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Eye On Boise

Archive for November 2007

Federal judge ponders case against justices

Here’s a link to my full story in today’s Spokesman-Review on the court hearing yesterday in federal court in which a group of Idaho school districts is suing five Idaho Supreme Court justices. The districts say the justices violated the U.S. Constitution by declaring Idaho’s school construction funding system unconstitutional, but then closing the case without requiring any changes. At one point during the hearing, the judge asked the justices’ lawyer if it’d be unconstitutional if the Idaho court were to handle medical malpractice cases by declaring liability, but then leaving it up to the doctor whether or not to pay any damages. After the hearing, Stan Kress, head of the group of school districts that sued, said he liked the analogy. “We’ve got some malpractice going on in the Legislature,” he joked. There’s no decision yet from the judge.

Beck: ‘Just a minor setback’

Rod Beck, lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to close Idaho’s GOP primary election to anyone other than registered Republicans, is upbeat today, even though a federal judge tossed out his lawsuit yesterday. “Do we give up? Heavens no,” Beck said. “This is just a minor setback.”

He said he and the other 70 GOP plaintiffs, some of whom serve on the Idaho Republican Party central committee, found some encouragement in the judge’s decision, even though it found they lacked standing to sue. “We win on the merits,” Beck said. Next, he said, “We’ll work to get the state central committee to support us, because I think they already do. … We’re going to encourage the Legislature to enact legislation that will provide for implementation of our rule, and if they fail to do that, then we will pursue legal action.” He said if nothing changes before the May primary election, the election results could be challenged “because of the pollution of Democrat votes in our primary, we could reject the results of that primary.”

Judge tosses closed-primary case

Seventy-one dissident Republicans who sued to try to keep anyone but registered Republicans from voting in Idaho’s GOP primary have lost their case. A federal judge today tossed out the lawsuit, ruling that the dissidents lacked standing to sue. “It is for the Idaho Republican Party, and not the Court, to decide how best to govern the associational rights of its members, and Plaintiffs lack the ability to substitute their judgment for that of the Party,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Mikel Williams wrote in his decision. The party itself hadn’t joined the suit and favored legislative changes rather than a lawsuit. You can read the decision here. Idaho currently has no party registration, and lets primary election voters choose which party’s ballot they’d like to vote when they arrive at the polls. A third of Idahoans say they’re independents, and not members of any party. Read my full story here in the Spokesman-Review.

Two new federal magistrate judges named

The competition was hot, but after what was described as a “rigorous six-month process,” Ron Bush and Candy Dale have been named to the two federal magistrate judge positions that will open in Idaho in 2008. Chief United States District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said, “We are truly fortunate that, from this rigorous process, we were able to appoint two individuals who are so well-qualified, well-respected and well-prepared to serve in the federal judiciary.” Added District Judge Edward J. Lodge. “The cream always rises to the top, and here we have two rich in experience and talent and ably qualified to handle the challenges ahead of them.”

State District Judge Ronald E. Bush of Pocatello will step up to the federal court on Sept. 30, 2008, to succeed Magistrate Judge Larry M. Boyle upon his retirement. Boise attorney Candy W. Dale will succeed retiring Magistrate Judge Mikel H. Williams on March 30, 2008.

An 11-member merit selection panel screened all the applicants, conducted a statewide survey of attorneys, and interviewed candidates. They then forwarded seven names to the Board of Judges for consideration.

Williams said, “The citizens of the state of Idaho will be well served by the appointment of these well qualified attorneys to the federal bench. Candy W. Dale brings a wealth of litigation experience to the bench, is held in high regard by her peers and is one of the most respected trial lawyers in Idaho. Ron E. Bush had a successful career as an attorney, has a distinguished record on the state trial bench and has received high ratings from the attorneys who have tried cases in his court. I am particularly pleased that when Candy Dale assumes the United States Magistrate Judge’s position that I have held with the federal court, she will be the first woman judge in the history of our District.”

Boyle said, “Included in the large applicant pool there were a number of fine lawyers and experienced state court judges who were qualified to serve as federal judges. From along those many applicants, Ms. Dale and Judge Bush were selected and both are highly qualified and will serve with great distinction.”

Click below to read the full press release from the federal court.

Idaho has a voice this time – in picking the Democratic presidential nominee

Sure, Idaho’s voters haven’t picked a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson, who barely eked out a 51 percent majority here in 1964, and the last D to win Idaho before that was Harry S. Truman in 1948. But it’s not that anyone expects red-state Idaho to go blue for president in 2008. It’s something else that’s prompted Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to become the first presidential candidate of any party to open a campaign office here – it’s Idaho’s new role in the Democratic primary process.

Idaho’s primary election isn’t until May 27, when the nomination fights in both parties typically are long over. But Idaho Democrats select their presidential delegates in caucuses, not in the primary, and this year’s Idaho caucuses have been set for their earliest-ever date, Feb. 5th. That’s Feb 5th as in Super Tuesday, now known as Super-Duper Tuesday because it’s become so high-stakes. Twenty-one states will hold their Democratic primaries or caucuses that day, preceded only by the four earlies before that in January, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. And candidates want to point to wins that day. Thus, Obama’s got an office in Idaho, where the Illinois senator’s fans have been loudly supportive even before the campaign staff arrived. Read my full story here from The Spokesman-Review, and click here for a rundown on how Idaho’s caucuses work.

Of holidays and domestic violence

As we head into Thanksgiving, a traditional time of family gathering, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has stepped forward on a key family issue – domestic violence. “This time of year brings out the best in people,” the governor said. “Unfortunately, sometimes it also brings out the worst. It’s important that folks know there is help out there, that they know how to find it, and that they have realistic options for freeing themselves from a volatile and dangerous situation. Domestic violence impacts all of us – from victims and their families who are physically and emotionally abused, to offenders who have lost control of their lives, to our first responders, health care and social services providers who work to pick up the pieces. We offer hope, help and support.”

Otter this week signed an executive order directing all state agencies, offices, departments and divisions to follow recommendations of a state committee, the Idaho Coordinated Response to Domestic & Sexual Violence, to ensure that Idaho’s personnel policies and procedures for state employees in no way discriminate against victims of domestic violence, and protect victims’ confidentiality and are responsive to victims’ needs. The order also calls for additional employee training, resources and orientation materials about domestic violence, as recommended by the committee.

Interestingly, Otter’s order came just as news surfaced that the 29-year-old son of the Idaho Legislature’s Family Task Force, Rep. Steven Thayne, was arrested for domestic violence after attacking his wife in what police reports described as a violent incident that prompted neighbors to call the police. Damon Thayne was charged with domestic battery but eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disturbing the peace. The MountainGoat Report blog broke that news this holiday week.

Thayne’s task force has been calling for limiting divorce, rethinking allowing restraining orders for domestic violence cases, and taking other steps designed to return Idaho to the “traditional” family situation of 1950, which the task force set as its benchmark. The panel has blamed the breakdown of the traditional family for modern ills including domestic violence. It’s a House-only task force, formed after the House refused to participate in a Senate task force on early childhood education. Asked about his son’s domestic violence arrest, Thayne told the Idaho Statesman’s Heath Druzin yesterday, “I think everyone knows if only perfect people had families we wouldn’t have any (families).”

Gov. Otter, in his press release announcing his executive order, noted, “In 2006 there were approximately 5,000 ‘intimate partner’ violence crimes reported in Idaho; 4,955 domestic-violence civil protection order filings, and 8,701 calls to the Idaho Domestic Violence Hotline. The Bureau of National Affairs estimates that domestic violence costs Idaho employers $17 million a year in lost time and productivity.”

State names new tourism chief

Karen Ballard is Idaho’s new top tourism official, replacing Carl Wilgus, who held that post for the past 20 years. Ballard is a 15-year employee of Idaho’s state tourism division, who also worked earlier for Elkhorn Resort in Sun Valley and has worked as a consultant for various professional associations and hotels in Idaho. Wilgus is leaving to become executive director of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau in Pennsylvania.

Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jim Ellick said, “Karen’s years of experience in the tourism industry and with the Department of Commerce are an asset to our department and will make for a smooth transition.” Ballard, who also is a board member for Preservation Idaho, called Wilgus “a great mentor.” She said. “Travel to the state is growing at a healthy pace, and I look forward to keeping it sustainable.”

Cost of a plane ride

Jason Risch, spokesman for dad Jim Risch’s campaign for the U.S. Senate, responded back this morning to an earlier request for the amount the Risch campaign paid to eastern Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot for use of VanderSloot’s Learjet for Risch’s fly-around announcing his candidacy. The cost: $11,680.75.

Risch and VanderSloot were together again today, as part of a Mitt Romney fundraiser in Boise for Romney’s presidential campaign. Romney talked enthusiastically about Risch’s Senate campaign. “Our country will be in much better hands if we have Jim Risch as United States senator,” he said. “We’ll be working very hard to see that he gets elected.” After declining to comment about Larry Craig, Romney’s repudiated former Idaho campaign co-chair, Romney said, “I can tell you that I am focused on the future, and the future is with this young man to my right serving as United States senator. He will represent Idaho well, he will represent our country well, and I look forward to supporting him in that effort.” Risch, who is 64, responded with a grin, “Did you hear him say ‘young’?”

Romney also called the Fourth of July fireworks that VanderSloot sponsored in Idaho Falls this year “the most spectacular celebration of fireworks for the 4th I think I have ever seen.”

It’s not that kind of beer

Walking into the Mitt Romney campaign fundraiser this morning, it was a bit startling to see what appeared to be six-packs of Mitt Romney-logo beer stacked up and for sale at the check-in desk, given the widespread attention to Romney’s membership in the LDS Church, which shuns alcohol. A closer look revealed this word on a tiny banner between the giant words “Romney” and “BEER”: ROOT. The root beer (labels on each brown bottle tout “strong new leadership” and “no caffeine”) was the brainchild of Frank VanderSloot, who’s one of 30-some national finance co-chairs for Romney’s campaign. Check-in desk worker and former GOP state Rep. Julie Ellsworth said six-packs were selling for donations of $25 as-is or $100 autographed by the candidate.

Romney hits Boise for breakfast fundraiser

It’s $500 a plate this morning for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s breakfast fundraiser at the Hillcrest Country Club. The GOP presidential candidate, whose campaign says he’s made two previous official campaign visits to Idaho, one last March to Boise and one to Idaho Falls, is making just a quick breakfast stop in Boise today, before heading on to Seattle for meetings and a dinner fundraiser.

No corporate jet for this fly-around

Asked whose plane Walt Minnick and Cecil Andrus used to fly around the state for Minnick’s congressional campaign announcements this week, Minnick’s campaign reported that it was a chartered five-seater from SP Aircraft, a Boise air charter company that does a lot of back-country charters, and the cost was about $1,500. Campaign spokeswoman Tara Wolfson said of riding in the small plane, “I was very scared. … It seated five people and the pilot.”

A commenter on this blog urged me to seek out this info after media reports about how Jim Risch used eastern Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot’s Learjet to fly around the state announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senate, paying the millionaire businessman an as-yet undisclosed sum for the privilege. Both Risch and Minnick are paying for the plane rental costs from campaign funds.

Controversial marina rules dumped in lawmakers’ laps

New state rules for docks and marinas on state-owned lakes are headed to the 2008 Legislature for approval, but there’s still plenty of controversy over a provision that would allow privatization of up to 50 percent of a commercial marina. The state Lands Departments says that requirement would ensure some public access is kept – in the other half of the marina – as lakefront land values skyrocket, and it becomes increasingly attractive to marina operators to just shut down and fill up Idaho’s privately owned lakefronts with condos and subdivisions. Opponents say allowing the “sale” of boat slips in marinas that float over state-owned lakes will close off public access to the lakes. The disagreement on what the move would accomplish hasn’t been resolved; instead, the Lands Department structured the rules so that when they go to the Legislature for approval, lawmakers could delete the sections on privatization if they choose. You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

Sali takes credit for bill he voted against

Idaho 1st District Congressman Bill Sali is touting his success in getting $500,000 in funding for a Highway 95 widening project included in a bill that he then voted against. “U.S. 95 has an unmistakable and irreplaceable role to play as part of Idaho’s economy,” Sali said in a press release. “This widening is important to the economic vitality of the entire state, but it is also important as it will help prevent accidents and save lives. While this may seem like a win for a freshman congressman in the minority party, much more importantly this is a win for the people of the whole state of Idaho.”

So if Sali was so proud of the measure, why did he vote against the bill? “The larger bill, H.R. 3074, passed 270-147,” Sali’s press release reported. “Congressman Sali voted against the overall measure because it contains a series of other unnecessary, bloated spending proposals and would hike overall spending by $7.1 billion more than current funding and $5.3 billion more than the President has requested.” He also noted that it included another of his funding proposals, for $500,000 in improvements to Forest Highway 24 from Banks to Lowman, and that senior Sen. Larry Craig helped get both earmarks included.

Guv offers a heapin’ stack of Otterisms

Gov. Butch Otter was a little coy as he began his keynote speech to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, saying, “You’re here today to hear about the future and what to expect in the 2008 Legislature. Well, I don’t want to disappoint you, but I’m not gonna tell you.” Then, he said, “I will give you a few hints.” And he proceeded to outline major proposals including taking away the millions in gas tax funds that now go to cities and counties and the $17 million that funds the Idaho State Police, in order to allow all gas tax revenues to be spent on state highways. The state police, Otter said, should be funded by all taxpayers through the general fund, and he promised to support local-option taxes to allow cities or counties to address their own, unique transportation needs.

Still, while Otter pledged to back that, he also said he wouldn’t vote for a local tax to fund public transit in his own county. The reason? He’s not convinced of the efficiency of public transit, because even in busy Washington, D.C., where he rode packed Metro trains for six years as a congressman, the trains didn’t pay for themselves and had to be subsidized. Otter said he rode the Metro because it cost so much to keep a car in D.C. “One of the reasons I didn’t own a car was because it costs more to keep a car for one month in Washington, D.C. than it does to keep a horse for a month in Idaho,” the cowboy governor explained. “You can keep a horse in Idaho for $150 a month – it was $175 a month to park your car.”

Otter also noted that Idaho gets a good deal from the feds on highway funds – the state gets $1.38 in federal highway funds for every $1 it sends back in federal gas taxes. “When I was in Congress and I served on the transportation committee, they were complaining about that extra 38 cents, and I used to just tell ‘em, ‘Well, I just think you’re paying rent for that 35 million acres you got in Idaho,’” he said.

The wealthy Otter also told the ATI crowd that he still wants a grocery tax credit increase that benefits the needy (“Right now I get a certain amount of grocery tax credit on my state income tax, and quite frankly, I don’t need it, but I do believe that there are people out there that do need it”). That’s an idea lawmakers rejected last year. And he said he favors a freeze on assessed values of homes for property tax, allowing the values to rise only with inflation as long as the same owner occupies the house. That’s a move that likely would require amending the Idaho Constitution, which now requires like property to be taxed the same.

One more Otterism: He said cities and counties should be “architects of their own destiny” on transportation issues, just as the state of Idaho shouldn’t expect the federal government to solve its transportation woes. “As Jefferson said, should we look to Washington, D.C. as to when to sow and when to reap, we will soon want for bread,” Otter said. “This is one of the times when we’re wanting for bread.”

Senate ethics vice chair says ‘stay tuned’

Erica Bolstad of McClatchy Newspapers in D.C. gleaned what appears to be a hint that something is coming soon from the Senate Ethics Committee on Sen. Larry Craig, in her story today on the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force pushing the committee to either drop its investigation of Craig or also launch one of Sen. David Vitter. Bolstad reported in the Idaho Statesman, “The bipartisan committee is typically closemouthed about its work and rarely acts publicly. Vice Chairman John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he was aware of the letter from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, but because of ethics rules he wouldn’t comment further on Craig’s case. When a reporter suggested that there had been little movement since the committee was first asked to investigate in late August, Cornyn said: ‘I don’t think it’s fair to say nothing’s happened, and nothing publicly has come to light, but stay tuned.’”

Of immigration raids and welcoming the stranger

It’s interesting timing, that human rights and interfaith groups are launching a “welcome the stranger” ad campaign just as big immigration raids are hitting in the Magic Valley. The groups say the immigration debate, the tone of talk radio and other factors are making Idaho into a place that’s not as welcoming as it should be to newcomers, and they’re out to remind folks that welcoming strangers is both an American value and a central precept of many religions.

The Rev. Thomas Faucher of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Boise said his parish includes people from all over the world, some of whom came to Idaho as refugees. Just in the last few weeks he’s gained new parishioners from Burundi and Burma. “We become better by welcoming them,” Faucher said at a news conference today at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. “That’s precisely what happened to my ancestors when they came from France, and when they came from Ireland, and when they came from Canada.” Added BSU sociologist Robert McCarl, “Opening our doors to welcome newcomers is a central narrative in our American experience.”

Here’s the backdrop: U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported today that it has apprehended more than 100 illegal aliens in the Twin Falls area in the past week. And that’s just from busts at a bus station; the agency said it wasn’t involved in immigration raids targeting WinCo customers in Twin Falls and other sweeps in the area. “That is not us,” said spokesman Alex Harrington. Meanwhile, the Twin Falls Times-News reported today that local residents are complaining of officers stopping Hispanics at random and asking to see identification.

Antonina Robles, an Idaho Community Action Network member who came to this country 12 years ago speaking no English and is now a proud BSU grad, said, “I don’t want my neighbors, my family, my community members to be scared to go to Wal-Mart.”

The ad campaign is starting with bus bench ads in the Boise area and a billboard scheduled to go up between Burley and Jerome; backers hope to expand the campaign statewide. The ads, modeled after similar campaigns in Iowa and Tennessee, carry two messages: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” a quote from the Bible; and “Immigration is an American experience. Acceptance is an American value.” Here’s a link to my full story at

Could Duncan case become a test for death penalty?

Joseph Duncan may be the most-hated man in Idaho. The confessed murderer is awaiting a federal trial here for allegedly kidnapping then-8-year-old Shasta Groene and her 9-year-old brother, Dylan, and torturing and murdering Dylan after holding the children captive and molesting them for weeks. Duncan already has pleaded guilty to killing the children’s mother, her fiancé, and the children’s 13-year-old brother in a bloody attack at the family’s Wolf Lodge Bay home near Coeur d’Alene. Duncan faces the death penalty. So could this horrific case, this case that’s spawned “Kill Duncan” bumper stickers on North Idaho cars, become a test case for the death penalty? That’s been raised in motions filed in the case, including one that seeks to have the federal death penalty declared unconstitutional.

Among the arguments: There’ve only been three executions under the federal death penalty in the last 40 years, yet many other equally horrific crimes drew lesser penalties, and there’s no discernible explanation for why. Attorney Mark Larranaga argues in court papers that that shows the law is “arbitrary” and “fundamentally unfair,” and should be declared unconstitutional. Read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

1st District race getting bigger

It looks like the already contested primary election for Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat – now held by Republican Bill Sali – is getting even moreso. Sali is facing Iraq vet Matt Salisbury on the GOP side, and former Micron exec Larry Grant, whom Sali narrowly defeated to win election, is running along with Rand Lewis on the Democratic side. Now it looks like former Democratic senatorial candidate Walt Minnick also is getting into the race. Minnick supporters handed out invites today at a Coeur d’Alene Democratic lunch to a “campaign kickoff” he’s planning for next Wednesday, featuring former Gov. Cecil Andrus – who last year endorsed Grant.

It’s your right to know

One way to promote compliance with the state’s open meetings and public records laws is simply to educate people about them, from public officials to reporters to citizens, so that everyone knows what’s required and what they’re supposed to do. That’s the idea behind a series of seminars that Idahoans for Openness in Government (IDOG) has been holding around the state since 2004 in partnership with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden; you may have gone to or heard about one near you. It seems to be working; the Associated Press reported earlier this year that since the seminars started, questions to the Attorney General’s office about possible open meetings and public records law violations have dropped – from two to three a week, to roughly one a month.

IDOG (its website is is a non-profit coalition of media folks, public officials, civic-minded groups and others; I’m IDOG’s president and co-founder (with Dean Miller, the Idaho Falls Post-Register editor who’s currently on a Nieman fellowship at Harvard). Our seminars proved so popular and we got so many requests that we applied for, and received, a $30,000 grant to create a portable, DVD version of the seminar that we can make available to anyone. That’s in production now, and will be out early next year. A highlight of the DVD will be skits driving home what is and isn’t permitted under the law, which at the seminars are a fun, audience-participation thing. On the DVD, the skits are staged in the Idaho Public TV studios and acted out by Idaho Shakespeare Festival actors, with hilarious results.

Here’s why I’m telling you this: Tonight, IDOG and its open meetings and records education efforts will be featured on Idaho Public TV. At 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Pacific), Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and I will appear on live TV with “Dialogue” host Joan Cartan-Hansen for a special hour-long program focusing on Idaho’s open meetings and public records laws. We’ll be taking calls from the public (800-973-9800), and the show will offer the first look at the wacky but informative skits. The program will re-air on Sunday afternoon. Tune in and check it out; Dialogue also can be viewed online at

Full house plus at cottage site hearing

About 100 people are crowded into a meeting room at the state LBJ building this afternoon for a public hearing on lease rents and terms for state-owned cottage sites on Payette and Priest lakes. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said, “We kind of expected the crowd, but not this large.” As he spoke, a cell phone went off in the crowd. “I forgot to announce, if your cell phone goes off, it’s a hundred bucks to the public schools fund,” Ysursa said to good-natured chuckles.

The cottage sites in question are state-owned land that’s rented to people who build and maintain cabins on them. The leaseholders pay the state rental fees based on a percentage of the market value of the lot each year. The money – about $4 million last year – goes to fund state schools and universities. The cabin owners also pay property taxes on the buildings, separately, to the local county. All the state’s leases are up in 2010, on both lakes, and with recent huge jumps in land value, many lease holders are worried they’ll no longer be able to afford to keep their longtime family cabins.

“I think we all know why we’re here,” Payette Lake Cabin Owners Association president Jim Young told the crowd, showing a graph of lease rates for cabin sites there from 2000 to 2008. The line rose sharply up, like one side of a volcanic cone. Young said his family’s Payette Lake lot is proposed to rent for $50,000 in 2008. So the family decided to sell – but no one wanted to buy. “The instability has killed the market for leased property at Payette Lakes – it’s killed it,” Young said. “I don’t think there is a market.”

Mike Fery, who has a cottage site at Pilgrim Cove on Payette Lake, said, “My cottage site rent has increased an average of 27 percent per year since 2001. In 2001, it was $5,000. In 2008, it will be $32,500. … It’s not affordable, not attainable by 99 percent of Idahoans.”

Bud Belles, president of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, said the average leaseholder on that lake has been there for more than 30 years. A large majority, he said, are “middle income folks.” Cabin owners understand that the state Constitution requires the state to manage its endowment lands for maximum long-term returns, he said, but he and other cabin owners said those returns are endangered by massive price jumps and uncertainty surrounding state-owned cabin sites. “What we do object to are the huge jumps and the inconsistent policy,” he said.

Denny Christenson, a lease holder on Priest Lake, said the current arrangements encourage the replacement of rustic cabins in the pines there with huge mansions that fit with the high land rental rates. Unlike U.S. Forest Service leased lots there, state lots on Priest Lake have few restrictions on cabin construction, said Christenson, an architect. “If we continue along this path, we will see huge homes lined up along the shoreline like elephants at a watering hole.”

No decisions are expected today, but Ysursa and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna were listening closely. They comprise a subcommittee of the state Land Board charged with figuring out what terms Idaho should offer on its new cabin site leases in 2010. Said Ysursa, “Our goal is to listen.”

Ah, election night

There was a slow, steady stream of people dropping by to cast their ballots when I went to vote in today’s city elections, no lines, no fuss. When the ballots were counted in Boise, Mayor Dave Bieter had won a second term, defeating former police chief Jim Tibbs 64 percent to 36 percent, and three city council incumbents also won re-election. Over in fast-growing Eagle, there were still no results in that city’s hotly contested mayor and council races well after midnight. Perhaps the most interesting election result of the night came from the city of Hailey, where four ballot measures regarding legalizing marijuana were up for a vote. The most far-reaching, seeking to have the city legalize, tax and regulate cannabis, went down to defeat. But three other measures passed, to legalize medical marijuana, back industrial hemp, and make personal use of marijuana the city’s “lowest law enforcement priority.”

Talk about ‘warehousing’ prisoners…

The latest plan for finding more places to shoehorn inmates into in-state prison beds – and avoid sending hundreds more out of state – involves converting a huge warehouse at the privately run, state-owned Idaho Correctional Center into bed space for 304 prisoners. But it really is just a warehouse, a simple metal building, which stands in contrast to the fortress-like concrete main prison buildings next to it.

When ICC was built in 1998, the warehouse cost just $15 a square foot to construct, compared with an average of $140 a square foot in the rest of the prison. At the time, officials said it didn’t need the same security measures as the main prison, as inmates there would always be guarded because they’d have access to tools and equipment.

Officials acknowledge that the warehouse isn’t as secure as the main prison buildings, but say it’s inside the electronic “stun fence” that houses the entire ICC grounds, and it would be occupied by minimum-security inmates keeping busy with lots of treatment and programming as they approach release. Gov. Butch Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian, said, “From our standpoint, we’ve got a crisis situation, and it’s not getting any better. We’ve got to do something to address it immediately. … We are looking at an emergency.”

You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review. These photos, which I snapped yesterday at the prison, show two inmates working in a jobs program in the warehouse, and ICC Warden Phil Valdez pointing out the security fence features around the warehouse.

Malmen out, Kreizenbeck in

All the way from China (where he’s on a trade mission this week), Gov. Butch Otter today announced that Jason Kreizenbeck, currently director of government affairs for Micron Technology, will be his new chief of staff – succeeding Jeff Malmen at the end of November. Idaho Power Co. announced today that Malmen has accepted a senior position on its public affairs team, and will start work there at the end of the month.

Here’s Otter’s statement from across the miles: “Jeff’s great political instincts and encyclopedic knowledge of Idaho were a key element of my success during six years in Congress and my first year as governor. I lack the words to fully express my gratitude for his contribution, his counsel or his friendship. Transitions are always difficult, but it’s comforting to know that I will have a new chief of staff cut from the same bolt of cloth.”

UI says it will ‘stop delivering junk mail’

I guess it didn’t occur to me that the University of Idaho was in the business of delivering junk mail, but the university announced today that it’ll stop doing that on Jan. 1. “The university processes and distributes a large volume of bulk mail, almost all of which is immediately thrown away,” the UI reported in a press release today. Bulk mail is defined as discounted business mail of at least 200 pieces that is sorted by zip code. University officials said that includes large volumes of unsolicited catalogs, credit card pitches and sales ads that descend on the university each day from off-campus sources.

“Delivering bulk mail consumes valuable staff time, increases fuel and equipment use, and increases the volume of waste that must be processed,” said Darin Saul, sustainability coordinator for the university. “Not only does it waste staff time, it wastes the University of Idaho’s money.” From Jan. 1 on, junk mail at the university will be sent straight to recycling, “rather than distributed across campus to be thrown in the garbage.”

Legislative action could stall…

As the state Legislature’s first of two planned legislative sessions outside the state capitol building approaches, there are a few details that could make things difficult. Among them: The Capitol Annex, the former Ada County courthouse where lawmakers will convene for the next two years while the state capitol is being renovated, right now has a total of 19 toilet stalls, all through the building. That’s it. In the state capitol building, there were 44 stalls. So when 105 state legislators, dozens of staffers, droves of lobbyists, rafts of reporters and crowds of concerned citizens descend on the building in January for Idaho’s annual legislative session, there will be heavy competition for what may be the most coveted seats in the house.

Lawmakers planning for the session looked into bringing in portable, heated restroom units in trailers to place around the building, “but they’re kinda pricey,” said Jeff Youtz, legislative services director. “The relocation committee … rejected that. They wanted to kind of see how it was going to go first. But I have a feeling we may yet have to react rather quickly and put something together.”

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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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