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Eye On Boise

Archive for September 2004

No chad left behind

Fourteen Idaho counties still use punch-card ballots, just like those involved in the infamous “hanging chads” controversy in Florida four years ago. They include Ada County, the state’s most-populated, along with North Idaho’s Shoshone and Latah counties, north-central Idaho’s Clearwater and Nez Perce counties and ritzy Blaine County of Sun Valley fame.
But all Idahoans have to do to avoid “hanging chads” – bits of punched-off ballot that don’t completely detach and could interfere with the counting of the vote – is follow the instructions.

Official instructions, posted on the Idaho Secretary of State’s Web site in its 2004 Voters Guide, show exactly how to vote on each type of ballot used in Idaho. Click on a punch-card county, and you’ll see step-by-step, illustrated instructions on how to insert the ballot into the holder, punch the ballot to vote, and how to record a write-in vote. Here’s the final step:

“After voting, withdraw the ballot card. Inspect it to be sure all holes are cleanly and completely punched out. Remove any loose chads as illustrated.”

The drawing shows a hand picking off a little hanging bit from the back of the ballot. That’s all it takes.

“Our ballots are clean. The people know what to do with ‘em,” Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said. “People, I think, are more cognizant than ever about pulling out their card and looking at it.”

Landmark decision

The Idaho Supreme Court’s ruling in McGriff vs. McGriff paradoxically sets a major legal precedent by ruling that a parent can’t lose custody of his or her children simply because of the parent’s sexual orientation, but still affirms a lower court’s decision to end joint custody of Shawn and Theron McGriff’s two daughters and allow the father visitation rights only if he is not living with his male partner.

In its 4-1 opinion, the court wrote, “Homosexuality in and of itself cannot be a circumstance upon which custody can be modified.” That was the basis on which the mother sought to end the joint custody arrangement, which had the kids shuttling between the parents twice a week.

However, the lower court found that there were other reasons to change the arrangement, including the father’s refusal to communicate with the mother, and the male partner’s alleged telephone harassment of the mother and hostility toward her. A court-appointed evaluator recommended that joint custody continue, and noted that the children didn’t want a change. But he also recommended joint counseling, which the father refused to attend.

Justice Wayne Kidwell dissented, saying the ruling on the law was correct, but the custody decision by the lower court shouldn’t have been upheld. “A review of the record, the pleadings and oral argument before this court make it clear that Theron’s sexual orientation was wrongfully taken into consideration by the lower court and now the majority opinion,” Kidwell wrote in his dissent. “This should not be the law of Idaho and is undesirable public policy. Therefore, I respectfully dissent.”

Justice Dan Eismann concurred in the result of the decision, but apparently not in the legal arguments. However, he offered no dissenting view.

Jack Van Valkenburgh, head of the Idaho ACLU, said, “Idaho’s court is now one of the first supreme courts in the nation to acknowledge that sexual orientation, by itself, can’t be a factor in modifying custody.” But he expressed disappointment at the custody decision. Kidwell’s dissent, Van Valkenburgh said, was “absolutely right.”

It’s a case that reaches to sensitive subjects in society today, from the rights of homosexuals to live their lives, to the pain of divorce, to the role of courts in determining what is in the best interest of children when parents disagree. You can read both the decision and the dissent online; see what you think.

So you know

Want to know what you should, or shouldn’t, do if you’re stopped by the police? Or questioned by the FBI? Or detained at an airport? What rights you have, and what the consequences are if you don’t want to talk? The Idaho American Civil Liberties Union has published a “Know Your Rights” brochure to answer such questions. It’s on the web in English now; it’s being translated into Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Punjabi and Hindu.

Could ya spell that?

With 16 new state Department of Lands employees being introduced to the state Land Board on Tuesday, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne recalled his first job out of college – working for the state Lands Department – and remembered being brought to a Land Board meeting and being introduced.

“I was then asked by then-Gov. Cecil Andrus to please spell my last name,” he said to chuckles. “It wasn’t a household word.”

Lands is adding the workers, who include foresters, resource managers and more, as it ramps up timber sales on state endowment lands, a move approved by lawmakers to try to cut more big trees. Many of those introduced Tuesday will be working in North or north-central Idaho.

Kempthorne recalled that his first workspace as a state employee was a small office downstairs in the state Capitol. When he was governor-elect, he was assigned the same office to use during his transition.

“You have a great career ahead of you,” Kempthorne told the workers. “One of you may be governor at some point. Take care of the furniture, because you may get to use it again.”

Butler is dead

There’s not much mourning going on in Boise for Richard Butler, the longtime Aryan Nations white supremacist leader who died in his sleep and was found Wednesday morning in Hayden. Butler’s racist group gave Idaho a public-relations black eye that lasted for decades, but it also inspired some of the nation’s strongest laws against hate crimes, and sparked a well-organized network of highly active human rights groups across a state whose population is becoming increasingly diverse.

“I know this is not the effect that he would have wanted to have,” said Idaho Human Rights Commission Director Leslie Goddard. “I think people disagreed so strongly with his opinions that it caused folks who might otherwise not have done so to examine their own beliefs and their own prejudices, and be willing to speak out in favor of human rights.”

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne had no comment.

Pirouettes of politics

Both little-known third-party candidates have made the ballot in a majority of states, including Idaho and Washington. But a map on Peroutka’s site that shows which states includes a key noting that in the blue-shaded states, he’s “ON THE BALLET.”

Idaho Water Center opens

A large crowd of appreciative state legislators and University of Idaho alumni marked the official opening of the Idaho Water Center, the last remaining piece of the UI’s failed University Place project in Boise. While the other planned buildings were canceled amid a whirlwind of scandal and debt that toppled former UI President Robert Hoover, the water center is opening with offices, classrooms and labs for the UI’s Boise engineering classes, the Idaho Water Resources Research Institute, the Idaho Department of Water Resources, the Ecohydraulics Research Group, and the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station.

UI President Tim White said the new center will give students opportunities to work hand in hand with world-class scientists, and tours showed off everything from a planned giant research flume for studying mountain river dynamics to a combustion lab where if all goes wrong, the far windows are designed to blow out to relieve pressure.

Senate Education Chairman Gary Schroeder, after touring the six-story building that’s still being finished up, quipped, “I think they’ve got a lot of empty offices – they oughta put the House over here.”

That would put the larger body a good 10-minute walk away from the state Capitol, where the Senate has its digs and House members have their chambers, but little office space.

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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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