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Eye On Boise

Archive for October 2006

Two felony charges of misuse of public money

The criminal complaint unsealed today in the University Place case charges former UI financial vice president Jerry Wallace with two counts of misuse of public money by officers, a felony. The complaint charged that Wallace falsified accounts and loaned or appropriated UI money “on behalf of for the benefit of the University of Idaho Foundation and/or others.” Both crimes were alleged to have occurred between November 2000 and March 2003.

In a press release, Latah County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Thompson said the criminal complaint unsealed today makes “no allegation of theft” against Wallace “or anyone else involved in the project.” Instead, he said, “The charges stem from the creation, use and audit characterization of University of Idaho Agency Account SCZ307, which was a funding source for expenditures related to the University Place/Boise Project from approximately November 2000 through early 2003.”

A summons was issued for Wallace to appear in Latah County court on Nov. 13.

Thompson said the criminal complaint originally was filed under seal on June 30, 2006 in order to “toll potential statutes of limitation and allow the state investigators to complete their inquiries. Based on those follow-up inquiries, and consultation between the participating investigative agencies, the Latah County Prosecutor’s Office has elected to proceed.”

The case is a result of “extensive” investigations by both state and federal authorities, Thompson said. “The two jurisdictions have been working closely. Based on the information gathered by the investigations to date, the state has decided to proceed with charges and expects that the federal authorities will be closely watching the progress of the state case.”

Uh, whose idea was this anyway?

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican who may run for president in 2008 and would become the first LDS president if elected, stopped off in Boise this morning for a rally for Republican candidate for governor Butch Otter. Romney gave a stirring, patriotic talk to a group of GOP supporters gathered at the Powerhouse Event Center, peppered with a few homey jokes. He talked of seeing American Olympic gold medal winners with tears running down their faces as they sang along to their national anthem, hands over their hearts. “It’s because they’re honored to represent this land which is the hope of this world,” Romney said. He repeated that thought later after telling the story of how former Idaho Republican Chairman Blake Hall’s son signed up for another tour in Iraq after being badly wounded by an improvised explosive device. “There’s something great about this great land we live in, an inspiration to the world,” Romney said.

Romney joined Otter and Idaho Sen. Larry Craig for a few minutes before the rally to answer questions from the media. Otter was asked why he brought in the governor of Massachusetts to campaign for him. “Because he asked to come,” Otter responded with a grin. But Romney said he wasn’t sure how it got arranged; he’s been traveling around to lots of states to boost Republican gubernatorial candidates, and is off to Oregon this afternoon. Otter said he was off on a campaign bus tour when the visit was arranged. “I’d like to say I called my friend Mitt,” he said. Romney said, “I don’t know where it came from. Somebody had a good idea. … I’m trying to visit as many states as I can in the waning days of this election.”

Brady gets the applause, Otter goes negative in final debate

In the final debate between the candidates for governor last night in Twin Falls (read the full story here), it was Democrat Jerry Brady – not GOP Congressman Butch Otter – who garnered the sole outburst of applause from an audience of 250. Otter continually threw jabs at Brady accusing him of being a dam-breacher, wolf-lover and backer of alien amnesty, all of which Brady calmly rejected. “What was surprising to me was he (Otter) was much more negative than Brady was,” said Albertson College of Idaho political scientist Jasper LiCalzi.

The roar of applause from the audience – complete with approving whistles – came an hour into the 90-minute debate on KTVB-TV, after a question about air quality regulations. Otter responded first, saying he’d trust the Idaho Legislature even if it defied the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations. “I believe that the state Legislature probably has a lot more wisdom on what happens in Idaho and should happen in Idaho than any bureaucrat in the EPA sitting on Independence Avenue in Washington, D.C.,” Otter said. “My trust is with the Legislature, and I would work with them to maintain a standard whether or not it fit the federal government mold. I believe we can do what we want to in the state of Idaho.”

Brady responded by citing a proposal by an out-of-state energy company to build a coal-fired power plant in the Magic Valley. “A California utility came here, said, ‘We want to bring Wyoming coal into this valley, we want to burn it, we want to pollute your air, pollute your water, leave all of our ash behind, and ship the electricity out to the West Coast.’ I opposed it,” Brady said. “My opponent supported them, took their side, and took $6,000 from them.” The Legislature supported Magic Valley residents who pushed for a moratorium to block the coal plant, Brady said, but then, when a federal program threatened to allow more mercury emissions in Idaho – the very issue that raised concerns about the coal plant – the Legislature didn’t respond. “I said no, Gov. (Jim) Risch later said no, but the Legislature said yes,” Brady said. “Now, I do not believe we can be sure that the Legislature will make the right decision without a governor who is committed to keeping mercury out of our state.” The room erupted in applause.

It was a key moment in a campaign that’s become increasingly tight as the election approaches. An independent poll sponsored by the Idaho Statesman newspaper and KIVI Channel 6 TV in Nampa, released on Sunday, showed the governor’s race in Idaho a dead heat, with Otter leading Brady by a single percentage point, 44-43, with 12 percent undecided.

LiCalzi said the mercury issue went to the heart of the message Brady’s been pushing in his campaign, that he’d be more diligent than Otter in protecting Idaho’s quality of life. That’s embodied in Brady’s campaign slogan, “Idaho is not for sale,” which refers back to Otter’s sponsorship of legislation in Congress to sell off Idaho public lands, which Otter dropped and apologized for after criticism from Brady and others. “That’s the strongest piece he’s had all along,” LiCalzi said, “and he keeps on using it.” The issue is somewhat reminiscent, he said, of the issue Cecil Andrus first rode into the governorship, when he opposed a mining operation in the White Clouds mountains.

Otter took on the land sale issue head-on in the debate, saying, “I did make a mistake and I admitted that mistake. I think when you’re in politics your burden is even heavier – when you make a mistake you stand up and say so.”

Casey overcomes misgivings, endorses Luna

Retired Coeur d’Alene High School principal Steve Casey, who lost to businessman Tom Luna in the GOP primary election for school superintendent in May, endorsed Luna today despite earlier expressing misgivings about Luna’s qualifications for the job. “We did have some spirited debates along the campaign trail,” Casey said. But Casey said he was impressed that Luna had “moderated” his positions on some education issues and is “a great listener.” He declared, “I believe that we need a change in direction, and I believe that Mr. Tom Luna will bring that change in direction and I am supporting his campaign.”

Last spring, the day after the primary election, Casey said, “Personally, I think that person ought to have an educational background, and I find it difficult for a person without an educational background to be the chief school officer for the state of Idaho. I said that during the campaign, and I’ll say that now – I think that’s inappropriate.” Luna, if elected, would become the first-ever non-educator to serve as Idaho’s state superintendent of schools. He faces Democrat Jana Jones, the current chief deputy superintendent, in next Tuesday’s election. An Idaho Statesman-KIVI-TV poll released on Sunday showed the race a statistical dead heat, with Jones in the lead, 40-37 percent.

Luna said he and Casey will campaign together for the next few days. “Steve has some great ideas,” Luna said. Asked if he’s planning to give Casey a job in his office if he’s elected state superintendent, Luna said, “You know, that hasn’t been discussed. That’s definitely not what this is about – he’s retired, I don’t know what his future plans are.”

Casey said, “I look forward to being with Tom and bouncing ideas off him and vice versa. I tried that retirement thing since May 23rd. I have more to give.”

Casey said it was watching Luna and Jones debate on Idaho Public TV that convinced him to endorse Luna. That debate included a protracted argument about HJR 2, the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, which Luna spoke out in favor of and criticized Jones for not backing. But Casey said that didn’t have anything to do with his decision. “I thought, whether you like it or whether you don’t, I think Tom’s ideas are innovative, they initiate discussions, they get you thinking about issues, and unless you get people to the table things don’t happen,” Casey said.

Who made that claim about me? Oh, it was me…

Apparently when congressional candidate Bill Sali made that reference to people seemingly claiming he has a position on Proposition 2 when he maintains he doesn’t (an interesting boast), those claims he was referring to came from his own campaign. “No matter what anyone else claims, I have not finalized my position on Proposition 2 yet,” Sali said in news release yesterday. But in July, his campaign manager (and daughter-in-law) Jesseca Sali told the Boise Weekly in writing that Sali supports the measure, and the BW duly reported that position. Here’s the email exchange between Jesseca Sali and BW reporter Shea Andersen:

“Jesseca, Thanks for the time this morning. Just looking for Rep. Sali’s position on Proposition 2, the eminent domain or “takings” ballot initiative now on the ballot for November. My question is: Will he vote for it or not? And, yes or no, can he say why or why not? Thanks very much. Phone or e-mail response today would be great. This would be going into next Wednesday’s edition.”
Shea Andersen
News Editor
Boise Weekly

“Shea, Bill will vote for Proposition 2, and I have provided you with a quote from Bill below.
Bill Sali: “As John Locke said, the preservation of property rights is the end of government. Throughout my years in public service, I have worked to help secure private property rights for all Idahoans. Government should be a good neighbor with property owners, and Proposition 2 embodies that principle.”
Jesseca Sali
Campaign Manager

Part 2: Where they stand on education

Education is the single largest piece of Idaho’s state budget, and the Idaho Constitution makes it a top priority for the state. Yet Idaho ranks near the bottom of states in per-pupil expenditures for schools, and last winter, the state’s Supreme Court declared the system for funding school construction unconstitutional and inadequate. Most of Idaho’s high school graduates don’t go on to any higher education.

The four candidates running for governor of Idaho have different visions of how to improve Idaho’s educational system – one doesn’t even want to try. Marvin “Pro-Life” Richardson, the Constitution Party candidate, said: “I’d ask the state Legislature to start the process of changing our constitution so that there’s not a mandate for public education in the constitution. … Public school is a communist doctrine. It breaks down the religious faith of people.” That’s not the tack the other three candidates take, but they differ on whether Idaho should even attempt to spend what other states do on schools. You can read the full story in today’s Spokesman-Review; it’s the second part of my three-part series on key issues in the governor’s race (growth, education and taxes). The article includes this observation from former longtime state Superintendent of Schools Jerry Evans: “It’s a very complex issue, but as long as Idaho spends less money per child than most states, then it’s difficult to expect that we’re going to get better results than other states. … We have to be aware that it doesn’t cost any less to buy a textbook in Idaho than it does in Ohio or Maine or Iowa or anyplace else.”

Debate goes on without Otter

Ignoring the elephant in the room – or, more accurately, the elephant NOT in the room – two candidates for governor focused on issues as they faced off in the League of Women Voters-Idaho Press Club debate on Idaho Public TV on Sunday night. Democrat Jerry Brady and Libertarian Ted Dunlap quizzed each other on the minimum wage, public lands and trimming the cost of government, and weighed in on issues from wolves to dam-breaching to education.

Missing was Republican Butch Otter, who declined to participate.

Brady said if he’s elected governor, he won’t be pro-Democrat or pro-Republican. “I will be the pro-Idaho governor,” he said. “I will try to unite the state.” Dunlap urged a vote for his Libertarian Party agenda. “We could have smaller government,” he said.

Among the highlights: Brady said, “Wolves are predators – they should be hunted like bear and cougars.” Both candidates praised home-schoolers, and Brady revealed that a youngster named Sam who appears in one of his campaign commercials is home-schooled. Brady called for raising the minimum wage, saying, “It’s a moral issue to me … a matter of right and wrong. It’s a matter of helping our families.” Dunlap maintained that government shouldn’t interfere if “two people agree on a contract” for a certain wage. Brady said he’s not an advocate of breaching lower Snake River dams, saying, “I’m not running to take them out.” Dunlap said he’d convene a commission to try to trim Idaho’s prison population, while Brady said he favors community drug treatment programs like Utah’s and special drug-offender prisons to try to treat and divert drug offenders rather than offer them only long-term incarceration. “We surely can do better,” he said. Dunlap spoke out against HJR 2, the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment that also would ban civil unions or domestic partnerships, saying people’s relationships are not the government’s business. “I am ashamed that our statehouse put this in front of the voters,” he said.

Brady’s wife, Rickie, accidentally spilled some TV makeup on Brady’s shirt before the broadcast while helping the candidate prepare for the program, which was remedied with an old TV trick – “White-Out” correction fluid applied directly onto the shirt. Moderator Marcia Franklin noted before the program began that she’d gotten an ink mark on her own bright-red shirt, and crew members said they didn’t have any “red-out” for that. Dunlap’s wife, Missy, offered a Libertarian campaign button to hide the ink mark, but it was declined.

Asked what two things they’d do to improve Idaho’s education system, Dunlap said he had just one – a $5,000 tax deduction for private school tuition or scholarships – and Brady cited improving early-childhood education and expanding community colleges.

Tonight, both candidates will face off again in a debate in Twin Falls sponsored by Boise TV station KTVB, this time with the addition of two other candidates, Otter and Constitution Party candidate Marvin “Pro-Life” Richardson.

Governor candidates differ on how to guide growth in Idaho

Republican Butch Otter rails against regulations. Democrat Jerry Brady declares that growth must pay for itself. Libertarian Ted Dunlap says there’s no reason to make changes when growth will “fix itself” as the economy cools and people stop moving here. Constitution Party candidate Marvin “Pro-Life” Richardson says it’s fine if people move here as long as they have “proper morals.” Idaho is the third-fastest growing state in the country, and the next governor will have to guide the state as it goes through what could be painful changes related to its expanding population. Take a look at how each candidate would approach the task in “Growth manager: Next Idaho governor will lead third-fastest growing state,” the first installment of my three-part series on where the candidates stand on key issues in the Idaho governor’s race. Tomorrow, the second part will focus on education, and the third installment on Tuesday will look at taxes.

Cheney’s visit not a fundraiser this time

It turns out that Vice President Dick Cheney’s second campaign visit to Idaho in three months will be different from the first – it won’t be a fundraiser, and it won’t be for any particular candidate. Instead, Cheney will fly briefly into the Coeur d’Alene Airport for an “Idaho Victory Rally” next Thursday afternoon to rally a group of several hundred invited Republicans. He’ll drop in for similar “victory rallies” next week in Montana, Colorado and Wyoming. “He’s just there to sort of rally the troops and lend whatever support he can,” Megan McGinn, Cheney’s deputy press secretary, told me last night.

North Idaho Republicans are thrilled, but so are Idaho Democrats – who say the increasing national Republican focus on Idaho is a sign that Democrats are no longer irrelevant in this state long dominated by the GOP. “In a sense, Democrats have already won, because Republicans have never had to work so hard for an election in recent memory,” said Idaho Democratic Party spokesman Chuck Oxley. “It’s just absolutely unprecedented. … You don’t send a vice president out to a state like Idaho unless you’re really afraid.”

You can read the full story in today’s Spokesman-Review.

Debate: Segregation, same-sex marriage and schools

The two candidates for Idaho superintendent of schools debated some hot topics during their live debate tonight on Idaho Public Television. Among the highlights: Republican Tom Luna called for separate charter elementary schools for children who are struggling to learn English. “In my district in Nampa, we have 14 elementary schools – every one of them struggles with non-English speaking students,” Luna said. “Imagine if we had one school – a school of choice so nobody was forced to go there – but just one school would have the best and brightest teachers in language acquisition. We could bring the students to that school, get ‘em up to grade level in English, and then transition them back into the traditional school.”

Democrat Jana Jones strongly denounced the idea as “segregation,” as the two faced off in the “Idaho Debates,” sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club and broadcast live across the state. “We learned a long time ago that segregating kids based on disability or limited English proficiency, even if the parents may want to choose or not to choose to go there, that that is not in the best interest of children,” Jones declared. “We should never propose or promote that that is what we want for our kids.” Instead, every school should excel and meet its students’ needs, she said.

Luna seized on her response. “That’s wrong,” he said. “That puts the bureaucracy and the bureaucrat at a higher level in deciding what’s best for a child than it does the parent, and we can never have a successful public education system that meets the needs of every child as long as we have an attitude that the bureaucracy knows what’s best.”

The disagreements didn’t end there. Luna pounded on Jones for not backing the anti-gay marriage amendment on the November ballot, prompting her at one point to cite her 33-year marriage to “an absolutely wonderful man” and say, “I’m offended that you think I don’t support traditional families because that’s not even remotely correct.” She added that Idaho’s schools include children from single-parent families and “all kinds of families,” and “we need to value all families in the state regardless of their makeup.”

Luna pushed his multimillion-dollar plan to install high-tech security systems in every Idaho school, while Jones said the state already has led an effort to develop crisis management plans for every school in the state. Cutbacks in positions like school resource officers and school counselors are a bigger threat to school safety now, she said.

Luna said, “We have bureaucracy who are gobbling up way too much of our education dollar. … We have textbooks that are outdated and wore out.” Asked which bureaucracies are gobbling up the money, he cited school busing costs, saying current funding rules give school districts no incentive to economize. Jones warned that economizing on busing could “compromise the safety of children.”

You can watch the debate in its entirety at www.idahoptv.org.

Otter won’t release his own polls

Republican candidate for governor Butch Otter won’t release his own campaign polls, but he says they differ from Democratic opponent Jerry Brady’s newly released poll showing Brady taking the lead in the race. “The numbers are different, and we feel very confident that on Election Day the vote’s going to go our way,” said Jon Hanian, Otter’s campaign spokesman. “We have our own data but we’re not releasing it, the reason being that we think the only meaningful poll that is conducted is the one that happens on Election Day.” Hanian said it’s “not uncommon this time of year for candidates who are lagging behind in a race to release a poll in an effort to generate some kind of enthusiasm to their campaign.” Asked about Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s contention that his state’s example of electing a Democratic governor is spreading to states like Idaho and Colorado, Hanian said, “We’re not seeing that. We’re two days from the end of this 10-day, 74-city bus tour, and everywhere we’ve gone we’ve been greeted by large, very enthusiastic, vocal crowds. What we’re seeing in person and what we’re seeing in our own polling suggest that we’re right on schedule.”

Hanian also accused Brady of “distorting” Otter’s position on selling off public lands. Otter sponsored legislation in Congress to sell off lands, including 5 million acres in Idaho, to raise money to pay for damages from Hurricane Katrina, but after criticism from Brady and others, he withdrew his sponsorship. “I believe Jerry Brady’s own newspaper lauded Butch for coming out and saying that he made a mistake and he apologized,” Hanian said. “He made a mistake in his initial support of that bill, but he subsequently, after he looked into it and talked with more people, admitted that that initial support was a mistake. He not only got off the bill but he got other members of Congress who were supporting it off the bill, and so the bill is dead.”

Live congressional debate features verbal fisticuffs

Bill Sali came out fighting at tonight’s live League of Women Voters-Idaho Press Club debate on Idaho Public TV, ignoring repeated admonishments from the moderator and ripping into opponent Larry Grant. The initial question to Sali from AP reporter John Miller was about one of his campaign expenditures. Here’s how he answered:

“Well, first, thanks to the Press Club and the League of Women voters for the opportunity to debate in public. You need to know that even Larry Grant’s campaign manager has acknowledged quote Grant’s positions on the issues might be problematic unquote in this district. Larry’s done everything possible to hide from his real positions by calling himself a …”

At that point, moderator Marcia Franklin of Idaho Public TV cut in with, “Mr. Sali, could you please answer the question that was asked of you?” “I’m getting to it,” Sali responded. “We have no opening comments,” Franklin said. “Thank you.”

But Sali continued. “He’s hoping that his Bill Clinton-like parsing will fool voters long enough to get elected,” he said. “Folks, if he does get elected he will have his way with you, then send you the bill. Tonight I will try to explain my opponent’s…”

At that point, Franklin cut in again. “Mr. Sali, we have no opening comments. Please answer Mr. Miller’s question.”

“And how dramatically different they are from mine,” Sali said. Then he answered the question, which was about what services SPARTAC LLC, a company formed by attorney Christ Troupis just before the payments began, provided to the campaign for $120,000 (“media advice, media purchasing, some polling information”).

In other highlights from the debate, United Party candidate Andy Hedden-Nicely explained why he lives in the 2nd District but is running for Congress in the 1st District: “Idaho law sets the qualifications for running for this office, and I meet all of the qualifications for running for this office,” he said. “I have worked and lived in the district most of the 25 years that I’ve been in Idaho. … What I feel like is that it’s not so important to the voters where I sleep every night, what’s important to these voters are issues like affordable health insurance for small businesses, the graft and corruption that’s going on in Congress and the division between the two political parties. … I love this district very much, I’ve been in this district a lot and I don’t think that anybody who knows me and knows of my involvement here has any questions about my commitment or my love for this district.”

Grant was asked why the national Democratic Party hasn’t stepped in with financial help to help Grant counter hundreds of thousands in out-of-state independent expenditures for attack ads by the Republican National Congressional Committee and the Club for Growth. He responded, “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been supportive. They have given me advice, they have helped where they can. But there are now 60-odd races in the United States that are competitive, 43, 44 of those are highly competitive. It takes 15 seats to change control of the House of Representatives, and they have to use their money where they think it’s going to do the most good. And in this case, you know, when you look at a map, if you’re in Washington, D.C. and you look at a map, Idaho doesn’t float to the top as being a Democratic state. I can tell you that they’re very pleased that the Republicans have felt they have to spend the money here because they can’t spend it somewhere else.”

Other notable quotes from the debate:

Sali said, “I’m not ready to say that I do or don’t believe in global warming.”

Grant said, “The only way to stop the violence in Iraq is to give local control to local leaders. … Instead of disarming those militias we should be recruiting them to help us stop the violence.” Sali said, “For those who think that our presence over there is not doing any good or doing more harm than good, I invite you to talk to any of our soliders… They will tell you, and they have told me repeatedly to a person, how much the Iraqi people on the ground appreciate our efforts over there and how much they love the United States of America for the work that we have done over there.”

Hedden-Nicely said, “Now as we’ve seen and you’ve seen this very night, the constant bickering and the carrying on between these two political parties has gotten this country where we are today.”

Independent Dave Olson repeatedly threatened to “put a sharp stick in their ribs” to get other members of Congress to trim federal spending. The candidates also clashed on immigration, health care and more. You can watch the whole debate online at www.idahoptv.org.

Saturday surprise makes it three

Having checked the FEC independent expenditure reports daily for the past week, I was darn surprised to see a new anti-Larry Grant TV ad yesterday – this one sponsored by the Club for Growth PAC. That group hadn’t reported any spending against Grant. But on Saturday, the Club for Growth PAC reported to the FEC that it spent more than $180,000 just that day for a TV ad air buy and production costs. It also reported a string of other smaller expenditures for Bill Sali and against Grant, including “public relations,” “Internet communications” and “mail costs.” In fact, the Washington, D.C.-based group’s entire 24-hour notice to the FEC filed Saturday, all 10 items, are about Idaho’s 1st District race, showing expenditures either for Sali or against Grant. The Club for Growth, of course, is the group that ran attack ads against Sali’s two closest competitors in the GOP primary, state Sen. Sheila Sorensen and Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez. Sali won that six-way race with just 25.8 percent of the vote.

Idaho attorneys raise concerns about HJR 2

Forty-one attorneys from throughout the state have signed a statement opposing HJR 2, the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships in Idaho. Among the concerns cited are that the measure, as written, could hamper legal protections for some battered women and affect court proceedings over private companies’ employee benefits. Here’s the statement:

“We, the undersigned members of the Idaho legal community, hereby declare our opposition to HJR2, the proposed amendment on the November ballot that would ban civil unions, marriage and any other relationship recognition for same-sex couples in Idaho. After thoughtful consideration of how passage of the measure could impact current and future Idaho generations, we oppose this amendment and urge our colleagues and fellow Idahoans to do so as well.

First, it is clear that our Idaho Constitution has always existed to secure rights, not to deny them. The Idaho Constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, identifies and protects rights and freedoms – for the purpose of insuring those rights for all Idahoans. Our Constitution should not be used as a political means to restrict the rights of any citizens.

Second, amending the Idaho Constitution is unnecessary to achieve the end of prohibiting gay and lesbian couples from marrying. Throughout our history, the civil parameters placed upon marriage have always been determined through statute, not through constitutional means. Idaho law already restricts marriage to a legal union between a man and a woman (Idaho Code Section 32-202), a statute that has never been challenged. .

Moreover, the broad scope of HJR2 is not limited to same-sex couples. Since it would prohibit all “domestic legal unions” other than a marriage between a man and a woman, the proposed amendment would also deny basic relationship protection to all unmarried male/female couples. Indeed, similar bans in other states apparently have been used to deny legal protections to battered women who live with, but are not married to, their abusers.

Third, we are seriously concerned about the potential unintended adverse consequences to Idahoans and their families should HJR2 pass. The broad language of the proposed amendment declares that “a marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” Therefore, HJR2, if passed, could possibly be construed to deny employees of private employers currently extending health and other benefits to same gender or other unmarried domestic partners access to Idaho courts to enforce such private-sector benefits, potentially putting at risk the health and welfare of Idaho children and families.

Finally, we are concerned that the vague language of the amendment will likely leave the State mired in litigation for years to come, draining limited state resources needed for more pressing and important matters. Therefore, as concerned members of Idaho’s legal community, we urge Idaho citizens to reject HJR2 by voting NO on November 7.”

Idaho a sign of national political trends?

Interesting story in the LA Times today suggests that Idaho’s a glaring example of national political swings that are making this a fast-changing and very interesting election season. “America does not get much more Republican than Idaho,” wrote Times reporter Janet Hook. “President Bush pulled in 68% of the vote in 2004, and the state has an all-GOP congressional delegation. But to keep one of Idaho’s House seats in Republican hands, the national GOP in recent weeks has poured in hundreds of thousands of dollars for television ads and brought in a parade of party bigwigs to campaign. Such a huge effort in a district that should be a cakewalk for Republicans is a measure of how deep into GOP territory the fight for control of Congress has reached.”

The article adds, “Over the last two months, the number of House Republican seats in serious contention has jumped week by week, giving Democrats an ever-bigger target to shoot at in their quest for a majority. Even a top Republican strategist estimates that the number of highly vulnerable Republican seats has more than doubled in recent weeks — and now far exceeds the 15 seats Democrats need to pick up to win a House majority.”

They’re both ready to move against meth

Today, the Idaho Statesman newspaper endorsed Larry LaRocco for lieutenant governor, saying it liked the plan LaRocco outlined to use the lieutenant governor’s office to lead a fight against methamphetamine use and its effects throughout the state. Republican Jim Risch, the newspaper said, lists his priority as lieutenant governor as economic development, but we’ve already got a state department with a multimillion-dollar budget focused on that. Risch, of course, is governor right now – and one of his top priorities for his short term as the state’s chief exec, named at his inauguration, is fighting meth through the appointment of a statewide drug czar. Now, coincidence or no, Risch will hold a press conference today with drug czar Jim Tibbs to “issue a progress report on the first 90 days of operations” and have Tibbs present recommendations for a “recommended path forward.” Then, “Governor Risch will take action steps based on the report.”

History tells story of legalized discrimination

In researching my article in today’s paper on HJR 2, the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment that’s on the November ballot, I ran across some startling history. Here it is: The Idaho Constitution prohibited people of Asian ancestry from voting, serving as jurors or holding office until 1962, and banned members of the LDS church from doing the same until 1982. While the constitutional ban clearly wasn’t enforced in later years, the idea that it was still on the books in the state’s central legal document that guides all laws in our state is pretty shocking.

The Idaho Human Rights Commission pointed this out in a statement it adopted last month opposing HJR2. “HJR 2 proposes an amendment to the Idaho Constitution that would deny important legal rights to a minority group within our population – gays and lesbians – who are currently targeted by many for ridicule, discrimination, and even physical violence,” the commission stated. “This minority is already denied the right to marry by existing Idaho law. HJR 2 would further discriminate against them by precluding future Legislatures from creating any legal status alternatives to marriage, such as a civil union. Through a civil union, same-sex couples may be able to attain civil rights important to personal dignity, such as purchasing health insurance for dependents or making emergency medical decisions for loved ones.”

“The Commission firmly believes that Idaho should not incorporate any form of discrimination into its Constitution,” the statement continues. “We know it has been done before. In the late 19th century, discrimination against minority groups subject to ridicule at that time – people of “Mongolian ancestry” and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – was written into Idaho’s Constitution. Today, we are appalled by that discriminatory language. … It took almost a century to get all the discriminatory language removed from the Constitution. The Commission urges Idaho to not make the same mistake again.” The commission concluded that HJR 2, which would ban same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships, would “once again imbed present day discriminatory attitudes into a document that will last long beyond our lifetimes. We do not want our children to be appalled at our actions. We want them to be proud of our promise of equality, and also our actions to fulfill that promise for all the people of Idaho.”

Here’s the most startling part: When I looked up in Idaho Secretary of State’s office records what happened with the constitutional amendments that removed the old discriminatory language, I found that SJR 1, the 1962 measure to “permit Chinese, Japanese and other citizens of Mongolian descent full rights as citizens of the state,” passed with just 75.4 percent of the vote, and 1982’s HJR 7, which “removes voter disqualification language including old anti-Mormon language,” garnered just 65.7 percent to pass that year – 34.3 percent of Idahoans in 1982 voted against it.

Sali’s two biggest donors not fond of one another

Here’s an odd note: GOP congressional candidate Bill Sali’s biggest contributions on his latest campaign finance report were from two PACs: The Association of Trial Lawyers of America PAC (Sali is a lawyer, as is Democratic opponent Larry Grant), and the Washington, D.C.-based Freedom Project, both of which gave $5,000 in the latest period and $10,000 to date for the election cycle. But the Freedom Project, which is headed by Congressman John Boehner and dedicated to electing “free enterprise” Republicans to Congress, has this to say on its website: “Today, the Democrat Party and its allies are planning an aggressive strategy to take back Congress and put it in the hands of the Washington union bosses, trial lawyers, and campus radicals. We can’t let this happen.”

Grant campaign says ‘It’s not us’

Automated phone calls have gone out across the 1st Congressional District, and folks whose dinners are interrupted, when they first pick up the phone, are getting the impression the pesky, aggressive calls are coming from Larry Grant’s campaign. But they’re not – they’re from the Republican National Congressional Committee on behalf of Bill Sali. “It’s not us!” the Grant campaign declared in a press release Friday. “We, too, have been getting them and find them just as annoying as everyone else.”

The calls include one that starts out, “When you go to the polls on Nov. 7 you’ll see the name ‘Larry Grant’ on the ballot. Let me tell you a little about Larry Grant….”

Sali’s campaign said Friday it had nothing to do with the calls, but over the weekend, the campaign issued a statement criticizing them and calling them “unnecessary.” “I have not heard the phone calls, but I have heard from enough Idahoans who have,” Sali said in the statement. “They tell me the calls are unnecessarily aggressive and that it is very difficult to tell who paid for the calls. That is not the kind of campaigning that Sali for Congress will engage in. We will only engage on the issues.”

However, the Grant campaign took issue with the way Sali’s doing that as well, saying Sali has “gone negative” by sending out mailings and airing radio ads that distort Grant’s positions on issues and contain a “patently false claim regarding Grant’s stand on illegal immigrants.” Sali’s latest mailer claims Grant supports amnesty for illegal aliens – something both Grant and Sali have strongly rejected. In my recent three-part series on issues in this race, an entire article focused on immigration and contained extensive interviews on all the candidates’ stands; you can read it here. Both rejected amnesty, with Grant saying that he views immigration as a separate issue from jobs or border security. Those who want to permanently settle here, he said, should “get at the end of the line like anyone else.” Sali’s campaign on Friday maintained, however, that they still say Grant supports something like amnesty because of his support for work permits for foreign workers.

Of campaign donations and debts

Idaho Gov. Jim Risch has collected nearly $130,000 in campaign contributions for his run for lieutenant governor this year but has spent little of it campaigning, so he has $119,953 in campaign cash – and a $360,000 campaign debt to himself that he’s carried over since he spent his own money to defeat then-Lt. Gov. Jack Riggs in the GOP primary in 2002. Risch’s Democratic opponent, former Congressman Larry LaRocco, says that suggests that Risch’s donors this year – including big-business interests who directly benefited from his tax reform plan – could be donating directly to Risch’s pocket, as he could use the money to pay off the debt to himself. Click here to see the full story from today’s Spokesman-Review.

Deputy Idaho AG sanctioned for reading inmate legal mail in ‘97

A deputy Idaho attorney general, Stephanie Altig, has been reprimanded by the Idaho State Bar in a case stretching clear back to 1997, for reading privileged letters between Idaho prison inmates and their attorneys – who at the time were suing the state over retaliating against prisoners for trying to access courts. The complaint over the reading of the legal mail went to federal court, where U.S. District Magistrate Judge Larry Boyle ruled that the actions by the state lawyer assigned to Idaho’s correctional system showed “an attitude of complete disregard for the judicial process.” The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Boyle’s findings in 2001, and held that “department counsel’s actions in this case do not pass even the most lenient ethical ‘smell test.’” The Professional Conduct Board of the Idaho State Bar has now issued a public reprimand of Altig for her actions.

“Why it took so long I don’t know,” said Jack van Valkenburgh, head of the Idaho ACLU. Former Idaho Attorney General Tony Park, who serves on the ACLU of Idaho legal committee, said, “It has taken far too long, over five years since Judge Boyle made his findings and the court of appeals expressed its disgust with the deputy attorney general’s conduct.”

Caldwell church says it’s really not being bulldozed

A political ad on the radio statewide that claims the “Centennial Baptist Church” may be bulldozed for a shopping center – but doesn’t explain that the church in question is in Oklahoma – has upset parishioners at the Centennial Baptist Church in Caldwell, Idaho. “I think it’s kinda deceptive there to put our name in it,” said church treasurer Ben Mannen. “It’s not too good.”

Laird Maxwell, sponsor of Proposition 2 on the November ballot, said he talked with the church’s pastor and has since made a point in public statements of noting that the church his ad refers to is in Sand Springs, Okla. “It was just a misunderstanding,” Maxwell said. “I now know for certain that there is a Centennial Baptist Church in Caldwell, Idaho.”

Maxwell said he put in an order to add an Oklahoma mention when the ad runs in the Treasure Valley, but not all stations made the change. Mannen said he heard the ad again Wednesday and it was unchanged.

Maxwell said he figured he didn’t need to change the ad in any other part of the state, “because I only found one other Centennial Baptist Church and it was in Arkansas.”

The Caldwell church has been at its current location for more than a decade and previously was located downtown. About 250 to 300 people attended services there last Sunday. Said Mannen, “Anybody that’s asked, we just tell them, ‘it’s not us.’”

‘It isn’t us’

The fact that the Washington Farm Bureau is a main sponsor of that state’s regulatory takings initiative has sparked rumors that the Idaho Farm Bureau has something to do with Idaho’s Proposition 2 – but the farm bureau says the rumors are false.

“That rumor’s been heard,” said John Thompson, director of information for the Idaho Farm Bureau. “We supported the eminent domain legislation that the Legislature passed last year, and we didn’t hear an outcry from our members during our resolutions process. … And so … we don’t have a position.” Thompson noted that the regulatory takings idea has “caused a lot of litigation in Oregon, I understand.”

“We just didn’t hear anything about it from our members, so we haven’t taken a position on it,” Thompson said. “We’re keeping kind of a low profile on this.”

Now Butch is against it

Butch Otter was still undecided on Proposition 2 on Monday, at which time he said in a debate, “I’ve listened time and time again to both sides, and quite frankly I’m still confused because I don’t know exactly what it says.”

On Tuesday morning, when I interviewed him for an upcoming series on issues in the governor’s race, Otter was sounding more and more concerned about the measure. Finally, on Tuesday night, he came out against it. Here’s his statement:

“The Idaho Legislature did a good job of addressing the eminent domain concerns raised by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo vs. New London, Connecticut. While Proposition 2 essentially restates the Legislature’s solution, the issue at the ballot measure’s heart is protecting private property from regulatory takings. I fully understand and even share many of its supporters’ concerns. Private property rights is one of my core values. Yet there are almost as many opinions about what Proposition 2 will actually do as there are people voicing those opinions. That seems like a recipe for lots of lawsuits, which makes it tough for me to recommend it. So I will vote against Proposition 2. My commitment to the measure’s supporters is that if problems such as they foresee do arise in Idaho, I will be front and center to see that those problems are addressed by whatever means necessary and in an equitable and constitutional manner.”

Otter’s Democratic opponent in the race to be Idaho’s next governor, Jerry Brady, has been against the measure all along. Brady calls it “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” saying, “We should understand it and we should be very clearly against it.”

Putting the numbers together

OK, it makes a little more sense now that Butch Otter’s campaign says he’s hit the $2 million mark since the close of the last campaign finance filing period on Sept. 30. It’s not that Otter has made up the entire half-million-dollar difference between the latest report’s $1.5 million total and the higher figure in the past 10 days. It’s that the $1.5 million figure for total fundraising this year from the latest report, including just under half a million carried over from the year before, doesn’t count earlier amounts that Otter both raised and spent before this calendar year. When all that’s taken into account, Otter has raised a total of $1,932,212 for his run for governor, according to his campaign. That means that if he’s pushed that cumulative total past $2 million since Sept. 30, he’s added another $68,000 or so in the past 10 days – a lot, certainly, but not half a million.

Otter announced his run for governor way early – two years out, before he’d even taken his oath of office for his just-won current term in Congress. So he’s been fundraising for a while.

Among the tidbits

Little gems among the campaign finance reports just filed today in the governor’s race include a $2,000 contribution to Butch Otter from none other than Jim Risch, the current governor. Risch had been widely expected to run against Otter in last spring’s GOP primary, but opted to run for another term as lieutenant governor instead – making him Idaho’s first-ever sitting governor to ask voters to demote him back to lieutenant governor.

Other interesting stuff: While Jerry Brady got $7,000 from Broadway Ford in Idaho Falls, Otter got $5,000 from Lake City Ford in Coeur d’Alene. Hmmm. And prominent Sun Valley arts advocate Glenn Janss gave $500 to Otter in mid-August, then $1,000 to Brady in September. Hmmmm. And finally, continuing a string of eerie commonalities between Otter and Brady (for example, both considered but then abandoned the idea early in life of pursuing the priesthood), their long lists of contributors filed today are nearly identical in length. Otter’s fills 122 pages, Brady’s 120.

Beltway view: ‘Pretty grim for Republicans’

Jim Gimpel, a professor of government at the University of Maryland in College Park, provided lots of interesting insights about the immigration issue and how to analyze the views of our candidates for Congress in the 1st District on the issue, as part of my three-part series on issues in that race this week. But Gimpel also had this to say at the end of the interview:

“The way things are going here in town seems pretty grim for Republicans maintaining control, so if Sali’s elected, he comes in as a member of the minority party.”

Read the series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Brady’s against Prop. 2, Otter’s still undecided

At today’s City Club of Boise debate between Republican candidate for governor Butch Otter and Democratic opponent Jerry Brady, both candidates were asked their position on Proposition 2, the “regulatory takings” initiative. Brady said he opposed it, while Otter said he’s still undecided. Here are their comments.

Otter: “I have been going back and forth on Proposition 2. I’ve listened time and time again to both sides, and quite frankly I’m still confused because I don’t know exactly what it says.” Private property rights, he said, are “part of my core belief.” But, he said, “I also see the harm that it could potentially do to the cities being the architects of their own destiny. So I haven’t decided yet, but I will before I vote.”

Brady: “I know my mind on this subject and I’m against it. I know what’s in it. … What we have … is a wealthy man from out of state who is spending his money to come in here and try to change the way we protect our way of life (referring to the initiative’s main financial backer, eastern real estate investor Howie Rich). …. This … is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, folks, we should understand it and we should be very clearly against it.”

Guv raises money for Realtors PAC

Idaho Gov. Jim Risch is the keynote speaker for a fundraiser for RPAC, the Idaho Realtors PAC, this Thursday morning in Nampa. The $25-a-head event runs from 8-10 a.m. at the Nampa Civic Center, and is being billed as a “Breakfast with the Governor.” The invitation notes, “All proceeds go directly to RPAC!!”

Risch has insisted he’s too busy running state government to have time for a debate with election opponent Larry LaRocco on live TV, so LaRocco is steamed that the guv has two hours to raise money for the PAC. LaRocco’s running against Risch for lieutenant governor – though Risch is governor now, he’s seeking another four-year term as lieutenant governor in the November election.

Of Mehlman, Sali, Grant, and ‘Bill Risch’

Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman flew into Boise yesterday to boost GOP congressional candidate Bill Sali at a rally at state GOP headquarters, but the timing wasn’t the greatest. When Mehlman met with reporters, much of the questioning was about the national scandal involving former GOP Congressman Mark Foley of Florida and his salacious instant messages to young congressional pages, and how GOP leaders in Congress dealt with the issue. That scandal is exploding in D.C. right now to the point that Beltway insiders no longer expect Republicans to hold onto the majority in the House this election.

The hastily organized Mehlman visit came after the National Republican Congressional Committee spent more than $10,569 on Tuesday on a new poll in the 1st CD race, according to their FEC independent expenditure report. On Wednesday, according to the same FEC report, the NRCC spent $7,585 for “issue ad production” opposing Sali’s Democratic opponent, Larry Grant. The anti-Grant ad hasn’t popped up on TV yet.

A media advisory announcing yesterday’s rally noted that the rally would include “Chairman Ken Mehlman, Gov. Bill Risch, Rep. Butch Otter & Republican-candidate Bill Sali.” Gov. Bill Risch?

Grant put out a press release yesterday crowing over the Republicans’ apparent flurry of concern over the race. “They’ve learned what we already know, that the voters in Idaho’s First District are turning to a better choice in Larry Grant,” Grant said in the release. “The problem here is Chairman Mehlman’s leadership has only brought us scandal, corruption, and gridlock. America deserves better.” For months, various national reports have traced connections between Mehlman and disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, though Mehlman, former White House political director, has sought to distance himself.

Mehlman spoke to about a hundred GOP activists in Boise, according to the Associated Press, touting Sali as a tax cutter who would support America’s war on terror. Sali said he doesn’t feel tainted by the current D.C. scandal. “Things that are going on in Washington, D.C. will resolve themselves,” he said. “People are looking into it, and making sure it’s handled right, and I have the confidence they’ll get the job done.”

Sali said the RCCC is making a “coordinated expenditure” to pay for a TV buy to continue running his current campaign ad, but he didn’t know anything about the attack ad. Sali has been running a commercial touting himself as a “Republican leader.” In the primary, however, the Club for Growth ran attack ads on his behalf blasting two of his GOP primary opponents, Sheila Sorensen and Robert Vasquez.

Did so! Did not! I’m telling!

Things are getting hot between Idaho’s Democratic and Republican leaders, with dueling press releases out regarding a GOP congressman from Florida and his pedophilia scandal, who knew what when, who should or shouldn’t apologize, who’s politicizing what, and a bit of name-calling.

First, Idaho Democratic Chairman Richard Stallings, a former Idaho congressman, criticized Idaho’s congressional delegation for not catching the congressional scandal earlier – before more young congressional pages were targeted with salacious instant messages from the offending congressman. Then, Idaho Republican Chairman Kirk Sullivan called on Stallings – whom he referred to as “Dick Stallings” – to retract his statement and apologize to Idaho Reps. Mike Simpson and Butch Otter, saying, “Idaho Democrats have sunk to a new low by attempting to politicize the reprehensible actions of former Representative Mark Foley.” Sullivan added, “Where was Stallings’ righteous indignation when Democrat Congressman William Jefferson was found with dirty money in his freezer?”

That release went on with quotes from Simpson repeatedly referring to Stallings as “Dick,” as in, “Unfortunately, Dick thinks this is an opportunity to gain political advantage for his candidates next month,” and “Nothing is gained when a guy like Dick tries to turn this into something it isn’t for his own political gain.”

Stallings then responded in another press release, saying he has “no intention of apologizing” and declaring, “Our congressional delegation ought to be protecting children, not acting like them.” He added, “My parents named me Richard, and that’s the name I go by. The least they could do is extend the courtesy of using my given name.”

Political lines for the ages

It’s hard to imagine anyone ever topping that great comment from former state Rep. John Campbell, R-Sandpoint, back in 1999, when he said, “I don’t always make the brightest statements in the Legislature, but I feel I’m representative of my district.”

But each year, people try. The latest contender is Constitution Party candidate for lieutenant governor William Charles “Bill” Wellisch, who described why he got into the race like this: He was going to run for Bear Lake County commissioner, but found out no position was up in his district. Figuring that was that, he went to sleep – only to wake up the next morning to a divine voice that urged him to run for lieutenant governor. “I don’t know if I’m qualified, don’t know if I have the abilities to accomplish what is being done today,” he said, “but I do feel with the Lord’s help I can accomplish what He feels needs to be done.”

Incidentally, I just ran across a pretty good line from Rep. Bill Sali, R-Kuna, the current candidate for Congress, that’s of the same vintage as Campbell’s ’99 legislative session comment. Back then, Sali was co-sponsoring a bill to ban the use of university student fees for political activities, which drew opposition from student leaders across the state, who testified that the bill would outlaw the College Republicans and College Democrats, among other things. Sali had this to say to the opponents: “It’s unfortunate that so many of you were wrong.” But the bill then died by one vote.

‘Constitutional crisis’ facing Idaho

If the state’s interpretation of the Idaho Supreme Court’s latest decisions on the long-running school lawsuit is correct, then Idaho is facing a “constitutional crisis,” 4th District Judge Deborah Bail said today.

But Judge Bail laid out a different theory – she doesn’t think the Supreme Court ruled the state’s system for funding school unconstitutional, then just dropped it. Instead, she posited that the court closed the question of constitutionality – saying the system is unconstitutional and that’s the final word on that question – but is giving the Legislature time to change the system to make it constitutional. The court is still watching, she said, through a related writ of prohibition case. Last month, justices said their forthcoming ruling in that case will offer more guidance about their position on the school lawsuit.

Sixteen years ago, Idaho school districts sued the state, alleging the Legislature had failed to meet its constitutional duty to provide for schools. The case has been to the state Supreme Court five times, and has changed focus, but in the latest ruling, in December, the justices unequivocally ruled that the system Idaho uses to fund school construction – which relies largely on local voter-approved property taxes – is unconstitutional.

Lawmakers passed a law this year to help struggling school districts build schools with state funds – but only if the state takes over the district, appoints a state supervisor who could fire the local superintendent, and imposes a no-vote 20-year property tax increase to pay the state back after local voters have twice specifically rejected the tax hike. The districts have challenged that new law as both inadequate and itself unconstitutional.

Deputy Attorney General Mike Gilmore told Bail in court today that the state now believes the Supreme Court intended the case to end with its ruling that the system is unconstitutional, and the Legislature doesn’t have to do anything else. “Right now there’s nothing indicating that a court judgment requires changes,” Gilmore said.

Bail said if a branch of government can be told it’s violating the constitution, but just keeps doing it, our system of three co-equal branches of government has broken down. “Courts cannot stand idly by while a constitutional responsibility is ignored,” she said. That, she said, would amount to saying, “What you’re doing is unconstitutional and just keep doing it.” She noted, “Schools are still crumbling, people are still at risk.” Bail said her interpretation of the Supreme Court’s rulings is that it is giving the Legislature more time to act. “Presumably they’ll take action if they’re not satisfied,” she said.

Bail told Gilmore and former Supreme Court Justice Robert Huntley, who is representing the school districts, that she’ll issue a status order in the case and they can appeal it to the Supreme Court if that’ll help clarify where things stand. But she and the lawyers for both sides agreed that the next step is the Supreme Court’s, in its ruling on the related case.

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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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