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Eye On Boise

Archive for May 2007

Another Idahoan for a top national resource post?

We’ve already got our former governor, Dirk Kempthorne, serving as the Bush Administration’s Secretary of the Interior. Now comes word from Sen. Larry Craig that President Bush has chosen Jim Caswell, head of Idaho’s Office of Species Conservation and a former forest supervisor here, to be the new head of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Craig said in a news release, “I could not be more pleased with the president’s selection of Jim Caswell to head the Bureau of Land Management. I have worked with Jim both as a Forest Supervisor and as head of Idaho’s Office of Species Conservation. He has consistently shown himself to be practical, fair, efficient, and pragmatic. He listens to both sides and makes sound decisions. These qualities will serve BLM and the public well.

“I will work with the Administration to ensure that Jim receives fair, open, and timely consideration before the Senate.”

Read the court’s order here

Here’s a link to the 9th Circuit decision issued this morning on field-burning in Idaho.

‘It really took everybody’

When Ada and Canyon county voters chose last week, by a two-thirds supermajority, to raise their own taxes to create the state’s first new community college district since the early 1960s, it turned conventional wisdom on its ear. Even though top Republicans and Democrats, from Gov. Butch Otter to Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, joined an array of business and education leaders to push for the new college in the vote that took place on Idaho’s regular spring primary election date, most thought the two-thirds margin was just too high to hit. “When I was first asked to do this about three months ago, I was either really stupid or really arrogant because I thought that we could do this,” said campaign manager Jason Lehosit. “As the election came closer, I realized how big 67 percent was.” The victory, he said, was “monumental.” Not only that, “It really took everybody to get this done,” he said. “When you need 67 percent of the vote, you need everybody. So Democrats won it, Republicans won it, men won it, women won it, old people won it, young people won it. Businesses in the valley really stepped up to the plate.” Read the full story here about the unprecedented bipartisan effort, which had top Democratic and Republican political strategists working side-by-side.

Two distinctions in one week

A bit of news from another state capital, courtesy of A Georgia lawmaker charged with driving under the influence after hitting a utility pole Sunday was named “Legislator of the Year” two days later by James magazine, which covers Georgia politics. Magazine publisher Matt Towery, a former Republican lawmaker, said the magazine chose GOP state Rep. Ben Harbin before the crash but still considered him the right choice. “We were sorry that the timing was the way it was, but there is just nothing you can do about that,” he told the Atlanta bureau of The Associated Press.

Justice Trout to step down

Idaho will lose its only female Supreme Court justice this year, in part because of a judicial election system that has led to increasingly nasty and controversial campaigns. “That certainly was a factor in my decision. … I think it tarnishes the judiciary,” said Justice Linda Copple Trout, who will retire from the court Aug. 31. She has served for 15 years, including two terms as chief justice. If she stayed on, Trout would be up for election again next year.

In her last re-election campaign in 2002, Trout was targeted in a last-minute TV attack ad campaign by an independent group, as was former Justice Cathy Silak two years earlier. Silak, the second woman to serve on the high court, was defeated. “The attacks from outside sources were very unfair and untrue,” Trout said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with The Spokesman-Review. “I just think that’s appalling.” Trout said she now lacks “the fire and drive and ambition to put myself through that again.” Read the full story here exclusively in today’s Spokesman-Review. Click here to read excerpts of what Trout had to say on an array of issues, from women on the court to cameras in the courtroom.

More changes in Otter administration

Gov. Butch Otter’s office has just moved into its much tighter temporary quarters for the next two and a half years, while the state capitol is renovated. Then came news that the governor’s budget director, Brad Foltman, will retire this Friday to help care for his 91-year-old mother. Today, the governor’s education advisor, former state Board of Education member and former Pocatello city councilwoman Karen McGee, was tapped to become interim executive director of the office of the State Board of Education. McGee takes over from Dwight Johnson, who is going back to the state Department of Labor to be employment and training administrator.

State Board President Milford Terrell said, “We’re so fortunate to have someone of Karen’s experience to lead our office.” Her appointment is effective immediately.

MySpace to turn over Idaho sex offender names

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says MySpace has agreed to turn over the names and other information of convicted sex offenders from Idaho who’ve registered as users on the popular social networking Internet site. “I believe it is critical to receive this information to assess any threats by sexual predators to Idaho’s children,” Wasden said. “Once my office receives this information, and we have an opportunity to examine it, we may determine that it would be appropriately referred to law enforcement.”

Wasden and attorneys general from seven other states sent a letter to MySpace last week demanding that the company turn over information about sex offenders. Today, Wasden said MySpace has confirmed that Sentinel Tech Holdings has already identified thousands of registered sex offenders as members of its website. MySpace has deleted these users from its site, he said, but has preserved information about them and will provide it to the attorneys general. He commended the company for “taking this important safety step.”

No December legislative hearings

The Legislative Council discussed ways to keep the next legislative session short, since it’ll be held in cramped quarters in the old Ada County Courthouse while the state capitol is renovated, but didn’t go for the idea of starting some legislative hearings in December. “I’m not in favor of giving up two weeks in December to save two weeks in March,” declared Senate Assistant Majority Leader Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston. Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, responded, “I’m not going to support the notion that we have meetings before we start the session. We’re interfering with people’s holidays … (and) people who have full-time employment and have to juggle that.” However, he said, lawmakers can get all their agency rulemaking material prepared and available for review during December, and take other steps to make things run smoothly, including a public open house in October to acquaint citizens, lobbyists, the press and others with the new legislative digs.

Interpreting the images

Idaho will ask its state Indian Affairs Council, which includes leaders of the state’s five Native American tribes, to propose wording for interpretive plaques to help viewers understand two controversial murals in a state-owned building that will house the next two legislative sessions. One of the murals, which date back to the 1930s, shows armed white settlers accosting a Native American man, and another shows the settlers preparing to hang the man, who’s on his knees before a noose dangling from a tree. The Legislative Council voted unanimously Thursday to ask the Indian Affairs Council to draft interpretive language.

“Certainly, we don’t want to offend people, but I’m not sure we can do anything without offending someone any more – even if we do anything from covering them to interpreting them, we may offend somebody,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs. Geddes noted that the interpretive plaques are in line with recommendations tribal leaders on the Indian Affairs Council made after viewing the murals. Read the full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

Lots of money but making cuts?

Preliminary figures show Idaho’s headed for a budget surplus this year of $75 million, thanks mainly to stronger than expected individual income taxes in April. If that’s a permanent thing, the state could be looking at a $100 million budget surplus in the budget that lawmakers already have set for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1. “We’re playing in the ballpark of $100 million … for 2008,” legislative budget director Cathy Holland-Smith told the Legislative Council this morning.

That caused some of the council’s members – including House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, and Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum – to wonder why the governor would be unilaterally eliminating programs like the Parents as Teachers program, an $800,000 program for which contracts are being canceled as of mid-June. The move is part of Gov. Butch Otter’s unannounced decision to quietly terminate “Generation of the Child” programs started by former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, and is related to declining federal welfare funds; it surfaced this week in news reports. “The Legislature passed the appropriation for the Parents as Teachers – how can that be summarily dismissed and cancelled?” Stennett asked.

Holland-Smith responded that the item is within the child welfare appropriation of the Health & Welfare budget, but didn’t have a specific line item. But several members of the joint leadership panel said they didn’t know anything about the decision. “What I know is what I read in the newspaper, and that’s all,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes.

The council decided to have Holland-Smith and other legislative staffers report back with more information on what’s going on with that and other affected programs this afternoon. JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who was in the audience, said, “I’m like Sen. Geddes – the only thing I’ve really read is what’s been in the newspaper.” Cameron added, “The executive branch does have the authority to run their agencies and make sure that the money is handled appropriately when we’re not here in session.” But he said he didn’t have enough information yet to know what he thought about the moves.

Otter looks at greenhouse gases

Idaho Gov. Butch today issued an executive order today putting state DEQ Director Toni Hardesty in charge of looking into the role of state government in reducing greenhouse gases.

Otter’s order directs Hardesty to develop “a greenhouse gas emission inventory and provide recommendations to the governor on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Idaho, recognizing Idaho’s interest in continued growth, economic development and energy security.”

He said in his order that he took the step because “it is incumbent upon states to take a leadership role in development responsive state-level policies and programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, develop alternative energy sources and use energy efficiently.”

State admin chief resigns to join Oracle

Former state Controller Keith Johnson, director of the Idaho Department of Administration, is resigning at the end of the month to become director of state and local government for the computer software company Oracle.

Johnson, a Meridian native, leaves state government after more than 12 years of public service, according to a press release from the governor’s office, including four years as Idaho state controller and four years as Oklahoma state comptroller. He gave up his Idaho controller’s office in an unsuccessful bid for Congress. His new role will allow him to keep living in Boise.

“Keith is an incredibly talented and accomplished manager, administrator and public servant. His judgment, integrity and skills are unquestioned. The people of Idaho owe him a debt of gratitude for his contributions to our state, which I’m confident will continue in the private sector,” Gov. Butch Otter said in the release. “I value Keith’s friendship. I was proud to have him become a part of my administration, and I’m equally sorry to see him go.”

Johnson said, “When the governor asked me to lead the Department of Administration, it was my intention to give it at least six months and finish the task that he initially set for me – to work my way out of a job. Unfortunately, events intervened. But I believe we’re on the right track.”

Otter this year proposed eliminating the Department of Administration, but the Legislature refused.

Johnson’s new employer, Oracle Corporation, is based in Redwood Shores, California. It is the world’s leading supplier of software for information management, and the world’s second-largest independent software company.

Wasden wants names of MySpace offenders

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and seven other state attorneys general wrote to MySpace today, asking the company to provide the names of sex offenders who are registered users of the popular social networking Web site. “I tell parents every day that MySpace is a dangerous place for teenagers,” Wasden said. “MySpace is very popular with teens and no place for registered sex offenders to be trolling for their next victim.”

The attorneys general were reacting to reports that MySpace, through a joint effort with a private firm that maintains a national database of registered sex offenders, had identified thousands of sex offenders on its site. Brett DeLange, a deputy Idaho attorney general and chief of the consumer protection division, said, “Now that we understand it’s identified all these sex offenders, we’re really concerned. We need to know.” Read my full story here at

Legislative hearings in December?

What if the Idaho Legislature were in session in December? Holding its budget hearings in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, say, and/or going through the rules review process that usually takes most legislative committees the first three weeks of the session? This rather offbeat possibility – that the 2008 legislative session could actually kind of start in 2007 – is being floated as the state looks ahead to its first legislative session outside the Capitol, which has been emptied for the big renovation project. Lawmakers will be camped out in the old Ada County Courthouse across the street, which is being remodeled to host two years’ Legislatures, but still is expected to be cramped.

Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz said if lawmakers held some of those meetings in December, it’d give staff a chance to “trouble shoot” the new facility and make sure everything’s working right for the big startup in January. It’d also shorten up the time legislators have to spend in their new, close quarters for their regular session, which typically runs from January through March or April. “It may not work out, but it’s one way to trim two or three weeks off the session,” Youtz said.

The Legislative Council will kick around the ideas at its next meeting later this month, but Youtz said no decisions are likely until later. “This is just the first effort at a serious dialogue,” he said. Youtz, whose office already has moved into the old courthouse, said of the temporary Statehouse, “I think it’ll work satisfactorily, but it will be inconvenient based on the way we’ve done business in the past. … Maybe the facility itself will be the biggest driver in limiting the length of the session.”

One thing the old courthouse has that the Capitol lacked: Jail cells.

How far they’ve come…

As the Idaho State Police readies its new fleet of 32 Dodge Charger “muscle cars,” some are remembering back to the classic “skunk” – the 1947 Chevrolet Fleetline patrol car that earned its nickname when Idahoans first saw its distinctive white striping on a black background.

Next week, ISP plans to unveil both the new Charger and a freshly restored vintage 1947 model, restored by car restoration buff Deane Johnson of Hailey as a gift to ISP.

The older model won’t be heading on any car chases; it’s for use in parades and public displays.

New Land Board members step in

Idaho’s five-member state Land Board has three new members, and they could change the direction the board has taken in managing state lands, lakes and more. On Tuesday, new members of the Land Board, including the new state controller and superintendent of schools, proposed to eliminate a requirement that float homes on Idaho lakes be charged “reasonable” rents, and instead let the market rule. But the full Land Board didn’t make a final decision, and Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, who sat in for the vacationing Gov. Butch Otter, warned that there’s more to the story. “I think that we have a unique opportunity coming up with these (marina) leases expiring this year,” Risch told the board. “The board is going to have to wrestle with the idea of what is ‘reasonable.’ ” Read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

Chaired by the governor, the Land Board also includes the attorney general, secretary of state, controller and state superintendent of schools.

It’s Gov. Risch again

Gov. Butch Otter is on vacation in California all week, so Lt. Gov. Jim Risch – who’s also the immediate past governor – is acting governor again.

Water fight heads to court

The Idaho Ground Water Appropriators and two water districts filed suit today in Jerome against the state and the Idaho Department of Water Resources in an attempt to block the department from shutting off water to an array of junior water rights holders in the Magic Valley, including farmers, dairies and 13 Idaho cities. It’s part of a huge fight over water rights in the eastern Snake Plain that Gov. Butch Otter tried to address by bringing all parties together for a “water summit” last month. Senior surface and spring water users to the east have been asserting their rights to the water, but the ground water users say they’re asking for more than is available. “Our members were backed into a corner by the threatened curtailment orders and had no choice but to turn to the courts to protect their lawful water rights,” Tim Deeg, IGWA president, said in a news release today.

The water users, in their press release, said they acted in response to a letter from state Water Resources Director David Tuthill threatening to issue an order to curtail junior water rights on May 14. Deeg said in the statement that his side had made “significant overtures” in Otter’s water meetings to try to avoid legal action, but they were “flatly rejected.”

Idaho spoke missing from Hub funding

Idaho legislators this year didn’t come through with any funding to plan for a proposed “Inland Pacific Hub” that would try to position the North Idaho-Eastern Washington region as a center for global commerce. But backers are still optimistic that the plan can move forward. Washington legislators set aside $250,000, the same amount backers had hoped Idaho would kick in, and a half-million in federal funding is in the works. “We are pursuing some grant opportunities to try to tide us over,” said Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene. “If we can get something done to tide us over and then are able to successfully fund this in the next fiscal year, we’ll still be all right.” Read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Look twice for motorcycles

Motorcycle accidents are on the rise, and most happen when a driver fails to see the motorcyclist. “Cars just don’t look for you,” said St. Maries, Idaho, motorcyclist Norman Burch, who’s helping organize a motorcycle awareness rally and parade Saturday down Sherman Avenue in Coeur d’Alene and east on Interstate 90 to Cataldo. “We even have our headlights on and stuff and they just don’t see you,” Burch said. “With the awareness run, we’re hoping people will see this big group of motorcycles and say, ‘Oh, the motorcycles are out now, so keep an eye out.’ ”

Similar events will take place simultaneously in Boise and Idaho Falls as part of a Motorcycle Awareness Month that has been proclaimed by federal, state and local highway safety and law enforcement organizations in Idaho and across the country. Idaho also began running television and radio spots this week reminding drivers to “look twice” for motorcycles; read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review. To watch the TV spot, click here.

Changes in marina rules in the works

As demand grows for boat moorage on North Idaho lakes, the state is struggling with outdated rules governing how marinas and docks can operate over the state-owned lakebeds. Members of the state Land Board indicated they were surprised and concerned last year when told of rumors that some marina owners wanted to sell “dock-o-miniums” to boat slip users when the state owns the lakes and merely leases space on them to marinas. But some variations of that approach, with users buying rights to boat slips, already are in use on Idaho lakes.

Now, the state Lands Department is starting to negotiate new rules governing lake leases, docks, community docks and commercial marinas – and determine whether marina or dock operators can “sell” individual boat slips rather than rent them out. You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review; click here to read a preliminary draft of Idaho’s new rules on lake leases, docks and marinas. That site also lists upcoming public meetings on the new rules, which include open houses May 17 in Coeur d’Alene and May 18 in Sandpoint, and public negotiating sessions June 12 in Sandpoint and June 13 in Coeur d’Alene. Meetings also will be held in McCall, Boise and Idaho Falls.

Field-burning issue a ‘fluid situation’

A clean air group has asked the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to clarify whether it meant to block field-burning in Idaho. Safe Air For Everyone filed the motion Monday – the deadline for such motions – shortly before Idaho Gov. Butch Otter issued a press release calling for all sides in the case to suspend all litigation and come to the negotiating table. “I guess we’ll wait and see how that plays out in court,” said Jon Hanian, press secretary for Otter. “We’re not going to speculate on what might happen, because this is a fluid situation, obviously.” But Hanian said Otter’s offer to broker negotiations still stands. “We’re not going to let … an action that may be pending derail our effort to get all sides and parties in this thing to sit down and talk,” Hanian said. “That’s what he’s trying to do.” Read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

Idaho has more problems with private Texas prisons

The warden of a private Texas prison housing Idaho inmates has been “relieved of his duties” after complaints from Idaho. The Dickens County Correctional Center, which houses 125 Idaho inmates, made the change after an Idaho corrections team visited the large, older county jail near Lubbock, Texas, in March and reported “deficiencies.”

Idaho Corrections Director Brent Reinke said problems included an absence of required educational and treatment programs, inadequate out-of-cell time, inappropriate lighting, and problems with food, clothing and cleanliness. Also, an inmate from Ada County who escaped in December and was recaptured committed suicide at the facility in early March. “The feedback I got from the team was that what they were concerned with was the Texas style of justice,” Reinke said. “Texas justice is different than Idaho justice. It just is. And we want our inmates handled according to Idaho justice.”

“Ninety-eight percent of those folks are coming back to our communities,” Reinke said. “Our mission is to keep Idaho safe. … We don’t want to make the matter worse, so that they come back more violent or more angry.”

The state Board of Correction voted unanimously Monday to explore private prison options in Idaho as an alternative to sending inmates out of state in the future, though the state is also seeking more out-of-state beds in the meantime. Read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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