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Eye On Boise

Archive for May 2005

Guv back from trade mission

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, business leaders and state commerce officials couldn’t say enough good things today about their just-concluded two-week trade mission to Asia. The governor led a delegation of 23 Idaho companies and organizations, and made stops in Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan. At a press conference in his office, Kempthorne waved a colorful Idaho Travel Guide, which looked standard from a distance. “If you get up close to it, you’ll see that it’s all in Mandarin,” he said. “We’re the first state to do that.”

Kempthorne and other members of the Idaho delegation met with the president of Taiwan, the vice president of Japan, and numerous business, government, tourism and trade officials. State Agriculture Director Pat Takasugi said the trip gave him hope that Japanese markets will soon reopen to Idaho beef, which is going over well now in Taiwan. Asian markets are now seven of Idaho’s top 10 trading partners, according to state Commerce and Labor chief Roger Madsen. “We can’t afford to ignore the importance of these markets to Idaho companies,” he said.

Part of the cost of the trade mission was picked up by corporate sponsor Zions Bank and the businesses that participated; the state spent about $120,000.

Behind the lawyer, another lawyer

Boiseans aren’t much closer to knowing who the dirty tricksters were behind a last-minute smear against Chuck Winder, a candidate for mayor of Boise who lost narrowly in a crowded race in 2003 after an election-eve telephone message went out falsely linking Winder to a scandal involving the former mayor.

David Leroy, former Idaho lieutenant governor and attorney general, citing attorney-client privilege, has been refusing to turn over the name of an “intermediary” who he said hired him to defend the group that sponsored the slur. The group identified itself only as “Citizens for Trustworthy Government.” Under stern pressure from a Boise judge, Leroy finally turned over the name of the intermediary to the court. It was Bill Litster, a personal injury lawyer in Boise. Litster once ran a mayoral campaign in 1985 for a successful candidate, Dirk Kempthorne – who’s now governor of Idaho, and whose Transportation Board chairman is none other than Winder. Litster’s sometimes testified to legislative committees on legal issues. But he’s best known in the Boise area for his heavy advertising for his law firm, including ads on phone books, TV and billboards. His ads promise an attorney available 24 hours, at 1-800-INJURED. So what does all this have to do with city politics? Who knows?

One might run, one’s resisting

Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, might run for the open 1st District congressional seat, but former state senator and congressional candidate Skip Smyser is trying to stay out of the race.

Stegner said, “I haven’t made a decision. … I still consider it to be early. I’m still evaluating the field, I’m talking to people and getting opinions from individuals on my candidacy.” He noted, “Obviously, one of the negatives is you have to give up an Idaho Senate seat to run for Congress, and that is one of any number of considerations that I have to give this.” Stegner, a retired grain dealer who’s in his fourth term in the Senate, is currently the assistant majority leader.

Smyser, now a prominent lobbyist, ran for the 1st District seat in 1990, but lost to Democrat Larry LaRocco, who served two terms. Smyser, a Republican, also served in the state Senate from 1983 to 1990 and was Senate Transportation chairman. He’s been rumored to be considering the open race for the seat being vacated by current Rep. Butch Otter’s run for governor, and admitted he finds it “tempting,” but said he’s trying to stay away from such prospects, and is figuratively on a “12-step program” to kick the political-aspirations habit.

A novel idea: No legislative session

As they plan for a future state capitol renovation, state officials have always factored in a need to hold one or two years’ legislative sessions outside the building during construction. House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, offered a different plan today: Why not skip a year? Lawmakers could set a two-year budget and just not meet for a year, she suggested. Plus, they could use the Hall of Mirrors across the street from the state capitol for any needed meetings, and move state offices now in that building to the now-vacant, state-owned old Ada County Courthouse. They could even hold a brief session at the BSU student union building, which has a large ballroom.

A task force of legislative leaders from both houses was looking at an idea from Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, to add large “wings” to each end of the state capitol, thereby providing much-needed office and public meeting room space and emergency exits, along with a spot for the Legislature to meet while the central, historic capitol is renovated.

“It seems like a lot of money,” Jaquet said. “I’ve come to the table to say, ‘How can we preserve this building and make it safe?’” while still, she said, being “prudent” with the taxpayers’ money.

Stegner’s “wings” idea turns out not to be so new – it was proposed in 1942 by the state’s then-public works commissioner, Allen C. Merritt, prompting this headline in the Jan. 4, 1943 Idaho Statesman: “Merritt urges new wings for Statehouse.”

Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes noted that the Idaho Constitution, which voters changed from every-other-year sessions in the 1968 election, now requires the Legislature to hold sessions annually. However, it doesn’t require any particular type of session – and both Geddes and House Speaker Bruce Newcomb said Jaquet had a point, and during the construction period, the Legislature could hold an abbreviated, budget-only session.

“I think that’s a possibility,” Geddes said. “Obviously, we don’t want to have to set up shop and live in a temporary situation for longer than we have to. That’s expensive, and if we can mitigate some of those costs, we ought to.”

The task force is still looking at the alternatives. Lawmakers have been hoping to renovate the historic but deteriorating Statehouse for years, and even allocated the money five years ago, just before an economic downturn forced cancellation of the project. Now, however, there’s money set aside from the cigarette tax to fund the project, so it’s time for something to happen. The legislative leaders today seemed to be leaning toward just renovating the capitol according to previous plans, but modifying them slightly to allow wings to be added in the future if the state ever has the money. Could it be that Idaho could end up with something truly historic – both a renovated state capitol, and a year without lawmaking?

Bus riding may SEEM like prison, but…

This is just absolutely incredible, unbelievable. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, federal prison officials have been sending federal inmates on Greyhound buses – unescorted – across the country to transfer them from one prison to another. Surprise, surprise – some got off before their final destination.

One was Dwayne Fitzen, a motorcycle gang member and cocaine dealer convicted in Idaho and sentenced to 24 years in prison back in 1992. Last fall, the feds put Fitzen on a bus in Waseca, Minn., bound for the federal prison in Lompoc, Calif. Fitzen got on the bus on Sept. 14, but didn’t arrive as scheduled at the minimum-security Lompoc lock-up two days later. He was last seen in Las Vegas, where he withdrew $12,000 from a bank account and disappeared. A press release from the U.S. Marshals Service says the 55-year-old dealer, known as “Shadow,” is “considered armed and dangerous,” and U.S. Marshals have “made the apprehension of this fugitive a top priority.”

The San Diego newspaper reported that eight prisoners bound for San Diego alone have escaped during their Greyhound rides since 1996. That’s when federal prison officials started the bus-transfer program as a money-saving move. It releases prisoners who are being transferred to low-security facilities on a furlough for their bus ride, after they sign a letter promising they won’t try to escape, according to the Union-Tribune’s report. The feds call the program “voluntary surrenders.” But when the San Diego newspaper’s reporters checked with Greyhound, the bus line’s spokeswoman said Greyhound had never been told that it was carrying unescorted prisoners alongside its regular passengers. “If this is happening, we are going to ask that it stop,” spokeswoman Kim Plaskett told the newspaper.

Federal prosecutor Monte Stiles, who prosecuted Fitzen in Idaho, told the Union-Tribune, “When I first heard it, I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a joke.”

The San Diego newspaper reported that Federal Bureau of Prisons officials wouldn’t say how many of their convicts have escaped during bus transfers, but the paper documented “dozens” who are still at large.

Friends of the business lobby

The Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, the state’s most powerful business lobby, is jubilant that when it rated state legislators’ voting records, 21 got perfect scores – they voted exactly how IACI wanted them to vote on the organization’s 20-plus key issues. Among the lawmakers with 100 percent IACI scorecards were North Idaho Reps. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene; Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene; Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls; and Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake. Reps. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene; and Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard; were among the highest-rated Democrats at 80 percent.

Also among those scoring 100 percent: Former Sen. Jack Noble, R-Kuna, who resigned on the verge of a Senate vote on whether to expel him for ethics violations, and his replacement, Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Kuna, who was gone for much of his brief tenure but had his wife sit in. Between the three of them, the votes went IACI’s way.

Huff family to get Medal of Honor

At the commemoration of Idaho Peace Officers Memorial Day on Friday, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne will present the state’s first Medal of Honor to the family of Linda Huff, the Idaho State Police trooper who was killed in a shootout at the ISP’s North Idaho office in 1998. Huff, a 33-year-old mother of three, was the first female officer killed in Idaho in the line of duty. She already was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor, the ISP’s highest honor for its officers. The new Medal of Honor was created by a special commission to recognize and honor officers from any law enforcement agency.

“It’s going to be a day of honoring peace officers who have fallen in the line of duty,” said Mike Journee, Kempthorne’s press secretary. “Linda Huff obviously was someone who made that sacrifice for the state, and the governor felt like it was an appropriate use of the medal for the first time. He’s happy and honored to present it to her family for her sacrifice and their sacrifice.”

A perfect tragedy

Boise was rocked over the weekend by a horrific traffic accident that killed a young family and highlighted perhaps the worst possible outcome of irresponsible, reckless driving and “road rage.” It happened early Saturday evening, when a BSU football player in a hurry tried to pass a pickup truck whose driver had been drinking, and the pickup driver wouldn’t let him by.

The football player, Cam Hall, 22, and the pickup driver, Mark Lazinka, 45, revved up their road rage until they were zooming down state Highway 55 at 100 mph, oblivious to safety and common sense. When a young couple in a Subaru Outback, their 5-week-old baby strapped securely in her car seat, turned out onto the highway, Hall swerved and missed them, but Lazinka’s truck smashed into the Subaru, and mother, father and baby all were killed. The family was Tony and Stephanie Perfect, both 23, and their infant daughter Zoe. Charges are pending against the other drivers.

Senator decries partisanship

Congress is way too partisan, according to GOP Sen. Mike Crapo. “When I got to Washington 13 years ago, I was shocked by the partisanship,” he said in a talk to the Boise City Club this week. But it’s gotten worse. “It has changed over the last 10 years, and the acrimony is intense.”

“I believe that ultimately, the American people, American voters, are going to have to step in and tell candidates that they do not expect them to act like that in the future. That’s the only way I can see that this will work.”

Crapo’s remarks, which followed discussion of the current battles between Democrats and Republicans over judicial nominees, drew sustained applause.

April tax receipts ‘spectacular’

State officials are breathing a sigh of relief, after April tax receipts – the biggest month of the year – came in $61.5 million above expectations. That puts the state’s cumulative receipts about $88 million over projections for the year – and makes the state that much more likely to be able to balance its budget in future years as a temporary sales tax hike expires and drains $180 million a year form the state budget. Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said, “Although these are preliminary numbers, they are nothing short of spectacular.” He called the news “the strongest sign to date of a recovering economy.”

Not quite announcing, but getting close

Here’s what state Sen. Skip Brandt, R-Kooskia, had to say about running for the open 1st District congressional seat in 2006: “I’ll be prepared to make an announcement in a couple weeks. I’m pretty serious about it and getting a lot of pressure to jump (in), but need to iron out some details before I give an absolute.”

Farm Bureau changes stance

The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, the leading opponent of the Nez Perce water rights agreement in this year’s legislative session, has dropped its opposition to the deal. “After it’s passed, that’s typically what we always do is support the law – so yeah, there’s been a change,” said John Thompson, director of information for the Farm Bureau.

The Farm Bureau found itself in the unusual position of opposing most of the state’s agriculture groups on the deal. “It was very divisive, even among our membership,” Thompson said. Though the organization’s delegates voted 48-19 to oppose the deal, six of its largest county organizations later decided to dissent.

Judy Bartlett, the lobbyist who led the fight for the Farm Bureau and a former aide to Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, was dismissed from the Farm Bureau two weeks ago after three years with the organization. “We don’t talk on the record about internal personnel matters,” Thompson said. “She was let go, I can confirm that.”

Thompson said the Farm Bureau “definitely lost some credibility” in Boise over the Nez Perce deal, but he said, “In hindsight, we couldn’t really take any other position than the one we took on the Nez Perce agreement. We’ve got a lot of active members in North Idaho who if we had decided to support it, they would’ve been just as mad as the irrigators down here were. So there was no happy place for us to be on that whole deal.”

The landmark agreement, which was approved by both the Legislature and Congress, settled the Nez Perce Tribe’s claims to all the water in the Snake River, allowing water rights claims by farmers and other throughout the Snake River basin to be settled as part of a long-running adjudication.

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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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