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Eye On Boise

Archive for August 2007

Craig will make announcement tomorrow

Sen. Larry Craig will make a public announcement tomorrow, probably mid-morning, according to his communications director, Dan Whiting. “It’ll be in the Boise area,” Whiting said. “He will be making a public statement.”

Dems: Otter should choose a ‘top statesman’

Idaho Democrats, reacting to news reports that Sen. Larry Craig may resign and that Gov. Butch Otter may choose Lt. Gov. Jim Risch to replace him, called on Otter today to follow a different course. “Should there be a resignation and should Gov. Otter have the opportunity … we think the governor should appoint one of Idaho’s top statesmen, such as former Gov. Phil Batt or former Gov. Cecil Andrus to fill any vacant Senate seat,” said Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director John Foster. “Should there be a vacancy, we ask that Gov. Otter appoint someone with unimpeachable character and a reputation as an independent thinker, someone who can serve Idaho well for the next year and then step aside to allow all Idahoans to choose their own U.S. senator.”

Foster said such a move would keep politics out of the process. “So far this week one of the main reasons we haven’t talked is because we wanted to avoid this becoming about politics,” he said. “And the reason we’re talking today is to make the suggestion that it continue to go that way, to avoid being about politics.”

Of course, following that course also would have a certain political ramification – it would mean that the 2008 race would be for an open Senate seat, rather than between an incumbent Republican and his or her challengers.

Foster said other names the Democrats are tossing out for possible interim appointees include former GOP Sen. Jim McClure and former Idaho House Speaker Bruce Newcomb.

Names, names, names

An Associated Press report now cites unnamed sources saying that Gov. Butch Otter will choose Idaho Lt. Gov. Jim Risch to replace Sen. Larry Craig. Risch has been saying for months that he’ll run for the seat if Craig chooses not to run for re-election. Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, said just now, “We’ve made no promises or guarantees to anyone about this seat, because as of this hour, we are under the impression it is still occupied by Sen. Larry Craig. We have heard nothing from his office saying otherwise. We are not dealing in hypotheticals, we’re dealing in the facts. And at this hour that’s what we know.”

If Craig resigns, Otter would appoint his replacement. He could appoint 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson to the post, but then the state would have to hold a special election to fill Simpson’s congressional seat. Speculation has centered on Risch and Simpson, but there’s also been talk of the idea of appointing someone who wouldn’t run for the seat in 2008, such as retired Idaho Sen. Jim McClure or retired Idaho House Speaker Bruce Newcomb. Then it would be up to voters to decide on the next senator.

GOP officials in D.C.: Craig is considering resigning

Here’s the latest AP report:

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig is considering resigning, Republican officials said today, after days of public and private pressure stemming from his arrest in June in a police undercover operation at an airport men’s room. Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on Aug. 1, and while he has since said he did nothing wrong, the episode has roiled the Republican party and produced numerous calls for him to step down.

As a measure of the pressure Craig faces, party officials said a statement had been drafted at Republican Party headquarters calling for the third-term senator to resign. It was not issued, these officials said, in response to concerns that it might complicate quiet efforts under way to persuade the 62-year-old lawmaker to give up his seat. Click here for the full article.

Audio of police interview airing on TV, net

MSNBC has obtained the audio of Sen. Larry Craig’s interview by the arresting officer at the Minneapolis airport, and has been playing it and discussing it on TV. They’ve also posted it online here. Early in the interview, Craig says to the officer, “You solicited me.” The officer advises Craig of his rights, and then asks Craig to tell his side of the story. Craig says, “Well, I go into the bathroom here, as I normally do – I’m a commuter through here. I sit down to go to the bathroom, and ah, you said our feet bumped. I believe they did, uh, because I reached down and scooted over, and, the next thing I knew, under the bathroom divider comes a card that says ‘Police.’ Now, um, (sigh) that’s about as far as I can take it, I don’t know of anything else. Your foot came toward mine, mine came towards yours, was that natural? I don’t know. Did we bump? Yes. I think we did. You said so. I don’t disagree with that.” Craig then adds, “I am not gay, I don’t do these kinds of things.”

Washington Post writes about Dan Popkey

Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz, who writes about the media, takes a look at Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey and his work on investigating Sen. Larry Craig in this article, “For Idaho paper and reporter, Craig story posed a moral dilemma.”

Craig was one of 40 arrested in airport sting

Forty men have been arrested since May at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in a restroom-sex solicitation sting that also snared Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, according to the AP, and most were nabbed after going through a similar foot-tapping ritual that police said was a signal for soliciting sex. Associated Press reporter Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis reports that police records on the 40 arrests “gave strikingly similar accounts” of the signals, from tapping of feet, to moving a foot closer to the undercover officer’s foot in the next stall, to extending a hand under the stall divider.

The senator’s conduct before he was arrested “closely followed the pattern described in several of the arrests,” Karnowski reported. He also reported that those arrested in the sting included airport and airline employees, salesmen, business executives, a computer consultant and a Lands End employee, and that some were area residents and others were from out of town. Their addresses ranged from ordinary Minneapolis neighborhoods to Park Avenue in New York. Charges ranged from misdemeanors such as loitering, disorderly conduct and indecent exposure to gross misdemeanors such as interference with privacy. Some of the suspects denied they were seeking sex, while others admitted it. On June 25, the same officer who arrested Craig arrested three men at once.

‘Rank and homophobic hypocrisy’?

The executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Matt Foreman, is accusing Senate Republican leaders of hypocrisy for calling for an ethics investigation into Sen. Larry Craig’s arrest and guilty plea in a restroom sex-solicitation scandal, but not doing the same for Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who admitted to “a very serious sin in my past” after he was linked to a female escort service operated by the so-called “D.C. Madam.” Foreman said Vitter even got big applause from his fellow Senate Republicans during a policy lunch a few days after his admission.

“Let’s see – one Republican senator is involved in soliciting sex from a man and the Republican leadership calls for a Senate investigation and yanks the rug from underneath him,” Foreman said in a statement. “Another Republican senator admits to soliciting the services of a female prostitute and there’s not only no investigation but the senator is greeted with a standing ovation by his Republican peers. What explains the starkly different responses? I’d say rank and homophobic hypocrisy.”

Poll: Practically everyone’s heard

Survey USA conducted a poll of 600 Idaho adults last night on the revelations about Sen. Larry Craig, and found 89 percent were aware of the story of Craig’s arrest in an airport restroom and subsequent guilty plea on misdemeanor charges. Of those polled, 55 percent said Craig should resign from the Senate, 34 percent said he should remain in office, and 11 percent weren’t sure. The poll also found 34 percent approval of Craig’s job performance, with 58 percent disapproving, down from a strong 60 percent approval in November 2006.

Happiest guy? Michael Vick

CNN has been hashing over the Craig men’s room scandal at length, causing one of their commentators to come up with this thought: Who’s the happiest man in the United States today? Michael Vick, because this got him off the front pages.

Fischer calls for Craig resignation

Bryan Fischer’s Idaho Values Alliance is among those calling for Sen. Larry Craig to resign. In a statement posted on the group’s website “regretfully” calling for resignation, Fischer, a conservative pastor, wrote, “No member of the Republican Party in the 1860s could represent his party and be a slaveholder at the same time. Nor can the Republican Party of today speak with authority and clarity to the moral issues that confront our society and at the same time send ambivalent messages about sexual behavior. It is time for the Republican Party to be the party that defends the American family in word, deed, and by personal example.”

After Craig’s press conference, Fischer said, “I think it’s appropriate for the senator to resign. … He’s made it pretty clear he’s going to serve out his term.”

Idaho GOP chair backs Craig

J. Kirk Sullivan, chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, said today, “I’m going to support Sen. Craig.” After hearing Craig’s statement at a downtown news conference, Sullivan said, “I listened, and I heard a man open his heart up today. I think he knows that he made a snap judgment in Minneapolis. I think he knows it, and I think he is in a position to correct it.” Asked how Craig could correct a case in which he’s already pleaded guilty and been sentenced, Sullivan said, “Nobody’s proven anything.” He said he believes Craig can still be an effective senator for Idaho, because others in Congress have survived scandals and continued their careers.

Craig to speak to public

Sen. Larry Craig is planning to make a public statement this afternoon in Boise, at 2:30 p.m. Mountain time. Spokesman Sid Smith said, “In a situation like this, not only the media but Idahoans want to hear from Sen. Craig directly.” It won’t be just a repetition of the previous brief statement he sent out, Smith said. But in response to my question, Smith also said Craig is not going to making any announcement regarding his office or re-election plans. “He is going to stick to his time frame of September, making that announcement,” Smith said.

What Dan did for all those months

It’s been a subject of speculation for months in Boise – how Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey spent five months, full-time, investigating a blogger’s allegations that Sen. Larry Craig was a closeted homosexual who had engaged in sex acts at a public restroom near his office, but the investigation had never resulted in anything being published. Popkey disappeared from the paper through all those months, didn’t cover the legislative session, and wrote no columns. Then he returned to the paper without comment in late spring and resumed writing columns.

Today, the Statesman published his account on its front page. It details how Popkey traced down multiple allegations, but most came to naught. The man who reported the restroom incident, which he said probably occurred in 2004, offered no proof other than his word. Popkey also interviewed two other men who claimed Craig had made advances to them, one in 1967 and one in 1994. He investigated clear back to Craig’s college days, and detailed how Craig inadvertently grabbed the national spotlight in 1982 by being the only member of Congress to issue a denial of involvement in a congressional page gay-sex scandal – when no members had been named. The two pages involved later recanted their stories. He also traced down dozens of other allegations “that proved untrue, unclear or unverifiable.”

As he details in his account today, Popkey’s investigation culminated in a May 14 interview with Craig, at which Craig, accompanied by his wife, strenuously and specifically denied all the allegations, denied being gay, and said he’d never engaged in sex with a man or solicited sex with a man. The article states, “Until Monday, the Statesman had declined to run a story about Craig’s sex life, because the paper didn’t have enough corroborating evidence and because of the senator’s steadfast denial.” Less than one month after that interview, Craig was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport as part of a police investigation into restroom sex there, and 20 days ago, he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. Click here to read the Statesman’s coverage.

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Craig issues statement

Here is the statement Idaho Sen. Larry Craig issued in response to the Roll Call story, which is posted on his official website (which has been up and down, apparently due to heavy traffic):

“At the time of this incident, I complained to the police that they were misconstruing my actions. I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct. I should have had the advice of counsel in resolving this matter. In hindsight, I should not have pled guilty. I was trying to handle this matter myself quickly and expeditiously.”

Idaho Dems say they helped oust Gonzales

The big political news nationwide today is the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, but here in Boise, it’s the Idaho Democrats who are claiming to have helped oust the controversial Bush Administration official.

Wondering how that could be? Well, back in June, Gonzales came to Boise to meet with our U.S. Attorney for Idaho, Tom Moss, and an anti-gang task force. The visit was to include an outdoor press conference, but after more than a hundred protesters toting hand-painted signs with messages like “No more torture and lies” and “FLUSH toilet paper NOT the CONSTITUTION” showed up, the scheduled press conference didn’t start. Somewhat late, it was rescheduled and moved to a secure location – inside the U.S. Attorney’s office, where only members of the press would be admitted. When the announcement came that the Attorney General wouldn’t appear before them, the protesters booed and chanted, “Coward, coward, coward,” according to coverage from reporter Jill Kuraitis of New West.net (that’s her photo of the event).

Today, Idaho Democratic Chairman Richard Stallings issued a news release congratulating the protesters. “Alberto Gonzales wanted to come to Idaho and grab some sugar-coated headlines, but it didn’t work,” Stallings said. “The Attorney General and the Bush Administration learned this summer that Idahoans will not stand for the unlawful abuse of power.” Stallings did acknowledge that “it’s obvious that the Idahoans who came out on June 26 cannot take all the credit for Gonzales’ departure,” but he added, “his visit to Idaho – one of the most conservative states in the country – surely resonated deeply into the Bush Administration’s public relations machine.”

Want to discuss this? Go to Huckleberries Online and scroll down to add your comments.

Fair weather arrives on cue

At the Western Idaho Fair this week, the biggest attraction hasn’t been the politicos or the food demonstrations or the biggest pig or even the Starship ride – it’s been the weather. After baking through a miserably hot summer when 100 degrees started to seem like the norm, Boise’s been in the 80s this week, with some pleasant breezes. Sighs of relief can be heard all over town, including at the fair, where the early evenings seem to be a thing of beauty.

While performing at the fair Wednesday night, Charlie Daniels of the Charlie Daniels Band at one point set aside his fiddle and pulled out his video camera, and recorded the view of the Boise foothills behind him, which were glowing rosy against the sunset sky. Then he told the crowd that he was thrilled to be performing in Boise, a place “where the backdrop looks like a Charlie Russell painting.”

Over in the Expo Building, not far from the Vita-Mix demonstration, Congressman Bill Sali’s backers were handing out paper headbands sporting his name, with a tall, yellow feather attached and an apparent “Indian” theme. Local radio station 94.9 The River was joking about it on the radio as I headed home, saying Sali apparently was “trying to show his multiculturalism.”

Otter: Health care changes in the works

Gov. Butch Otter may not be saying much about his two-day, closed-door “Health Care Summit” meeting that he convened this week at Boise State, but he was quite clear going into it that he plans to introduce legislation this year based on recommendations the group develops. Asked about that just after giving the session’s opening remarks, Otter said, “Certainly I committed to them that as they came up with ideas and they came up with programs which are within the political and fiscal feasibilities and realities of the state, that I certainly would become the champion of that. And there are a lot of legislators settin’ in there that heard me say that.”

Otter charged the group to look at affordability, access, prevention and wellness, and medical education in Idaho. “Where do we get the medical professionals that we need, that we’re now short of … and how do we grow into that?” he asked. He urged the group to “seriously consider the possibility of Idaho finally creating our own medical school.” He also told the invited group that health care access and affordability “go hand in hand. Affordability is THE biggest factor limiting access for Idahoans,” the governor said, for both individuals and businesses.

Otter said he’s hoping for proposals he can jump on, possibly even before the Legislature convenes. “What I’m talking about is what can we initiate today,” he said.

Barb’s back - Space shuttle lands safely

The Space Shuttle Endeavour has landed safely, bringing to a successful conclusion the long-awaited mission to space by an American school teacher, along with completing the mission’s scheduled work on the International Space Station. McCall teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan is now back on Earth. “Congratulations. Welcome home. You’ve given a new meaning to higher education,” Mission Control told the crew as the shuttle touched down on the runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a large parachute slowing its travel as it taxied to a halt and astronauts’ families cheered.

Prominent Repub to chair Sali challenger’s campaign

Pat Takasugi, former Idaho state agriculture director, prominent farmer and former Canyon County Republican chair, has signed on as manager of Matt Salisbury’s campaign against U.S. Rep. Bill Sali. Salisbury, who’s taking Sali on in the GOP primary, is a 34-year-old Iraq vet with longtime party ties. Takasugi says he doesn’t want to criticize Sali but he thinks people in the GOP ranks are “ready for an option.”

“Matt understands that it takes big ideas to solve big problems, and he won’t become mired in small debates that divide us,” Takasugi said. Read the full story here on spokesmanreview.com.

Wildfires bring health advisory for smoke

With wildfires still raging across the region – Idaho and Montana now have 18 large wildfires each – the Idaho departments of Health & Welfare and Environmental Quality have issued a health advisory for “potentially unhealthy and even hazardous air quality conditions from wildfire smoke.” In the advisory, the departments said, “There are currently multiple wildfires burning in Idaho and smoke from those fires can cause serious health problems. Parts of Valley and Custer counties have been especially hard hit due to the large fires burning in their areas.” The advisory includes tips on judging the level of hazard based on visibility, and guidelines for both healthy and sensitive people on when and how much to restrict activities when things get really bad. Read the whole thing here.

A new import for Idaho: Other states’ prison inmates?

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter wants to change state laws to let private prisons set up in the state and house out-of-state prisoners – as long as Idaho gets first rights to the beds. That’s part of the plan for getting Idaho a new and sorely needed 2,100-bed prison within the next three years. The state’s expecting to be short 5,500 prison beds over the next 10 years and now has hundreds of inmates housed out of state.

“It’s really a question of capital,” Otter said Thursday. “We just simply, without absolutely busting the budget, we can’t make that kind of capital available as we need it.” Private companies, on the other hand, “can go out in the marketplace and kind of work their magic.” Read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

‘Space travel is risky, but we have confidence’

Idaho Public TV’s Marcia Franklin asked teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan about the damage to tiles on the Space Shuttle Endeavor during her live interview with Morgan and fellow astronaut Al Drew today. Here’s what Morgan said: “The word we are getting is that this is more of an issue for the orbiter’s reuse and not our personal safety, and we have a lot of faith in the program, and we’ll do what the engineers decide is the best thing for us to do. Space travel is risky, but we have all confidence that we’re going to be able to do the right thing.” One other note: Morgan expects to get a glimpse of Idaho from space tonight or tomorrow.

You can watch Franklin’s interview here at idahoptv.org.


The Idaho-to-space connection continues

Idaho Public Television producer and host Marcia Franklin will be conducting an uncommon interview tomorrow – she’ll be interviewing teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan and one of her crewmates on the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Franklin will be in Boise, but thanks to phone and satellite hookups, her interview subjects – Morgan and fellow astronaut Col. Al Drew – will be in space. Franklin is working on a documentary on Morgan; she’ll also post the interview on Idaho Public TV’s website Thursday afternoon.

Making the space-to-Idaho connection

What a cool thing! There was teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan on the screen, her dark hair floating around her head in waves, while kids quizzed her and three fellow astronauts on everything from the speed of a baseball thrown in space (very, very slow, as the astronauts demonstrated), to how astronauts exercise in space to prevent bone loss (after a demonstration of an in-flight stationary bike, the petite Morgan hammed it up by demonstrating how she could just reach right out and lift up her two larger male colleagues who were on either side of her – holding them up high with just one hand each).

Coko Roberts of Kellogg asked if they’d ever thought about becoming astronauts when they were kids – and several had dreamed of it since early childhood. Afterward, she said, “It was really amazing that I got to do that. It was really interesting seeing them up there and just talking to them. … They were totally weightless. They were bouncing around.” Coko said her third-grade teacher from Sunnyside Elementary School recommended her to her science teacher, in part, she figures, because she’s acted in a melodrama theater production. “She knew I wasn’t bad in front of a crowd, so she knew I would be able to do it,” the youngster said.

Gavin Tosten, who’s almost 12 and wants to be a fish and game officer when he grows up, said he figures he’s now the only person from Grangeville who’s talked directly to people in outer space. “It was very cool,” Gavin said. “If it weren’t for my teacher, I definitely would not be here.”

The 18 Idaho youngsters who questioned the astronauts were selected by their science teachers. “It’s such an awesome experience,” said Gavin’s mom, Michelle Tosten, who watched from a few rows back along with dad Joe and little sister Jolie. “He’s been just very excited.”

Z.J. Mayton, a 6th-grader from Lewiston, said she’s decided that when she grows up, she’d like to work in mission control. “I don’t really want to be an astronaut,” she said, launching into a discussion of the effects of space travel on growth of the spine. “I decided I want to be like Houston.”

The kids sat through speeches from dignitaries including a U.S. senator, a congressman, a mayor and NASA’s top education official and then questioned another NASA astronaut, Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, until it was time for the live down-link from space.

Eyes sparkling, Z.J. said, “It was really exciting. At first I had so many butterflies in me, and the speeches did not help, when they’re saying it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.” But, she said, “It was just really cool to be able to talk to Barbara Morgan and her crewmates.”

Sarah Blum, a 14-year-old from Moscow who’s going into 9th grade, said, “It was just really fun talking to her and being in Boise.” Space travel, she said, “looks fun.”

Among the dignitaries who spoke before the linkup was Lori Otter, Idaho’s first lady, a former teacher who came in place of her husband, Gov. Butch Otter, to deliver a proclamation declaring “Idaho Reaches Into Space Month.” Said Mrs. Otter, “I can just say as a teacher, this is way cool!”

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo said anyone seeing what’s happening in the U.S. space program would want it to continue. “I’ll be a strong voice for it,” he said.

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna declared it a “great day for education in Idaho,” and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter proclaimed today “Barbara Morgan Day” in the city.

Metcalf-Lindenburger said she expects that in the future, space travel will become much more common than it is now. “I would hope that someday, a lot of us would go into space,” she said.

Stewart’s Constitution 101

North Idaho College political scientist Tony Stewart says he’s a student of the U.S. Constitution – he’s also been teaching it to college students for 38 years. And he’s saddened by the lack of understanding of the nation’s founding document’s groundbreaking provisions on religious freedom.

There are three: The free expression clause in the 1st Amendment, which protects the right of all individuals to practice any or no religion; the establishment clause in the 1st Amendment, which makes us a nation without an official state-sanctioned religion; and Article 6, which says there can be no religious test for office.

Stewart noted that over the course of history, other nations have followed different paths, from endorsing a state religion and persecuting all non-members, to the Soviet Union’s example of opposing religion and persecuting people for practicing all faiths. “What we’ve come up with that’s so precious is to make that balance of not having a state church but protecting the different religious views,” Stewart said. “That’s why we’ve been a model.”

As a result, he said, there’s no one dominant church or sect in the United States. “We have so much diversity in religion there is no one dominant religion, and that’s created a lot more tolerance. So it is of great concern when you see the rising of intolerance.”

The idea that Congress should open with a Christian prayer each day, but not with a prayer from any other faith – the position taken by Idaho 1st District Congressman Bill Sali – is counter to the Constitution’s central principles, Stewart explained. “Our democracy requires respect of all people’s right to practice their religion,” he said. “Good citizens of other religions, they pay their taxes, they defend this country, they’re an integral part – they shouldn’t be second-class citizens.”

“One can be deeply committed to their particular religious principles without discriminating against other people’s right to their religion,” Stewart said. “We need to celebrate our differences – that in no way takes away from one’s own personal beliefs. I can be very committed to the Christian faith, which I am, and yet at the same time have total respect for other religious faiths and be very willing to hear prayers or make them a total inclusive part of our society. It’s not the job of the state to show a preference or to discriminate against some religions, or even non-religious people.”

What it takes

Here’s what it takes to be eligible for either of the two U.S. Magistrate Judge positions that will open in Idaho in 2008: “To be qualified for appointment an applicant must:

(1) Be, and have been for at least five years, a member in good standing of the bar of the highest court of a state … and have been engaged in the active practice of law for a period of at least five years….

(2) Be competent to perform all duties of the office; be of good moral character; be emotionally stable and mature; be committed to equal justice under the law; be in good health; be patient and courteous; and be capable of deliberation and decisiveness;

(3) Be less than seventy (70) years old; and

(4) Not be related by blood or marriage to a judge of the district court.”

There will also be review by a merit selection panel, an FBI full-field investigation and an IRS tax check. The term of office is eight years, and pay is $151,984. Applications are due by Aug. 31st at 5 p.m.

Stallings calls for Sali resignation or apology

Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Richard Stallings is calling for GOP Rep. Bill Sali to either “take back the anti-religious freedom comments he made this week to an online religious fundamentalist organization web site, or get out of Congress.” Stallings said in a statement, “I call upon Bill Sali to either publicly apologize to the Americans has insulted with his bigoted remarks, or resign his congressional seat and let someone who understands basic human dignity and the right of religious freedom to take his place. Today, Bill Sali is belittling Hindus and Muslims. Tomorrow, will he do the same with Roman Catholics and Buddhists? Or perhaps Jews and Mormons? Who will pass the religious purity test and be able to serve in Congress; or even pray out loud in the nation’s Capitol?”

The Democratic chair, a former 2nd District congressman, added, “Religious freedom is a bedrock value of America – it is one of our core tenets. And yet, here we have Bill Sali, a United States congressman, showing his disdain for people who belong to religions other than his own. Either Sali is too dumb and insensitive to realize that his words are extremely hurtful to others or he really is a religious bigot. Either way, this man does not belong in the United States Congress.”

Kempthorne ‘most popular’ cabinet secretary

The Seattle Times today has an interesting look at how our former governor, Dirk Kempthorne, is doing as U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The Times, in an article by reporter Alicia Mundy, reports:

“After more than a year on the job, Kempthorne, the former Idaho governor and U.S. senator, may be the Bush administration’s most popular Cabinet member on Capitol Hill. Democrats and Republicans alike praise him for pumping more money into national parks, repairing the department’s relationships with Congress, and moving beyond the scandals that damaged the agency in recent years. Kempthorne even pleased skeptical environmentalists last December by proposing to list the polar bear as threatened because of thinning sea ice caused by global warming. At the same time, he has continued Bush’s controversial policies that favor oil and gas development on public lands, and his department has added no species to the endangered-species list since he became Interior secretary.”

Kempthorne, who built his political reputation as a Boise mayor who brought consensus among warring factions over downtown redevelopment, has drawn on his connections from serving in the U.S. Senate and his personal charm in his new role, the Times report suggests. About the oddest thing in it: That Kempthorne declined to give the Times an interview.

Follow the launch

Today is the day that Idaho’s own Barbara Morgan, the teacher-turned-astronaut from McCall, is set to launch on the Space Shuttle Endeavor, and you can follow along live at NASA’s launch blog here. To see more about the mission, click here for NASA’s website.

New college names first president

The newly approved College of Western Idaho has named an interim president: Dennis Griffin, who formerly was executive director of the Boise State University West Campus. That makes some sense, as that campus is the location of the new community college. “Dennis is already on site at BSU West and ready to start putting the administrative infrastructure in place right now,” said Jerry Hess, chairman of the CWI board. Griffin said, “I’m honored and humbled. But I am also ready to go to work.”

So, for those who want to work for this new college – which has a goal of offering its first classes by January 2008 – Griffin is the one to contact. He can be reached at 562-3434 or by email at dgriffin@bsu.edu.

Edmunson leaves Legislature for guv’s office

State Rep. Clete Edmunson, R-Council, is resigning from the Legislature in his third term to join Gov. Butch Otter’s staff as a field representative for central Idaho. Edmunson, 41, was vice chairman of the House State Affairs Committee and is a former teacher and coach at New Plymouth High School. He’s also been a strong GOP voice for education in House debates. In his new job, he’ll represent the governor in a 17-county area from Council to Twin Falls.

Otter said, “It’s great to have someone of Clete’s experience and talent joining my team. He knows the issues as well as the political and economic realities of rural Idaho.”

Republicans vs. Republicans

The state of Idaho has filed a motion to dismiss the federal lawsuit that 72 Republicans filed to close Idaho’s GOP primary election, saying the individual party members lack legal standing to bring the suit. Its backup for the argument? An affidavit from J. Kirk Sullivan, Idaho Republican Party chairman, saying the members are “not legally empowered to act on behalf of the Idaho Republican Party,” and that the party never authorized the lawsuit. The suit seeks to allow only registered Republicans to vote in the GOP primary – a big change in a state that currently has no party registration. Attached to the affidavit was a copy of a letter Sullivan wrote to the attorney who filed the lawsuit, Christ Troupis, saying in part:

“I appreciate that individually, your clients may feel like they are advancing the cause for Republicans everywhere, but it is inappropriate for them to individually or collectively state that they represent or speak on behalf of the Idaho Republican Party or the Idaho Republican State Central Committee, and indeed it is legally impossible for them to do so. The lawsuit you filed has never been authorized, approved, endorsed or even formally considered by the Idaho Republican Party or the Republican State Central Committee. I would like the record to be absolutely clear that your clients, individually or collectively, are not agents of the Idaho Republican Party or the Idaho Republican State Central Committee, and that they are not acting on behalf of these entities.”

Otter to meet with Utah, Wyoming guvs re fires

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter will meet Monday by phone with Utah Gov. John Huntsman and Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, along with federal officials, regarding “responses to wildfires and other disasters.” Otter, along with Idaho GOP Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo, has been critical of federal responses to wildfire in Idaho.

‘Open minds’ on re-examining tax breaks

A 14-member legislative committee, including members of both the House and Senate tax committees, convened this morning to start a long and hard look at Idaho’s tax system – and specifically at all exemptions, deductions and credits, what they accomplish and whether they’re justified. All members present, from both parties, said they came to the table with an “open mind.”

“We as legislators have granted almost every credit that anybody’s asked for over the years,” committee Co-Chairman Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, the Senate tax chairman, told the panel. Idaho’s sales tax started with 17 exemptions; now it has more than 80. Idaho’s added 13 business tax credits to its income tax code, each requiring a separate form. It’s come up with more than 20 adjustments to federal income, said Hill, a CPA. “I’m not against exemptions, deductions and credits – I’ve spent my life searching for them for my clients,” he said to laughter. “Some of us see tax cuts as good, regardless of whether they’re fair or equitable, regardless of whether they’re good tax policy – if it reduces tax, it’s a good thing, it helps control government spending. I’m in agreement that we need to control government spending, but I don’t think that’s what we’re accomplishing with many of these exemptions and so forth. … We’re merely shifting the burden to the other taxpayers.”

Hill said he has no desire to increase state revenues. He wants the panel to re-examine the tax system solely to make it more fair, equitable and effective. As he spoke, an audience heavy with lobbyists listened closely. Many of the same lobbyists have argued, often successfully, over the years for tax breaks for their clients. “Obviously we’re going to look at whatever might come out of this group and the impact it will have on our ability to do what we do, and tax policy is a big part of that,” said Jack Lyman, executive vice president and lobbyist for the Idaho Mining Association. “You can’t eliminate tax breaks without creating tax shifts.”

House Tax Chair Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, noted that the panel will need to reach two-thirds agreement to recommend any changes to the Legislature. “I hope that all of the committee members come to the table with an open mind to do what’s best for the state of Idaho,” he said.

Several members said they wanted to find ways to reduce Idaho’s tax rates while broadening the tax system. Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, said, “To me, it seems that if everybody paid a little bit that the revenues would be about the same.” Sen. David Langhorst, D-Boise, said if the panel decides that all current tax breaks should remain, “At least we and the Idaho public will know why our sales tax is 6 percent, and not 5, 4 or 3 percent.”

Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, said, “I think it’s about time, after 11 years, that we try to solve this problem … the issue of what an exemption should be.” Some kind of standard against which every exemption is measured would help, he said.

After pretty much everyone said how glad they were to be at the table and tackling the issue, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said, “I guess I’m the only one that’s not happy to be here – I’d rather be on my combine, it’s harvest time.” But Moyle said his goal on the panel is “to have an open mind.”

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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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