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Eye On Boise

Archive for July 2006

Keough speaks out on candidate surveys

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, sent out this rather interesting note today: “In anticipation that the Project Vote Smart staff will soon be slamming me for not responding to their survey, I’m sending my explanation as to why I did not respond to them or any surveys this year.” Here’s her explanation:

Re: Project Vote Smart

I want you to know my reason for not responding to the Project Vote Smart questionnaire.

Each election cycle candidates for legislative office receive many many questionnaires from special interest groups. This year, I have had about 50 in my mailbox. This year I’ve elected not to respond to any of them. While some are sincere in their requests for information, most are at best slanted with loaded questions designed to entrap the candidate and at worst could be construed to be a contractual agreement when a candidate is required to sign a statement locking them into the answers without consideration for the future which might include new information or changes in circumstances.

Project Vote Smart (PVS) is from out of state, and represents no Idaho individual or company. If it does, that has not been represented. PVS’s questionnaire contains loaded questions. PVS’s staff use intimidation and harassment tactics to get candidates to respond that were they a credit collection company they would be prohibited by law from using.

In the ten years I have been honored to be the State Senator for our area I have built a strong track record of being accessible to any one and any group within my legislative district. I respond to my phone calls, my letters, my e-mail, I speak to constituents at the bank, the Post Office, the grocery store, the gas station, at restaurants when I’m with my family, on the beach, at soccer games - in short anywhere, virtually anytime. I also sit down with members of the press at election time and answer all their questions plus make my self available to the press virtually 24/7 year round.

I give my time willingly and consider it my responsibility and duty for the honor of being State Senator. Responding to 50 surveys, many of them multiple pages requiring essays on issues and from out of area or out of state organizations, takes time away from the people in my district and their needs. I was elected to serve the people in my legislative district. It is to them that I respond: yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Thank you for the opportunity to explain my position.


Shawn Keough
Idaho State Senator
District One: Boundary and Bonner Counties

He’s that clear about restricting it

Just how clear was Gov. Jim Risch about restricting the special legislative session on Aug. 25th to the property tax reform bill that he’s proposing? He’s the wording from his proclamation calling the special session:

WHEREAS rising property taxes are a major concern to property owners across the State of Idaho; and
WHEREAS the Idaho State Legislature has evaluated the issues surrounding property taxes in Idaho for over a year; and
WHEREAS the issues of property tax relief and safeguarding public education constitute an extraordinary occasion; and
WHEREAS article 4, section 9 of the Constitution of the State of Idaho empowers the Governor, on extraordinary occasions, to convene the Legislature by proclamation;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JAMES E. RISCH, Governor of the State of Idaho, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the State of Idaho, do by this Proclamation convene the 58th Idaho Legislature in Extraordinary Session in the Legislative Chambers at the Capitol in Boise City, Ada County, Idaho, at the hour of 8:00 A.M. on the 25th day of August, 2006, to:

Consider for passage RS 16445, a copy of which is attached hereto.

The Extraordinary Session of the Legislature convened by this Proclamation shall have no power to legislate on any subject other than that specified herein.

RS 16445, of course, is Risch’s bill, also called the “Property Tax Relief Act of 2006.”

They’re targeting mountain highways

Driving to the mountains this weekend? ISP wants you to watch out. They’re targeting failure to pull over and improper passing on mountain highways, and will keep it up for the next several weeks. They’re reminding motorists that Idaho law requires that on two-lane highways outside urban areas, a vehicle going slower than the normal speed of traffic and holding up three other motorists must pull off at the next safe turnout to let folks pass. They’re also going after improper passing, in no-passing zones and when it’s not safe. “Our troopers will be working the mountain highways over the next several weeks with a particular focus on making sure motorists pull over when they need to, and others don’t pass when they shouldn’t,” said ISP Region 3 Commander Capt. Steve Richardson.

Idaho race gets DC attention

The Hill newspaper reported today that Idaho’s 1st District congressional race is one of 10 targeted by a GOP “Retain Our Majority Program” or “ROMP” fundraiser that raised close to $1 million. This particular fundraiser, according to the paper, is for “candidates in the most desperate need of campaign money.”

The paper said of GOP candidate Bill Sali, “Sali is competing for the seat being vacated by gubernatorial candidate Rep. Butch Otter (R-Idaho), which is normally a very safe Republican district; President Bush won it 69-30 in 2004. But Sali survived a heated primary with just 26 percent of the vote, and there have been rumors of Republican supporters defecting to Democratic candidate Larry Grant.”

Southern lawmakers seeing northern light

Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes told a Coeur d’Alene audience today that legislators from the southern part of the state have learned lessons about property taxes from their North Idaho counterparts. “Your northern Idaho legislators did a tremendous job last session to bring this to our attention, and sometimes it takes some of us a little longer to catch on,” he said with a rueful smile at Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. “Where I live in southern Idaho … we are now starting to see some of the same problems that you’ve faced for a long time.”

Idaho’s state quarter: The Peregrine falcon

Idaho’s own special state quarter, which will come out next summer, will feature a Peregrine falcon, the majestic, speedy raptor that was brought back from the brink of extinction by the Boise-based Peregrine Fund. And the only reason all of us know this today? Tim Woodward. The Idaho Statesman columnist and reporter, whose intrepid reporting on Idaho goings-on has brought things to light for decades in our state, has been following the state quarter saga closely, and he, alone, noticed that the U.S. Treasury had approved Idaho’s design in late June. Woodward contacted Gov. Jim Risch’s office, which the Treasury hadn’t notified. Then, once they confirmed it, he asked to see the quarter. The governor’s office declined, citing plans to unveil it ceremoniously later, so Woodward filed a public records request. That was Thursday, and by law, the governor’s office had three working days to respond. So today, they held a press conference and unveiled the quarter – one day before the deadline to respond to Woodward.

Tim seemed a bit amused by it all – he’s seen it all, when it comes to Idaho politics. Risch acknowledged him at the press conference, saying, “First of all, the reason we’re here today is because of Tim Woodward.” He also thanked the Peregrine Fund for acting quickly to get together an unveiling ceremony complete with a visit from Jess, a 13-year-old Peregrine falcon who lives at the fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey south of Boise, where the unveiling ceremony was held. Trish Nixon, a raptor specialist at the center who brought Jess out on her arm, joked that they’ll be asking for some funding in return.

Dan Harpole, head of the Idaho Commission on the Arts, said the commission got 1,200 suggested designs from all around the state. They came with varying degrees of detail: One was submitted on a cocktail napkin, “saying do something with the fact that Idaho is the home of finger steaks.” Unfamiliar with finger steaks? They’re breaded, deep-fried strips of steak popular at some Idaho bars. The Arts Commission narrowed the recommendations down to 10 finalists, and then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne narrowed that to five. The U.S. Mint worked up design concepts for three of those, and Kempthorne picked the final design in May from among the three. The runners-up featured a scene of mountains in the distance with rolling hills in the foreground; and the outline of the state with the syringa, the state flower, being sniffed by a small monarch butterfly, the state insect, along with words from the state song: “And Here We Have Idaho, Winning Her Way To Fame.”

Nixon, the raptor specialist, said of the Peregrine choice, “I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’m biased, but I can’t think of a better symbol for the state. They’re magnificent.” She noted that Peregrines are highly skilled hunters, are very adaptable, are small but very powerful, and can reach speeds of 240 mph. “They’re a bird to be reckoned with, if you’re another bird out there in the wild,” she said.

Harpole said, “I think as Idahoans we can be really proud of the final product, and really pleased with how it turned out.”

Risch said he just plain hadn’t had a chance to consider the issue, and didn’t know about it until Woodward inquired. “I really can’t say which one I would have chosen,” he said. “Certainly my predecessor had the right and the duty to choose one, and he did.”

‘It’s not usually like this’

Lots has happened in the past two weeks, including Gov. Jim Risch’s replacement of state Corrections Director Tom Beauclair with former longtime Ada County Sheriff Vaughn Killeen. Beauclair’s been the director since 2001 and has 30 years experience with the department; Killeen has been a candidate for the position before. Beauclair, whose last day is July 28, said he’s been thinking of retiring and praised Killeen, who takes over a department struggling to cope with over-full prisons and a fast-arriving load of new inmates – and no control over those numbers, as it’s the Legislature that determines sentencing laws and funds prisons, and the courts that convict.

Also, Risch has named the state’s first “drug czar,” Boise city councilman and former longtime Boise police officer Jim Tibbs. Tibbs is the current chairman of the state Board of Correction, but said he plans to resign that post for his new job, which will try to corral the various fragments that make up the state’s approach to substance abuse, including methamphetamine abuse.

Democrats came out with an alternative property tax relief plan, as Risch hones his plan to call a special legislative session to replace the $3 per $1,000 property tax levy that funds basic school operations with a sales tax increase. Risch also would use part of the state’s budget surplus to ease the impact on schools. The Democratic plan would use half the $203 million budget surplus to eliminate residential homeowners’ $105 million share of the levy, but leave the property tax on businesses, farms and utilities, which haven’t seen the kinds of huge increases in recent years that residential property has experienced. The Democrats oppose a sales-tax increase, and contend Risch’s proposal gives $150 million in property-tax breaks high-powered special interests like IACI at the expense of lower-income Idahoans who pay the sales tax on necessities like groceries.

Me, I spent a small part of my two-week vacation huddling in a “m’mahd,” a reinforced safe room, inside a home in Haifa, Israel, listening to the blare of air-raid sirens and distant, dull thumps as Katyusha rockets slammed into the city and killed eight people, and trying to stay cheerful as we read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” out loud to my three young nephews, ages 5, 7 and 9, who had never experienced anything like that before. After a tense and frightening morning, we all got out safely and drove to safer parts of the country. My sister-in-law joked that for their next family vacation, they were considering Iraq or Afghanistan. (Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, hasn’t had an air raid in 30 years, and is known as a place where Christians, Muslims and Jews live side-by-side in peace. But Hezbollah’s intense bombardment of northern Israel is something new.)

Now that I’m back in Boise, we’re in the midst of a 100-plus-degrees heat spell that’s expected to last all week. But of course we can take comfort in the old saying about Boise weather: “It’s not usually like this.”

If there’s a special session, it’ll be Aug. 25th

Gov. Jim Risch, in discussions with legislative leaders yesterday, settled on Friday August 25th as the date for a special session if he calls one this summer. “The date has been set aside,” said Risch’s chief of staff, John Sandy. “There are various reasons for setting that aside, not the least of which is, you know, this time of the year lots of people are trying to make plans. In all fairness to everyone, he wanted to get a date so that people could plan around that.”

Risch still hasn’t reached agreement with legislators on a plan to shift $250 million in school operations funding from the property tax to an increased sales tax and/or other sources, but Sandy said, “Things are looking quite optimistic. … It’s looking much more promising.”

Risch said Wednesday that he hopes to give up to a month’s notice if he calls a special session, to allow time for citizens to review the proposal and contact their legislators with their thoughts. But once a special session starts, Risch is planning for it to be a one-day deal. Picking a Friday reinforces that. “People could always work through the weekend if they wanted to,” Sandy said. But, he said, “This has been debated and studied for over a year. … If there’s a special session called, the intent is to bring people to town and pass the legislation and that’s that.”

Added Brad Hoaglun, Risch’s communications director, “A Friday kinda makes it where they aren’t going to spend several days talking.”

Kiebert appointed to DEQ board

Former state Transportation Director Kermit Kiebert of Hope has been appointed by Gov. Jim Risch to the state Board of Environmental Quality, to replace former state Sen. Marguerite McLaughlin of Orofino, who is retiring.

Risch praised McLaughlin, a longtime Democratic state legislator who served in both the House and Senate. “Marguerite epitomizes public service in Idaho,” he said. “As an elected official and then serving on this board, she had the best interest of Idahoans first and foremost in mind. I think her for her many years of dedicated service.”

Kiebert also served in the state Senate, from 1975 to 1987, including six years as minority leader. He headed the state Transportation Department from 1987 to 1993. Risch also announced the reappointment of Don Chisholm of Burley to the board. “I have great confidence in the two people I have selected for the board,” Risch said in a press release. “Don will continue his work on the board and Kermit will join a group of people who take their work safeguarding our state’s environment seriously.”

Interestingly, a cruise back through the S-R clips on Kiebert turns up this little item from a June 26, 1995 “Huckleberries” column by D.F. Oliveria: “Parting shot: Kermit Kiebert, who once oversaw the entire Idaho transportation system, apparently can’t get his own sewer system right. The Idaho Division of Environmental Quality won’t allow more hookups to his system at Hope, Idaho, until Kermit does more work on it - work that should have been done months ago. Bureaucrats sure can be a pain sometimes. Right, Kermit?”

DEQ board members serve four-year terms.

Governor expands reporting rule for lobbyists

Gov. Jim Risch issued an executive order this afternoon expanding HB 707, the bill that required those who lobby the executive branch to register and disclose spending just like those who lobby the legislative branch, to also specifically cover people who lobby his staff.

“In reviewing the law, it appears that it does not cover employees of my office,” said Risch, a lawyer. “While the law requires registration and reporting by lobbyists that discuss issues with me, due to time and schedule constraints, those same people will often talk to my staff instead. The purpose of this law is to report the expenditures of lobbyists that work to influence a decision. This Executive Order will extend that law and require registration and reporting when contact is made with my staff as well.”

The executive order is good through Dec. 1, 2006 – the remainder of Risch’s term in office. HB 707 passed the Legislature this year unanimously.

Bicyclist calls all of Idaho ‘just stunning’ – and he should know

Kirk Hall just showed all of us what we’re missing. Starting in Boundary County on May 31 and finishing just before the Fourth of July in Boise, Hall, 62, pedaled his bicycle into every one of Idaho’s 44 counties. Hall, who regularly commutes by bicycle in Boise, said his month-long scenic ride throughout the state wasn’t meant to make a statement about gas prices. “I’m not sure I saved money, given what I ate and spent on rooms, but I sure had fun,” he said.

Here’s what he learned after traveling solo for 2,100 miles, climbing 57,000 feet, and logging about 70 miles a day: “We all say that Idaho is a beautiful state, and I think I have some authority to say that’s true.” With this year’s rains, the state is green and gorgeous, Hall said. “It was just stunning right now. … I’d encourage anyone to get out and see this state.”

Hall was inspired to make his 44-county ride by the state’s “Idaho Passport” program, which offers people a chance to get a stamp from every county and win recognition for visiting them all. “It got me thinking about doing it a different way,” said Hall, who’s retired after a career as a Bonneville Power Administration official and former head of the state’s Energy Office under then-Gov. John Evans.

He works part-time now for REI. “That’s how I pay for these toys,” he said, gesturing to his bicycle and a streamlined bike trailer on which he carried his gear. Hall’s trailer was from BOB Trailers, Inc., a manufacturer that recently relocated to Boise from San Luis Obispo, Calif. His bike was from REI.

Hall, who’s clearly very fit, said his trip didn’t require Superman-like fitness levels. “With something like this, it takes more persistence than fitness,” he said. “I’d be up early and go ‘til 6 or 7 in the evening. With the exception of two days of heavy headwinds, it wasn’t that hard.”

Hall is the 810th traveler (including one pet cat) to complete the Idaho Passport by visiting every Idaho county, and the first to do it by bike.

It’s like night and day

Boise has been having a run of extremely wild weather in the evenings – booming thunder, dramatic forked flashes of lighting, wind-driven rain and masses of clouds that give the place a monsoon feel – followed each morning by clear, sunny, calm skies that make it hard to imagine the night before really happened. And then the next day it happens again.

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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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