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Eye On Boise

Archive for May 2006

Nevada to keep billions as part of deal on Kempthorne confirmation

Nevada newspapers and the Associated Press are reporting that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Friday that he brokered a deal in which the White House promised to back away from trying to tap into millions of dollars from sales of public land in southern Nevada, in exchange for Democratic support for former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s confirmation as the new Secretary of the Interior.

It turns out that a 1998 law, the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, called for auctioning off Bureau of Land Management land in Clark County, Nev. and spending the money inside Nevada. According to the news reports, those proceeds, some $2.7 billion thus far, have gone to parks, trails, conservation improvements and water and education funds in Nevada. The Bush Administration had proposed shifting 70 percent of the profits back to the U.S. Treasury for deficit reduction.

The AP report quoted Reid saying, “I said before that I couldn’t support Gov. Kempthorne’s nomination unless we could come to an agreement about key public land issues. I’m happy to say that we have. … The White House has agreed to honor the purpose of the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, and will not try to divert any funding away from the state of Nevada for the duration of this administration.” He added, “Senator (John) Ensign and I have worked together in recent years to defeat multiple proposals that would have stolen Nevada’s money. I’m pleased that these battles are now over.”

Kempthorne’s confirmation was approved on a voice vote in the U.S. Senate on Friday morning, after a procedural vote to end debate passed, 85-8. The eight senators voting no on the procedural question were Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida, Joe Biden of Delaware, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Tom Harkin of Iowa, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Charles Schumer of New York.

Risch says he’s ‘humbled’

New Gov. Jim Risch had this to say in a statement: “The Secretary of State received Governor Kempthorne’s resignation letter by fax at 12:57 p.m. Friday and in accordance with the Constitution and statutes I became the governor. I am truly humbled by this opportunity. Vicki and I love this state and its people, and I will vigorously fulfill my responsibilities as the state’s Chief Executive.”

He added, “This is a big day for Idaho and we are very excited for Dirk Kempthorne. I told him we are very proud of him, and he can be proud of his public service here in Idaho. I know that he will make Idahoans and the nation proud with his service as our Secretary of the Interior.”

Risch said in a press release that when he told Kempthorne that, Kempthorne responded, “Jim, you will make a great governor for Idaho.”

It’s official – Kempthorne is out, Risch is in

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has submitted the following letter of resignation to Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa:

Dear Secretary Ysursa:

I am humbled by the great honor to have been nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the United States Senate as the 49th Secretary of the Interior.

As I assume this new responsibility, this letter serves as my notice to resign as Governor of the State of Idaho and Commander-in-Chief of the Idaho National Guard. This resignation will be concurrent with my taking the oath of office as Secretary of the Interior.

It has been my profound honor to serve the people of Idaho as their 30th Governor. I will have the benefit of their friendship, inspiration, and prayers as I enter this new arena of service on behalf of our fellow citizens throughout the United States.

God Bless Idaho, and God bless the United States of America.

Dirk Kempthorne

Ysursa responded with the following acceptance:

I, Ben Ysursa, Secretary of State for the State of Idaho, pursuant to the provisions of Section 59-902, Idaho Code, do hereby accept the resignation of Dirk Kempthorne from the Office of Governor of the State of Idaho.

Ben Ysursa
Secretary of State

Ysursa said, “That’s it – it’s upon resignation. … In all respects, he (Risch) is the governor. … Now the title’s official.”

Idaho senators praise new Secretary

Here’s U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo’s comment on this morning’s Senate confirmation of Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne as Secretary of the Interior:

“Today’s confirmation of Dirk Kempthorne marks the beginning of a great tenure at the Interior Department. While there has been some partisanship regarding his confirmation, none of it was directed at him but rather at specific political situations. Dirk has been a great leader in the state of Idaho and will bring strong guidance and common sense to the issues confronting the Interior Department. I look forward to working with him on improving the Endangered Species Act, public land management issues and a host of other issues facing the West and our country.”

Crapo was referring to moves by two Democratic senators to use the confirmation vote to bring attention to issues in their states, including distribution of oil and gas royalties to Gulf Coast states and oil and gas drilling off the Gulf of Mexico. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., dropped her protest and agreed to back Kempthorne’s confirmation after talks with him. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, persisted but was outvoted on a cloture motion, which cut off debate and allowed the confirmation vote to proceed.

Sen. Larry Craig praised Kempthorne as a consensus-builder. “I have watched Gov. Kempthorne for two terms, or eight years in my state of Idaho, take very difficult situations and sometimes competing sides and bring them together to resolve a problem and to come out whole and smiling in behalf of their interests and in behalf of the state of Idaho,” Craig told the Senate last night. “It is with that kind of style and capacity that Gov. Kempthorne comes to the position of Secretary of the Interior.”

The new guv is cooking at the Fishermen’s Breakfast

Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, who will officially become Idaho’s governor as soon as Gov. Kempthorne’s resignation letter arrives at the Secretary of State’s office, is over in eastern Idaho this morning, where among other stops, he’ll be cooking with a search and rescue team at the annual Fishermen’s Breakfast that usually attracts thousands of folks in St. Anthony. Brad Hoaglund, who’s volunteering to help out in the governor’s office this morning on communications, reports that Risch will hold a press conference on Tuesday at 10:30 in the governor’s office to announce his staff and inaugural plans.

Don’t look for a giant platform across the Statehouse steps and planes flying over in formation, Hoaglund said. “There will be something on the steps, there will be a formal swearing-in,” he said. “We’ll do something formal for the public but we’re kind of limited a bit.” After all, Risch’s term as governor will be pretty short – “It’s seven months.” The public swearing-in is scheduled for June 2.

Hoaglund said the office is waiting for Kempthorne’s formal letter of resignation to be faxed to Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, as Kempthorne assumes his new duties as U.S. Secretary of the Interior. “Ben will send a letter of acceptance. According to the Constitution, that transfers the power and then we’ll move forward,” Hoaglund said.

Idaho employers cutting back on benefits

A new survey from the state Department of Commerce and Labor shows Idaho employers sharply cut back on offering basic fringe benefits like medical coverage and paid vacation to their full-time employees from 2002 to 2005.

The new 2005 Idaho Fringe Benefits Survey found that three-quarters of employers offered some form of medical coverage and paid vacation to their full-time employees last year, and two-thirds provided paid holidays. That was down from the 2002 survey, which found 92 percent of employers reporting providing full-time workers paid vacations, 81 percent medical coverage and 87 percent paid holidays.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in 2004 17.3 percent of Idaho’s residents – about 240,000 – did not have medical coverage, the 10th highest rate in the nation.

The survey gathered information from nearly 2,200 randomly selected employers in Idaho. To learn more, check out the full survey report.

Making hay while the sun shines

It’s a beautiful, sunny spring day in Boise, and with no Republican event scheduled to celebrate last night’s election results, the other parties are busy making hay of them.

Idaho Democrats gathered on the Statehouse steps to celebrate their primary election results, and Democratic nominee for governor Jerry Brady took the opportunity to attack his opponent, Congressman Butch Otter, for contributing to high gas prices because he has “voted consistently with big oil since he got there.” Brady also put out a press release stating, “After raising almost ten times more than his primary opponents, Otter received less than 70% of the vote in last night’s primary. It’s a clear sign of weakness.” Brady took 83 percent of the vote against his primary challenger.

Democratic candidate for state controller Jackie Groves Twilegar got applause for this comment: “We will make history in November, when the first woman is elected state controller.” She’s right – because the nominees from both parties, the only two candidates running, are women. Donna Jones beat longtime CPA Royce Chigbrow for the Republican nomination, so Jones and Twilegar will face off in November.

State Democratic Chairman Richard Stallings promised a clean, issue-oriented campaign from the Democrats, unlike the Republican primary for Congress, which Stallings called “the food fight they called a campaign.”

Meanwhile, from a third party, Andy Hedden-Nicely, who’s running for the 1st District congressional seat on the United/Natural Law Party ticket, had this spin on Bill Sali’s victory in the Republican primary: “Less than 25% of the vote? Can Bill Sali really celebrate that? Depending on the final figures, it appears that nearly 76% of Republicans who voted in the GOP’s bitter primary in the First Congressional District did NOT want Sali to be the party’s representative in November.”

Final 1st CD results

Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez pulled into second place in the final results for the 1st Congressional District GOP primary race, but state Rep. Bill Sali is still the winner, according to the Secretary of State’s office’s final unofficial results. Here are the numbers:

Bill Sali: 18,150 – 25%
Robert Vasquez: 13,459 – 19%
Sheila Sorensen: 13,104 – 18%
Keith Johnson: 12,858 – 18%
Norm Semanko: 7,718 – 11 percent
Skip Brandt: 6,246 – 9 percent

On the Democratic side, former Micron executive Larry Grant of Fruitland had 10,555 votes or 75 percent, over Cecil Kelly III, who had 3,530 or 25 percent.

Comments from the candidates

Here’s what some of the unsuccessful candidates for the 1st District congressional seat had to say last night as the results came in:

Robert Vasquez, Canyon County commissioner: “Certainly regardless of the numbers, I was able to get my message out.” Residents of the 1st District, he said, are now “fully aware of the invasion by illegal aliens and the cost that it’s incurring on the citizens of Idaho.”

State Controller Keith Johnson, who was still hoping for a turnaround in the numbers to allow him to pull ahead, said he was hoping for “a very clean campaign (in the fall) – we can really focus on issues and substance and hopefully move away from some of the negative campaigning we saw in the Republican primary.”

Former state Sen. Sheila Sorensen, who was targeted with attack ads and fliers by two out-of-state groups backing Sali: “I think negative campaigning hurts everybody. … I think it’s a good strong effort that we have made. Tonight we’ll see at the end of the day how much negative campaigning works or doesn’t work.”

Numbers change a little, results still the same in 1st CD

Results still aren’t final for the hotly contested 1st District congressional race, but the AP is reporting that with 97 percent of the vote counted, state Rep. Bill Sali of Kuna still holds a comfortable lead with 26 percent of the vote in the six-way race. Here are the numbers:

With 437 of 450 precincts reporting (97%):

Bill Sali: 17,822 – 26%
Sheila Sorensen: 12,855 – 19%
Keith Johnson: 12,263 – 18%
Robert Vasquez: 11,932 – 17%
Norm Semanko: 7,356 – 11%
Skip Brandt: 6,115 – 9%

On the Democratic side, former Micron executive Larry Grant of Fruitland had 10,492 votes or 75 percent, over Cecil Kelly III, who had 3,559 or 25 percent.

Think all these numbers sound a bit on the small side for a major decision like who should be the next congressman? They are. Turnout was low, low, low. There are no statewide figures yet, but in Kootenai County, just 24.5 percent of registered voters cast ballots, and in Ada County, it was just 21.4 percent.

Election night crowds excited despite low turnout

Things were upbeat at the Idaho Democratic Party’s gathering in downtown Boise tonight, where a casually dressed crowd was glorying in strong primary wins by standard-bearers Jerry Brady for governor and Larry Grant for Congress. “We’re going to have a very vigorous, strong, issue-specific and aggressive campaign,” Brady said amid the noise of the crowd, as state party Chairman Richard Stallings took the stage. Stallings assailed the Republicans for their knock-down, drag-out congressional primary. Meanwhile, a Democrat pushing a bicycle through the crowd didn’t look out of place, and a baby’s portable playpen was tucked into a spot at the side of the crowded room.

A few miles away, things were a little more formal at the Idaho Republican Party’s election night bash, where one Republican carried a large American flag on a pole around the Red Lion Riverside Hotel ballroom, and a dressier crowd mixed with the occasional cowboy-hatted supporter. Republicans lined up at big TV screens to watch the results come in, while munching on hors d’oeuvres. Donna Jones, who was leading in the primary for state controller, posed happily with her daughter, who she said she talked into coming at the last minute. The walls were covered with campaign signs for the various candidates, and the hallways with signs pointing to each candidate’s hospitality suite, of which there were many.

Candidate for Idaho governor to spend Election Night in D.C.

When Idaho candidates gather at their respective election-night bashes tomorrow night to watch the primary election results come in, accept their parties’ nominations or concede to those who’ve defeated them, one of the biggest names from the top of Idaho’s GOP ticket will be missing. That’s because Congressman Butch Otter, who’s running for governor, flew back to Washington, D.C. this morning and isn’t coming back tomorrow. His press secretary, Mark Warbis, said Otter already voted in the primary by absentee ballot. “He’s got a job he was elected to do – he’s going to go back and do it,” Warbis said. “He will not be here on Election Night. … They have votes scheduled this evening.” Tomorrow afternoon, Otter is scheduled to participate in a subcommittee hearing on the “Antifreeze Bittering Act of 2006.”

Apparently it’s in the eye of the beholder

In last night’s 1st District congressional debate, the GOP candidates variously referred to each others’ campaign claims about themselves and about their opponents as false, misleading, “masquerading” (Sali on Vasquez) and a “flat-out lie” (Vasquez on Sali). So, isn’t it illegal somehow for candidates to lie in their campaigning? Eye on Boise posed that question today to both the Federal Election Commission and the Idaho Secretary of State, and in both cases got the same answer.

“That’s politics,” said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “There’s libel and slander and all this stuff, but ‘false campaigning’ is nothing that we have anything on the books on – and one person’s falsehood is another one’s truth. We don’t have a truth in campaigning law.” Though, he added, “You would hope people would” tell the truth when they’re trying to win public office.

Ian Stirton, FEC spokesman, said there’s no federal anti-lying campaign law either. “If that were true, then of course a lot of people would be in trouble,” he said with a chuckle. “You can imagine if every statement had to pass a certain truth test, there would be a lot of work there.” But the FEC mainly just deals with financial issues regarding campaigns, he said. States are free to regulate the actual conduct of elections, which he said is “a state matter, not a federal matter.”

“It’s an interesting question, but I don’t think I can be of much assistance to you in that area,” Stirton said.

Tonight’s the big debate

Tonight at 7 p.m., the six candidates vying for the GOP nomination for Idaho’s open 1st District congressional seat will face off in a 90-minute debate to be broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television. The match-up is the final installment of the primary election “Idaho Debates,” sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Idaho Press Club and Idaho Public TV. For anyone who misses the broadcast, the whole thing also can be watched online during and after the debate at

Movin’ on up

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has amassed an array of awards, plaques, and mementos over the years that long has been on display in the ornate governor’s office, where he’s presided over Idaho state government for nearly eight years. Now, with a final vote nearing in the full U.S. Senate and Kempthorne’s confirmation as the next Secretary of the Interior looking highly likely, the governor’s office staff has been helping pack up and cart away the mementos. Secretary Claudia Simplot-Nally was wrapping bubble-wrap today around such treasures as the Iron Mike Award to Senator Dirk Kempthorne from the Marine Corps League; a shiny white bust of Abraham Lincoln; an Eagle Award for service to youth from the Idaho Boy Scout Councils awarded in 2001; and the “Commander in Chief Award” from the Idaho National Guard, topped with a bronze statute of an aviator. “This is what’s going to Washington with him,” Simplot-Nally said. “We’ve been doing this for three weeks.”

The Idaho governor’s office, once filled with Kempthorne’s signature items, is looking somewhat bare. Acting Gov. Jim Risch said he’s not ready to start moving in his own stuff. “There’s not been a confirmation vote yet – we need to get that behind us before I start moving in,” he said with a chuckle from behind the governor’s desk.

Big bucks in 1st District congressional race

Talk about big bucks – and this is a primary election. But it’s also a hotly contested race for an open congressional seat. So here are the latest numbers from the FEC on campaign finances in the 1st District race:

Bill Sali: $401,699
Sheila Sorensen: $360,143
Robert Vasquez: $239,369
Norm Semanko: $202,917
Keith Johnson: $133,536
Skip Brandt: $83,629
Larry Grant: $134,619

Grant, of course, is a Democrat, and his primary opponent, Cecil Kelly, hasn’t raised enough to file reports.

On the Republican side, that $400,000-plus figure for Bill Sali doesn’t even count the cost of his extensive television advertising campaign, which has been done entirely as an independent expenditure by the Washington, D.C.-based Club for Growth. That same organization has now come out with another TV ad attacking both Sorensen and Vasquez as alleged tax-raisers, this time without mentioning Sali.

Meanwhile, other ads are starting to show up, including a positive one from Sorensen touting her history in Idaho.

The pre-primary FEC reports showed some interesting things: 82 percent of Sali’s contributions in the final fundraising period were from out-of-state individuals whose contributions were bundled together by the Club for Growth. During the same period, from April 1 to early May, Vasquez drew 91 percent of his contributions from out-of-state individuals. Ninety-five percent of Sorensen’s fundraising during the same period was from inside Idaho, but that included a large loan of her own funds.

Semanko’s final fundraising push was mostly from in-state, with the 17 percent from out of state coming mainly from people in the water and irrigation business. Johnson’s fundraising during the period included 35 percent from out of state, but with his smaller numbers, that consisted of just a few PAC donations. Brandt’s fundraising during the period of just under $20,000 was 72 percent from in-state, but that included an $8,000 loan from the candidate.

Boise State University political scientist and election expert Gary Moncrief said many congressional races around the country aren’t competitive, so that may be helping draw out-of-state money to Idaho, where there truly is a competitive race. “The House has been so gerrymandered that we’re talking about maybe 40 competitive races these days out of 435,” Moncrief said. All told, he said, “I can’t imagine there’s ever been more than this spent in a congressional primary in Idaho.”

Kempthorne nomination clears committee

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s nomination to be the next Secretary of the Interior cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this morning on a voice vote, with no opposition. However, according to the Associated Press, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., voted “present” instead of “yes” to protest the Bush Administration’s refusal to share a portion of offshore oil and gas royalties with states like hers on the Gulf Coast.

AP writer Matthew Daly reported that committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chided Landrieu for the move. “I think your cause is not well-served by doing what you’re doing today,” he told her. “What you’re doing essentially is saying no to the nominee. I wish you wouldn’t be doing that to him.” Landrieu reportedly responded that she wasn’t voting against the nomination, and called Kempthorne an “outstanding” nominee.

The nomination now moves to the full Senate, where Senate leaders will try to get a vote before Memorial Day.

The name may have been a giveaway

Operators of a Garden City outfit called “Big Bucks Bingo” have been charged with tax fraud and conspiracy for allegedly claiming more of their take went to charity than really did. It matters because charitable bingo is only legal in Idaho if at least 20 percent of the gross revenues go to charity. If convicted, the “Big Bucks” operators could face up to three years in prison for tax fraud and five years for conspiracy.

Apparently that was a good sign

It turns out that there was no protocol reason for Sen. Pete Domenici, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to be addressing Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne repeatedly as “Mr. Secretary” at the end of his confirmation hearing today, as the committee considered Kempthorne’s nomination to be the next U.S. Secretary of the Interior. So the early use of the title may have been a promising sign for Kempthorne’s nomination…

Kempthorne picks Ponderosa

Various senators have questioned Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne about Interior Department issues in their own states, from Hawaii to South Carolina, some of which he had to delay comment on until he learned more. So when Idaho Sen. Larry Craig got his turn to ask questions, he asked some about Idaho – including a final softball question: “What is your very favorite place on a public piece of property in Idaho?”

Kempthorne responded, “I have many, but it’s probably in Ponderosa State Park.” He recalled a time, back in 1992, when he and wife Patricia had reserved a campsite in the scenic state campground along the shores of Payette Lake to take their two young kids camping – but then he became a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and that camping trip was canceled. Those kids are now grown, and were in the audience watching their Dad’s confirmation hearing. “We missed a lot of camping trips because of the public service path I’ve taken,” Kempthorne told the Senate committee. “Maybe I can help more families access and enjoy and realize what it means to be a family in the great outdoors of America.”

State tax revenues way up in April

Idaho’s state tax revenues for April, at least according to preliminary numbers, are up – way up – to the tune of $112 million more than expected. A whopping $92 million of that came from the individual income tax. Corporate income tax was up $12 million over projections, and sales taxes were up $8 million.

In a news release, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne sounded a cautionary note. “These numbers are very positive,” Kempthorne said. “Idaho has enjoyed record high employment numbers and continues to create new jobs. We are at the forefront of a robust national economy that shows few signs of slowing. However, we must remain cautious not to generate unrealistic expectations. The spike in demand for new housing that has produced these preliminary numbers could mean continued job creation and strong wages – especially in the construction industry – if it is sustained. However, we must guard against the possibility of what some see as a developing housing bubble.”

For the current fiscal year to date, general fund revenue stands about $137 million higher than projections.

Here’s the explanation from the governor’s office: “Early indications from the Idaho Tax Commission suggest the key factors behind this strong revenue performance include a significant increase in capital gains related not only to real estate transactions but also equity market gains, large amounts of retirement income with no corresponding withholding, and taxpayers with combined wage and retirement income with insufficient withholding. Much of the boost in retirement-related filing payments appears to be related to new arrivals to Idaho.”

Ah, what’s in a name?

A newly formed political party, the United Party, may appear on Idaho’s November ballot – even though the group hasn’t gathered the nearly 12,000 signatures it takes to get a new party on the Idaho ballot. That’s because the United Party is merging with the Natural Law Party, which has had ballot access in Idaho since 1996.

“Coming together with our friends in the Natural Law Party assures us legal access to the ballot in November,” said Andy Hedden-Nicely, a Boise businessman and founder of the new party, and its candidate for the 1st District congressional seat.

Hedden-Nicely said he considers the Transcendental Meditation movement – with which the Natural Law Party was affiliated – “a little kooky for politics stuff.” But, he said, “When you look at their statements on politics, they’re so right where we are, middle of the road.” The Natural Law Party, which pushed for “conflict-free politics” and “the reduction of individual and social stress,” was rooted in the TM movement, and was led by physicist and Maharishi University professor John Hagelin, its presidential candidate in 1992, 1996 and 2000. The party shut down its national headquarters in 2004.

Ann Vegors of Pocatello, the state chair of the Natural Law Party, sent a letter to Secretary of State Ben Ysursa last month stating that the state party’s six members voted unanimously to elect Hedden-Nicely as their new chairman, and to change the party’s name to “United Party.” Ysursa hasn’t acted on the name-change request yet, but there’s precedent for party name changes. The U.S. Taxpayers Party qualified for the Idaho ballot in 1996, then changed its name to the American Heritage Party in 1998, and then changed again in 2000 to the Constitution Party, its current name.

After qualifying for the ballot, a party can maintain its ballot access by running at least three candidates for state or national office in each election. This year, the Natural Law Party has three candidates running – Hedden-Nicely for Congress, and two legislative candidates in Pocatello and Shelley. Hedden-Nicely announced the formation of the United Party in 2005, calling for term limits, supporting small businesses and farmers, and a political “middle ground.”

Of late, his campaign has turned into something of a campaign against the media, as Hedden-Nicely has launched a boycott of the Idaho Statesman newspaper because it didn’t include him in its coverage of contested primary election races. Of course, he’s not in a contested primary election – his party, whichever name it ends up with, won’t be on the ballot until November’s general election.

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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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