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Eye On Boise

Archive for August 2010

Otter, Allred on car-truck fee study

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s meeting of Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force, which voted unanimously to accept a new state-commissioned cost-allocation study showing car owners are overpaying for Idaho roads while heavy trucks underpay, but expressed strong reservations about raising fees for trucks. Here’s Otter’s reaction to today’s task force action:

“The cost allocation study is a helpful starting point, not an end. We have to put its findings in context. The study will help inform policy makers as we determine the need and how to address it. But we also must answer such policy questions as whether to include GARVEE funding, whether to include federal funding or whether to look at state funding alone in determining a path forward under the study.”

And here’s the reaction of Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, who’s called for cutting Idaho’s gas tax by 3 cents a gallon and raising truck fees to make up the difference: “Idaho families can’t afford to subsidize the heavy trucking industry in times like these. We need a governor who works for Idaho families, not his political contributors.”

Helicopter crash victims identified

The two Idaho Fish & Game fisheries biologists who were killed in a helicopter crash this morning in Kamiah have been identified as Larry Barrett, 47, of Lewiston, who’s worked for Fish & Game since 1985; and Dani Schiff, 34, of Lewiston, who’s worked for Fish & Game since 1997. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and to all employees as we go through this difficult time,” said state Fish & Game Director Cal Groen. Click below to read the department’s full news release.

Toddler handled police gun that injured three

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: EMMETT, Idaho (AP) — A 3-year-old child was handling an Emmett Police Department officer’s weapon that discharged and injured three people on Aug. 6. The Idaho Statesman reports the agency has been accused of a cover-up in the incident, so Emmett Police Chief Steve Nebeker is now trying to eliminate some of the rumors. The incident occurred at the residence of Emmett Detective Sgt. Kim Judy. Three people, including the 3-year-old handling the gun, a 2-year-old and Judy’s roommate, Whysper Rowden, were injured. Judy took the three to a hospital, but didn’t immediately report the incident. Nebeker says Judy was probably thinking more about getting to the hospital than calling 9-1-1. The three are recovering. The Ada County prosecutor’s office is now considering possible charges. Nebeker also says there’s an internal investigation.

Local-option taxes identified as best way to fund transit

A subcommittee of Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force on public transportation has come back to the full panel with recommendations for allowing local-option taxes, including local sales taxes, an expanded resort tax for larger cities or counties, property tax options and impact fees. “The committee didn’t feel there’s dollars available to have some kind of a state-sponsored funding program,” David Bennion, subcommittee chairman, told the full panel. State Sen. Shawn Keough, who served on the subcommittee, said the group decided “our job is to provide a toolbox full of tools and then let the people in that area decide what works for them … through the ballot box.” Lt. Gov. Brad Little praised the subcommittee’s work, saying if the state is going to look at transportation needs for the next 20 years, that look has to include public transportation. The full task force voted unanimously to accept the subcommittee’s report “for consideration at a later time.”

Road work to be suspended for holiday weekend

With all the road construction going on around the state right now, don’t worry about it causing traffic tie-ups over the Labor Day holiday weekend - ITD has announced that all its highway construction projects will be suspended for the holiday weekend, excepting only those that don’t affect traffic or those responding to emergencies like flooding. “The contractor, like anybody else, has very little interest in working over the holiday,” said ITD Chief Engineer Tom Cole. “Most would probably take these days off, even if they were not required to keep the road open to travelers.” Click below for ITD’s full announcement.

Lewiston Trib: Third victim of crash dies

The Lewiston Tribune has reported that the third person involved in the crash of a helicopter carrying two Fish & Game biologists and a pilot in Kamiah today has died.

Helicopter that crashed carried two Idaho Fish & Game biologists, pilot; two dead

This morning’s helicopter crash in Kamiah involved two Idaho Fish & Game fisheries biologists and a pilot; two people died, and one of the biologists was hospitalized in Orofino. Identification of the victims is being withheld pending notification of the families. Fish & Game reported this afternoon that the crash apparently was caused by a mechanical malfunction; it occurred near the Fish & Game office in Kamiah. The biologists were taking salmon redd counts on the nearby Selway River; the helicopter belongs to a Clarkston, Wash. company that contracts services to Idaho Fish & Game.

Task force accepts cost-allocation study, but worries about impact on truckers

Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force has voted unanimously to accept the state’s new cost-allocation study, which shows that heavy trucks are underpaying for their wear and tear on Idaho’s highways, while owners of cars and light pickups are overpaying. The panel’s acceptance, however, was subject to “further refinement upon receipt of new information” by the Idaho Transportation Department, with several members noting that the study is a model for determining equity - not the answer on which way the state should go. The Idaho Trucking Association has strongly objected to the new study, which it said in a letter to a task force subcommittee is “ignoring the substantial contribution commercial trucks already make to our economy, our employment base and our highway tax structure.”

The AAA of Idaho, on the other hand, welcomed the study as something Idaho “can use … in a positive way to address equity, and also in the bigger issue of how to raise enough money” to fund “our huge underinvestment” in transportation. Said AAA government affairs director Dave Carlson, “I think the public perception is, ‘Why have we been for years tending to the needs of the trucking industry to the exclusion of other highway users?’”

Several task force members expressed misgivings. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, asked if there’s any way the cost-allocation process can “build in an X factor” for things like economic and cultural concerns, “like in northern Idaho where we have chip trucks and logging trucks that pretty much enable the economy. … If we put those trucks out of business, those communities are going to pretty much go under.” ITD official Doug Benzon responded that it’s a policy decision for lawmakers and the governor as to how to proceed on any changes in fees or taxes; the study, he said, “is looking at pure numbers.”

Task force member Jerry Whitehead, an ITD board member and president of Western Trailers, said, “It looks to me like if we raise things higher than the surrounding states, that’s really going to place a load on the intrastate carriers such as chip haulers, farmers, things like that.” Darrell Manning, also a task force member and chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board, said the board will use the study, along with many other factors as it develops funding proposals. “This is only one of hundreds of tools in a very complex system,” he said. “We’re trying to be fair to all concerned.”

Keough: ‘Mine are on the record’

As the governor’s transportation funding task force opened its meeting this morning, one member, Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, took the opportunity to formally disclose a possible conflict of interest. She both made a statement and submitted a written notice, noting, “My private sector employer is the Associated Logging Contractors of Idaho. My employer may be impacted by the work of this committee. I want to formally and publicly disclose this potential conflict of interest and uphold the state Senate rules and my oath of office.”

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the task force chairman, responded, “We appreciate that, senator - we appreciate all transparency in the governmental process, and that will be duly noted.” Asked about the conflict disclosure during a break in the task force meeting, Keough said, “I’ve always been up-front about mine and mine are on the record.”

Idaho claiming subsidy under law it’s challenging

Idaho is one of seven states that are suing to overturn the federal health-care reform law, while also claiming subsidies under it for retired state workers. Click below for a full report from the AP in Washington, D.C.

More bad news at private Idaho prison; this time it’s in the water

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press about the Idaho Correctional Center, the privately operated state prison south of Boise operated by Corrections Corp. of America that’s currently the target of a huge lawsuit over prison violence:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Traces of the E. coli bacteria have been found in the water supply at the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise. ICC says they’re boiling water that will be used for drinking and cooking. So far, there have been no reported illnesses among staff or inmates. No other businesses or homes are supplied with water from the same source.

SupCourt grants motion to expedite Highway 12 appeal, sets arguments for Oct. 1

The Idaho Transportation Department has joined ConocoPhillips in appealing to the Idaho Supreme Court a local judge’s decision to revoke its permits for four huge truckloads of oil refinery equipment to travel winding U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to Montana, saying the decision could “end up restricting commerce and limiting business opportunities.”    Meanwhile, the high court granted a motion from ConocoPhillips to expedite the court appeal, rather than take the usual time - averaging 450 days - to hear a civil appeal. However, it set oral arguments for Oct. 1. That’s expedited for a Supreme Court appeal, but it’s not quick enough to allow Conoco to move the four giant shipments before paving starts on the second lane of the Arrow Bridge on Highway 12, as it had hoped.

Because the loads are so wide they’ll take up both lanes of the bridge, that means the earliest they could move - if everything went Conoco’s way - would be late October, when the paving job is scheduled to be completed. The first lane already has been paved; Conoco has been paying the ITD’s contractor to hold off on the second lane while the permits were tied up in court. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com; read ITD’s filings here and see the Supreme Court’s order here.

ITD joins wide-loads appeal

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Transportation Department joined an oil refiner in asking the state Supreme Court to overturn a judge’s decision that’s halted shipments of oversized equipment over U.S. Highway 12. ConocoPhillips has already appealed 2nd District Judge John Bradbury’s move to revoke state permits, claiming it will lose up to $9 million and suffer production disruptions at a Montana refinery. In its appeal Monday, the Idaho highway agency argued Bradbury erred on several fronts. Its director, Brian Ness, wants state high court justices to let ConocoPhillips move ahead, contending his agency has taken steps to provide for safe transport of the big gear on U.S. 12. Environmental groups and others oppose ConocoPhillips shipments and more than 200 separate, planned wide-load transports by Exxon Mobile Corp. that are bound for Canada’s oil country.

Meanwhile, in a news release, ITD Director Brian Ness said the department decided to appeal today in part because it felt 2nd District Judge John Bradbury’s decision revoking the ConocoPhillips permits limited the department’s discretion, which could “end up restricting commerce and limiting business opportunities.” He also said he felt the department reached its decision regardless of the fact that ConocoPhillips already had shipped its oversize loads to the Port of Lewiston in May. Click below to read the full ITD news release.

Wyoming won’t change stance on wolves

Wyoming has no plans to alter its stance on wolf management - classifying the animals as predators that can be shot on sight across most of the state - despite a court ruling that Wyoming’s position means wolves are again on the endangered list and planned wolf hunting seasons are blocked in both Idaho and Montana, the AP reports. “I’m not going to change my position,” Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal told the AP; click below for a full report from AP reporter Ben Neary in Cheyenne.

Superintendent’s race in the spotlight

The first non-educator to head Idaho’s public school system is running for re-election, and he’s being challenged by one of the state’s most respected educators: the just-retired superintendent of the Boise School District, the state’s second-largest district. The race between state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, a Republican businessman, and Stan Olson, the Democratic challenger who calls himself “apolitical,” is raising issues about what Idaho’s schools really need, from politics to professionalism. And it’s coming at a time when schools are struggling with huge and unprecedented spending cuts. Click below to read my full story from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Conoco says delay in Highway 12 big truck shipments will cost it $9 million

ConocoPhillips says if it can’t get its four huge loads across U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston into Montana in the coming days, it won’t be able to make needed repairs at its Billings refinery until next summer and will lose $9 million. In a motion to the Idaho Supreme Court to expedite its appeal of a judge’s decision revoking the permits, Conoco argues, “The delay will impose millions of dollars of loss and will disrupt and compromise the production of the Billings refinery - all before the merits of the appeal are addressed.”

The average civil appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court takes 450 days from filing to opinion. An expedited case can move much more quickly, and Conoco argues that the record is complete in its case and the court can take it up right away with only minimal additional briefing. “Preparations have taken years to put into place” for the trucking of two gigantic new 350-ton coker drums from the Port of Lewiston to Billings, Conoco said in its filings, including scheduling the transport around repairs on the Arrow Bridge. Each drum is cut in half, making four giant loads that are so wide they take up both lanes of the two-lane highway and bridge. You can read Conoco’s filings here, which include a copy of the ITD’s Aug. 20 decision to grant the permits. And here’s a link to the plaintiffs’ response to the motion.

CNN cites ‘rosy outlook’ in 1st CD race for ‘Tea Party’s favorite Democrat’

CNN’s “Political Ticker” has a piece on Idaho’s 1st District congressional race today, headed, “A rosy outlook for the Tea Party’s favorite Democrat.” Its take: Incumbent Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick, “who defied the odds in 2008 … seems poised to confound expectations yet again.” The report finds Minnick looking strong against GOP challenger Raul Labrador, despite the heavily Republican makeup of the 1st CD, saying, “The Democratic incumbent has GOP roots as solid as his state’s.” But it warns that spending from outside groups could be a wild card in the race. You can read the piece here.

Crapo: Support growing for craft-beer tax cut

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo says his bill to cut taxes for small breweries is gaining support, as evidenced by the addition of 24 co-sponsors. Crapo has joined Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Ron Wyden of Oregon, as well as Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine, as an original sponsor of this push to halve federal excise taxes for smaller breweries. They contend the break to save small brewers about $3.50 per barrel on their first 60,000 barrels annually will leave them more money to invest in workers and supplies. Crapo, a Republican, will be touting his bill this weekend at the Portneuf Valley Brewing Company in Pocatello, though he won’t be sipping a cold, frothy one: He’s a member of the Mormon church, whose adherents don’t drink alcohol. He will join the Idaho Grain Producers Association to discuss the measure’s benefits to agriculture.

North Idaho bridge construction still on hold as oil company seeks permits for big loads

Emmert International, the contractor for ConocoPhillips tasked with hauling the four huge loads of refinery equipment bound for Montana via U.S. Highway 12, still is paying McAlvain Construction, the contractor for the state who’s repaving the Arrow Bridge, to hold off on starting paving on the bridge’s second lane, ITD confirmed today. The oil company had planned to ship its oversize loads, which will take up both lanes of the bridge, in a narrow window between completion of paving of one lane, and the start of paving of the second. That window technically closed Monday, but Emmert has been paying McAlvain since then to “stand down” as it attempts to get permits to move the loads; an appeal now has been filed to the Idaho Supreme Court. If the loads don’t go now, the next time both lanes of the bridge will be open is October.

Jeff Stratten, ITD spokesman, said, “The bridge is scheduled to be completed in late October. The Idaho Transportation Department is not adjusting the completion date. The contractor could make up for the suspension of work by adding or extending shifts and adding additional workers.”

Evacuations ordered in wildfire near Tamarack

Here’s a news item from the AP:  CASCADE, Idaho (AP) — The Valley County sheriff’s office is ordering an immediate evacuation of some subdivisions near the Tamarack Resort as strong winds fan the flames of the Hurd Creek fire. The sheriff’s office issued a Level 3 evacuation notice Thursday morning for about 100 homes in subdivisions south of the golf and ski resort. Level 3 means residents are being told to leave their homes. Authorities are also telling residents with pricey homes closer to the resort to be ready to clear out on a moment’s notice. So far, the Hurd Creek fire has burned about 550 acres in a mid-section of the mountain. About 700 firefighters are working to contain the blaze ignited Saturday by lightning.

Conoco: Highway 12 residents’ claims ‘speculative’

Here is the notice of appeal filed by ConocoPhillips of 2nd District Judge John Bradbury’s ruling revoking its ITD permits to move four giant loads over Highway 12 from Lewiston to Montana, starting immediately. The appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court includes notice that the oil company will file a motion to “expedite,” or speed up, the high court appeal.

In the notice of appeal, ConocoPhillips says the three Highway 12 river canyon residents and business owners who sued don’t really have standing to sue, because “their alleged injuries are speculative, hypothetical, abstract, and are not causally related to the four shipments that are at issue.” The firm also questions the judge’s decision that ITD acted in an an arbitrary and capricious manner in its application of state regulations requiring a “reasonable determination of necessity” before approving such oversize loads; and charged that the court considered some evidence it shouldn’t have and ignored other evidence it should have examined. “ConocoPhillip has a right to appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, and the Order … is appealable,” the firm wrote in its filing.

Interestingly, the five justices of the Idaho Supreme Court include Justice Roger Burdick, who was elected to another term on the court he’s served on since 2003 in May, turning back a challenge from Bradbury - the district judge in the Highway 12 case. The Missoulian has a full report today on the appeal; click here to read it.

Otter response: ‘It takes experience like mine’

Gov. Butch Otter’s campaign issued this response to Democratic challenger Keith Allred’s comments this morning regarding the state budget and school funding. It’s a statement from Otter:
 “Mike Ferguson’s economic forecast this morning was very positive news for our state.  This is a prime example of how my conservative approach to budgeting set us up for success in the future. Regarding my opponent’s claims, I am about results-based leadership.  Recent reports show our students are outperforming the majority of the nation.  Look at the numbers.  26% of Idaho schools made AYP in 2007 and in 2009, 66% of schools made AYP.  We are leading the way.  As I have stated, once the state’s revenue increases, money for our children’s education would be the first to be restored.  My opponent once again thinks that you can govern on theory when in fact; it takes experience like mine to understand the full budgeting process.”

The campaign added, “Today’s adjustment from Mike Ferguson was another correction to his previous incorrect predictions.  So, if Governor Otter would have listened to our opponent in January and just used Mr. Ferguson’s numbers, we would be more than $140M upside down at this point.  Instead, Governor Otter took the careful and prudent approach to balancing the budget.”

Allred: Otter ‘botched’ budget, ‘cut schools unnecessarily’

Keith Allred, Democratic candidate for governor, says the latest official state revenue forecasts shows “Otter cut schools unnecessarily,” and said in a news release this morning, “New information about Idaho’s budget once again underscores one point: Idaho school kids shouldn’t have to pay the price for Butch Otter’s botched budget.”

Idaho lawmakers and Otter cut funding for public schools this year by $128 million, 7.5 percent. The latest state revenue forecast suggests the current fiscal year, which began July 1, could end with about $80 million more in state tax revenue that lawmakers predicted; the first month of the fiscal year, July, brought in $4.5 million above the forecast. “Otter made a mistake,” Allred declared. “We could have kept them whole without raising taxes. … We’re crippling our own ability to compete in a future that we knew would eventually look brighter. That’s no way to run a state.” You can read Allred’s full release here.

Lewiston Trib: Conoco appealing Hwy 12 decision

The Lewiston Tribune reports that ConocoPhillips filed a notice of appeal at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the 2nd District Court office in Grangeville. So far this morning, the Idaho Supreme Court has not received a notice of appeal of 2nd District Judge John Bradbury’s decision revoking ITD permits for Conoco’s proposed four mega-loads of oil refinery equipment to travel U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to Montana; the defendants who lost have 42 days from the date of judgment to file an appeal. The Tribune reported, “The oil company filed the appeal based on respondents failure to meet their burden of proof that these shipments would harm them and that the District Court erred in considering certain evidence.

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Hot-air balloons to return to Boise skies

For the first time in several years, and eight years after the demise of the Boise River Festival, dozens of colorful hot air balloons will fill the sky over Boise the weekend after next, as part of the “Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic.” The event, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of flight in Idaho, will be Sept. 2-5, and will include a “Night Glow” show and concert in Ann Morrison Park from 6 to 10 p.m. on the Saturday evening, Sept. 4th.  Close to 30 hot air balloons are scheduled to participate.

The event is being spearheaded by Peak Broadcasting, and backed by the Idaho Lottery, the state of Idaho, the city of Boise, the Federal Aviation Administration, Lighter Than Air America Inc., KTVB-TV and many others; click here for the full rundown. “This is a family-friendly community event at Ann Morrison Park and attendance is free to the public,” Peak Broadcasting said in a press release. The balloon classic will include 7:15 a.m. balloon launches each day, military aircraft flyovers, balloon flight competitions, and balloon aviation history displays. It’ll also include a candlelight vigil against child abuse in conjunction with the Night Glow concert event.

The mass balloon launches were the hallmark of the Boise River Festival, a huge multi-day festival that included a signature parade and big array of concerts and activities, but that ended after it ran into financial trouble. After the end of the festival in 2002, separate Boise balloon rallies were held each year from 2003 to 2006.

New official forecast: $80M more revenue for state budget this fiscal year

Idaho’s latest state revenue forecast suggests the state’s modest economic recovery should help it finish this fiscal year with $80 million more tax revenue than the 2010 Legislature predicted, the AP reports. Plus, at one month into the fiscal year, the state is about $4.5 million ahead of the latest  revenue projection. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho GOP says it’s pulled back on funding campaign help for Labrador

The AP reports today that the Idaho Republican Party has shifted gears and isn’t using one of its “victory” staffers to work to elect Raul Labrador to Congress after all, instead spending most of his time on other state GOP campaigns. Jeff Ward, head of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans, was hired to work in Coeur d’Alene and head up a push for Labrador against incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick, but state GOP executive director Jonathan Parker told the AP today that he’s now being used as “a traditional Idaho GOP employee.”

Ward is being paid with mostly unregulated donations, or soft money, according to campaign finance reports the Idaho Republican Party filed with the Federal Election Commission last week. Campaign employees who spend more than 25 percent of their time in a given month working on a federal race, such as Labrador’s campaign, have to be paid with political donations that are regulated by law. The state GOP is using such funds to pay Phil Hardy, the other “victory” staffer hired to help Labrador.

Parker told the AP that Ward is working less than 10 hours a week for the Labrador campaign from northern Idaho and does not fall into this category; click below to read a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Loertscher: Now ethics panel will take up the ‘more serious’ charge against Rep. Hart

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, chairman of the special House Ethics Committee that’s investigating the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart, said now that the state Board of Tax Appeals has rejected Hart’s appeal, he’ll likely reconvene the Ethics Committee to hear the second charge against Hart, abuse of legislative privilege. “It’s something that we’d rather not do at all, but that’s our charge, and that’s what we’ll do, we’ll do what’s required of us,” Loertscher said. “We’ll have to make the determination now as to whether or not he’s abused this constitutional privilege or not. Quite frankly, this is probably the more serious of the two charges in the complaint.”

Loertscher said, “The reason why we decided not to move forward was  because we just didn’t want to muddy the water for that appeal. So as soon as I get word about that and everything’s put together, then we’ll probably convene the committee again.” He added, “I think the Ethics Committee would want to know why the thing (Hart’s appeal) hadn’t been done in a more timely fashion.”

The ethics complaint against Hart, filed by House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, charged Hart with possible abuse of the privilege, which he’s cited repeatedly to seek delays in his state and federal income tax battles; and with conflicts of interest for voting on and sponsoring tax legislation while pressing his own personal fight against the state Tax Commission over back income taxes. Last month, the committee voted 4-3, along party lines, to clear Hart on the conflict of interest charge. Hart is a third-term Republican from Athol with a history of tax protesting; he stopped filing both state and federal income tax returns in 1996 while he pressed an unsuccessful lawsuit claiming the federal income tax was unconstitutional. He’s since been wrangling with both federal and state authorities over back payments; public records show he owes nearly $700,000 in state and federal income taxes, penalties and interest. In his state appeal, Hart also alleged that the state income tax was unconstitutional.

State rejects Rep. Hart’s tax appeal

Idaho’s state Board of Tax Appeals has rejected Rep. Phil Hart’s bid to appeal an order to pay $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest, saying his appeal wasn’t timely. Hart argued that he should have months extra to file his appeal because of the state Constitution’s provision granting freedom from arrest or civil process to state legislators during legislative sessions; the appeal period ran out 10 days before the start of this year’s legislative session. You can read the decision here, and read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The board’s decision is especially significant because Hart faces a pending ethics charge of abuse of legislative privilege for repeatedly citing the constitutional privilege to win delays in his state and federal income tax fights. A special House Ethics Committee, which earlier voted 4-3 along party lines to clear Hart of a conflict-of-interest charge, delayed considering the abuse of privilege charge to await the pending tax appeal decision.

NYU/GWU study: Idaho’s digital edge in U.S. Senate slips to ‘challenged’ and ‘feeble’

There was a time when then-Idaho Sen. Larry Craig was dubbed the “cybersenator” because he was the first U.S. senator to send out podcasts. Now, it seems, our digital edge in the U.S. Senate has slipped. George Washington University and New York University’s Stern School of Business have completed a joint study that evaluated and ranked every senator for what it dubbed their “digital I.Q.,” or “online competence” based on presence on websites, social media following and sentiment, digital marketing aptitude and search engine optimization skills. Idaho’s results? Sen. Mike Crapo ranked 64th among the 100 senators, and Sen. Jim Risch ranked 93rd.

The top seven senators were dubbed “digital geniuses,” and were led by none other than Sen. John McCain, who famously said “I don’t email” during the 2008 presidential campaign. According to the study, he got his first Blackberry in January 2009 and “took to the Twittersphere,” and he now has 1.7 million Twitter followers and 630,000 Facebook “likes.” The other senators who got the “digital genius” designation were Sens. Jim DeMint, Scott Brown, Al Franken, John Cornyn, Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer. Republicans led Democrats in the study, with an average digital I.Q. 5.5 percent higher than their colleagues across the aisle. “Our thesis is that digital competence provides an opportunity for senators to authentically engage and mobilize voters and constituents,” wrote the two authors of the study, Scott Galloway, clinical associate professor of marketing at NYU Stern, and Doug Guthrie, dean of the George Washington School of Business.

So what’s the designation for our guys? Crapo’s score of 89 (McCain’s was 156) designates his digital I.Q. as “challenged.” And Risch? At a score of 68, he’s dubbed “feeble.”

As school starts, districts mull which cuts to restore thanks to federal aid…

Canceling unpaid furloughs for teachers and other school employees, reversing layoff decisions and adding back school days are among the plans being mulled by North Idaho school districts for their share of the last-minute federal jobs bill money, which is arriving just as school starts. In Coeur d’Alene, reinstating the planned six unpaid furlough days will take up $1.2 million of the district’s $1.8 million share.

The federal aid was welcome news after Idaho lawmakers cut an unprecedented $128 million from the state’s public school budget this year – 7.5 percent – and declared a statewide financial emergency to allow school districts to reopen negotiated teacher contracts and cut pay and benefits. The money could allow districts to reverse up to 40 percent of those cuts, but if they follow the governor’s advice and spread the money over two years, the impact could be less. Read our full story here at spokesman.com.

More on Highway 12: Full ruling, ITD response, more

Here’s a link to 2nd District John Bradbury’s decision on the Highway 12 oversize shipments today. And here’s the response from the Idaho Transportation Department: “The department received the ruling at about 5:15 p.m. (Mountain time) today. The deputy attorney general is reviewing the ruling and he has scheduled a briefing tomorrow with the department’s leadership team,” said ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten.

And here’s another interesting tidbit: There was identical language in both draft permits, in both Idaho and Montana, “where it said that Idaho would not issue unless Montana was in position to do so, and vice versa,” Stratten said. “So before any loads would have rolled up the highway, Montana would have had to have issued a permit.”

And here’s another: ConocoPhillips had been hoping to get its four giant truck shipments over the Arrow Bridge on Highway 12 during a brief window between completion of the paving of one lane of the bridge deck, and the start of paving of the other, since the loads need to take up both lanes. That window technically ended yesterday. “ConocoPhillips was paying the contractor, McAlvain Construction, to stand down pending the court ruling,” Stratten said. “I’d need to get back to you tomorrow on when they’ll resume construction based on this ruling.” Once the bridge paving begins, both lanes won’t be available again until October. Here’s a link to our full story at spokesman.com.

Opponents of giant truck shipments won on both their claims

The three Highway 12 residents who sued over permits for four giant oversized loads of oil refinery equipment scheduled to travel along the scenic river-canyon route won on both points in their lawsuit today: That the ITD, in issuing permits for the loads, violated its own regulations that require traffic not to be held up for more than 10 minutes; and that it violated its regulations requiring that it make a “reasonable determination” that the oversize shipments are necessary and feasible, and make public safety and convenience a primary consideration. “We won on both the claims we presented,” said Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West.

Both sides in the case - the residents, and the ITD and ConocoPhillips - argued the full merits of the case yesterday, and today’s decision from 2nd District Judge John Bradbury is a final ruling revoking the permits as unlawful; that means there’s no need for an injunction, as had originally been sought to block the shipments. “The permits are thrown out and they can’t move the shipments,” Lucas said. “It’s going to be a real problem for Exxon as well, because those loads are just as large and also cannot make a 10-minute delay rule.”

Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil plans more than 200 oversized shipments of equipment for its Alberta oil sands project over the same route starting in November; half of those 200 loads would be so wide they’d take up both lanes of the two-lane highway. No permits have yet been issued for those, though the company has spent $440,000 to improve turnouts along the route. Click here for the latest report from the Lewiston Tribune on today’s ruling in Lewiston.

Judge stops Highway 12 shipments, revokes permits

This just in from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho judge has revoked special permits issued by the state to allow ConocoPhillips to ship four oversized loads of oil refinery equipment along a highway that follows a winding, federally protected river corridor in northern Idaho. Second District Judge John Bradbury ordered the Idaho Transportation Department to study the permit request again and take action to ensure the safety and convenience of the public. Last week, Bradbury put a temporary halt to the oil company’s plans to ship the massive coke drums along the 175-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 12. He issued his opinion on Tuesday, after hearing testimony on the case on Monday.

Highway 12 decision still pending…

Here’s a update from the Lewiston Tribune: “Second District Judge John Bradbury is still working on his decision in a case where the court has been asked to block four mega-truckloads from traveling on U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to a refinery in Billings, Mont. The judge had hoped to be finished by noon. But by midday his ruling had already topped 40 pages and still wasn’t complete. Bradbury spent more than two hours in a Monday hearing with attorneys representing the Idaho Transportation Department, ConocoPhillips and three Idaho residents who filed the action. ITD issued permits for the loads to move Friday, but promised they wouldn’t start their journey until after Bradbury’s ruling. The plaintiffs claim the loads would present safety hazards, erode tourism and possibly threaten the scenic river corridor along which they would travel.”

State to dedicate Lombard ATV Trail

Idaho’s state Department of Parks & Recreation will dedicate a new ATV/motorbike trail on Sept. 11 from the Land of the Yankee Fork State Park Interpretive Center to Bayhorse. The new 9-mile trail is named in honor of Ernie Lombard, a Boise architect and longtime state Parks Board member, and its current vice-chairman, who worked for more than 20 years to establish the trail. A group ride and BBQ lunch are planned; click below for full info.

Goedde named to NCSL education post

State Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, has been appointed co-chairman of the education committee for the National Conference of State Legislatures, one of 12 standing committees of NCSL, the bipartisan organization serves legislators and staffs of all states with research, technical assistance and more. Goedde is chairman of the Senate Education Committee, a post he’s held for the past six years; he’s served on the committee for 10 years. He’s also a former Coeur d’Alene school trustee, and he serves on the University of Idaho-Coeur d’Alene Advisory Board and the North Idaho College Foundation Board. Click here for the full announcement.

Goedde is currently seeking a sixth term in the Senate; he has no Democratic challenger, but faces independent Jeremy Boggess and Constitution Party candidate Ray Writz on the November ballot.

U.S. Chamber joins Crapo in Boise, Minnick in Coeur d’Alene to talk trade

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is coming to both Boise and Coeur d’Alene this week, to host sessions at the Boise and Coeur d’Alene chambers on exports, trade and job creation. The Boise session, set for Wednesday from 8 to 11 a.m., will feature U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, along with chamber officials and federal farm services and Small Business Administration officials. The CdA session, set for Thursday from 8-9:30 a.m., will feature 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick, along with U.S. Chamber officials. Both will focus on potential job growth for Idaho if Congress passes the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, along with information on how Idaho businesses can grow through exports and trade.

Bobby Maldonado, U.S. Chamber spokesman, said the events are part of a national push that’s included events in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Ohio.

Million-dollar foundation gift to help turn Capitol Annex into ‘Law Learning Center’

A million-dollar gift from the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation will help turn Idaho’s Capitol Annex - formerly the Ada County Courthouse - into a new Idaho Law Learning Center, housing the state law library, the University of Idaho’s Boise law program, and the state’s judicial and legal education programs. The gift from the Idaho-based foundation is specifically for the building renovations, which are targeted to be completed within two to three years. The state law library, which is operated by the UI College of Law under an agreement with the Idaho Supreme Court, previously was housed in the Idaho Supreme Court building on its first floor, but was squeezed out by the expansion of the state Court of Appeals; the law library is now split into two locations, the Supreme Court’s basement and space at Key Bank downtown.

“Idaho’s public College of Law is distinctive in its ability to serve the state through a unified program that offers opportunities in two locations,” said Don Burnett, the law school dean. “Our state benefits from having homegrown legal expertise that supports economic development and other legal services that Idaho families and communities need. The public also will benefit from enhancements to the Idaho State Law Library, which is used by the general citizenry and by students throughout the Treasure Valley, as well as by the judiciary and the legal profession. We are profoundly grateful to the Idaho Supreme Court for its leadership in developing this concept.”

UI President Duane Nellis said, “The Idaho Supreme Court, the University of Idaho and the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation all have a long and rich history of serving the state of Idaho. This gift links to a shared heritage and moves us forward. We are gratified by the foundation’s investment in the university’s and college’s mission to provide public legal education to the state.” Click below to read the UI’s full announcement; the UI began offering third-year law courses in Boise this week as the first step in its Boise law program.

Risch, Crapo urge U.S. wolf appeal

Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo have sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar urging him to appeal a federal court decision placing wolves back on the endangered species list, which they call a “most unfortunate decision.” The two ask Salazar to “vigorously” appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, adding, “It is imperative that the Department of the Interior put forth any and all necessary resources in order to successfully appeal and overturn the District Court’s decision.” Click below to read the full letter. Idaho’s top fish and game officials already have called for the state to appeal the ruling; as a named defendant, Idaho can appeal on its own, but the lead defendant in the case is Salazar.

Montana not ready to issue big-load permits

Here’s an interesting item from The Missoulian: “No matter what an Idaho judge decides Tuesday, Montana isn’t ready to give a green light to the shipment of four massive loads of oil refinery equipment bound from the Port of Lewiston to Billings. “No, not this quickly,” Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation, said Monday. “We’re still working through some issues that we need to get resolved with Conoco.”” Click here to read the full Missoulian article.

Broncos, Vandals talk…

Here’s a news item from the AP: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Athletic officials from Boise State and Idaho are talking about options for keeping the rivalry alive after the Broncos switch conferences. Boise State is moving from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West Conference next season. The change could spell the end of a gridiron rivalry the Broncos have dominated in the last decade. But leaders from the two schools are at least talking about future matchups. Vandal Athletic Director Rob Spear said he was contacted last week by Bronco Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier. Spear says Bleymaier is working on a proposal to schedule games beyond 2011. For now, the Broncos and Vandals are slated to meet one more time — in Moscow Nov. 12.

Art with a message in downtown Boise…

Art with a message went up in downtown Boise today, as a new anti-hunger mural was unveiled on the south wall of the infamous big hole in the center of downtown. The mural proclaims “HUNGER AFFECTS EVERYONE,” and features striking 3-D images of an empty fridge and an empty cupboard, with a shopping list on one cupboard door listing such basics as bread, milk, eggs and soup. As contributions are made to feed the hungry, the empty cupboard and refrigerator will fill with food; the mural is scheduled to be up until January. It’s a collaboration between the city of Boise’s Art and History Department, Boise Young Professionals, Wirestone, which donated the design work, and the Idaho Foodbank. Also contributing to the project were Hewett-Packard, Home Depot, Thriftway Home Center, Food Services America, and Signs 2 U.

As the work was unveiled this morning, a knot of volunteers and passers-by gathered across Main Street to watch; the 3-D images, which don’t look like much up close, stand out in the view from across the street and for motorists driving by. The mural also features information about food drives and other anti-hunger events.

“During uncertain times, more and more Idahoans are seeking emergency food assistance, many for the first time,” the Idaho Foodbank said in an announcement about the project. More than 40 percent of those seeking its assistance have a family member who’s working; more than 70 percent of households seeking help did so because their income has temporarily dropped below $10,000 per year.

The wall that serves as a barrier around the hole in the center of downtown Boise has played host to an array of murals over the years; behind it, an unfinished foundation and jutting rebar testify to a giant office tower that never was built, one of a series of failed redevelopment proposals on the site that once was the home of the historic Eastman Building. That structure, vacant and on the verge of a historic renovation, burned to the ground in a spectacular midwinter nighttime fire two decades ago; it’s the last remaining piece of Boise’s original downtown redevelopment zone that’s never been successfully filled back in.

Arguments in Lewiston on Highway 12…

During more than two hours of arguments today in the Highway 12 lawsuit, the AP reports, the attorney for the scenic byway residents, Natalie Havlina, told 2nd District Judge John Bradbury that ITD officials narrowly focused their review of oversize truck shipments along the route on potential damage to roads and bridges, but failed to adequately consider other factors state law required them to consider, such as public safety and convenience. Attorneys for ITD and ConocoPhillips disagreed, saying the agency suggested numerous changes in the company’s travel plans, resulting in a 700-page document that lays out the ground rules for the shipments. “Two years of negotiations helped us create a plan that was in the public’s best interest,” agency attorney Tim Thomas told the judge. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press and the Lewiston Tribune; Bradbury said he’d rule Tuesday.

Docs endorse Minnick, Labrador signs ‘death tax’ repeal pledge

In campaign news today, Democratic congressman Walt Minnick was endorsed by the Idaho Medical Association and the American Medical Association, the groups that represent doctors in Idaho and nationwide. “IMA appreciates Congressman Minnick’s extensive efforts to reach out to the medical community on an ongoing basis,” said Susie Pouliot, CEO of the Idaho association. “He consistently reflects the values of his constituents and has shown the courage to vote accordingly.” Click here to read the full announcement.

Meanwhile, Minnick’s challenger, Raul Labrador, announced that he’s signed a pledge to back repeal of the federal estate tax and won support from the American Family Business Institute, a group promoting the pledge. Dick Patten, the institute’s president, said, “Labrador has been a strong advocate for permanently repealing this unfair double tax. He understands that the Death Tax penalizes family farmers and business owners when they die. I’m encouraged that he has committed to taking a more active role in the repeal fight.” Click below to read the full announcement.

NYT, WSJ take notice of Idaho’s guv race

The New York Times took notice of Idaho’s governor’s race on its political blog today, referencing a Wall Street Journal story over the weekend headlined, “In Idaho, GOP Incumbent Sees Wide Lead Erode.” That story, datelined Idaho Falls, where the WSJ reporter caught the first debate between Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred, reported, “Thanks in part to anti-incumbent sentiment, Democratic challenger Keith Allred has been steadily chipping away at Mr. Otter’s wide lead in the polls. … While few pundits expect Mr. Otter to lose, they say his opponent is proving surprisingly strong in a state that last elected a Democratic governor 20 years ago.”

Why no backup for new Medicaid billing system…

Idaho state Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong says the new computerized billing system for Medicaid, which the federal government required Idaho to develop after its old system was declared obsolete, originally was supposed to begin operating in November, long before Molina Healthcare Inc. acquired the firm developing it in May. “We delayed it until February and then again until June because we believed the system was not ready for operations,” Armstrong wrote this month in a letter to Medicaid providers in Idaho. “These delays consumed any cushion we had to keep the previous system available as a backup.”

Under its contract with the state, Molina Healthcare could face penalties for the delays, but state officials said they’re focused for now on getting the system up and running, and will consider any penalties later.

Judge to decide tomorrow on injunction on big Highway 12 shipments

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — A state judge says he will take a day before deciding whether ConocoPhillips can begin hauling massive loads of oil equipment along U.S. Highway 12 in northern Idaho. Last week, 2nd District Judge John Bradbury put a temporary halt on the company’s plans to truck four oversized loads along the federally protected scenic river corridor. Bradbury heard more than two hours of testimony during a hearing Monday in a lawsuit filed by three Idaho residents seeking a permanent block on the shipments. The Lewiston Tribune reports that Bradbury intends to review arguments and issue a ruling Tuesday. Opponents say the shipments would threaten public safety, pose a risk to the pristine corridor and hurt the region’s tourism industry.

Regrets, apologies as Idaho copes with Medicaid billing mess

Gov. Butch Otter called a press conference this morning with Health & Welfare Director Richard Armstrong and Mario Molina, CEO of Molina Healthcare Inc., the firm that’s handling the bungled changeover of Idaho’s Medicaid billing. “We’ve just finished what I would call a productive meeting on the problems we’ve had for the last six or seven weeks on getting our Medicaid payments out,” Otter said; Molina also met with an array of Medicaid providers, from home-health agencies to hospitals and doctors. Otter and Armstrong announced a moratorium on any penalties to providers for overpayments - barring fraud - for those who get emergency payments as the state sorts out the mess. Armstrong said new claims now are being processed normally, and he has “some comfort” that the backlog should be substantially cleared up within 60 days. Molina said his firm is adding 48 customer-service staffers in Boise, as part of a ramp-up to staffing of nearly 200, vs. the 100 it had when it first took on Idaho’s new computerized Medicaid billing system.

“Clearly there have been issues with the implementation of this new system,” Molina said. “I’m not here to make excuses. … I want to apologize to the providers who have had problems and to the state.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Molina, a physician, said his father, also a physician, founded his firm 30 years ago, and it still operates some clinics that provide Medicaid services, so it relies on just the type of service that’s broken down in Idaho. Two-thirds of the new workers have now been hired and trained, he said, and the remainder will be coming on within the next two weeks. “It was good for me to connect first-hand and hear from the providers what the major issues are,” he said. “We were understaffed initially because we didn’t understand the magnitude of the situation.”

When a reporter asked if the additional staffing would come at a cost to the state or to the company, Molina said, “I think that’s going to be our cost.” Interjected a wickedly grinning Otter, “You think?” “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be our cost,” Molina said.

Idaho awarded the contract for the new Medicaid claims payment system to a division of Unisys Corp., which spent two years developing it, only to be acquired by Molina on May 1, a month before the system went live. The Medicaid billing problem was magnified because the state, in a budget-balancing move, pushed three weeks worth of Medicaid payments to providers into the new fiscal year that started July 1, rather than paying them in June. Providers were notified in advance that their checks would be three weeks late, but then the computer snafu pushed that to six weeks and more, putting many small firms across the state in danger of going out of business.

Otter said of the budget move, “That added to the anxieties.” Some providers had taken bank loans to tide them through the three-week delay, he said, leaving them with major problems when the checks didn’t arrive as promised. “I never like to do that in any case,” Otter said of the delayed payments. “I regret doing that to any agency, let alone just the Health & Welfare agency.”

Schools get word on money from jobs bill

The Boise school district will get $4.6 million, Meridian nearly $6 million. St Maries schools: $225,000. Coeur d’Alene schools get nearly $1.8 million. West Bonner County: $285,000. Idaho’s state Department of Education has released the breakdown of how much money will go to each Idaho school district from the newly passed federal jobs bill, which will send $51.6 million to Idaho schools for salaries and benefits for teachers and other employees actually at schools - not in the school district office. The money also can’t be put in rainy-day funds, but school districts have 27 months to spend it. Click here to see the full breakdown, which lists every Idaho school district and charter school and its share.

Gov. Butch Otter, in a letter to school districts, wrote, “I strongly urge districts accepting these funds to focus on the preservation of student-teacher contact time and that you consider budgeting funds not only for the 2010-2011 school year but also in the 2011-2012 school year.” The coming school year - which has either just started or is starting shortly in districts around the state - is the one in which schools will feel the unprecedented $128 million budget cut lawmakers approved this past spring; the $51.6 million can offset some of those cuts, by doing things like canceling planned unpaid furloughs, but it’s not enough to reverse even half the cuts.

At the governor’s direction, school districts and charter schools have to contact the state Department of Education by Sept. 3 to say “yes” and get the money, which is being handed out through the state’s existing distribution formula to districts around the state.

More on the I.F. debate…

Here’s another detailed account of the first debate between Gov. Butch Otter and challenger Keith Allred on Thursday in Idaho Falls, this one from Times-News reporter Ben Botkin. Here’s an excerpt:

“Allred took Otter to task for not giving voters an answer as to what changes are needed to pay for the state’s roads needs, criticizing his 2009 efforts to raise fees for cars at a higher rate than for heavy trucks in an economic downturn. “Governor Otter, that’s just wrong and you should come clean on this,” he said. Otter said he’s waiting for his task force on transportation to finish its report, which isn’t due until December. “Why would I create a task force and get out in front of it?” Otter responded, adding that heavy infrastructure is crucial for Idaho exports. Allred said the December deadline of the report was purposely put in place, and that a study the task force received shows heavy truck drivers underpaying their share of road maintenance by the millions. “If you’re serious about it, get your friends in the trucking industry to pay their fair share,” Allred said.

Otter took aim at Allred’s description of The Common Interest’s role, saying that citizens already give input to legislators without the organization. When Allred said The Common Interest’s approach is “different from the six or seven lobbyists who show up at the tax committee,” Otter gave a quick retort: “Being a lobbyist, you probably understand that better than anybody else.” Allred fired back, alleging Otter awarded a $60 million contract for a statewide broadband system to Qwest Communications because of donations the company gave his campaign. Otter said Syringa Networks, which disputes the state’s award, has also contributed to past campaigns.”

And, with a hat tip to reporter Aaron Kunz of KPVI-TV, here’s a link to audio of nearly the full debate; all that’s missing is most of the two candidates’ five-minute opening remarks, in which Otter opened with, “Hello Idaho Falls - it’s great to be here,” and closed with, “Leave Idaho alone - let us be the architects of our own destiny.”

ITD fails to disqualify Judge Bradbury

Why did the Idaho Transportation Department try to disqualify 2nd District Judge John Bradbury from the Highway 12 truck shipments case? ITD gave no reason in its court filing, arguing it could automatically remove the judge without cause. The plaintiffs in the case disagreed, saying that’s allowed in civil suits, but not when the judge is acting in an appellate capacity, as he is in this case, reviewing a decision of ITD under the state Administrative Procedures Act. ITD responded that he’s not really reviewing a decision - because his temporary restraining order blocked the decision, by blocking ITD from issuing pending permits for four big ConocoPhillips shipments of oil refinery equipment over Highway 12 from Lewiston to Montana. “In reality, plaintiffs seek to prevent a future action by ITD, the future issuance of a permit,” ITD argued in court papers.

At today’s telephone conference, all sides agreed to delay the hearing to Monday, and to allow ITD to go ahead and issue the permit to ConocoPhillips on Monday so the judge can then review it in court that morning. The temporary restraining order blocking the permit runs through Friday. “We’re challenging the underlying determination that the permit should be issued,” said Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West. “But we all realized that it’d be a lot easier for all of us if we can see exactly what the permit says. So the permit will be issued on Monday morning, and then we’ll be in court Monday morning asking the court to consider the preliminary injunction. They’re not going to start the load.”

Idaho previously had a rule that also allowed disqualification of judges without cause in criminal cases, but last month, the Idaho Supreme Court suspended that rule, saying it’d been used excessively and abused. It remains in effect for regular civil cases, however, that aren’t on appeal.

ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten said, “ITD will present its case on Monday. The proposed shipments by Conoco will remain at the Port of Lewiston awaiting the judge’s decision.”

A spirited debate in Idaho Falls…

In their first face-to-face debate of the campaign, Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred faced off in Idaho Falls before a sellout crowd of 300 today, with Allred painting himself as a citizen activist fighting a career politician whose three decades in office align him more with special interests than the state’s residents, and Otter touting his credentials as a budget-balancing conservative unafraid to take on the federal government. Both candidates made spirited statements that won flurries of applause from the audience, though the audience wasn’t supposed to applaud. Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Highway 12 hearing delayed

The hearing that 2nd District Judge John Bradbury had set for tomorrow morning in Grangeville on a possible injunction to block the Idaho Transportation Department from issuing permits to ConocoPhillips for four huge truck shipments from Lewiston to Lolo Pass over U.S. Highway 12 has been put on hold until Monday. According to the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case - three Highway 12 residents - the judge held a telephone hearing with the parties today, denied a motion from ITD to disqualify him as the judge in the case; granted a motion to allow Conoco to intervene as a party; and, with agreement of all sides, rescheduled the hearing for Monday at 11 a.m. in Lewiston. More info to come…

Allred, Otter get into it in Idaho Falls

Wow. In a very lively, issue-oriented debate in Idaho Falls, Gov. Butch Otter and challenger Keith Allred departed from the set format just now, with Otter using his final rebuttal to a question about the Republican Party platform to ask Allred about his view of planks of the Democratic Party platform. Though it wasn’t his turn to speak, Allred responded, and moderator David Adler said he’d allow that through “moderator’s prerogative.” Allred responded, “The governor did ask me a question,” to which Otter put in, “But that doesn’t mean under the rules you get to reply.” Responded Allred: “It’s good to do this with a career politician who knows all the tricks.” Otter then declared, “This is the first college professor I ever ran against,” prompting Adler to make a crack about losing control of his class.

Gov’s debate about to start

The first debate between Gov. Butch Otter and challenger Keith Allred is about to begin at the City Club of Idaho Falls. KPVI-TV has its live stream up here. When you first click on it, you’ll have to endure an ad for “smart lipo” that says you can “liquify and suck out the fat;” then the live stream begins.

Write-in challenger files against Rep. Hart

A Hayden, Idaho businessman has filed to run as a write-in candidate against Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, saying Hart’s tax woes prompted him to jump into the race against a fellow conservative. “We all pay our taxes, and my feeling is what he did was wrong,” Howard Griffiths said of Hart. “There’s no justification for it. If we all took that attitude, and the way Washington’s printing money, this country wouldn’t last three minutes if none of us paid our taxes.”

Hart is the target of an ethics investigation in the Idaho House; in late July, a special House Ethics Committee cleared him, on a 4-3 party-line vote, of conflict-of-interest charges for voting on and sponsoring tax legislation while he was waging his own fight against back state and federal income taxes. He still faces a pending charge of abuse of legislative privilege, for repeatedly citing the constitutional privilege against arrest or civil process during legislative sessions to win delays in his state and federal income tax cases.

Other than the write-in challenge, Hart, R-Athol, is unopposed in his bid for a fourth House term in November. A civil engineer, he’s a tax protester who stopped filing state and federal income tax returns in 1996 while he pressed an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the federal income tax as unconstitutional, a point he expounded on in a book he authored. Now, though Hart has resumed filing returns, public records show he owes nearly $700,000 in back state and federal income taxes, penalties and interest.

Griffiths, 62, sold his Hayden business, Clean Check Inc., three years ago; it sold an extendable backwater valve for sewer systems that he patented. He also worked as a Kootenai County marine sheriff’s deputy in the summer of 2003, and was the city of Rathdrum’s public works director from 1989 to 1994.     ”I’ve never been in politics, but I guess I’m jumping in,” Griffiths said; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Guv candidates have first debate tomorrow

The first head-to-head debate between GOP Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred will take place tomorrow in Idaho Falls, at the Idaho Falls City Club. New University of Idaho political scientist David Adler, who recently left ISU after 25 years, will moderate. The Idaho Falls Post Register reported today that the format for the debate will include both candidates submitting questions to Adler to ask the other, and lots of back-and-forth between the two that Adler said “should really bring an edge to it.” It’s the first of four scheduled face-offs between the two major-party candidates for governor. Boise TV station KTVB has announced it’ll show the Idaho Falls debate live on its website, www.ktvb.com, starting shortly after noon, and AP reporter John Miller will be in Idaho Falls to cover the matchup; I’ll post his reports here as soon as they’re available. Adler told the Post Register he’s expecting a sellout crowd of more than 300 people at the event.

Former reality TV star takes over Otter campaign’s communications

Check out Rocky Barker’s blog post here on how the Otter campaign has hired Troy McClain, who gained fame as the runner-up on the first season of Donald Trump’s reality TV show “The Apprentice” in 2004, to handle its communications. McClain, a public speaker and consultant, brought with him former KTVB reporter Ryan Panitz, who Rocky reports works for the McClain Companies; the campaign announced on Monday that Panitz and McClain are its new press contacts. “I love their business sense and their energy,” Debbie Field, Otter’s campaign manager, told Barker. “They add more creativity to our team.”

1st CD campaigns respond to new poll

Here’s reaction from the two campaigns to the new independent poll that shows Congressman Walt Minnick with a 23.3-point lead over GOP challenger Raul Labrador:

“I think it’s another example of the support that Walt has and the support that continues to come,” said John Foster, Minnick’s campaign manager. “It’s also an example of the fact that the more people learn about Raul Labrador, the less inclined they are to support him. … This shows great momentum for Walt’s campaign.”

Labrador’s campaign spokeswoman, China Gum, said, “This poll is not consistent with polling that we’ve seen both internally and otherwise. We have major support on the ground and we continue to build momentum. As more and more voters learn how Minnick helps push the Obama/Pelosi agenda, they realize how out of touch he is with their values.”
    
The Labrador campaign also released a comment from its pollster, Bob Moore of Moore Information: “It is really hard to comment without knowing more about the poll.  However, in our experience roughly 50% of Idaho voters are Republican or lean to Republicans.  In this survey only 38% are Republicans.  That could explain the better numbers for Minnick.”

The independent poll, conducted by nationally known GOP pollster and consultant Greg Strimple, showed that asked their party affiliation, 19 percent of the 400 Idaho respondents said Democrat, 36.8 percent said independent and 38.3 percent said Republican. By comparison, the most recent BSU Public Policy Survey, released in June 2008, showed 25 percent of respondents saying they were Democrats, 28 percent independent, 40 percent Republicans, 1 percent Libertarians, and 6 percent other, refused or don’t know. That year’s survey saw the percentage identifying as Republicans drop by 4 percentage points from the previous year.

New independent poll: Minnick leads Labrador by 23.3 points

Greg Strimple is a prominent Republican pollster and consultant who served as a senior adviser to John McCain’s presidential campaign, and who relocated to Boise fairly recently, where he’s set up an office under the name GS Strategy Group downtown. Strimple hasn’t returned my calls in the past week, but the reason I’ve been trying to reach him is because I obtained a portion of a statewide poll he conducted for the Idaho Hospital Association, that has some eye-catching results in the 1st Congressional District race along with interesting figures on Idaho’s gubernatorial race. The hospital association initially was reluctant to say anything, but today, after Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey published the info on his blog this morning, the association’s communications director, Darryl-lynn Oakes, told me, “Yes, we did a poll, and it’s for internal planning purposes only.” It was actually the second time the IHA had used Strimple for polling; the first was in February or March of this year.

Here’s the news: The poll shows Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick leading GOP challenger Raul Labrador by 23.3 points, with Minnick at 52.1 percent and Labrador at 28.8 percent; while 1.9 percent chose “other” and 17.2 percent were undecided. That’s more than twice the Minnick lead shown in Labrador’s own poll, which he released a month ago showing Minnick with a 10-point lead.

The poll had a statewide sample of 400 people, and just 200 of those were in the 1st Congressional District, so that means the margin of error for that result is well above the plus or minus 4.9 percent for the poll as a whole. But it’s still pretty interesting.

Also in the poll: GOP Gov. Butch Otter led his Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, by just 10.7 percent, a smaller lead than in other most recently published polls, suggesting that race is narrowing. In that race, 3.8 percent preferred “other” and 14 percent said they were undecided. The poll also showed Otter with just 48 percent favorability ratings, with 32.8 percent of respondents saying they viewed him unfavorably and 18 percent with no opinion.

The IHA did its polling because it’s backing a constitutional amendment on the November ballot regarding bonding for hospitals; I haven’t seen the portion of the poll regarding that measure, which is one of three bonding measures lawmakers approved this year for the November ballot. Oakes said, “We’ve done polling for the last couple years, and it could be on different things, just taking a poll on what people think about reform, what people think about community hospitals, just general polling.” Including questions about the “political environment” - including how respondents view different political races - has “been standard,” she said, “just to see how, when you look at different groups and divide them up - it’s just one more mechanism in addition to geography and other demographics.”

The poll also found that 56.3 percent of respondents had unfavorable views of Democratic President Barack Obama, with 33.8 percent favorable and 10 percent with no opinion. The poll was conducted on July 29.

Of trucks and courts and fees…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the temporary restraining order issued today by a Grangeville judge to block ITD from issuing permits for four giant truckloads of oil refinery equipment to travel Highway 12 from Lewiston to Lolo Pass. The judge set a Friday hearing on a possible preliminary injunction. Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter talked about why he’s a supporter of the shipments. Also, the Idaho Transportation Board, at its regular meeting Thursday in Coeur d’Alene, is scheduled to consider raising fees for over-legal trucks, after a department review found that the current fees don’t fully cover the department’s administrative costs to issue the permits. Under the current fee structure, each of the giant loads proposed for Highway 12 would be subject to a $1,000 state fee; the proposed increase would raise that by up to $35.

Dems react to federal ed funds

Yesterday Gov. Butch Otter announced that Idaho will qualify for $51.6 million in federal aid for its ailing schools, and said he’ll apply for the funds, and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna hailed Otter’s decision in a statement posted here yesterday. Later the same day, Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred issued a statement saying the decision to apply for the federal funds was a sign that Otter had failed the schools this year; “Otter cut education so severely that even taking the big federal bailout won’t keep our schools whole,” he said. And legislative Democrats sent out a statement urging Otter and Luna to quickly distribute the money to schools to make up the “dramatic and unprecedented cuts that have occurred under Republican leadership in recent years.” Click below to read both their statements.

State board votes to revoke charter for Nampa school

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The state Board of Education has voted to uphold the closure of a charter school that tangled with Idaho officials over use of the Bible in the classroom and is now being shuttered over money problems. The state Board of Education further considered an appeal Tuesday from Nampa Classical Academy administrators, who vowed to shed their combative reputation and work with the state to stay open. The Idaho Public Charter School Commission decided earlier this year to close the academy, which opened last year and had more than 500 students enrolled for this fall. The school appealed that decision to the board, which voted 4-3 to uphold the revocation.

Incidentally, the state board took hours of testimony from officials of the school and the state Charter Commission over three different days as it considered the appeal; today, a motion to give the school a year’s reprieve failed by one vote, 3-4, before the successful motion to revoke the charter passed 4-3. Among the board’s top concerns: The ability of the school to cover its debt from last fiscal year while still having sufficient financial resources to operate this year and in future years.

ITD on restraining order: ‘Will fully comply’

The Idaho Transportation Department, through spokesman Jeff Stratten, issued the following statement today in response to 2nd District Judge John Bradbury issuing a temporary restraining order against four oversize truck shipments on U.S. Highway 12 proposed by ConocoPhillips:

“The transportation department will fully comply with Idaho law in reviewing over-legal permit requests on any state highway. No permits have been issued to ConocoPhillips to haul over legal loads on U.S. 12. The transportation department is continuing its analysis of the ConocoPhillips request. The hearing on Friday is part of that process.”

The judge set a hearing for this Friday morning in Grangeville on a request for an injunction against the shipments.

Otter: ‘Good for Lewiston, good for the state’

Finally had a chance to visit directly with Gov. Butch Otter today about why he’s such a strong supporter of the plan by two oil companies to ship gigantic truckloads of oil equipment along U.S. Highway 12 from the Port of Lewiston to Montana through the Clearwater/Lochsa river canyon. Queried during a break in today’s Land Board meeting, here’s what Otter had to say:

“When we first started discussions, we wanted to protect ourselves. The question of a bond has always been there, or a deposit. How much was also going to be a good question.” He said, “We had satisfied ourselves to some degree. We had finally decided we were going to permit each load.” That way, Otter explained, the state could adjust requirements as needed, based on issues that arise with earlier truckloads,  because a new permit would be issued for each load.

Otter characterized the proposals from Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips as similar to other expressions of interest from firms that want to do business in Idaho, many of which come through the state Department of Commerce. “It’s not unusual when somebody says, ‘We have this thing that we’re working on.’ Obviously in this case it was the Port. It’s not unusual for a company to come forward.”

“Once we expressed interest, it’s with the caveat that … make sure we’re safe, make sure we’re protected. ITD went up there and held three meetings,” he said, which took place in June. Otter wrote a letter to the Port pledging support for the proposal in January of 2009. “Obviously it means a lot to the Port and a demonstration of our own ability at the port to be able to handle large loads, to be able to handle unique loads,” the governor said. He added, “If we’re going to see things like this benefiting from a 400-plus mile river and Port’s ability to handle it, when can we look forward to hearing about manufacturing these types of things in Lewiston?” The equipment now proposed to be shipped is mostly manufactured in Korea; the first four shipments are of drums manufactured in Japan. Asked if he’s gotten any sign that such manufacturing in Lewiston would be realistic, Otter said, “No, but I’ve asked the question. I want ‘em thinking.”

“I see it as potential economic development,” Otter said, “but I also see it as having done everything right as a demonstration that we can do those kinds of things, and that port being 400 miles inland is extremely valuable. … That of course, then, is good for Lewiston, and therefore good for the state.”

Advocates: ‘This is right - a judge is taking this seriously’

Laird Lucas, attorney with Advocates for the West, which is representing three river canyon residents who sued over proposed giant oversized truck shipments along U.S. Highway 12, said Advocates for the West is posting the $3,000 bond required by the judge this afternoon, and the temporary restraining order will be in effect, blocking the shipments. Such bonds are required by rules of civil procedure, Lucas said. “Of course we’re pleased,” he said. “This is just an early look, we all know that. … The judge is just looking at our pleadings. … He finds that we may suffer great damage and that the department may be violating its own regulations. Those are the two key issues, the two things you need for an injunction are likelihood of prevailing and irreparable harm. Now we’re going to hear from ITD and go to a further hearing on Friday. This is just a temporary restraining order - it’s what we asked for.”

Lucas, whose group is representing the plaintiffs pro-bono, said, “This is right - a judge is taking this seriously. We wish the Department of Transportation had taken it as seriously as the courts are.”

Judge issues restraining order blocking huge shipments over U.S. Highway 12

2nd District Judge John Bradbury has issued a temporary restraining order blocking the Idaho Transportation Department from issuing permits to ConocoPhillips to haul four giant loads of oil refinery equipment over U.S. Highway 12 through the Clearwater/Lochsa river canyon. The judge set a hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction for this Friday at 9 a.m. in Grangeville. He found that the plaintiffs showed prima facie evidence “that they may suffer great damange that would not be recoverable from ConocoPhillips if the transportation of the equipment is permitted by the Department, and that by issuing permits for the transportation of the equipment the Department may be violating its own regulations.”

However, he also ordered the plaintiffs - three river canyon residents who are represented pro-bono by Advocates for the West - to post a $3,000 bond to “cover potential costs to the Department in the event this order has been improvidently issued.”

Land Board sets school distribution for 2012

Idaho’s state Land Board has voted unanimously to set distributions from the state’s permanent endowment to public schools and other endowment beneficiaries for next year at this year’s level, less the special, one-time extra distribution of $22 million to public schools this year. That means overall distributions will be down 32 percent and public school distributions will be down 41.3 percent, dropping from a total of $53.3 million this year to $31.3 million next year. But if you set aside the special $22 million allocation this year, the total distributions actually rise by 0.6 percent.

Gov. Butch Otter asked Larry Johnson, manager of investments for the endowment fund, “Is there any way we can measure the effect of taking that $22 million out? I mean, for historical purposes - we’ve done it. … If we’re tracking it we can look back on it in years to come … know what our overall cost is.” Johnson replied that that will depend on the endowment fund’s earnings. For example, if the fund earns 15 percent, the cost would be 15 percent of $22 million. If the fund were flat, the cost would be zero. Said Otter, “I just think it would be valuable for us to know … what the effect of that was, should we ever be faced with that situation again.”

Johnson submitted pages of charts and analysis from the Endowment Fund Investment Board to the Land Board showing that holding the distributions even, but for the $22 million, would be “prudent” given the various endowment funds’ earnings. Continuing the $22 million in fiscal year 2012, however, would not, he said. In four of the endowments - not the major one, which is for public schools - earnings have actually built up beyond five years’ worth of distributions in the reserve funds, and the investment board recommended a transfer from those funds back into the permanent fund, as prescribed by its investment plan. “The recommended distributions and transfers appear to be achievable and represent an appropriate balance between the interests of current and future beneficiaries,” said the report from the endowment board.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden made a motion to approve the recommendation, Controller Donna Jones seconded the motion, and the vote was unanimous - including from state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, who was participating by phone. Luna, who pushed for the $22 million extra distribution for schools this year - and who actually wanted twice that amount - made no comment this time. Idaho’s endowment fund had a 5 percent gain in July, the first month of the fiscal year.

Lawyer: ‘If we didn’t get into court now, the shipments would be gone’

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how residents opposed to giant truck shipments of oil equipment through Idaho’s scenic Clearwater/Lochsa river canyon filed suit today to block the shipments, just a day before Idaho planned to issue permits for the first four loads, and here’s a link to the lawsuit. Meanwhile, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced that he’ll impose a new requirement for a $10 million bond from each of the two oil companies that wants to move the giant equipment, and both agreed to put up the bonds. Without the new bonding requirement, the two would have paid state fees of just $1,000 per load for the oversize loads.

Laird Lucas, attorney for Advocates for the West, which is representing three river canyon residents pro-bono in the case, said the opponents scrambled to file the lawsuit before the shipments started. It was filed Monday in 2nd District Court in Grangeville, and seeks an immediate order blocking the shipments plus a declaration that they’re illegal. Two violations of the Idaho Administrative Procedures Act are alleged: Allowing traffic delays of more than 10 minutes for the loads, and failing to determine that they’re both necessary and feasible and to place a “primary concern” on public convenience and safety. “If we didn’t get into court now, the shipments would be gone,” Lucas said Monday. “Big oil, the oil industry, Exxon and now Conoco, has spent the last couple years very quietly making the preparations.”

ITD was about to issue Conoco permits

The Idaho Transportation Department was poised to issue four oversize permits to ConocoPhillips for mammoth shipments on U.S. Highway 12 tomorrow, but now will hold off due to the filing of a lawsuit in 2nd District Court in Grangeville today by local residents seeking to block the shipments. “It was the intent of the department to issue four permits to ConocoPhillips tomorrow,” ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten said in an email. “The department will defer the issuance to await the judge’s ruling.”

He added, “The permit included a requirement for a $10 million damage bond. The bond was recommended to the department by Governor Otter after listening to the comments of Idahoans at the three public meetings and his Capitol for a Day in Pierce.”

Otter calls for $10M bond on huge shipments

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has decided to require a $10 million bond from both ConocoPhillips and Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil for their huge, oversize shipments of oil equipment over Idaho’s scenic Highway 12 corridor along the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers. “We have asked for and the companies have agreed to a $10 million bond,” said Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary. “We’ve also talked to Montana about that.”

The governor’s announcement came the same day that residents along the route sued to block the shipments. “The governor has heard the concerns, and we are taking steps to try to ensure that the companies that are engaged in this travel on the highways are doing so responsibly,” Hanian said. “As a result, the governor is requiring them to provide a $10 million bond to mitigate any potential risk or any chance of anything going wrong as they go about moving these shipments.”

“Obviously there have been a lot of questions,” Hanian said. “We feel like we’ve vetted most of them. Obviously the concerns that were raised by the citizens who felt this created an unacceptable risk, the governor felt we needed to go the extra mile to ensure that in the unlikely event that something happened, there is a process. … I think the action that we’ve taken will mitigate the risk.”

He had no comment on the new lawsuit, other than to say, “We’re going forward until such time as we hear” what becomes of the motion for a temporary restraining order against the shipments. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. The governor is trying to be responsive to folks who have raised concerns.”

Prior to the new bond requirement, the oil companies in question were only going to pay fees to the state of $1,000 per shipment, under Idaho law. Each truckload of equipment will be so wide it’ll take up the entire two-lane highway, extra-high, and as long as three normal semi-trucks; they’ll weigh up to 337 tons apiece. They’re proposed to run for a year along the route that’s also designated as the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway.

Idaho will apply for fed school aid

Idaho will qualify for $51.6 million in aid to its hard-hit public schools under the new federal jobs bill, and Gov. Butch Otter has announced that he’ll apply for the money, a decision welcomed by state schools Supt. Tom Luna. Click below to read Otter’s full news release.

F&G Commission: ‘Pursue all options’

Fish & Game commissioners have approved a resolution to call for an appeal of the federal court decision putting wolves back on the endangered species list; calling for working with the governor and Idaho’s congressional delegation on legislation addressing the issue; pursuing all available management options under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act to address wolf attacks on livestock or big game herds; and continuing to play a major role in day-to-day wolf management in Idaho, which U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials told the commission they thought was appropriate, though commissioners said they don’t want any sportsman dollars spent on wolf management, restricting that to federal funds. “We may be waging a lot of battles on a lot of fronts, but at this point in time, we just need to pursue all available options,” said Commissioner Randy Budge of Pocatello. Said Commissioner Gary Power, “If you aren’t in the game you don’t have a place at the table.”

The department already has received nearly 100 comments on its proposal to remove all but 20 to 30 wolves from the Lolo zone for the next five years; public comments are being taken on that proposal for two weeks.

FWS to Idaho: ‘We’re in this with you’

Robin Thorson, regional director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, closed her presentation to Idaho’s Fish & Game Commission on wolves today with this comment: “It’s not just words. We are in this with you, until you’re back to delisting - you earned it.”

Residents sue to block huge truck shipments

Here’s a news item from The Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Three Idaho residents are asking a state judge to block the first wave of oversized shipments of oil equipment planned along scenic U.S. Highway 12 in northern Idaho. The lawsuit filed Monday seeks a temporary restraining order barring ConocoPhillips from hauling big equipment from Lewiston to Billings, Mont., starting as early as Wednesday. They are the first of more than 200 planned over the next year. Exxon Mobil Corp. wants to haul heavy equipment from Lewiston to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta. Those loads could weigh more than 330 tons, stretch nearly 30-feet wide and 27 feet high. Opposition to the plan has been building for months. The lawsuit claims the shipments would threaten public safety, damage tourism and pose a risk to the pristine river corridor. Click below to read more.

Budge: ‘Get Wyoming to come along’ on wolves

F&G Commission Randy Budge of Pocatello asked, “How did the Fish & Wildlife Service get so crosswise with Wyoming?” and asked “what we plan to do to get Wyoming to come along, and what we can do to change that situation.” Robin Thorson, regional director of FWS, responded, “I can’t offer why Wyoming does not want to do a state management plan, but they don’t, and that is the situation. … I’m sorry I can’t explain.” She said she respects states’ sovereign decisions.

U.S. FWS to add Boise employee on wolves

Idaho Fish & Game Commission Chairman Wayne Wright said on wolves, “Idaho’s plan didn’t fail, but yet the process did fail us.” He questioned whether the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service bore some “responsibility” or “culpability” for that. Robin Thorson, FWS regional director, said the service is adding an employee in Boise to work specifically on the wolf issue, a move she said it hopes will remedy “any past flaws in the process.”

No decision yet on possible wolf appeal

Idaho Fish & Game Commissioner Tony McDermott of Sagle said he’s been hearing from “frustrated sportsmen,” and he told Fish & Wildlife Service Regional Director Robin Thorson, “I’m not sure your federal rule failed, I think it was maybe the federal justice system and one judge that didn’t like the rule, didn’t like it for political reasons and threw it back into the political arena.” McDermott said that’s just his opinion, but said, “There are no good options out of the political arena right now” and said the issue on wolves is a “judge’s asinine decision.” McDermott also said he’s read the 10(j) rule, and it’s “unbelievably complicated,” saying, “I’m almost convinced it was written by at least 20 lawyers when it was written back in 1974.”

Thorson responded, “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is deeply disappointed that we lost this case. … I’m not ready to blame it on the federal court, but I would emphasize that we believed this was a successful path. We’re sorry that it failed, but we want to take responsibility for the rulemaking and emphasize the efforts and the successes in Idaho.”  

McDermott asked if Thorson and her agency would help the state appeal the decision. She responded that the Department of Interior and Department of Justice “have made no decision on whether or not they would appeal.” However, she said, “We are as strong and ferocious an advocate as we can be for the interest of this state. … We will make sure that your voice is heard in the discussion.”

FWS official on wolves: ‘Idaho did everything right’

Robin Thorson, regional director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, says the federal service is “standing ready to receive Idaho’s proposal to control wolves” in portions of its population due to impacts on elk. “Once we receive it, we’ll turn it around in no more than 60 days,” Thorson told the Idaho Fish & Game Commission today. “We anticipate approval of the opportunity … but that depends on the rule, so we don’t want to prejudge that,” she said. Idaho, she said, “did everything right” to move toward delisting and recovery of wolves. “Your actions succeeded and wolves were delisted because they were recovered here. … You were rewarded for getting that job done, and now we are having to withhold that reward.” Said Thorson, “This was a federal rule that failed, and it failed Idaho. We regret that. We believed that this path was merited, and the court disagreed.”

Wolves were re-listed as endangered, she said, not because of Idaho’s actions, but because a federal court rejected the FWS strategy of delisting in Idaho and Montana but not in Wyoming. “We’re still near the finish line,” she said. “We hope the momentum of Idaho for the successes that you’ve achieved will continue with Idaho at the helm.” She called the court decision “a profound disappointment.” At this point, she said, a sport hunt would be unlikely to be approved because of the risk of it not standing up in court.

Fish & Game opens wolf meeting

Idaho’s Fish & Game Commission was supposed to meet today to set wolf-hunting seasons, but since a federal judge re-listed wolves on the endangered species list, that’s off the table; instead, the commission’s agenda at its Idaho Falls meeting today includes a proposal to kill 70 to 80 percent of the wolves now in the Lolo zone in the Clearwater drainage, one of 29 wolf management zones in the state, out of concern for elk herds there. The proposal comes under Section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act, which allows states management flexibility to address wolf depredations on livestock and “unacceptable impacts” on wild game herds. The commission meeting is being shown by video link-ups at regional offices around the state. Fish & Game on Friday opened a 14-day public comment period on the Lolo wolf-kill plan, which would affect about 7 percent of the state’s minimum wolf population of 835.

Idaho scenic byway targeted for huge trucks

A scenic Idaho river canyon dotted with campgrounds, hiking trails and historic sites is the target for hundreds of mammoth truck shipments of Korean-built equipment for the Alberta oil sands project in Canada, a prospect that’s raising an outcry from residents, recreationists and tourist businesses along the route. But the project’s biggest booster is Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who welcomed it long before locals heard about it. Otter says it’ll be done right, but critics aren’t convinced, and are concerned about Otter’s handling of the issue.

“People are passionate about this - they are really, really upset,” said Linwood Laughy, a retired educator and author who’s lived in the Clearwater/Lochsa river canyon since 1965, and first came to Lewiston in 1948. “There’s a definite sense of betrayal, that these folks are working for the oil companies and not for the citizens.” Laughy’s home is right on Highway 12, where the truck shipments are proposed to go. The route was designated as an Idaho scenic byway in 1989, and a national “all-American road” dubbed the “Northwest Passage Scenic Byway” in 2005. It follows roughly the route that explorers Lewis and Clark took as they sought a passage to the Pacific, and passes through the reservation of the Nez Perce Tribe, which is opposing the shipments.

The truckloads are so huge that they’ll take up both lanes of the two-lane highway; running at night, they’ll pull over every 15 minutes to let other traffic pass, which otherwise will be blocked. The shipments would run for a year. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and read Otter’s January 2009 letter welcoming the shipments here.

Fish & Game plans Clearwater wolf kill

The Idaho Fish & Game Department is working on a plan to kill 70 to 80 of the 100 or so wolves in the  Lolo elk management zone, and keep that zone’s wolf population at just 20 to 30 for the next five years; with wolf hunts off the table since a federal judge reinstated endangered species protection, the F&G plan calls for officials to do the wolf removal, rather than hunters. “Idaho Fish and Game would prefer to let hunters help manage the wolf population. But until the wolves are delisted and turned over to state management, Idaho has decided to pursue the best option available under the Endangered Species Act,” the department said in a news release.

The Lolo zone, one of 29 in the state, is the only one targeted, because of “unacceptable impacts on the elk population by a wolf population that has recovered biologically.” Fish & Game is opening a two-week public comment period on the plan; at the close of the period, it’ll be submitted to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for final approval. Click below for the full news release from Idaho Fish & Game.

Olson faults Luna for school science grad requirements shortfall

Stan Olson, the Democratic challenger to GOP state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, is criticizing Luna’s move to do away with a standardized test on science as a graduation requirement in Idaho, a move approved yesterday by the state Board of Education. “Given the critical need in areas such as health care, high-tech, energy and agriculture there is no more important subject to a child’s development and their future opportunities than science,” Olson said. “By removing proficiency in science as a graduation requirement, Mr. Luna is not only selling our kids short, he’s endangering some of our economy’s most important employers.”

Olson said it’s not just yesterday’s move he objects to; he’s concerned that new science graduation requirements adopted by the state four years ago have languished, without leadership from Luna to get Idaho school districts ready to implement them. “The reality is that Mr. Luna focused his time on boondoggles such as performance pay initiatives or ‘Race to the Top’ or a number of other initiatives, and neglected the responsibility … that was before him, and more importantly before every school district in the state,” Olson said. “We’ve been talking for three or four years that districts needed support and consistent assistance from the state department and consistent resource assistance, to get ready for the deployment of those graduate requirements, and particularly what we were going to be doing in science.”

Olson is the just-retired superintendent of the Boise School District, where he served as superintendent from 2002 until June 30 of this year; it’s the second-largest school district in the state, with 25,000 students and a $200 million annual operating budget. He holds a doctorate in education from Western Michigan University, and started his education career as a high school teacher and coach in 1971, going on to serve in numerous administrative posts including district superintendent in Wyoming from 1997 to 2002. Olson, who is making his first run for office, is using the campaign slogan, “A real educator when we need one most!”

Luna, a businessman and former school board member, is Idaho’s first non-educator state superintendent of schools. He’s seeking a second term; his campaign slogan is “Measuring Success One Child at a Time.” Here are links to Luna’s campaign website and Olson’s campaign website.

Crapo sets public meeting Saturday on boating, recreation on Lake Lowell

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo has called a meeting at Lake Lowell on Saturday on the future of boating and other recreation at the lake, a national wildlife refuge. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is in the process of creating a new comprehensive management plan that could threaten some traditional uses, including power boating. “Recreation is a vital part of our lifestyle and our economy, as well as a historical use of Lake Lowell,” Crapo said.  “I am encouraged by the strong response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s call for public comment, but the comment period for the new management plan is scheduled to close in mid-September.  Now is the time for recreationalists and residents to weigh in and let our elected leaders, as well as the Service, know their feelings about the future use of Lake Lowell.”

The meeting will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the west end of Lake Lowell, at Lower Dam, south of Nampa. Crapo noted local irrigators helped create Lake Lowell, which is fed by canals supplying water to local agricultural users and property owners.  Irrigators, recreational groups and elected officials will all be in attendance for the lake meeting.  County commissioners, members of the Idaho House and Senate, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Officials, boaters and recreational interests and businesses will attend.

Luna, state board want to scrap science test as high school grad requirement

Idaho high school students would no longer have to pass a standardized test in science to graduate from high school, under a rule change pushed by state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna and approved by the state Board of Education yesterday; lawmakers still must sign off on the change, which would take effect with the class of 2013. Luna said it wasn’t an accurate measure of how students are performing in science. Click below to read a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Prospective Tamarack buyer is first-hand familiar with bankruptcy

The head of a Salt Lake City-based real estate investment group that’s now trying to buy bankrupt Tamarack Resort in Idaho lost his own $5 million private jet and $450,000 Mercedes sports car to bankruptcy, the AP reports; JT Bramlette told reporter John Miller, “If you want to refer to me as the comeback kid, you can.” Click below to read Miller’s full report.

Charity postpones fundraiser after protest from independent guv candidate Kemp

The Idaho Statesman is reporting that Catholic Charities of Idaho has called off a scheduled Sept. 10 roast of the four major-party candidates for governor and the 1st CD because of a threat from independent candidate for governor Jana Kemp, who suggested the charity could endanger its nonprofit status by holding the event. Click here to read a full report from Statesman reporter Rocky Barker, who reports that Kemp said in an email that the popular “Loves and Fishes” fundraiser is a “prohibited activity” for a nonprofit; it’s the charity’s major annual fundraiser, typically bringing in more than $40,000. Kemp also sent a letter this week to the Boise City Club protesting its decision to hold a September forum featuring Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred, but not her.

Realtors endorse Minnick, Simpson, Crapo

The Idaho Association of Realtors has announced its endorsement of the re-election bids of Idaho Congressmen Walt Minnick and Mike Simpson and Sen. Mike Crapo. Julie DeLorenzo, the group’s president, said, “Our congressional delegation has consistently demonstrated their pro-business, pro-private property rights beliefs in Congress. These three individuals are a tremendous asset to the State of Idaho, and the IAR enthusiastically supports their re-election this November.” Of Minnick, she said, “We admire Walt’s common-sense, fiscally conservative approach to serving in Congress, and we also appreciate how hard he and his staff work for us, for other small-business owners and for Idaho. Like Sen. Crapo and Rep. Simpson, Rep. Minnick puts Idaho first. Our association and our state are fortunate to have such a respected, hard-working delegation.”

Minnick, a freshman Democrat, faces a challenge from two-term GOP state Rep. Raul Labrador of Eagle, along with an independent and a Libertarian; Crapo is seeking his third term in the Senate and has two challengers; and Simpson, who is seeking his seventh term in the House, faces a challenge from Democrat Mike Crawford of Mountain Home and independent Briad Schad of Idaho Falls.

Crapo wins small-biz endorsement

The National Federation of Independent Business announced today that it’s endorsing Idaho’s senior center, Mike Crapo, in his re-election bid, noting that it’s rated Crapo as a “Guardian of Small Business” since his first term in Congress for his voting record on the group’s issues, and calling him “a strong leader on tax issues, consistently voting to keep taxes low for small businesses.” Click below to read the group’s full announcement. Crapo’s bid for a third U.S. Senate term is being challenged by Democrat Tom Sullivan of Tetonia, a political newcomer; also on the ballot is Constitution Party candidate Randy Lynn Bergquist of Weiser.

Eyes on Idaho’s 1st CD race…

There’s more speculation nationally about whether or not the Republicans see Idaho’s 1st Congressional District as winnable or not, with the New York Times suggesting in a recent story that they don’t, and a CQ Politics story today disputing that. The district, in which freshman Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick is seeking re-election, is one of three - the other two are in Pennsylvania and Ohio - that were highlighted because Democratic incumbents are running in districts that voted for John McCain for president in 2008.

Here’s how Minnick’s GOP challenger, Raul Labrador, characterized the race to Eye on Boise in a recent interview: “We’re going to win. Everywhere I go, I have two or three people who voted for Minnick who say that they made a mistake and that they’re not going to make that mistake again. It’s happening on almost a daily basis.” And here’s what Minnick had to say in a recent interview: “I think it’s important that we have an opportunity to campaign on the issues, and I’m hopeful that voters of Idaho will conclude based upon my voting record and my background that I better represent their views than does Mr. Labrador.”

Idaho case challenges ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

A lawsuit challenging the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law regarding gays in the military has been filed in federal court in Boise, seeking a temporary restraining order to keep a decorated Iraq veteran from being discharged from the military, and asking to declare the law unconstitutional. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Utah firm wants to buy Tamarack Resort

A Salt Lake City real estate investment company that’s had issues of its own over an eastern Idaho real estate development says it’s put in an offer to buy the bankrupt Tamarack Resort, the AP reports. Pelorus Group owner JT Bramlette told the AP he hopes to buy Tamarack “at a discount.” Click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

Minnick to help Baker’s widow attend burial

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick is donating his frequent flyer miles to the widow of Medal of Honor recipient Vernon Baker so she can attend his burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Baker, who belatedly received the nation’s highest military award for his role in World War II, was 90 when he died at his home near St. Maries in northern Idaho last month. Baker’s wife, Heidy, recently told reporters the family could not afford to travel to Virginia for his ceremonial burial. Minnick, a Democrat who represents Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, learned of Heidy Baker’s dilemma and offered to let the family use the frequent flyer miles he has earned from business and campaign trips on U.S. Airways. Minnick’s office confirmed Wednesday that travel arrangements were being made for Heidy Baker, her daughter and nine-year-old grandson, Vernon, so they could attend the Sept. 24 service.

Sullivan heads to former CdA digs for free campaign fundraiser concert

Former Coeur d’Alene restaurant owner Tom Sullivan, now an eastern Idaho resident and a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, will return to his former establishment in North Idaho on Friday for a free campaign benefit concert featuring Too Slim and the Taildraggers. The former Tubbs Cafe at 313 Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive is now O’Shays, where the concert will take place in the beer garden. “It’s a wonderful place that we have a lot of very fond memories from,” Sullivan said. “We hope that people will contribute to the campaign, but it’s a free concert.”

Sullivan, 42, is making his first run for elective office, challenging U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo. Sullivan easily defeated William Bryk, a Brooklyn lawyer who’d never been to Idaho, in the Democratic primary; Bryk said he just didn’t want a U.S. senator to go unchallenged, as Crapo did six years ago but for a write-in.

Sullivan, whose North Idaho restaurant-business stint ended with a failed sale and bankruptcy, has since built a credit-card processing business in eastern Idaho, which he says is “a very strong and competent organization” with three employees, despite reversals in 2008 that left him struggling with a big debt to the IRS, now down to $150,000 from an earlier $600,000.

Sullivan said a few years ago, he attended the Idaho Democratic Party’s Frank Church banquet and was  “somewhat vocal” about how someone should run against Crapo; later, he said, the party asked him to run. Party officials said they didn’t know then about Sullivan’s tax issues, but party executive director Jim Hansen said, “He’s worked it out.”

“I accepted the task of running for the United States Senate to give the people a choice,” Sullivan said. “I am not a politician. I’ve been running businesses for the last 20 years, and I believe I offer a common-sense approach to solving problems.” Sullivan’s “Soundwaves for Democracy” party at O’Shay’s on Friday will run from 8 to 10 p.m.

Minnick campaign: Franking rules specifically authorize voter info mailings

Idaho Republican Party Executive Director Jonathan Parker says he thinks Rep. Walt Minnick’s flier to voters about new voter I.D. requirements crosses the line into a campaign mailing, but Minnick strongly disagrees and notes that House rules for franking, or taxpayer-funded mailings, specifically permit mailings on “voter registration or election information or assistance prepared and mailed in a nonpartisan manner.” The rule notes that such mailings shouldn’t include a photo of the congressman; Minnick’s flier doesn’t.

Parker said, “I thought it was odd when it was first brought to my attention. Obviously, franked mail is a privilege given to members of Congress, but when you’re telling people to vote, I think it’s kind of fishy. … By informing people that they should go out and vote and that the voting laws have changed, I just personally thought it was crossing the line into the business of campaigning.”

John Foster, Minnick’s campaign manager, responded, “Why in the world would anyone object to encouraging people to vote? … It’s a nonpartisan issue. … It’s not about helping one candidate or one party, it’s about informing all voters so that they have the information they need and we all get out to vote. I can’t imagine why anyone would have a problem with that.”

Idaho GOP criticizes Minnick flier on voter ID

The Idaho Republican Party is criticizing Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick for sending 100,000 fliers to Idaho voters Aug. 3 to inform them about Idaho’s new voter I.D. law, which now requires voters to show photo I.D. at the polls when they go to vote; the law took effect July 1. The fliers, headed, “Idaho Voting Laws Have Changed,” were sent at taxpayer expense from Minnick’s congressional office, a fact that’s noted on the fliers. Minnick’s defending the fliers as an appropriate use of his office funds; Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey has a full story on the dustup here.

Labrador confident despite Minnick boosts

Despite high-profile boosts for incumbent Rep. Walt Minnick in the past week, from an Associated General Contractors endorsement to being the first Democrat since 2006 named a “Taxpayer Hero” by the Citizens Against Government Waste, Minnick’s underfunded GOP challenger, Raul Labrador, is confident. “It’s a 65 percent Republican district, and it doesn’t matter what people think of him, most people think he’s a nice guy - they don’t want him in Congress because it’s going to be the same agenda of Nancy Pelosi, Obama and Harry Reid,” Labrador told Eye on Boise. “He’s done absolutely nothing to stop that agenda.” Also on the ballot in the November election for the 1st Congressional District seat are independent Dave Olson of St. Maries and Libertarian Mike Washburn of Boise.

Idaho could get $51M under fed jobs bill

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The state Department of Education says Idaho is expected to receive $51 million as part of a $10 billion job saving measure that has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation is part of a larger, $26 billion jobs bill aimed at helping teachers and other public workers avoid layoffs. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature. State education officials are still getting details on how the money will be spent or distributed.

New Orleans judge gets BP lawsuits

A federal judge in New Orleans will handle more than 300 lawsuits filed over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a federal court panel ruled today - a move sought by many of those suing, but opposed by BP, which favored hearing the cases in Houston, where its U.S. operations are based. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation met in Boise in late July - it just happened to be here, it moves around - to hear arguments on where to send the suits. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

Idaho gets $1.9 million in drug settlement

Idaho will get $1.9 million in a legal settlement with four prescription drug manufacturers, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced today. “This settlement reimburses unfair costs to Idaho taxpayers,” Wasden said, through Medicaid reimbursements. Click below to read his full announcement.

Appeals Court: 3 DUIs and you’re a felon, regardless of which came first

Idaho’s Court of Appeals has rejected an appeal from an Ada County man, William Howard Locke, who challenged his felony prosecution for a third DUI because his third offense actually occurred after the one for which he was hit with the enhanced penalty. But it was his third conviction - he was first convicted of his first DUI, then convicted of the third offense, then convicted of the second. “Idaho Code … makes a third DUI conviction within ten years a felony, regardless of the sequence of arrests,” Judge David Gratton wrote for a unanimous court.

Artifact hunter sentenced for federal crime

A 60-year-old Arco woman has been sentenced to federal probation and restitution for unauthorized excavation of archaeological resources, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Roxanne Hale was given three years probation for the federal crime, ordered to pay $9,265 in restitution, and prohibited from being present at any public-lands archaeological sites. Her artifacts and sifting and digging tools were confiscated. Hale, who pled guilty to the charges in March, was caught Sept. 12, 2008 in the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Butte County, digging at a designated archaeological site that contains remains of prehistoric human life and activity. The case was investigated by the U.S. Forest Service.

Minnick lone Democrat among Citizens Against Waste’s ‘Taxpayer Heroes’

Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick is the first Democrat since 2006 to be named a “Taxpayer Hero” by the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, a group that decries “pork-barrel spending” and tracks congressional votes on “wasteful programs.” The group’s president, Tom Schatz, said in a news release today, “Rep. Minnick is the first Democratic Taxpayer Hero since 2006 and deserves special recognition for this achievement. His vote rating shows that it is not impossible for Democrats to vote to cut wasteful spending, reduce the tax burden, and make government more accountable to taxpayers, and it stands in stark contrast to the average of 4 percent for his House colleagues.”

Minnick’s voting record garnered him an 83 percent rating from the group; anyone over 80 percent is deemed a “Taxpayer Hero,” which, for 2009, included 89 of the 435 House members, and 29 of 100 senators. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch also made the list, with ratings of 91 and 92 percent respectively; Rep. Mike Simpson got a 34 percent rating from the group.

Minnick, a conservative “Blue Dog” Democrat in his first term, has introduced legislation to ban earmarks, to impose a version of a line-item veto, and is an original co-sponsor of a measure calling for a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget. “Unlike members of Congress who talk about voting to cut waste back home but then vote to raise taxes and spending in Washington, Rep. Minnick has been consistent in both his rhetoric and his actions,” Schatz said. “If more of his Democratic colleagues voted as he did last year, the budget deficit and national debt would both be lower.”

One state budget cut reversed just in time, thanks to Albertson Foundation grant

One state budget cut has just been reversed, and just in time: The Idaho Digitial Learning Academy has received a $100,000 grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation that’s allowing it to immediately lift unprecedented new enrollment caps on advanced courses offered online to Idaho high school students for the coming school year. The grant is part of the Albertson Foundation’s “Go On” campaign, which is aimed at raising Idaho’s dismally low rate of students going on to further education after high school; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

“This is a very trying time for educators in Idaho,” said Donna Hutchison, CEO at the IDLA. “IDLA strives to be part of the solution for districts struggling with budget cuts.” The academy, created by the Legislature in 2002, offers online courses at minimal cost to students around the state, including those whose local districts simply don’t offer the courses. The grant will immediately lift enrollment caps placed on Advanced Placement and dual credit classes ranging from calculus to psychology for the coming school year; the enrollment deadline for the 47 class offerings is Sept. 3. The grant also will provide some resources for students preparing for college entrance exams.

“Increasing access to educational opportunities such as AP and dual credit classes is essential for Idaho’s students,” said Albertson Foundation Executive Director Jamie MacMillan. “Idaho students rank in the bottom 10 states for students who go on and complete post-secondary training and education. Without access to advanced opportunities such as those IDLA provides, Idaho’s students are far less likely to complete the education necessary to help them - and the state - be as successful as possible.”

UI law classes in Boise start in two weeks

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The University of Idaho says the American Bar Association has signed off on the school’s proposal for a third-year law program in the state’s capital city. The university announced Monday that classes will start in two weeks. The Moscow-based school in northern Idaho had previously hoped to expand and open a full three-year law school branch in Boise, but the State Board of Education rejected the proposal as too expensive and approved a scaled-down version. As of mid-March, University of Idaho President Duane Nellis said donors had pledged $425,000 toward the project. The school says donations have since increased to $500,000. Concordia University, based in Portland, Ore., also plans to offer law classes in Boise, with classes starting in 2011.

Labrador on ‘Young Guns’…

Yes, I know this news first broke on Friday, but I was on vacation then, so here’s a link to my full story on GOP congressional candidate Raul Labrador’s decision to join the NRCC’s “Young Guns” candidate recruitment program after all, a turnaround from his earlier position that he’d “opt out” of the program. Labrador said he received assurances that the NRCC wouldn’t “interfere with our campaign’s Idaho-focused strategy,” so he decided to join up despite rebuffing the NRCC for months.

Labrador’s initial concerns about the national GOP candidate program seem consistent with statements he’s made about other traditional GOP supporters, from deriding the Associated General Contractors as tax-raisers after they endorsed incumbent Walt Minnick to declaring that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also endorsed Minnick, has a “big-government tilt.” “I think I’m critical of business as usual,” Labrador told Eye on Boise today. “I think if you talk to individuals throughout the state about what their fears and their concerns are, every one of them will tell you that they don’t like the way things are being done in Washington, D.C.”

Adler to head UI public policy center

Former Idaho State University political scientist David Adler has been named director of the University of Idaho’s James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research, where the UI says he will “take the University of Idaho to center stage” on public policy issues and civic education.

“He brings a blend of scholarship, national prominence and dynamism to the role,” said Katherine Aiken, dean of College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. “We are confident of the deep engagement the center will enjoy promoting civic education and public dialogue on critical issues that face Idaho, the region and the nation.”

Adler has been an ISU political science professor since 1985, and is the author of more than 100 scholarly articles that have appeared in political science journals, law reviews, books and encyclopedias. The McClure Center provides non-partisan public policy research for Idaho and the region, along with work to improve civic education, increase public dialogue, promote collaborations and more. Adler’s work at the center will include sponsorship of research, publications, conferences, forums and lectures; he’ll also seek external funding for the center’s activities. Adler said the McClure Center will generate research to “tackle the great public policy challenges of our time.” He started in his new post yesterday; click below to read the UI’s full announcement.

Rescuers sued in skier death

The heirs of a skier from New York who became lost outside the boundaries of Grand Targhee ski area in January and died of hypothermia are suing the Teton County Sheriff’s Department, Teton County, Idaho Search and Rescue, and others for $5 million in a wrongful death claim. The 46-year-old man called 911 on a dying cell phone and spoke with dispatchers twice that evening, prompting a search, but he wasn’t found until morning, when he was unconscious and later died. Click below for a full report from the Teton Valley News, via the Associated Press.

Suspect nabbed in ‘BZR Bandit’ case, but he has different initials…

A 19-year-old from Pocatello by the name of Ryan P. Hanson has been issued a summons to appear on two misdemeanor counts of malicious injury to property, according to the Idaho State Journal, in the “BZR bandit” case, in which he allegedly went to great heights to leave his “BZR” graffiti tag in prominent locations in Pocatello. Downtown business owners there had offered a reward to collar the tagger.

Fun in the sun…

OK, this time, I’m in the picture. Here, I’m windsurfing in the eastern Columbia River Gorge at “The Wall,” near Rufus, Ore., today. Later in the afternoon, when the wind picked up, the river swells got really big and smooth, and super-fun. It’s a bit smoky over here, but the wind is clearing it out.

Good year for sockeye promises show at Redfish Lake this fall

Enough endangered sockeye salmon are returning to central Idaho this year that some will be allowed to swim the final few hundred yards into Redfish Lake under their own power, something that hasn’t happened in two decades due to dismal spawning runs, the AP reports; the last time was in 1990. Come October this year, a spectacular show is expected at Redfish Lake as up to 1,500 sockeye — the males turn a brilliant red just before spawning — complete their life cycle. “The place was named Redfish Lake for a reason,” said Jeff Heindel, conservation hatcheries supervisor for the Idaho Department of Fish & Game. “It hasn’t had hundreds or thousands of adults spawning there in decades.”

Up to 1,500 sockeye are expected to return to the Stanley region, up from 833 last year; it’s a third of 1955’s count, and a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands that spawned there 100 years ago.  Biologists attribute this year’s spike to good ocean and river conditions, actions by dam operators to help young fish survive and the success of a sockeye hatchery program that was targeted for abandonment just four years ago; in 2006, only three returned. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Child exposed to rabid bat in Garden Valley

A child who was swimming in a pond in Crouch earlier this week was exposed to a rabid bat that swooped down and scratched him. The boy’s father captured the bat, and Idaho Health & Welfare officials confirmed that it was the third rabid bat found in Idaho this year. The first was in Shoshone County in March, and the second in Blaine County in July. The youngster, who was visiting from Oregon and is under age 10, is undergoing medical treatment for rabies exposure.

“It’s unusual for a bat to be active during the daytime,” said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, deputy state epidemiologist. “This is one warning signal that the bat may be carrying rabies.” Last year, eight rabid bats were found in Idaho.

Idaho suspends wolf tag sales in wake of federal court decision

Idaho has suspended wolf tag sales in the wake of today’s federal court decision in Montana placing wolves back on the endangered species list and suspending wolf hunting in Idaho and Montana, where hunters took 188 and 73 wolves last year, respectively. Idaho Fish & Game Commission Chairman Dr. Wayne Wright called the decision “a major setback for responsible wildlife management in Idaho,” and Gov. Butch Otter said he was “thoroughly disappointed and frustrated” and termed the decision “ill-advised.” Click here for more on this story, and click below to read a full news release from Idaho Fish & Game, Otter’s full statement, and a joint statement from Idaho’s “disappointed” congressional delegation.

CCA: Toss prison lawsuit because inmates didn’t exhaust administrative remedies

The private prison company that runs Idaho’s Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise is trying to get a federal lawsuit over violence there dismissed, saying the severely beaten inmates bringing the case didn’t exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit. The ACLU’s attorney said the Corrections Corp. of America was twisting the issues and the lawsuit should proceed; a judge is mulling it now, and will issue a decision in the coming weeks. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Where Crapo, Kerry, Snowe and Wyden agree: Tax cut for craft beer

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo is co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation - along with Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. - to halve the federal excise taxes smaller craft breweries pay, a move his office says “would benefit Idaho brewers and farmers and could boost employment and commerce.” The break for craft brewers also could boost ag products like hops and barley, Crapo said, along with production at growing craft breweries like Laughing Dog Brewery east of Sandpoint. On Monday, Crapo will visit and tour Laughing Dog and discuss the legislation.

Minnick endorsed by contractors, Labrador slams group as tax-raisers

Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick’s re-election bid was endorsed by the Idaho Associated General Contractors today, along with its national organization, the Associated General Contractors of America. Minnick joined Idaho AGC’s president, Burke Hansen, and executive director, Mark Dunham, at an Eagle-area concrete plant for the announcement. “Congressman Minnick has proven himself to be a pragmatic, fair, and proactive representative of the people of Idaho,” said Hansen, president of Hansen-Rice, Inc. “His background in business lends itself well to identifying problems and, more importantly, identifying solutions. He is pro-business and pro-solution.” You can read Minnick’s full announcement here.

Raul Labrador, Minnick’s GOP challenger, derided the group - one of the largest and most influential trade associations in Idaho - for endorsing Minnick. “More government spending with Minnick and Pelosi will only be paid for by higher taxes. Therefore the endorsement made by the Associated General Contractors today shows that they are in favor of raising taxes to fund the liberal spending policies of Minnick and his Democrat friends, even in the middle of a recession,” Labrador said in a statement. “I am not only against that, but I will fight for the interests of Idahoans.” You can read his full statement here.

Report: States rethinking immigration legislation after Arizona court ruling

USA Today reports that state legislators in an array of states - including Idaho - are rethinking plans to introduce Arizona-style immigration laws after a federal court temporarily blocked the core of the law. Among state lawmakers quoted: Idaho Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes. The newspaper reports that he “says his colleagues had planned to file an S.B. 1070 replica but are making changes. ‘I don’t know that we would cut and paste exactly what Arizona has, based on what the judge has already ruled,’ Geddes says. ‘That doesn’t help us much to engage in the same battle that Arizona has lost.’”

Right to work, 25 years later…

Interesting look by the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey today at the political and economic ramifications of the right-to-work fight in Idaho 25 years ago, and its ripples today, as Gary Glenn, the leader of the push back then, returns to Idaho for a gala Thursday night headlined by Gov. Butch Otter, celebrating the anniversary of the law. You can read Dan’s article here.

Idaho Supreme Court suspends judge-disqualification rule, citing abuse

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Prosecutors and defense attorneys in Idaho will be barred from disqualifying judges from criminal cases without giving a reason first. The Idaho Supreme Court has suspended a rule that had allowed prosecutors or defense attorneys to disqualify a judge “without cause.” The state high court ruled late last month that the rule had been used excessively and abused. The Idaho Mountain Express reports that a judge in Idaho’s 5th District, Robert J. Elgee, had been the target of numerous disqualifications based on the rule. Elgee had petitioned the Idaho Supreme Court to suspend and modify the rule in 2009, but was rebuffed by justices at the time.

Otter responds to Allred gas tax plan

Gov. Butch Otter has dismissed Democratic challenger Keith Allred’s proposal for a 3-cent cut in Idaho’s 25-cent-per-gallon gas tax and a corresponding hike in fees on heavy trucks, saying it shows “a lack of leadership and credibility.” Allred’s proposal came after Otter’s transportation funding task force received a new report showing cars and pickups are overpaying for their impact on Idaho’s roads, and heavy trucks are underpaying; the task force also indicated it sees a gas tax increase as the best way to fund more road work in the future.

“I can understand wanting to have the perfect solution in a campaign cycle, but the bottom line is the task force has not completed its work, we need to respect its bi-partisan process,” Otter said in a statement. “Leadership requires we deal with reality rather than theory. There are many factors to consider, but once again my Democrat opponent chooses to posture and ignore reality–his plan simply shows a lack of leadership and credibility.”

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who chairs Otter’s task force, also commented in the statement, saying, “Talking about a tax cut when what he’s really proposing is hiding a tax increase from consumers might be good politics, but it’s very bad public policy. This idea shows that Mr. Allred is not credible, out of touch with the marketplace and the realities of Idaho’s transportation needs — even our immediate needs and realistic options, much less addressing a long-term solution.”

Campaign moves outside district to save money

The AP reports that GOP congressional candidate Raul Labrador has moved his campaign office outside the 1st Congressional District in a money-saving move, closing his Eagle office and moving into existing GOP office space in downtown Boise. In a statement to The Associated Press, Labrador’s campaign said it will have an office in the 1st Congressional District “when Raul is elected to U.S. Congress.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

New voter ID law in effect for today’s elections

Today is Election Day in a number of communities around Idaho, from Canyon County’s jail bond to various highway districts around the state, and it’s the first election for which Idaho’s new law will be in effect requiring voters to show photo I.D. at the polls. Click here for a full rundown of the new law’s requirements from Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa; it requires an Idaho driver’s license or photo I.D. card, a passport, tribal I.D., or current student I.D. from an Idaho high school or college. Voters without I.D. must sign a personal affidavit to vote. “Although this is a new step in voting procedures, it is not an onerous requirement,” Ysursa said. “So, bring your ID and vote!”

Allred calls for 3-cent cut in gas tax

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred aims to cut Idaho’s gas tax by 3 cents and says Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s push to raise more money for roads is misguided. Allred would cut the tax to 22 cents per gallon, from 25 cents per gallon now, to save drivers $19.2 million annually. He’d boost fees paid by heavy trucks by an equal amount to make up the difference. His plan comes after a new study, commissioned by the state, showing heavy trucks are underpaying for upkeep of Idaho highways and bridges, while passenger vehicle owners are overpaying. Allred says restoring education funding and keeping taxes low, not boosting cash available for Idaho roads, should be the priority. Otter, a Republican, and Allred will square off in November’s general election; also on the ballot are independents Jana Kemp and Pro-Life and Libertarian Ted Dunlap.

Annex construction is soldiers’ memorial

There’s been a whole lot of digging and concrete work going on around a flagpole in front of the Capitol Annex, the former Ada County Courthouse where the Legislature held its sessions in 2008 and 2009 but that’s now standing vacant. Here’s what it is: It’s the Idaho Fallen Soldiers’ Memorial, which state public works administrator Tim Mason says is “in recognition of those Idahoans who have given their lives in the War on Terrorism.” The project is a permanent replacement for the circle of flags that’s been growing in the park area behind the Borah Building over the past several years.

“The money has been raised through donations and private gifts and the design and construction is being donated also – no cost to the state,” Mason reported. The memorial is scheduled to be dedicated on 9/11 of this year.

Crapo to hold ‘iTownhall’ forum

Sen. Mike Crapo is inviting Idahoans to participate in an “iTownhall” meeting Wednesday evening on federal spending and expiring tax cuts. “I encourage all Idahoans to speak out during this statewide forum,” Crapo said. “This is not the time to be considering tax increases in Washington and I would appreciate hearing from Idahoans on issues of taxes and spending.” Click below for his full announcement, including how to participate.

Meanwhile, Crapo’s Democratic challenger, Tetonia businessman Tom Sullivan, has aimed sharp criticism at Crapo in the past week and a half for his votes on financial reform legislation and his campaign contributions from the financial sector. Constitution Party candidate Randy Lynn Bergquist of Weiser also is on the ballot.

Proof I’m not in Pocatello…

This is the Columbia River Gorge, where summer has arrived in earnest with warm weather and fun winds. No, I’m not pictured; I’m the one taking the photo, resting between sailing sessions.

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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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