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Eye On Boise

Archive for June 2006

Idaho landscape artist pleads guilty to tax charges, could face prison

Artist John Horejs, a Twin Falls, Idaho native whose wildflower paintings and western landscapes hang in the collections of former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, billionaire J.R. Simplot, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn and others, pleaded guilty today to federal tax charges, along with his wife Elaine. Both admitted to “obstructing or impeding the due administration of the internal revenue laws,” evading more than $100,000 in federal income taxes. A six-count federal indictment originally had charged them with both that offense and failure to file income tax returns from 1998 to 2002.

According to court documents, the couple filed false trust documents, falsely claimed they weren’t U.S. citizens, and falsely claimed paintings that the IRS seized through a tax lien were owned by a trust.

A press release from the U.S. Attorney for Idaho says as part of their guilty pleas, the Horejs “agreed to fully cooperate with the IRS in the determination and collection of their outstanding federal income tax liability, to file all past and future income tax returns as required by law, and to cease all protest and arguments concerning the validity of the Internal Revenue Code.”

Horejs started painting more than 30 years ago, and works exclusively in oils. His paintings of gardens, wildflowers and landscapes are known for vibrant color and unusual perspectives, which he creates from mixes of just seven colors and white. Horejs maintains studios in Arizona and Idaho. He and Elaine, married since 1973, have nine children and several grandchildren.

Obstructing or impeding the due administration of the internal revenue laws is a felony. The maximum penalty is three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

BSU’s Weatherby to retire

Boise State University political scientist Jim Weatherby – a well-known authority on Idaho politics who’s been following Idaho’s political scene for decades – will retire from Boise State this week after 17 years. Weatherby, 63, will become a professor emeritus, and still plans to follow and analyze Idaho politics. Before joining BSU, Weatherby was on the faculty at the University of Idaho and Northwest Nazarene University, and he headed the Association of Idaho Cities for 15 years. His last day on the job at BSU will be Friday.

That’s a whole lot of blue and orange

Boise State University’s bookstore reports that it generated $1 million in proceeds for the university in the past year – in large part because of the popularity of BSU “Bronco” merchandise. The bookstore, which receives no state funding, sends its proceeds back to the university for everything from scholarships to operating support. Bookstore director Kim Thomas said BSU is listed among the top 50 schools in royalties by the Collegiate Licensing Company this year for the second straight year, a sign of just how popular those blue-and-orange sweatshirts, caps, and T-shirts have become. “These sales help all of Boise State,” Thomas said.

Idaho teacher is Utah’s best

It’s often been said that Idaho has three capitals – Boise, Spokane and Salt Lake City. Here’s proof: A history teacher at Preston High School in Preston, Idaho, has been named Utah History Teacher of the Year by the Utah chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Sure, Preston is really close to Utah, sitting less than 10 miles from the Utah line in far southeastern Idaho’s Napoleon Dynamite country. But it is, in fact, in Idaho. And the teacher, Lynn Womack, 58, has taught at the Idaho high school for more than 20 years.

According to the Associated Press, the DAR chapter that includes the region is based in Utah but includes Idaho’s Franklin County, so the longtime Idaho history teacher was eligible for the Utah honor. He won $500 and recognition at a meeting in Salt Lake City in May, and will be Utah’s entry in the organization’s national Teacher of the Year contest in Washington, D.C. in July.

It’s all in the perspective

It seems it’s all a matter of perspective – the huge American flag hanging in the state Capitol these days isn’t really bigger than the flag that flies atop the former Simplot house – it’s actually smaller. Ric Johnston, facilities manager for the state, said the capitol flag is 20 by 30 feet, and the Simplot house flag is 30 by 50 feet. “The Simplot flag is absolutely huge,” he said. “Thirty by 50, that’s 1,500 square feet – that’d cover most homes.”

That’s one big set of stars and stripes

Hard as it may be to imagine a bigger American flag than the one that flies over the Idaho House – formerly the Simplot home, which sits on a high-profile Boise hilltop and now is the official state governor’s residence, though it’s awaiting remodeling – the flag hanging in the rotunda of the state Capitol may be even larger.

The huge stars and stripes, posted in honor of Flag Day, appear to stretch more than three stories high, and the shimmering red, white and blue has attracted lots of admiring glances from Statehouse visitors.

Asked if it’s the same gigantic flag that decorated the front of the Statehouse for his inaugural, Gov. Jim Risch said he suspected it was – just because the state doesn’t likely have too many huge flags sitting around.

Incidentally, the Idaho House flag is 30 by 50 feet – and can be easily spotted not only from the air, but even on satellite photos. The landmark flag is to keep flying always, as a condition of the gift from J.R. Simplot to the state of his landmark home.

Idaho, a lot like Mongolia

Here’s a little-known fact: The Bulgan Aimak Province of Mongolia is “similar to Idaho in geography, topography and climate.”

That factoid is brought to you by the Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor, in honor of the visit this weekend to Boise of Mongolia’s ambassador to the United States, Raydan Bold. The ambassador is scheduled to arrive in Idaho on Sunday, and meet Monday and Tuesday with the governor and with state commerce, labor and agriculture officials.

Various Idaho-Mongolia exchanges and outreach efforts in recent years have included an Idaho delegation that traveled to Mongolia to give training in herd management and veterinary medicine, and a Mongolian government delegation that visited Idaho in 2003 to study the state’s government and economy.

Mongolia, somewhat smaller than the state of Alaska, sits between China and Russia and is home to 2.8 million people, according to the Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor.

Risch closes D.C. office, adds CdA, Idaho Falls ones instead

Idaho Gov. Jim Risch has just announced he’ll close Idaho’s office in Washington, D.C. – which the state has had since May of 1999 – and instead open a constituent-service office in Coeur d’Alene and a similar one in Idaho Falls.

Luke Malek, a Post Falls native and former chief development and communications officer for the Dirne Community Health Clinic in Coeur d’Alene, will staff the new Coeur d’Alene office. (Incidentally, Luke has been working on constituent service in Boise for the initial days of Risch’s administration, and this reporter’s repeated queries as to whether he’d soon be posted to North Idaho went unanswered for the past two weeks.)

Risch said, “Opening an office in northern Idaho is a big step in achieving my goal of increasing constituent service for Idahoans. I want to provide easier access to my office for citizens who are not in the Boise area.”

Risch said Malek’s role will be to “work on constituent service issues and serve as a liaison to area communities and organizations for the Governor.”

Luke is a 2004 graduate of Albertson College of Idaho, where he served as student body president while earning his degree in politics and economics. He also previously worked as a health care intern in Sen. Larry Craig’s office in Washington, D.C.

“I am excited and humbled to be part of the extraordinary team that Gov. Risch has pulled together. I look forward to being a resource to the people of North Idaho where they can voice their comments, concerns and questions to the governor in a timely and personal manner,” Malek said. The new office is located in the Harbor Center at 1000 W. Hubbard Avenue, the site of the old Osprey restaurant.

Risch said he plans to open a similar state office in Idaho Falls “in the near future.”

Oil and gas in Idaho?

Idaho made $290,426 last month, just from oil and gas companies bidding for the right to lease state land for oil and gas exploration. Several bidders snapped up exploration rights on 87 parcels of state land in four southern Idaho counties – even though no oil or gas has been found on state lands before.

Top state officials were surprised by the news, and Gov. Jim Risch said if the bidders hit oil or gas, Idaho could end up “awash in money” like Wyoming and Montana. “The biggest problem Wyoming has is how to spend all the money,” Risch said, adding that Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal told him at a just-concluded Western Governors Association meeting that his state is offering college scholarships to virtually every Wyoming student.

Idaho’s top elected officials, gathered as the state Land Board on Tuesday, received the report on the oil and gas exploration auction from state Lands Director Winston Wiggins. Wiggins said after receiving inquiries, the lands department set up the auction last month – and all 87 parcels went. The tracts in Canyon, Gem, Payette and Washington Counties total 27,713 acres.

The “premium bids” pledged by the oil and gas companies are just for the right to lease the state lands for exploration. Annual lease fees follow, and more payments if they strike oil or gas. Wiggins said, “There would be royalty payments to the state – I can’t tell you what they would be, because it’s never happened. That’s on top of the lease fee.”

The Land Board is required by the state Constitution to manage state endowment lands for the maximum long-term financial return to the state’s school endowment fund. When the lands bring in more money – most typically from grazing fees, logging, and leases – there’s more money for schools.

Wiggins said this morning that the department has had additional inquiries about oil and gas exploration just in the last few days, “so the interest continues.”

Risch said back in the 1970s – the last time the nation was suffering through an extreme crunch on gasoline – companies came in and leased thousands of acres of private land in Idaho for oil and gas exploration, including many who signed leases with farmers for exploration in their fields. But nothing came of it, and the leases simply expired.

“They never found anything anywhere,” Risch said. But, he said, “Now they have more sophisticated ways of exploring.”

Candidates doing their homework

At today’s state Land Board meeting, the Democratic and Republican candidates for state controller were both there – right in the front row, each holding a stack of documents and following along closely. They also happened, by luck, to be sitting right next to each other.

That’s Republican Donna Jones, in the pink, and Democrat Jackie Groves Twilegar, in the dark suit.

The state controller, of course, serves on the state Land Board – perhaps the highest-profile part of the controller’s job, which otherwise consists of overseeing the state’s payroll, accounting, central computer system, and so forth.

Mass. guv rakes in money from – Utah?

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the featured speaker at this week’s Idaho Republican Party convention in Idaho Falls, has been raising lots of money for his leadership political action committees as he prepares for a possible run for president. According to Sunday editions of the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City, a good chunk of that money is coming in from Utah.

The Utah paper found that nearly 45 percent of the $1.6 million raised so far by Romney’s PACs was from Utahns. But even though Romney is the governor of a state about as far from Utah as you can get, he’s hardly unknown in the Beehive State. Romney led the successful 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which earned him plenty of gratitude and affection in the state.

The Deseret News quoted Kelly Patterson, director of BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, saying Romney, a Republican, also fits the political culture in Utah. “People think that just because he’s LDS, there’s this natural affinity and there will be this kind of monolithic movement toward Gov. Romney,” Patterson told the paper. “I’d caution people that as much as there’s this religious affinity, there’s also this ideological one.”

The paper also noted that Romney’s late father served as governor of Michigan.

A long history to look at

Asked today at the Boise City Club if their two tribes get along, officials of the Coeur d’Alene and Nez Perce Indian tribes said yes. The two North Idaho tribes have much in common, they said, including new, young leadership. Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief Allan noted that the Nez Perce chairwoman, Rebecca Miles, likes to “rub it in” that she’s even younger than he is – though by only a few months. Overall, the tribes get along well, he said: “Historically it hasn’t always been that way, but over the last century or so it’s been pretty good.”

Bruneel in, Winder out; Terteling-Payne in, Heilman out

Gov. Jim Risch held a press conference today to announce more appointments, and the news included a new chairman for the Idaho Transportation Board: Former state Rep. Frank Bruneel, who will immediately replace Chuck Winder in that position. Both Risch and Bruneel said they’re dedicated to seeing through the GARVEE bonding program that Winder spearheaded for former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne. “Frank shares the passion I have to make this work,” Risch said. “If anyone can make it work, I believe Frank Bruneel can.”

Risch said he had nothing bad to say about Winder. “Chuck has been a good and faithful public servant for many, many years, has done a very good job,” Risch said. “What a chief executive wants is someone that he knows, that he’s worked with, just really has a close relationship.” Risch said the board chairman’s position is the only one at the Transportation Department that serves at the pleasure of the governor, so it allows him to have his person there. The director of the Transportation Department serves at the pleasure of the board, and the other board members serve fixed terms, none of which are now up.

Risch also named former Boise Mayor Carolyn Terteling-Payne to be the new administrator of the Division of Human Resources for the state, replacing Ann Heilman. “She will take office immediately,” Risch said of Terteling-Payne. “She as mayor had her own human resources challenges with the city of Boise, which I thought she handled admirably.”

Risch did not – as had been rumored – fire the current Agriculture Department head, Pat Takasugi. Instead, he reappointed Takasugi, but replaced his deputy director, Mike Everett, with Phil Bandy. Bandy, who has worked at the department since last year and currently is invasive species coordinator, also worked for the state Department of Environmental Quality for 15 years, and Risch said he’ll help the two departments work together on issues over which they have overlapping responsibilities.

Risch also reappointed Karl Dreher as director of the state Department of Water Resources; Toni Hardesty as director of the Department of Environmental Quality; and Gavin Gee as director of the state Department of Finance. Several more cabinet positions remain to be named; asked about some of those, Risch said he will definitely be keeping on state Lands Director Winston Wiggins and Office of Endangered Species head Jim Caswell. “I don’t want anyone to get nervous about that,” Risch said.

Kempthorne tabs Bogert for Interior post

After only 10 months as the northwest regional administrator for the EPA, Michael Bogert is stepping down to take a job as counselor to new Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne – his former boss when Kempthorne was governor of Idaho and Bogert was the governor’s legal counsel.

Bogert called his time in Seattle as the EPA regional chief “memorable.” He said in a statement, “Environmental challenges in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska are as diverse as its citizens, cultures, and landscapes. I believe the Bush Administration and EPA will continue to play an important role in addressing these challenges by lending its considerable expertise to collaborate with those who share its ethic of innovative problem-solving. I am exceedingly grateful to have had this opportunity to serve with EPA staff and other partners who are so committed to preserving and enhancing this special place.”

His move is part of a growing trend toward short-term jobs for top Republicans these days. Kempthorne, of course, has just 2-1/2 years to serve as interior secretary, as President Bush finishes his second term in office. Meanwhile, back in Idaho, Kempthorne’s successor as governor, Jim Risch, has just seven months in office to complete Kempthorne’s term, and that presumably goes for the staff he brings to the job as well.

LaRocco announces his own four-point property tax relief plan

Former Idaho Congressman Larry LaRocco, who is running for lieutenant governor, has countered his November opponent’s property tax relief proposal with his own four-point plan. LaRocco wants to increase the homeowner’s exemption from property tax to at least $100,000; reduce the sales tax on groceries by at least 2-1/2 cents, spend $50 million of the current state budget surplus on school construction and repair; and allow impact fees to be charged on new construction to fund new or expanded schoolhouses.

“My four-point plan will positively affect every Idaho family and reduce the property tax burden of all Idaho homeowners,” LaRocco said.

LaRocco faces current Gov. Jim Risch in the November election for the lieutenant governor’s seat, in an odd twist that is creating the shortest gubernatorial term in Idaho history. Risch was inaugurated Friday as Idaho’s 31st governor, but will serve only until the end of the year, when he’ll seek a second term as lieutenant governor. In his inaugural address, Risch called on lawmakers to bring him a deal to replace the current property tax levy for school operations with other state funds in order to reduce property taxes, and said if they do so, he’ll call a special session of the Legislature.

LaRocco held a press conference just before Risch’s inaugural in a retired Boise couple’s backyard, and said “it is abundantly clear the current political leadership knows that a voter revolt grows daily over the increased property taxes residential property owners must pay.”

LaRocco also has been campaigning hard on the issue of targeting methamphetamine abuse; Risch, in his inaugural remarks, said he’ll name a state “drug czar” within 60 days.

‘A lot easier than property tax relief’

Legislators who attended new Gov. Jim Risch’s inaugural ceremony today were buzzing afterward about Risch’s property tax relief talk, and the possibility of a special session this summer on the topic. House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, a rancher from Burley, noted that he’s been castrating calves on his ranch, and sported a bandaged finger as a result. “In my life I’ve probably done 10,000 calves,” Newcomb said, “and it’s a lot easier than property tax relief.”

Budget analyst moves up

Cathy Holland-Smith, a numbers whiz and a respected member of the non-partisan legislative budget staff, has been named the new head of the legislative budget office. Jeff Youtz, the longtime budget director, is moving up to become the new director of legislative services, overseeing budget and policy, research and legislation, computer systems and more. He’ll take over that job on Aug. 1, when longtime legislative services Director Carl Bianchi retires. Bianchi tried to retire last year, but legislative leaders prevailed upon him to stay on through another legislative session, saying they needed to rely on Bianchi’s experience and expertise for another year.

Holland-Smith has been on the Legislature’s staff since 1994, and most recently served as a principal budget analyst with expertise in criminal justice and health and human services. Youtz said of her, “She is highly regarded by the Legislature and her experience, professionalism and leadership skills will be a great asset to the Idaho Legislature’s nonpartisan budget staff. She will provide a seamless transition in staff leadership.”

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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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