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Eye On Boise

Archive for April 2010

They don’t mince words…

Here are some samples of what you’ll hear when candidates Vaughn Ward and Raul Labrador appear together on tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public TV:

Ward: “It’s not about that my wife works in I.T., it’s that Fannie Mae was allowed to do certain things that shouldn’t have happened, and Congress backstopped them all the way.”

Labrador: “What I’ve learned is that if you’re willing to say lies about small things, you’re willing to say lies about big things.”

Ward: “I’m not lying to anybody, and I find offensive that others would say that. That doesn’t matter, that’s just noise in the campaign. What’s important here is accept responsibility, take corrective action and move forward.”

Labrador: “I’m actually an expert in immigration law, I understand what the problem is, it’s a huge issue, I know where it’s broken, I know how to fix it.”

Ward: “If you want to send somebody to Congress who’s going to go fight against this problem, why send someone who defends illegal aliens? I didn’t say it was wrong. I just said that you have a choice.”

The GOP primary ballot for the 1st Congressional District actually will have five names on it, but two, Allan Salzberg and Michael Chadwick, have withdrawn; the other, Harley Brown, is a frequent candidate for various offices who maintains he was called by God to become president of the United States. The winner of the Republican primary will face 1st District Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick in November.

Ward, Labrador clash on ‘Idaho Reports’ tonight

Wow - on tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television - the last show of the season - 1st District GOP congressional candidates Vaughn Ward and Raul Labrador appear together and take questions from a panel on which I join Jim Weatherby, Kevin Richert, Steve Crump and host Thanh Tan - and things get pretty hot. The exchange is the first of three segments of tonight’s half-hour show, which also includes discussion of the upcoming “Idaho Debates,” and Q-&-A with Col. Tim Marsano about the upcoming deployment of the Idaho Army National Guard’s 116th BCT to Iraq. One thing this very interesting and lively exchange between the two candidates makes clear: Their upcoming debate on May 11th, which will air live statewide on Idaho Public TV at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific, is not to be missed.

 ”Idaho Reports” airs tonight at 8, is rebroadcast Sunday at 11 a.m. Mountain time/10 a.m. Pacific time, and can be viewed online here. The program also will be broadcast on the radio Saturday at 10 a.m. on KISU-FM.

Senator seeking 3rd term backs 2-term limit

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo has posted his responses to a “Tea Party Boise” candidate survey on his campaign website, including this oddity: Crapo told the group he “strongly agree(s)” with the statement, “I support term limits for Senators (2) and members of the House (3).”

Here’s what’s odd: Crapo is currently seeking election to his third term in the U.S. Senate. If he strongly supports a limit of just two terms, does that mean he opposes his own re-election?

Class-action prison violence lawsuit can proceed

A federal judge has ruled that a class-action lawsuit over violence at Idaho’s privately-operated state prison, the Idaho Correctional Center, can proceed, after the prison’s operator, Corrections Corp. of America, tried to stop the case from expanding beyond the first named victim. U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled that amending the case to include other inmates was a more efficient way to deal with the claims rather than bringing 24 or more individual lawsuits; click below to read the full story from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Four file as write-ins for primary

Four candidates have filed as write-ins for the May 25 primary election in time for this week’s deadline, including one for governor and three for seats in the state House. If candidates don’t file as write-ins, then any write-in votes for them don’t count, no matter how many they get. The deadline to file was Tuesday. Here are the write-in candidates:

* Republican Fred Nichols of Nampa filed for governor.
* Democrat David Larsen of Coeur d’Alene filed for the District 5 House seat now held by Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, who is otherwise unopposed.
* Democrat Sheri Burke of Caldwell filed for the District 11 House seat now held by Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, who also has a Republican challenger in the primary and a Libertarian challenger in the general election.
* Republican David G. Bowen of Pocatello filed for the District 30 House seat held by Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, who is otherwise unopposed.

Write-in candidates for statewide offices need at least 1,000 votes to become their party’s nominee, though in Nichols’ case, he’d also have to beat the other six GOP candidates already on the ballot, including incumbent Gov. Butch Otter. Write-ins for the Legislature who face no primary opponents needs just 50 voters to write their name in, to qualify as their party’s nominee for the general election.

New Yorker challenging Crapo still hasn’t been here, doesn’t plan to before primary

Brooklyn, N.Y. attorney William Bryk, who’s running in the Democratic primary for the seat now held by GOP U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, still hasn’t been to Idaho - or anywhere west of Buffalo, N.Y, he told Eye on Boise. Nor does he plan to visit between now and the primary election on May 25th.

Why not? “Because, for one thing, at the moment I have a law practice here that’s moderately busy and my clients have paid me some money, and they expect me to be around to do things like show up in court,” Bryk said in a telephone interview. “What I have been doing is responding to questionnaires from all manner of people, most of which seem to deal largely with guns and gay marriage and abortion. … I haven’t heard from a single union or any similar kind of left-of-center or progressive or union group. But one can always hope.”

He’s raised no campaign funds, and all he’s spent is “the $500 that I invested in paying the filing,” Bryk said. So, was it worth it? “Oh, absolutely,” he said. “Because first of all, much to my surprise, the Democrats will have a choice in the primary and one way or another the voters will definitely have a choice come November. That was why I became a candidate in the first place. The absence of opposition, well, that’s not there now, in fact even Sen. Crapo has a primary. So I think to that extent I’ve succeeded.” Bryk added that while he doesn’t know the other candidates, he figures his long-distance campaign helped draw attention to the fact that Crapo went unopposed six years ago but for a write-in challenger.

Tom Sullivan of Tetonia also is running in the Democratic primary, and real estate broker Claude “Skip” Davis III of Weiser is challenging Crapo in the GOP primary.

It’s an inflatable…

It turns out that GOP gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell’s 16-foot green T-Rex is an inflatable, like the big balloons you see in parades. Asked where he got it, he said, “I don’t know, New York or someplace. We got him online.” The big dinosaur, with its big, pointy teeth and claws, clutches something white in its right paw could perhaps be a submachine gun, or then again could be a movie camera (it’s looking for publicity?). Rammell wasn’t sure what the dinosaur’s holding.

The candidate said he got the idea when a north-central Idaho supporter’s family wrote a song about him, nicknaming him “T-Rex,” that said, “T-Rex is going to take a bite out of the feds when he becomes governor.” Rammell liked it so much he’s now got T-shirts and ballcaps with the image, along with the big, green inflatable he plans to pull behind his campaign RV on a trailer for rallies and parades. “We need a tough governor to stand up to the feds,” Rammell said. “T-Rex represents toughness - he’s got some teeth. That’s me. I kinda like that image.”

Said Rammell, a former elk rancher who’s been making waves lately with his outspoken support of the militia movement and his call for the state to simply ignore federal laws and mandates, said, “Nobody can accuse me of not being outside the box - I run a very unorthodox campaign. I’d be that kind of governor, to be right honest with you.” He’s among four Republicans challenging Gov. Butch Otter in the primary; the others are Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman, amateur comedian Ron “Pete” Peterson, and Tamara Wells of Post Falls.

Mansfield signs on as Labrador’s new press secty

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican U.S. House candidate Raul Labrador has a new press secretary ahead of the May 25 primary. Dennis Mansfield, a conservative activist and businessman who volunteered on the late Republican U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth’s 1st Congressional District primary race in 1994, was asked by Labrador Wednesday to fill the volunteer role. Mansfield, who also helped in 2006 on former U.S. Rep. Bill Sali’s campaign, says he told Labrador he “had the time, so let’s do what we did with Helen, let’s do what we did with Bill.” Labrador faces Vaughn Ward in the GOP primary for the House seat representing western and northern Idaho. The winner will face U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick, an Idaho Democrat, in November. Labrador trails in fundraising, bringing in $35,763 in the latest quarter; Ward had $167,610, while Minnick led with $231,000.

Politics inside the party…

In last year’s city elections, there was some controversy about county GOP central committees making endorsements in nonpartisan city races; few did, and in Bonneville County the move backfired, and the endorsements were either declined or the endorsed candidates lost big. Now comes news that the Ada County Republican Central Committee is taking things a bit further: Officially endorsing two incumbent Republican county commissioners over their Republican challengers in the midst of this year’s primary race, because the committee didn’t feel the challengers - both former longtime GOP elected officials - are Republican enough. You can read reporter Cynthia Sewell’s full story here in today’s Idaho Statesman.

‘Idaho Debates’ kick off Tuesday

Candidates facing off in Idaho’s May 25 election for the Idaho Supreme Court and in primary races for Congress and governor will debate live on statewide television as part of the “Idaho Debates,” starting next Tuesday with the two candidates in a contested race for the Idaho Supreme Court, incumbent Justice Roger Burdick and challenger Judge John Bradbury. The series of debates, sponsored by the Idaho Press Club, the Idaho League of Women Voters and an array of partners and aired live statewide on Idaho Public Television, will be held before a live audience for the first time, in the new Capitol Auditorium in the west wing of the state capitol basement.

Gov. Butch Otter today declined to participate in the gubernatorial debate, which will feature GOP challengers Rex Rammell and Sharon Ullman, and will take place on May 18. Otter, in a letter from his campaign manager, Debbie Field, said he objected to criteria limiting the debate to those candidates who are actively campaigning and would prefer that all those listed on the ballot be present, though at an earlier GOP Lincoln Day event attended by candidates, when Otter was asked by Rammell if he’d debate him, Otter responded with a flat “No.” Click below to read Field’s letter.

GOP candidates for the 2nd District congressional seat, including incumbent Mike Simpson, will debate on May 9th, and  Republican candidates for the 1st District congressional seat, including Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward, will debate on May 11th.

“The IDAHO DEBATES are the only live televised statewide events that will be broadcast during the primary season,” said host Thanh Tan of Idaho Public TV. “In many instances, these debates serve as the only way Idahoans from all corners of the state can hear from the candidates vying to represent them.” There will be 130 seats in the auditorium available to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors will open May 4 at 7:00 p.m. for the 8 p.m. (Mountain time) Supreme Court debate; cell phones, signs and outbursts such as applause or derisive shouts are prohibited during the debates. Here’s the full schedule:

* Supreme Court, Tuesday May 4th, airs at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific
* 2nd CD, Sunday, May 9th, 7 p.m.
* 1st CD, Tuesday, May 11th, airs at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific
* Governor’s race, Tuesday, May 18th, airs at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific

Idaho’s high court decries campaign claims

The contested race for an Idaho Supreme Court seat has heated up, with the court itself now issuing statements disputing claims from the challenger, Lewiston Judge John Bradbury. The court says it’s part of a protocol adopted last fall for the court to set straight any false claims about the system; Bradbury says they’re after him, while his opponent says he’s deceiving Idahoans about how the courts work. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com

ITD: Remove studded tires by Saturday

Studded snow tires must be off vehicles in Idaho by Saturday, the Idaho Transportation Department warned today. They’ve already been illegal for a month in Utah, Oregon and Washington, while Montana lets studded tires be run through May 31 and in Wyoming they’re legal all year. In Idaho, studded tires are legal only from Oct. 1 to April 30.

What says ‘serious message’ more than giant dinosaur?

GOP gubernatorial challenger Rex Rammell, who’s campaigned for office in the past by driving a giant, decorated RV around the state that doubles as a rolling campaign billboard, plans to unveil a new gimmick tomorrow: A giant model of a 16-foot tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur, “which will be pulled behind the Rammell for Governor RV throughout Idaho,” the Rammell campaign said in an announcement. The large model will “be used to communicate his states’ rights message about stopping the federal government from usurping state authority,” according to an announcement of tomorrow’s press conference/dinosaur unveiling.

It added, “Pulling a 16-foot green Tyrannosaurus Rex will surely be criticized by the Otter camp and others, but the Rammell campaign thinks the move will draw attention to Dr. Rammell’s serious states’ rights message.”

Springtime in Boise…

Oh, my. We had grape-sized hail today. We had wild, whipping winds. We had warm, soft air, turning cooler and cooler. We had thunder and lightning. And now, glints of brilliant sunshine and double rainbows, followed by  more sudden rainstorms under a roiling sky. It’s springtime in Boise…

Ward’s taxes now all paid

Vaughn Ward has paid his property taxes in full on a lot he owns in Valley County, including a late fee of $34. “There are no excuses,” Ward, a GOP candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat, told Eye on Boise. “Within minutes after I found out about it, my wife called over to Valley County and made the payment immediately, this morning.” The move came after Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reported this morning that taxes on a half-acre undeveloped lot in Cascade owned by Ward and his wife, Kirsten, were overdue this year and also were paid late in 2004, 2006 and 2007.

Ward said “there was some confusion” about the half-year payment and its due date, which was in December, but said, “It’s done, it’s over, and you know, I’m not making any excuses. It is what it is.”

Meanwhile, incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick’s campaign said Minnick may have paid late fees on his property taxes in Ada County in 2001 and 2002. “I haven’t been able to confirm that, but Walt remembers something like that happening,” said campaign spokesman John Foster. “It happened at the end of 2001, beginning of 2002, and he had a different deadline in his head than what was actually on paper. But it hasn’t happened since.” He added, “When people have very busy lives, whether it’s running a company or running for Congress, you occasionally miss things. But as long as folks make it right, I think that’s what voters care about. It sounds like that might have been what happened today, according to the news.”

Ada County Treasurer Cecil Ingram said late property tax payments and the accompanying late fees are “more common than we’d really like.” He said, “The main thing is we are held to the law, and the law says if you don’t pay your taxes, then there’s fees and interest attached to those particular payments. It is quite common.” However, he said, “We don’t turn those delinquencies in to rating bureaus; it doesn’t come out showing that you’ve missed your payment. … It does not affect a credit rating.” When property taxes are three years delinquent, the county moves into a tax deed process to sell the property for back taxes.

Ward files new financial disclosure

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican U.S. House hopeful Vaughn Ward filed a new financial disclosure with the U.S. House detailing about $110,000 worth of family assets he hadn’t reported last year. U.S. House candidates and members must disclose details about most assets, including from spouses, worth more than $1,000. In Ward’s 2009 disclosure, he listed property in Cascade and a home in Virginia. But he omitted some assets, including those of his wife, Kirsten, saying he believed they were exempt. In Monday’s new report, he detailed her $78,840 Fidelity 401K; stock in her employer, Fannie Mae, worth less than $1,000; and his $31,189 Thrift 401K from his work at the Central Intelligence Agency. Ward’s spokesman, Ryan O’Barto, said lawyers advised him the CIA account is exempt from disclosure, but the campaign reported it in the interest of transparency.

Popkey: Ward’s property taxes overdue

Congressional candidate Vaughn Ward is delinquent on his Valley County property taxes for the fourth time since 2004, Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports today at idahostatesman.com. Popkey reports that Ward and his wife, Kirsten, own a half-acre undeveloped lot in Cascade, across a road from Lake Cascade. The lot was assessed at $96,700 for 2009. Ward recorded his deed in 2002 and has said he hopes to build a home there. The first half taxes of $414.22 for 2009 were due Dec. 20 and have not been paid. With penalties and 1 percent monthly interest, the Wards now owe $434.80. The Wards also were late paying their Valley County taxes for tax years 2004, 2006 and 2007, Popkey reports; you can read his full post here.

Justice Jones responds to Justice Burdick’s challenger

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones, who is unopposed for re-election this year, has issued a two-page statement responding to claims made by another judicial candidate, state District Judge John Bradbury, in Bradbury’s campaign against state Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick.

“The candidate’s materials make inaccurate accusations against the Idaho judiciary,” Jones says in the statement. “As a member of the court, it is appropriate to address these misstatements because they cast the Idaho judiciary in a false light. A candidate for judicial office may put forth whatever proposals he may wish to improve the judicial system, but has no right to make unfounded claims that target the courts.” You can read Jones’ full statement here and see Bradbury’s campaign Web site here.

Statesman: Ward campaign ad gets him in trouble with the Marines

The Idaho Statesman has a front-page article by reporter Dan Popkey today about an ad that congressional candidate Vaughn Ward placed on the “Drudge Report” Web site that got him in trouble with the U.S. Marines, who told Ward the ad violated military regulations about the use of the military uniform in campaigns. The ad features Ward in full combat gear, with the wording, “With your help I will vote to repeal Obamacare! Vaughn Ward for Congress,” accompanied by a button link for contributions headed “I will help! Contribute now!” Popkey reports that after the Marines objected, Ward pulled the ad. Then, Ward sent out a postcard mailing that also featured a prominent photo of him overseas in full combat gear, next to the slogan, “Vaughn Ward - Fighting for Idaho Values.” Some, but not all, of the postcards had a sticker added with a tiny disclaimer noting that the use of his photograph in uniform “does not imply endorsement from the Department of Defense or the Marines.”

You can read Popkey’s full article here; see the postcard mailer and disclaimer here; and read the U.S. Department of Defense directive “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces” here.

When Ward, a Republican who’s in a face-off with state Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, in the primary campaign for the 1st District congressional seat now held by Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick, came out with his first TV ad of the campaign, I was surprised to see no reference at all to his military record, which is such a major part of his life story. Instead, that commercial focused on Ward driving and leaning against a pickup truck, talking core values. At the time, Ward’s campaign spokesman, Ryan O’Barto, told me, “While that is a large part of Vaughn’s background, he doesn’t really like to wear it on his sleeve.” Ward served in Iraq and Afghanistan; he earned a Bronze Star with Combat V for Valor.

Idaho has stake in Washington open-records case

Idaho has much at stake in Washington’s big U.S. Supreme Court case over whether referendum petition signatures should be public or not. “Our initiative and referendum statute is very similar to Washington’s and Oregon’s,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, at whose request Idaho joined 22 other states in filing “friend of the court” briefs backing Washington’s position - that the signatures remain public.

“I can’t think of something any more public, that should be public, than somebody signing an initiative petition that is basically using the legislative power reserved to the people,” Ysursa said. “It’s part of an open and transparent process, just like (legislators) voting on a piece of legislation would be. That was our basic reason to join in, and the other states that have initiative and referendum seem to agree with us.” The 23 states, which also include Oregon, Utah, Arizona and Colorado and are being led by Ohio, are among a long list of parties who’ve filed supporting briefs on one side or the other in the case, from the American Conservative Union to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The high court will hear arguments in the case on Wednesday. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and read the states’ amicus brief here.

Boat inspection stations opening

Idaho’s state Department of Agriculture plans to open its first boat-inspection stations of the season tomorrow, near Bruneau where highways 51 and 78 intersect, and near Marsing on Highway 95. An additional check station on U.S. 93 just north of the Nevada state line will open on Saturday; all will operate seven days a week. The idea is to check all watercraft and equipment - motorized or not - for invasive quagga or zebra mussels. The department said in an announcement, “It is important that boaters arrive in Idaho with a clean, drained and dry watercraft.”

The fast-reproducing invasive mussels can be carried from one waterway to another on boats, in live wells and buckets and elsewhere; the tiny mussels “feel like sandpaper to the touch” when carried on the hull of a boat, the department said. It advises washing watercraft thoroughly before bringing them into Idaho, preferably with hot water; draining all water; and letting watercraft dry for five days between launches. Additional check stations will open in North Idaho and elsewhere in the coming weeks; for more information, contact the department at (208) 332-8686.

Delegation: ‘Some of the nation’s finest’

Idaho’s congressional delegation - Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressmen Walt Minnick and Mike Simpson - issued the following statement on the big Idaho Guard deployment to Iraq announced today:

 “First and foremost, our thoughts are with the families whose loved ones will be deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We are pleased that the Idaho National Guard will be providing family support training sessions to help prepare them for the deployment. We have always supported efforts to ensure our military men and women have the resources they need to carry out and complete their missions successfully. The 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team is home to some of the nation’s finest, and we know they are trained and prepared for their upcoming mission. We wish them success and look forward to welcoming each of them home.”

Idaho National Guard’s 116th headed to Iraq again

More than 2,700 members of the Idaho Army National Guard’s 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, shown here training near Gowen Field, are being mobilized in September for deployment to Iraq, the guard announced today. About 1,500 of the Guard members being deployed are from Idaho; the rest are from Oregon and Montana. The team will have two months of stateside training in Mississippi, then begin replacing other deployed units in Iraq starting in November. The 116th is the same team that was deployed to Iraq in 2004-05, the largest deployment in Idaho history.

“They were commended for their outstanding and professional service to our nation.  I know they will represent our state well again on this deployment,” said Idaho Gov. Butch Otter. “I want to remind Idahoans that this yearlong deployment will impact communities, businesses, families and individuals throughout our state.  I also ask Idahoans to join me in wishing the best to our men and women in uniform, and their family members.   With the help and understanding of friends, employers and other community members, I have no doubt our hometown heroes will succeed again.” Click below to read the full announcement from the Idaho National Guard.

Oral arguments set in Land Board case

In Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s legal challenge of the Land Board’s cabin-site rent decision, the Idaho Supreme Court has ordered oral arguments, to be held June 9 before the Supreme Court. Wasden, a member of the Land Board, last month challenged the constitutionality of the board’s 3-2 decision approving new lease terms for state-owned cabin sites on Payette and Priest lakes; they include 9 percent increases in rent each year for the next five years, for a total increase of 54 percent over the five-year period. Wasden contends the rental rates aren’t high enough to bring appropriate returns to the beneficiaries of the state’s school endowment, as required by the Idaho Constitution.

Meanwhile, groups representing cabin owners contended the rents were too high and also threatened to sue; in the pending Idaho Supreme Court case, two cabin owners’ associations and three education groups have filed motions to offer amicus briefs and make arguments in the case. The Supreme Court could have decided the case based on legal briefs already filed and pending motions from both sides, but now has determined it’ll first hear oral arguments.

Another GOP candidate withdraws from 1st District congressional primary

Michael Chadwick of Post Falls has announced he’s withdrawing from the race and endorsing GOP rival Raul Labrador, and also launching a campaign for the U.S. Senate in the 2014 election. That’s when current U.S. Sen. Jim Risch’s term in office ends; Chadwick didn’t say why he’d want to challenge Risch, should Risch seek a second term. Instead, Chadwick spins a conspiracy theory centering around fellow GOP congressional candidate Vaughn Ward, whom Chadwick contends represents “powerful special interest groups in New York City and Washington, D.C.” In a letter published on Chadwick’s campaign Web site, he calls Ward, a Marine and decorated veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, a “protege and surrogate of the military-industrial-intelligence establishment” who will “vote to build up and sustain the Permanent War Machine.”

Chadwick, 60, says on his Web site that he’s a former aide to U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a BYU grad with a master’s degree in political science, and head of an array of organizations including the “New American Colonies” program, the “Liberty Park USA Foundation,” the online “Alexander Hamilton Institute for International Trade” and the online “James Madison Institute for Republican Government.” Since 1994, he says, “we have been researching and writing papers, monographs and books which are designed to promote the freedom, sovereignty and independence of America.”

Like fellow GOP candidate Allan Salzburg, who withdrew last week from what originally was a five-way Republican primary for a chance to challenge current Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick, Chadwick is withdrawing too late to remove his name from the ballot.

Labrador: Anti-abortion group’s endorsement ‘a big boost to our campaign’

Congressional candidate Raul Labrador is touting his endorsement from “Idaho Chooses Life,” an anti-abortion lobbying group headed by activist David Ripley, which endorsed Labrador after declaring that he, Vaughn Ward and Harley Brown, all running in the GOP primary race for the 1st District congressional seat, “all scored well” on the group’s questionnaire; no other candidates responded to it. Ripley said in a news release, “Our endorsement is meant to honor Raul Labrador’s record and service to Idaho.”

Labrador is a second-term GOP state representative from Eagle. Ward is a decorated veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and a former aide to then-U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne. Brown is a perennial candidate for various offices whose campaign literature states that he’s been called by God to be president of the United States.

The “Idaho Chooses Life” group this year wrote the successful, and controversial, “conscience” legislation that permits any licensed health care provider to refuse to provide any treatment or medication on conscience grounds if it relates to abortion, emergency contraception, stem-cell research or end-of-life care. Gov. Butch Otter allowed the bill to become law without his signature, citing concerns over violating patients’ end-of-life care directives.

Labrador, in a press release this morning, said, “I have always believed that government’s greatest responsibility is defending the sanctity of human life. It is humbling to have my record and values acknowledged by one of Idaho’s leading pro-life groups.” He called the endorsement “a big boost to our campaign.”

How texting bill went down: A lesson in legislative dysfunction and politics

There was one issue on which Idaho lawmakers from both houses and both parties were united before this year’s legislative session even started: Making Idaho the 24th state to ban texting while driving. Yet, nothing passed - despite long hearings with impassioned testimony in favor of the move from everyone from teenage drivers to prosecutors to insurance lobbyists. It’s a lesson in legislative dysfunction and politics.

Though both the Senate and House had voted overwhelmingly in favor of a ban - in one form or another - the bill died in the closing moments of this year’s legislative session on a procedural vote, amid a spat between the two houses.    ”I would say that that’s not the best representation of a functional system,” said Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, who delivered petitions with hundreds of signatures gathered by Post Falls 6th graders to the Senate Transportation Committee in favor of a ban. You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

AP: Ward financial disclosure incomplete

The Associated Press reports that congressional candidate Vaughn Ward left off his wife’s assets on his required U.S. House of Representatives candidate financial disclosure filing last year; Ward’s campaign called it a simple mistake but said a new, complete disclosure report will be filed. Kirsten Ward has worked for Washington, D.C.-based Fannie Mae since 1999 and supports her husband and their two children while he campaigns; click below to read the full article from AP reporter John Miller.

The week that was…

On Idaho Public Television’s “Idaho Reports” this week, we talk about the week’s developments, from Gov. Butch Otter’s recent hospitalization to election and campaign developments to BSU head football coach Chris Petersen’s new contract. I join commentators Jim Weatherby, Kevin Richert, and Brad Iverson-Long, along with host Thanh Tan, and in a new segment, we all interview a newsmaker, Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who gives his thoughts on turnout in the upcoming primary election and more. The show airs tonight at 8, is rebroadcast Sunday at 11 a.m. Mountain time/10 a.m. Pacific time, and can be viewed online here. “Idaho Reports” also is broadcast on the radio at 3 p.m. on Saturday on KISU-FM, and 10 a.m. Sunday on KBSX 91.5 FM.

While urban Idaho suffered, rural Idaho actually gained jobs

As the recession slammed into urban Idaho in 2008, rural Idaho escaped without an overall loss of jobs or wages, according to the latest analysis from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. In fact, rural Idaho added more than 300 jobs in 2008, while metropolitan Boise alone lost almost 5,200 jobs that year and $269 million in wages.

“We know that the numbers got worse in 2009,” said Bob Fick of the Idaho Department of Labor, but those numbers aren’t out yet; that’s the year that the brunt of the recession hit Idaho. But he said rural Idaho likely fared better in ‘09 as well, at least compared to urban Idaho. “What happened in the ‘01 recession is the same as what’s happening now,” Fick explained. “Rural economies aren’t as volatile as urban economies. Consequently they don’t fall as much in recession, and they don’t grow as much in expansion. I think the assumption is that you’ll see the same thing (in rural Idaho) for ‘09, although it could be negative. But it won’t be as bad as the declines in urban Idaho.” You can read the new report here.

U.S. Marshal confirmation: ‘Our congressional delegation works together’

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Pocatello City Councilman and current Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center Warden Brian Underwood as the new U.S. Marshal for Idaho. 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick proposed Underwood as the nominee, and President Barack Obama appointed him; the state’s entire congressional delegation backed the move and Underwood won confirmation in a unanimous consent vote in the Senate. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both Republicans; Minnick, a Democrat; and GOP Rep. Mike Simpson issued this joint statement on the confirmation:

“Brian Underwood will serve our state well in his new role as U.S. Marshal.  Brian is an Idaho native and has worked extensively in law enforcement at the city and state level, as an officer and in management.  The nomination process has worked well to produce a U.S. Marshal all Idahoans can be proud of.  We also want to thank Pat McDonald for his eight years of service as Idaho’s outgoing U.S. Marshal.”

Underwood said, “I am honored by the nomination by the President and now a confirmation by the Senate. I look forward to serving in this important role.  Idahoans should be proud of the way our congressional delegation works together.”

Gov. Otter returns to work, describes illness

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has released audio clips explaining his recent illness and hospitalization, which ended when he was released from St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center yesterday. He was back at work at his office for a few hours today, then returned home as his doctor has cautioned him not to  “over-do it.” The governor’s office reports that Otter will remain on antibiotics into next week, but his schedule will slowly return to normal over the course of the next few days.

He said he started feeling ill on Saturday night, after a day spent helping brand cattle on Lt. Gov. Brad Little’s ranch in Gem County, and then he felt worse on Sunday. On Monday, he went to his doctor. Here’s the first clip and its transcript:  “He ran some tests and he said, ‘You are really badly dehydrated, really badly dehydrated. And I am not sure what this is, but I think I am going to put you in the hospital and run some tests, and give you some IVs to hydrate you.’ “

Otter said he first thought he was suffering some form of heat stroke from the day working out at Little’s ranch. Here’s the second audio clip and its transcript: “So I then thought maybe it is heat fatigue …because I wasn’t to the point where I comatose.  I wasn’t to the point where, you know, I was sleeping, but, you know, I would wake up and then I would be sweating. So finally Monday morning we just said let’s go the hospital, or let’s go to the doctor.”

Otter said his only symptoms were fever, sweats, fatigue, and dehydration. While in the hospital he was treated with antibiotics and began responding to that treatment.  He said his doctor said the illness could have been caused by a variety of bacteria. Here’s the final audio clip and transcript: “It could have been one of several of these bacteria that actually started expressing themselves with the fever and the resulting sweating, and my body fighting that.”

And in politics today…

An article by Dan Popkey in today’s Idaho Statesman - top headline - focuses on how GOP congressional candidate Vaughn Ward has made cutting federal spending a focus of his campaign, but his wife, Kirsten, works as a technology project manager for Washington, D.C.-based Fannie Mae, a big recipient of federal bailout money, and it’s her salary that’s supporting the family while he campaigns full-time this year. You can read Popkey’s full article here; the headline: “Ward’s family supported by bailout.”  

Meanwhile, Tom Sullivan, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, is making a bit of an odd offer - he’d like to debate Claude “Skip” Davis, GOP incumbent Mike Crapo’s primary opponent, since Crapo bowed out of a debate with Davis, a real estate broker from Weiser, and Sullivan’s primary opponent lives in Brooklyn, New York. You can click below to read Sullivan’s press release, and here are links to read blog posts from Popkey and Idaho Statesman editorial page editor Kevin Richert about the dust-up.

Longtime state employee hopes his retirement will ease cutbacks at IDWR

The Twin Falls Times-News reports today that Hal Anderson, head of the planning and technical services division for the Idaho Department of Water Resources, plans to retire next month after nearly three decades with the agency, and that Anderson, 60, is hoping the agency will hire back some of the employees it’s laid off in the past year rather than replace him. “They’re the ones that are keeping our actual programs going,” Anderson told the Times-News, though he’s a top manager with decades of experience in Idaho water issues. “I personally support … keeping as much at the programmatic level as we can.” You can read the full story here by Times-News reporter Nate Poppino.

CdA Tribe: Benewah County reneges on cross-deputization deal

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe says Benewah County has reneged on the cross-deputization deal the two sides and the Idaho Sheriffs Association reached during this year’s legislative session, a deal that prompted the tribe to ask a House committee to hold its proposed legislation that would have forced the county’s hand it if wouldn’t collaborate. Instead of signing the agreement, Benewah County has sent the tribe a new version containing more than 50 changes, including changes in items the two sides negotiated. “I am extremely disappointed with this new document in front of me,” said Tribal Chairman Chief Allan. “It is not what we agreed to.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim  Clark, R-Hayden Lake, said, “Benewah County made representations to the committee and to the tribe that a deal was in place. We were happy to hear it then and we believed all that was needed was for the necessary parties to sign the agreement. What I am hearing now is that Benewah County did not live up to its promises.” Click below to read the full news release from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe; you can read our full story here at spokesman.com.

Guv released from hospital

Gov. Butch Otter’s office just issued the following announcement:

Governor Otter was released from Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise today. He now is resting at home.

By the numbers…

Now that it’s all said and done, here are the numbers on this year’s legislative session: In 78 days, there were 816 pieces of legislation drafted, 620 of which were introduced, and 359 passed. Every one of those became law; there were no vetoes, though Gov. Butch Otter withheld his signature from five of them, he still allowed them to become law.

Compared to past sessions, this year set records for the lowest number of bills drafted and introduced in the past decade - perhaps in part because legislative leaders warned in advance that anything that cost money likely wouldn’t be considered - but, oddly, the number that became law is actually higher than last year’s figure of 344. Last year, lawmakers were in session for 117 days, the second-longest session in Idaho history. This year’s 78-day session was the third-shortest in the past decade, eclipsed only by the 69-day session in 2004 and a 68-day session in 2002. Both those years yielded more new laws: 389 in ‘04, and 370 in ‘02.

Otter feeling better, could leave hospital Wednesday

Gov. Butch Otter is just suffering from a flu bug, first lady Lori Otter said in a statement this evening, and should be heading home from the hospital tomorrow. Here’s her statement:

“The Governor and I want to express our thanks to all the folks who have sent us their kind thoughts and well wishes. As many hands as we shake, it was just a matter of time before he picked up a bug. He ran a high fever for a few days and became severely dehydrated, so he has been on fluids and antibiotics. He is now feeling better and we look forward to him heading home tomorrow.”

Idaho seniors as a voting force…

Idaho seniors have been hit hard by the recession, their incomes are low, their living costs are rising - and they’re very, very likely to vote. That’s the picture that emerges from a new survey commissioned by the AARP Idaho, which described Idahoans over age 50 as “the most powerful vote in Idaho.”

The seniors group is launching statewide voter education efforts that will include asking its members which issues matter most to them, and laying out the candidates’ positions in voter guides for every congressional, statewide and state legislative race this year. Idaho’s primary election is May 25. “What we’re saying is, look, this is the largest voting demographic in the state - you need to be cognizant of the issues that matter the most to them, ” said David Irwin, AARP Idaho spokesman. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see the full survey results here.

First lady to fill in for Guv at Giuliani event tonight

First Lady Lori Otter will fill in for Gov. Butch Otter at his campaign fundraiser tonight, a $1,000-a-plate dinner at Chandler’s Steakhouse with Rudy Giuliani, for which 100 people have registered. “The governor is in good spirits and following doctor’s orders,” Otter’s campaign manager, Debbie Field, told Eye on Boise in an email. “He remains in the hospital and will be unable to attend the Giuliani event tonight, much to his chagrin. The First Lady will attend on his behalf.”

It’s too late now…

GOP congressional candidate Allan Salzburg announced yesterday that he was withdrawing from the 1st Congressional District primary contest, but it turns out it’s too late to take his name off the ballot. Tim Hurst, chief deputy secretary of state, says the deadline for removal from the ballot is 45 days before the election - and that passed on April 10th. The reason: Absentee ballots for military members serving overseas have to go out 45 days before the election. In fact, Hurst said Idaho likely will need to push its deadline back to a bit earlier in future election years, to make sure those ballots that get sent overseas are fully up-to-date.

Nader backer wins Idaho court battle

Here’s why a federal judge yesterday ruled Idaho’s election laws unconstitutional in how they limit independent presidential candidates from making the state ballot: Because the laws require more than 6,500 signatures for an independent presidential candidate to make the ballot, while candidates for statewide office need only 1,000 signatures to qualify; and because they ban non-Idaho residents from collecting signatures in the state. Those restrictions violate the First Amendment, ruled U.S. Magistrate Judge Ron Bush, who wrote that act of circulating a nominating petition “is at its core still among the most basic of the acts of protected speech.” Click below to read the full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone, and you can read the judge’s 34-page decision here.

Gov. Otter’s still in the hospital

Gov. Butch Otter is still in the hospital today, according to his press secretary, Jon Hanian. Otter was admitted to St. Alphonsus Medical Center yesterday with flu-like systems and dehydration. “He’s in good spirits - we’re taking it hour by hour,” Hanian said. “We’re just going to wait and see how he’s feeling. … They still have him there for observation.”

Otter’s absence meant Secretary of State Ben Ysursa presided over meetings of the state Board of Examiners and state Land Board this morning. It’s not clear yet whether Otter will be able to attend a big campaign fundraiser event he has scheduled tonight featuring Rudy Guiliani, a $1,000-per-plate dinner at Chandler’s Steakhouse scheduled to start at 7 p.m. There are about 100 people registered to attend.

Guiliani is in town today in part because he’s one of seven scheduled speakers at a “Get Motivated” business seminar at the Idaho Center, which also features Zig Ziglar, Terry Bradshaw, and BSU head football coach Chris Petersen; it’s an all-day motivational seminar that’s being held around the country, with varying speakers, and moves next to Tampa, Baltimore and Akron.

Rare moment of agreement on cabin-site issue

Idaho’s state Land Board has adopted a new valuation policy for state-owned cabin sites on Priest Lake, in a rare moment of agreement from all sides on this issue. The state uses Valley County assessments to value cabin sites on Payette Lake, but has been using a five-year rolling appraisal process, plus an indexing process for non-appraisal years, for the 354 cabin sites at Priest Lake. Now, it’s switching there to a process more like what the U.S. Forest Service uses for its federally owned cabin sites on Priest Lake: The cabin sites will be divided into 25 groups that are similar in land value, and just one site from each group will be appraised each year, with a different site chosen the next year. As a result, only 25 appraisals will need to be conducted each year, at a total cost to the state of $20,000 and a substantial savings over trying to reappraise all the sites every five years.

That doesn’t do anything to settle the larger dispute: How much to charge the cabin owners in rent for the state-owned ground underneath their cabins. That issue is currently the subject of an Idaho Supreme Court lawsuit - in which Attorney General Lawrence Wasden sued the Land Board, on which he serves, for what he said were state constitutional violations in setting rents too low - and cabin owner associations are contemplating their own legal action because they contend the latest rent proposals adopted by the Land Board are too high. At issue there is the percentage of value that should be charged each year in rent; today’s agreement is just on how the value is set.

Unanimous vote for $15M transfer

There was no discussion or debate this morning as the state Board of Examiners voted unanimously to approve an additional $15 million transfer from the state’s general fund to the Tax Commission’s refund account; that brings the total transfer this spring to $45 million, which was the commission’s original request last month. “The refund account was running low and we needed to transfer what they wanted,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who presided over the meeting. “The thinking is people that file early get refunds. Like everybody else, we have our fingers crossed that we have a real good April in there.”

April is the biggest month of the year for state tax revenue collections. While December, January and February collections fell below projections, prompting lawmakers to make sharp cuts in the state budget, the real news about the state of Idaho’s budget comes from the April numbers, the month in which most people file their tax returns. Those numbers won’t be out until early May.

Wayne Hammon, budget director for Gov. Butch Otter, said the additional transfer was needed to avoid big delays in paying out refunds. “By moving the money forward, what we’ve done is we’ve sped up those returns,” he said. “The money is going to be released today.” Current projections from the Tax Commission show that the refund account likely will return $18 million to the general fund by the end of June. So the transfer “shouldn’t cost the state any money - it’s just a cash-flow problem,” Hammon said.
 

Tax Commission seeks $15M transfer from general fund for tax refunds

Just as it was on March 4th, Idaho’s state Board of Examiners will be asked in the morning to transfer money from the state’s general fund to the Tax Commission’s refund account so timely refunds can continue to be paid to Idaho taxpayers who are filing their tax returns in droves. This time, the Tax Commission wants another $15 million transferred; in March, it asked for $45 million, but got only $30 million. It’s a cash-flow issue; the Tax Commission’s current projections show that it’ll transfer $18 million back to the general fund by the end of June, but now’s the time that the cash is needed as refund returns continue to pile up.

When people have to pay with their returns, 20 percent of their payments go into the refund account, while 80 percent is “swept” daily into the general fund. In March, the Tax Commission anticipated possible two-day delays in refund payments due to the cash-flow issue, but it reported today that refunds are being paid daily and on-schedule. Currently, because of the volume of returns, refunds for e-filed returns are going out in four weeks, while those for paper returns are at six to 10 weeks; that’s comparable to last year and normal for this time of year. The additional $15 million, said spokeswoman Renee Eymann, is “just kind of to cover our bases.” The Tax Commission must pay all refunds out by June 15th or start paying interest on them; the transfer, if approved, should help it avoid any interest payments.

Jorgenson wants GOP challenger off ballot

A North Idaho senator’s initial attempt to get his primary challenger tossed off the ballot has failed, but Sen. Mike Jorgenson says he’s not giving up. Jorgenson, R-Hayden, last week filed a complaint with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office saying that his GOP challenger, Steven Vick of Dalton Gardens, isn’t qualified for the ballot because of a 2006 voter-registration glitch. Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said today that Vick meets registration requirements to run; Jorgenson now plans to take his complaint to court. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Vick told Eye on Boise he was recruited to run against Jorgenson by the two state representatives from Jorgenson’s District 3: Reps. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, and Phil Hart, R-Athol. “They just felt like their district there would be better represented by somebody else than Sen. Jorgenson,” said Vick, a former four-term Montana state representative.

Jorgenson has clashed with Clark and Hart in the past year, sponsoring legislation designed to open the way for future sales taxes on online sales that Clark made a point of killing in the House; and clashing with Hart over the two lawmakers’ competing versions of bills targeting employment of illegal immigrants. “We’ve had some disagreements,” Jorgenson said. Clark, who’s retiring from the Legislature this year after seven terms, said, “Something has to happen. Look how he treats Phil Hart, ‘the best thing I can say about him is nothing’ - he said that in your paper. So what do you expect?”

Gov. Otter hospitalized

Idaho’s governor’s office has reported that Gov. Butch Otter, who cleared his schedule earlier today because he was out ill, was admitted to St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise today with flu-like symptoms and dehydration. “He is undergoing tests, and updates on his condition will be sent out as they become available,” Otter’s communications director, Mark Warbis, said in a statement.

Salzburg withdrawing from 1st CD primary race

Allan Salzburg, one of the five Republicans on the ballot for the 1st District congressional primary race, is withdrawing from the race and throwing his support to both Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward, the two leading candidates in the primary contest. “Both Raul and Vaughn could do a good job, and they’re different,” said Salzburg, 70, a retired physician and rocket scientist who said he decided to end his campaign because “it was physically terribly demanding.”

Salzburg said he traveled to at least 10 GOP Lincoln Day events around the district in his campaign, and was impressed with both Labrador and Ward. “It was one of the most interesting things I have done in my life, and in many respects productive, I feel, even though I’m pulling out,” he said. “I am concentrating now on promotion of nuclear energy, which was one of my key points.” Others on the ballot in the GOP race are Harley Brown of Idaho City and Michael Chadwick of Post Falls; Democratic incumbent Walt Minnick is unopposed in the primary.

Science teachers honored

Four Idaho science teachers were honored today with the Governor’s Industry Award for Notable Teaching in Science, or GIANTS award. Kuna High School teacher Angela Hemmingway; Edward Katz of Bonners Ferry High School; Jennifer Martin of Homedale Middle School; and Ponderosa Elementary School (Post Falls) teacher Karlicia Minto Berry took the awards, each of which carries a $2,000 prize. Honorable Mention awards of $500 each were presented to two additional teachers: Dennis Kimberling of Lakeland Junior High School (Rathdrum) and Liberty Elementary School (Boise) teacher Chris Taylor; all were nominated by the student council or parent groups at their schools for “making science exciting, challenging, and relevant.”

Lt. Gov. Brad Little presented the awards today on behalf of Gov. Butch Otter, who’s out sick today. Click below to read the full announcement.

Hoffman: ‘A rising leader’

Wayne Hoffman, head of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, discusses his disenchantment with the mainstream media and his role as a political activist in an article by AP reporter John Miller, in which Hoffman refuses to disclose how his group is funded; click below to read the full article. The article says, “Idaho conservatives say Hoffman is a rising leader of the GOP’s libertarian right.”

Why openness in government matters…

It was a great honor for me this weekend to be presented with the 2010 Max Dalton Open Government Award from the Idaho Newspaper Foundation; there’s info here. Here are the other nominees for the award this year:
    * Melody Finley, who has been a watchdog on government spending in the city of Wendell.
    * The Idaho Freedom Foundation, whose Web site, OurIdaho.com, packages public information about agencies around the state in a searchable format.
    * The Boise Guardian and Caldwell Guardian, two activist Web sites that have worked separately and together on open government topics.
    * Paul Alldredge of Caldwell, a long-time open government advocate who operates the blog Caldwell Guardian.
I appreciate all who work for openness in our government, which not only is key for journalists like me to do our jobs, but for our entire system of self-government to function - people have to be informed about what their government is doing, in order to participate effectively in that government.

The week that was…

On Idaho Public Television’s “Idaho Reports” this week, we talk about the week’s developments, from Tea Party rallies to campaign politics to school funding questions. I join analysts Jim Weatherby, Kevin Richert, Bill Roberts and Vickie Holbrook along with host Thanh Tan; the show airs tonight at 8, is rebroadcast Sunday at 11 a.m. Mountain time/10 a.m. Pacific time, and can be viewed online here. “Idaho Reports” also is broadcast on the radio at 3 p.m. on Saturday on KISU-FM, and 10 a.m. Sunday on KBSX 91.5 FM.

Furloughs, demotions hit Idaho prison system

Idaho’s state prison system is eliminating 24 more staff positions, bringing the number cut in the past two years to 102, and imposing far-reaching furloughs on all prison staffers in the coming year to cope with state budget cuts. Because of shifts of workers from one job to another and non-filling of positions that become vacant, there have been few layoffs, the Idaho Department of Correction reports. “This has been a difficult process especially for the employees whose jobs have been impacted,” said Corrections Director Brent Reinke.  “While almost all of them still have jobs, many of them have had to take pay cuts and demotions.” In the fiscal year that starts July 1, all prison security staff will have to take 32 hours of unpaid furlough, while all other department employees must take 80 hours.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s prison population is forecast to grow by 4.3 percent in the coming fiscal year. Reinke said the growth could be more because of additional cuts in social service programs through the Department of Health and Welfare and the Office of Drug Policy. “The fact is there are now a lot of people who won’t get the mental health or drug treatment they need in the community and run the risk of ending up in prison,” Reinke said. Click below to read the department’s full announcement of its budget-balancing plan.

Minnick on CNN: ‘My state supports independent people’

On CNN’s American Morning program this morning, Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick was asked about being the only Democrat endorsed by the national Tea Party Express group. “They’re just ordinary folks who think the government ought to balance this budget. There’s nothing very radical about that so I’m pleased to have their endorsement,” Minnick told CNN. The network reported that the group, which just wrapped up its three-week, 47-city “Just Vote Them Out!” bus tour, listed 13 Democrats on its “Tea Party Targets” list and 13 Republicans plus Minnick on its “Tea Party Heroes” list. Among Republicans named with Minnick on the “Heroes” list were Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio, Pennsylvania Senate candidate Pat Toomey, Rep. Michele Bachmann and Rep. Joe Wilson.

Said Minnick, “My state supports independent people who do what’s best for our constituents, and good ideas come from both parties.”

The latest numbers in 1st CD…

Quarterly campaign finance reports are in at the Federal Election Commission, and the figures for the 1st Congressional District show this: Incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick has raised $1.5 million to date for his re-election bid, including $231,917 this quarter. He’s spent $641,879, including $159,504 this quarter, and has $889,082 cash on hand.

On the GOP side, Vaughn Ward has raised $504,258, including $167,611 this quarter. He’s spent $213,761, including $81,699 this quarter, and has $289,844 cash on hand. He also loaned his campaign $14,199, but made no loans this quarter. Raul Labrador has raised $158,903, including $90,000 in loans from the candidate to his campaign ($40,000 of that in the most recent quarter - however, that’s somewhat of a wash since he also repaid $40,000 in loans to himself during the same quarter, leaving an outstanding loan balance of $50,000); his fundraising drew $35,763 in contributions this quarter; and he has $83,527 cash on hand. There were no reports from the  other GOP candidates on the ballot, Harley Brown, Michael Chadwick, and Allan Salzberg.

More on tea parties…

Here’s a shot of Idaho Gov. Butch Otter speaking at the Tea Party of Spokane rally today in Spokane, where he was the headliner. Otter drew standing ovation for his speech that focused in large part on the importance of states’ rights; he also stressed that folks wishing to change the direction of government do so legally and peacefully. “If we disregard the rule of law, we’re going backwards in a big way,” he said. You can read our full story on the rally here.

Meanwhile, GOP congressional candidate Vaughn Ward, who’s seeking a chance to challenge Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick, had this statement on Minnick’s endorsement today by the Tea Party Express, the only Democrat to win the national group’s nod: “This endorsement does not change the fact that Walt Minnick’s first vote in Congress was for Nancy Pelosi and her liberal agenda of higher taxes, more spending, and a more intrusive federal government that has done nothing to get Idaho families back to work,” Ward said. “When Walt had the chance to step up to the plate for Idaho families, he voted against permanently ending the financial bailouts and voted for a permanent extension of the death tax. Walt Minnick and Nancy Pelosi’s tax and spend policies continue to cripple our economy. We are proud of the Idaho endorsements we have received as our momentum continues to build.  Our campaign began as a grassroots effort and is driven by the people.  This is their seat and Kirsten and I are humbled by the thousands of people who have given so much to the campaign.”

Minnick, for his part, will appear on CNN American Morning tomorrow at 5:30 a.m. Mountain time to discuss the Tea Party Express endorsement. For more on the tea party movement, why people became involved and the movement’s possible role in this year’s elections, tonight’s “Dialogue” program on Idaho Public TV features members of Tea Party groups from around the state, along with a member of the new “Coffee Party.” The show, with host Marcia Franklin, airs live at 8:30 p.m. Mountain time, 7:30 p.m. Pacific, and you can call in toll-free with questions at (800) 973-9800 during the show, or email questions before the show to dialogue@idahoptv.org

Sending a message…

Here’s another shot of today’s Boise Tea Party rally on the Idaho Capitol steps. The crowd was pretty mixed, with people of all ages, from young parents with toddlers to older people in lawn chairs to teens. There were a few campaign signs smattered among the crowd; I saw signs for Vaughn Ward, Rex Rammell, and Merrilyn Rohner for Ada County Clerk. A small group of counter-protesters stood on a nearby corner, near a man dressed as Uncle Sam who was holding a sign proclaiming, “Uncle Sam needs Democracy, not Socialism! 

Tea Party rally draws crowd to Capitol

There’s a big crowd today for the Boise Tea Party rally on the Capitol steps, with speakers including costumed re-enactors representing such historical figures as Patrick Henry. Here’s a sampling of the signs people are carrying: “King George didn’t listen to us either” “Socialism=Slavery” “Legalize the Constitution” “Even God only asks for 10%” “Stop Water Fluoridation” “Where’s the birth certificate?” “Obama-Pelosi-Reid - The axis of taxes” “Proud to be American, not Socialist” and “November 2010: We take our country back.” There were some spontaneous chants of “Vote them out,” and, with encouragement from speakers, “USA.”

First Idaho primary campaign commercial of season features borrowed pickup truck

The first TV campaign commercial of Idaho’s primary season is out, from congressional candidate Vaughn Ward, featuring him driving and leaning against a big Dodge pickup truck, talking core values. It’s not actually his truck, it’s a supporter’s. Ward’s campaign said the GOP candidate owns and drives a Ford truck, but it was white and the color didn’t work on camera, so the commercial used the supporter’s grey Dodge. Ward faces state Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, and three other candidates in the primary race for a shot at challenging Democratic 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick. So far, Ward’s been the leader in fundraising on the GOP side, and his campaign spokesman, Ryan O’Barto, said the new commercial is the first of several that will run from now through the May 25 election. The ad started running in the Boise market this week, and will run in the Spokane and Lewiston markets in the coming weeks.

You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see Ward’s TV ad here.

House GOP leaders warn schools to plan for more cutbacks, key senator objects

Four House GOP leaders have sent a letter to Idaho school districts - here’s a link to the letter - advising them to prepare for an additional 5.5 percent holdback in the coming year when they negotiate teacher contracts, reporter Ben Botkin reports in the Times-News. The April 5 letter, from House Speaker Lawerence Denney, Majority Leader Mike Moyle, Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke and Majority Caucus Chair Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, warns districts that a future holdback is “a distinct possibility” and says current teacher contract negotiations are districts’ “only chance” to prepare for it. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, called the letter “inappropriate” and the Idaho Education Association objected to it. The possibility of an additional holdback is speculative; the latest state tax revenue figures, for March, actually exceeded state forecasts. You can read Botkin’s full story here.

Federal judge in Florida says he’ll fast-track states’ health care reform challenge

At the first hearing today in the federal lawsuit challenging national health care reform filed by a group of states - including Idaho - U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson said he’ll fast-track the case, according to the Associated Press. In a federal court case, though, fast-tracking means hearing dates could stretch out to November.  Thirteen states have joined the lawsuit, and six more will be added by a May 14 deadline, lawyers told the judge. A Department of Justice attorney said the federal government will file a motion to dismiss the case; click below to read a full report from AP reporter Melissa Nelson in Pensacola.

Bills become law without guv’s signature

Gov. Butch Otter has allowed four more bills to become law without his signature, after earlier taking the same action for SB 1353, the “conscience” bill for health care providers. This time, the bills in question include HB 727 and 728, both of which regard the Idaho Education Network and its funding and oversight at the state Department of Administration; HB 688, which permits state universities, in some cases, to follow their own purchasing procedures rather than the state’s; and HB 492, which imposes a fee on death certificates to fund training for Idaho coroners.

Otter issued formal letters to the Legislature laying out his reasoning for withholding his signature, but still allowing the bills to become law; he hasn’t vetoed any bills passed by this year’s Legislature. You can read the full letters here. On the education network bills, Otter said he supported new requirements for quarterly reporting and more legislative oversight, but wanted more educators and private-sector tech people on an oversight committee. “While I am withholding my signature, I will not withhold my full support for either the process or the goals it is intended to advance,” he wrote. On the purchasing bill, HB 688, Otter said he’s concerned about the possibility for duplication, but is willing to see if the move will work; he noted that the bill expires after three years.  And on HB 492, the coroner training bill, Otter said he supports the training, but is concerned about imposing state-collected fees to support a county function.

Beef for the hungry…

This may not look like a picture of a food bank event, but that’s exactly what it is. Today, Idaho’s beef industry joined with the Idaho Foodbank to launch “Beef Counts,” a program designed to “provide a consistent supply of much-needed, high-quality beef protein throughout the year to The Idaho Foodbank and those we serve,” according to the food bank, which distributes free emergency food from warehouses in Boise, Lewiston and Pocatello through a network of 220 agencies statewide, from rescue missions to soup kitchens.

David Proctor, spokesman for the Idaho Foodbank, said, “This is the first time in the country this partnership with the beef industry has been established. … Other states are very interested.” Beef industry groups involved include the Agri Beef Co., the Idaho Beef Council, and the Idaho CattleWomen Council. The move comes as the economic downturn leaves more and more Idahoans hungry. “Today, the face of hunger is our neighbor, our friends and sometimes even members of our family,” the food bank said in announcing the new program.

The rest of the story…

A reference in my story yesterday (about his upcoming address to a Tea Party of Spokane rally) to the fact that Idaho Gov. Butch Otter spoke to a militia group back in 1995 has raised some questions, so I want to clarify: Though Otter spoke to the U.S. Militia Association group in Boise in March of that year, a month and a half before the Oklahoma City bombing, he did not in any way incite the bombing or encourage such actions. In fact, his message was the opposite. “If you believe in the Constitution and this Republic and what it stands for, then you must believe in the rule of law,” Otter told the group. News accounts at the time said Otter, then lieutenant governor, spoke for a few minutes about how the Republican-led state government in Idaho was pushing to reduce federal interference in state affairs, and then engaged in a sometimes heated back-and-forth with the group for the next 90 minutes.

The fact that Otter and two other state officials - then-Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa and then-Superintendent of Schools Anne Fox - had spoken to the militia group drew increased attention after the April 19, 1995 bombing, because of the bombers’ sympathies for the militia movement, though they weren’t affiliated with it. In an Associated Press story that ran in The Spokesman-Review eight days after the bombing, Otter said he spoke to U.S. Militia Association leaders to set the record straight. “They’re good people. I think they feel the way a lot of people feel,” he said then. “But I told them unless the governor made the call for their services, they’re nothing more than a gang.”

Free-market think tanks across country start up news operations, hide funding sources

A growing number of conservative groups are bankrolling startup news organizations around the country, aggressively covering government and politics at a time when newspapers are cutting back their statehouse bureaus, the Associated Press reports; we’ve seen our own example here in Boise, where the Idaho Freedom Foundation launched “Idahoreporter.com.” “If you have a laptop, a wireless card and a flip cam, you’re as powerful as The New York Times,” Jason Stverak, a former North Dakota Republican Party director who runs the year-old Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity in Bismarck, told the AP. Stverak said the movement has caught on because people are skeptical of the mainstream media. “You can draw a parallel between the explosion in the tea party and the rapid increase in the amount of new news organizations,” he said.

The new organizations have been denied Statehouse press credentials in numerous states because of their ties to advocacy groups. Many of the groups, including the Idaho one, refuse to say where they’re getting the money to finance the operations. Phill Brooks, director of the University of Missouri’s State Government Reporting Program, said such reluctance is a “red flag.” A similar startup news service in his state, Missouri News Horizon, refused recently to say who was paying the bills. “I can’t recall in 40 years that there’s been an organization that has come here and asked for recognition as a news organization that hid its financial background,” he said. Click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho joins Montana firearms freedom case

Idaho has joined a federal court case in Montana arguing that locally made and used guns should be exempt from all federal laws, including registration requirements.     It’s a follow-up to the “Idaho Firearms Freedom Act” that state lawmakers enacted this year at the urging of Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, who said the bill wasn’t really about gun rights. Instead, Harwood told fellow lawmakers, the measure was intended to spark a federal court case designed to expand states’ rights.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff filed a “friend of the court” brief in the Montana case, and Idaho, Alabama, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming all signed onto the brief, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula. “We have an obligation to defend that state statute,” said Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Former Gov. Batt calls for fiscal restraint

Phil Batt wasn’t Idaho’s flashiest governor, but the onion farmer from Wilder was one of its most respected, both for his fiscal restraint and his political vision. So when Batt, now 83, stepped away from his retirement on Tuesday to endorse Vaughn Ward in an Idaho GOP congressional primary race, it resounded. “I think the governor understands the gravity of the situation, with trying to take back this seat,” said Ward, who faces Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, and three other Republicans in the GOP primary race for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District seat - which now is held by conservative Democrat Walt Minnick.

When Batt was chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, he rebuilt it from a low point at which Idaho’s state Senate was split 21-21 between Republicans and Democrats into the powerhouse it stands today, controlling every statewide elective office, three of four seats in the congressional delegation and two-thirds of the Legislature. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Batt endorses Ward, says nation is headed ‘to the financial precipice’

Former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt today endorsed Vaughn Ward in the GOP primary race for the 1st District congressional seat, joining a group of GOP Canyon County elected officials in taking sides in the hotly contested Republican primary race. “I think he’s a better-qualified candidate, a deeper thinker, a harder worker,” Batt said of Ward, who’s facing off with state Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, in the primary contest. That means Ward now has two former Idaho governors - Batt and former GOP Gov. Dirk Kempthorne - on his side in the race.

Batt said he’s not particularly displeased with the performance of the current 1st District congressman, conservative “Blue Dog” Democrat Walt Minnick. But he said his biggest concern is the fiscal state of the nation, and though he faults both parties for the state of affairs, he’s become convinced the best fix is to remove the current Democratic presidential administration, and that the first step toward that is returning control of Congress to Republicans in the 2010 election. Batt, 83, said, “The elections are fast approaching, and it’s time for us to get off the fences and get involved - and that’s what I’m doing.” He said, “I’m concerned we’re headed to the financial precipice,” and called Ward “a fiscal conservative who will turn off this disgraceful federal money spout that is heading us into bankruptcy.”

Batt, who was known as “Governor Tightwad” for his penny-pinching as governor, said the state’s still in better shape now because he reduced the number of state employees when he was in office from 1994-1998. He said when lawmakers made sharp cuts in the state budget this year, “I don’t think they had any choice. They may have been a little ham-handed at times. … I think they did the right thing.” He said, “Those sales tax exemptions are going to be on the table one of these days. I think they were right to put it off.” He said he’s still disappointed, however, that the Legislature didn’t address Gov. Butch Otter’s call in the past few years to step up highway maintenance funding. “There’s gonna be a day of reckoning on that,” Batt said.
 

Lowe seeks partial judgment in wrongful firing case; says law’s on her side

Lawyers for fired Idaho Transportation Director Pam Lowe are pushing for a decision in her favor on most of her key claims without even holding further hearings - based on a long string of cases they’ve identified that back Lowe’s argument that she wasn’t an “at-will” employee, as the state contends in defending her firing. Among documents filed in the federal court case Monday was the official “Statement of Purpose” for the 1974 law that created the transportation director’s post. It states that the director “shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board only for stated cause.”

The law itself says, “The director shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board for inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance or nonfeasance in office.” The state contends that those reasons are just examples, and the important part is “at the pleasure.” But in a motion for partial judgment filed Monday, Lowe’s attorneys say the history shows otherwise. “This statement of purpose … could not be a clearer indication of the legislature’s intent to limit the board’s discretion in removing the director only for good cause,” the lawyers argued in court documents. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com; and you can read Lowe’s motion here and the supporting memorandum here.

Tea Party: Otter was ‘happy as a clam’ to speak in Spokane

Here’s a link to my full story in today’s Spokesman-Review on Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s top billing at the Tea Party of Spokane first-anniversary celebration and rally this Thursday. “He was happy as a clam – he was just absolutely stoked,” said Kirk Smith, vice president and spokesman for Tea Party of Spokane, on Otter’s reaction to the invite.

Otter’s primary election opponents had varying responses. Rex Rammell, who’s been on national TV twice in the last three weeks talking about his support for the militia movement, accused Otter of trying to steal his platform. “Now that he’s up for re-election, he’s Mr. States’ Rights,” Rammell said. Sharon Ullman, an Ada County commissioner, said, “He’s certainly welcome to go do whatever he wants,” adding with a laugh that the speaking gig means Otter won’t be campaigning in Idaho that afternoon.

Organizers: Idaho Guv to headline Spokane Tea Party rally on Thursday

Organizers say they’ve got a big name lined up for the Official Tea Party of Spokane’s 1st Anniversary Celebration and Rally this Thursday: Idaho Gov. Butch Otter. The event, which opens Thursday at 3 p.m. on the Floating Stage of the Spokane Convention Center, also features Washington State Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy. The Tea Party of Spokane, according to its Web site, is “a non-partisan group of thousands of individuals united by our shared frustrations, desires and beliefs. We are people who KNOW our government should serve the will of the people, be fiscally responsible, limited in its authority and reach, supportive of free-market capitalism and individual liberty. … In essence, we seek to restore our constitutional republic by action!”

You can see the group’s flier for the event here.

Park lovers help keep ‘em open

The Brother Speed motorcycle club is among volunteers stepping forward to help maintain Idaho state parks in the wake of deep budget cuts, reports AP reporter Simmi Aujla. The biker group is working to maintain Thousand Springs, a state park near Hagerman where it’s held its annual Memorial Day gathering for 35 years. “This week, the agency started charging fees at two Thousand Springs units that had been free to the public for decades,” Aujla reports. “The park’s rangers insist they will do everything they can to stay open for visitors who come to enjoy the region’s breathtaking gorges, canyons and rivers. Brother Speed is helping. Last month, nine bikers sporting black leather jackets adorned with the group’s logo, a grinning skull, planted 75 blazing maples in a corner of Thousand Springs. They worked alongside college students, a Mormon group and a square dancing club.”

Click below to read her full report.

The week that was…

This week on “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public TV, I join Jim Weatherby, Jill Kuraitis, Kevin Richert and host Thanh Tan to discuss the political developments of the week, from office-closings and layoffs at Health & Welfare to the governor’s race to college tuition hikes. The half-hour program airs tonight at 8, is rebroadcast Sunday at 11 a.m. Mountain time/10 a.m. Pacific time, and can be viewed online here. The show also is broadcast on the radio at 3 p.m. on Saturday on KISU-FM, and 10 a.m. Sunday on KBSX 91.5 FM.

More bills quietly signed into law

Among the nearly 50 bills quietly signed into law yesterday by Gov. Butch Otter: HB 496, requiring Idaho voters to show a photo I.D. when they go to the polls; HB 531a, making secret the names of all Fish and Game hunting and fishing license and tag holders; HB 589, the “Idaho Firearms Freedom Act,” declaring guns manufactured in Idaho exempt from federal laws including registration requirements in an attempt to prompt a multi-state federal lawsuit challenging the reach of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution; and HB 692a, cutting pay for the state’s top elected officials by 4 percent next year, restoring it to this year’s level a year later, and then granting them raises in the following two years. You can see the full list here. So far, Otter hasn’t vetoed a single bill passed by this year’s Legislature.

Idaho Dept. of Labor: Hispanic buying power continues to increase

The Idaho Department of Labor reports that despite the recession, Hispanic economic influence in Idaho has continued to grow. “The buying power of all 1.5 million Idahoans rose fractionally from 2008 to 2009, but Hispanic buying power grew 10 times faster than the buying power of the state’s non-Hispanic majority, according to estimates from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia,” the department reported. “Last year was the sixth straight year Idaho Hispanics have fared better than Hispanics nationwide.” Buying power is the after-tax personal income people have to spend on everything from necessities to luxuries; it doesn’t include money borrowed or saved from previous years, or money spent in the state by visitors from other states or countries. You can read the full announcement from the Idaho Department of Labor here.
 

Finally: An ‘up month’ for state revenue

One of the reasons lawmakers scurried to finish their session was they wanted to be done before the next set of tax revenue figures came out, after January and February collections came in below projections, fueling concern over the economy and zeal to cut budgets even more deeply. March isn’t a terribly significant month as an indicator - it’s typically a third of the biggie, April - but preliminary numbers now show it’s coming in above projections to the tune of $15.1 million. Even more significantly, the portion of that total that comes from the personal income tax was up by 50 percent compared to expectations. “It’s encouraging to have an up month,” Wayne Hammon, Otter’s budget chief, told the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey. You can read Popkey’s full report here.

Otter confident legal challenge best course for Idaho on health care reform

Otter campaign manager Debbie Field told the Associated Press that Gov. Butch Otter is confident the federal-court legal challenge to health care reform is the best course for the state and the 17 others that have joined the lawsuit. Challenging the federal requirement that the uninsured buy coverage or face penalties also has the backing of the state’s Republican dominated Legislature.

“He knows exactly what he’s doing,” Field said at the end of a campaign kickoff tour Wednesday that included stops in Post Falls, Lewiston and Caldwell. “And the governor is widely supported on the idea that Idahoans should be in charge of health reform.” Otter’s announcement tour continues on Thursday, with stops including a 9 a.m. appearance on the state Capitol steps, plus stops in Twin Falls, Rexburg and Idaho Falls. Click below to read a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Candidate Allred pitches health care alternative

Keith Allred, Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, today said he has a different plan from current GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s lawsuit challenging federal health care reform: He said if elected governor, he’d take advantage of a clause in the new law that lets states “opt out” of the plan if they enact their own health-care reform plans. “Every year, more Idahoans don’t have access to health care and virtually all Idahoans pay more for it,” Allred said. “Whether we’re Republican, Democrat or independent, most of us agree that we just can’t keep going down the same path.”

Allred didn’t release details of such a plan or its financing mechanism, but he provided these details about the state waiver in the federal health care reform law:

* It was inserted into the federal bill by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden.
* It allows for states to waive the individual mandate to buy health care.
* It allows for the creation of a voucher system that allows people to choose their own insurance.

“In Idaho, we have a strong tradition of taking our destiny into our own hands,” said Allred, a former nonpartisan citizen activist, mediator and former Harvard professor, who unveiled his idea at a news conference today at the state Capitol’s auditorium. “With the leadership of Governor Kempthorne, we chose to solve our water problems ourselves rather than have a solution imposed on us by judges in the Snake River Basin Adjudication.  With the leadership of Governor Risch, we chose to get out from under the federal roadless rule by crafting our own. In the 2010 election, we will choose a governor to work on our health care challenges.  This is a real choice.  Governor Otter will entrust the job to federal judges.  I won’t.  I’ll honor our tradition of taking our destiny into our own hands by offering the leadership needed to implement a state solution.  That is the path more likely to control the costs and increase the accessibility of health care.” You can read Allred’s full statement here.

Next shoe drops: H&W closing nine offices, laying off 126 workers due to budget cuts

The first shoe dropped yesterday, when the state Board of Education, after nine hours of agonizing, set big tuition hikes for Idaho state college and university students for next year in the wake of deep state budget cuts, approved in the recently concluded legislative session. Now comes the next shoe: The Idaho Department of Health & Welfare announced today that it is permanently closing nine of its 29 offices statewide and laying off 126 employees. “The closures will cause hardship and inconvenience for many people, but resources are not available to continue the current level of office support,” the department said in a news release; you can read the full Health & Welfare announcement here.

Communities whose local Health & Welfare offices will close within the next two months include American Falls, Bellevue, Bonners Ferry, Emmett, Jerome, McCall, Orofino, Rupert and Soda Springs; also, the size and functions at the St. Maries office will be reduced. Expect more shoes to drop as the implications of this year’s legislative budget-setting decisions become clear.

Guv quietly signs bills into law

Gov. Butch Otter has quietly signed dozens of bills into law without comment, including SB 1418, the public school budget for next year that contains historic cuts. Others include HB 687, imposing an emergency surcharge on every conviction for the next three years to keep the state’s courts operating through budget cuts; HB 696, the sharply reduced budget for the state parks system next year; HB 636, requiring every Idaho school district to adopt an Internet use policy for its students and file the policy with the state; HB 588, which amends state law to allow state offices to close because employees are being put on furlough without pay; and HB 604a, the measure that bans future pension-padding retirement purchases for certain state employees like the large one given the retiring state director of human resources last year.

The governor has two public signing ceremonies scheduled today: One for SB 1382a, establishing a new custodial remedy for grandparents or other relative caregivers seeking legal custody of grandchildren or relatives; and one for SB 1331a, which replaces outdated language, including such words as “retarded,” “idiot” and “lunatic,” in Idaho statutes for people with disabilities.

State board approves tuition hikes after marathon meeting

After a marathon meeting that started early in the morning and stretched into the evening, the Idaho State Board of Education has set tuition and fee increases for the state’s colleges and universities: 9.5 percent for the University of Idaho, 9 percent each for BSU and ISU, 8.7 percent for LCSC and 5.1 percent for Eastern Idaho Technical College. Most of those increases were below the level the colleges requested, particularly at the U of I, which had sought a 12 percent boost in the wake of deep state budget cuts for higher education. “Students and their families, Idahoans, are struggling in this economy,” said board president Paul Agidius. “Education is the life line they’re clinging to in many cases. We have to keep that access to higher education affordable.” Click below to read the full announcement from the state board, including the new rates for both in-state and out-of-state students.

The week that was…

Here’s a link to the final week of Idaho’s legislative session in pictures, as a slide show. Let your cursor hover over the bottom part of the picture frame, and the captions will appear as the slide show plays. On Idaho Public Television’s “Idaho Reports” this week, we talk about the developments of the week and the session, which wrapped up late Monday, and was reviewed the next day by both the governor and GOP legislative leaders in a press conference in the governor’s office, and by legislative minority leaders in a press conference in the Capitol rotunda.

Guests joining host Thanh Tan on the show tonight include Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls; Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise; House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale; and House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. I join commentators including Jim Weatherby and Dan Popkey on the program, which airs tonight at 8, is rebroadcast Sunday at 11 a.m. Mountain time/10 a.m. Pacific time, and can be viewed online here. The show also is broadcast on the radio at 3 p.m. on Saturday on KISU-FM, and 10 a.m. Sunday on KBSX 91.5 FM. This isn’t the end for “Idaho Reports” - the show will return weekly each Friday in April. Tune in and join us.

Idaho jobless rate falls for first time in 32 months

Idaho’s unemployment rate has dropped for the first time in 32 months, the Idaho Department of Labor reports. The state’s jobless rate for March dropped a tenth of a point to 9.4 percent, and there were more jobs and new job seekers for the first time in three years. Idaho Labor Director Roger Madsen said, “Six key economic indicators - labor force, new hires, total employment, unemployment, job gains, weekly benefit payouts - are all headed in the right direction. I’m very encouraged and optimistic.”

Idaho’s highest unemployment rate ever was 9.6 percent from December 1982 through February 1983, back during the depths of a double-dip recession. The current recession began in December 2007. Things have been rough since then - 53,000 Idahoans are currently drawing unemployment - but the jump in employment from February to March was the highest one-month jump in the number of people working in six years. The last time more people found work in a single month was February 2004, during a record-setting economic expansion. You can read the Department of Labor’s full announcement here, see the latest Idaho state unemployment data here, and see the breakdown by county here.


What both sides say about poll…

Predictably, the campaign spokesmen for Gov. Butch Otter and for Democratic challenger Keith Allred have different takes on the recent Rasmussen poll results, which show Otter with a big lead. Debbie Field, Otter’s campaign manager, says in a news release, “Idahoans know that Butch is doing a great job for the Gem State” despite recent suggestions his approval ratings are slipping. “Our Governor has had to make some of the toughest decisions ever facing Idaho,” Field said.  “The Idaho Constitution says he has to balance the budget.  That’s easy to do when the economy is in good shape, but our national economy has affected every decision made by the Governor and the Idaho Legislature.”

Allred campaign spokesman Shea Andersen said, “I can’t say I’m surprised that in late March a robo-poll might pick up opposition to a Democratic opponent to Butch Otter. I don’t consider it much of a reflection on Keith and his candidacy as I do maybe on the label.” Andersen said Allred is out campaigning around the state, and people who listen to him like what he says, even if they might have been suspicious at first about a Democrat. “It’s March, and we have a long way to go,” he said.

National poll shows big lead for Otter

Here’s a link to the recent national Rasmussen Poll, which found a big lead for Gov. Butch Otter over Democratic challenger Keith Allred in its first automated phone poll on the 2010 Idaho gubernatorial race, and also found a similar lead for U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo over a generic Democratic challenger. The poll of 500 Idahoans found 60 percent chose Otter to 28 percent choosing Allred, with 3 percent for some other candidate and 9 percent not sure. The poll also questioned respondents about whether they view the two candidates favorably or unfavorably. Otter came out 62 percent favorable, 35 percent unfavorable and 3 percent not sure, while Allred scored 34 percent favorable, 34 percent unfavorable and 32 percent not sure.

Here’s a link to a full report on the poll by the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey, which notes additional results including 58 percent favorable response toward the Tea Party movement and 63 percent favorable on suing to challenge national health care reform.

Thoughts from a substitute senator…

Temporary Sen. Darrell Kerby, R-Bonners Ferry, who filled in for the final weeks of the session for Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, while she was with her husband during his major heart surgery, reflected on his brief legislative experience. “It was an extreme honor for me to be asked to be here, but it wasn’t fun to participate in the dismantling of the programs that this state has taken years to build to assist the citizens and protect our friends and neighbors,” said Kerby, who participated in the joint budget committee’s deliberations as it set sharply reduced budgets for state agencies including schools.
    
“It was not a happy session, it was not something fun to do,” Kerby said. “It was about trying to do as little damage as possible, as opposed to being creative and looking for ways to help the state go forward.” He added, “That said, I wouldn’t have turned down the opportunity. It was an honor to sit in that seat, especially Sen. Keough’s seat. She is so respected down here.”

Luna: Pain now shifts from Statehouse to local schools

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna says the stress and pain lawmakers talked of during this year’s legislative session as they set a public school budget containing historic cuts now will fall on local school districts, as they cope with the results. “The real stress and the real pressure is shifting to the local school districts,” Luna told the Associated Press. “This is unprecedented, the kind of cuts they’re going to deal with.” He said his office plans to offer guidance and technical assistance to school superintendents as they navigate the new flexibility afforded them in education spending for next year that accompanies the cuts; click below to read a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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