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Eye On Boise

Archive for October 2007

ACLU: Invitations for sex are free speech

The American Civil Liberties Union was granted permission today by the Minnesota Court of Appeals to file a “friend of the court” brief in Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s appeal there, just as it did in Craig’s failed attempt at the District Court level to withdraw his guilty plea in a restroom sex-solicitation sting. The ACLU, which contends the airport men’s room sting operation that ensnared the Idaho senator and 40 others was unconstitutional, wrote to the Court of Appeals, “The free expression concerns that this case presents are of significant interest not only to Appellant but also to every individual who risks arrest, charge, and/or prosecution for inviting another individual to have sex.” Read my full story here at spokesmanreview.com.

Why it’s Hailey that’s voting on marijuana

In today’s Twin Falls Times-News, reporter Jared Hopkins reveals why it’s the Wood River Valley city of Hailey that’s voting next week on four pro-marijuana initiatives. The measures’ sponsor, Garden City resident and activist Ryan Davidson – who fought all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court to win the right to put the measures before voters, regardless of the legal complications if they were to pass – told Hopkins that he lived in Hailey for a few months in 2004, and picked it for the initiatives because it was one of the “easiest places” to get on the ballot.

The reason? Getting a measure on the ballot takes petition signatures from voters equal to 20 percent of the turnout in the last election. In Hailey’s last city election in 2005, only unopposed candidates were on the ballot – so the ho-hum balloting drew a total turnout of just 85 people. That meant Davidson needed just 17 signatures to qualify his measures for the ballot. Read Hopkins’ full story here.

Barker: State, EPA working toward pact on feedlot waste

The Idaho Statesman’s Rocky Barker says yesterday’s settlement between the EPA and prominent Idaho cattleman Eric Davis over pollution of C.J. Strike reservoir with manure – after appeals from Idaho’s governor and congressional delegation to go easy on Davis fell on deaf ears at EPA – could open the door to a new agreement between the EPA and the state on how to keep feedlot waste out of Idaho waterways. Here’s a link to his full story.

Prominent cattleman to pay big penalty

The Bruneau Cattle Co. has agreed to pay a $40,000 penalty to settle violations of the Clean Water Act for letting feedlot runoff from its pens run down a canal into C.J. Strike Reservoir. The feedlot, with more than 4,000 head of cattle, had no containment system and no permits to discharge pollutants. “CAFOs that discharge into our waterways are required to have permits under the Clean Water Act,” said Mike Bussell, director of the EPA’s office of compliance and enforcement in Seattle. “This requirement has been on the books since the 1970s, so there’s no excuse for not complying with the law.”

The company, whose president, Eric Davis, is a former president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Idaho Cattle Association, agreed, in addition to the fine, to “undertake various measures to ensure that wastewater is land applied at agronomic rates and is not discharged to surface waters,” the EPA said.

The EPA has been investigating the waste discharges at the Bruneau facility since 1996, when an inspection showed evidence that wastewater had been discharged from the feedlot into the South Side Canal “numerous times” in the previous five years. The canal runs into C.J. Strike Reservoir on the Snake River, a quarter mile west of the reservoir’s popular Cottonwood Campground.

Auction flops, cabin owners find hope

When the state tried to auction off the rights to lease two brand-new, lakefront lots on Priest Lake a week ago, the auction was a flop – no one bid. It was a disappointing test case for the state Lands Department, which was proposing new lease terms to see if they’d fly, including rents double those charged now for people to build and occupy cabins on state-owned lots. The two new lots would have rented for 5 percent of appraised value a year, instead of the current 2.5 percent. But the failed auction was a big success for the existing cabin owners, some of whom have had their family cabins for generations. They hailed it as a sign that the state’s pushing costs too high, and opening the door to shoving them out and making Idaho’s state-owned lakes into a private preserve for the ultra-rich. Idaho officials aren’t sure yet what to think; they’re mulling over the results, the real estate market, their constitutional requirements to earn maximum returns from state endowment lands to fund schools, and more. Read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

Craig presses forward with Minnesota case

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig has taking the next step in pressing forward with his appeal in Minnesota, where he’s seeking to take back his guilty plea to disorderly conduct charges in a restroom sex-solicitation sting. Craig today filed his “Statement of the Case,” a document briefly outlining why he’s appealing. That will be followed up by legal briefs giving the full arguments, which are due within a month and a half. The statement of the case, said court spokesman Kyle Christopherson, “sort of very briefly summarizes why they’re filing what they’re filing, so the details will come in the brief.”

The statement says it’s Craig’s position “that the plea was not supported by the evidence.” The district judge found otherwise. Craig’s attorneys note in the statement that they also plan to argue the plea should be thrown out on a technicality, “because it was not accepted by the sentencing judge,” an argument that District Judge Charles Porter also dismissed.

Further, they take note of the ACLU of Minnesota’s “friend of the court” brief, in which the organization argued that the entire lewd conduct sting in the Minneapolis airport men’s room was unconstitutional, and that the state’s disorderly conduct statute is overly broad. The airport bathroom undercover investigation ensnared 40 men in a four-month period, including Craig. “As applied to the facts of this case, the disorderly conduct statute becomes unconstitutional,” Craig’s lawyers wrote in today’s statement. “Accordingly, it is a manifest injustice not to allow the plea to be withdrawn.” Again, that argument was taken up by Judge Porter in his detailed, 27-page decision on Craig’s first attempt to withdraw his guilty plea, and dismissed. The judge wrote that the ACLU’s arguments were “inapplicable” to the facts of Craig’s case, said Minnesota’s disorderly conduct statute has been “upheld as constitutionally valid,” and called the law “necessary to preserve order in a civilized society.”

Craig also requested that oral arguments be scheduled in St. Paul, Minn., and declined to order a copy of the transcripts from the district court hearing to be provided to the Court of Appeals. That means the 60-day time clock for Craig to submit his full legal arguments in formal briefs starts from Oct. 15, the day he filed his notice of appeal, rather than from the date the transcripts arrive at the higher court.

Governor, Sho-Bans reach fuel tax agreement

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Chairman Alonzo Coby signed a fuel tax agreement this morning, the second Indian nation in Idaho to reach such an agreement before a Dec. 1 deadline set last year by state lawmakers. Like the earlier agreement between the state and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the pact requires the tribes to charge their own 25-cent-per-gallon fuel tax on reservation gas sales, and to raise their tax if the state raises its gas tax, so that the two stay even. The Sho-Bans, like the Coeur d’Alenes, also committed to spend their fuel tax revenues on transportation needs on their reservation. Otter said in a statement, “I’m grateful to Shoshone-Bannock leaders for the spirit of cooperation and shared responsibility they have brought to this process. The savings we realize by keeping this out of court are substantial. But more importantly, this agreement reflects the positive and constructive understanding that my administration and tribal representatives have built. We’re moving forward together as partners for all Idahoans.”

The Sho-Ban agreement includes a clause about taxes on diesel for interstate trucks, which wasn’t an issue for the Coeur d’Alenes. Two major freeways, I-86 and I-15, run through the Sho-Bans’ Fort Hall Reservation. The agreement calls for the state to collect and keep the state tax on 85 percent of the diesel fuel delivered to tribal retailers there, which is expected to bring the state $850,000 to $1 million a year. The state will spend a third of that money for required rebates to interstate truckers who purchase their fuel in Idaho but don’t burn it here.

Otter said talks are going well with the Nez Perce Tribe, the third Idaho tribe that operates gas stations, and he expects to reach agreement with them well before the deadline. At the Idaho Indian Affairs Council meeting earlier this week, representatives of the Kootenai Tribe said they, too, plan to seek an agreement, just in case they move into fuel sales in the future. The Shoshone-Paiute Tribes said they won’t; they already have a fuel tax agreement with the state of Nevada, where they have their fuel business on their two-state reservation.

Water wars spread north

Lots is happening with the proposed adjudication of all the water rights in North Idaho. Just yesterday, the Kootenai County commission voted against signing on to an anti-adjudication resolution already endorsed by commissioners in Bonner, Boundary, Shoshone and Benewah counties (but rejected by Latah County commissioners). A day earlier, state Water Resources Director Dave Tuthill sent a letter to legislative leaders seeking guidance on how to proceed, noting, “I have heard from some legislators who are in support of moving forward with commencement, from some who oppose moving forward and from some who are undecided.” And yesterday, the Legislature’s Natural Resources interim committee voted unanimously to have its co-chairs, Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, and Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, and water resources officials meet with North Idaho legislators, discuss the issue, and return with a recommendation – while recognizing that the committee intends to move forward with the adjudication. (Read the full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.)

The idea of having everyone formalize their water rights by filing them in a special court has appeal to some in the north, and raises fears for others. In fast-developing areas, water conflicts are growing and people with wells want to protect their water from being siphoned away by new development around them. Plus, Idaho is girding for possible battle with neighboring Washington over control of the area’s sole source of drinking water, the Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, and the water that flows from Idaho into Washington in the Spokane River – and officials say an adjudication, which Washington also is starting, will help Idaho in that fight.

But in North Idaho’s more remote areas, the process of formalizing water rights is viewed with suspicion. Bonner County Commission Joe Young told me yesterday, “I think most of the people up here are not very sympathetic to having anybody tell ‘em what to do with their own private well.” Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, a former supporter of adjudication, now says she’ll seek to have Bonner and Boundary counties withdrawn from the process because of opposition from her constituents. “People feel it’s a real intrusion on their private property,” Keough said. She said the issue has become so emotional that some residents have told her they believe it’s a plot to steal their water and pipe it down to Boise.

Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, an outspoken proponent of adjudication, said, “It’s not true. Nobody’s stealing their water. All we’re going to do is get a correct accountability of who has what and where and how much they are using, period.”

The politics of water in the West always have been volatile, and we’re now seeing that extend into North Idaho, which traditionally was exempt from arid southern Idaho’s water wars simply because enough water fell from the sky. With more people, more development, increasingly evident climate change, and 21st century water requirements like leaving water in rivers to support fish, it’s not enough any more, even in the lush north.

Flying the VanderSloot skies

When Lt. Gov. Jim Risch flew around the state to announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, he was in a Learjet owned by eastern Idaho businessman and conservative activist Frank VanderSloot. Risch rented VanderSloot’s plane, the Associated Press reported, but the tie is of political interest: VanderSloot was a big backer of state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s 2002 election campaign, donating $25,000. Wasden was considered Risch’s top rival when Gov. Butch Otter was reviewing a big slate of possible appointees to the Senate seat, before current Sen. Larry Craig decided not to resign after all; Wasden hasn’t yet said if he’ll challenge Risch in the spring GOP primary. Click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller. VanderSloot, who grew up in Cocolalla, is president and CEO of Melaleuca Inc., a huge Idaho Falls-based multi-level marketing firm that sells health and beauty products and household cleaners. Incidentally, at the recent “Idaho’s Hall of Fame” presentation - where VanderSloot, Risch and Craig all were among the inductees - VanderSloot called Craig “one of the best senators in the history of the state.”

Public TV: ‘Trying things others wouldn’t do’

It’s a question Idaho legislators have asked periodically over the years: Why do we need public TV, when there are now hundreds of channels available out on the private, commercial TV market? Paula Kerger, president and CEO of the Public Broadcasting Service, who was in Boise today visiting Idaho Public Television, has a ready answer: The programming on public TV is “just different work” from what’s on cable or the networks.

“I’m not for a moment maligning the work that happens on cable or commercial TV,” she said. “There’s great programs there. Bravo, which started out as an arts channel, has shifted their focus – their top programs are Project Runway and Top Chef and things that spin off from that. I think they’re tremendously creative shows, I like them very much – but they’re a little different than the work that we do.”

Public TV, Kerger said, is known for its quality children’s programming, arts programming, and news and public affairs. “I think the difference is that when you start your work with the premise that you need to deliver a profit to a stockholder, it’ll take you down a slightly different path,” she said. “So even a channel like Discovery, which is in some respects probably the closest to what public television does, you know, they have a really big focus on things like ‘Shark Week.’ For us, we think very carefully about our stockholders, and our stockholders are really the American public. And so when you start there as your premise of trying to serve that interest, you find yourself doing a very different type of programming. And I think that even with 500 channels, there is still a profound difference between the work that we do and the work that others do.”

The arts are a prime example, she said. “I challenge you to find real arts programming anywhere else. There is ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and ‘American Idol,’ and those are interesting arts programs, and I think are bringing people to appreciate dance and a range of music styles, which I think is good. But it’s not opera, it’s not classical music, it’s not visual arts, which clearly you don’t find anywhere else. You don’t find a lot of theater anywhere else besides public television. So I think that’s one category of programs that we do singularly.”

Public television is facing big challenges, Kerger said, ranging from funding, to the shift to digital broadcasting (“less than 500 days” away), to a changing media landscape. It has had a large Internet presence for years, with 10 million hits a month on its website, and has expanded into online games that supplement its children’s educational programming; podcasts and other on-demand broadcasts, including making the past four years of “Frontline” available online for viewing any time; and experiments with new ways to interact with viewers. Public TV stations are run by viewer donations, some state and federal funding, and grants. Many are deeply involved in local programming, an area that’s of little interest to the growing number of specialized, national cable networks.

“At the end of the day, our goal is not to figure out how to make money on all this,” Kerger said. “We do operate on a break-even basis. … We look at these initiatives as public service initiatives. … I think that does give us license to try things that other wouldn’t do.”

Click here to listen to an audio clip

Craig interview a ratings flop for NBC

Ouch. For all the hype, NBC’s Matt Lauer interview with Idaho Sen. Larry Craig didn’t do well in the ratings – it tied for last place in the time slot among adult viewers 18-49 with CW’s “Beauty and the Geek.” That’s according today’s New York Times. Times TV columnist Benjamin Toff reported that the top-rated show for the hour was “NCIS” on CBS, with 17.4 million viewers, which ranked right up with the baseball playoffs on Fox, the most-watched show of the entire evening. The Lauer interview of Craig drew 5.7 million viewers.

‘He’s doing it for himself’

Idaho Statesman Dan Popkey offers an interesting column today comparing Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s case to that of former Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., who resigned from the Senate after an ethics committee voted to expel him for sexual harassment and misconduct, then went on to a lucrative career lobbying Congress on behalf of various industries and interests. Popkey’s point: That Craig, too, could have a highly lucrative career as a lobbyist if he can “reconstruct his image and make him employable.” Popkey suggests that could be behind Craig’s unrelenting push to pursue every legal option and stay in office despite intense pressure to resign, and concludes, “He’s doing it for himself.” Read his full column here.

‘We are only as good as our word’

KTVB-TV culled some of its questions for Sen. Larry Craig from Idahoans. One was about the importance of keeping one’s word. “Candace is absolutely right, we are only as good as our word,” Craig responded. “And for a time, my message was mixed. … I was being all but ordered to resign, and it was my intent, because I didn’t think I could survive. So it wasn’t matter of being dishonest. … Circumstances change. I went back to see if I could work for Idaho for the next 14 months and be successful in doing that. I made the determination that I could. … I will stay, I will work, I will finish my term, and I hope Idaho will be a better place because of it.”

To a question posed by multiple viewers – does he believe his staying in the Senate is in Idaho’s best interest? – Craig said yes. “I hope I’ve made the right decision for Idaho,” he said. “I think I have.”

Graphic ads a taste of what’s to come

Folks up in North Idaho are getting a small taste now of what’s coming next year, when graphic anti-methamphetamine ads will flood Idaho’s airwaves and pop up everywhere from the pages of high school newspapers to roadside billboards. The Idaho Meth Project, which hopes to kick off in January, will “saturate” Idaho with the often-shocking ads developed by the Montana Meth Project, which feature actors and fake blood and sores, in an attempt to persuade young people not to try the drug, not even once.

Right now, a couple of the Montana Meth Project’s ads are running in Washington and seven other states with high levels of meth abuse, as part of a White House Office of National Drug Control Policy campaign that also includes ads from other groups promoting treatment for addicts. So they’re lapping over into the North Idaho media market, giving some Idahoans a preview. Read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

What it says (not much)

Sen. Larry Craig has filed his appeal in his Minnesota sex-solicitation case, and here’s what it says: Not much. Really. There’s just notice that he’s filing an appeal, and that the required $500 fee is being submitted. That’s it. The way the Minnesota Court of Appeals process works, now that Craig’s filed this notice, a transcript of the district court hearing in his case will be delivered to the Court of Appeals, which likely will take up to a week. Then, Craig will have 60 days to file a brief laying out his case.

At that point, the prosecutors, who are the respondents in the case, have another 45 days to file their brief in response. And then the case gets set for oral arguments – something Craig’s attorneys requested. Kyle Christopherson, communications specialist for the court, said, “The court would set the case for oral arguments, which would be approximately six to eight months after the filing of the respondents’ brief, just given the scheduling. And then, once oral arguments are heard, after that, the Court of Appeal is set by statute – they have 90 days to file a decision.”

Add all that up, and it shows that resolution of this appeal – which legal experts say has very little chance of succeeding – could be as far out as January of 2009. Interestingly, that’s just after Craig would leave office if he follows his current plan to serve out his term and then retire. It also means that the nation will continue to hear about airport restroom sex, an undercover sting operation, the “wide stance,” a senator’s “fear” and “panic” over a newspaper investigation, tapping toes and more for the next 15 months.

Another one on the wall

Gov. Butch Otter welcomed the crowd at the Idaho’s Hall of Fame ceremony tonight – he was among the inductees, as were Sen. Larry Craig and Lt. Gov. Jim Risch – by saying, “I appreciate the opportunity to be amongst this much-distinguished class. I’d say that this is probably the best class that I’ve ever seen in the portfolio.” Amid silence, Otter added, “That was supposed to be a joke.”

Historian Arthur Hart, when he accepted his plaque for being inducted, recalled an earlier event. “I was presented a plaque by Cecil Andrus. He said, ‘Arthur, the road to senility is paved with plaques.’” Amid laughter, Hart said, “I’m happy to add one more to the wall.”

Sen. Larry Craig on fame

At tonight’s Idaho’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony (read my full story here), at which scandal-plagued Idaho Sen. Larry Craig was among the dozen inductees, MC David Leroy did lots of musing about the nature of fame. He offered quotes on the subject from everyone from Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Davy Crockett to Truman Capote to Brad Pitt. From Rousseau: “Fame is but the breath of the people and that is unwholesome.” From Brad Pitt: “Fame is a bitch, man.”

When Craig stepped up to the podium to accept his plaque, he said, “My fame of the last month I think I would liken to the definition Brad Pitt gave it.”

Governor brings Korean delegation, general to Star

Here’s an odd one: Idaho Gov. Butch Otter will welcome General Colin Powell to a dinner at Otter’s ranch Monday in Star, where the governor and First Lady Lori Otter will be hosting participants in the Korea-Pacific U.S. Joint Economic Conference. But neither the governor nor Powell will have any comment or say anything to the public about why a Korean group and the general are coming to Star, Idaho. An Internet search shows that the conference is taking place Monday and Tuesday in Boise, its lead sponsor is J.R. Simplot Co., and it’s the group’s fifth annual gathering.

Talking about the Craig story

Tonight, I’ll be joining Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman, John Miller of the Associated Press and host Marcia Franklin on Idaho Public TV’s “Dialogue” program to talk about the ongoing saga of our senior senator, Larry Craig. We’ll be taking your calls live on this toll-free line: (800) 973-9800. The show starts at 8:30 Mountain time, 7:30 Pacific time. It’ll also be streamed on the Internet and will be rebroadcast on Sunday (though that will be a repeat, so no live calls then). To find the show online, go to www.idahoptv.org.

Greg Smith poll: Most Idahoans want Craig gone

KIVI-TV Channel 6 has sponsored a new poll, conducted by Greg Smith & Associates, of Idahoans’ views on Sen. Larry Craig, and it showed that only one in five respondents want Craig to stay in office. Smith, a former regional director for Craig who now runs a polling and consulting firm in Eagle, said, “Idahoans certainly admire his desire to restore his image and reputation. However, they are also telling us that, even with these legal options being pursued, it is nonetheless time for him to go.”

The poll found that 51 percent opposed Craig’s decision to stay in office rather than resign, 21 percent backed it, and the rest were either undecided or unaware of the situation. One note about this poll, however: Its sample size was only 300, which is low for a statewide poll. When my newspaper has sponsored polls in Idaho, we’ve typically had a sample size of at least 400, and often 800 or more. The larger sample makes the polling more statistically reliable. We haven’t sponsored any polls on this issue, however. Smith estimated that his poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percent.

Anyone who’s been reading letters to the editor pages in Idaho might have expected a much larger number wanting Craig to quit… And as far as the 6 percent the poll found unaware of the situation, wow! How do they do that? Is it possible to completely avoid hearing about this?

One does, one doesn’t

At their press conferences yesterday, both Republican Jim Risch and Democrat Larry LaRocco were asked if they read blogs and if they pay attention to the comments posted on them. Risch’s answer: “No and no.” Though he did say, “I do, however, have to tell you that from time to time friends of mine will put the printouts in front of me. Some are amusing, some are not so amusing. Blogs are a lot like letters to the editor, they’re people’s own personal opinions.” LaRocco’s answer: “I read blogs. Blogs are important. Let me remind you that (U.S. Sen.) Jim Webb in Virginia raised 60 percent of his funds on the Internet. It’s an attempt to democratize what’s going on in America. It’s a very interesting phenomenon in the United States right now.”

Just to be on the safe side…

At Jim Risch’s announcement for the Senate today, he listed off some big names who are heading up portions of his campaign, starting with former Gov. Phil Batt and U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, who will be the co-chairmen. Risch said his North Idaho chairwoman will be Louise Shadduck, his Magic Valley chief will be Con Paulos, and his eastern Idaho chairman will be Mark Ricks, whom Risch appointed as lieutenant governor when he stepped up from that post to serve as Idaho’s governor for seven months. Risch called Ricks “probably the second-best lieutenant governor that this state has ever had,” and drew a big laugh.

Then, as he was introducing various local county chairs for his campaign, he turned around and spotted a late arrival standing behind him: Gov. Butch Otter. Risch quipped, “You know, I am not going to make the same comment about him being the second-best governor, because he MAY have to make an appointment.”

Two Craig staffers depart

Two aides to Sen. Larry Craig are leaving his staff as of the end of this week, according to Craig’s communications director, Dan Whiting. Chelsey Penrod Hickman, a legislative assistant who worked on Appropriations Committee issues, will take a new job as legislative director for Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas. Michael Freese, an aide who worked on environmental issues, also is leaving for another position. Whiting said the two are the only staffers to leave Craig’s staff since the news broke of the senator’s arrest and guilty plea in a sex solicitation sting. One staff assistant joined the staff of roughly 50 just minutes before Craig met with his staff on Aug. 31st about the news. That staff assistant has since been promoted to scheduler.

Risch launches campaign for Craig’s Senate seat

Former Idaho Gov. Jim Risch launched his campaign for Larry Craig’s U.S. Senate seat today, even as Craig continues to fight for his political life in Washington, D.C. Idaho Republicans closed ranks around Risch, with state party Chairman Kirk Sullivan and all but one of the GOP statewide elected officials joining Risch for his announcement and endorsing his run – even though the primary election still is seven months away.

“It was the right thing do to – we have got to elect a Republican senator next year,” Sullivan said. “We are going to have to fight very hard.”

Democratic candidate Larry LaRocco, who has been running for the seat since April 11, held a jubilant press conference just after Risch’s, saying his campaign’s right on track. “Bring ‘em on,” he said of the Republicans. LaRocco lost to Risch just last year in a race for lieutenant governor, but the former Democratic congressman said he started late in that race. “Now I’ve started early,” he said.

Risch told a cheering crowd of close to 100, “The bottom line is I’m in.” In response to questions from reporters, Risch said he spoke to Craig only once after the senior senator’s press conference in which he announced his “intent” to resign from the Senate Sept. 30 in the wake of his arrest and guilty plea in a bathroom sex-solicitation sting. Craig later changed his mind, and said he’d serve out the rest of his third Senate term, then retire. “Certainly there’s no doubt that this has been a time of considerable personal suffering” for Sen. Craig and his family, Risch said. “Having said that, it’s really time for Idaho to move forward. … I’m prepared to lead us forward.” Read my full story here at spokesmanreview.com.

Day-care fight still on, a quarter-century later

I took a little journey back through my newspaper’s clips to 1983, when the following stories, all with Coeur d’Alene datelines, appeared in the paper: “Former day care operator admits sex-abuse guilt” “Coeur d’Alene’s council studies day care rules” “Child-care ordinance passed by council” and “Licensing approved to protect children at day-care centers.”

At the time, the story of the “Busy Bee Mini-School” was huge news. It turned out that the operator of the center was molesting the little girls there. The case prompted the city of Coeur d’Alene to decide not to wait for effective state laws regulating child-care centers; they passed their own licensing law. Over the years, six other Idaho cities –
Boise, Chubbuck, Jerome, Lewiston, Moscow and Pocatello – followed suit.

But now there’s a related problem. When a day-care operator fails the city’s licensing standards, including failing to pass a criminal background check, it’s become common for that operator to just move outside the city limits to set up shop. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it, under current laws.

Doug Fagerness, director of North Idaho College Head Start, has seen it happen as a member of the Coeur d’Alene city child care commission. “This is not an issue of local control,” he said. “This is a responsibility we share as a civilized state.”

Idaho does have laws now requiring licensing for centers that care for 13 or more children, and it certifies those caring for seven or more. But there’s no regulation of those caring for six or fewer kids. That’s the fight that Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, along with a large, bipartisan group of legislative cosponsors and business and child-advocacy organizations from around the state, have been waging for the past three years – they want state licensing for the smaller centers too, at least to require criminal background checks and set minimal staffing, health and safety requirements. Sayler’s been shut down in a House committee each year for the last three years, as some members said they oppose day care and believe mothers should stay home with their children.

Now, even Gov. Butch Otter – no fan of licensing or regulation – says minimum staffing and safety rules and criminal background checks make sense. Read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

He’s certainly famous

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig is planning to attend the ceremony next weekend at which he and 11 others are to be inducted into the “Idaho Hall of Fame.” Craig is joined on the fame list by new inductees Gov. Butch Otter, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, BSU football coach Chris Petersen and more. The Hall of Fame board picked its choices (its first since 2002) last March, well before Craig’s arrest and guilty plea in a sex-solicitation sting. Board member Harry Magnuson told the S-R’s Meghann Cuniff, “Larry Craig has made a great contribution to Idaho over the period of 20-some years. … At the time it was considered, this other matter had not come up.” Read the full story here at spokesmanreview.com.

Curve balls for the governor

Sen. Larry Craig and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter had a “lengthy” phone conversation today, according to Otter’s office, and Otter’s not saying much more than that. Last week, Otter finished interviewing more than two dozen candidates to replace Craig should Craig resign from the Senate, and the governor made up his mind on whom he’d name – but didn’t tell that person. “He has not notified anyone,” said Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian. “I think that’s by design – it’s putting the cart before the horse. We don’t have a vacancy, so it makes no sense to go out and inform somebody that he’d selected them to a position that in reality doesn’t exist.”

That means the guv’s put prodigious amounts of time in the past month into a painstaking selection process that ultimately was for nothing. Said Hanian, “You get thrown a lot of curve balls in this job, and … we’ve seen quite a few of those during the course of this, haven’t we?”

Delegation lines up to support Craig

The other three members of Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation all have issued statements supporting Sen. Larry Craig in his decision to remain in office rather than resign. Here are their statements:

Sen. Mike Crapo: “Senator Craig has the right to pursue his legal options as does any citizen, and I support his effort. I look forward to serving with him as we continue to work on issues important to Idaho.”

Rep. Mike Simpson: “Sen. Craig’s announcement gives the people of Idaho some certainty for the next 15 months. I remain convinced this delegation will continue to effectively represent Idaho as we turn our focus to more pressing matters.”

Rep. Bill Sali: “Our prayers continue to be with Senator Craig and his family as they make decisions that will affect their future and Idaho’s. The people of Idaho will benefit most if Idaho’s delegation remains united in working to secure the greatest results possible for our state. I am committed to do everything I can to help make Senator Craig’s remaining months in office as successful as possible.”

Craig’s not resigning

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig has just issued this statement:

“I am extremely disappointed with the ruling issued today. I am innocent of the charges against me. I continue to work with my legal team to explore my additional legal options.

“I will continue to serve Idaho in the United States Senate, and there are several reasons for that. As I continued to work for Idaho over the past three weeks here in the Senate, I have seen that it is possible for me to work here effectively.

“Over the course of my three terms in the Senate and five terms in the House, I have accumulated seniority and important committee assignments that are valuable to Idaho, not the least of which are my seats on the Appropriations Committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. A replacement would be highly unlikely to obtain these posts.

“In addition, I will continue my effort to clear my name in the Senate Ethics Committee - something that is not possible if I am not serving in the Senate.

“When my term has expired, I will retire and not seek reelection. I hope this provides the certainty Idaho needs and deserves.”

LaRocco: All candidates for Craig’s seat should declare

Democrat Larry LaRocco, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by GOP Sen. Larry Craig, today called on the 29 Idahoans whom Gov. Butch Otter has identified as wanting an appointment to Craig’s seat to declare their candidacy and start reaching out to voters. “Idahoans want their representatives to be elected in an open campaign and not decided behind closed doors in secret,” LaRocco said. “It’s crystal clear that Senator Larry Craig will not run for re-election in 2008, and there is a very large probability he will choose to serve out his term. Therefore, the 29 applicants should do as I have done and step up to the plate and start meeting with voters instead of interviewing with Governor Otter. A seat in the U.S. Senate should not be a gift, it should be earned the old fashioned way, hand over hand, debate by debate in every county of Idaho. Idahoans want to chart a new direction for our state and America. We should have a campaign, not a coronation.”

Otter has interviewed all the prospective candidates for appointment to Craig’s seat, but can’t make an appointment unless Craig resigns.

Craig loses in Minnesota court

A Minnesota judge has denied Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s bid to withdraw his guilty plea to misdemeanor charges in a restroom sex-solicitation sting.

Hennepin County District Judge Charles A. Porter also denied prosecutors’ bid to block arguments from the American Civil Liberties Union in support of Craig, though he found those arguments “without merit” with regard to Craig’s case.

The judge found that Craig’s guilty plea to disorderly conduct was accurate. “The defendant knew or should have known his entrance into Sgt. (Dave) Karsnia’s stall with his eyes, foot and hand are the type of acts that would ‘tend reasonably to arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others,’” the judge wrote in his order.

He also dismissed arguments from Craig’s attorneys that Craig’s mailed-in plea was inappropriate because if the Idaho senator had filed it in person, a Minnesota judge would have asked him questions that would have led to dismissing the plea. “The defendant chose to not appear (in court) and to enter his plea by mail just so he could avoid any such publicly, of record, inquiry into his conduct,” Porter wrote. “He kept many of the facts out of the record in so doing. He cannot now complain that he should not have been allowed to take advantage of an approved method to enter a misdemeanor plea.”

The judge also noted, “By signing and dating each page of the guilty plea petition, the defendant acknowledged that his waiver of appearance also waived the right to present evidence contrary to a conviction.”

Craig was arrested June 11, and pleaded guilty by mail in August. He kept the incident quiet until news reports on it came out Aug. 27.

Craig said earlier that he’d resign from the U.S. Senate on Sept. 30 in the wake of the incident, but then said he’d remain in office and try to clear his name. He’s stayed despite intense pressure from Senate GOP leaders to resign.

He pleaded guilty to the reduced charge after an undercover officer said Craig peered into his stall in a Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport men’s room, then entered the next stall, tapped his foot, slid his foot over to touch the officer’s foot, and made repeated hand gestures under the stall divider wall – all recognized signals of soliciting sex. The officer’s stakeout of the restroom was part of a four-month undercover operation that netted more than 40 arrests, in response to repeated complaints of lewd conduct.

And on the other hand…

Just as Gov. Butch Otter has been speaking out this week in favor of nuclear power, comes the announcement that Dr. Helen Caldicott, co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility and author of “Nuclear Power is Not the Answer,” is coming to speak in Boise. It’s just coincidence – Caldicott, an internationally renowned pediatrican and activist from Australia, is giving a free lecture at Boise State University on Oct. 23rd sponsored by the BSU sociology department. In her book, Caldicott examines the costs and risks of nuclear power, and suggests that alternative energy sources such as wind power and simple lifestyle changes like hanging clothes to dry and turning down thermostats offer a better solution to the world’s energy woes. Her lecture is set for 7 p.m. in the BSU Special Events Center.

‘Maybe it’s time’

With a rapt audience of nearly two dozen lobbyists listening closely, a legislative interim committee made history this week – recommending repeal of four existing tax breaks and re-evaluation of a long list of others. A similar committee spent months studying the same issues four years ago, but failed to recommend any specific changes. “I feel good – we’ve made a good start,” said Senate Tax Chair Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “This is what our committee in the Senate wanted, was just a chance – let’s evaluate these things. This is why you didn’t see a single one go through the Senate committee this year.” Senators blocked new tax breaks to hold out for a review of existing exemptions.

Among those in the audience was Russ Westerberg, who lobbies for clients including Hagadone Corp., the Kootenai Tribe, Revett Minerals and PacifiCorp. “I’ve got a whole battery of clients that are interested in what they’re doing,” he said. Westerberg said he wrote the bill that granted the ski area tax break – now targeted for repeal – back in the 1980s. “Maybe that exemption is no longer justified – maybe it’s time for the state to look at it,” Westerberg said. Read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

Tax breaks on the chopping block

Wondering which tax breaks are on the chopping block? The four that the legislative interim committee on tax exemptions voted to recommend repealing are: The Investment Tax Credit ($41 million a year); the sales tax exemption for broadcast equipment and supplies ($2.575 million a year); the exemption for publishing equipment and supplies for free newspapers ($165,000 a year); and the exemption for ski lifts and snow-grooming equipment ($600,000 a year). Click below to see the full list of exemptions the panel prioritized for review by the Legislature in the upcoming session.

Guv wants to raise pay, cut benefits

It’s long been known that Idaho’s state employee pay lags far below the private sector for similar jobs, but that the state’s benefits are better. Many state workers could make far more in the private sector, but stay on because of a public service commitment and for the benefits. Gov. Butch Otter, however, wants to change all that. It’s been rumored for some time that Otter is looking to raise pay and cut benefits, something he’s been hinting at since he was elected. Now, his administration chief, Mike Gwartney, has unveiled just such a proposal, in a presentation to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee at its interim meeting yesterday in Ketchum.

The Idaho Statesman’s Heath Druzin covered the presentation; read his story here. Among the revelations: Otter wants to raise state employee pay 5 percent a year over several years to make up the current 15 percent gap below market pay. At the same time, he’d cut health benefits until state workers pay 30 percent of the costs, up from 22 percent now. “The governor, for the next three years, will push like the devil for this,” Gwartney said.

State retirement funds and genocide

The idea that investments from Idaho’s state retirement fund are helping support genocide in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region is so repugnant to many members of the state’s 118,000-member retirement system that they’ve been calling for change. As a result, PERSI is setting up a new 401(k) plan option, starting Oct. 12, that will be free of those controversial investments into companies providing economic or military aid to the Sudanese government. But that would affect just a tiny portion of state retirement investments; the state’s huge, $11.5 billion retirement fund had $25.7 million invested in such companies as of July.

Last year, backers of divestment pressed the Idaho Legislature to require PERSI to withdraw from those investments, but a Senate committee declined to introduce the bill, referring the matter instead to the PERSI board. Then, after a six-month study, the PERSI board concluded it couldn’t make any such changes in its investments without legislative direction. Now, a coalition of church, human rights and community groups is launching a push for legislation to require divestment, matching moves in 20 other states. Read my full story here.

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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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