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Eye On Boise

Archive for April 2005

Republican announces Democrat’s run?

Got a surprising news release a few minutes ago from Sheila Sorensen’s congressional campaign. Sorensen, a former longtime GOP state senator, is running for the District 1 congressional seat that Butch Otter will vacate in two years to run for governor. The heading on her release?

“SORENSEN EXCITED TO FACE LAROCCO IN 2006 GENERAL ELECTION”

Larry LaRocco, a Democrat, held the 1st District seat for two terms in the early 1990s, before losing the seat to Helen Chenoweth. But LaRocco, who’s pondering making the race, hasn’t announced yet.

“I think there’s a good chance to win that seat back – I’ve been the only Democrat that’s held that seat in the last 30 years,” LaRocco told KBCI-TV in Boise today. The TV reporters then contacted Sorensen for comment, and her campaign put out the press release.

“I look forward to debating Larry in 13 months, to highlight who’s better able to ensure less federal intrusion and greater personal responsibility,” Sorensen said in her release.

She and Republican Norm Semanko have been campaigning for several months; others still are expected to join the race for the open congressional seat.

LaRocco, reached by phone a few minutes ago, said, “I’m looking at the race, I’m serious about it, and I’m giving myself until the end of May to make up my mind.”

Meanwhile, word is that Sandy Patano, the Coeur d’Alene aide to U.S. Sen. Larry Craig who’s been rumored as a candidate, has decided not to run, and state Controller Keith Johnson likely will announce his candidacy for the seat next month.

North Idaho student wins national contest

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was helping 11-year-old Christy Reid of Hayden Lake unveil her award-winning Arbor Day poster this morning when a spindly, wooden easel collapsed, causing the governor, Christy, and Christy’s art teacher, Kim Washko, to make quick grabs for the framed poster. It survived, and was unveiled to applause in the Capitol rotunda.

Christy’s colorful poster, “Trees are terrific – and energy wise,” took first place not only in Idaho, but in the national contest as well, winning the home-schooled fifth-grader a trip to Washington, D.C., a $1,000 savings bond and a lifetime membership in the National Arbor Day Foundation.

Christy – the second Idahoan to win the national contest, after Hannah Joy Coad of Cataldo won in 2003 – said she really does think trees are terrific. “They’re really good for shade, and I like that,” she said. “They shield little animals. … They also give us air and stuff. Trees are really beautiful, too.”

Three on the line?

Idaho Commerce and Labor Director Roger Madsen said he’s already been in touch with three out-of-state companies interested in Idaho’s new corporate headquarters tax incentives, which Gov. Dirk Kempthorne signed into law Wednesday morning. “I have had personal contacts with three executives from major companies, and there’s more to come,” Madsen said.

The legislation, HB 306, provides an array of sales, income and property tax breaks to any company that creates 500 new high-paying jobs in Idaho and invests $50 million into new facilities in the state. “It was widely viewed as an aggressive effort by the state to try to keep Albertson’s here and to encourage them to grow in Idaho,” Kempthorne acknowledged as he signed the bill. “As I’ve said all along, I hope that’s the case.”

But, the governor said, “I wanted an incentive package that had much broader application, and that can be used by any Fortune 500 company.” He told Madsen, “I want to encourage you to get packed, because you’re going to be out recruiting. You now have a tremendous tool.”

Opponents of the bills contended Idaho would be better off investing in improving its education system than in business tax breaks, but the legislation passed overwhelmingly in both houses. House Speaker Bruce Newcomb said, “I think it’s important that we provide a good business environment, which this helps do, so that companies come here and companies stay here and we can provide a good future for our children.”

Not-so-Swift Mining

The Idaho Land Board voted unanimously this morning to affirm its staff’s decision to reject two mineral lease applications from Jonathan Swift Mining Co. to lease two stretches of the bed of the Coeur d’Alene River – in the Bunker Hill Superfund site – to mine underwater lead, zinc and silver.

“Have we had conversations with the people up north to determine what their real intention is here?” asked state Controller Keith Johnson. State Lands Director Winston Wiggins responded, “My only conversations … the company believed they could remove these sediments and simultaneously make a profit from these sediments while cleaning up the river. … It seems a little bit out of the realm of realism that that could be possible.” But Wiggins said if there’s new technology that allows that without affecting water quality in the Superfund site, and if the EPA signs off on that, the firm could always reapply.

The DEQ sent a letter noting that if the state authorized mineral leases in a Superfund site, it could become a “potentially responsible party” for pollution there and be held jointly and severally liable for all cleanup in the site – retroactively.

‘It can be done’

U.S. Rep. Butch Otter joined the Idaho Financial Literacy Coalition for a press conference on the state capitol steps today, kicking off a month of efforts urging Idahoans, young and old, to become more financially literate.

Idaho Department of Finance Director Gavin Gee said the consequences of financial illiteracy can be “sad and tragic,” including falling victim to financial fraud and identity theft. Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has declared this “Financial Literacy Month” in Idaho, and many classes and outreach efforts are planned this month, targeting everyone from high school students to seniors. The focus is on budgeting, saving, investing wisely, and getting out of debt, along with such topics as retirement planning. A 2004 national report estimated that one in four American workers is seriously financial distressed.

Asked his personal advice to youngsters, as someone who rose from humble beginnings to great wealth, Otter recalled how his family struggled to provide for 10 children. “We had a lot of questions in our family of where the next meal would come from, but we had a mother and father who were very budget-conscious,” he said. “It was a long time before I ever got a pair of new shoes.” Otter said his parents’ financial advice – live within your means, work hard and save – is the same advice that works today. “I guess my advice is it can be done,” Otter said.

Of course, it also helps, as Otter did, to marry the daughter of the richest man in the state – but he didn’t mention that.

The third-term congressman and candidate for governor – other announced candidates so far include Idaho Falls newspaper publisher Jerry Brady, a Democrat, and Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, a Republican, also is expected to run – told Gee and Idaho Financial Literacy Coalition President Valerie Brooks that their financial literacy advice is needed in Congress. “Gavin and Valerie, I’ve gotta tell you that I could use your help, because I’ve got a class of about 400 back in Washington, D.C. that could use some financial literacy,” he said to laughter.

Brooks responded, “Next week I’ll be in D.C., so if you want to set up an education session, I’ll be glad to help with that.” Otter said, “We’ll call it Economic Literacy 001.”

It’s worth ten bucks

Chuck Oxley, Associated Press reporter, said one of the toughest moments of the legislative session for him came when he had to pay Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis $10, because he’d lost his bet. When the Senate amended its internal rules earlier this session to allow closed committee meetings at any time, for any reason, Davis said the rule wouldn’t be abused and there probably wouldn’t be any closed meetings this session – and Oxley bet him there would.

However, Oxley said, “I told him if it costs me 10 bucks a session to keep you from closing meetings, I’ll gladly give it to you.”

There it is - it’s done

At 4:54 p.m., the Idaho Senate adjourned sine die, ending the fourth-longest legislative session in Idaho history.

House has adjourned, Senate goes on…

The House adjourned sine die at 3:50 p.m., but the Senate’s still going. It’s passed its last bill, but now is debating whether to add “legislative intent” promising to pay back cities and counties in the future for a lost windfall this year - from liquor funds that the state grabbed for a water settlement.

Senate gives GARVEE final passage

The Senate has just passed the amended GARVEE bill on a 30-3 vote, sending it to the governor’s desk. That means the governor’s giant, statewide highway bonding plan is a go.

All in good fun

Remember that mine-tailings bill that went down amid consternation over the prospect of dredging the Coeur d’Alene basin? Its sponsor, Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, still is lamenting the death of the bill in the Senate, after it had passed the House, as a low point of this year’s session. In the spirit of the laughter that’s spread through both houses today, here’s a little rhyme:

If you go down to St. Maries
Ask who believes in tooth fairies
They vote for a man
Who sees riches in plans
That others call Superfund-scary.

They’re into ‘bondage’

During the heated debate on the GARVEE bill in the House, Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said, “They don’t call ‘em bonds for nothing. Bonds is just short for bondage.”

Other opponents picked up on that theme, and criticized the “bondage” Idaho’s moving into. “This scares the daylights out of me,” said Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, who also referenced the Depression and the gold standard.

All of North Idaho’s representatives voted in favor of the bill except for Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries. Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who had opposed it earlier in committee, switched and voted in favor.

Senate passes two water bills

The Senate has passed the first two water bills – HB 373, allowing bonding by the Idaho Department of Water Resources, and HB 374, expanding the role of water districts and providing for fees – on overwhelming votes, and taken a lunch break until 1. Meanwhile, the House debate on the road bill is still going.

We’re rhymin’ along

This one needs a bit of set-up, unfortunately, if you didn’t pay close attention to the House debate this week on the cigarette tax. It happened on Monday, just as tobacco-growing North Carolina was poised to play that night for the NCAA championship. Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, the bill’s House sponsor, declared in his thunderous opening debate that if Idaho’s cigarette tax were to drop back down to 28 cents a pack – something the bill prevents – “I’ll be king of North Carolina tomorrow.” So here goes:

Jim Clark raised his voice on the floor
Said “cigarette taxes” once more
‘If they should decline
I’ll rule North Caroline’
So they passed it before he could score.

Lawmakers laud ‘Dynamite’ movie

A resolution honoring the two Idahoans who made the hit film “Napoleon Dynamite,” which is set in Preston, Idaho and features lots of local not-quite-profane expressions, brought much merriment to the House this morning.

Amid the jokes, a House member insisted on a roll-call vote on the resolution, which could’ve just passed by a voice vote. House Speaker Bruce Newcomb then declared, “Remember, those that vote ‘no’ are freakin’ idiots.” As the House’s voting board lit up, there was lots of laughter, but then the green lights lit up and the resolution passed unanimously, 69-0. Newcomb said, “The speaker would just like to point out that I’m relieved, because I was concerned that there were some freakin’ idiots in this place.”

The resolution includes some tongue-in-cheek takeoffs on the high-minded merits of various features in the film, along with a heartfelt commendation of Jared and Jerusha Hess for their work.

Amendments go on quickly

The House has made quick work of slapping on the compromise amendments to the governor’s highway bonding bill. Now, all that remains is the final debate and passage of the bill in the House – which still could be interesting.

With all due apologies, here’s a little rhyme about what we’ve been seeing:

When Governor Dirk got mad
There was lots of red ink in his pad.
Though lawmakers squawked
They started to talk
And just changed his road bill a tad.

Unanimous vote for road bill

The House Transportation Committee just voted unanimously to send the full House the governor’s highway bill, with compromise amendments attached. “I know the angst and I know the tension that was in the negotiations,” said Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, who had been one of the biggest opponents – but made the motion just now to move the bill on. He complimented the governor’s staffers for their work to compromise on the issue.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said, “I think this is a pretty exciting concept that we’re adopting today.” The governor’s plan calls for bonding against future federal highway allocations to do $1.6 billion worth of major road construction across the state – including major upgrades to U.S. Highway 95.

The crowd spilled out of the packed hearing room for the Transportation Committee meeting, and after the vote, people traded handshakes and muttered, “All that for a unanimous vote!”

Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes slapped House Speaker Bruce Newcomb on the back and said, “Boy, Speaker, you know how to broker a deal.” “I tell you what, I’m ready to go – how ‘bout you?” Newcomb responded. “I agree, it’s time,” Geddes said.

The two leaders said the legislative session – now the fourth-longest in state history – likely will end on Thursday.

They’ll starve ‘em out

There was laughter in the House when Majority Leader Lawerence Denney made this announcement: “Since tomorrow starts the first day of our new diet, there will not be any food in the House lounge.” The House then honored its chef and assistant with a standing ovation.

Their departure increases the chances that the House will do as its leaders are hoping: Wrap up this over-long legislative session tomorrow and adjourn sine die, which means without a date to start up again this year – or, basically, for good.

However, both houses have now adjourned for the day, with plans to come back tomorrow morning. That means there’s still work to do – in addition to the highway bill, there are the remaining vetoed bills to address, the Senate has not yet taken up major water legislation, a controversial bill partially closing a tax loophole for developers still awaits amendments in the Senate, etc. Meanwhile, it’s already daylight savings time. This is now the fourth-longest legislative session in Idaho history – eclipsed only by 1967’s 89-day session, 1983’s 95 days and 2003’s record 118 days. Today is this year’s 86th day.

They’re getting closer

Things are changing minute by minute, but at this point, though they’re getting closer, there doesn’t yet appear to be a deal between the governor and the House Transportation Committee on the governor’s highway legislation.

“I think we’re at 7-7 as far as a committee,” said Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, a member of the House Transportation Committee. He said the five supporters of the governor’s bill picked up two more – Reps. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, and Mike Mitchell, D-Lewiston – with the governor’s latest compromise offer. The governor has offered to cap the amount of Idaho’s federal highway allocation that can be spent for the statewide bonding program at 20 percent for the first four years, and 30 percent in the fifth year, with legislative approval required to raise that after that point. But the holdouts want to stick with a 25 percent cap in the fifth year.

House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood said, “It’s the silly stuff now, change this word or that word.” But she made no commitment to call her committee back into session this afternoon. “We’ll see,” she said. “Some people are down there talking to the governor’s office.” Wood said she thought if no deal was reached today, the House should just give up and adjourn for the session.

Meanwhile in the Senate, plans are moving forward to re-run five of the eight bills Gov. Dirk Kempthorne vetoed last week as part of the standoff over the highway bill. One, an income tax measure sponsored by prominent lobbyist Ken McClure, already has been revived as HB 400 and won final Senate passage this morning. Two others, HB 188a on child protection and HB 280, regarding irrigation ditches, will be revived as new Senate bills. Another two, HB 38 on seeds and HB 54 on commercial driving privileges, will become new House bills. The remaining three were “agency bills,” according to Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, and will just be left for next year.

Major water legislation is still waiting on the Senate calendar without action. “If the speaker walked over and said we’ve just passed GARVEE (the road bill) with some moderate amendments, then we’ll probably run the water bills,” Davis said, “as soon as we got the green light.”

Standoff continues

Although the governor’s chief of staff, Brian Whitlock, says “people are talking” and “we remain optimistic,” the 85th day of this year’s legislative session has ended without any deal to break the gridlock that’s keeping lawmakers here long beyond their expected adjournment. The governor has offered another compromise, this time to cap the amount of Idaho’s federal highway money that can be spent to pay off bonds at 20 percent for the first four years and 30 percent in the fifth year, and leave any caps after that up to future lawmakers. House members want caps on the governor’s highway bonding program; the original legislation didn’t include any.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis said the four key bills implementing and funding a multimillion-dollar water settlement and water projects across the state will remain stuck on the Senate’s calendar, without a vote, until the House and the governor resolve the highway issue. Since the governor threatened last week to veto all House bills until there’s progress on the highway issue, the Senate’s held the House-passed water bills to protect them from any possible veto – to which the governor said, “That’s probably a good idea.”

Here’s an odd one

The negotiating room was packed a few minutes ago for the start of the 2 p.m. negotiating session between the House and the governor on highway legislation, but nothing had started. The reason?

Right outside the room, at a table in the capitol’s snack bar area, four key players – Kempthorne Chief of Staff Brian Whitlock, House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood, Rep. Mike Moyle and Rep. Ken Roberts – were gathered for a mini-negotiating session.

Everyone else was just waiting.

The negotiations are on

There were 11 House members absent in that last vote, concurring on the cigarette tax amendments. House Majority Leader Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, just explained that: “Mr. Speaker, we are still waiting for members of the body that are down on the first floor negotiating the GARVEE issue.”

Negotiations between the governor and the House in the standoff over Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s highway bonding legislation started before 9 this morning, and have been going for nearly two hours at this point. Denney requested that the House be set at ease until the negotiators return – presumably with a deal.

House Speaker Bruce Newcomb said if the House negotiators aren’t done by noon, the House will take a lunch break from noon to 1 p.m. “So just stick around close, and keep your ears and eyes open, because we’ll need a quorum when we begin again,” he told lawmakers.

Harsh words bring April flowers

I have to credit snoopy Dan Popkey for this one. The Idaho Statesman political columnist spotted Rep. Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa, leaving the House chamber with this lovely spring bouquet of flowers - the same day that Schaefer was quoted on the front page of the Boise newspaper calling the governor “a petulant cry baby” over his vetoes of eight House bills to force consideration of his highway bill. “He’s behaving like a spoiled child,” Schaefer told the newspaper.

When Popkey asked who sent the flowers, Schaefer was glad to tell: The cheery flower arrangement had just arrived for him in the House anonymously, with a note saying, “Thanks for saying it like it is!”

Schaefer said he’s glad someone agrees with him. “I think there’s room for accord here, but you don’t just go willy-nilly vetoing pieces of legislation,” he said.

Reports of death premature

Despite the earlier announcement in the Idaho Senate, Pope John Paul had not died at that point – there were just some news reports that jumped the gun. As of this afternoon, the Vatican reported that the 84-year-old pontiff was “near death.”

Cigarette tax bill moves forward

The Senate has just concurred unanimously in the conference committee’s recommendations on the cigarette tax, with no debate. But in the House, a unanimous consent request drew objections, so that was followed by a motion and some debate. Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, who cast the only vote in the conference committee against its final compromise recommendations, gave a long rundown of his criticisms of the changes – but then urged House members to support the conference report. That means everyone will get to vote on the amended bill, he said. The House then concurred on a 55-12 vote. Then, the Senate quickly went into its amending order, the 14th order, and formally re-amended the bill to match the conference report.

The next step is a final vote in the Senate, and then the House. But senators just paused, as they were informed that the pope has died.

Back behind closed doors

The majority of the Senate has retreated behind closed doors for a Republican caucus. Asked the topic, Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Brad Little said, “About being good boys and girls – civility.” But it’s a good bet that more than politeness will come up, as the Senate sits in the midst of a battle between the governor and the House that has extended the legislative session and raised questions about the outcome of major legislation, from water to highway construction.

Little fiddled with a tape recorder that a conference committee had left on the table, as the senators filed in, and assured Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes that he’d unplugged it every which way he could find. Geddes took a seat right in front of the tape recorder, grinned and ate a piece of candy. Other senators noticed me taking a photo, and chuckled about how that portion of the caucus meeting apparently was open. The door soon closed, though.

Meanwhile, the House majority also is planning to retreat behind closed doors for a caucus meeting.

Back to work

The conference committee on the cigarette tax bill went back to work this morning, and settled on a compromise acceptable to both the House and Senate, which was then approved on a series of 5-1 votes. Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, cast the only dissenting votes. He said the wording on allowing the second year of revenue from the tax to go to “repair, remodel and restoration of the state capitol building and state facilities pertaining to the capitol restoration” was too broad for him. “It’s too wide-open,” he said. “I think the reason we were here on the tobacco tax increase was to do something about water – it wasn’t to do something about the capitol building.”

Under the compromise, the current tax rate of 57 cents a pack would become permanent, and the money would go to water projects for the first year, then to the capitol project until it’s fully funded. After that, the money would go back into an economic recovery reserve fund. Also, cigarette wholesalers would get a boost in their payments for affixing tax stamps to cigarette packs of about $300,000 a year, at state expense. The Legislature would re-examine that issue next year.

If the compromise is accepted by both houses – which can’t modify it, they can only vote up or down – then the Senate will re-amend the bill, and each house would have to give it a final vote.

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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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