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Eye On Boise

Archive for June 2008

Cerami joins LaRocco campaign

Kassie Cerami, the volunteer who together with T.J. Thomson created an unprecedented grass-roots movement in Idaho for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, has signed on with Larry LaRocco’s U.S. Senate campaign as his new state field director. Cerami said she’s a “true LaRoccObaman,” and said in a statement, “I’m putting all my passionate energy for change into Idaho’s Senate race because we need leaders who care about issues such as health care, jobs, and the environment. We need leaders like Larry LaRocco who understand the challenges facing families. We need leaders who won’t let us be rushed into war. We need leaders with the courage to say, “enough is enough,’ who will pull our soldiers out of Iraq.”

LaRocco, a former two-term Democratic congressman from Idaho’s 1st District, is seeking the U.S. Senate seat now held by longtime GOP Sen. Larry Craig, who is retiring. Lt. Gov. Jim Risch is the Republican candidate, and the race also includes two independents and one Libertarian.

City slaps lien on Fischer, Swindell

A pair of Christian activists are pleading poverty after failing to pay a $10,131 federal court judgment from their failed effort to return a Ten Commandments monument to a city park in Boise – and now the city has slapped a lien on “all real and personal property” owned by the two, the Rev. Bryan Fischer and Brandi Swindell. “This judgment will remain on your credit record until the debt is paid in full,” the city informed the two in a June 23 letter. “We urge you to contact us immediately to resolve this matter. If we do not hear from you by July 15, 2008, we will proceed against you to collect the amounts due, plus interest and costs.” Fischer posted an appeal for funds on his Idaho Values Alliance website today, complaining, “Ms. Swindell and I both work for small non-profit organizations and thus have limited means. The city of Boise, on the other hand, has an annual budget of $479 million, and thus is certainly in a position to waive this judgment.” U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ordered the two to pay the $10,131 on April 8, 2004. The activists filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but the appeals court dismissed it on May 12, 2004.

AG’s get Anheuser-Busch to back off product

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has joined with attorneys general of 10 other states to announce a legal settlement in which Anheuser-Busch will stop making “alcohol energy” drinks that combine alcohol with high amounts of stimulants like caffeine. The attorneys general said the products, including “Tilt” and “Bud Extra,” were being heavily marketed to young people with slogans like, “You can sleep when you’re 30.”

“The stimulants in these beverages mask the effects of the alcohol,” Wasden said. “As a result, the consumer feels alert and, although impaired by alcohol, does not perceive that he or she is impaired. Obviously, this creates a highly dangerous situation. I appreciate Anheuser-Busch’s willingness to address our concerns directly and be a responsible leader in its marketing efforts.”

The company agreed to reformulate Tilt and Bud Extra without caffeine or other stimulants, and to stop marketing alcoholic energy drinks in all 50 states. The AG’s said such products taste and look like non-alcoholic energy drinks, and are popular with young people who incorrectly believe that the caffeine in the drinks will counteract the intoxicating effects of the alcohol. A recent study by Wake Forest University found heavier drinking and more sexual assault and injury among college students who mixed alcohol and energy drinks. The attorneys general called on other companies that manufacture similar products to follow Anheuser-Busch’s lead. Said Wasden, “The decision to stop marketing these beverages is a decision that demonstrates a concern for the public good.”

‘We’re getting a lot of ‘hmmm’s”

Asked what kind of reaction he’s getting so far to his “road show” pushing a big investment into transportation improvements, Gov. Butch Otter told Eye on Boise today, “We’re getting a lot of ‘hmmm’s.’ We’re getting a lot of this,” stroking his chin.

Otter said, “Last year’s resistance to it – mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa – I just assumed that everybody knew what I knew, that we were falling in disrepair and that every year we were falling further and further behind, and that we needed to have more revenues … It’s just gonna get worse, and then it’s gonna cost us a whole lot more.” The governor said he’s pleased with the DVD he made to make the case for addressing a $240 million-a-year road construction and maintenance shortfall; the video is being shown at meetings around the state, including a legislative briefing last week where it was unveiled, and an IACI conference yesterday at Tamarack Resort. “I think it presents a good case,” Otter said. In the video, Otter warns that Idaho’s deteriorating roads and bridges threaten both the state’s economy and public safety, and says, “I hope you come away as convinced as I am that the time is now for us to act to build roads, to build bridges, and most of all to build consensus.”

Otter: Watchwords are ‘caution’ and ‘frugal’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter spoke at the annual conference of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry this morning at Tamarack Resort, and he offered some budget warnings. “Now, don’t get me wrong: We are doing better than a lot of other states,” Otter said in remarks prepared for the event. “And it’s my goal to keep growing Idaho’s economy to the $60 billion level. But times have tightened up quite a bit over the past year, and especially since early this year. And for the next year or so the budget watchwords are going to have to be ‘CAUTION’ and ‘FRUGAL.’”

The governor also made a strong pitch for his transportation plan, which, though still being refined, calls for addressing a $240 million-a-year backlog in road construction and maintenance. “The importance of caution and frugality becomes even more apparent when you consider what we MUST spend more money on,” Otter said. “First among those priorities is transportation – our roads, highways, and bridges throughout Idaho. … It is affecting how and where you do business. And it truly is a statewide issue. We have to cowboy up and muster the political will to act now.”

More delay in Duncan proceedings

It’s now been two months since convicted multiple murderer Joseph Duncan’s death sentence hearings were put on hold to determine Duncan’s mental competence, after he sought to jettison his legal defense team and instead act as his own attorney in the proceedings. Now, there’s another delay for at least two more (and likely three) weeks. First, a local clinical psychologist was brought in to evaluate the defendant’s competency; his report was filed under seal with the court the first week of May. Then, the judge, on May 13, ordered an additional mental competency evaluation, further suspending the hearings, which had been just a week into jury selection when they halted. The pool of more than 300 potential jurors – the largest ever called in federal court in Idaho – was advised to call in yesterday after 5 p.m. for further instructions.

What they were told: Call back on July 7. The court entered an order this morning reflecting that. “Potential jurors are free to go about their business or vacations, so long as they notify the Jury Administrator if they will be out of the area for more than two weeks,” the order states. It also orders prospective jurors to notify the administrator if they’ll be out of the area for more than two weeks beginning on or after July 1, which suggests July 14 is likely the earliest date the proceedings will start up again.

It’s tough to know what’s going on in the case, because nearly everything in it – including practically all recent court filings – has been sealed by the court. But it appears that both sides continue to wrangle over issues relating to Duncan’s competency. One recent filing regards government objections to a defense motion to restrict use of the competency information and to redact portions of the second evaluation report.

For the hundreds of prospective jurors, the situation means they’re still ordered to avoid all news reports about the case, an order that’s been in effect since they first were called for jury duty in April.

Duncan, 44, is a convicted child molester from Tacoma who spent much of his adult life in Washington state prisons. He was on the run from a child molesting charge in Minnesota when he spotted two North Idaho children, Shasta and Dylan Groene, playing outside their home in May of 2005. Duncan killed the children’s older brother, mother, and her fiancée in a bloody attack at the family’s home in order to kidnap the two youngsters, whom he molested repeatedly before killing 9-year-old Dylan. Only Shasta, then 8, survived the seven-week ordeal. The current federal sentencing hearings are to allow a jury to decide if he should get the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole for his crimes against the two children. He still faces a possible death sentence on state charges for the murders at the Groene family home, and is a suspect in three other child murders in California and Washington.

Idaho moves to investigate secret tax deals

Legislators and state officials from both parties are launching formal reviews of a whistleblower’s allegations that the Idaho State Tax Commission cut secret deals to excuse multistate corporations from paying millions in state taxes. Today, Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, authorized the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee to call a special, interim meeting this summer to review the charges. Two members of Democratic legislative leadership had requested such a meeting, and Senate Tax Chairman Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said he thought it was a good idea. Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter sent a letter to state Tax Commission Chairman Royce Chigbrow on June 3 requesting a “detailed, formal response from the commission” to the concerns raised by a longtime state tax auditor. Otter asked for the report by last Friday, but Chigbrow said earlier this week that it won’t be completed until next week. And Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise, formally requested Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to investigate whether any laws were broken and issue a legal opinion; Wasden said he would. You can read my full story here at spokesmanreview.com.

State helped GOP lawmakers get to party convention

Four Republican legislators from southern Idaho didn’t have to pay their own airfares to attend the recent state GOP convention in Sandpoint, because they attended a legislative meeting in North Idaho that conveniently concluded the day before the convention. State rules permit lawmakers on state-paid trips to take side trips at their own expense. But minority Democrats on the committee, whose own state party convention was at the same time as the Republicans’ but was 400 miles south in Boise, had to scramble. You can read my full story here at spokesmanreview.com.

ITD board: Dover bridge is safe

The Idaho Transportation Board heard a report today on the Dover Bridge, a span on U.S. Highway 2 in North Idaho that the May issue of Popular Mechanics magazine rated as one of the “10 pieces of U.S. infrastructure we must fix now,” a list that also included the Brooklyn Bridge, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and the Sacramento River levies. North Idaho lawmakers long have pushed for replacement of the Dover Bridge, but with a price tag of $25 million, it’s not in the state’s current five-year plan. The national magazine noted that a big chunk of the 71-year-old bridge last year fell onto the railroad tracks below, leaving a gaping hole. However, the state replaced the bridge deck last fall.

“The bridge deck has been replaced, so that will extend the life for a few years,” said ITD Board Chairman Darrell Manning. “It is in better shape now than it was, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be replaced as soon as we can get it replaced.”

ITD spokeswoman Molly McCarty said, “There’s no doubt that the bridge has some elements that are in poor condition and it’s a very old bridge, but it’s definitely a safe bridge.” She and board members noted that the magazine report focused on the bridge’s “sufficiency rating” of just 2 out of 100 points. Since the deck replacement, that’s risen to 3 out of 100. But they said the sufficiency rating – a measure that got lots of attention for bridges nationwide after the collapse of a major freeway bridge in Minnesota – isn’t a necessarily a good gauge of structural safety. That rating also takes into account many other factors, including how far traffic must detour if a bridge is closed. When it comes to structural ratings, the Dover bridge actually fares better than several other Idaho bridges and is open with no weight restrictions. “This is a bridge that’s still in safe driving condition,” McCarty said. Manning said the board will continue to discuss the Dover Bridge at future meetings.

Governor was off for the day

If the transportation funding issue is Gov. Butch Otter’s No. 1 priority for the coming year, why is it that he didn’t attend the kickoff briefing for legislators on the issue on Monday, instead sending a video message? I asked two of Otter’s aides this question. “The governor is out of the office today,” said Otter aide Clete Edmunson. Otter spokesman Jon Hanian had the same answer, and the governor’s public schedule showed nothing scheduled on Monday.

Otter launches road show

Gov. Butch Otter, after failing spectacularly last session to convince state lawmakers to take on his No. 1 priority – addressing a huge annual road funding shortfall – is trying a different approach for next year. Today, Otter’s chief of staff, Jason Kreizenbeck, and key aide Clete Edmunson gathered together a group of more than 40, nearly half of them legislators, to seek input and support for a series of public meetings around the state this summer to highlight Idaho’s transportation crisis and the need for coming up with the money to address it, whether it comes through increased gas taxes, registration fees, other measures or some combination. To follow that up, Edmunson and Kreizenbeck will travel the state and meet with every legislator, and then develop legislation in the fall, again gather input, and present it for consideration in January.

Edmunson said the governor’s staff held a three-hour meeting with legislative leadership before the briefing, and plans briefings in the coming weeks for road construction industry representatives, lobbying groups, local government officials and more. Otter didn’t appear in person at today’s briefing, but in a video that will be shown at all the meetings, said, “Things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better, unless we act now to address those needs.” Idaho’s deteriorating roads and bridges threaten both the state’s economy and public safety, the governor said. “I hope you come away as convinced as I am that the time is now for us to act to build roads, to build bridges, and most of all to build consensus.”

Edmunson told the assembled legislators, state agency heads, reporters and others that Otter is no longer looking to make up the entire $240 million annual backlog in road funding in one fell swoop. “We’re talking about a gradual buildup – we’re not talking about $240 million next year,” he said. He exhorted the crowd, “This is a problem that faces all Idahoans, no matter what party. … We all rely on good roads. That is a proper role of government.”

House Assistant Minority Leader George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, said, “It’s a far cry from the last session and the fumbled attempts there to show the need. I think it’s a valid approach. … I was pleased that they are planning to come around throughout the state and even talk to each legislator. … I have to commend the governor for this change in course. This is probably going to be the No. 1 issue next session.”

House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said, “I think this is the right thing to do.” He noted, “There’s still a lot of people out there who say, ‘I see the need, but we can’t afford it.’ What happens if that’s the answer we get?” Denney said he’s personally convinced. “I think the need is there,” he said. “But whether or not it’s politically doable, I don’t know.”

Said Edmunson, “We want to do it right this year – we want to have a good game plan. … We’re asking you to work with us to make that tough vote, because it’s going to be a tough vote, but it’s going to be the right vote.” The public meetings will kick off in Caldwell on July 14, followed by Coeur d’Alene July 16, Lewiston July 17, Idaho Falls July 22, Pocatello on July 23 and Twin Falls and Boise in August.

Idaho Democrats wrap up ‘love fest’

As the Idaho state Democratic Party convention drew to a close, state party chairman Keith Roark said, “This is as close to a love-fest as it ever gets for Democrats.” Though some delegates came to the convention supporting Hillary Clinton, the vast majority were backing Barack Obama, the winning nominee, and the two sides got along through raucous delegate elections and heartfelt platform debates. “Even though we have the Clinton-Obama split, people were incredibly cordial,” Roark said. “We’ve been known to have our scrapes and scraps, but this was absolutely without hitch.”

Roark said the convention saw unprecedented participation and enthusiasm, particularly from young people. “I haven’t seen this many young faces in a state convention since I was in Utah in 1972,” he said. “That’s what’s really encouraging to me.” The next challenge for Idaho Democrats, who hold only a small minority of elected positions in the state, is organization, he said. “What’s next for us is to try to take this enthusiasm, take these new people and turn them into campaign assets, and that means people who will knock on doors, man phone banks, help us maintain our voter file, people who will talk to their neighbors. That’s an area where the Republicans have done far better than us.” He said, “We’ve got more people telling us right now they want to work than we’ve ever had before.” Turning that into greater success for Democrats in Idaho, he said, will take “organization, organization, organization. That’s what it comes down to.”

After long debate yesterday, platform wins approval

Delegates at the Idaho state Democratic convention argued until 7 p.m. yesterday about the various planks of their party platform, but when it came time to approve the platform today, there were only four votes against it. “It was respectful and it was at times arguing over minutiae, but all of that minutiae is very important to the people who put it together,” said party spokesman Chuck Oxley. “Everybody felt like they aired out their issues.” Changes from the last state party platform include the addition of a plank on immigration reform, which states, “We support national immigration reform that is visionary, practical and humane.” There was also much debate about nuclear energy and the Areva uranium enrichment plant proposed for eastern Idaho, but in the end, the platform doesn’t specifically refer to the project, only backing “research and development toward innovative clean energy” and saying, “We support programs and agreements to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”

Cerami and Thomson lead elected delegates

Of the 101 state delegates to the Idaho Democratic convention who ran for a chance to go to the Denver national convention, about 80 gave rousing two-minute speeches today to try to win votes. Then, by congressional district and by candidate preference, 12 district delegates were elected. Topping the list were grass-roots Obama organizers Kassie Cerami and T.J. Thomson. The 12 are an extremely diverse group, with only two white males (including Thomson) among them. The Obama delegates voted in from the 1st Congressional District were Cerami, Thomson, Estella Zamora, Richard Hill, and Maj Stormogipson of Coeur d’Alene. From the 2nd Congressional District, winning delegates were Debu Majundar, Jim Fletcher, Steven Mercado (a College of Southern Idaho student), Frank Jones, and Rebecca Suits. The Clinton delegates elected were Ryan Robinson from District 1 and Jeanette Wolfley from District 2, an attorney and Shoshone-Bannock tribal member.

After those elections were done and Richard Stallings was named the final superdelegate, votes were taken on the two “PLEO” delegates – party leader elected officials. The five candidates were Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, House Minority Caucus Chairman John Rusche, Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief Allan, and state Rep. Nicole LeFavour of Boise, the state Legislature’s only openly gay member. Bieter and LeFavour were the winners. Still to go are elections for four at-large delegates, national committeeman and national committeewoman.

Boise mayor welcomes crowd to, uh, Garden City

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter offered a welcome to the state Democratic Party convention, as the delegates gathered today to begin the formal part of their business, the consideration of rules, resolutions and platform issues. It wraps up with votes tomorrow, on both the platform and on delegates to the national convention and national committee positions. Bieter told the crowded hall, “As mayor of Boise, it is my distinct pleasure to welcome you to Garden City,” drawing a big laugh. “We’re actually across the river from Boise,” he noted. Bieter led the crowd in a Democratic cheer in Basque, and declared, “The Republicans are going to hear this in Sandpoint, I think.”

State party Chairman Keith Roark evoked the memory of Robert F. Kennedy, killed 40 years ago. “The dream is alive,” he told the crowd, and said he’d “exercise the chairman’s prerogative” and dedicate this year’s convention to Kennedy. That drew a sustained standing ovation.

Both Bieter and Roark praised the turnout and enthusiasm of this year’s convention-goers, with Roark saying, “My often-broken Democratic heart absolutely swells.”

GOP convention: ‘Where’s the entertainment?’

S-R reporter Erica Curless is blogging from the state GOP convention in Sandpoint, and offers this:

A woman just asked Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, if there was any entertainment during the convention - a funny question since many people believe this might be one of the most entertaining GOP conventions in decades with the Ron Paulers, debate over the primary system and a battle for who will control the party leadership. “If you’re a political junkie this is the best theater in town,” Keough said.

You can read Erica’s posts from the Sandpoint convention here at Huckleberries Online.

101 delegates vying to go to Denver

Of the 382 state delegates participating in today’s Idaho Democratic Party convention, a whopping 101 are running for national delegate, facing off for just 18 slots to attend the August national Democratic Party convention in Denver. “I cannot imagine that it’s ever been higher,” said state party spokesman Chuck Oxley. “It’s Obama. People want to be a part of what they perceive as a huge historical change in the way this nation is run. And it comes at a time when the nation and the world is ripe and is screaming for change.” The winners in the delegate races, who will be elected Saturday, each will have to pay their own way to Denver, which could cost $3,000 or more for airfare, hotel, meals, and “the whole nine yards,” Oxley said.

Dems flock to Boise confab

Hundreds of Democrats are standing in wide lines to check in for the state party convention today, campaign signs and buttons galore are promoting not only election candidates but also the many state delegates who are vying for a chance to attend the national party convention, and it’s tough as can be to find a parking space at the Doubletree Riverside. That means the lower-key of the two state party conventions in Idaho today is off and running.

Excitement over the presidential race appears to be the hallmark for the Democrats this year, with attendees saying they don’t recall such energetic campaigns just to serve as national delegates. Norena Gutierrez, an Ada County 2nd Congressional District delegate who’s among close to a dozen vying for five national slots from her area, said, “I’ve never done anything like this. … I have been inspired. I was in corporate America for 25 years and I never did anything – I didn’t even vote.” Laid off from Hewlett-Packard three years ago, the former executive sold real estate, then threw herself into politics and now works for the Ada County Democrats. “I know we need change,” she said.

She’s among an array of aspiring national delegates hosting “hospitality suites” for other delegates today. At hers, her sister’s making up fresh-made burritos for folks and Gutierrez is offering campaign buttons, snacks and outdoor seating. Gutierrez said her two adopted African-American sons, who are 10 and 11-1/2, are thrilled about Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy. “The little one said to me, ‘What do I have to do to be president of the United States?’” she said proudly.

Pausing to add a new “Obama Mama” button to the five Obama buttons already displayed on the lapels of her dark blazer, Gutierrez said, “I’ll tell ya, we are an Obama family. It’s so exciting to be absolutely excited about somebody.” She also was offering other aspiring national delegates a chance to display their fliers and campaign materials on the hotel suite’s king-sized bed. “Everybody is so good and everybody deserves to be a national delegate,” she said. Down the hall, vendors are selling everything from humorous political buttons to “Blue Girl, Red State” T-shirts, candidates are working the crowds and delegates are attending training sessions.

Boise’s Lincoln monument likely oldest in the West

A bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln that’s long been tucked away on the grounds of the Idaho State Veterans Home is believed to be the oldest Lincoln monument in the western United States – and plans are under way now to move it to a prominent location near the state Capitol in time for the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth next year. “There was an older public statue of Abraham Lincoln, it was in San Francisco and it dated all the way back to 1866, but it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake,” said David Leroy, chairman of the Idaho Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and a former state attorney general and lieutenant governor.

Funds to move the statue will be raised from a penny drive by Idaho schoolchildren that will kick off in the fall, with the rededication of the monument set for Lincoln’s birthday, Feb. 12, 2009. David Brasuell, administrator of the Idaho Division of Veterans Services, said, “It’s been a part of our facility for a long time, and it’s been kind of sequestered out of the public view and hard to get to. We really want people to be able to enjoy it.” You can read my full story here at spokesmanreview.com.

A tale of two conventions

With all the brouhaha about the factional fighting and leadership battle coming up at this weekend’s Idaho state GOP convention in Sandpoint (check out Dan Popkey’s latest article here about the newest candidate for state GOP chairman, Norm Semanko), there’s hardly been a peep about the state Democratic Party convention, which starts Thursday in Boise. The reason: No big fights, no big-name speakers, and low-key plans for the state’s minority party’s annual gathering. About 500 people are expected to attend the Dems’ convention, which will have a heavy focus on training for the campaign season ahead. “This is a heads-down, let’s-get-the-work-done convention,” said Chuck Oxley, state party spokesman. “The Democrats in Idaho are already fired up – what they need is training.”

Of Libertarians and closed primaries

Here’s an oddity: Idaho Ron Paul supporters, led by former state Libertarian Party chairman and marijuana-legalization activist Ryan Davidson, have joined up with conservative Rod Beck’s bid to oust state GOP Chairman Kirk Sullivan at next weekend’s state GOP convention in Sandpoint (click below to read AP reporter John Miller’s full story). Beck, of course, is the one who’s led the effort to force Sullivan into moving to close Idaho’s Republican primary elections to all but registered Republicans. So why would supporters of Paul, a Republican congressman who was the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 1988, want to close Idaho’s GOP primary, particularly when some feel a closer affinity to the Libertarian Party? “We’re looking for someone who’s philosophically more similar to our way of thinking than Sullivan,” Davidson said. “I just feel that with the closed primary rule, you may get more libertarian-leaning Republicans elected. If Libertarians register as Republicans, they can help send more libertarian Republicans to the general election.”

Davidson says he’s a Republican now. “I mean, my philosophy is still 100 percent libertarian, but … I think the term ‘Ron Paul Republican’ is kind of going to be the new term du jour. … Unfortunately, the Libertarian Party’s been around for 30 years and it just hasn’t been able to make the jump into the mainstream consciousness as a viable political alternative.” He said, “I looked at the Republican Party as, if it’s bad, it’s only because there are bad people in it, and if we replace bad people with good people, and if we replace moderates and so on with libertarians and conservatives, then the Republican Party will be something we can be a part of.”

Minnick campaign: Sali can’t ‘bluster and shout’ vote away

Now the Minnick campaign has issued a statement in response to Sali’s press release, this time saying, “Bill Sali can’t bluster and shout his way out of his terrible decision” to vote against the timber payments extension bill. Click below to read the full statement.

Timber payments bill voted down in the House

The House on Thursday defeated legislation from Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., to continue timber payments to rural counties for four years – legislation that promised a sorely needed reprieve to rural Idaho counties and school districts, but that drew ire from House Republicans for paying the bill by charging oil companies for royalties they should have paid but didn’t because of a government error on drilling leases in the late 1990s. Among those voting against the bill was 1st District Rep. Bill Sali, whose district includes the North Idaho communities hardest hit by the lost funds, which have been coming to them under the so-called Craig-Wyden legislation and then under short-term extensions, to make up for reduced payments from logging on federal forest lands. “The people of Idaho sent Bill Sali to Washington to represent their interests,” said John Foster, spokesman for Sali’s Democratic challenger, Walt Minnick. “With one vote, he proved that he cares more about oil companies than he does about Idaho schoolchildren and local governments.” I requested Sali’s comments about the vote three hours ago and am still awaiting them; will post them when they arrive.

Otter says kids have a ‘nature deficit’

Gov. Butch Otter has declared June “Great Outdoors Month,” and said he’s troubled by a trend toward a “nature deficit” among young people who spend half as much time outdoors as children 20 years ago, and a lot more of their time on electronic media. Among the first events of the outdoors month is this Saturday’s free fishing day, when no fishing licenses are required in Idaho.

Airport display shows Statehouse renovation

The current renovation of the Idaho state Capitol – for which the capitol is closed to the public for 30 months – is being highlighted in a new display at the Boise Airport, along with the stately building’s history and future. The two-sided, three-panel display, located just past security and before the food vendors, details the history of the building from its predecessor to the current structure to the need for renovations. Among the needs: The state has grown significantly over the past century, but cramped committee hearing rooms offered little space for citizens who came to have their say on proposed new laws.

“Significant House or Senate hearings began to routinely include participating citizens filling every seat, standing in the aisles, and overflowing into the hallways,” the display notes. To illustrate that, the Capitol Commission and Idaho State Historical Society selected an Eye on Boise photo of a House Transportation & Defense Committee hearing, at which Chairwoman JoAn Wood is conducting the hearing while lobbyists, reporters, and citizens spill out the doorway of the packed hearing room, craning their necks to hear and see the action.

Also featured in the display are photos of the renovation process, behind-the-scenes peeks into portions of the capitol not usually visible, views of the soaring structure itself, historical photos and artist’s renderings of the hoped-for outcome: A renovated building with underground wings, much larger public hearing spaces, and modern technology and conveniences, but with the historical feel and original charm of the century-old domed sandstone building. Jack Kane, chairman of the Capitol Commission, said the display “will enlighten many out-of-state visitors and Idaho residents about the extraordinary work going on at the Capitol.”

Free fries in honor of J.R. Simplot

All McDonald’s restaurants in the Treasure Valley are offering a free small order of french fries with purchase during the lunch hour today, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., in honor of the late J.R. Simplot. “He gave Idaho potatoes their golden glow,” declares a gold-colored flier posted on the door of Boise-area McDonald’s. “Enjoy what he made famous.”

Simplot marketed the first commercially viable frozen french fries in the world in the early 1950s, which became a staple side order at McDonald’s. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, asked about the french-fry tribute, said, “I think there’s no secret that there was a tremendous partnership between (McDonald’s founder) Ray Kroc and Jack Simplot. That continues, as it should, long after both of them are gone.”

Simplot, Idaho’s potato baron and microchip magnate, died a week ago at the age of 99, and was remembered at a public memorial service yesterday at the Qwest Arena in downtown Boise.

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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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