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Eye On Boise

Archive for December 2007

A cowboy governor’s greeting

In their official holiday greeting card this year, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and First Lady Lori Otter feature “A Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer,” the work by New Mexico cowboy poet Squire Omar Barker, who was known for signing his letters and books with his brand, “The Lazy S.O.B.” reports that Otter’s card is one of only a few governor’s greeting cards this year that specifically mentions Christmas. Otter’s spokesman, Mark Warbis, said the Otters’ card was privately funded and he didn’t know anything about it beyond that it included the poem.

Click below to read the full poem, which concludes: “I’m just a sinful cowpoke, Lord - ain’t got no business prayin’ - But still I hope You’ll ketch a word or two of what I’m sayin’: We speak of Merry Christmas, Lord – I reckon you’ll agree, There ain’t no Merry Christmas for nobody that ain’t free. So one thing more I’ll ask You, Lord: Just help us what you can, To save some seeds of freedom for the future sons of man.”

Craig named ‘Naughtiest American’

Believe it or not, there’s an organization that puts together a list called the “Naughty Nine,” honoring “the year’s naughtiest Americans.” And this year, Idaho’s senior senator, Larry Craig, topped the list at No. 1. Craig even beat out Britney Spears (No. 3). The list is posted at, a self-described “mainstream news Web site” put up by, an adult entertainment company. The list’s editor, David Moye, said, “This year was a truly watershed year for naughtiness. Besides usual naughty suspects like Britney Spears or Barry Bonds, there were toe-tapping senators and diaper-wearing astronauts who practically demanded by their actions to be on the list.”

PTSD slogan really appeared in POST program

OK, I have to admit, when I saw this image on Huckleberries Online last week – showing a rather odd slogan being displayed on the graduation program for the POST academy – I thought, like several of the commenters, that it must be a hoax, a Photoshop job. But it’s not. Jeff Black, executive director of the POST Academy, which trains Idaho’s police, correctional and law enforcement officers, got back to me today, and said the slogan really did appear – and when he spotted it, just three minutes before the graduation ceremony was to begin, he “cringed.” The class of 43 newly trained police officers had voted to make the quote from military author Dave Grossman, “Don’t suffer from PTSD, go out and cause it,” their class slogan. “It shouldn’t have been in there – it was inappropriate,” Black told me. “We were mortified that it was in there.” You can read my full story here at

Stallings steps down as Idaho Dem party chair

Former Idaho Congressman Richard Stallings has resigned as chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party, and the party’s central committee will hold an election to replace him at its next meeting on Jan. 4. The party said Stallings made the decision “after weeks of wrestling with his conscience and his calendar.” Said Stallings: “I’ve never seen a time where the opportunities for our party are as abundant as they are right now. As we approach 2008, it’s clear that Idaho Democrats are on the cusp of great things. The party’s chair needs to provide full-time attention to the cause. I’ve decided that, for personal and professional reasons, I’m not able to do that.”

State party Vice-Chair Jeanne Buell is serving as acting chair. Stallings, 67, has been state party chair since March of 2005; his term was due to expire in 2009. Click below for Buell’s message to Idaho Democrats about the replacement process.

State board votes to cancel 9th grade ISAT

Idaho’s State Board of Education this afternoon voted 5-1 to amend its $22 million contract with a private testing contractor to eliminate funding for 9th grade ISAT tests, and voted unanimously to waive its rule requiring ISAT testing for 9th graders for this spring only. If the board hasn’t come up with a new plan before next fall, it’d have to waive the rule again to cancel the fall 9th grade ISAT, for which there would be no funding in the contract.

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna was the lone dissenter in the 5-1 vote, because he didn’t want to eliminate the funding for the life of the contract, which runs for four years with two possible two-year extensions. He preferred to cut it just for this year, and leave funding for future years in the contract. “I understand the predicament the board’s in,” Luna said. But, he said, “The 9th grade test is a critical test given the year before we expect students to pass a graduation test.”

Board President Milford Terrell said, “I want a balanced budget. I don’t want to be in this situation ever again.” The board may come up with a different approach after further study by a subcommittee that’s re-examining testing, he said, such as bringing back 9th grade testing but eliminating fall tests for all grades as a cost trade-off. But, Terrell declared, “There can be no extra money. … We have a closed budget at this point.”

After the board’s special meeting, he told reporters, “This president will sure take a strong look at where we’re at before we ever sign contracts, I’ll tell you that.”

Ed board meets tomorrow on ISATs

Idaho’s State Board of Education has called a special meeting for tomorrow afternoon to formally cancel the 9th grade Idaho Standards Achievement Test. The board earlier announced it was cancelling the test, which 3rd through 10th graders now must take at least twice a year, due to a budget shortfall, after discussing the matter in a closed meeting in apparent violation of the Idaho Open Meeting Law. On behalf of The Spokesman-Review, I filed a complaint with the Idaho Attorney General’s office over the incident; that office is investigating. Today, the Idaho Allied Dailies, an association of 16 daily newspapers, filed a similar complaint. The board’s agenda for tomorrow’s meeting, which was announced late this afternoon, includes amending its $22 million contract with the ISAT testing firm and formally waiving the board rule that requires 9th grade ISAT testing.

Bogus to open more terrain

Boise’s local ski resort, Bogus Basin, announced today that it’ll open the No. 5 Bitterroot chair as well as the front-side lifts tomorrow, it’ll start night skiing on Friday night and it’ll open the No. 6 Pine Creek chair on Saturday. That’s the high-speed quad on the backside. “We took a look at the mountain and the snow conditions are tremendous,” said Steve Shake, vice president of mountain operations. “We will see what the next few forecasted storms bring us, in hopes of announcing an opening for chairlift No. 3/Superior.” Opening the north-facing slopes of the Superior chair would bring the mountain to full operation.

Bogus to open Thursday

It’s been raining in Boise and snowing in the mountains, and now comes the news that Boise skiers have been waiting for weeks to hear: Bogus Basin will open (finally!) on Thursday. The resort will have its front side open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with all lodges open and lessons available. They’re reporting a base depth of 19” of snow, with 21” at the top and 7 inches new so far today. It looks like they’ve gotten 2” just in the past hour.

Poll: Nearly two-thirds approval for Otter

Bob Moore, pollster for Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s campaign and head of Portland-based Moore Information, says his firm ran a recent poll just on its own, tacking questions about Otter’s job approval onto another survey his company was conducting in Idaho in late November. The result: 65 percent of respondents said they approved of the job Otter is doing as governor, while 19 percent disapproved and 17 percent had no opinion. “Those numbers are very impressive,” Moore said. “If you stack ‘em up against other governors around the country, he would be certainly in the upper levels.” Otter was elected in 2006 with 53 percent of the vote.

The last SurveyUSA automated tracking poll found Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire with 47 percent approval and an equal 47 percent disapproval in mid-November, down from a 53 percent approval in October. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger got 56 percent approval in SurveyUSA’s November poll, and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski got 45 percent; Idaho wasn’t polled.

Moore’s poll showed Otter with 78 percent job approval among Republicans, 40 percent among Democrats and 68 percent among independents. Moore said no one in Otter’s office knew he was running the poll, which queried a sample of 400 registered voters statewide, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. “They’re very pleased,” he said.

They’re due to do what they do

I couldn’t help but wonder if a double meaning was intended in this opening line from an ITD press release: “Keep your holiday season merry, just don’t overdue it.” Was it urging people to renew their car registrations, perhaps? Or their driver’s licenses? Return their library books? Alas, it was announcing stepped-up patrols for drunken drivers. No word on whether the crackdown was overdue.

Another endorsement before the primary

Idaho congressional candidate Larry Grant was endorsed today by the United Transportation Union, the largest railroad operating union in North America. Grant is in a three-way race for the Democratic nomination for the congressional seat now held by Republican Bill Sali. Local UTU business representative George Millward, announcing the early endorsement, said, “We endorse candidates who are committed to helping the working families of America. Larry Grant has shown that he believes that ordinary Americans deserve a fair shake.” Grant, who ran a close race against Sali in 2006, was endorsed by an array of unions then, including the Idaho AFL-CIO. He noted that he backed the increase in the federal minimum wage, which Sali strenuously opposed. Grant faces Walt Minnick and Rand Lewis in the Democratic primary; Sali is being challenged by Matt Salisbury in the GOP primary.

But the most unusual pre-primary endorsement so far this year came in the U.S. Senate race, when the state GOP chairman and all but one of the state’s top GOP elected officials endorsed Jim Risch at his announcement for the open Senate seat, though he has an opponent in the GOP primary, former elk rancher Rex Rammell.

Maybe Risch has been reading LaRocco’s poll?

U.S. Senate candidate Larry LaRocco, a former two-term Idaho congressman, released some favorable poll results today, offering a sunny view of his Democratic bid for the Senate seat now held by Larry Craig and his chances against current GOP Lt. Gov. Jim Risch. Though Risch is one of Idaho’s longest-serving politicians and his seven months as governor – he stepped up after then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne became Secretary of the Interior – raised his profile statewide, LaRocco’s pollster reported, “Jim Risch is not as strong as conventional wisdom dictates.” Democratic Pollster Celinda Lake wrote that when voters were asked to rate their feelings toward Risch and LaRocco on a scale of 1 to 100, Risch scored 56, while LaRocco was at 57. “The supposed Republican front-runner has no advantage,” Lake wrote.

She also reported that Idahoans are “in the mood for change,” with 59 percent saying things in the United States are “pretty seriously off on the wrong track;” and that “the Republican brand is in decline and a generic Democrat defeats a generic Republican.” She said 42 percent of those surveyed would vote for the Democrat in a hypothetical Senate race, 36 percent for the Republican, and 21 percent undecided. “In sum, Idaho is not as ‘red’ as the Republicans would like you to believe,” Lake wrote. “This state is trending purple. Now is the time to target this open Senate seat.”

Interestingly, some of Lake’s language in the Dec. 13, 2007 polling analysis mirrors that used by Risch in a frantic-sounding fundraising letter that surfaced about a week ago, in which Risch wrote:

Dear Fellow Conservative,
As the Republican Lt. Governor of Idaho, I’m asking for your immediate help in my pivotal campaign for U.S. Senate. You see, for the last several months the national Democrat Party has been targeting Idaho’s U.S. Senate race. They think that because Senator Larry Craig is retiring in 2008, they can funnel enough money from left-wing donors in Democrat bastions like New York City and Hollywood to steal this U.S. Senate seat from the GOP. That’s right – now that the national media is focused on Idaho – I have no doubt that the Democrat Party is planning an all-out blitz to send several millions of dollars straight to Idaho. And sadly, I’m afraid that with the Republican “brand” in D.C. facing an identity crisis and decline in public support, this battleground U.S. Senate seat could easily be lost.

That’s just the start of a letter that goes on for four pages to emphasize how donations are “desperately needed.” Risch, of course, defeated LaRocco 58-39 in the lieutenant governor race just last year. One might think he’d have little to fear in a state that’s now known for electing Republicans to every statewide and congressional office it has. But that’s not the message of his letter, which warns, “I cannot run the risk of letting liberal money from New York and Hollywood buy this U.S. Senate seat for the Democrat Party. But that’s exactly what may happen if conservatives like you don’t step up to the plate to help me right away.”

Idaho prisons have the best veggie food?

PETA, the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, has given a surprising first-place ranking to Idaho, a state that few would consider an animal-rights state given its distinction as one of just two where dog fighting still isn’t a felony. But in this case, it’s vegetarian food behind bars that’s winning Idaho praise. “PETA researched which states are doing the best job meeting their prison inmates’ hunger for meatless meals, and the results are in,” the group announced today. In naming Idaho tops in the nation, PETA said the state had the most “vegetarian-friendly state prison system.”

Not that Idaho’s prison system has been getting lots of rave reviews for its cuisine. “I haven’t heard any compliments, and I would think there’s probably not a lot of compliments going around about prison food,” said Idaho prisons spokesman Jeff Ray. “When the meals cost 90 cents each, you can’t do much with that.” A typical lunch at an Idaho prison, Ray noted, is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a baloney sandwich, a piece of fruit and a cookie; Idaho’s prisons eliminated hot lunches nearly a decade ago as a cost-saving move. But what won Idaho praise from PETA was the choice of menu options, including pork-free, ovo-lacto vegetarian, vegan and other choices. Inmates can sign up each month for a special diet choice, whether it’s for religious or medical reasons or just their preference. You can read my full story here at

‘The public would have a chance to hear’

Does it matter if the State Board of Education violated the Idaho Open Meeting Law when it decided to end ISAT testing for thousands of 9th graders all across the state? Of course it does. The open meeting law is one of the most important protections Idahoans have to guarantee an honest and open government, and it ensures that the people of our state have a role to play in our government, from listening to and understanding the debate on important issues to making informed choices when they select their government representatives. Plus, many people have differing views on ISAT testing in the state’s public schools. People care, and it matters. Why would something like that be handled behind closed doors?

The state board announced late Monday that it was canceling the ISAT this spring for the state’s 9th graders, who already took the test this fall. The reason: A budget shortfall. But the board hadn’t met Monday. It had discussed the issue, which wasn’t on its agenda, in a closed executive session the prior Thursday in Pocatello. “That’s not one of those items that’s allowed in executive session,” said state Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “It would have been much better if the discussion had been held in open session and the public would have had a chance to hear.” The closed session stretched for nearly four hours.

Goedde had his own concerns about eliminating the 9th grade version of a test students now take, fall and spring, from 3rd through 10th grades. Passing the 10th grade test is a requirement for high school graduation. “It seems kind of ludicrous when as sophomores the test starts to count in earnest, they give them a year off as freshmen,” he said. You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

This morning, the Spokesman-Review filed a complaint with the Idaho Attorney General’s office, which has the duty to investigate violations of the open meeting law by state agencies. The state board is now suggesting it may call a special meeting to formally vote to eliminate the 9th grade ISAT testing, but certainly it would have made more sense to just do it right the first time. Budgets, student testing and education funding shortfalls all are matters of great public interest, and the law doesn’t permit the board to discuss them secretly. The board also appears to have violated the open meeting law by not specifying under which exemption it was going into executive session, instead using a “catch-all” motion saying it was “one or more” of the allowable reasons; and by not keeping written minutes of its executive sessions specifying under which of the exemptions the sessions were held and the general subject matter addressed.

Another ‘incident’ with Idaho prisoners in Texas

Two Idaho prison inmates who are being housed in a private lockup in Texas assaulted a guard last night, prompting 10 to 15 other Idaho offenders to refuse to return to their cells, according to the GEO Group Inc., the company that operates the prison. Idaho’s Corrections Department has sent a deputy to the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas to investigate.

According to the department, a BCDC lieutenant was assaulted by two Idaho inmates around 7:30 p.m. on Monday. When the other inmates refused to return to their cells after the assault, the GEO Group called a “response team” to the prison, at which point the Idaho inmates went back to their cells. There are 373 Idaho inmates locked up at the private prison in Texas for lack of space in Idaho. The two involved in the alleged assault likely will face new criminal charges in Texas. The other inmates involved in the incident “will likely face disciplinary sanctions,” the department said in a news release.

Otter supporters had a ball

In case you were wondering about the “North Idaho Governor’s Ball” that took place at the Coeur d’Alene Resort last week, it was not a state event, but instead was a fundraiser for Gov. Butch Otter’s campaign fund, modeled after similar events he held when he was serving in Congress (then called “North Idaho Congressional Ball”). According to Jason Lehosit of Otter’s campaign, the event drew more than 300 people at $50 a head, and featured country music and dancing to the Kelly Hughes Band along with speeches from Otter and Lt. Gov. Jim Risch. “Everybody had a great time,” Lehosit said. “It was black tie optional, so there some people in tuxedos, and people in suits.” Risch, when he was governor, also held a similar North Idaho event shortly after he took office.

As to Otter’s campaign fund: His last campaign finance report, from mid-summer, showed he had $2,440 in the bank and no debt. The report also showed Otter apparently isn’t using his campaign funds for routine meals and other expenses in Idaho, as former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne did, though it included a few meals at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C.

New tourism chief sees international image change

Idaho’s new state tourism director says she’s seen a “seismic shift” in the perception of the state overseas. “People are starting to place us in the mountains, which is where we belong, versus we grow potatoes and we’re somewhere in the Midwest, one of those ‘I’ states,” said Karen Ballard. She knows, because she’s been attending international tourism trade shows for more than a decade on behalf of Idaho. Ballard handled international tourism development for the state Commerce Department before being promoted to the top tourism job to replace Carl Wilgus, who left after 20 years.

Ballard credits the image shift to a four-state international marketing plan that’s been pitching Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota to the European vacation market. She said it first became apparent about three years ago. Not that she has anything against the lowly potato. “People like potatoes and they want to eat a potato when they’re here,” she said. Among the messages she’d like to get out: Potatoes grow where there’s high elevation, clear days, sunshine and cool nights. “The things that make for great potatoes are the things that make for a great vacation.” You can read my full story here from Saturday’s Spokesman-Review.

Shasta won’t have to testify

Young victim Shasta Groene won’t have to testify in federal court against Joseph Duncan, under an agreement reached by both sides in the case. “Her testimony will be presented by statements she made to law enforcement officers in July 2005,” federal prosecutors wrote in documents filed with the court today. The little girl was just 8 years old when Duncan kidnapped her and her brother, Dylan, 9, after brutally murdering three other members of their family at their home near Coeur d’Alene. Duncan pleaded guilty Monday to all charges in a 10-count federal indictment for kidnapping and molesting the two children, whom he held captive for weeks before killing Dylan. Shasta was rescued when employees and customers at a Coeur d’Alene Denny’s restaurant spotted her there with Duncan. You can read my full story here, and go to to read the prosecution and defense motions.

‘Just like going camping’

Idaho’s next legislative session still will be cramped in its temporary quarters, but lawmakers have decided to add some relief – in the form of eight flushing porta-potties. Otherwise, the session would have pitted lawmakers, lobbyists, citizens, reporters, visiting schoolchildren, staffers and others in competition for just 19 toilet stalls, less than half the 44 they’re accustomed to at the state Capitol.

Surprisingly, the 19 existing stalls actually meet building code requirements for up to 475 people, though state Rep. Margaret Henbest, D-Boise, said it “doesn’t seem like enough.” Of the 19, only six are designated for women. Four aren’t designated, and the rest are for men. A legislative committee this week voted to add the eight portables, which will go just outside the temporary Statehouse inside a heated, enclosed canopy, at a total cost of about $6,000. The committee weighed a pricier option, a trailer with permanent plumbing, but opted for the portables instead. If they turn out not to get much use, they can be returned with no fuss.

House Majority Caucus Chair Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said, “I think we’ll adapt pretty easily. … I’ve suggested a couple of times it’s just like going on a camping trip for a couple of years.”

Otter speaks out

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter sat down for an interview with AP reporter John Miller yesterday, and said he’s ready to ask for higher fees for car owners to fund needed road improvements, now that the ITD has supplied him with detail on how it can also save millions through efficiencies; he still wants grocery tax relief that focuses on the needy, a concept lawmakers rejected last year; and he’s ready to ask for a change in the Idaho constitution to prevent homeowners’ taxable values for property taxes from rising with the real estate market. Click below to read the full AP article.

That last item, which has been a non-starter in the Legislature, was on the governor’s mind earlier in the day, too. When I quizzed him after a special Land Board meeting about cottage site rents, he compared that situation to the property tax issue. “I see some similarities there,” Otter said. He said the cabin owners who rent the land below their cabins from the state weren’t prepared for big future rent increases, just as homeowners who might have lived on their property for 40 years and paid it off wouldn’t expect that, just because a developer buys up land next door and plans something lavish, their taxes would skyrocket. In both situations, Otter said, what’s lacking is certainty from the outset.

Land Board freezes Payette Lake cabin-site rents for one year

This morning’s Idaho Land Board meeting was punctuated by something unusual – a big round of applause at the end, complete with hoots and cheers. The reason: The Land Board had just voted unanimously to freeze its rents for state-owned cabin sites at Payette Lake for one year. Cabin owners there have been complaining of skyrocketing rents that have jumped so much that no one wants to buy any of the cabins, though some two dozen are on the market, and existing owners fear they can’t pay the rent. Cabin owners build and own – and pay property taxes on – their cabins, but the state owns the lots underneath, and charges annual rent. For 2008, rents for lakefront lots on Payette Lake were projected to rise 47 percent, and secondary lots, away from the water, 88 percent. Priest Lake cabin sites are projected to rise 15 percent.

Land Board members all agreed that their system for setting rents for cabin sites is broken. When the state tried to auction off two new lots on Priest Lake this fall at new higher rents, no one bid. “We need to find out what is going on,” said Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “This one-year freeze, in my view, gives us the opportunity to do that.” State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said, “I think at least part of the reason that the market is dead is because these are unstable leases. No one would enter into an agreement if they thought their rent would double, or even increase 25 percent a year.”

Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said the one-year freeze on Payette Lake rents will allow a working group to look at new lease terms for both Payette and Priest lakes. All the state’s cabin site leases on both lakes are up for renewal at the end of 2010. State Controller Donna Jones called the freeze “a reasonable step in protecting the income to our endowment while we’re providing some level of certainty to the lessees.”

Gov. Butch Otter said the new leases must provide more certainty, in part by running for longer than 10 years. “When you put certainty into things it’s easier to put a value on it,” he said after the special Land Board meeting. “I think we have to consider long-term leases so that there’s certainty.” Ysursa noted that even with the one-year freeze, rents for state-owned waterfront Payette Lake lots will have risen 66 percent in three years. “I’ve been working on this stuff for 33 years,” he said. “We don’t get too many of our meetings where we get applause at the end.”

Guilty - ten times

Joseph Duncan, his voice low and sometimes cracking slightly, said “guilty” 10 times in response to questions from U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge about each of the 10 federal charges against him, three of which carry the death penalty. First, the charges were read, and their stark and graphic details put a chill over the nearly full courtroom. They say that Duncan, 44, kidnapped an 8-year-old girl and her 9-year-old brother from their home near Coeur d’Alene and drove them to a remote campsite in Montana where he molested both for weeks and eventually killed the little boy in June of 2005. The kidnappings, which followed Duncan’s already confessed bloody murder of the children’s mother, mother’s fiancée and older brother, came after months of planning in which Duncan purchased videotaping equipment and stole a car and gun in April, all of which he used in the crime.

Duncan, his wispy hair now grown near shoulder-length and beginning to go gray in a curl near his ear, sat between two of his lawyers, clad in a bright orange jumpsuit. He told the judge, “I will speak as honestly and as truthfully as I know how.”

Before making his plea, Duncan said he wanted to make a statement. “I just wanted to say that since my arrest, I have never attempted to deny responsibility,” he told the court. “… I have … already confessed a long time ago. … I brought the child S.G. (that’s how the young girl, Shasta Groene, is identified in court documents) home and allowed myself to be arrested. … My plea today is to me little more than a long overdue formality.” Duncan said he’ll take responsibility for his crimes “to the death.”

However, he’s not signed onto any plea bargain, he’s just pleaded guilty. It’ll be up to a federal jury to decide if he gets the death penalty on the three capital offenses to which he’s admitted. After that’s done, Judge Lodge will sentence him on the remaining charges.

The prosecution and defense had agreed on a “recitation” of the facts in the case, which included a lengthy description of Duncan’s actions – and the fact that after young Shasta, the sole survivor of the attack on her family, was rescued from Duncan at a Denney’s restaurant in Coeur d’Alene, lab testing identified Duncan as her abuser.

Reporter leaves town, news breaks

I only took one day off work – just one – to head to a family gathering in California on Friday. But I returned on Sunday afternoon to find that a big pile of news broke as soon as I left town, including a major development in the federal murder case of Joseph Duncan. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the developments from a newsy couple of days:

* Duncan, who already has pleaded guilty to killing three members of the Groene family in a bloody attack at their home near Coeur d’Alene, was scheduled to go to trial Jan. 28 in Boise on federal charges for kidnapping and molesting the family’s two youngest children and killing one. But now, he’s scheduled for a change of plea hearing on Monday morning – meaning he’s apparently going to plead guilty to at least some of the federal charges – and the “penalty phase” of his case is now scheduled to start at the time his federal trial previously had been scheduled. Duncan faces a possible death penalty on the federal charges, and if he doesn’t get that sentence there, he still could face the death penalty on state charges for the three murders to which he’s already admitted.

* The Idaho Statesman published reports from five men saying Idaho Sen. Larry Craig made sexual advances to them or had sex with them, allegations, the paper said, that “add weight to the evidence that Craig has been living a double life.” Craig, who has strenuously denied being gay, is in the midst of a court fight to overturn his guilty plea in a Minneapolis airport restroom sex-solicitation sting.

* The Nez Perce and Kootenai tribes reached fuel tax agreements with Gov. Butch Otter, joining the Coeur d’Alene and Shoshone-Bannock tribes in resolving the issue before a legislative deadline that fell on Saturday.

* Seven defendants in a major multi-state drug trafficking case pleaded guilty in federal court in Boise, in a case involving an estimated $20 million in proceeds from marijuana growing and sales over 30 years. Charges still are pending against a slew of others, and property in six states could be forfeited. The whole case started with the successful prosecution of Leland Lang of Clearwater, Idaho, several years back.

Sali offers host of amendments to mining reform bill

Idaho Congressman Bill Sali proposed 16 amendments to the mining law reform bill that recently passed the House, ranging from one to strike a section doing away with “patenting” of mining claims, to one to “sunset” the bill in two years if it results in any loss of mining jobs in the United States. None were adopted. Several of the amendments would have deleted major portions of the bill, and Sali made his opposition to the measure very clear.

Among the most controversial features of the 1872 general mining law, which is the target of reforms in Congress this year including the recently passed House bill and a Senate bill that’s still being crafted, is the original “patenting” provision, which allowed miners to purchase federal land for $2 to $5 an acre if they staked successful mining claims there. That provision made private land of much of the Wood River Valley, though patenting’s been on hold since 1994 thanks to annual congressional moratoriums. Sali’s patenting amendment has drawn his sharp criticism from Democratic opponent Larry Grant, who’s among three Democrats and one Republican so far challenging the first-term congressman’s re-election bid.

Sali told The Spokesman-Review that he’s not in favor of patenting, but figured if that portion of the law is left as-is, the annual moratoriums would continue. “The bill struck the current law dealing with the patenting process and put in place a wholly unworkable permit system to replace it, and what my amendment did was say, ‘Don’t go down this goofy path, this permit system that really will kill off the mining industry,’” Sali said. “Let’s leave the law the way it is in this particular section now.” You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

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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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