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Eye On Boise

Archive for September 2006

OK, who You calling a Tube?

It’s a video extravaganza! Perhaps inspired by those hilarious political satires from the guys, people from all edges of Idaho’s political spectrum have been turning to online video humor to get their political points across, complete with snappy music and lots of attitude, and the results are – well, some are better than others. But far be it from your humble blogger to play movie critic. Here are the three I’ve seen most recently – check ‘em out for yourself. Two are posted on the video site (if you don’t know what that is, ask the nearest teenager). The third is on the campaign website of an Idaho ballot measure, Proposition 2.

“Lonely Boy” is a video of a character apparently meant to be Larry LaRocco, going in search of Jim Risch to try to debate him. Best scene: When he tips up the state capitol to look underneath.

“Gimme Jimmie” is kind of a moving political cartoon depicting Gov. Risch glorying in getting everyone’s pennies from the sales tax increase that takes effect this Sunday. That’s the only scene.

“Gangster Politicians” shows swarthy Mafia types moving in on dear old Idaho’s inner city, right down Martin Luther King Drive, and taking over the town through eminent domain. “My mother’s neighbor is gonna lose their house just so they can put up another one of those fancy coffee joints,” one character laments.

Are there more of these things out there? Let me know.

California has Yosemite, Idaho has bank building?

Certainly there are some pretty cool ecological features to the new Banner Bank building that had its grand opening in downtown Boise today. The 11-story office tower has a unique water reclamation system that collects gray water and storm water runoff from seven acres of downtown Boise and uses it to flush the building’s toilets. It has everything from super-efficient lighting to recycled fiber in its carpets, and overall is “an ecologically friendly building,” Gov. Jim Risch said this morning at the building’s opening, which also drew dignitaries including Boise Mayor Dave Bieter.

Risch recognized the Christensen Group and Gary Christensen for the project, which earned a platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and an energy rebate from Idaho Power. Then he drew a parallel between President Theodore Roosevelt’s decision to expand Yosemite National Park and the construction of the Boise office building. “Just as Roosevelt strove to protect the water, air, and natural resources in Yosemite National Park by expanding its boundaries in 1906, the Christensen Corp., one hundred years later, has constructed a building that protects these same vital resources in the great state of Idaho,” Risch said.

LaRocco says Risch taking voters for granted

Former Congressman Larry LaRocco, who’s running against current Gov. Jim Risch for the lieutenant governor’s post in the November election, charged today that Risch is “taking Idaho voters for granted” by refusing to debate his opponent in a variety of settings, including the traditional “Idaho Debates” sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Idaho Press Club on Idaho Public TV. Risch turned down the Nov. 1 statewide debate, and opted to debate LaRocco only in another televised matchup sponsored by KTVB-TV, saying he didn’t have time for more than one debate.

LaRocco held a press conference today and released a six-page summary of campaign activities by the 26 states’ sitting governors who are seeking re-election that he culled from Internet research, including several who have agreed to multiple debates with their challengers. “Jim Risch is the only one who claims he is too busy to debate and face the voters,” LaRocco said.

LaRocco called on Risch once again to meet him in the Nov. 1 debate; if Risch doesn’t participate, the debate will be canceled. Risch earlier asked the debate organizers to allow him and LaRocco to appear on-set separately, then turned down the debate entirely in favor of the KTVB debate. He’s since declined to comment on the debate issue.

Full disclosure here: I’m the president of the Idaho Press Club, one of the co-sponsors of the Idaho Debates, which are still going on. There will be live statewide debates in the races for Idaho attorney general (Oct. 18), Congress (Oct. 22 for 2nd District, Oct. 24 for 1st District), state superintendent of schools (Oct. 25) and governor (Oct. 29). In several of the races, the candidates also are facing off in other forums around the state.

LaRocco said he’s accepted invitations to appear with Risch at a League of Women Voters forum Oct. 17 in Moscow and in a KIDO radio debate in Boise, but Risch hasn’t committed to either. “It is time to challenge him to show up,” he said. “All it would take is an hour for him to show up on Nov. 1st and we can have that debate.”

Sali, Grant to debate on the radio

Republican Bill Sali and Democrat Larry Grant, both of whom are seeking the open 1st District congressional seat, will debate on the radio this Saturday morning in Boise, on Doug McConnaughey’s “AM Radio Saturday” program on KIDO-AM, NewsRadio 580 from 6-8 a.m. The two candidates already have debated twice – once in Coeur d’Alene, and once in Lewiston. In the radio debate, they’ll be questioned by McConnaughey, the show host, along with state Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise, and pollster Greg Smith.

Candidates talk education

Congressman Butch Otter put out a press release today saying he’s for expanding Idaho’s community college system and emphasizing math and science in Idaho schools. He didn’t say how he’d do that, however, beyond calling on “the corporate community – especially technology and health-care employers – to work with him and state education officials to regularly put professional scientists, engineers and other experts in every Idaho school to promote the importance of math and science in students’ lives and potential careers,” according to his campaign press release.

Otter also released a statement from Micron Technology CEO Steve Appleton, former Albertson’s Chairman Gary Michael, St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center official Janelle Reilly and education advocate Joe Scott saying Otter “has the drive, decisiveness and vision to make Idaho’s education system the envy of the nation.”

Otter’s Democratic opponent, Jerry Brady, responded, “It’s no news that people who have already contributed to Otter are supporting Otter. The real news is he really doesn’t have any plan with which to do what he wants to do. He favors more math and science, but he doesn’t support Proposition 1 as I do, which would provide money for math and science. He doesn’t have a specific plan for community colleges. It’s just the same stuff that’s been in his literature from day one, and leadership requires that you step up and make the hard decisions.”

Earlier this month, Brady and Democratic candidate for state school superintendent Jana Jones released a “Contract for Kids” stating seven principles and three solutions they support for improving education in Idaho. That same day, Otter and Republican candidate for state school superintendent Tom Luna released a statement saying they supported all seven of the Democrats’ principles and all three solutions, but also wanted to add more school choice, through more charter schools and other measures, to the list of solutions. “We all agree with returning control to parents, promoting character development and sustainable funding for public schools,” Otter and Luna said in their joint statement, “but that does not mean approving of the same old Democrat ‘solutions’ for reaching those goals that got us where we are today.”

Proposition 1 would require Idaho to increase funding for its public schools by more than $200 million a year. Brady and Jones support it; Luna and Otter oppose it. Otter first endorsed the measure, then switched his position in August and came out against it.

Idaho governor candidate campaigning in Montana

The Constitution Party candidate for governor formerly known as Marvin “Pro-Life” Richardson (and now legally just “Pro-Life”) reports that he’s headed off on a campaign tour – starting in Missoula, Mont. The candidate said he’ll campaign at the University of Montana, where his hope is to persuade women there not to have abortions, a point that’s the cornerstone of his campaign for Idaho governor. Then he’ll swing down through Idaho Falls and around through eastern Idaho, continuing the campaigning.

Lawmakers to lunch on prison food

When the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee comes to town next week for a two-day interim meeting, it’ll spend part of the two days touring various operations where state money is spent, from the Idaho History Center’s archives to a Meridian elementary school to several area state prisons. While deliberating at the state capitol the first day, next Thursday, the budget-writing committee will have a catered lunch, but the next day, it’s prison food. Lunchtime that day will fall as the lawmakers tour the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise, so they’ll lunch there.

Blast from the past

I was surprised to get a call from the head of special collections at the BSU library, where they’re cataloging some new document collections they’ve obtained from the state library. Included is a collection of documents regarding the Boise Redevelopment Agency from a key time, the late 1980s, when the city abandoned plans for a huge downtown mall – for which full blocks of the downtown area had been leveled over the previous two decades – and instead began redeveloping the downtown core with a mix of uses. Alan Virta was trying to trace down who had compiled the documents, and several clues in the files led him to me. Sure enough, the files appear to be, at least in part, those I kept as the city hall reporter at the Idaho Statesman in those years, assigned to cover downtown redevelopment. Included were handwritten notes (of mine) from BRA board meetings, a 1987 public records request I submitted to the agency, minutes, studies, budget reports, etc. Virta even found an original memo from the late Bob Loughrey, then BRA director, proposing creating a new event to be called “Alive After Five” to draw people downtown after business hours. “Alive After Five” is now a Boise institution that draws thousands to the central Grove plaza on warm Wednesday evenings every summer.

“This really is a great collection of BRA materials from an important time,” Virta said. “We’re delighted to have it in the library.”

Tax protesters listen up

The IRS has something to tell you, as a prominent Idaho painter and his wife were sentenced today for obstructing federal tax laws. John Horejs of Burley and his wife, Elaine, falsely claimed they weren’t U.S. citizens, challenged the authority of the IRS to collect income tax from them, and more, according to court records. Now, he’ll spend six months in jail, six months on home detention with electronic monitoring and another six of supervised release. She’ll be in home detention for six months and then on probation five years, and serve 100 hours of community service.

“It is an illusion to believe that the IRS lacks the authority and jurisdiction to collect the income tax, and it is an illusion that income taxes can somehow be dodged,” said Paul Camacho, the IRS Assistant Special Agent in Charge for Idaho. “It is downright perilous to your financial well being to act on these nonsensical beliefs, and your actions can lead to jail time.”

Now he just has one name

Marvin “Pro-Life” Richardson has now officially changed his name – to just “Pro-Life.” Richardson went to court yesterday in Gem County and got the change approved. Now, he said, he has no first name – just the last name of “Pro-Life.” It won’t change how he appears on the ballot in his Constitution Party candidacy for governor this year, however. Richardson already is certified for the ballot as Marvin Richardson, and ballots already are being printed.

“We’ve made it clear to him since March we were not going to put ‘pro-life’ on the ballot, and that’s still our position,” said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “The ballot is not supposed to be a forum for political expression – it’s supposed to be as neutral as it can be.”

Richardson, or Pro-Life, said, “I’m not going back to anything else. I’ll just go the rest of my life as Pro-Life.” An ardent anti-abortion activist who spends his Sundays holding anti-abortion protest signs on busy roadsides, Richardson said he believes abortion is equivalent to murder and he hopes his name change will save a life. “We know that there’s women that pray, ‘What should I do with this crisis pregnancy?’” the 6-foot-5 organic farmer said. “And they see us out on the street holding a sign, or they see my name on a ballot, or a political ad in the newspaper or something, and they take that as a sign from God … and it saves a life.”

The 65-year-old candidate and activist said his 10-year-old son’s middle name is Pro-Life. He also said he hopes to run for statewide office again in 2008 and list his new name on the ballot, adding, “I don’t care how many votes I get.”

Full house, clashing views at 1st CD debate in CdA

Congressional candidates Bill Sali and Larry Grant clashed on everything from wages to health care to terrorism, as each sought to define himself in their first head-to-head debate Friday night in Coeur d’Alene. “If Mr. Sali goes to Congress, he moves his party to the right,” said Grant, a Democrat who called himself a “fiscal conservative and a social moderate.” “If I go to Congress, I move my party closer to the middle,” he said. Sali said, “I am a free-market, pro-growth, social conservative.” He decried government growth, “the breakup of the family” and “moral decline.” The two sparred before a full house of more than 200 at North Idaho College.

“For those who want politics as usual, I’m not going to get along with them,” Sali declared.
Grant said national political pundits are now saying it’s a “foregone conclusion” that Democrats will retake the majority in the House. “If that’s the case, then it might be very important for Idaho to have at least one member in the majority party,” he said. Also running for the seat are independent Dave Olson, United Party candidate Andy Hedden-Nicely and Constitution Party candidate Paul Smith.

The Sali-Grant debate was co-sponsored by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the North Idaho College Popcorn Forum. The two candidates were questioned by a panel that included an NIC student journalist, a Coeur d’Alene tribal council member, a Spokesman-Review editorial writer and a Coeur d’Alene press editor. Here are some highlights:

Student journalist Noah Buntain asked both candidates how they’d ensure every American can get a job and earn a living wage. Sali said, “I don’t think it’s government’s job to ensure that people have a job at all.” Instead, he said, government should ensure a healthy economy so businesses can thrive. “Businesses should be in the business of providing jobs,” Sali said. He asserted that the only reason people want higher wages is because the cost of government is rising. “That cost of government is getting built into everything – it’s built into this table,” he said. “We ought to keep the government out of the business of establishing what your wage should be.”

Grant said, “Businesses are not in the business of creating jobs – they’re in the business of making money.” Government, he said, can use tax policy and regulation to “shape corporate behavior.” “I disagree that wages are low because of the cost of government,” Grant said. “Wages are low because employers will pay you as little as they have to.”

On health care costs, Sali came out against allowing prescription drugs to be reimported from Canada, noting a recent case that turned up fake drugs. He said the way to lower prescription drug costs is to choose generic, rather than name-brand drugs. “If you’re going to buy name-brand drugs … you’re going to pay more money. That’s the long and short of it,” he said. Grant called for allowing groups of insurers, unions, health care consortiums and others to negotiate for better prices with drug companies, and said that model has worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He also backed allowing imports from Canada. “The fact is, prescription drugs are not a free market,” Grant said. “There really isn’t any competition with prescription drugs.”

On the war on terror, Grant called the current strategy “flawed.” He said, “Here we are fighting a conventional war in Iraq under the guise of fighting terrorism.” That won’t work, he said, “unless you are prepared to put a lot of people on the ground and leave them there forever.” Sali said the war on terror won’t end until “there are no more Islamic fundamentalists who believe that they need to kill everyone who is a Christian or an infidel – it’s going to last that long.” Sali said he supported Otter’s initial vote against the Patriot Act but said: “The question is, does our Constitution work for terrorists? I don’t believe it does.”

Grant warned against targeting people over beliefs. “People have the right to believe whatever they want,” he said. “The war on terror will end when those folks stop acting on those beliefs. That’s a very important distinction to make.” Sali responded by asking the audience how they liked having the Aryan Nations compound “right in your backyard.” “There’s danger with thoughts,” Sali said. “Ideas have consequences, and until those ideas change, we’ll have a war on terrorism.”

Weatherby: Voters will start pushing back

Here’s what BSU political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby had to say today about the decision of three prominent Republican candidates – governor candidate Butch Otter, lieutenant governor candidate Jim Risch, and state controller candidate Donna Jones – to skip the usual live statewide debate this year on Idaho Public Television:

“It’s the nature of the one-party system, I guess, but that may change too with that kind of approach. … When all you get for a statewide race is maybe one debate and maybe no debates at all, representative democracy is not well served. It probably makes smart politics, but it’s not good for representative democracy. At some point, I think the voters will start pushing back.”

County commissioners admit open meeting violation, pay fines

Unlike Ada County’s commissioners, who spent thousands of taxpayer dollars fighting to defend themselves from fines over a violation of the Idaho Open Meeting Law, the county commissioners in Teton County have admitted a violation of the law – pointed out by their local newspaper editor – paid their fines and vowed to do better in the future.

The Idaho Attorney General’s office today announced a settlement with the Teton commissioners in a civil lawsuit over the meeting law violations. The settlement, filed Wednesday, is subject to approval by the District Court in Teton County.

Under terms of the settlement, Commissioners Mark Trupp, Jay Calderwood and Roger Hoopes acknowledged that they violated the Open Meeting Law on May 30, 2006, by meeting in executive session without providing meeting and agenda notice and by failing to take written minutes of the executive session, according to the Attorney General’s office. The commissioners have each paid a civil penalty of $75.

“Although there were violations of the Open Meeting Law, the findings of our investigation indicate that they were inadvertent, rather than deliberate,” Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said. “The commissioners should be commended for admitting, and taking responsibility for, their mistakes, rather than condemned for having made them.”

Teton County Prosecuting Attorney Bart Birch referred the matter to the Attorney General after receiving a complaint from Jeannette Boner, Managing Editor of the Teton Valley News.

An investigation by Deputy Attorney General Mitch Toryanski found that Teton County Clerk Nolan Boyle called Bonner on the morning of May 30 to invite a representative of the Teton Valley News to observe the commissioners’ canvass of primary election ballots. Following the canvass, the commissioners met in executive session. The commissioners had not provided advance written notice to the public of that executive session, as required by law. Additionally, the commissioners did not provide for the taking of written minutes. The Idaho Open Meeting Law requires governing bodies to take written minutes of all meetings and make them available for public inspection within a reasonable time after the meeting.

State cottage site rents to be re-examined

Idaho’s top elected officials think the state should be charging higher rents for state-owned cabin sites at Priest Lake and Payette Lake. Because of that concern, the state Land Board on Tuesday voted against proceeding with a scheduled November auction for two new leases of prime waterfront lots on the scenic North Idaho lake, and called for a review of rental rates. “Once this gets out, we’re going to have some interesting feedback, I’m sure,” said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.

The Land Board adopted its current rental rates in 1998 after a contentious battle over appropriate rents and property values. In the course of that, longtime renters of state cottage sites protested that sharp rent hikes would drive them out of the vacation cabins their families had owned for generations.

Cottage sites at Priest Lake rented for $10 a year in 1945. This year, they average $5,600.
State law requires the state to either charge market rents for the lots, or open up the leases for bids by competing parties every 10 years.

“It’s going to open up Pandora’s box,” Ysursa told the rest of the board.

Currently, the state charges 2.5 percent of appraised value of the land as its annual rent, plus a 10 percent premium payment when the lease changes hands. That’s on the value of the land only – homes, cabins or other structures that people build on the rented lots are their own property.

But some states are getting as much as 7 percent of value for rent in similar circumstances, incoming interim state Lands Director George Bacon told the board. They also get premium payments that are “considerably higher,” he said. He recommended holding off on leasing the two new lots, which are the first of 21 buildable lots at Rocky Point, North Huckleberry Bay and Bear Creek that the state may lease out in the future, until a decision is made on future rental rates. All state-owned cottage sites at Priest Lake and Payette Lake will come up for lease renewals in 2010.

The land is owned by the state’s public school endowment, so any money it brings in as rent goes to the state’s public schools.

Gov. Jim Risch said, “You’re right, it is prudent to consider this at this time.” Risch asked how much the state is earning in cottage site rents each year on Priest and Payette lakes, and when Bacon told him $3 million to $4 million, he said that sounded low.

He noted that Idaho leases out the lots, lets people build expensive homes on them, then ends up in constant fights over how much to charge in rent for the ground. “Where there’s no residence built on these, are we better off stepping up to the auction block?” he asked, rather than leasing the lots.

State Superintendent of Schools Marilyn Howard strongly objected to that idea. “This is money-making property,” she said. “These people are selling their leases and making big bucks.”

Risch said later that he wasn’t suggesting selling off the lots. “That was a discussion, was all that was,” he said. “I guess I was a little surprised to hear that the rental was $3 million. The value of the asset, I would guess, is pretty substantial.”

Mike Murphy, bureau chief for surface leasing for the state Lands Department, said rights to some state leases on Payette Lake have sold for more than $1 million in recent years. On Priest Lake, the leaseholds have sold for $200,000 to $600,000, he said. That’s in addition to the cost of whatever structure is on the land, and to annual rent payments.

Howard said Idaho schools could reap big gains in the long term from keeping the valuable state land along Idaho’s scenic lakes. “Sometimes we make decisions on the basis of how irritating it might be to deal with them,” she said. “I’d like to use a broader view.”

Standing in history’s footsteps

A new bronze statue of explorers Lewis and Clark and Nez Perce Chief Twisted Hair, along with the chief’s young son Lawyer, was unveiled today on the grounds of the Borah Post Office, across from the state capitol. Boise author and historian Carol MacGregor, left, donated the sculpture, which is the second edition of one placed at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston as part of the school’s centennial celebration in 1993. The statue was sculpted by Doug Hyde, a descendant of the Nez Perce Tribe who now lives in Santa Fe, N.M., and is an internationally known artist. Hyde once attended vocational classes at LCSC, and spoke at the college’s national bicentennial activities earlier this year in commemoration of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The sculpture, called “Hospitality of the Nez Perce,” depicts the first encounter between the explorers and the tribe. State Department of Administration head Pam Ahrens said the sculpture will allow passers-by to “admire this historic moment frozen in bronze.” Gov. Jim Risch, right, said, “On behalf of the people of the state of Idaho, I happily accept this.”

Talk about ‘staying on message’

Congressional candidate Bill Sali held a press conference on the Statehouse steps to announce he’s endorsing legislation from an Iowa congressman to declare English the official language of the United States, require all official government business to be conducted in English, and require English tests for new citizens. He gave his statement, then fielded an array of questions from the media, including this reporter, about his position and the issue.

At the end of that, I tried to ask him about Boise pollster Greg Smith’s poll, released last week, that showed Sali slipping behind Democrat Larry Grant in the 1st District congressional race. Sali said he was only there to talk about English. Asked if he had any comments on the poll, on which his campaign issued a scathing press release late last week, Sali said, “I hope it was in English.” Everyone laughed. Afterward, I asked him again for comment on the poll, but even after the press conference, he continued to say English was the only topic he was discussing today.

Smith’s poll showed Grant leading with 22 percent to Sali’s 14 percent, with 61 percent still undecided in the contest that also features independent Dave Olson, United Party candidate Andy Hedden-Nicely and Constitution Party candidate Paul Smith.

Greg Smith, president of Greg Smith & Associates, said Sali saw a “precipitous” drop in support from a similar poll Smith conducted in July, when Sali had a 41-25 percent lead.

The poll was conducted Aug. 28-Sept. 1, and queried 300 likely voters statewide. That means the sample was only about half that in the 1st Congressional District, and Smith said the poll has a margin of error of 7.4 percent. That big of a margin of error could mean the poll is showing a statistical dead heat, as opposed to a big lead for Grant. Still, Smith said the shift from the earlier poll was notable. Other races included in both polls saw little change in their numbers, Smith said. “The change is clearly a result of changing voter sentiment,” he said.

The Grant campaign hailed the poll, saying it matched their own internal polling and was no surprise, reflecting Grant’s “emphasis on resolving issues that are important to Idahoans rather than pursuing a narrow, divisive, and personal social agenda.”

The Sali campaign, on the other hand, issued a press release headed “Flawed poll not credible.” The new Smith poll “bears no resemblance” to Sali’s internal poll results, the campaign said. “Voters all across the First District are responding positively to Bill’s message of lower taxes, limited government, traditional family values and a strong national defense.” The press release dismissed Smith’s “obviously faulty results.”

Campaign manager Jesseca Sali said today that the campaign’s own poll results won’t be released. “That’s not something we will be releasing right now for our own reasons,” she said, though she said the results show “people are agreeing with what Bill has to say.”

Incidentally, both Grant and Hedden-Nicely accused Sali of ducking real issues facing Congress by focusing on the English language issue. “I think we have more important problems to solve in this country than this kind of thing,” Grant said. “I think we need to be talking about how do we get control of spending, how do we get control of corruption, how to end the war in Iraq. This is a diversion so they don’t have to talk about the real problems.”

Hedden-Nicely said, “We’ll be happy to respond, in English, to anything Bill says about the real issues in this race: Congressional term limits, healthcare coverage, high gas prices, decent wages, protecting our borders, improving our schools and the war in Iraq. Bill’s up to his usual trick of trying to bait the hook with red-meat, emotional issues while totally ignoring the fundamental challenges facing our country.”

Otter tags campaign event onto 9/11 ceremony

Congressman Butch Otter lined up an on-the-clock engine company from the Meridian Fire Department, along with the chief and other officials, for a campaign press conference this morning just after the official state 9/11 memorial ceremony on the Statehouse steps. “Today, I’m announcing that as the 32nd governor of the state of Idaho, I will bring first responders together,” Otter declared. He promised to call a “first responders roundtable,” if elected, to help coordinate between the various first responders around the state “on what they need to protect us, and how we as a state can provide it.”

More than a dozen Meridian firefighters, officers and others lined up behind Otter for the campaign press conference, as shown here in this photo by Mike Vogt of the Idaho Press Tribune - in fact, the members of the engine company spread out in a line that continued off to the right. But when asked if they were endorsing his run for governor, they were silent. “They’re gonna have to answer that as far as whether they’re endorsing me,” Otter said. One officer called out, “I am,” while the rest remained silent. Otter said, “I think what they do see is a need for communication. … I think they’re here because they see the need of what I’m talking about.”

Jerry Brady, Otter’s Democratic opponent in the race for governor, attended the 9/11 ceremony and visited with law enforcement officers afterward. “I wouldn’t try to take advantage of this day,” he said. “This is a day we should be together in unity and prayer, and not taking advantage of it for politics.”

Meridian Fire Chief Ron Anderson, who was one of the keynote speakers at the 9/11 ceremony, said after the Otter press conference, “The engine company, no, those guys are on duty. We came here because of the 9/11 memorial, that’s the reason why we’re here. We were asked to stick around to do a press release and endorsement of the roundtable meetings, and we do support that.” He added, “We wouldn’t have gone out of our way to come down here for a campaign speech. We were already down here.”

“Whether these guys vote or whether I vote for Otter is a completely different issue,” Anderson said. “I don’t know who I’m going to vote for today.”

Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd, who also attended the ceremony and press conference and watched from the audience, said, “They stood behind security for our state. … So I don’t think it’s a partisan thing, it’s their jobs.”

Brady said he, too, believes the state has an important role to play in coordinating first responders and emergency services. “I think the state police could take the role in seeing that they’re all working together,” he said, particularly in the fight against methamphetamine.

Otter pledged to “use the office of governor … so that Idaho will be a model of coordination and efficiency.”

Otter, a Republican, is running for governor after three terms in Congress representing the 1st District, which includes all of North Idaho. He faces Democrat Brady; Libertarian Ted Dunlap; and Constitution Party candidate Marvin P. Richardson.

Confusion in school lawsuit

Talk about confusion. Last December, the Idaho Supreme Court declared the state’s system for funding school construction unconstitutional, and ordered the Legislature to make major changes. Controversial legislation was passed, and this spring, both sides in the 16-year-old lawsuit filed papers arguing whether they thought the Legislature had complied with the court’s order – with school districts saying they’d actually made things worse, and the state arguing they’d done the job. But then, this spring, both sides were surprised at a scheduling meeting on other matters to be told the case was over – without any review of what they’d submitted or what the Legislature did this year.

Not only was that not what the lawyers on both sides in the lawsuit thought, it wasn’t how the governor, the Legislature, the schools or anyone else had interpreted the December decision, which declared, “The current funding system is simply not sufficient to carry out the Legislature’s duty under the constitution.” In fact, after the Aug. 25 special session of the Legislature, both Gov. Jim Risch and legislative leaders said they thought the property tax reform bill that passed might give them ammunition to file a motion for dismissal of the long-running lawsuit, arguing that with property taxes lower overall, school construction bonds will be easier to pass, and that that improves Idaho’s school construction funding system.

Today in the Idaho Supreme Court, justices heard arguments in a related case, involving whether the state was obligated to pay fees for a “special remedial master” to look into schoolhouse safety problems, as ordered in an earlier phase of the case by 4th District Judge Deborah Bail. One of Deputy Attorney General Mike Gilmore’s arguments was that the state can’t be ordered to pay when there’s not yet a final judgment in the case. Justice Linda Copple Trout responded, “There is now clearly a final judgment.”

Later, in an exchange between schools attorney Robert Huntley and retired Justice Wayne Kidwell, who is sitting on the case, Huntley told the court that when it “retained jurisdiction” in its December decision, it was holding onto the case for the “remedial” phase, or the determination of whether the Legislature came up with an appropriate fix for the problem the court had identified. Kidwell said, “We said that the remedial phase was in the state Legislature.” Huntley responded, “You were retaining jurisdiction to see if the Legislature did its job.”

In a legal brief submitted to the court, Huntley said both he and Gilmore were told by the court’s clerk at an April meeting, “It’s over.” He then submitted public information requests for any court vote amending the December decision or throwing out the case, and there were none.

Asked about the April meeting after today’s arguments, Gilmore said, “That’s when I found out.”

Justice Trout, in an interview this afternoon, said, “We thought we were clear, and I’m aware that there has been some confusion.” She said the justices’ decision in the special master fee case – which likely will take weeks or months to come out – should “provide some further clarification.”

“I think the opinion clearly said that while we keep retaining authority to review what the Legislature does, as a policy matter, the decision about addressing these issues is up to the Legislature,” Trout said. “We thought it was clear, but apparently it’s not.”

Supreme Court Clerk Steve Kenyon said it’s possible that either party could file a motion to reopen the case, but for now it’s closed. “As far as the court is concerned, that case is over,” Kenyon said.

Huntley, a former Idaho Supreme Court justice, said the process raises serious constitutional questions. “Depriving a litigant of a remedy phase in a case which is not moot is a violation of the due process clauses of both the state and federal constitutions,” he said.

On the campaign front

Former Idaho Congressman Larry LaRocco has passed the halfway mark in his bid to shake 25,000 Idahoans’ hands as part of his campaign this year for lieutenant governor. Tonight, LaRocco will hold a Boise fundraiser with U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., whom LaRocco described as the highest-ranking House Democrat to come to Idaho to campaign this year. (Of course, on the Republican side, the speaker of the House has already been to Post Falls to stump for GOP congressional candidate Bill Sali.) LaRocco’s do will be at the home of John and Laurie Greenfield in Boise and cost $100 a head.

Meanwhile, LaRocco’s opponent, current Gov. Jim Risch, asked this week about his campaign plans, said, “I have filed for lieutenant governor and I intend to campaign at some point in the fall for lieutenant governor.” Risch said he’s been “busy with running the state government.”

FMC plant draws $85,000 EPA penalty

The owners of the FMC Idaho LLC plant just west of Pocatello have agreed to pay an $85,000 civil penalty to settle federal Clean Air Act violations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that included “excessive emissions” from the idled plant during its decommissioning.

Jim Werntz, EPA’s Idaho office director in Boise, said plant operators needed to be especially diligent to protect air quality while they decommissioned and decontaminated phosphorus-laden debris at the plant. “It’s a matter of being a responsible corporate neighbor,” he said. “Plant operators were required to regularly test the emissions from an air pollution control `scrubber’ to control particulate matter. And it just didn’t happen.”

FMC was cited for four violations. The plant stopped producing phosphorous from raw ore in 2001, but continued to process smaller amounts of phosphorus material as it was being decommissioned and dismantled. At the height of its operation, the plant produced about 250 million pounds of elemental phosphorous a year, which was sold for use in everything from cleaning compounds to foods.

Not just bad air quality – it’s horrible

It’s so smoky and awful in Boise today, and it seems to be getting worse and worse. Today, Boise schools canceled all outdoor sports due to bad air quality, including three girls’ varsity soccer games. Football players at Boise High held a makeshift practice inside the cafeteria. Around town, people were complaining about sore throats, burning eyes and coughing, and the smell and taste of smoke were unmistakable. Visibility was severely limited. And the wildfires that are causing all the smoke are still burning…

Sad news from federal prosecutor’s office

Bonny Moss, U.S. Attorney Tom Moss’s wife of 44 years, died Monday of a brain tumor. She was 65 and a native of Rexburg, who had worked as a schoolteacher and beautician and married Tom in 1961. The couple raised seven children and has 23 grandchildren.

“She was in partner in everything he did,” said Marc Haws, first assistant U.S. attorney. “The U.S. Attorney’s staff was fortunate to have both Bonny and Tom as members of our office family. She was a true friend and a delightful lady. All of us will miss her greatly.”

Funeral services are scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. at the Blackfoot West Stake Center, 900 West 100 North in Blackfoot.

What he said

Gov. Jim Risch, responding this morning to questions about his campaign’s terse announcement Friday that he’s refusing to participate in the “Idaho Debates,” sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club and broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television: “We have agreed to do a debate – that’s all I’m going to say about it. … We chose to do one. That’s all the time we have. I’m busy with running the state government.”

Risch’s campaign said he’d debate election opponent Larry LaRocco, who’s challenging Risch’s bid for another term as lieutenant governor, in a forum sponsored by Boise TV station KTVB and Northwest Nazarene University instead. Jason Risch, Risch’s son and campaign manager, said in a Friday letter to debate organizers: “Unfortunately the Governor’s schedule does not allow him to accept every invitation. As a result we must make a choice as to which event we feel will be the most productive to communicate the candidates various positions to the voters of the State of Idaho. We have concluded that a debate sponsored by KTVB and NNU is the event most appropriate for that purpose.”

Idaho Public TV is the only television network that broadcasts into all parts of Idaho, though some commercial stations, including KTVB, have affiliates in several parts of the state.

In response to reporters’ questions today, Risch said, “We picked the one we thought would be the best format to get the word out to Idaho people.” He noted that the KTVB debate will be made available on the Internet. His campaign said he and LaRocco would appear together in that forum.

Risch refused to answer questions about why he asked the Idaho Debates organizers to change their format for the lieutenant governor debate only, to interview each candidate separately for 30 minutes, and have neither on the set while the other is being questioned. Political debates – including the Idaho Debates – typically feature the candidates facing off so voters can compare them.

LaRocco told the Associated Press, “It’s a perplexing decision, and it’s a shame because Idaho’s voters are the losers. … He’s basically cheated the people of Idaho out of hearing the debate over the second-highest position in Idaho government.”

Full disclosure here: I’m the president of the Idaho Press Club. That means I’m involved in the Idaho Debates, on which the three organizations have worked together every election cycle for the past 30 years. The Press Club, which is Idaho’s statewide association of working reporters from all media, co-sponsors political debates as a public service and in the interest of freedom of information.

Risch said he’s making himself widely available to the media and the public around the state, and dismissed LaRocco’s continuing contentions that he’s using his current position as governor to campaign for lieutenant governor on the public’s dime. “Any time you run against an incumbent you wind up with a situation like that,” Risch said. “Last time I ran, I ran against an incumbent and I didn’t whine at all.”

Wildfires smoke out Boise

It’s kind of hard to keep an eye on Boise this morning, because the city is fading into invisibility under a thick layer of lung-burning, eye-stinging smoke. With forest fires burning all around, huge quantities of choking smoke are hanging over Boise, obscuring the skyline and the surrounding hills. “We’ve had elevated levels for a month and a half now – just how bad it gets varies,” said Leonard Herr, airshed manager for the state DEQ’s Boise regional office. “Today it looks about as bad as I’ve ever seen it.”

But as of late morning, Boise was still under a yellow air quality alert – not the red flag warning for unhealthy. That’s because there was some “lifting” in the air currents that was lifting the smoke a few hundred feet above the valley floor, allowing people to breathe underneath. That could change at any time, depending on the weather, Herr said. He’s already heard from Mountain Home, to the south, that “they’re just getting obliterated by smoke.”

The red flag warning means unhealthy air. Boise had one of those about a month ago, but that wasn’t due to wildfires – it was for ozone, which is smog created by auto pollution, hot, still air, and other factors.

Boise’s had a bad year this year for air quality, with one of the worst ozone seasons ever, and now a heavy smoke impact from the wildfire season. With the sheer number of fires burning, it could continue for up to another month, Herr said, “until we get some season-ending events, rain.” For now, bans on open burning are in effect throughout the valley, people are being asked to limit driving, and people with respiratory problems will want to watch out for worsening conditions – whether or not the DEQ’s monitors have hit readings that trigger a red-flag alert, because local conditions vary. “If the visibility is down to less than about a mile, that’s considered unhealthy air,” Herr said. When that happens, he said, “If you’ve got problems, you should probably leave.”

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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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