope that they could live openly as the person they were created to be, without fear of discrimination.”

Dan Fink, rabbi of Boise’s Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel, pleaded guilty to a single charge of trespassing; he’d been arrested three times in the protests. He received 30 hours of community service and court costs. “Quite a few of the members of my congregational family have indeed suffered harm,” Fink told the court. “My work with ‘Add the 4 Words’ was the least that I could do.”

Protester at sentencing: ‘Simply our duty to work for justice’

After completing the first three sentencings, the court has now gone to a short recess. After former Sen. Nicole LeFavour, those sentenced so far were:

Joseph Kibbe, a 35-year-old gay man who shared how he found his best friend after the friend’s suicide, and who got a $60 fine and 60 hours community service after pleading guilty to two charges and having four others dismissed. Kibbe said afterward that he felt “relieved” to finally be able to share his story, “after not even being afforded that opportunity for the last nine years. It’s just obviously the beginning of a very robust public dialogue,” he said, “but I feel relieved at this point.”

Terry McKay, 66, a retired school bus driver who has cancer, who got 20 hours of public service for a single charge. “If the Idaho Legislature had just given us a hearing, all we were asking for at this point was a hearing, all of this could have been avoided,” McKay told the court. McKay heaped praise on the law enforcement officers involved with the arrests of the protesters, whom he called “exemplary.” He said, “In our Jewish tradition we have a concept of tikkun olam, simpy translated to repair the world. That makes it our duty, simply our duty, to work for justice.”

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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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