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Eye On Boise

Archive for September 2005

A very busy woman

Boise religious activist Brandi Swindell, who has spearheaded the “Keep the Commandments Coalition” to battle unsuccessfully over the city’s move of an old 10 Commandments monument from a city park to a local church, announced today that she’s running for the Boise City Council.

Here’s the odd thing: Swindell, who is 28 and single with no kids, was one of 13 protesters arrested in March 2004 when the monument was moved. She was convicted of obstructing and delaying a police officer and sentenced to 25 hours of community service. But she hasn’t served the time. Instead, Swindell, through her attorney, recently petitioned the judge to change her sentence from community service to a $100 fine, “due to the extraordinary hardship that community service would place on (Swindell’s) ability to actively pursue her life’s work.”

Excuse me? Swindell told the Idaho Statesman yesterday that she leads a very busy life, and is currently working to open a non-profit women’s health clinic. But those of us who are married with kids, full-time jobs and lots of time commitments might find it difficult to sympathize.

The Boise council president whom Swindell is challenging, Maryanne Jordan, had this to say, according to the Statesman: “It’s interesting that a person who doesn’t have time to do community service would have the time to run or serve on the City Council.”

What happened last time

Now that a federal judge has ordered Idaho to remove 200 inmates from its prisons by Oct. 28 due to extreme, impermissible and unconstitutional overcrowding, it’s worth remembering what happened the last time Idaho sent hundreds of inmates out of state due to overcrowding here. Idaho is preparing to ship up to 200 inmates out of state by the court’s deadline, at a cost likely to add up to millions.

In 1997, Idaho had 200 of its inmates in a private prison in Minnesota, 248 in a county jail in Texas, and 300 in a private prison in Basile, La. The Idaho prisoners in Louisiana arrived in June, and within weeks, 100 of them rioted over conditions at the Basile Detention Center, causing $35,000 in damage. Then in July, five escaped, including two convicted murderers, a rapist, a burglar, and a child molester. One, murderer Roger Dale Babb of Potlatch, later turned himself in to authorities in Beaumont, Tex., saying he was tired of running. Babb told authorities that he’d bought wire cutters from a guard at Basile, and made his break to force his return to Idaho because of a lack of medical and legal services at the private lockup.

Three others were recaptured in short order, but Kallahan Lee Ziegler, then 24, a child molester from Kootenai County, was on the loose until he was recaptured five years later in Kentucky. He’s now in the Idaho Maximum Security Institution.

In December of that year, two more Idaho prisoners escaped from Basile, but were recaptured 50 miles away. There was a brief flurry of concern when Louisiana prosecutors said they might not be able to charge the Idahoans with escape because they were locked up in a private prison, and Louisiana laws made that a “gray area.” Eventually, authorities decided the laws did allow charges.

If Idaho has to keep 200 inmates housed out of state for a year, the cost would be roughly $4.5 million. There are other costs, too – if those inmates miss out on programming they need to qualify for parole, they’ll stay in prison longer and cost Idaho even more in the long run. State Corrections Director Tom Beauclair told lawmakers in June that Idaho needs to build three new prisons at a cost of nearly $160 million – but if it spends the money instead on shipping inmates out of state, “Essentially what we’re doing is we’re paying for capital construction costs to another state.”

“At this point we really don’t have much of a choice,” said Mike Journee, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s press secretary, after the judge’s ruling Tuesday. “The choice has kind of been taken out of our hands at this point.”

Cloudy with a chance of conspiracy

The eastern Idaho TV weatherman who claimed Hurricane Katrina was a man-made plot by Japanese mobsters to take revenge for Hiroshima is off the air now at KPVI Newschannel 6, but the station management insists that Scott Stevens wasn’t forced out. “Scott advised me several months ago that he wouldn’t renew his contract so he could devote full time to this,” station manager Bill Fouch told the Post Register newspaper in Idaho Falls, referring to a website where Stevens expounds his theory and posits that weather around the world is being controlled by sinister groups through technology. “He wants to get right at it.”

In a farewell video interview posted on the station’s website, Stevens, 39, says, “I wanted to retire and wanted to do some other things at the end of my contract, which was not ‘til the end of next year. But opportunities have arisen much sooner than I thought they would, and I need to take them. … It’s time to say goodbye.”

Silence between rivals

At today’s Idaho High School Redesign Summit, two likely GOP candidates for state superintendent of schools – Tom Luna and Steve Smylie – found themselves at the same table, separated only by House Education Chairman Jack Barraclough, R-Idaho Falls. Yet, nary a word passed between the two political rivals. (In fact, not long after the session started, Luna left the table and stood at the back of the room, though he later returned.)

Word was circulating that Luna stood up a group of local school superintendents in Twin Falls earlier this week, when he was scheduled to speak about alternative teacher certification but didn’t show.

Also in the GOP race for supt is Coeur d’Alene High School Principal Steve Casey, the only one of the three who’s officially announced his candidacy for the post in 2006. Smylie is a four-term state lawmaker and a teacher from Boise – and son of the late Bob Smylie, the well-known former Idaho governor – while Luna is a businessman who ran unsuccessfully for the post in 2002. Current Supt. Marilyn Howard, a Democrat who was greeted with enthusiastic applause at the summit, hasn’t said yet whether she’ll seek a third term.

Idaho weather guy thinking big

This one is so weird I had to check the calendar, but no, it’s not April Fools Day – it’s still September. And the Idaho Falls Post Register is reporting that a local TV station meteorologist over there is gaining national notoriety for his theory that Hurricane Katrina was actually a man-made effort by a Japanese mafia intent on revenge for Hiroshima. Really.

KPVI Channel 6 meteorologist Scott Stevens detailed his theory – which also posits that several sinister groups around the world are creating fake weather disturbances through technology, and that a mysterious chirping sound on short-wave radio is evidence of Russia’s weather-controlling machine – in comments on Internet radio programs, and on his website, The Post Register quoted credible experts who said the weather guy’s theories are preposterous.

But the weirdest part of all of this is that the TV station’s general manager told the Post Register that Stevens is entitled to his opinions, and that it’s not a problem “as long as he keeps the TV station and the ownership out of it and acknowledges that it’s his opinion.”

Just watch out for his forecast. Stevens is predicting that the Japanese gangsters will try to destroy a U.S. city within the year by generating their own earthquake or volcanic eruption. And, for tomorrow, a chance of showers.

He’s out of there

The executive director of the state Board of Education, Gary Stivers, is retiring effective Oct. 1, the state board announced today. Stivers, who has been at the state board for four years, previously was director of the state Industrial Commission for 11 years. He’s worked for the state for 35 years and was once a teacher in the Boise school district.

“He has a lot to be proud of, and we wish him well on his retirement,” said state Board President Rod Lewis. No word yet on Stivers’ replacement.

Hear the whole thing

The Idaho Supreme Court has posted the full audio from yesterday’s arguments in the school funding lawsuit on the Internet, so you can hear the whole thing – including these gems:

Deputy Attorney General Jim Carlson: “The Legislature wants this case to end…”
Justice Linda Copple Trout, amid laughter: “They’re not the only ones.”

Retired Justice Wayne Kidwell, to Carlson: “Are you arguing that the system is broken or not?”

Robert Huntley, attorney for the school districts: “The only person in America who’s testified that these things fixed the system was the attorney general, and he’s not sworn to testify.”

The arguments were intense and the questioning from the justices sharp, but there were a few light moments. One came just after Huntley had begun his argument, when the red light signifying that his time was up inexplicably lit up. He stopped, and asked if his red light was on. As the acting court clerk apologized and turned it off, the justices started laughing and thanking him for his (very short) arguments.

Surprisingly, Deputy Attorney General Michael Gilmore, who has made the previous arguments in the case before both the district court and the Idaho Supreme Court, sat silent this time and allowed Carlson to argue for the state. Asked why afterward, Gilmore said, “It was probably time to bring some new blood in on that.” But when the justices filed past the attorneys at the close of the arguments, one told Gilmore he missed him.

Brady calls Otter vote ‘outrageous’

Jerry Brady, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, blasted GOP candidate Butch Otter’s vote against a federal aid package for hurricane relief Friday, calling it “outrageous.”

“In the future, if Idaho ever had a catastrophic event, we could very well need urgent aid from our neighbors,” Brady said. “Otter’s fellow congressmen will certainly remember how he voted against humanitarian aid to his fellow Americans after the hurricane. Idaho can’t afford a governor like Butch Otter.’’

He added, “People and private property need to be saved – right now. Why is that hard to understand?”

Otter’s campaign is working it

1st District Congressman Butch Otter made it clear where he’s looking when he announced that he was running for governor in 2006 – before he was even sworn in for his current two-year term in Congress. Now, here’s evidence of what Otter’s been up to: He’s had 23 fundraisers for the gubernatorial campaign just in the month of August, all in Idaho. “It’s been overwhelming,” said campaign manager Debbie Field.

Jerry Brady, the Idaho Falls newspaper publisher who challenged Gov. Dirk Kempthorne in 2002, also has been campaigning on the Democratic side. No word yet from Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, who is widely expected to run against Otter in the GOP primary.

Plenty of property tax talk

Idaho Senate Majority Caucus Chair Brad Little, R-Emmett, says there’s “critical mass” now to do away with a loophole that lets real estate speculators pay almost no tax on million-dollar development land by taxing it as farm property until they actually build on it. Little declared that some people who’ve paid a million dollars for a resort lot are paying less in property taxes, because of the loophole, than longtime Idaho residents with a small trailer home on a lot out in the middle of nowhere. “I think we’ve got critical mass to make some changes there,” Little said during Idaho Public TV’s “Dialogue” program.
House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, added, “It needs to be repealed.” She also talked about expanding Idaho’s homeowner’s exemption from property taxes, expanding the use of impact fees – including for schools – and allowing local-option taxes as an alternative to property taxes.
Tom Suttmeier, a former Bonner County commissioner and a backer of an initiative to cap Idaho property taxes and values, also was on the show, along with host Marcia Franklin. Suttmeier said even though a joint legislative committee on which both Little and Jaquet serve is looking at some real solutions to Idaho’s property tax problems, his group is moving forward with its initiative. “I think the intent here is to move ahead,” he said. “If suggestions brought forth by the committee would be adopted by the Idaho Legislature, then perhaps the initiative would not be necessary. … We’ll have to wait and see what comes out.”
The “Dialogue” program, which took calls from around the state in a live broadcast Thursday night, will be re-aired on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Pacific time, or you can see it on the Internet by going to and clicking on “Dialogue.”

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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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