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Eye On Boise

Archive for July 2008

Sullivan recovering from kidney surgery

Former Idaho Republican Party Chairman Kirk Sullivan is recovering in a Boise hospital following “surgery to repair an ongoing kidney ailment,” according to a statement from family spokesman Guy Hurlbutt. Sullivan, 72, “has suffered for a number of months with severe kidney stones,” Hurlbutt said. “His condition worsened the second week of July, warranting hospitalization and surgery.” He added, “Kirk is slowly recovering from a delicate procedure, and is doing well. Betty and his children wish to thank those who have extended their well wishes and prayers.”

Dems’ poll shows 10-point Risch lead

A new poll out today commissioned by Democratic blogger Markos Moulitsas’ Daily Kos shows Republican Jim Risch with a 10-point lead over Democrat Larry LaRocco in the Idaho Senate race, with independent Rex Rammell trailing at 5 percent. Moulitsas writes that he commissioned the poll “on a whim” after meeting LaRocco. The poll of 500 likely Idaho voters, conducted July 28-30, has a margin of error of 4.5 percent. “It was independent, it was a surprise to us,” said Dean Ferguson, spokesman for the LaRocco campaign. It shows LaRocco pulling five points closer to Risch than in LaRocco’s own poll from May. “We’re real happy to hear about that,” Ferguson said. “We’re going to come out with some TV commercials within three to four days. This is a poll that shows a tighter margin than most people thought, and this is before we’ve done any television advertising, too, so that’s significant.”

The poll also found John McCain leading Barack Obama for president in Idaho 53-37, and found 56 percent disapproval of “the job George W. Bush is doing as president.” You can read the whole thing here.

Canyon prosecutor’s son pleads guilty

Marcus Young, 32, pleaded guilty today to two felony crimes, possession of sexually exploitive material and destruction of evidence. Young was Canyon County’s information technology manager and the son of county prosecutor Dave Young when he was indicted September 2007 on nine felony counts; at the time, Marcus Young had been on paid leave from his county job for 13 months and collected more than $60,000 in pay and benefits as his crimes were investigated. At the time, his father said he believed his son was innocent. Today, the Idaho Attorney General’s office, which served as special prosecutor in the case, signed a plea agreement with Marcus Young in which the other charges were dismissed.

Marcus Young, who has not yet been sentenced, will have to register as a sex offender and faces up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the porn charge, and up to five years and a $5,000 fine for the evidence tampering charge. Dave Young was defeated in the GOP primary in May by John Buzak, a local attorney.

Who would do what in Duncan hearings

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge has issued his full written opinion granting Joseph Duncan’s request to act as his own attorney in his death penalty proceedings, which the judge granted orally in court on Monday. The 12-page opinion includes a couple of new details; among them: Though they’ve been appointed as “standby counsel,” Duncan’s three court-appointed attorneys will no longer be allowed to sit with him at the table in the courtroom, and instead will sit behind him along the room’s side wall. And he won’t be able to confer routinely with them while the proceedings are going. “Discussions between Mr. Duncan and standby counsel should take place at recesses and evenings unless otherwise permitted by the Court,” Judge Lodge wrote. He cited several U.S. Supreme Court cases defining the role of standby counsel as guidance.

The judge also ordered the attorneys on both sides to file briefs by Friday at noon addressing whether Duncan can have the standby attorneys finish the jury selection process for him, now that he’s representing himself. The admitted multiple murderer earlier had said he wanted them to do that, but then his attorneys advised him there could be legal problems with that. In a 1984 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held, “The pro se defendant must be allowed to control the organization and content of his own defense, to make motions, to argue points of law, to participate in voir dire, to question witnesses, and to address the court and the jury at appropriate points in the trial.”

Duncan told the judge on Monday that his first preference would be to just leave the questioning of prospective jurors up to the judge, and that his second would be for the standby counsel to handle it. Duncan has noted the highly technical nature of legal issues brought up thus far during questioning of prospective jurors. “If it came down to me doing voir dire,” he said, his voice breaking into an amazed chuckle, “I’m not a lawyer and there’s just nothing I can do.”

Jury selection in the case is scheduled to resume next Wednesday.

Batt: ‘It will require a massive change’

Former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt is calling on Idahoans to step forward to upgrade the state’s ailing transportation system. “It’s frustrating when it takes 40 minutes to drive to work from 8 miles away. We need more arterials and more freeway lanes,” Batt wrote in an op-ed piece that he’s now distributed to newspapers across the state. “And it’s hard on the car when the roads are filled with pits and potholes. We’re overdue for a new roadbed in a lot of places throughout the state. And it sure would be nice if we had a super highway to North Idaho and a road up to Midvale that bypassed that winding canyon along the Payette River. But don’t hold your breath while waiting for these improvements to take place. The reality is that it will require a massive change in funding our highway program to make any substantial progress on Idaho’s roads.”

Today, Gov. Butch Otter forwarded Batt’s op-ed piece, which already has run in the Idaho Statesman, statewide. Otter did so “at the request of its author, Governor Phil Batt, in order to provide important historical perspective and help Idahoans better understand the issues involved in Idaho’s transportation funding challenge,” Otter’s office said.

Writes Batt: “I know it’s a poor time to talk about increasing the cost of operating a motor vehicle. But we have always had more needs than money regarding our transportation system within our beloved state. The picture has never been more bleak than today. But financial sacrifices for transportation have been required since territorial days and each generation has responded with increased funding. It doesn’t make sense that we now say ‘we won’t face the music – make our kids and grandkids pay.’” Click below to read Batt’s full article.

‘A very positive message’

BSU political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby, after viewing the latest campaign commercials in the 1st District congressional race that went out today from Democrat Walt Minnick, said, “I think it’s a very positive message that will resonate with voters in the 1st District. This, of course, is the opening shot. … No specifics here, and I’m not surprised at this point, and no reference to his opponent at this point. … I think that early introduction is important. It’s Walt Minnick defining himself, rather than having Bill Sali define him as some wild-eyed liberal spender, or another puppet of Nancy Pelosi, or however Sali might attack him. It’s Walt Minnick presenting himself as a Western moderate Democrat.”

Chief justice has Vietnam service-related cancer

Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Eismann has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and has started chemotherapy treatments, but his doctors say his prognosis is “very good” and a full recovery is expected. Eismann, 61, said he’ll continue to serve as chief justice and will hear a full caseload. “I very much appreciate the expressions of concern, prayers, and best wishes,” Eismann said in a statement. “I am confident that I can maintain a full schedule of duties, complete treatment programs, and accomplish a full recovery.” Click here to read my full story at

Eismann was first elected to the Supreme Court in 2000. He was voted chief justice by the other members of the court in 2007. Eismann is a Vietnam veteran, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma is classified by the VA as a service-connected illness in Vietnam veterans due to exposure to Agent Orange.

Judge: Duncan can represent himself

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge has granted Joseph Duncan’s motion to act as his own attorney in his death penalty proceedings; read my full story here at

“Do you feel that you’re ready to go forward with your trial on these sentencing issues?” the judge asked the convicted murderer. “Yeah, I believe so,” Duncan responded. Asked by the judge if he had any reservations, Duncan said, “I’m not a perfect person, and I make mistakes sometimes … My only reservation is that I’m a human being.”

The judge ordered jury selection in the death penalty sentencing proceedings to resume next Wednesday. “We’re not going to delay this thing any further,” the judge declared.

Duncan faces a possible death penalty for murdering 9-year-old Dylan Groene, after kidnapping and molesting the child and his 8-year-old sister in 2005. Duncan has pleaded guilty to all counts, and also to killing the children’s 13-year-old brother, mother and mother’s fiancé at the family’s North Idaho home in order to kidnap the two youngsters.

Open, closed courts at issue

Here’s a link to my story that ran over the weekend about the latest openness issues in the Joseph Duncan case. Duncan’s attorneys filed legal arguments in response to motions filed by The Spokesman-Review and other news organizations who had argued that the First Amendment requires that key evidence in the death penalty sentencing proceedings must be presented in open court. The defense argued for openness for videotape evidence, but a closed courtroom if Shasta Groene, Duncan’s only surviving victim, testifies. Meanwhile, there’s concern being raised that testifying would be traumatic for the young girl whether or not the courtroom is closed.

Risch to skip live debate on public TV

Democrat Larry LaRocco has been calling on Republican Jim Risch to commit to participating in the traditional debate sponsored by the Idaho Press Club, League of Women Voters and Idaho Public TV that will be broadcast live statewide in October. Now, Risch has given his answer, in a letter to Elinor Chehey of the League of Women Voters:

Dear Ms. Chehey:

The Jim Risch for U. S. Senate Campaign received your letter of July 16, 2008, regarding the debate you are sponsoring for U. S. Senate candidates.

We receive many requests to do candidate debates and forums. We have chosen your debate in years past. This year, however, we have chosen a debate on October 21, sponsored by KTVB and other entities, and another debate sponsored by the Lewiston Morning Tribune.

Thank you for your invitation.

Very truly yours,

Ryan White, Risch for U. S. Senate Committee.

Full disclosure here: I’m the president of the Idaho Press Club, one of the three longtime sponsors of the traditional live debates. But this year, the sponsorship has expanded, with the Associated Press, Idaho Statesman, Boise State Radio, KIVI-TV and more co-sponsoring the high-profile series of debates known as “The Idaho Debates.” Oddly, Risch is ceding that statewide airtime to his opponents, who also are planning a series of live debates around the state in October in which he’s expressed little interest.

High court decision could affect Duncan case

A June U.S. Supreme Court decision limiting the right of mentally ill defendants to represent themselves in court could affect the case of Joseph Duncan, the notorious murderer and child molester who’s admitted to killing four members of a North Idaho family.

Though he has prominent capital defense lawyers assigned to represent him, Duncan told U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge in April that he instead wanted to act as his own lawyer, because, he said, “I don’t believe that they can ethically represent my ideology.” Lodge then ordered two mental evaluations to confirm that Duncan was competent to waive his constitutional right to a lawyer. As the judge now prepares to rule on that issue, defense attorneys this week filed a motion asking the judge to say what standard he’ll use, in light of the latest Supreme Court decision.

Before the high court reached its decision, the judge made it clear that case law dictated that if Duncan’s competent to undergo court proceedings at all, he’s competent to act as his own attorney. But the new decision, Indiana v. Edwards, opened the door to a different approach. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that “common sense” dictates that a mentally ill defendant might not be able to represent himself in court proceedings, though he could function just fine with the assistance of attorneys. “Insofar as a defendant’s lack of capacity threatens an improper conviction or sentence, self-representation in that exceptional context undercuts the most basic of the Constitution’s criminal law objectives, providing a fair trial,” Breyer wrote for the court’s majority. “The court said, ‘Let the trial judge decide,’” said Robert Bloom, a law professor at Boston College and an expert on constitutional rights and criminal procedures. “They gave a lot of discretion to the trial judge.”

Justice Antonin Scalia dissented, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Scalia called the majority’s decision “extraordinarily vague,” and wrote, “Trial judges will have every incentive to make their lives easier … by appointing knowledgeable and literate counsel.” You can read my full story here at

Second Duncan evaluation is in

A second, extensive mental evaluation of killer Joseph Duncan by federal Bureau of Prisons evaluator Dr. Cynthia Low has been filed under seal in federal court in Boise. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge today ordered the filing of the sealed report, and granted only a small portion of a motion from defense attorneys to redact certain items in the report because they related to confidential matters between the attorneys and their client, that the attorneys revealed to the federal evaluator. Redacting them would block them out so that prosecutors wouldn’t get to see them.

“To conclude the material is privileged would be fundamentally unfair to the government, who is now faced with countering information considered by BOP (Bureau of Prisons) during the competency evaluation that it has never seen,” Lodge wrote in an order issued today. “The defense cannot provide the materials to BOP and then deny them from the government.” He cited case law showing that the privilege of keeping such material secret is forfeited if they are disclosed as part of “an attempt to gain a strategic advantage in litigation.” Duncan’s defense attorneys have taken a new tack in recent weeks, contending that the convicted murderer is mentally incompetent and therefore can’t go forward with court proceedings. The judge had ordered mental evaluations to confirm that he is, in fact, competent, as a precaution before allowing Duncan to exercise his right to act as his own attorney in his case. The two evaluations both are sealed and the judge has not yet ruled on the competency question.

42,000 Idahoans getting a raise on Thursday

With the federal minimum wage going up on Thursday, there’s little effect in states where state minimum wages already exceeded the federal level – but there’s a big impact in Idaho. The Idaho Department of Labor estimates that 42,000 Idaho workers are now paid less than the new minimum wage of $6.55 per hour. All of them will get their pay boosted to that level on Thursday.

Idaho’s minimum wage, by state law, matches the federal minimum. Last year, when the first phase of the three-stage federal minimum wage increase hit, 20,000 Idaho workers got raises because their pay was less than the current $5.85 per hour minimum. The state Department of Labor estimates that 6.5 percent of Idaho’s 640,000-plus jobs covered by unemployment insurance are held by low-wage workers who now fall below the new $6.55 minimum.

Plans for Tamarack Fairmont hotel fizzle

In the latest bad news for Tamarack Resort, tennis stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf have dropped their plan to develop a 300-room Fairmont Hotel at the newly developing ski and summer resort near Donnelly, Idaho that’s lately been dogged by litigation and bankruptcy filings. Click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

Pipal signs on with Boise Valley economic group

Julie Pipal, a well-known figure around the state capitol as the Idaho Transportation Department’s legislative liaison for the past five years, is the new legislative affairs director for the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, a regional economic development organization for the Boise metro area that includes, among others, the cities of Nampa, Meridian, Caldwell, Eagle and Star, along with chambers, educational institutions and businesses, and focuses on attracting and retaining jobs. Paul Hiller, executive director, said Pipal will serve as a full-time lobbyist for the group during the state legislative session “to help insure that issues relating to economic growth in our region are fully communicated,” including transportation, workforce development, infrastructure funding and education.

Pipal was manager of the Office of Budget, Policy and Intergovernmental Relations for ITD for the past five years, and before that was the public information officer for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. Said Hiller, “With Julie’s 13 years experience in the legislative process, she will bring a wealth of knowledge about local and national legislation as well as a solid understanding of policy development and issues management.”

Sali faces filing problems, lags in fundraising

Freshman Idaho Congressman Bill Sali is being out-fundraised by his Democratic challenger, and also is having such serious problems with the federal campaign finance reporting system that he still hasn’t filed his July 15 report and has filed nine amendments to earlier reports since June 1. Click below to read my full story from today’s Spokesman-Review.

Judge orders federal wolf protections restored

Here’s a bulletin from the AP:

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A federal judge in Montana has ordered gray wolves in the Northern Rockies be returned to the endangered species list. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy granted a preliminary injunction Friday, restoring federal protections for the wolves. The predator was removed from the endangered species list in March, following a decade-long restoration effort. Environmentalists sued to overturn the decision. Officials in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho have been moving forward with plans for public hunts. Molloy’s ruling is expected to derail those plans. The region has an estimated 2,000 wolves, a population that has been soaring and increasingly preying on livestock.

Gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains were removed from the federal endangered species list on March 28, and Idaho’s Fish & Game Department stepped in to manage Idaho’s wolf population, which now numbers more than 700. Wolves were reintroduced to the region about 13 years ago, when 66 gray wolves were released in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. Today, they number 1,500 in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah, according to Idaho Fish & Game.

With the wolves coming off the endangered species list this spring, Idaho enacted a law allowing people to kill wolves to protect livestock or domestic animals. No permit is required for such killings, but they’re required to be reported to Fish & Game within 72 hours. The state also has been working on plans for wolf hunts as part of its overall plan to manage the gray wolf as a big game species. None of that was permitted under the federal endangered species listing. Gov. Butch Otter said earlier that he’d like to bid on the chance to be the first to shoot a wolf when Idaho opens its first wolf-hunting season.

Idaho to spend up to $5M to test cows for TB

Idaho’s state Board of Examiners, which consists of the governor, secretary of state, and attorney general with the state controller serving as secretary, voted today to spend up to $5 million to track down and test cattle that could be infected with bovine tuberculosis. Several hundred dairy bulls from a California facility where the disease has shown up were imported into Idaho; the state Department of Agriculture has declared an emergency to track them down, test them, and see whether they could have spread TB to other herds or other animals. “It’s obviously a concern, and any time you have an outbreak like that, to ensure safety is something that needs to be done,” said Jon Hanian, spokesman for Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the Board of Examiners. The money will be paid via deficiency warrants, the same procedure the state uses to pay for unexpected wildfire fighting costs.

State Agriculture Director Celia Gould, in a memo to the Board of Examiners, said bovine TB can affect both humans and animals, but there’s very low risk of it spreading to humans because it’s not spread in meat and pasteurizing kills it in milk products. However, people who consume unpasteurized raw milk products containing the bacteria could be at risk, as could people who are in close contact with infected cattle. The disease also can be spread from one animal to another through coughing or exhalations.

“It’s a huge problem,” said Brad Hoaglun, spokesman for state Controller Donna Jones. “They’re trying to find where these bulls went throughout the state.” Hundreds of cattle already have been tested, and tests have been negative so far, Hoaglun said. Tens of thousands could potentially be tested. Gould wrote, “The majority of infected animals do not display clinical signs of the disease and may be infected for years before any signs appear. The most common clinical signs of TB include a cough, weight and production loss, variable appetite and fluctuating fevers.”

Duncan lawyers say killer mentally incompetent

Convicted killer Joseph Duncan has now been through two extensive mental competency evaluations, and his lawyers are contending he’s not competent to represent himself in his death penalty hearings. Federal prosecutors disagree, and the court hasn’t issued its ruling yet. If Duncan were ruled incompetent, the proceedings would be halted and he’d be moved to a secure mental facility until he’s again found competent to go through court proceedings to determine whether he should get the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

Duncan already has pleaded guilty to all charges in a 10-count federal indictment for kidnapping and molesting two North Idaho children and killing one in 2005. He also has pleaded guilty in state court to killing the children’s 13-year-old brother, mother and mother’s fiancée in a brutal attack at the family’s home in order to kidnap the two youngsters.

This morning in court, attorneys for both sides wrangled over the competency issue, with Deputy U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson noting that the court already ruled that Duncan was competent, and merely ordered the evaluations to confirm that. Defense attorney Tom Monaghan countered, “We now have contesting viewpoints on that matter between the parties.”

Duncan was present, dressed in yellow scrubs with faded block letters on the back that said “Ada County Jail.” His long hair was pulled into a tight knot at the nape of his neck, and he’s now grown a full beard. Throughout the proceedings, he appeared lethargic and unresponsive, often closing his eyes and resting his chin on his hands. When the judge told him, “Good morning, Mr. Duncan,” he didn’t respond.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge said he’s taken under advisement a request for a competency hearing, at which the experts who examined Duncan could be cross-examined. “The court intends to rule on that … forthwith,” he declared. You can read my full story here at

Ysursa files response to GOP primary lawsuit

Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who was sued by the Idaho Republican Party in their effort to force the closure of the state’s GOP primaries to anyone but registered Republicans, today filed his answer to the party’s lawsuit. The seven-page court filing mostly consists of denying all allegations in the complaint, but it also states that Idaho’s current election laws don’t infringe on the party’s rights of association, and that “the issues presented in the complaint are political questions.” The state’s filing asks that the lawsuit be dismissed and the state be awarded attorney fees and costs; click here to read the state’s answer, and click here to read the original complaint.

Duncan lawyers: Secrecy has gone too far

Attorneys for admitted multiple murderer and child molester Joseph Duncan now say there’s been too much secrecy in the killer’s death sentence proceedings, and they’re objecting to a planned closed court hearing set for Thursday. The defense attorneys said the extensive secrecy in the case, from filing documents under seal to actual closure of proceedings, violates both the 1st Amendment and Duncan’s 6th Amendment right to a public trial. “The defense acknowledges its participation in the culture of secrecy in this case up to this point,” the attorneys, led by Seattle attorney Mark Larranaga, wrote in today’s filings. “Having now considered the issues implicated by such practices, the defense believes it has mistakenly gone along with the same in the past. The instant motion has been brought to avoid allowing that improper practice to continue.” They asked U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge to rule swiftly on their motion, and if he denies it to stay Thursday’s hearing so they can appeal his decision to the 9th Circuit. You can read my full story here at

Hundreds have their say on transportation

As of right now, 230 people have participated so far in the day of meetings in Caldwell that’s kicking off a round of such gatherings around the state on Idaho’s transportation funding shortfall. In the first of three hour-long information and public comment sessions running from 4-7 p.m., “They had just about every seat filled, and there were people standing in back,” said Jon Hanian, Gov. Butch Otter’s press secretary. The governor, who welcomed the group at 4, was “definitely pleased by the turnout,” Hanian said. “We definitely got a lot of input.” The transportation meetings move to Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday and Lewiston on Thursday, to be followed by several more southern Idaho sessions in the coming weeks.

Obama presidential campaign gearing back up in Idaho

The other half of the Boise duo who launched the grass-roots effort that built into an Idaho Obama campaign now has a political job, too. First, Kassie Cerami became field director for the LaRocco congressional campaign. Now, TJ Thomson is becoming the first official Obama staff member in Idaho for the general election. He’s the new chair of Idaho Veterans for Obama, which will hold a kickoff event on July 31st from 6-8 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park in Boise, in the veterans’ picnic shelter. Thomson, an Air Force veteran, said other Obama campaign staff likely will arrive in the next month or so and a campaign office will reopen in the Treasure Valley. He also said Obama will pursue a “50-state strategy” during the general election campaign, and noted that Idaho’s February Democratic caucuses gave the presidential candidate his highest margin of victory in any state primary. “This move continues that momentum in Idaho,” the Obama campaign said in a press release announcing Thomson’s appointment.

Guv makes transportation pitch

Today is the kickoff of Gov. Butch Otter’s series of meetings around the state to make his pitch for addressing the state’s $240 million-a-year shortfall in road construction and maintenance. The first session, in Caldwell today, includes meetings all day between the governor’s staff and state transportation officials and local legislators, business leaders, highway district officials, etc. From 4 to 7 p.m. at the College of Idaho, there’ll be a public meeting to which all are invited to hear about the situation and have their say. Similar sessions will follow around the state over the next month and a half. To view the governor’s videotaped pitch about the road-funding problem, click here.

And in other debating about debates…

Residents of Nampa this week are being treated to not one, but two town-hall meetings with candidates for the 1st District congressional seat – but the first one just had Democrat Walt Minnick, and the second will have just Republican incumbent Bill Sali.

Here’s how it happened: Back on May 28, Minnick called on Sali to join him in a series of 10 town-hall meetings throughout the district over the summer. The two have been wrangling about dates and have decided on only one, which is set for Aug. 18 in Coeur d’Alene. Minnick said he’d go on with his meetings even if Sali wouldn’t join him, though he’d rather he did. The first one of those was this past Monday in Nampa, at the Nampa Civic Center. Campaign spokesman John Foster said a “couple dozen” people came out for a “good hour and a half.” He said, “Voters considered it a success. It would’ve been a lot better had the congressman been there, because that was the whole point.”

Then on Tuesday, the Sali campaign contacted the Minnick campaign about a possible town-hall meeting in Nampa tomorrow, five days after Minnick’s event, and invited Minnick to participate. “Walt Minnick appreciates the invitation from Bill Sali,” campaign manager Adam Harris said. “However, Walt is riding in the Snake River Stampede horse parade during the town hall on Saturday. Unfortunately, Sali declined our invitation to join Walt in Nampa on Monday evening for a town hall, but we look forward to the two candidates joining together in the near future for a similar event.”

Wayne Hoffman, spokesman for Sali, said, “We’ve always done town-hall meetings, we’ve been doing town-hall meetings since last year.” However, tomorrow’s is the first that’s a campaign event, rather than an official congressional event, Hoffman said, so that allowed the invitation to Minnick. “They apparently picked a date that worked for them and not for us, and we apparently picked a date that works for us and not for them,” he said. Each camp blamed the other for the scheduling snafu, but both said they’re going to try to work together on future dates.

Hoffman said the Saturday forum was scheduled hastily because “the congressman was not going to be in Nampa this Saturday. His schedule changed, and now he’s in Nampa, and the very first thing we said we wanted to do with that additional time that he has is do one of the town-hall meetings.”

Rammell, LaRocco set debates, challenge Risch

Two candidates for Larry Craig’s Senate seat, Democrat Larry LaRocco and independent Rex Rammell, held a joint press conference today to announce a series of 10 debates they’ll both participate in across the state in October, and to call on GOP nominee Jim Risch to join them. The debates will start with one in Sandpoint, and include matchups in Coeur d’Alene, Moscow, Lewiston, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls, Nampa, Meridian and Boise. “Rex and I are committed to be there throughout the state of Idaho, to have a discussion about our values and what we take to the United States Senate,” LaRocco said. Said Rammell, “I look forward to vigorously and professionally debating Mr. LaRocco, and I hope that Mr. Risch will join us. I feel it is imperative that the people of Idaho know where the candidates stand on the issues.”

There’s no response yet from the Risch camp. Rammell said, “We’re going to have a third podium or a third chair sitting there. It’ll be empty if he’s not there. … I’d like to see him show up.”

Brackett named to succeed Gannon in Senate

State Rep. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, has been appointed to the Idaho Senate by Gov. Butch Otter to finish the term of the late Sen. Tom Gannon, R-Buhl, who died June 24th. Brackett was the top choice among three nominees submitted by the Republican Party legislative committee for the district, which also selected Brackett to succeed Gannon on the November ballot. Brackett, 63, is a rancher and second-term state representative. His appointment to the Senate now means that the same process must be followed to appoint a successor for Brackett in the state House. Below is the governor’s full press release on the appointment.

BSU gets green commuting award

Boise State University has been recognized as a “Best Workplace for Commuters” by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation, for measures aimed at encouraging environmentally friendly commuting options for both employees and students to help reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. Among the programs that got BSU recognized are free bus and shuttle programs for students, faculty and staff; car pool programs; the Kinesiology Bike Barn that provides indoor bike storage, lockers and showers for bike commuters; and participation in and support of other programs offered through agencies like the Idaho DEQ and the Clean Cities Coalition.

ITD to pay $325,000 penalty for North Idaho violations

The Idaho Transportation Department will pay $325,000 in stipulated penalties for “numerous violations of a Clean Water Act consent decree” regarding the Mica to Bellgrove Highway 95 project in North Idaho. The EPA said ITD and its contractor ran up $895,000 in fines from 2001 to 2003 for multiple storm water management violations on the project that harmed the Mica Creek watershed. As part of the consent decree, ITD agreed to provide storm water training to its workers and implement new inspections and other measures. “The provisions spelled-out in the consent decree were meant to correct the fundamental, systemic problems that led to our initial case,” said Elin Miller, EPA’s regional administrator in Seattle. The regulations that ITD must follow are “a key tool to preventing water pollution and protecting Idaho’s lakes, rivers and streams from polluted construction site runoff,” she said. Below is the EPA’s full press release.

Another delay in Duncan proceedings

Death penalty hearings for Joseph Duncan, the convicted killer and child molester, have been delayed yet again, as the court wrestles with the issue of Duncan’s competency to waive his right to an attorney. When Duncan asked to jettison his legal team and instead act as his own lawyer, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ordered an evaluation to confirm the defendant’s mental competency. After receiving that review under seal, Lodge ordered a further evaluation. Now, the court announced today, “The evaluator has requested a second extension of time in order to complete a proper review of the large volume of material submitted in this case. The Court has granted this request and directed the pool of potential jurors to call back again on July 21, 2008 for further instructions. Following completion of the competency evaluation, the Court will consider the motions that are currently under advisement in this matter.”

North Idaho Dems prep for Denver

Among those heading to the Democratic National Convention as part of Idaho’s delegation this year will be eight North Idaho Democrats delegates, six of whom marched in the Coeur d’Alene Fourth of July parade and are pictured here. Shown are Ryan Robinson of Coeur d’Alene; Richard Hill of Moscow; Maj StormoGipson of Coeur d’Alene; Paulette Jordan of Plummer; Albert Wilkerson of Athol, and in back, Justin StormoGipson of Coeur d’Alene.

A sign of bad economic times for Idaho

Though Idaho’s overall unemployment rates still are low, the latest numbers show some troubling economic news, according to the state Department of Labor. For the fourth straight month, seasonally adjusted unemployment rates rose in June, from 3.6 percent to 3.8 percent – when June usually brings rates unchanged from May – and there were 11,000-plus fewer Idahoans working in June than a year earlier in June of 2007. Nationally, unemployment is at 5.5 percent, but didn’t rise from May to June. Idaho’s increase was the “largest May-to-June increase on record,” the department reported. Overall, “Employment has not decreased this significantly since 1980.” Labor officials also said, “The number of Idaho workers without jobs increased 1,900 to 28,800, the highest number of unemployed since April 2005.” Below is the department’s full press release.

National political handicapper eyes Idaho race

The Cook Political Report, published by Charles E. Cook Jr., is one of the most credible non-partisan trackers of congressional races (The New York Times called it “a newsletter that both parties regard as authoritative,” while Bob Schieffer of CBS News once called it the “bible of the political community”). Now the report has Idaho on its latest list of changing races, moving freshman 1st District GOP Congressman Bill Sali’s re-election race from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican.” “While it’s not likely that a majority of the races moved from “Solid” to “Likely” Republican will become competitive by November, the poor national climate for the GOP and the DCCC’s unprecedented financial edge makes even very difficult districts for Democrats worth keeping tabs on,” wrote David Wasserman, the report’s editor. The Idaho race was one of 21 House races that the Cook report moved from “solid” to “likely” Republican today. Three races were changed from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican,” two from “toss-up” to “lean Democratic,” and one in Pennsylvania was moved the other direction, from “likely Democratic” to “lean Democratic.”

Hill: ‘I didn’t mean to indicate everything was fine’

Some news reports in the past week suggested that Senate Tax Chairman Brent Hill was dismissing complaints about secret tax deals at the state Tax Commission, but Hill told Eye on Boise today that wasn’t his intent at all. “I didn’t mean to indicate that everything was fine,” he said. Hill said in his view, two questions need to be addressed: Did the tax commissioners do anything illegal, and should there be changes at the commission, as suggested in whistleblower Stan Howland’s report? Hill said he agrees with the commissioners’ approach of settling some tax cases to avoid litigation. “If … the commissioners have acted contrary to Idaho law, then I’m committed to trying to change Idaho law,” he said. “The commissioners need to have leeway to use their good judgment – that’s what we’re paying them for.” But, he added, “I think some of his (Howland’s) suggestions do have some merit.”

Among them: “Any settlements, I think we should have those as open as possible.” Hill said he wasn’t convinced by a brief statement from tax commissioners that they must keep settlements secret or they can’t share information with the IRS. “I would like chapter and verse on that,” he said. “What is dictating that? … I think we could structure it in such a way that we could make it more accessible so that the public and others could judge whether these settlements are appropriate or not, so I agree with him on that count. I think we should definitely look into that.”

Hill said of Howland, “I see a very dedicated auditor whose job is to go in and collect the most tax that the law provides. And then a lot of frustration, because the commissioners are taking what he’s put his blood, sweat and tears into to come up with and giving part of that away.” Hill said he sees the role of tax commissioners differently than Howland does. In Hill’s memo to Gov. Butch Otter, he wrote that Idaho’s “taxpayer bill of rights,” passed in 1993, altered the role of commissioners, so that auditors represent the state’s interest in collecting taxes, while “the commissioners must represent everyone’s interests from the government to the taxpayer. This difference in roles will always generate conflict between the commissioners and audit personnel.”

Whistleblower calls on Otter to launch investigation

State tax auditor Stan Howland, whose 17-page whistleblower report charging that the state Tax Commission has cut secret deals with large multistate corporations to excuse them from millions in state taxes, sent a letter to Gov. Butch Otter today calling on him to initiate a thorough investigation of the Tax Commission including examination of the resolution of all multistate audits for the past several years, and all internal procedures of the Tax Commission. Earlier, at Otter’s request, state tax commissioners had issued a formal response to Howland’s report. In that response, the tax commissioners defended the practices, denied any wrongdoing, and said the secrecy of the deals is appropriate. Below is Howland’s letter; here’s a link to the point-by-point response Howland has provided to the Tax Commission’s defense of its practices.

Risch ahead in LaRocco poll, but LaRocco’s happy

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Larry LaRocco today released the results of a poll that showed that in a head-to-head contest, 500 likely Idaho voters chose Republican Jim Risch over LaRocco 43 percent to 28 percent, with independent Rex Rammell getting 6 percent, “other” at 6 percent and 18 percent undecided. It doesn’t seem like that sounds so great for LaRocco. But when respondents to the 500-person poll “heard about Risch and LaRocco’s stances on the issues and were asked to vote again, LaRocco had 40 percent, Risch 37 percent, Rammell 5 percent, other 5 percent and undecideds dropped to 13 percent,” the LaRocco campaign said in a press release, saying, “Voters choose LaRocco when they know the issues.”

Among the issues discussed: Energy, G.I. bill enhancements, LaRocco’s opposition to NAFTA, the many jobs LaRocco has taken for a day each across the state as part of his campaign, the Risch property tax relief plan from his seven months as governor, which lowered property taxes while raising the sales tax, and the importation of radioactive sand from Kuwait to Idaho.

The poll also found 54 percent of respondents holding an unfavorable view of President George W. Bush, in a state where Bush long has been considerably more popular than he was elsewhere in the country; Bush took 68.4 percent of the vote in Idaho in 2004.

The LaRocco campaign said the poll also found that Risch “is neither well-known nor well-liked.” It was conducted by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake from May 20-25 and has a margin of error of 4.5 percent. Campaign spokesman Dean Ferguson said, “We like it, because it shows that Jim Risch is weak and probably a lot weaker than people think.” Risch is the state’s current lieutenant governor and served briefly as governor when then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was appointed secretary of the Interior. LaRocco is a former two-term 1st District congressman.

Trent Clark is new IACI chairman

Former Idaho Republican Party Chairman Trent Clark, who is director of government and public affairs for Monsanto Corp., is the new chairman of the board of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a major business lobbying group. Clark is known in journalism circles for making a controversial comment in an interview with an S-R reporter, then claiming it wasn’t what he said and suing the paper for libel. Clark lost, repeatedly, including when he appealed the case to the Idaho Supreme Court.

Here’s his comment: “You probably cannot find an African-American male on the street in Washington, D.C. that hasn’t been arrested or convicted of a crime.” After a public outcry over the comment, including concerns from members of his own party, Clark claimed in a written statement that he’d actually told the newspaper, “You probably cannot find an African-American male on the street in Washington, D.C. who that (sic) doesn’t have friends who have been arrested or convicted of a crime.” The courts didn’t buy it; the Idaho Supreme Court’s ruling was unanimous. Clark’s repeated appeals kept the case alive for six years past the original Feb. 2, 2001 article; the Supreme Court rejected the final appeal in May of 2007.

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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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