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Eye On Boise

Archive for October 2008

Idaho election prediction: 80 percent turnout

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is predicting 80 percent of registered voters will turn out to vote on Tuesday. “We are expecting a record turnout in numbers, at around 700,000 ballots cast,” he said. “This is higher than the previous record set in 2004 of 612,000.” Absentee and early voting around the state has been at record levels, and continues through 5 p.m. on Monday. Ysursa said heavy turnout along with new ballot counting equipment in many counties “will make for a long evening before final results will be available.”

AG’s office: Shred campaign flier

The Idaho Attorney General’s office is recommending that anyone who got a campaign flier showing the Social Security numbers of a congressman and his wife shred it. “We’d urge ‘em to shred it,” said Deputy Attorney General Brett DeLange, who heads the office’s Consumer Protection Unit. “Don’t just throw it away, shred it.”

The release of a Social Security number doesn’t necessarily bring identity theft, but it could, DeLange said. When people’s Social Security numbers are released, he recommends they place a freeze on their credit with the three credit reporting agencies; that will prevent anyone from opening new accounts in their name without their direct permission, which is the main way identity thieves use such numbers for purposes of theft. The Consumer Protection Unit offers extensive information, including an identity theft manual and how to contact credit reporting agencies, on its Web site here.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Democratic Party has apologized for the incident, in which it sent out a campaign flier critical of GOP Rep. Bill Sali that included an illustration showing the Social Security numbers of both Sali and his wife, saying it was an “inadvertent oversight.” Jim Hansen, party executive director, said, “As executive director, I take personal responsibility for the oversight. We agree that it would have been better to black out parts of the document, even though the public agency that released them did not.” When initially contacted about the flier, Hansen defended it, but he did say, “Frankly, I didn’t think about it. We just published a piece of public information. Anybody can go and get a public document.” The document in question was a 1988 tax lien against the Salis for unpaid state income taxes.

In a public statement and apology posted on the Idaho Democratic Party Web site, Hansen, while terming the incident “regrettable,” wrote, “Of course, if Bill Sali did not want public documents of his tax delinquencies and his campaign finance delinquencies to be made public by a public agency, he should have paid his taxes on time and filed his reports on time.”

GOP state Treasurer Ron Crane today also weighed in, putting out a press release accusing both the Idaho Democratic Party and Sali’s Democratic opponent, Walt Minnick, of acting “maliciously,” though the flier came from the party, not Minnick. “In one sense I am shocked and outraged that Walt Minnick and the Democrat Party would stoop to this,” Crane declared. “But, in another sense I recognize it goes along with their liberal ideology that the end justifies the means.”

Hansen called Crane’s charge “ridiculous.” “I take full responsibility, just like our statement said, and it was completely unintentional,” he said.

Wyden: A ‘philosophical truce’ on health care

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden traveled to Boise today to tout his bipartisan health care reform legislation and to campaign for Democratic Senate candidate Larry LaRocco. Wyden’s visit came as the five candidates seeking Idaho’s open U.S. Senate seat have staked out widely differing positions on health care reform, a major issue both in the Senate race and in national politics this year.

“There’s been something of a philosophical truce emerge on the health care issue,” Wyden declared, before presiding, with LaRocco, at a roundtable meeting on health care reform with doctors, hospital officials, employers, AARP and labor representatives and more. “To fix health care, you’ve got to cover everybody, because if you don’t, the people who are uninsured shift their bill to those who are insured,” Wyden said. On that point, he asserted, “Democrats have been right.” But he said Republicans also have been right to press for a continuing role for the private sector, that the nation “shouldn’t turn health care over to the U.S. government.” “Republicans have had a good point on that,” Wyden said.

His amended “Healthy Americans Act,” S. 334, now has more than a dozen co-sponsors who are evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Among them are Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. The complex plan calls for providing all Americans the option of either keeping their present, employer-provided health care plan, or switching to new, lower-cost private-sector plans that would be made available to everyone and would cover all basic health care. Medicaid and SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, would be rolled into the new private plans, and everyone would be required to have coverage. Premiums would be subsidized for lower-income people, and employers would help fund the system; states would pay the amounts they now pay for Medicaid and SCHIP. Current tax deductibility for “Cadillac” treatments like extensive cosmetic surgery would be eliminated, to help offset costs.

Wyden said a new analysis of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office showed it would be budget-neutral within two years and would start saving money by the third year. Wyden, a Democrat who is best known in Idaho for co-sponsoring the Craig-Wyden legislation with GOP Sen. Larry Craig that brought millions in federal payments to rural communities to offset losses from decreased logging on federal lands, endorsed LaRocco as “the kind of roll-up-his-sleeves, get-to-work person” he could work with on health care reform in the Senate.

LaRocco faces four other candidates, including current Idaho GOP Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, in the race for the Senate seat Craig is vacating. Click below to read all five candidates’ positions on health care reform.

‘Blizzard of attack ads’ in Idaho race

In the final days before the election, three new campaign commercials are airing in Idaho’s hot 1st District congressional race. They include one from each of the candidates, GOP Rep. Bill Sali and Democratic challenger Walt Minnick, and a new one from an outside group, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, targeting Sali. The National Republican Congressional Committee also is continuing to air an anti-Minnick ad that the Minnick campaign has dubbed a “smear.” You can read my full story here at checking out the claims in the new ads. Here are links to watch the Sali ad, the DCCC ad and the Minnick ad.

Risch: Ulcer kept me out of Vietnam

Pressed by two of his opponents to explain why he never served in the military, GOP Senate candidate Jim Risch said today that an ulcer kept him from serving in the Vietnam War. “I had an ongoing ulcer, and they didn’t want me,” Risch told about 120 people at a Meridian Chamber of Commerce luncheon candidate forum. “I went into public service as a deputy prosecutor. Certainly that isn’t, I wouldn’t consider that as the same as a veteran, but nonetheless it was public service.”

Risch’s answer came after independent candidate Rex Rammell said Risch “ducked going to war,” and Democratic candidate Larry LaRocco, who served in the U.S. Army in Germany during the Vietnam war, noted that he’s the only veteran running, saying, “For 50 years we’ve sent a veteran to the U.S. Senate, and I think we should do that again, so that I can be there to understand and help the veterans that have served so bravely.”

Rammell said, “I support the military 100 percent. I’d have made a good warrior, by the way – if I could’ve went to the military, I would have.” Rammell, who is 47, was too young to serve in the Vietnam era. “I think Larry brings up a valid point with Jim – by all rights he ducked going to war, when he should’ve been there,” Rammell said. “He avoided going to war when Larry went. I would have gone had I been asked. This is a valid point that you need to think about.”

Members of the audience, which had initially winced at Rammell’s harsh comment toward Risch, shifted in their seats; one man muttered, “That’s a good point.”

Risch, when it was his turn to speak, said, “Let me talk just a little bit about military service. In 1968, some important things happened – No. 1, Vicki and I fell in love. We also decided that we’d get married and start a family. We also decided that I would serve my country before we started a family, so I went down and I enlisted. I was told that I could get a commission since I had a college degree, I could apply for a commission. I declined that and enlisted as an infantryman, and I was turned down for health reasons. I had an ongoing ulcer, and they didn’t want me.”

He added, “My view of all of this is colored by something that happened while I was governor. While I was governor, Vicki and I went and we participated in the funerals of the brave people that didn’t come back. And I’ve got to tell you, that is something that’ll affect you for the rest of your life. I think anybody who votes on that kind of an issue, war issue, really needs the experience of dealing with those families at those funerals. It colors your thought process.”

LaRocco, who served as a captain in the Army, lost three fellow soldiers to a car bombing by the Baader-Meinhof gang in Heidelberg, Germany in 1972.

LaRocco, Risch and Rammell joined Libertarian candidate Kent Marmon and independent “Pro-Life,” formerly Marvin Richardson, at the candidate forum, the last match-up between the five before next Tuesday’s election. During the event, Risch touted his endorsements from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business; LaRocco quoted from a Risch campaign ad while touting his own service in Congress in the early 1990s, saying, “’Liberal Larry LaRocco’ helped balance the budget and that is the truth;” Rammell said with his relatively young age, he could serve in the Senate for “24 to 30 years” while the others wouldn’t likely serve long enough to build up much seniority; and Marmon asked, “Don’t you think the two parties have had enough time to straighten things out?”

Senate candidates clash over taxes

The two leading candidates for Idaho’s open U.S. Senate seat are focusing on their differences on taxes and Social Security, and airing clashing claims in their campaign commercials. Republican Jim Risch has a new TV commercial out, airing throughout the state and in the Spokane market, that tries to paint Democratic rival Larry LaRocco as a tax-raiser. Three of the four claims in the ad, like an earlier Risch ad, are based on LaRocco’s vote in favor of a single bill when he served in Congress, the Deficit Reduction Act of 1993. “I think he just basically doesn’t have anything else,” said Jean McNeil, spokeswoman for LaRocco’s campaign. “That’s the only thing he’s got, and so he’s going with it over and over.” The ad features a blue water balloon swelling as each claim is recited, then exploding; you can watch it here. It follows two LaRocco ads hitting at Risch on Social Security and taxes. Click here for my full story at examining the ad and its claims, and all five Senate candidates’ stands on taxes.

Sali says he’ll move office if re-elected

1st District Rep. Bill Sali now says he’ll move his main district office if he’s re-elected, after the House Committee on Administration said he’s violating House rules by maintaining his office outside the 1st Congressional District. Kyle Anderson, press director for the committee, said, “The requirement is that you be in the district, or in a federal office building that serves the district.”

Sali and Democratic challenger Walt Minnick have sparred over the issue, with Sali insisting in several debates that his office location complies with House rules. In a televised debate this week, he offered to send Minnick a copy of his lease. It showed a signature of approval from the House administrative counsel. However, Anderson said it apparently hadn’t been reviewed for location. “The requirement is that it be in the district,” he said. “If he’s re-elected, Mr. Sali would be required to move the district office.” You can read my full story here at

Idaho Senate hopefuls debate, minus Risch

Four of the candidates for Idaho’s open U.S. Senate seat ripped into the fifth, GOP candidate Jim Risch, as they debated on live statewide TV on Thursday night while Risch declined to join them. “I would ask him … why he is spending so much time lying to the Idaho people,” Libertarian Kent Marmon declared, criticizing Risch’s campaign ads and public statements. “I would ask him why he thinks he has to do that in order to be elected to the U.S. Senate.” Independent candidate Pro-Life said he wants to know why Risch isn’t speaking out for banning abortion nationwide. “He said that it’s a state issue – now, you could say slavery was a state issue,” Pro-Life said.

Democrat Larry LaRocco criticized Risch’s move as governor to reduce property taxes while raising sales taxes. “People want change,” LaRocco said. “They’ve now had a chance to digest the tax shift. People are paying more sales tax. Really what he did is he gave the property tax relief to the bulk of the largest corporations in the state – we are all paying for it.” Independent Rex Rammell said, “I don’t like Jim Risch’s principles. He doesn’t follow the Republican Party’s platform – he’s not conservative.”

The four candidates squared off in a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club, and broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television. The matchup was part of the “Idaho Debates,” a series of debates in the major Idaho races that’s taken place each election cycle for the past three decades. This fall’s Idaho Debates also were co-sponsored by The Associated Press, the Idaho Statesman, KIVI-TV, Boise State Radio, the Idaho State Broadcasters Association and the Idaho Allied Daily Newspapers. Risch was the only major-party candidate to skip the debates, which also featured match-ups earlier between the candidates for both of Idaho’s seats in Congress. You can read my full story here at

Dems’ ad shows Sali with sheep

The latest campaign ad by an outside group targeting an Idaho race features an image of GOP Rep. Bill Sali with a bunch of sheep, charging he’s “hanging with the wrong flock in Washington.” The commercial, placed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, uses what’s perhaps a surprising theme to criticize a freshman congressman who’s made waves for frequently voting “no” as part of tiny minorities in the House, often to oppose major spending bills. The DCCC ad cites five of Sali’s votes against Democrat-backed legislation on everything from “pay-as-you-go” rules for House bills to offshore oil drilling, all attempting to show that Sali’s “been with the wrong flock in Washington and it’s hurting Idaho;” while the votes are cited correctly, Sali disputes the ad’s spin on them. You can read my full story here at, and see the commercial here.

Agreement and disagreement

Both Jim Risch and Larry LaRocco came out in favor of the Idaho wilderness bills proposed by Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson for the Owyhee Canyonlands and Boulder-White Cloud mountains, respectively, during a debate tonight on KTVB-TV. Rex Rammell, an independent candidate for the same Senate seat Risch and LaRocco are seeking, opposed both, saying, “I’m on Bill Sali’s side when it comes to the environment – or most of the other issues, by the way.”

Risch said his seven-month term as governor proved he can bring about change. “This country needs an overhaul. I’ve done change before. I know how to do change – I’ve been successful at change,” he said. LaRocco said he’d bring “true balance” to the congressional delegation. Rammell said, “I did not leave the Republican Party, they left me and millions more conservatives just like me.” Pro-Life said, “The reason we are in this mess is because we have turned our back on God. If I were elected, of course I would speak up for God.”

LaRocco, who has held numerous debates with Rammell which Risch declined to attend, assailed Risch for skipping the traditional League of Women Voters-Idaho Press Club debate that’s scheduled for this Thursday night, to be broadcast live across the state on Idaho Public Television. Four of the candidates, including Libertarian Kent Marmon, will participate, but Risch thus far has declined. Risch also skipped an earlier debate at the College of Idaho that featured the other four candidates. Risch, who debated the others a week ago in Lewiston, said, “This is our second, we’ll have another one a week from today. I hope you’ll all join us.” The forum he’s attending next week will take place during a Meridian Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Rammell leaves stage during debate

Less than 15 minutes into tonight’s live debate between four candidates for Idaho’s open U.S. Senate seat, independent candidate Rex Rammell took ill and left the stage. “Mr. Rammell is not feeling well,” moderator Dee Sarton informed the audience. Just moments earlier, Rammell had given an opening statement in which he said, “I figure it’s a pleasure for me to stand with a bunch of old war horses, and I’d like to emphasize the word old. Jim Risch and Larry LaRocco have been in politics for over three-quarters of a century.” He also said, “Tonight, you’ll find out who the real Rex Rammell is.”

After Rammell left the stage, Risch and Larocco got into a heated back-and-forth exchange over LaRocco’s allegation that Risch benefited to the tune of $53,000 from the property tax reduction he pushed through as governor, which Risch termed “a lie” and “absolute nonsense.” He said “I’ve never paid $53,000 or anywhere near that in property taxes. I pay less than $10,000 in property taxes. It’s outrageous for you to stand here and talk falsely like that.”

At that, the candidate named “Pro-Life” said, “Let’s all have a little prayer here in your heart that Rex can get out here and be all right.”

A few minutes later, as the candidates were discussing energy, Rammell returned. “My apologies to the audience,” he said. “I have been campaigning quite hard and I put myself in the hospital a couple weeks ago, and I haven’t completely recovered. Speaking of energy, I could use a little extra tonight.”

Wood River Journal closes its doors

The Sun Valley area, which long has had two competing weekly newspapers, is losing one, as the Wood River Journal ceases publication with its Oct. 22 edition. Express Publishing Inc. of Ketchum, publisher of the rival Idaho Mountain Express and Guide, has purchased the assets of the Wood River Journal. The Express will continue to publish twice a week; the Wood River Journal name will now go on what previously was called the “Valley” section of the Wednesday editions of the Express. The Express also has acquired archived copies of the Journal and its predecessors and its online presence. Click here for the full story from the Idaho Mountain Express.

LaRocco, Risch spar over ads

Democratic Idaho Senate candidate Larry LaRocco has two new TV ads out criticizing Republican rival Jim Risch on social security and taxes. While the ads aren’t technically inaccurate, the Risch campaign objects to their claims as “half-truths,” while LaRocco says they’re spot-on. “I stand by the ads,” LaRocco said. “I think they properly portray what his policies and actions have been. We’ve been very careful about that, very careful about that.” One of the ads features a sober, kitchen-table discussion; the other is a cartoonish ad in which a carnival barker’s voice criticizes Risch, who is shown as a cartoon figure with a bobbing head. Both can be seen online here; here’s a link to my full story at

A look at Senate, 1st CD races

Larry Craig has represented Idaho in Washington, D.C., for 28 years. Now his shadow falls over the race to replace him, as five candidates face off for a rare open seat in the U.S. Senate and a chance to launch a new chapter in the state’s leadership. Here are links to my full stories over the weekend on the Senate race and the 1st District congressional race.

Jury foreman haunted by Duncan trial

The foreman of the jury that sentenced killer and child molester Joseph Duncan to death has “no regrets” about the unanimous verdict, which jurors reached in just three hours. “To me, the evidence was overwhelming,” said Chris Robbins, speaking publicly about his experience for the first time. “I truly have no regrets about the decision we made. … I hope that our decision stands and I hope that his time on death row is limited.” The young father and health care worker was immersed in the dark, sadistic world of Joseph Duncan for nearly a month, spending lonely nights in a Boise hotel 120 miles from his family, whom he saw only on weekends. Watching the Olympics on TV was the only welcome distraction. Forbidden to talk about the horrors he saw in court each day, even to other jurors, he spent “a lot of sleepless nights in Boise.”

It took weeks after the verdict before he was ready to talk about it, and he debated long and hard before deciding to share his story. He opted to tell it to The Spokesman-Review, because we were the “least pushy” in asking, and because our newspaper serves North Idaho, including the Wolf Lodge Bay area where the crimes began when Duncan invaded the Groene family’s home with murder, kidnapping and torture on his mind. Robbins hopes the dark lessons he learned on the jury can help others keep their kids safe from predators like Duncan. He feels deep sympathy for the father of the murdered children, Steve Groene. The best moment of the case, Robbins said, was when Groene “came out and thanked us at the end, because I felt like we did justice for him and his family at that point.” You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

GARVEE bond sale delayed due to market woes

The Idaho Transportation Department has announced it’ll delay the sale of $116 million in GARVEE bonds for major transportation projects, which lawmakers authorized this year, until the nation’s financial markets stabilize. “It is the cautious and appropriate approach to take,” said ITD Director Pamela Lowe. GARVEE stands for Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle, a special type of bonding authorized by Congress that allows states to borrow against their future federal highway allocations to pay the up-front costs to build big projects. The bonds were scheduled to be sold in November, but the department determined that market conditions aren’t favorable for such a sale. The delay means replacement of the Orchard Interchange on I-84 and three projects including bridge and culvert replacements on U.S. 30 are being placed on hold, though Lowe said if the markets recover enough to allow the bond sales within the next few months, delays would be minimal. Construction on the Orchard Interchange was scheduled to begin next year. Click below to read the full announcement from ITD.

‘And that’s coming from a child’

Last night at dinner, my 15-year-old son shared his opinion of all the campaign commercials that have been cluttering up the TV airwaves. Most, he said, seem serious and appropriate. But he singled out two that he said rubbed him the wrong way: Bill Sali’s “Walt’s Dance” spot, which features a greasy-haired actor doing a disco dance while a narrator criticizes Democratic opponent Walt Minnick; and Democrat Larry LaRocco’s new ad against Republican Jim Risch, which features a carnival barker’s voice criticizing Risch’s tax policies and a cartoon-like figure of Risch with bobbing head. Both, my son said, “seem really unprofessional and childish – and that’s coming from a child.”

The political swirl…

Here’s a link to my full story in today’s Spokesman-Review on the developments in the Sali-Minnick race yesterday, from Sali agreeing to change a misleading claim in an anti-Minnick TV ad to a clash between the candidates on use of congressional staff in the campaign. This morning, Sali’s “Veterans for Sali” group held a press conference to object to a new issue ad being run by an outside group, Patriot Majority West, that’s critical of three of Sali’s votes in Congress on veterans’ issues. “Tell Bill Sali to stop voting against our veterans and their families,” the ad says; you can watch it here.

The 527 group, one of several headed by Democratic political consultant Craig Varoga, was formerly called Citizens for Progress, and its financial backers include labor unions and the Democratic Governors Association. It’s also currently running an ad in New Mexico critical of Darren White, a county sheriff and GOP candidate for Congress there.

At the “Veterans for Sali” event, Marcel Bujarski, a U.S. Coast Guard retiree from Meridian, joined other retired vets for doughnuts and coffee this morning and spoke out for Sali. “I know that Bill Sali will always support a strong military,” Bujarski said. The Sali campaign didn’t dispute the ad’s claim that Sali voted against the three veterans’ bills; it said instead that two of the bills contained other issues that prompted Sali’s opposition, and on the third, that he objected to legislation requiring longer breaks between deployments to Iraq because it “undermines the ability of the president to act as commander-in-chief” and Sali saw it as “an attempt to withdraw troops from Iraq, rather than actually implement a thoughtful rest-between-deployments policy.”

Political fireworks at campaign forum

If today’s Boise City Club forum with 1st District Congressman Bill Sali and his Democratic challenger, Walt Minnick, is any indication, the airwaves should be cooking this Sunday night when the two debate on live statewide TV. The two clashed during the luncheon forum over everything from earmarks to energy, but the sharpest clash came when Minnick portrayed Sali as running afoul of the rules, from disclosure in a campaign ad to having his congressional office outside his 1st Congressional District. Here’s the exchange:

Minnick said, “Congressman Sali has been unable to set up his office in the right district, he has used his office as a base for campaign staff,” at which point Sali interjected, “Whoa!” Minnick continued, “He’s been late in his financial reports and he’s just had to take down his latest attack ad on me because it violates the FEC requirements for what you have to have in the way of disclosure in a television ad.” Minnick said as a CEO, he takes “personal responsibility” for the operations at his company. “We can expect a congressman to take personal responsibility for complying with the law that regulates the operation of a campaign and his office,” he said.

Sali responded, “Well, we didn’t take down our TV ad, it’s still going to go up. We did change one little citation on there because we had a miscommunication between our office and our media guy and he put the wrong thing in there.” “It was illegal,” Minnick interjected, but Sali continued without pausing, “This charge that you’re making about me using my official business office to do campaign work is absolutely false and I’m going to demand right here and right now that you take it back!” That statement was met with laughter from the audience. “Second thing, the place where I have my office is the same exact room where Butch Otter had his office, it’s right across the street from where Helen Chenoweth had her office, and I think Larry LaRocco before that, I haven’t checked back before that time period. It’s not in the 1st Congressional District, because it’s in the same building as (2nd District Rep.) Mike Simpson’s office, it’s close to the senator’s office, and it’s right there by the capitol building.” Sali would have continued, but the moderator moved on to the next question.

Candidates clash over global warming

An interesting point in the Lewiston debate between three of the candidates for Larry Craig’s Senate seat came when they marked out sharply differing stances on global warming. Here’s what the three – Democrat Larry LaRocco, Independent Rex Rammell and Republican Jim Risch – had to say:

LaRocco: “I worked at U.S. Geothermal down in Malta so that I could learn firsthand what a company is doing right here in Idaho in using our resources and cutting back on fossil fuels, and that’s what we have to do is reduce the carbon emissions. … We can be a leader right here in this state. It’s my estimate that we could create 14,000 new jobs in Idaho just by embracing alternative sources of energy, and that’s exciting for the future generations of our state, to have new jobs and new energy. I think Kyoto is past us and we need to get beyond that. … We are going to have bilateral relations with other countries and we need in our trade agreements with them to make sure that they’re not polluting our planet and we can hold their feet to the fire by doing that. I think it’s a serious issue, I embrace it, and I think we can tackle it and create jobs right here in Idaho by looking at alternative sources of energy and moving that forward with an aggressive program. That’s why I’ve said that we need a 100-day summit after we convene in the United States Senate in 2009.”

Rammell: “Is it such a strange concept that the earth may actually go through natural cycles? … I’m so sick and tired of global warming. … I’ll tell you, McCain is as bad as Obama. If we continue to support this lie that global warming is going to destroy this world, we’re going to destroy our economy before it gets a chance. I do not support this myth that man is making that much of a change. In fact I saw some NASA research that said most of the change is very natural. It’s very typical for climates to go through these sort of changes. We need to stop with the global warming myths, they can’t prove it, they continue to try. There’s as much evidence on the other side to refute it. We’ve got bigger problems than global warming, we need to solve the problems in our economy. You elect Rex Rammell as a senator and we’ll work on the real issues.”

Risch: “On global warming, there is clear evidence that the earth is warming. It’s been warming over the last 60,000 years. Currently obviously we’re going through a warming cycle. There is no question when you look at the polar ice cap what’s happening, there is no question about what’s happening to the glaciers in Glacier National Park and around the world. The issue is, is what is causing this and how quickly is it happening. I read stories on both sides of that. I think that we do have to get serious about stopping putting carbon into the air. Whether that’s going to do any good or not, we’ll see. We need to develop nuclear aggressively to stop continuing to put carbon into the air.”

Guv helps raise $70K for March of Dimes

The March of Dimes held what it billed as its “inaugural Blue Jean Ball” on Friday at the Star, Idaho ranch of Gov. Butch Otter. Sponsored by the Employers Insurance Fund, the event raised more than $70,000 through ticket sales and silent and live auctions; the proceeds will go to research, education and community outreach regarding premature infants. The organization said the funds will help prevent premature births, and noted that the rate of premature birth has increased 29 percent in the past two decades, and the average hospital cost for each prematurely born baby is more than $79,000.

It’s Boise’s first snow

Big, fat flakes are falling thickly across the city and there’s nearly an inch of snow on the railing outside my window – and it’s only Oct. 10th! Nevertheless, it’s Boise’s first snow of the season, and it’s a pretty good one. Oddly, North Idaho is basking under sunny skies.

Politics heat up, leaves turn

There have been multiple debates already in the race for retiring U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s seat, but tonight in Lewiston was the first one where GOP candidate Jim Risch joined the other candidates debating. At the three-way matchup between Risch, Democrat Larry LaRocco and independent Rex Rammell, hosted by the Lewiston Morning Tribune, Moscow-Pullman Daily News and KLEW-TV, much of the focus was on the economy; the candidates also sparred over energy, earmarks and more, with Rammell calling global warming a “myth.” Click below to read the full story from AP reporter Todd Dvorak (scroll down to the link to “the rest of this entry”).

There were lots of other political developments in the past couple of days, too. 1st District GOP Rep. Bill Sali held a press conference today claiming his Democratic challenger, Walt Minnick, is to blame for high gas prices because Minnick served on the board of the Wilderness Society, which Sali called a “radical environmental group.” Minnick fired back with a list of Sali votes against alternative energy and in favor of “big oil.” Minnick released a “Republicans for Minnick” TV commercial; Jim Risch released a commercial suggesting he’ll hold scoundrels accountable for the financial crisis and Larry LaRocco said he’d called for a criminal investigation into the crisis two days before Risch’s ad started; and Risch also launched an attack ad against LaRocco, apparently in response to the outside group Majority Action’s attack ad against Risch. I haven’t even had a chance to watch all these ads all the way through yet.

BSU’s College Democrats held a voter registration drive and released a legal opinion critical of warnings for students posted on the Idaho Secretary of State’s Web site; “Idaho law simply requires residency in one’s current county for 30 days, period,” said the opinion from attorney Tom Lloyd. “It does not require students to make any affirmation or speculation that they will remain here in future years.” He encouraged students to bring to the polls their photo ID and a piece of mail at least 30 days old showing their address to fight against any challenges. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State’s “Attention College Students” Web page was altered, to change a statement that previously read, “Registering to vote is a serious matter which, if abused, can subject you to criminal penalties.” It now reads, “Registering to vote is a serious matter which should only be done after proper reflection.”

I was over in Sun Valley to speak at the Idaho Judicial Conference, which included a session on courts and the media. I found the 100 or so Idaho judges in attendance thoughtful, interested, and engaged on issues ranging from cameras in the courtroom to access to records to how best to handle high-visibility cases. It was highly constructive and worthwhile. On the way, driving through the brown, sagebrush hills, it just took a turn, a rise and a drop to hit a tiny valley filled with dazzling fall colors, the brightly hued leaves swaying in the breeze. The burst of color was startling and beautiful. It reminded me of the beauty of this season; even in the ugliness that sometimes characterizes politics, it’s all actually part of a beautiful process, the way our system lets us take a role in governing ourselves by making informed choices at the polls. So everybody, watch the debates, learn about the issues, pay attention. Soon the leaves will fall, the votes will be counted and winter will set in, but right now, it’s the season.

Outside group’s ad targets Risch

A new political commercial targeting Idaho Senate candidate Jim Risch isn’t from any of his four opponents – it’s from a national group that’s also run lots of ads against Oregon GOP Sen. Gordon Smith. The group is closely tied to the Democratic Party and says it’s diving into races where it can highlight “Republican hypocrisy.” It targets Risch for raising sales taxes, in something of a counterpoint to his earlier campaign ad boasting he cut property taxes. Actually he did both.

Bill Buck, executive director of Majority Action, the Washington, D.C.-based group that placed the ad with a big ad buy throughout Idaho, including the Spokane market, said, “We are an issue advocacy organization. We do not in any way advocate any sort of electoral outcome. Our mission is to shine a spotlight on people’s records and to make sure that their constituents are aware of those.”

Majority Action is funded by “a mixture of progressive organizations, individuals and organized labor,” Buck said. Big Democratic donor George Soros donated to the group when it started up two years ago; major funders in the current election cycle include labor unions. Risch, Idaho’s current lieutenant governor, is the Republican nominee running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Larry Craig. He faces Democrat Larry LaRocco, Libertarian Kent Marmon, and independents Rex Rammell, and “Pro-Life,” who legally changed his name from Marvin Richardson. You can read my full story here at

Idaho students face voting obstacles

Idaho ranks as one of the most restrictive states in the nation for college students looking to register and vote at their college addresses, according to a national study. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School surveyed all states’ election laws and rules for student voters and found that only Idaho and Tennessee require students to have plans to stay in the state permanently, aside from school. “Frankly, I question the constitutionality of this rule,” said Wendy Weiser, director of voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center. “Many students are in a situation where they don’t know where they’re going after school – for all intents and purposes, this is their only residence.” She added, “To say that you actually have to have a definite plan to remain in Idaho means that all the people who haven’t determined what their future plans are … are for all intents and purposes disenfranchised.”

The practice is different in Washington. “Basically, the attorney general’s office has told us that students have the ability to either register at their home address and get an absentee ballot, or they can register on their campus by using their campus address if that’s where their residence is,” said Lindsay Pryor, voter outreach coordinator for the Elections Division of the Washington secretary of state’s office. That’s how it works across the country, according to the Brennan Center, and a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the 1970s upheld the rights of college students to be treated no differently from any other voters.

In one key case from 1979, a mostly white Texas county required students at a mostly black state college to fill out special questionnaires in order to register, querying them about their plans after graduation, their home address listed with the college, and more; the court put a stop to that. “Idaho does not do that,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “The Idaho law on residency is neutral – it’s anybody, a student, a non-student.” But, he said, “Residency is unfortunately not necessarily black and white. There are limits, and we stand by what we have put out in writing on how you define residency.” You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Federal court seats new judge

Judge Ron Bush will have his official investiture ceremony today as a federal magistrate judge, at 1:30 at the federal courthouse in Boise, Courtroom 2. The public is invited. Bush has served as an Idaho 6th District judge since 2003, and previously was a partner with Hawley Troxell Ennis & Hawley in Pocatello and Boise, practicing media law, business law and personal injury law.

The federal court in Idaho also has a new chief magistrate judge: Judge Candy Dale. Dale, who took office as a federal magistrate judge in March and is the first female judge in that position in Idaho, succeeds former Chief Magistrate Judge Larry Boyle.

Two polls, two different results

This must be how we know we have a hot race in Idaho for the 1st Congressional District: Two new polls are out today, showing opposite results. One, conducted by Greg Smith & Associates Sept. 25-30 of 200 likely Idaho voters, showed incumbent Rep. Bill Sali leading Democratic challenger Walt Minnick, 51 percent to 39 percent. The other, conducted by Harstad Strategic Research Inc. Sept. 25-28 of 400 registered Idaho voters, showed Minnick leading Sali, 44 percent to 38 percent.

The Greg Smith poll was commissioned by the Idaho Republican Party, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 7 percent. The Harstad poll was commissioned by the Minnick campaign and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. Smith said his poll shows that “Bill Sali is ahead – he is ahead, period.” Harstad said their poll, which also showed Sali with 38 percent favorability ratings to 41 percent unfavorable, “reveals Sali’s unique vulnerability.”

S-R announces layoffs

The Spokesman-Review has announced the layoffs of 21 newsroom employees and four to six newsroom managers. The news hit a stunned staff at a meeting this afternoon in which the paper’s editor, Steve Smith, also announced his resignation, effective Friday. “This is not going to be a fun meeting,” Smith told the newsroom staff. “There’s no way to sugar-coat it.” In accordance with an existing union contract, a list of potential layoffs, of those least senior within certain classifications of the newsroom, was read; over the next two weeks, voluntary resignations, with severance, will be sought to replace some of those layoffs. Smith, who has served as the S-R’s editor for more than six years, said, “The decision to resign was mine. I’ve told you all before how I felt about a layoff of this scope. It was not a layoff that I personally could support or sustain, and so I am resigning. If it’s any consolation, it saves a couple of positions, which saves a few reporters, but that really isn’t the point. The point is it’s time.”

As a 17-year employee of the paper, I’m not on the layoff list, but many of my esteemed colleagues up north are. After reading the list today, Smith told the staff, “I hired most of you people, and I hired you because you’re absolutely the best I could find anywhere. And saying goodbye to you is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I am so sorry. You have my apologies. If there was any other way, I would have found it, and God knows I’ve tried.”

State to AIG customers: Be wary

Idaho state Department of Insurance Director Bill Deal is warning AIG insurance policy holders to be wary of pitches to switch their insurance. “AIG’s insurance companies are financially sound, with substantially more in assets than they need to pay all valid present and projected claims,” Deal said in a statement today. “Don’t make any rash decisions if you have a policy issued by an AIG insurance company. If you have a life insurance or annuity policy and someone tells you to replace it because of the troubles at AIG’s parent company, we encourage you to call us immediately.” He added, “If someone tells you to replace any policy because an AIG insurance company is in trouble and may not be able to pay your claim, that is not only untrue, it is against the law. Call us. Some regulators have received reports that this is happening. Our job is to protect consumers from improper sales practices.” He noted that replacing, cancelling or liquidating insurance policies or annuities can have hidden costs and tax consequences, which are legally required to be disclosed to consumers. Click below for some FAQ’s from Deal’s department about the AIG situation.

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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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