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Eye On Boise

Archive for May 2010

Political gears shift

As the political gears shift after last week’s primary election, the 1st District congressional race is now Walt Minnick vs. Raul Labrador, while other big races, like Gov. Butch Otter vs. Democratic challenger Keith Allred, are following a more expected course. Click below to read an article from AP reporter Jessie Bonner on the new face of the 1st CD race.

Pockets of support…

In two races in which the incumbents won handily this week - state Controller Donna Jones by 56.5 percent to challenger Todd Hatfield’s 43.5 percent, and Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick by 58.4 percent to challenger John Bradbury’s 41.6 percent - a look at county-by-county results shows pockets of strong support for the challengers. Hatfield beat Jones in 9 of Idaho’s 44 counties - Adams, Bannock, Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Kootenai, Latah, Shoshone and Valley - with his strongest showing 61 percent in Benewah and 60 percent on his home turf in Valley County.

Bradbury, a 2nd District judge from Grangeville, beat Burdick in 12 counties, including Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Clearwater, Custer, Franklin, Idaho, Kootenai, Latah, Nez Perce, Oneida and Shoshone. Bradbury garnered a whopping 79 percent of the vote in Clearwater County, and 75 percent in Nez Perce County, and exceeded 60 percent in Benewah, Idaho, Latah and Shoshone counties.

Granted, there are various factors at play - Bradbury appears to have strong support on his home turf, where he’s been an elected district judge for the past seven years, and in rural counties, for whom he’s advocated more court services; and Hatfield apparently picked up support in timber counties with his appeal for small logging companies to get more state timber contracts. But both were running against well-established, mainstream incumbents…

WashPost: Labrador latest insurgent to buck establishment, then consider joining it

The Washington Post, in its “The Fix” political column today, calls Idaho 1st Congressional District GOP nominee Raul Labrador “the latest insurgent candidate to beat back the establishment and then be faced with joining forces with it,” and reports that Labrador is “going with wholesale changes to his staff and is looking at bringing in more established political team, including possibly some consultants favored by Washington.” It also notes Labrador’s endorsement yesterday by Mitt Romney - who yesterday endorsed Idaho’s entire top GOP slate, including Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Mike Crapo, Rep. Mike Simpson and Labrador - and says that in an interview, Labrador told The Fix that his politics are similar to those of former Idaho Rep. Bill Sali, but his approach is different.

Federal courts approve fee break for records

People who access court documents electronically from federal district courts through the PACER system pay 8 cents a page for the privilege, but until this spring, they got the first $10 worth of copies in a year without charge. Now, the Judicial Conference of the United States has approved a change: Users will not be billed unless they’ve racked up more than $10 in PACER charges in a quarter.
    
The federal courts said the impact of the change is “in effect quadrupling the amount of data available without charge.” To set up a PACER account or learn more about the federal courts’ electronic records service, go to www.pacer.gov.

AAA: Idaho gas prices at least 20 cents a gallon higher than average

Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The spokesman for AAA Idaho says the reason a gallon of gas in the state has been at least 20 cents higher than the national average for most of the spring is because refineries in Utah aren’t producing enough to meet demand in the two states. Dave Carlson says lawmakers in Utah should ask refineries why more isn’t being produced. AAA reports that the national average cost for a gallon of regular gasoline on Friday was $2.749. The cost in Idaho is $3.023, and in Utah $3.055. Carlson told the Idaho Statesman that Idaho is an isolated market and that’s part of the reason for the higher prices. He predicts gas prices will fall in the next 30 days.

Fed audit says millions wasted to avoid sending Hanford, Wash. jobs to Idaho

An inspector general’s audit says the U.S. Department of Energy is spending an extra $25 million because it didn’t ship certain radioactive wastes from Hanford to Idaho for processing, in part because Hanford workers protested that the move would shift jobs to Idaho; click below to read the full story from reporter Annette Cary of the Tri-City Herald.

Candidate reveals tax problems, wins anyway

P. Tom Sullivan, a former Coeur d’Alene restaurant owner and now a businessman in Tetonia, Idaho, won the Democratic primary on Tuesday for a chance to challenge U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo in the fall. The day before the election, Sullivan issued a press release acknowledging that he’s struggling to pay delinquent taxes, after a bank failure erased his business line of credit. “I’ve always been responsible and paid my debts, and I am paying this one,” Sullivan said. “I’m working out of it, like a lot of people.”

Sullivan took 74.6 percent of the vote in the primary, to 25.4 percent for William Bryk, a lawyer from Brooklyn, N.Y. who’s never been to Idaho, but who filed for the seat to ensure Crapo had opposition. Six years ago, Crapo made history when he ran unopposed, but for a write-in challenger, for his second term in the Senate.

One Idaho prison violence lawsuit moves toward conclusion; newer one pending

A major portion of an Idaho prison-conditions lawsuit that stretches back nearly three decades could be closed, as a federal judge weighs whether changing conditions and procedures at the Idaho State Correctional Institution have done away with rampant violence, near-routine brutal rapes of newly arrived young prisoners, overcrowding, limited access to psychiatric and medical care and other problems that were identified there in the early 1980s. Click below to read the full story from AP reporter Rebecca Boone. At the same time, more recent federal-court litigation involving Idaho’s first privately operated prison, the Idaho Correctional Center, which is run by the Corrections Corp. of America, include allegations of brutal inmate-on-inmate violence ignored by guards, denial of medical care and more; that case still is pending.

Why it took all night…

The one county whose election results took the longest to determine - the same county where a prominent longtime state senator was defeated by his GOP primary challenger on Tuesday - had an 11 p.m. machine malfunction that led to a technician driving from Kootenai County to Moscow to try to fix the problem without success, followed by carting the remaining Latah County ballots off to another county for counting, then returning them to merge the results. The whole thing didn’t wrap up ‘til 6:35 a.m. on Wednesday, according to the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. The ballot-counting machine was only three years old; click below to read more.

Settlement in works for UI retiree lawsuit

Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — A proposed settlement between the University of Idaho and 268 former employees over changes to their insurance benefits could finish a long-simmering legal fight between the two sides. The retirees filed a notice of appeal with the Idaho Supreme Court earlier this year after a district judge in February upheld his decision to throw out their lawsuit against the university. But litigation in the case would end as part of an agreement that the state Board of Education recently approved. A 2nd District Court judge will consider details of the settlement July 12. The case stems from a tort claim four retirees filed in December 2007 saying the university violated early retirement agreements signed in 1999 and 2002.

Wasden recovers $1.2M for Idaho from drug firms

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has reached a settlement with two prescription drug manufacturers that requires them to pay Idaho more than $1.2 million in a dispute over how much they charged Idaho Medicaid for drugs based on published average wholesale prices. “Where published prices are false or misleading, the taxpayers are significantly harmed by excessive Medicaid reimbursements,” Wasden said.  “This settlement reimburses unfair costs to Idaho taxpayers.”

This is the fifth such case Wasden’s resolved since 2005, resulting in a total of $5.1 million recovered for Idaho; three more cases are pending. Click below to read Wasden’s full announcement.

Benewah is T-Rex country?

GOP gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell, the former elk rancher and militia movement backer whose campaign trademark this year was a giant inflatable T-Rex he towed behind his brightly decorated campaign RV, took 26 percent of the vote to incumbent Gov. Butch Otter’s 54.6 percent in the primary, with the remaining challengers in single digits. But in two counties, Rammell beat Otter: Benewah and Idaho counties, while in Boundary County, Otter edged Rammell by just two votes. In Idaho County, Otter got just 40 percent of the vote to 47 percent for Rammell; in Boundary County, both were at 43 percent; and in Benewah County, Rammell made his best showing, winning the GOP primary for governor with 57 percent of the vote, while Otter drew just 34 percent.

So is Benewah County T-Rex country? That’s one possible interpretation. Another: Very few people voted. Rammell got 603 votes there, while Otter had just 358.

GOP: ‘Things are changing before our eyes’

Here’s a link to my day-after story on the primary election, in which everything from tea party activism to social media hijinks contributed to a shakeup for the GOP, from the defeat of six sitting Republican lawmakers to the upset in the congressional race. Idaho Republican Party Chairman Norm Semanko said, “I think social media is playing a significant role in politics in general. … Even though it was a low turnout, what drove people to vote was the social media. … Things are changing before our eyes.”

Baumbach: ‘It was a piece of propaganda’

Lucas Baumbach, the Boise Republican legislative candidate who created the video mash-up juxtaposing phrases from speeches by Vaughn Ward and Barack Obama, calls himself a “RINO hunter” and a “Tea Party activist” and is blunt about why he created the mash-up: Because he supported Raul Labrador over Ward. His video mash-up gives the impression that Ward, in his announcement speech in the Idaho Capitol on Jan. 26, parroted Obama’s 2004 Democratic National Convention speech word-for-word, though that’s not exactly the case.

“No, it wasn’t accurate - it was a piece of propaganda,” Baumbach told Eye on Boise today, “and people thought that there was enough truth in it to change their votes.” Baumbach said he decided to exercise his video-editing skills after a May 13 blog post from the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey pointed out similar turns of phrase in the two speeches, and Dustin Hurst of the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s IdahoReporter.com followed up with a May 21 story including video from both speeches. “That wasn’t attracting much attention,” Baumbach said. Simply posting both videos wasn’t enough, he said, “when you’re trying to get the word out, sensationalizing something.”

“I admit that there was a lot of editing that went on there,” Baumbach said. He’d just finished being congratulated by other like-minded Republicans after a GOP unity rally today at the state Capitol, where some were throwing around the word “brilliant;” last night, at GOP election-night headquarters, Baumbach attracted similar praise from some in the crowd who called him “the man of the hour.” Baumbach’s mash-up was featured on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” last night, though Leno left off the final scene in which Baumbach shows Ward’s face slowing morphing into Obama’s. Click below to read the full text of the speech sections that included the similar turns of phrase; click here to watch Baumbach’s mash-up.

According to my notes, Ward’s Jan. 26 speech in the capitol focused on what Ward said he’d been hearing from Idahoans as he traveled the state, mainly that, “Folks, Idahoans are furious” about the national debt and a sense that Congress wasn’t accountable. “I look at Idaho and I see our state being haggled over by politicians who are unaccountable to the people and are more concerned about self-preservation,” Ward said then. “It is time to usher in a new era of leaders who will do what is right.” He also alluded to his military service, criticized “government-run health care, billion-dollar bailouts and failed stimulus plans,” and said, “My fellow Idahoans, like you I am frustrated and angry with the direction that Congress is taking us.” The part about “urgency” and “passion” that matches Obama’s rhetoric comes at the end of the speech. The speech does appear to be studded with much-used phrases, like “usher in a new era of leaders” and “it starts here, it starts today,” but those appear to be just cliches.

Labrador: Video mashup was ‘just the icing on the cake’

1st District GOP congressional nominee Raul Labrador, asked by Eye on Boise about the impact of the video mash-up of speeches by opponent Vaughn Ward and Barack Obama that circulated widely online for the last few days before the election and was featured on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” on election night, said, “I think it was just the icing on the cake, I don’t think that it made the difference.” Labrador noted that the earliest results that came in, which consisted of absentee votes from Ada and Canyon counties that could have been cast weeks ago, showed him ahead.

Asked how he’ll campaign now, Labrador said, “I’m going to do the same thing I’ve always done, I’m going to tell people what my message is.” He did say, though, that he’ll need to raise a lot more money. “I think I’ve been able to show them that I can win with little money, so I think people are going to be excited to donate.”

Ward: ‘I learned a great deal from this experience’

Candidate Vaughn Ward had this to say today about his unsuccessful run for the 1st Congressional District seat: “I’m very proud of everything that happened with this race, the campaign, the people that were part of this race, the volunteers we’ve had throughout this entire time. We started 15 months ago when nobody gave me a chance and we couldn’t talk to anybody other than Idahoans that believed in us and we took a message forward to them, and they got excited about it and we built a great campaign. And I’m just proud of all the work we put into it.”

Asked about the widely circulated video mash-up - featured last night on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno - that spliced together phrases from one of his speeches with similar turns of phrase in a 2004 speech by then-Sen. Barack Obama, Ward said, “I don’t care what the national press says. … I think we were on Chris Matthews as well, Hardball. I realize that some of the mainstream media out there, they have an agenda and I’m fine with that. But again, I’m proud of this race, I’m proud of what the many volunteers gave to this race, and I learned a great deal from this experience, and I’m just proud to be a part of another level of service that I’ve given to my country.”

Ward told Eye on Boise, “You know, I think things unfold differently than you hope they would. … Did I learn stuff? Of course I did. Were there mistakes made? Yes, there were, and I own the responsibility for everything. You hire people and you hope that they do a good job for you, and when they don’t, you make those corrections, but I’m not the first one to have had staff that didn’t perform as expected, and I don’t blame anybody, I blame myself.” Ward said earlier that he wrote his own speech, but a staffer added things to it, including the turns of phrase that echoed Obama’s words; his campaign manager resigned after The Spokesman-Review reported that half the position statements on his website were copied from the sites of other candidates or congressmen.

Asked why he pointed to the “mainstream media” with regard to the video mash-up when it was created by a conservative activist Lucas Baumbach, who’s also a GOP legislative candidate in Idaho and a Labrador supporter, Ward said, “I don’t know who put it together … it doesn’t matter, it’s beyond us now, we’ve moved on.” He added, “It’s a chess game, politics is, and I think there were other elements afoot. And at this point, today’s May 26th, it’s not May 25th.” When Eye on Boise asked what he thinks of this chess game and whether he’d ever like to play it again, Ward said, “We’ll see.”

For now, he said, his future plans involve a camping trip with his family in North Idaho.

Labrador: Ward has served honorably

Raul Labrador, the victor in the 1st Congressional District GOP primary last night, had this to say about his opponent Vaughn Ward at the GOP rally today: “Yesterday we were divided as a party, we were divided supporting different candidates. But today we are all Republicans. I want to thank and honor my opponent in this race. Mr Vaughn Ward has served our country honorably. He has sacrificed his time, his talents for this nation, and I think each and every one of us owes him a debt of gratitude for the service that he has given.”

Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko said after the rally, “I was so pleased last night - early this morning - to see Vaughn call Raul early.” That allowed Labrador to claim his victory and thank supporters before the wee hours of the morning; the final votes weren’t counted statewide until about 5 a.m. today, when Latah County’s results were finalized.

Otter at GOP ‘unity’ rally: ‘Now we are one team’

Idaho Republicans gathered on the Statehouse steps for their traditional “unity” rally after yesterday’s primary election, including the turbulent 1st District congressional race. Here, the candidates, including Vaughn Ward, top right, listen to Gov. Butch Otter, who said, “Obviously our party had all the action.” Otter said, “I want to thank all of the opponents. … Now we are one team.”

Six sitting lawmakers lose in primary

Here’s a link to the final, unofficial statewide results from the Secretary of State for yesterday’s primary election. Of interest: Six legislative incumbents lost to their challengers in the GOP primary: Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake; Sen. Lee Heinrich, R-Cascade; Rep. Steve Kren, R-Nampa; Rep. Rich Jarvis, R-Meridian, who lost to the man he replaced, former Rep. John Vander Woude; Sen. Charles Coiner, R-Twin Falls; and longtime Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, the chairman of the Senate Resources Committee who was defeated by Tea Party candidate Gresham Dale Bouma.

Vito Barbieri won the open seat in District 3 created by the retirement of Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake; Barbieri was recruited to run by District 3 Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol; no Democrat has filed for the seat. Reed DeMordaunt won a three-way GOP primary for Raul Labrador’s former seat in Eagle and will face Democrat Steve Berch in November; former Rep. Julie Ellsworth won the GOP primary for Branden Durst’s former District 18 House seat and will face Democrat Janie Ward-Engelking in November; Cherie Buckner-Webb easily won the Democratic primary for the District 19 House seat being vacated by Rep. Anne Pasley-Stuart’s retirement, and will face Republican Jim Morland in the fall; and Linden Bateman defeated Dane Watkins by a 2-1 margin in the GOP primary for Rep. Russ Mathews’ former House seat; Bateman will face Democrat John McGimpsey in November.

Also, Sen. Shirley McKague held her seat against a challenge from Mike Vuittonet, chairman of the Meridian School Board - McKague got 60 percent to Vuittonet’s 39.9 percent - and Michelle Stennett took a whopping 87.4 percent of the vote in her race against two others in the Democratic primary for her husband Clint Stennett’s former Senate seat; she’ll face Republican Jim Donoval in November.

Labrador looks forward to Nov. after upset victory in GOP primary

State Rep. Raul Labrador issued this statement this morning after his upset victory late last night in the GOP primary for the 1st CD. Unofficial final results show Labrador winning with 47.6 percent of the vote to 38.9 percent for Vaughn Ward. “I’ve received a call of congratulations from Mr. Ward, and I appreciate his graciousness,” Labrador said. “I want to acknowledge his service to this nation and his hard work as a candidate.”

Looking ahead to the general election, when Labrador will face freshman Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick, Labrador said, “I view Mr. Minnick as an honorable man. … We disagree on a host of issues, but I am committed to having a vigorous debate and running an honorable campaign focused on what is best for America and Idaho” He said the “people of Idaho deserve that kind of debate.” Labrador also said he looks forward to joining the traditional Republican unity press conference at noon today “with Sen. Mike Crapo, Governor Butch Otter, Congressman Mike Simpson and the rest of the Republican statewide ticket.” Labrador has clashed with Otter, particularly over Labrador’s successful efforts to kill Otter’s proposed gas tax increase in House two years ago, but Otter said last night that he’d support the GOP primary winner, whoever it was.

AP: Labrador wins 1st CD GOP primary

The Associated Press has called the 1st District congressional race - well after midnight Boise time - and declared Raul Labrador the winner. With 89 percent of precincts reporting, Labrador led with 46 percent, to 40 percent for rival Vaughn Ward.

Semanko: Low turnout a disappointment

Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko says his party will come together no matter which candidate wins the hard-fought congressional primary between Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward; the latest results, with 89 percent of precincts reporting, show Labrador with 46 percent to 40 percent for Ward. “It’s been interesting, here you had one person (Ward) who got in very early, several people who got in in the middle period, and one person (Labrador), very late,” Semanko said. “I don’t think there’s a right way to do it.”

He said his one disappointment about the primary is the low turnout: “There’s so much attention and so much focus, and yet the turnout is so low.”

Otter: ‘Lead nation out of recession’

Gov. Butch Otter was very much in evidence throughout the evening at the GOP election night gathering tonight, as both he and First Lady Lori Otter celebrated with supporters, posed for pictures and more. When he took the podium to accept his party’s nomination, he acknowledged “some tough calls” during his term. “Miss Lori and I and our family are grateful once again for your vote of confidence,” Otter said. “We do know that we’ve got a lot of work to go forward, but I want to tell you that this party has stood tall in the past four sessions of the Legislature … to provide the leadership to this state. … Because of the heavy lifting that we’ve had to do, and we did it alone, the state Legislature and myself have set this state on a course so that when we come out of this recession, Idaho is going to lead us out of this recession, we’re going to lead this nation out of the recession.”

Allred chooses working party for primary night

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred held a different kind of election-night gathering tonight - he and volunteers gathered at his campaign headquarters, where they stuffed envelopes, fielded calls and worked on a mailing and other projects. Longtime Democratic activist Betty Richardson said it was the first working party for election night she could recall.

“I’m grateful for the support from Idahoans in today’s primary,” Allred said in a statement. “Now, I invite Idahoans of all political stripes to join me in the months ahead. I’m committed to working harder than ever to make Idaho’s government work for all of us.  Idahoans’ interests must come ahead of special interests and partisan politics. Idahoans want their schools properly funded and they want their governor to have a plan for boosting Idaho’s economy and creating new jobs. I’m excited to work with Idahoans to find practical solutions that work for everyone.”

Ullman: ‘An incredible experience’

With 509 of 936 precincts reporting, Gov. Butch Otter, who’s already been declared the winner of the GOP gubernatorial primary, had 55 percent. Here’s how his five challengers did: Rex Rammell, 25.2 percent; Sharon Ullman, 8 percent; Ron “Pete” Peterson, 5.7 percent; and both Walt Bayes and Tamara Wells, 3.1 percent. Ullman, an Ada County commissioner, shown here, said, “It’s been an incredible experience. We’ve met wonderful people around the state, had fabulous support from the people I’ve spoken with. I learned a great deal.”

1st District race down to the wire…

The contentious race for the GOP nomination for North Idaho’s seat in Congress is going down to the wire tonight, as Idaho voters held a typically low-turnout primary election with big consequences; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Up and down the ticket, the election set the stage for major contests in November, while writing the final chapter in other races, including a contested non-partisan race for the Idaho Supreme Court. In that contest, Justice Roger Burdick defeated his challenger, 2nd District Judge John Bradbury; the Associated Press has just called that race.

The 1st District congressional race saw Vaughn Ward and Raul Labrador vying for the chance to challenge freshman 1st District Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick in November; Minnick, who was unopposed in the primary, is launching his re-election campaign with a series of appearances around the district over the next week. In early results, Labrador led Ward, 44 percent to 42 percent, setting the stage for a possible come-from-behind victory despite Ward’s large fundraising lead and early start.

Jay Leno mocks Ward in monologue

On the Tonight Show with Jay Leno tonight, Leno played the entire video mashup that juxtaposes clips of Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic national convention speech with similar turns of phrase in a speech by Idaho GOP congressional candidate Vaughn Ward at the Idaho state capitol this spring, a mashup put together by Idaho GOP legislative candidate Lucas Baumbach. Leno’s kicker: “When they asked this guy if he thought he could get away with this, he said, ‘Yes I can! Yes I can!’”

Ward arrives at GOP gathering

Congressional candidate Vaughn Ward has finally arrived at the GOP headquarters gathering, just after 10:30 Boise time. The latest results, with just 22 percent of the vote counted, show Labrador leading Ward, 44 percent to 42 percent. At this point, this race is too close to call.

Allred, Little win primaries

The Associated Press has now declared Keith Allred the winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, defeating Lee Chaney Sr., and Lt. Gov. Brad Little victorious in the GOP primary, defeating two challengers.

No sign of Ward so far…

While GOP candidates including congressional hopeful Raul Labrador, Gov. Butch Otter, state Treasurer Ron Crane, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Controller Donna Jones, gubernatorial hopeful Rex Rammell, and even former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig have been mingling with the crowd at the GOP election-night headquarters at the Doubletree Riverside in Boise, there’s been no sign as yet of 1st District hopeful Vaughn Ward, a notable absence.

First election results: AP calls primary for Crapo

The first few election results are in, and the Associated Press has called the U.S. Senate GOP primary in favor of the incumbent, Sen. Mike Crapo, who had about 80 percent of the vote over Claude “Skip” Davis in early results. Ada County also has released its first batch of absentee voting results; they show incumbent Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick leading 2nd District Judge John Bradbury, 3,708 to 2,033.

Ysursa: Turnout reports suggest ‘kinda quiet’

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has made his victory speech - he was unopposed in the GOP primary. “I’ve been on pins and needles all night,” Ysursa joked, joined by his wife Penny. Asked about the turnout in today’s primary election, Ysursa said, “We hear there are pockets of good turnout, but … it’s hard to tell. I hope I’m wrong - I hope we’re higher than 26 percent. We’ll see.”

Ysursa has been predicting a 26 percent turnout of registered voters in today’s primary, a typically low Idaho primary election turnout. “The calls were it was kind of an uneventful day,” Ysursa said. “It was kinda quiet.”

Labrador: ‘We had a lot of enthusiasm’

Congressional candidate Raul Labrador is happily visiting with supporters tonight at the Doubletree Riverside, where Republicans are gathering to watch the election-night results. “I think we’ve done a great job,” Labrador said. “We had such limited fundraising but as you can tell, we had a lot of enthusiasm. We’ve got a lot of people who really believe in my message, and they believe I’ve been principled in everything I’ve done.” Labrador had no comment on national political blogs that today have been sharply mocking his GOP primary opponent, Vaughn Ward, for everything from his campaign flubs to a video mash-up created by an Idaho legislative candidate stringing together similar turns of phrase between a Ward speech and Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic convention speech.

Said Labrador, “My goal is to help Republicans get elected, whatever happens.”

Numbers and older voters…

With the polls just moments away from closing in Boise, and a little over an hour from closing in North Idaho, here’s some food for thought: Were many of the people you saw voting at your polling place older folks, 50-plus? Prompting the question: The Idaho AARP has released a breakdown of its members by congressional and legislative district, and the group has 185,279 members statewide, 104,100 in the 1st Congressional district, 81,179 in the 2nd CD, and anywhere from 3,770 to 7,337 in each legislative district. Compare those numbers to the vote in the last non-presidential primary election, in 2006, when there were 184,456 votes cast statewide, and many legislative districts saw turnout that fell well below the current number of AARP members in the district - Examples: District 1 now has 7,337 AARP members, and in the 2006 contested race for state Senate there, just 4,748 people voted. District 21 now has 5,500 AARP members, according to the group; in 2006, 4,554 people cast votes in that district.

David Irwin, Idaho AARP spokesman, estimates that three of every 10 Idaho primary voters likely will be AARP members. “One thing is for sure, AARP members will be a force at the ballot box,” he said in a statement.

Time to vote…

Today is Idaho’s primary election - and it’s the final election for an array of non-partisan judicial races, including a contested seat on the Idaho Supreme Court. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Today’s election determines the party nominees for offices ranging from Congress and governor to legislator and county commissioner, but turnout is expected to be low - so your vote today really counts.

Here are links to my profiles of some of the races: Governor, 1st Congressional District, Idaho Supreme Court and North Idaho legislative races. Here’s a link to the Secretary of State’s list of primary candidates, with links to the candidates’ websites. And here’s a link to the state’s official voter information page on registration, (you can register at the polls if you’re not already registered), access and procedures.
 

VanderSloot: ‘I’m sure we’ll be beat up on mercilessly’

Here’s a link to my full story on the last-minute campaign attack launched over the weekend against Judge John Bradbury and in favor of Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick, whom Bradbury is challenging. The entire $38,000 effort was funded by Melaleuca Inc., the Idaho Falls personal-care products firm headed by eastern Idaho conservative activist Frank VanderSloot. VanderSloot told Eye on Boise that he was “embarrassed” that the proper disclosure paperwork wasn’t filed by two PACs that handled the effort. A major funder of numerous political campaigns, who four years ago helped defeat a sitting judge in his eastern Idaho district after he was unhappy with the judge’s behavior in a case involving his firm, VanderSloot said, “We’ve taken a role over the last 10 years or so, but we’ve always done it in the open. … I’m embarrassed I gave my money to someplace that hadn’t done the paperwork right.”

VanderSloot said so far this calendar year, he and his wife, Belinda, have made $70,800 in political contributions, including $60,800 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee on May 17. Meanwhile, through Melaleuca, he’s donated $54,750 to various Idaho campaigns and PACs, plus another $29,500 to the Committee to Elect Meg Whitman, a Republican candidate for governor of California. VanderSloot said he’s done much of his campaign spending from his company, rather than personally, because of limits on campaign contributions from individuals to candidates, and because he believes businesses and corporations have a right to participate in the political sphere. “Now it’s not popular to do, and I’m sure we’ll be beat up on mercilessly,” VanderSloot said. “That doesn’t bother me. … I think it’s incumbent upon us to do things legally and ethically and honestly, and let the chips fall where they will.”

All the money trails lead to VanderSloot

The group “Idaho Citizens for Justice” has now filed its overdue campaign finance report, and it shows that the group received $38,000 - half from Melaleuca Inc. and half from “Citizens for Commonsense” in Idaho Falls - for its last-minute campaign against Judge John Bradbury and in favor of Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick, whom Bradbury is challenging. “Citizens for Common Sense Solutions,” in turn, is a PAC whose own campaign finance report - also just filed this afternoon, a week after the deadline - shows it received $19,000 in donations, all from Melaleuca - meaning the personal-care products firm owned by Idaho Falls conservative activist Frank VanderSloot is the sole funder of both groups. You can read the Citizens for Justice finance report here, and the Citizens for Common Sense Solutions finance report here.

Jonathan Haines, chairman of the Citizens for Justice group, said he used to work for Melaleuca, but now does marketing and consulting work in Idaho Falls, where he has lived since 2008. Haines said the group has spent its entire $38,000 in contributions on newspaper ads in Boise, Twin Falls and Idaho Falls, sending a statewide mailer, and running radio ads in Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls, American Falls, Boise and elsewhere, all targeting Bradbury and touting Burdick. “I didn’t mean to do anything outside of the law, I didn’t mean to do anything that wasn’t kosher,” said Haines, who said he thought he’d filed the required paperwork. “It’s a shame there was a glitch with the paperwork, but the end goal was basically to help educate the electorate and to make them informed, so they can make the informed decision on which judge they can support.”

Unregistered group spent $28K against Bradbury, for Burdick in the past two weeks

The unregistered political group “Idaho Citizens for Justice” has now filed an independent expenditure report with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office showing it’s spent $28,000 in the past two weeks against Judge John Bradbury and in favor of Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick, whom Bradbury is challenging. “They still didn’t file the C1 and the PAC report yet,” said Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst. “We called them about that. They said they’ll be getting that in. But that one will list where the money came from.”

Meanwhile, Frank VanderSloot, owner of Melaleuca Inc. in Idaho Falls, told Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey that he gave $19,000 to the PAC because he feared Bradbury would outspend Burdick (actually, according to campaign finance reports, it’s Burdick who has the bigger campaign warchest for tomorrow’s election). You can read Popkey’s report here.

State Board names interim LCSC prez

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The state Board of Education has appointed Lewis-Clark State College Provost Tony Fernandez to temporarily replace outgoing president Dene Thomas. During a special meeting on Monday, the board voted unanimously to appoint Fernandez as interim president. He will start July 1 with a yearly salary of $162,654. Several faculty members at Lewis-Clark State College have lobbied the board to appoint Fernandez to the position permanently and skip the cost of a presidential search to replace Thomas. At the end of June, Thomas will resign and leave Idaho to become the next president of Fort Lewis College in Colorado. Board President Richard Westerberg says the board will conduct a search to replace Thomas permanently, forgoing the expense of a firm. Fernandez, should he apply, will be considered for the role.

The Lewiston Tribune reported in March that Thomas will make $236,000 annually in her new job as president of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., while her current salary at LCSC is $162,000.

Morgan: Show kids ‘adults do the right thing’

Asked what kids can learn from the space program, Barbara Morgan, teacher, retired astronaut, and current distinguished educator in residence at Boise State University, said, “What’s worth risking and what isn’t worth risking. Doing the right things when things go bad, learning from our mistakes. An example of that is after the Challenger accident when NASA asked if I would continue on the program. We had kids all over the country watching to see what adults do in a bad situation, a horrible situation, and I felt it was really important that we show them that adults do the right thing … we figure out what we did wrong, try to fix it the best we can and keep moving forward.”

She added, “I think also they can learn a lot about courage, I think courage is really contagious. They can learn about the wonders of the universe. There is so much out there, and in 50 years of space exploration, we have learned a lot, but we really know almost nothing. It’s just a place for never-ending, open-ended opportunities and possibilities.” You can read my Q-and-A with Morgan here at spokesman.com, and listen to audio from the full interview here.

Candidate clarifies business history

Tamara Wells, a hairdresser from Post Falls who is running in tomorrow’s GOP primary for governor, now says she hasn’t owned her prosthetic wig shop in Hayden, “Tamara’s,” for 41 years, as she told me last week and as I reported in my Sunday column. “I have been in business for 41 years, and I’ve been here 15 years owning and operating my own business, but I’ve rented space,” Wells told Eye on Boise today. She said she purchased the building for her business in Hayden six years ago, and before that rented space in other salons. Earlier, she was in southern California.

Head of campaign group identified

The Idaho Secretary of State’s office has determined that Jonathan Haines of Idaho Falls, a former employee of Melaleuca Inc., is the chairman of “Idaho Citizens for Justice,” an unregistered group that launched a campaign attack against an Idaho Supreme Court candidate over the weekend. “They’re going to have a report in by noon today,” reported Tim Hurst, chief deputy secretary of state. “He said he’d get the reports in today. … So then we’ll determine what we’re going to do.” The group faces possible fines of up to $50 a day for not filing with the state, plus additional civil penalties; political action committees that raise and spend $500 or more are required to register with the state, disclose their sources of funding, and report all last-minute contributions in the run-up to the election within 48 hours.

Unregistered group launches campaign attack in Idaho Supreme Court race

A group calling itself “Idaho Citizens for Justice” sent out full-color mailings and placed large newspaper advertisements over the weekend touting Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick and criticizing his challenger, 2nd District Judge John Bradbury, but the group hasn’t registered with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office as a political committee or independent campaign, nor has it reported its sources of funding; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. The group’s ads list a Misty Cooper as its treasurer and its mailings list a post office box in Idaho Falls as its headquarters; but at the bottom of its ads, which reproduce a portion of an Idaho State Bar member survey in which members ranked the two high court candidates, the ads say, “For more information contact Dan Black,” and list Black’s phone number and email address at the Idaho State Bar; Black is the communications director for the Idaho State Bar.

“I was surprised to see my name on an ad this weekend in the Idaho Statesman,” Black said this morning. “Of course I gave no permission and no permission was requested to utilize my name.” He noted, “The Idaho State Bar does not make endorsements.” Black noted that an Idaho State Bar press release on the member survey several weeks ago included his contact information; he guessed that the “Citizens for Justice” group just lifted his information along with the survey results. “I am a little concerned,” Black said. “I don’t think it was probably on purpose or nefarious or malicious. I think it was maybe a little lazy, you know, basically to just read their copy a little more carefully.”

The full-color mailer sent out by the group doesn’t include Black’s name or contact information, though it includes the same section from the bar survey results. The group also has new website and a Facebook page, established on May 12, which criticizes Bradbury for comments about abortion in a 1992 legislative campaign and says he has a “troublesome record on law and order issues,” while touting Burdick as a “supporter of open government and a free press;” it lists descriptions of cases and legal citations, including six cases in which Bradbury’s district court rulings were overturned on appeal.

The mailer and newspaper ad both call Bradbury “a very wealthy liberal judge” and note that he funded his own campaign for the high court two years ago. However, this time around, both candidates are accepting campaign contributions, and Burdick has a substantial fundraising edge. Bradbury has raised $59,789, according to his campaign finance report, including $32,600 of his own money, with the rest coming mostly from individuals. Burdick has raised $80,378, according to his report, including contributions from individuals, law firms and PACs.

Burdick said this morning he was unaware of the “Citizens for Justice” group. “I have no idea who or what is going on, absolutely none,” he said. “And nobody in my campaign has worked with that group, I can guarantee you.”

Bradbury said, “Those ads are disgusting. … Not only are they untrue personal attacks, but they’re illegal personal attacks, and if that’s the kind of justice they want on the Supreme Court, they oughta vote for Burdick.”  Bradbury said, “It’s exactly what I expected - I expected personal attacks instead of discussion of the issues. … That’s exactly the kind of campaign they ran against (then-Justice) Cathy Silak when (current Chief Justice Dan) Eismann won.”

He also disputed the claims in the ads. “I’ve been reversed six times, that’s true - but out of how many?” he said. “I think my appellate rate is probably about 90 percent. … I have a lot of trials, judges have trials and have appeals. … I’m proud of what I’ve done. In four of those six cases I was probably right, it’s a matter of opinion - they have the last say.”

The Idaho Secretary of State’s office was scrambling this morning to find out who’s behind the group, which could face fines of up to $50 per day plus civil penalties. “If they’re specifically designated to support or oppose a candidate or measure, then they’re required to become a political committee,” said Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst, if they receive contributions and make expenditures exceeding $500. State law also requires notice to be filed within 48 hours of an independent campaign expenditure. “We’re trying to find out who and what they are,” Hurst said.” Bradbury said he’s heard radio ads sponsored by the group airing in eastern Idaho for the past several weeks.
 

USFS switches, says IPTV filming is OK

After Gov. Butch Otter sent a letter to the U.S. Forest Service objecting to the agency’s denial of permission for Idaho Public Television to film a group of students in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness - on grounds that the public TV station’s filming is “commercial” - the Forest Service has now changed course. Here’s its announcement:

Ogden, Utah May 21, 2010 – After careful review, the US Forest Service has moved to allow filming by an Idaho Public Television crew in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Nationally, we want to improve access, and increase public understanding of the importance of National Forests, Grasslands and Wilderness areas.  One of the ways we can do this is through the media. An assessment of current policy will be completed soon that will address the need for media related activities on National Forest System land.

Poll: Ward, Labrador in dead heat in 1st CD

The Idaho Statesman and KBOI TV Channel 2 have commissioned a statewide poll by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, a national polling company based in Washington, D.C., in advance of Tuesday’s primary election, and the results are darn interesting. In the 1st District congressional race, among likely voters in Idaho’s Republican primary in the district, the poll found 31 percent favoring Vaughn Ward, 28 percent for Raul Labrador, 37 percent undecided and 4 percent for Harley Brown. That’s a statistical dead heat - the difference between Ward and Labrador falls within the poll’s margin of error. You can read the Statesman’s full coverage of the poll here.

In the governor’s race, the poll showed Gov. Butch Otter with 60 percent, 25 percent undecided, and none of the five GOP challengers rising beyond single digits, with Rex Rammell highest at 6 percent followed by Sharon Ullman at 4 percent (my column taking a look at the primary race for governor runs in Sunday’s paper; you can read it here). In the 2nd Congressional District, incumbent Mike Simpson was at 62 percent, undecided 23 percent, and challengers in single digits. The poll showed the contested Supreme Court race also in a dead heat, at least among Republican primary voters (it’s a non-partisan race); incumbent Roger Burdick had 24 percent, challenger John Bradbury 20 percent, and 56 percent were undecided.

Ward: ‘She didn’t benefit from coming here’

After the Sarah Palin rally, candidate Vaughn Ward was surrounded by supporters, well-wishers, a few folks who wanted to argue politics, and a lot of youngsters who wanted autographs on signs and brochures and a picture with the candidate. Ward said he was thrilled with the turnout. “We only had about 48 hours to put it together,” he said. “People were excited.” He said of Palin, “She’s an Idaho girl, she’s probably one of Idaho’s most famous daughters, and Idaho people get excited about that.”

Dennis Mansfield, spokesman for the campaign of Ward’s GOP primary opponent, Raul Labrador, said,  “Idaho was honored to have Sarah Palin come to the capital city of Boise today. She came for the wrong candidate, though.”

Of the 1,500 to 2,000 people in the arena for the rally, about half were in floor seats that cost $10 a head, while the others filled free seats on risers along the side. Money raised by the event, including $250 tickets to a VIP reception beforehand and $1,000 apiece for those who wanted their photos taken with Palin - at least 50 lined up for the privilege - went to the Ward campaign. The campaign said Palin didn’t charge a speaking fee and instead made a donation to the campaign, and the $10 tickets went to cover the cost of the event. “She didn’t benefit from coming here,” Ward said after the rally. “She benefited from trying to help out a candidate she believes in.”

Wisconsin candidate cribbed website passages

A Wisconsin GOP congressional candidate, Chad Lee, from whose campaign website Idaho congressional candidate Vaughn Ward had borrowed word-for-word an issue position statement on jobs that Ward removed from his site last week after the similarities were reported, has now acknowledged that Lee staffers lifted entire passages on his site on immigration, the economy, taxes and more from the websites of two sitting Wisconsin GOP congressmen, Reps. Paul Ryan and Sean Duffy. WISC-TV in Madison reported that representatives for the Ryan and Duffy campaigns said everything on their sites was written by them and was not taken from outside sources or the Republican Party. Among Lee’s passages borrowed from Ryan was one about an immigration bill Ryan had introduced, suggesting that Lee, too, had introduced such a bill; Lee’s not an incumbent.

Ward had a similar claim in his now-pulled issue statement on trade, in which he referred to “my roadmap legislation.” That’s actually Wisconsin Rep. Ryan’s sweeping “Roadmap for America’s Future” legislation, versions of which Ryan proposed both in 2008 and again this year. Ward now has no issue position statements on his campaign website, while Lee has replaced two of his with notes that the page is under construction; you can see the Wisconsin TV station’s report here.

Charges fly in high court race

As Tuesday’s election approaches, charges are flying in the non-partisan contested race for the Idaho Supreme Court. Justice Roger Burdick issued a press release ripping his challenger, 2nd District Judge John Bradbury, for four decisions in criminal matters that were reversed on appeal, saying, “If the appellate courts had adopted Bradbury’s view of the law, Idaho’s death row would have been essentially emptied after 2003 and none of more than a dozen death row inmates could have been resentenced to death.” Bradbury issued a press release blasting Burdick for comments in a debate that Bradbury contends went too far in addressing a water issue that will come before the Supreme Court, saying, “Justice Burdick may very well have exposed himself to disqualification on the very issues that he is trying to use to ride to another term.” Also, current Chief Justice Dan Eismann issued a statement critical of claims made in two Bradbury campaign ads.

The Burdick-Bradbury race is the only contested race for Idaho’s highest court his year; Justice Jim Jones is unopposed for re-election.

Palin bashes media, rallies crowd for Ward

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin had harsh words for the “lamestream media” and the liberal left as gave an enthusiastic speech rallying voters for GOP congressional candidate Vaughn Ward in Boise today. “The left and some of the lamestream media, they can really play dirty sometimes, trust me on this one, I know this one,” Palin told a crowd of about 1,500 at the Qwest Arena in downtown Boise, who punctuated her speech with applause and cheers but remained seated until its end. Ward, who headed the McCain-Palin presidential campaign in Nevada in 2008, is facing state Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, in Idaho’s primary election on Tuesday for a chance to challenge freshman Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Palin: ‘You can keep the change’

“I like those bumper stickers that say, ‘You can keep the change,’” Sarah Palin told the crowd in Boise. She called Vaughn Ward “the real deal,” saying he’s pro-gun and pro-life. “Vaughn has been courageous enough to serve our country and fight for you, fight for all Americans, serving in the Iraq war,” she said. “Those are the qualities we need in leaders today who like Vaughn can go to Washington and take back a majority for common-sense conservatives, who understand the constitution, and they understand that freedom isn’t free, freedom is a God-given right and is worth fighting for.” That won Palin a loud cheer and round of applause.

Palin: Borrowed clothes, again

Sarah Palin told a crowd in the Qwest Arena, “What we’re here for is it being all about Vaughn. We’re gonna turn this country around.” She won cheers from the audience. Palin said she flew all night and arrived on time, but without her luggage - so an hour before the rally she was in sweats. Now, she said, she’s wearing “borrowed clothes, again,” which drew a laugh from the crowd.

Ward: Palin redefined what change means

Luna introduced Vaughn Ward, who told the crowd, “The families that came to see us, they arrived on time but unfortunately their bags did not” He’s now introducing Sarah Palin. “Gov. Palin’s redefined what change means - it will take on a whole new meaning in 2010,” he said.

Next speaker at Ward-Palin rally: Luna

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is the next speaker at the Ward-Palin rally, starting by talking about the importance of education. Then he said, “Folks, if we’re going to keep the promise to the rising generation, then we have to put an end to the insanity in Washington, D.C. … We must hold all politicians accountable and we must hold all political parties accountable.” He garnered cheers and applause.

McGee takes podium to start rally

The Ward campaign is estimating there are 1,500 people at the rally, which is starting now with state Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, taking the podium. “Canyon County is Vaughn Ward country,” he declared; Canyon County is where McGee is from, though the rally is taking place in Boise, which is in Ada County. “This is the most Republican state in the union and it’s time to send a Republican back to represent us in the 1st Congressional District,” McGee said; he then introduced former Idaho Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa to lead the pledge of allegiance, which was followed by an invocation.


Between 1,000 and 1,100 in arena

There now appear to be nearly 400 people sitting in the free seats in the risers around the floor of the Qwest Arena for the Sarah Palin-Vaughn Ward rally, and another 650 or so in the $10 seats on the floor, for a total of between 1,000 and 1,100. The word is that both Ward and Palin are now in the building; the band just led a Ward sign-waving chorus to the lyrics, “Go Vaughn Ward,” and then wrapped up.

‘We want it to be values-based’

There appear to be about 750 seats set up on the floor of the Qwest Arena for the Sarah Palin-Vaughn Ward rally, and so far roughly half have filled up. In the free seats on the risers at the sides a little over 100 people are seated so far. Outside, people filing in included Linn and George Pitt of Garden City; “We’re big admirers of Sarah Palin,” she said, to which her husband added, “We’re undecided on Ward vs. Labrador, so we want to hear him some more.” Glancing at her husband, Linn said, “I’m going to vote for Vaughn Ward.”

George said he’s a U.S. Marines veteran - like Ward - but said that’s not enough to sway his decision. “We’re very conservative, and we want to make sure we’re voting for someone who shares our values,” he said. Said Linn, “We think it’s very important to take District 1 back to the Republican side. We want it to be values-based.”

Seventeen-year-old cousins Ryan and Jared Hand said they’re Democrats, but they want to hear the other side, “just sort of to realize what you’re up against,” Ryan said. Asked if they came to see Ward or Palin, Jared said, “Sarah Palin, she brought us out, oh yeah, you know it.”

Evelyn Wood of Twin Falls traveled the two hours to Boise just for the rally. “We just saw it on TV and decided we wanted to come,” she said. “I’m quite interested in her. I read her book.” Sarah Benedict brought her young daughter and a friend who pushed a bright-eyed baby in a stroller, but they weren’t headed into the rally. “We actually came to protest,” Benedict said. “Everybody’s here to see Sarah Palin - I’m not a real big fan of hers.”

Upstairs at the Sports Zone, state Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden, leaned out the window and reported that he was near the front of a line of about 50 people waiting for photos with Palin, a privilege that’ll cost them $1,000 a head.

People filtering in for Palin rally

People are filtering in slowly for the Sarah Palin rally for Vaughn Ward’s campaign this morning; here’s a shot of the line outside just as the doors opened. Inside, a photo slide show of pictures of Ward is playing on the big screen and the band High Street, in its distinctive zoot suits, is setting up onstage.

Free tickets offered for Palin event

Vaughn Ward’s campaign has announced that free tickets will be available for the Sarah Palin rally this morning for an additional level of seating, and can be picked up in person starting at 9 a.m. at Qwest Arena. In addition, $10 tickets for floor seats for the event still are available through the Qwest Arena box office; children 18 and under are free. Doors open at 9 a.m. for the 11 a.m. rally; for $250 per person, Palin fans can attend a VIP reception in the SportsZone of the arena at 10 a.m.; or, for $1,000 per person, they can get a photo opportunity with the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate. The money goes to Ward’s congressional campaign; he faces state Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, in the GOP primary on Tuesday for Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat, now held by freshman Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick.

Of civics and U.S. territories…

At a debate in Post Falls this week between GOP congressional candidates Vaughn Ward and Raul Labrador, a Pachyderm Club audience member asked both candidates whether they supported statehood for Puerto Rico. Labrador, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, a United States territory,  responded that he didn’t think now was the time. Ward said, “The problem with extending statehood to some, to any other country, is it then the infrastructure requirements. … It is not time to grow the United States, not today, not tomorrow. I don’t see a time when we would. We’re 50 states, I want to stay at that. Let’s focus on America first.”

Labrador responded, “I just need to correct, Puerto Rico is not a country, Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. It’s about time that we took some civics lesson and we learn what Puerto Rico is.” To that, Ward responded, “I really don’t care what it is, I mean it doesn’t matter.” To that, Labrador said, “Obviously you don’t.” You can watch the exchange on YouTube here.

It’s generating quite a bit of buzz on the S-R’s “Huckleberries Online” blog today, where an online poll found overwhelming numbers of readers think Ward’s comments matter in the race. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States acquired in 1898; people born there are U.S. citizens, residents of the commonwealth vote in presidential primaries though not in the general election for president, and their head of state is the president of the United States. Other territories of the United States include the Midway Islands, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam.

AARP member survey: Idaho seniors lack confidence in lawmakers

The Idaho AARP reports that its latest member survey finds that 85 percent have little to no confidence in Idaho state legislators to take on the issues most important to them, and that the top three issues the seniors want addressed are resolving state budget problems (72%), amending this year’s “conscience” law to ensure health care workers honor living wills and advance directives (61%), and removing the influence of large special-interest campaign contributions (55%). In addition, 46 percent want to hear how candidates would restore cuts to education funding. “The low public confidence in state lawmakers is very alarming– it’s not good for anyone in Idaho, businesses, retirees and especially those elected to serve in office,” said Jim Wordelman, state director for AARP in Idaho.

The “Idaho Election Pulse Survey of 50-Plus Voters” was taken between April 28 and May 17 by email, and received 431 responses. You can read AARP’s press release here, and see the survey results here.

Otter goes to bat for Idaho Public TV

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is going to bat for Idaho Public Television in a spat with the U.S. Forest Service, which is inexplicably taking a newfound position that IPTV’s filming of a student conservation group in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness for an “Outdoor Idaho” program would be a prohibited commercial activity in the wilderness. Otter sent a letter to the Forest Service today calling the federal agency’s position “ill-advised;” you can read his letter here, and click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller. Otter proposed phasing out all state funding for Idaho Public TV at the start of this year’s legislative session, but later backed off, saying he was just sending a message to spur efficiencies.

Ward announces details of Palin event

Congressional candidate Vaughn Ward has announced the details of the political rally he’s hosting featuring Sarah Palin this Friday; it’ll start at 11 a.m. at Qwest Arena in downtown Boise, and cost $10 a head, with children under 18 free. Or, for $250 per person, Palin fans can attend a VIP reception in the SportsZone of the arena at 10 a.m.; or, for $1,000 per person, they can get a photo opportunity with the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate. Click here to see Ward’s flier about the event.

Wasden to Senate committee: Crime, violence in Mexico affects states including Idaho

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law yesterday, and had an interesting story to tell about how Idaho has a stake in establishing a system in Mexico that relies on the rule of law. Wasden’s been active on the issue through a partnership of attorneys general that promotes cross-border law enforcement cooperation and is assisting the government of Mexico in reforming its court system; the Idaho Statesman’s Erika Bolstad covered the AG’s testimony and has a full story here. “There’s a parade of drugs that are coming north, and there’s a parade of guns and money that is going south,” Wasden said.

Gov. Otter’s GOP challengers blast him at debate that he skipped

Two of Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s primary election challengers lashed out at him during a statewide debate Tuesday night, while Otter declined to participate in the matchup that aired live statewide on Idaho Public Television. “I’d like to ask him why he thinks he’s above having his ideas challenged by the public,” said GOP challenger Rex Rammell, a veterinarian from Rexburg. “Isn’t it the responsibility of the top elected official of the state of Idaho to let the people know what your ideas are? … Why didn’t you show up for this?”

Sharon Ullman, a Republican Ada County commissioner, said she wished she could’ve asked Otter if he’ll really serve a full four-year term if he’s re-elected. “There’s a strong rumor going around that he plans to … step down and let the lieutenant governor become governor,” she declared. Rammell and Ullman bashed Otter for proposing a gas tax increase in 2009; for failing to attract more jobs to the state; for proposing increasing counties’ costs for indigent health care; and for not being hostile enough to the federal government; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and click below for some tidbits from the debate that didn’t make it into my story.

Candidates for Gov debate tonight

Tonight’s debate in the race for governor will feature GOP challengers Rex Rammell and Sharon Ullman (shown above center, the first to arrive for tonight’s debate), but not incumbent Gov. Butch Otter, who declined to participate. In a statement today from his campaign, Otter repeated his contention that the debate should have invited all candidates, including those not actively campaigning for the post. He also said, “I met some of my primary opponents at Lincoln Day events around the state in recent months. Each of us had ample opportunity to get voters acquainted with our issues and priorities.”

Otter likely will be the target of his rivals tonight, and due to his absence won’t be able to respond to their digs; the debate starts at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific, and will air live statewide on Idaho Public Television. The public can attend; 130 seats are available to the public in the Capitol Auditorium on a first-come, first-served basis, and the doors open at 7 p.m. Boise time. It’s the last of the “Idaho Debates” for Idaho’s May 25 primary election, but there’ll be a full slate again in the fall for the general election. The “Idaho Debates” are sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the Idaho League of Women Voters, and co-sponsored by The Associated Press, Boise State Radio, Idaho Allied Dailies, Idaho State Broadcasters Association, The Idaho Statesman, KIVI-TV and KBOI-TV; they can be viewed online at www.idahoptv.org.

Allred outraises Otter

The gubernatorial debate is tonight, for the candidates in the contested GOP primary, and there’s some news in the race today: In the most recent quarter, Democratic candidate Keith Allred out-raised incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter. According to campaign finance reports filed today, Otter raised $193,339 in contributions from Jan. 1 to May 9, while Allred raised $241,278 in the same time period. Allred said in a news release that 90 percent of his contributions came from Idahoans and that he set a fundraising record for Democratic candidates for governor. “I’m particularly gratified at how many contributors we have from within Idaho,” Allred said. “People from all across the state are saying they support our goal to make Idaho government by, for and of the people.”

Otter, in his own campaign news release, said “thousands of people are stepping forward” to help his re-election campaign. His campaign manager, Debbie Field, said, “That reflects the compelling message that our campaign is able to deliver to voters throughout our state, and the hard work and dedication of our campaign staff and local volunteers in each of Idaho’s 44 counties.”

Among other candidates, Republican Rex Rammell reported raising $55,981 during the fundraising period and spending $43,219, including $1,000 for a giant, green inflatable T-Rex he’s using as a campaign prop; and Republican Sharon Ullman reported raising just $2,333 in the fundraising period, including $1,878 that she donated to her own campaign. Democrat Lee Chaney reported raising $2,100, more than half of it his own money; anti-abortion activist Walter Bayes reported no contributions but putting $22,000 of his own money into his campaign, of which he’s spent $20,610; and wig shop owner Tamara Wells of Post Falls reported no contributions, but spending $2,044 of her own money. Amateur comedian Ron “Pete” Peterson hadn’t filed a report as of today’s deadline.

Minnick campaign: Why would Palin stump for someone who didn’t vote for her?

Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick’s campaign manager, John Foster, had this comment on the news that Sarah Palin will come to Boise on Friday to speak at a rally for GOP hopeful Vaughn Ward: “Can’t understand why she’s coming to campaign for someone who didn’t vote for her.”

The Associated Press reported last Thursday that even though Ward headed the McCain-Palin campaign in Nevada in 2008, he didn’t vote in the 2008 general election. Ward told the AP that he had a hard time breaking away from the campaign to head back to Idaho to vote, and that the window for requesting an absentee ballot had closed by the time he realized he wouldn’t be able to do so.

Ward campaign: Palin visit Friday will ‘attract a lot of attention, a lot of interest’

“Yes, Sarah Palin is coming to Boise on Friday,” confirms Mike Tracy, spokesman for GOP congressional candidate Vaughn Ward’s campaign. “We don’t have all the schedule details finished yet but we’re working on those and details will follow.” Tracy said, “She will attract a lot of attention and a lot of interest from people across the state. We’re working toward a public event; we don’t have that confirmed yet. That’s what we’re working toward.”

AP: Palin coming to Idaho Friday for Ward

Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has agreed to come to Idaho to help generate support for Republican congressional candidate Vaughn Ward. Ward campaign spokesman Mike Tracy told The Associated Press Tuesday that Palin will attend a public campaign rally Friday in Boise. The 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee was an early supporter of Ward’s bid to win the nomination to compete against Democrat Walt Minnick to represent Idaho’s 1st Congressional District. In March, Palin endorsed Ward on her Facebook page. During the 2008 presidential race, Ward served as state director in Nevada in Sen. John McCain’s bid for the White House. Palin was his running mate. Her visit comes five days before primary voters decide whether Ward or state Rep. Raul Labrador is best suited to take on Minnick in November.

Labrador campaign: Ward website issue raises ‘character’ questions

Dennis Mansfield, campaign spokesman for GOP congressional candidate Raul Labrador, said he thinks the latest incident of rival GOP candidate Vaughn Ward’s position statements on his campaign website matching another website’s words raises character issues about Ward. “It is time for people who have endorsed Vaughn Ward to actively consider withdrawing their endorsements. This has gone on too long,” Mansfield said. “There’s a root cause here and the only thing, the only person who’s connected to both plagiarism incidences is the candidate himself. In 30 years of politics, I’ve never seen a candidate melt down like this. Character is an issue.”

Ward takes down new position statements

Mike Tracy, spokesman for the Vaughn Ward campaign, says the campaign has taken down new issue position statements posted this morning, one of which matched another website. “There was something put up without my approval,” Tracy said, “and I’ve made it very clear … that we didn’t want anything up until it had been cleared by me. We have taken those issues down until I have a chance to review everything thoroughly, and I take the responsibility for that at this point.”

He added, “And the Duncan Hunter issue, I can tell you that Vaughn and Duncan have shared a lot of material in the past few months, and share the same ideals and the same values on the Iraq war, and have shared ideas and materials with each other and will continue to do so.”

Full story: Matching words

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how congressional candidate Vaughn Ward this morning posted three new issue position statements on his campaign website, and portions of one of them match nearly word-for-word a California congressman’s re-election campaign website. Last night at 7 p.m., Ward campaign spokesman Mike Tracy, asked why the site still had no position statements on it after all were removed on Thursday, said, “We’re working on those and we just want to make sure that everything and every step we take … is absolutely accurate and that there are no issues and no problems with anything that we’re doing. That’s one of the corrective things. So if we take time to do it, it’s going to be because we want to make sure that there are no mistakes.”

The position statements this morning are posted under “issues” in the “Meet Vaughn” section of the campaign website; links that formerly led to position statements under the heading “Fighting for Idaho Values” on the main page still are inactive.

Ward posts new issue statements; one matches another website

Congressional candidate Vaughn Ward has posted three new issue statements on his website - and portions of one of them, on the war in Iraq, match, nearly word-for-word, the national security issue statement of freshman Congressman Duncan D. Hunter, the son of the longtime congressman and former Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter Sr., who in February came to Idaho to campaign for Ward. Ward and the younger Hunter have much in common; both are Marine veterans who served in combat in Iraq.

The matchup in the wording follows Ward’s removal of all of his issue position statements last week after The Spokesman-Review reported that five of the 10 were identical to statements on other candidates’ or congressmen’s websites, including two that touted specific pending legislation in Congress that Ward said he didn’t necessarily support. New campaign spokesman Mike Tracy, who took over that role from campaign manager Ryan O’Barto, who resigned on Friday, wasn’t immediately available for comment on the new position statements.

Here are the two statements:

From the website of Duncan D. Hunter for Congress:

National Security

Government’s most fundamental responsibility is to protect its citizens. After serving three tours of duty in the Middle East since 9/11/2001, I understand the tremendous threat to our future posed by terrorism and the spread of radical and violent Islamism.  Now, as much as at any time in our history, we need to be vigilant and strong. My platform includes:

   1. Strengthen and maintain our military to keep us safe.
   2. Make sure the men and women serving us in uniform have the best equipment and training available.
   3. Eliminate government red tape and bureaucratic roadblocks that hamper our efforts to obtain new weapons and intelligence technology.

From Idaho congressional candidate Vaughn Ward’s website this morning:

The War in Iraq

My background enables me to be uniquely qualified to help with our government’s most fundamental responsibility - protecting its citizens.

I have served two tours in the Middle East since 9/11 with the CIA and the Marine Corps, witnessing firsthand the threat that terrorists pose to our national security.  Our nation has not been attacked since September 11th.  This is partially attributed to the fact that Al-Qaeda was dealt a serious blow in Afghanistan and Iraq by U.S. and allied forces.  Now, as much as any time in our history, we need to be vigilant, united, and strong.  I support strengthening and maintaining our military and ensuring that the men and women serving us in uniform have the best equipment and training available

Palin visit rumored for Ward, Labrador campaign calls it diversion tactic

Congressional candidate Vaughn Ward’s campaign says it is “just a rumor at this point” that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will come to Idaho on behalf of Ward’s campaign. “We don’t have confirmation of anything at this point,” said Mike Tracy, the new campaign spokesman for the 1st District GOP hopeful. “Right now people are speculating.” Palin endorsed Ward on March 30, along with two other veterans who are seeking congressional seats in Florida and Illinois. At that time, Ward said he expected the former vice presidential candidate to help him with fundraising and probably to visit the state to campaign for him. “She’s an Idahoan,” he said then. “I’m pretty confident we’re going to get her here.”

Ward was Nevada state chairman for the McCain-Palin campaign for five months; in August, her father and father-in-law came to Idaho to stump for Ward. Palin, along with her family, has roots in Idaho, lived in Sandpoint and graduated from the University of Idaho. Tracy said, “If she comes to Idaho for Vaughn that’d be great for him in the election, whether it’s before the primary, before the general, either one.”

Ward is vying against Raul Labrador in the GOP primary for a chance to challenge Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick; Labrador’s campaign issued a press release today saying it was rumored that “the Ward campaign was desperately after Sarah Palin to come in during this last week of the election to rescue his troubled campaign.” Mansfield said in the release, “No doubt she’d be a big deal and divert a lot of attention from questions surrounding Ward’s authenticity. … Idaho conservatives will still be wondering whether Vaughn Ward is what he says he is.” You can click below to read the full Labrador campaign press release.

Tracy took over spokesman duties Friday from former campaign manager Ryan O’Barto, who resigned after a series of embarrassing revelations for the campaign, including Thursday’s report by The Spokesman-Review that five of 10 issue position statements on Ward’s campaign website were word-for-word identical to statements on other candidates’ and congressmen’s sites. All of Ward’s position statements were removed from the website on Thursday, and though Ward said then that he expected to have new ones up by the end of the day, there still are none on the site. “We’re working on those and we just want to make sure that everything and every step we take … is absolutely accurate and that there are no issues and no problems with anything that we’re doing,” Tracy told Eye on Boise. “That’s one of the corrective things. So if we take time to do it, it’s going to be because we want to make sure that there are no mistakes.”

Burdick speaks out on school lawsuit, says court got ‘desired results’

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick now says he misspoke when he said in a televised campaign debate that Idaho’s long-standing school funding lawsuit isn’t over. “That was a misstatement,” Burdick told The Spokesman-Review on Monday. “We indicated the case was over.” The end of the drawn-out case, which stretched for 15-plus years, came in late 2005 after the Idaho Supreme Court ruled the state’s system for funding school construction unconstitutional and ordered the Legislature to fix it, then closed the case without any further action or review of subsequent legislative changes.

Burdick’s challenger in his bid for re-election to the court, 2nd District Judge John Bradbury, has been sharply critical of the court’s handling of the case, which he calls the “darkest day in the history of the Idaho Supreme Court.” Bradbury said Monday, “If you take Justice Burdick’s approach, it is up to each branch to decide whether they comply with the Constitution. It’s an incredible, abject abdication of the court’s role.”

Burdick took the issue a step further on Monday, issuing a press release in which he accused Bradbury of advocating an “activist” approach to the issue, and characterized the Idaho Supreme Court’s approach as a “conservative” one that worked. He cited legislation passed in the 2006 legislative session and in an August 2006 special session of the state Legislature, and said between the two, “the court … got the desired results.” You can read my full story here, read Burdick’s press release here, and read a response to Burdick’s press release from Robert Huntley, the former Idaho Supreme Court justice who represented the school districts that sued the state, by clicking here.

Wanted? You can still vote without fear

Wanted? Don’t let it stop you from voting in the primary election on May 25th. According to an obscure Idaho law that dates all the way back to 1891, Idaho electors - that’s voters - are “privileged from arrest, except for treason, a felony or breach of the peace, during their attendance at a polling place.” That means Idahoans wanted for minor crimes can show up to vote without fear that the cops will nab them even as they cast their ballots. However, there’s no restriction on arrests once those folks have finished voting and left the polling place.

Asked the reason for the law, Idaho Code 34-401, a laughing Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said, “I have no idea. In my 36 years here, it’s never been an issue.” He said, “Maybe we had some scoundrels who they didn’t want to discourage from voting. Who knows?” Ysursa noted that Idaho’s election laws were revamped in 1970, but the privilege-from-arrest law was kept, while various out-of-date voting restrictions were wiped off the books, like the one that said people who “frequented houses of ill repute” couldn’t vote. A more recent law change repealed the old state law that said liquor by the drink couldn’t be sold while the polls were open. “It’s just a vestige of the past,” Ysursa said.

Silsby sentenced to time served, released

The Associated Press is reporting that Laura Silsby, the 40-year-old Idaho missionary who led a group of 10 Americans that was caught trying to take a busload of children out of Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake, has been sentenced to time served and released. Silsby maintained she wanted to rescue orphans after the earthquake and take them to a new orphanage she hoped to establish in the Dominican Republic; however, it turned out all the children had at least one living parent, and Silsby lacked the necessary permits to take the 33 children out of the country. She was convicted of arranging illegal travel; the AP reports that she returned briefly to her jail cell to pick up her belongings, then headed to the Port-au-Prince airport.

Idaho’s four-member congressional delegation issued this statement on Silsby’s release: “We are pleased the Haitian judicial process for Laura Silsby has concluded and that she will be returning home.  This has been a trying time for her family and friends, and they will undoubtedly be happy to have her back in Idaho.” Click below to read the full story from the AP.

Next debate: GOP primary race for Guv

The last of the “Idaho Debates” for the May 25 primary election is tomorrow night, when GOP candidates for governor will face off before a live audience, in a debate to be broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television. Thus far, incumbent Gov. Butch Otter has declined to attend; candidates scheduled to debate include GOP challengers Rex Rammell and Sharon Ullman. The debate starts at 8 p.m. Boise time; doors open an hour before in the Capitol Auditorium for those who’d like to attend, and close 15 minutes before the start of the debate. There are 130 seats available for the public on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Idaho Debates are sponsored by the Idaho Press  Club and the League of Women Voters, along with co-sponsors including The Associated Press, Boise State Radio, Idaho Allied Dailies, Idaho State Broadcasters Association, The Idaho Statesman, KIVI-TV and KBOI-TV; there’s more info here, and you can click below to read a piece by AP reporter John Miller on the gubernatorial primary race.

A look at 1st District, SupCourt races

Vaughn Ward and Raul Labrador, who are vying for the GOP nomination for Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat, have much in common, though they’re locked in a contentious and sometimes bitter contest for the nod in Idaho’s May 25 primary election. Both are barely past age 40, with photogenic good looks and attractive young families. Both came from modest means and were raised largely by single mothers. Both speak in forceful, idealistic terms about public service when they talk about running for Congress. Both are staking out the conservative end of the political spectrum. My story profiling the race is in Sunday’s Spokesman-Review; here’s a link.

Also coming in Sunday’s S-R, my Handle Extra column takes a look at the contested race for the Idaho Supreme Court between Justice Roger Burdick and 2nd District Judge John Bradbury. Of note: Oddly, in this nonpartisan race, Idaho’s system means that the final decision in the Burdick-Bradbury race will happen in a low-turnout election that’s dominated by each party’s most-committed partisans. Idaho’s primaries typically see less than half the voter turnout of the general election, and the primary turnout has been falling each election for the past decade; in 2008, just 25 percent of registered voters cast votes in the primary, down from 33.4 percent in 2000. Here’s a link.

Big shake-up for Ward campaign…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the big shake-up today in Vaughn Ward’s congressional campaign. Dennis Mansfield, spokesman for rival candidate Raul Labrador’s campaign, said, “I’ve never seen a self-immolation of a political campaign like this in the 30-plus years I’ve run races.” And Mike Tracy just returned my call from earlier today, and said he’s the campaign’s new communications consultant and, for now, the press contact, but he’s not the press secretary. “I will be working with the media,” Tracy said, “for the foreseeable future.”

Boise Tea Party endorses Labrador

Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The leaders of Tea Party Boise are endorsing Republican Raul Labrador in the race for the GOP nomination in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District. The organization, which touts 2,600 members in southwestern Idaho, picked Labrador Friday over his primary rival Vaughn Ward. The endorsement comes 12 days before the primary election to determine which Republican candidate will square off in November against first-term Democrat Walt Minnick. Tea Party officials say Labrador, who has served two terms in the Idaho House of Representatives, better understands the issues facing Idahoans and Americans. The group praised Labrador for having more real world political experience, his record of resisting his own party leaders and is more thoughtful and knowledgeable than Ward.

Ward on radio: ‘He tendered his resignation’

Answering a caller’s question on KBOI radio about the departure of his campaign manager, Ryan O’Barto, congressional candidate Vaughn Ward said, “The campaign manager, he was not fired, he tendered his resignation. It was very hard for me to accept his resignation. He felt it was more of a distraction on the campaign.” Asked by the caller if he’s blaming missteps on campaign staff, Ward said, “Anything that goes wrong on my campaign is my responsibility, just like in the Marine Corps.”

Here’s the explanation he gave on the radio for the position statements on his website posted for at least the past five months that matched word-for-word statements on an array of other candidates’ and congressmen’s sites: “We’ve made some changes internally on the process. Let me say, the material is right, reflects my viewpoints, they’re GOP talking points, they’re right. … These are things that Idahoans are talking about when I’m out on the campaign trail. … The thoughts are definitely ours.” He made no mention, however, of references in those statements touting two pieces of pending legislation in Congress that Ward subsequently said he hasn’t reviewed and doesn’t necessarily support.

Ward: ‘Some communication issues that I wanted to make stronger’

Vaughn Ward’s campaign hasn’t returned calls today, but Ward just said on KBOI radio that he’s “clarified” that he didn’t fire campaign manager Ryan O’Barto, as reported on Politico.com; the Associated Press is reporting that O’Barto has resigned. Ward said, “To deal with some of our communication issues that I wanted to make stronger, I brought on Mike Tracy, who has a 20-plus year history of dealing with tough races” and has worked on campaigns for “Larry Craig and others.” Ward added, “He’s actually been a volunteer on our campaign for about a year helping us out, and he’s stepped in.” So far, he’s made no mention of replacing O’Barto with senior finance director Al Henderson, who joined his campaign April 29th. O’Barto was serving as both campaign spokesman and campaign manager.

Henderson joined Ward campaign two weeks ago

Al Henderson, whom the Associated Press reports will be Vaughn Ward’s new campaign manager, signed on with Ward’s campaign on April 29 as senior finance director. A Ward press release issued on that date said, “Henderson, a successful, long-time GOP fundraiser, will help the Ward campaign build on their tremendous fundraising success. Last quarter, Ward set an Idaho Republican congressional primary record with total receipts of over $518k from more than 1,100 contributors.” In the press release, Henderson praised Ward as “an honorable man and a true conservative.” Among Idaho GOP campaigns Henderson’s worked on in the past are those of Butch Otter, Steve Symms and Larry Craig; he also was a longtime Craig staffer.

Ward is scheduled to appear on Boise talk radio on Nate Shelman’s program on 670 KBOI at 5 p.m. Boise time - that’s now. In the quarter-hour before that program starts, the station has aired one of rival Raul Labrador’s hard-hitting new radio campaign ads, portraying Ward as beholden to out-of-state contributors.

AP: O’Barto out, Tracy, Henderson in

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican congressional candidate Vaughn Ward’s campaign manager is stepping down — 12 days before the primary and in the wake of a series of political missteps. Ward campaign consultant Mike Tracy confirmed Friday that Ward has accepted the resignation of Ryan O’Barto, who also served as spokesman. Tracy, a press secretary for former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, told The Associated Press he will begin serving as campaign spokesman. The latest mishap for Ward emerged Thursday when it was reported that position statements on Ward’s website appeared to have been cut and pasted from other GOP candidate websites and writings. O’Barto said the material posted on the website was a technical error. Tracy also said Al Henderson, who managed Craig’s 1990 senate campaign, will be Ward’s new campaign manager.

F&G to reduce wolf numbers in Lolo Zone

The Idaho Fish & Game Department is planning a “wolf control action” in the Lolo Zone, to be carried out by four licensed outfitters, each of whom will be authorized to kill up to five wolves by June 30;  the “agency control action is not open to hunters,” F&G said. Click below to read the full announcement.

Allred campaign: New poll suggests ‘dead heat by September’

Why is Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred happy about the new Rasmussen poll that shows incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter at 54 percent support to 32 percent for Allred? “It’s momentum,” said Allred campaign spokesman Shea Andersen. “In seven weeks we gained 10 points. … This is the kind of pace we want to be on. This sort of thing puts us in a dead heat by September.”

An earlier Rasmussen poll, in late March, showed Otter with 60 percent to Allred’s 32 percent, a 32-point lead. Now that’s narrowed to a 22-point lead. Rasmussen characterizes the latest results as showing that Otter “still holds a comfortable lead.”

Idaho won’t reapply for ‘Race to the Top’ funds for schools

Idaho won’t apply for the next round of federal “Race to the Top” funding after all, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna announced today, after its first-round application was rejected. Luna had been enthusiastic about the program the first time around, saying it might be the only new funds Idaho schools would see next year, and it could bring millions to the state. Only two states, Delaware and Tennessee, were selected in the first round. Luna said he’s giving up on the second round for a variety of reasons, including the difficulty for school districts facing budget cuts to complete the second-round application by a June 1 deadline; click below to read Luna’s full announcement.

Press-Tribune: Ward ‘restructuring staff’

The Idaho Press-Tribune reports that congressional candidate Vaughn Ward told its editorial board this morning that he “planned to announce a restructuring of his campaign staff on Saturday.” The paper reported, “While not offering specifics, Ward alluded to major changes and was accompanied by longtime GOP campaign strategist Mike Tracy.” Tracy is a former press secretary for Sen. Larry Craig and former executive director of the Idaho Republican Party; he now operates a communications firm. You can read the Press-Tribune’s full post here.

Politico says Ward’s fired his campaign manager

Politico.com is reporting that Idaho congressional candidate Vaughn Ward has fired his campaign manager and is bringing on a new interim manager plus a “press secretary with experience working in the office of former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig.” You can read Politico’s article here; it cites unnamed sources. So, is it true? My calls both to Ward and to Ryan O’Barto, who’s been his campaign spokesman at least until yesterday, so far today have gone unreturned. The Politico article identifies O’Barto as the fired campaign manager, and says he’s a former aide to Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.

Latest campaign finance report for 1st CD

Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick collected more than $100,000 in the last reporting period, topping the combined total raised by his two potential Republican rivals and stretching his significant lead in cash available for the general election in November, the AP reports. From April 1 to May 5, the first-term congressman raised more than $117,000 and reports more than $935,000 in cash on hand. During the same period, Republican candidate Vaughn Ward brought in more than $55,000, mostly from individual donors, giving him $125,700 cash on hand. Ward’s challenger in the May 25 primary, state Rep. Raul Labrador, collected $14,800 in donations and reported $35,900 in available cash. Click below to read the full story from the Associated Press.

State files response to Pam Lowe motion

The state has filed its response to fired Idaho Transportation Director Pam Lowe’s motion for a federal court to rule in her favor on most of her key claims in her wrongful-firing case without holding further hearings. In a 23-page memorandum in opposition to Lowe’s motion, filed Thursday night just before a midnight deadline, attorney B. Newal Squyres argued that Lowe’s attorneys misconstrued a long string of cases they cited to back Lowe’s argument that she wasn’t an “at-will” employee. Squyres argued instead that she actually was an “at-will” employee who could be fired at any time, without cause and with no requirement for hearings or other due process.

At issue is an Idaho state law that says, “The director shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board for inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance or nonfeasance in office.” The state contends the “at the pleasure of the board” part is the key part, and the listed reasons for dismissal are mere examples; Lowe argues that at least one of the listed reasons must be cited to fire an ITD director. Her attorneys submitted the Legislature’s original Statement of Purpose for the 1974 law, which states that the director “shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board only for stated cause.” Squyres, in his filing, dismissed that in a footnote as “a single page … with the handwritten notation of ‘S 1295’ at the bottom of the document.” You can read the full memorandum here, and click below for more on this story.

Candidate didn’t vote in ‘08

The Associated Press reports that though Idaho congressional candidate Vaughn Ward was heading GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign in Nevada in the 2008 general election, Ward didn’t vote in the election. Ward told the AP that the frenzied pace of the final days of the campaign prevented him from flying back to Idaho to vote as he’d planned. “I was managing the entire operation, and it became apparent I was not going to be able to fly home to vote,” Ward said. “The important point is I was out there fighting for the campaign.” You can click below to read the full article from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Ward used same statements in September

Interestingly, some of the same statements that congressional candidate Vaughn Ward removed from his campaign website today after The Spokesman-Review noted that they’re identical to statements on other candidates’ and congressmen’s websites, also crop up in a Sept. 5, 2009 Q-&-A interview with the “Idaho Conservative Blogger” site. In his answer to ICB’s Question No. 5, on how to create more jobs in Idaho, the second half of the first paragraph of Ward’s answer, starting with “The best way to help Idahoan families,” is the same as a removed Ward position statement that matched the campaign website of Chad Lee, a candidate for Congress in Wisconsin’s 2nd District, though there are some very small changes - for example, Lee’s site says, “The best way to help Wisconsin families.”

The second paragraph of Ward’s answer to Question No. 5 matches his removed position statement on trade, in which the first two sentences echo the website of Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, and the rest repeats a statement from Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., including a tout for “my roadmap legislation;” Ryan is the sponsor of the sweeping “Roadmap for America’s Future” legislation, which Ward said today he hasn’t reviewed.

The second half of Ward’s answer back in September to ICB’s Question No. 7 echoes  his now-pulled position statement on tax relief, in which all but the first sentence matches the website of Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Kentucky, including a reference to “establishing tax-exempt individual development accounts,” which Ward now says he hasn’t explored.

Labrador campaign: ‘We’re disappointed’

Dennis Mansfield, spokesman for 1st District GOP congressional candidate Raul Labrador’s campaign, had this comment on the revelation that half of the position statements posted for at least the past five months on rival Vaughn Ward’s website matched statements on other candidates’ and congressmen’s websites (Ward took the statements down this afternoon): “We’re disappointed that Vaughn Ward’s campaign would plagiarize other websites. He’s a very creative man, and it doesn’t seem to fit his character to do this. I suppose it does make me wonder if his overall candidacy is a cut-and-paste of other people’s philosophies.”

Half of Ward’s position statements were cribbed from other websites

Five of the 10 position statements Idaho congressional candidate Vaughn Ward has had posted on his campaign website for at least the past five months are word-for-word identical to statements on other candidates’ and congressmen’s sites, including one in which Ward touted “my roadmap legislation” - actually something proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, whose campaign website contains an identical paragraph. Ward’s statement on tax relief - all but its first sentence - is a repeat of a statement on the campaign website of third-term Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Kentucky. Half of his statement on health care matches a Jan. 7, 2009 Wall Street Journal article by Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia. And his entire statement on “Definition of Marriage/Family Issues” matches a statement posted on the website of Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., with such minor changes as substituting “I believe” for “Sen. Jim DeMint believes.”

Within a half-hour after a reporter called Ward’s campaign Thursday with questions about the position statements, all links to them on his campaign website were disabled; Ward said new statements should be up shortly. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Montana to at least double its wolf-hunt limit; still would be below Idaho’s from this year

Montana plans to at least double the number of gray wolves it’ll allow hunters there to target in that state’s next wolf-hunting season, the AP reports, though Montana’s limit this year was just 75. Idaho set its wolf hunting limit at 220 this year, but just 188 were taken by hunters; Idaho’s Fish & Game Commission plans to consider limits for next year in August, though a federal court case could affect wolf hunt plans in both states. Here’s the Montana news item from the Associated Press:

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission plans to at least double the number of gray wolves hunters can kill this year. Commissioners voted Thursday to accept a staff recommendation to increase the quota of wolves in this year’s hunting season. After a public comment period, they will vote in July whether that final number will be 150, 186 or 216 wolves. Last year’s quota was 75. The proposed quotas would reduce the state’s wolf population between 8 percent and 20 percent from last year’s minimum count of 524 wolves, according to state wildlife computer models. The proposed quotas do not include wolves killed by wildlife officials responding to complaints of attacks on livestock. Some 145 wolves were killed that way in 2009.

Former Rep. LaRocco: 2010 looking worse than 1994 for incumbents

Former Idaho Democratic Congressman Larry LaRocco served two terms, then was defeated by Helen Chenoweth in 1994, the year of the big Republican sweep that brought GOP majorities to both houses of Congress (and also saw huge Republican wins in Idaho that halved the number of Democrats in the Legislature; in 1991, the Idaho state Senate was split 21-21 between Republicans and Democrats). Today, LaRocco is interviewed on Politico’s “Arena” on whether 2010 will be another 1994 for incumbents. His take: It’s worse.

“This is tapping into middle America,” LaRocco told Politico. “I think this is more of a toxic atmosphere.” But this time, LaRocco doesn’t foresee a rout of Democrats and a big win for Republicans like in 1994. “The voter anger is equally divided between Republicans and Democrats – we’re seeing that in some of these primaries,” he said. “It’s really anti-incumbent, quite frankly.” You can see the full interview here.

Of polls and samples…

Finally got a chance to talk with Greg Smith today about his recent poll in the 1st CD race and some questions I had about it. Among them: Was the same sample of likely primary election voters asked about both the primary and the general election? The answer: Yes. Smith said the assumption was that likely primary voters are even more likely to vote in the general election, which certainly is a fair assumption. However, more than twice as many people typically vote in Idaho’s general election as in its primary election - sometimes nearly three times as many - so a representative sample of primary election voters may not also be a representative sample of the larger pool of general election voters. Smith called that a “good point,” but said when funding his own poll, there was only so much he could do.

Same inmate escapes from Idaho jail via crawl space for second time in a month

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: FORT HALL, Idaho (AP) — The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes say a Wyoming man has escaped from the Fort Hall Jail for a second time in the past month, as a new jail sits empty. Tribal officials say Jerome Cerino of Lander, Wyo., and Joseph Deluna of Fort Hall, escaped from a holding cell through a crawl space early Tuesday. Tribal spokeswoman Laverne Beech says Cerino was one of six inmates who escaped from the Fort Hall jail on April 17. They escaped from a different cell, but used the same crawl space to access an emergency exit. That escape happened five days before inmates were to be moved into a new jail. However, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is requiring that all correction officers attend a six-week training course in New Mexico before the inmates are moved. Eight officers from Fort Hall are currently attending the training.

Positions taken…

In addition to hot debate over immigration, qualifications, effectiveness and more, candidates Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward took these positions in tonight’s 1st CD debate: Neither candidate would pledge to limit his terms in office if elected; Labrador said he opposes term limits, while Ward favored a constitutional amendment to impose them. Both candidates opposed any additional Idaho wilderness, including Rep. Mike Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds bill, which the state’s current congressional delegation unanimously supports. Both supported continued offshore drilling. Labrador ruled out any tax increases, even to save Social Security or Medicare for future Americans, and Ward said the nation should instead cut welfare spending and find efficiencies. Click below to read a full story on the debate from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

They said it…

Here are some quotes from tonight’s 1st CD debate:

Raul Labrador: “I think my conflict with the governor is the reason I should be the next congressman from Idaho. … You have too many people who are willing to … kowtow to the leadership in their party.”

Vaughn Ward: “It’s about honor of service, it’s about the things that I’ve done in my life. … My service to this nation, it has been honorable. … I will fight for this nation, and I will stand up to the scrutiny, and I think that’s what people do want, they want to know what’s your measure.”

Labrador: “His record is in the military, and I thank him for his service to the nation, but it’s not in politics. … I am willing to stand up even against my own party if I believe that my own party is not doing the things that are correct.”

Ward: “I’m not a politician, never claimed to be. In the 1970s almost 80 percent of Congress were veterans. Today it’s less than 22 percent.”

Labrador: (On his continued support for repeal of the 17th Amendment, which instituted direct election of U.S. senators) “It’s not something that I’m campaigning on … it’s not something that I’m going to go out there and draft a bill for. … I will not change, even if my position is unpopular, and I saw that it was unpopular. … You know what, I’m not here to please the editorial boards. … I’m here to please the people of Idaho, I’m here to please my conscience and that’s what I’m going to do as a congressman.”

Labrador: “I am an immigration lawyer, that’s what I do for a living, and my job is to walk people through the legal immigration system. … What I do mostly is I tell people how to become legal in the United States. … For the most part, I tell people to leave the United States, walk through the legal system. I though that’s what Vaughn Ward and his supporters wanted. … That’s exactly what I have done.”

Ward: “Illegal is illegal, and that’s how I interpret it. And there are those to keep them in this country, i want to fight to keep them out the country. That’s the consistent message that I have held throughout this race, and it is not defined by what I’ve done for my job.”

Labrador: “If you’re willing to say and do anything to get elected, you’re willing to say and do anything once you’re in Congress.”

Ward: (After Labrador responded to a jab from Ward about his having missed four days of this year’s legislative session by asking whether Ward’s wife, Kirsten, missed days of work at her job at Fannie Mae to campaign for her husband) “More excuses, but at the end of the day, it’s not about my wife.”

Labrador: “She’s the only one working.”

Ward: (after Labrador suggested Ward favored a border fence to “enrich your friends, enrich the people who are with federal contractors”) “Rhetoric’s getting kind of thick in here if you ask me; as far as that is, I really don’t know any fencing contractors at all.”

Labrador: “I don’t owe anybody anything, I don’t owe anybody anything in Washington D.C. or New York anything. I only owe the people of Idaho.”

Ward: “It’s about that Congress is broken, it’s about cutting the spending.”

A whole lot of lively debate…

There were some tense moments, a whole lot of lively debate, and even a few moments of agreement - very few - as 1st Congressional District GOP candidates Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward faced off in a live debate tonight. Here’s a shot of the coin toss that preceded the debate; Ward, left, won the toss, which meant that Labrador, center, went first. At right is Bruce Reichert of Idaho Public Television. Check out Kevin Richert’s live blog of the debate here.

Ward, Labrador face off on live TV

Tonight the “Idaho Debates” turn to the 1st Congressional District Republican primary race, in which candidates Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward are vying for a chance to take on Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick in November. The debate, sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the Idaho League of Women Voters,  begins at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific, and will be broadcast live on Idaho Public Television, or you can watch online here. Co-sponsors of the debates include The Associated Press, Boise State Radio, Idaho Allied Dailies, Idaho State Broadcasters Association, The Idaho Statesman, KIVI-TV and KBOI-TV. I won’t be live-blogging the debate tonight, because I’m on the reporter panel. Tune in and check it out!

Rammell: Idahoans want Otter to debate challengers

GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rex Rammell today released his own Greg Smith poll results, in which 400 “somewhat or likely” voters statewide were asked if Gov. Butch Otter should debate his opponents prior to the May 25 primary election. Results showed 73 percent said yes, and 27 percent said no. Rammell said the poll also showed that if the GOP primary were held today, Otter would get the nod of 48 percent of the respondents, 24 percent would choose Rammell, and 28 percent were either uncommitted, refused or other. “The analysis of the numbers reveals overwhelming support that Butch Otter should debate his opponents,” Rammell declared.

Smith poll: 50% undecided on Ward, Labrador

Eagle, Idaho pollster Greg Smith says he’s done a poll in the 1st Congressional District GOP primary race that finds 50 percent of voters undecided, just weeks before the May 25 primary election. Smith said his poll of 400 voters in the 1st CD showed 34 percent support Vaughn Ward in the GOP primary, 16 percent favor Raul Labrador, and 50 percent were “undecided/don’t know/refused/other.” Smith said the same poll showed, for the general election, incumbent Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick as the favored candidate for 50 percent of respondents, with just 20 percent choosing “the Republican candidate” instead.

Smith said his poll was taken the week of May 3, and included 400 1st CD residents age 18 or older who “say they are either very or somewhat likely to vote in the May 2010 primary election;” his firm, Greg Smith & Associates, commissioned and funded the poll itself. You can click here to see the full results.

The big debate is tonight…

Tonight at 8 (7 Pacific time), GOP congressional candidates Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward will face off in an hour-long debate held before a live audience, and broadcast live on Idaho Public Television. The public is invited; there are 130 seats available for the public in the Capitol Auditorium on a first-come, first-served basis, and the doors open at 7 p.m. and close 15 minutes before the live broadcast begins. No signs, shouts, applause or other disruptions are permitted during the debate. The “Idaho Debates” are co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the Idaho League of Women Voters along with an array of media partners; you can watch the 1st Congressional District debate live tonight on IPTV, or view it online here.

Wasden endorses Ward

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has endorsed candidate Vaughn Ward in the GOP primary for the 1st Congressional District seat, in which Ward is vying with state Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, for a chance to challenge Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick. In a statement, Wasden called Ward “the right candidate for Idaho” and said, “He is a fiscal conservative who recognizes the need for limited government and that the purpose of government is to serve the needs of the people.” Click below to read the full announcement from the Ward campaign.

AARP criticizes Otter decision for Idaho to ‘opt out’ of running high-risk pool

AARP is denouncing Idaho’s decision to “opt out” of running a high-risk health insurance pool for 34,000 eligible residents; Gov. Butch Otter announced last week that Idaho won’t participate, leaving the federal government to operate the program in Idaho. “Otter’s given up a crucial seat at the table opting-out of establishing a new temporary insurance pool for high risk Idahoans with pre-existing conditions, paid for by the federal government,” said AARP Idaho state director Jim Wordelman. “The cost of the high risk pool will be covered, 100%, by the federal government – coming at a time when Idaho can use the help.” He called the move a “missed opportunity” for Idaho to “be at the table to ensure we take advantage of a new law that can help relieve the stress of Idaho’s worsening health care crisis.” Click below to read Wordelman’s full statement.

Candidate now says he never backed repeal of 17th Amendment

After a week and a half of heavy criticism on editorial pages around Idaho for the idea of repealing the 17th Amendment - direct election of U.S. senators - one of two GOP congressional candidates who backed the idea now says he never did. “I’m not changing the position, I’m clarifying, would be a better way to put that,” said Vaughn Ward, who is running in the hotly contested GOP primary for a chance to challenge 1st District Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick. “I do not want to take away the power of people to elect senators,” Ward said Monday. “What I do support is amending the Constitution and adding a two-term limit for U.S. senators.”

Both Ward and his GOP primary opponent, state Rep. Raul Labrador, spoke in favor of repealing the 17th Amendment on statewide television on April 30, on the “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television. Both also answered “yes” in a Tea Party Boise survey that asked if they’d vote to repeal the amendment. The move is backed by some conservatives as a way to promote states’ rights by returning selection of U.S. senators to state legislatures. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Ward decries ‘immigration lawyers’

Congressional candidate Vaughn held a press conference this morning on illegal immigration, and once again - though indirectly - criticized his opponent, Raul Labrador, for being an immigration attorney. “Experts in immigration law are fighting to keep the illegal aliens here, and since the federal government is not aggressive enough at our borders, the immigration lawyers and illegal aliens are too frequently winning the battle,” Ward declared. He had announced he’d be joined at his press conference by Canyon County Prosecutor John Bujak, who’s been outspoken on the issue and has decried the number of undocumented aliens who pass through the Canyon County Jail; Bujak, however, canceled as he was tied up with work in his office. Last week, Labrador held a press conference on immigration and accused Ward of unfairly targeting him for his occupation and his Puerto Rican heritage, while contending his knowledge of immigration law makes him the candidate who can deliver reform. Click below to read Ward’s full press release from today; the two candidates will face off in a live debate on Idaho Public Television tomorrow night at 8.

Simpson voting record lauded by conservative group

Though 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson is being challenged by two candidates in the GOP primary who maintain they’re more conservative than he is, Simpson was recognized by the American Conservative Union for his voting record in a ceremony last week. ACU Chairman David Keene said, “We know that ACU Members and the voters in this nation will look to these ratings as an indication of who stands on the side of liberty, prosperity and American greatness and who does not.” The organization ranked senators and House members on two dozen selected votes and lauded those whose votes matched its positions; the topics ranged from health care to financial regulation to abortion. Simpson received an 84 percent rating from the group for his 2009 votes; Rep. Walt Minnick received a 44 percent rating; Sen. Mike Crapo, 92 percent; and Sen. Jim Risch, 96 percent.

Closing comments: ‘Why I’m such an extremist’

Here are some quotes from the candidates in their closing comments in the “Idaho Debates” 2nd Congressional District debate tonight:

Chick Heileson: “I’ve been accused of being an extremist. … The Supreme Court is not the law of the land, they have to follow the Constitution just like everybody else. … The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, it is not up to interpretation, it is to be adhered to, that’s why I’m such an extremist for it.”
Incumbent Mike Simpson: Simpson thanked both his opponents for running for Congress, saying, “I think elections are important. We’ve discussed some real important issues.” He also listed other issues, from the national debt to foreign threats. “These are serious problems, and we need serious people to face these problems.”
Russ Mathews: “This election is about a vote of confidence, it’s about what is to be done and who is going to do it. I have a record of keeping all my campaign promises.” He added, “I’ve had some experience on Capitol Hill many years ago. I don’t consider myself to be an insider, but one who can hit the ground running.”

To watch the debate online, go to www.idahoptv.org.

Heileson in debate: Pull troops from Afghanistan

Among other points that have come up so far in the 2nd Congressional District debate tonight: Congressman Mike Simpson offered a spirited defense of earmarks, saying they’re transparent, they’re constitutional, and they’re the way a congressman who knows his district’s specific needs can make sure they get appropriately funded, while challenger state Rep. Russ Mathews called earmarks an inappropriate way that things get slipped into the federal budget. Challenger Chick Heileson said he thinks health care reform is unconstitutional and Simpson agreed. And Heileson said of Afghanistan, “We should get out of there and bring the troops home,” while Simpson and Mathews spoke of the 9/11 attacks and the mission for American troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Responded Heileson, “We weren’t attacked by Afghanistan, we were attacked by people who don’t like us, and there are people who don’t like us all over the world.”

Simpson: TARP was to avoid ‘economic Armageddon’

The Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, has been a point of contention between Congressman Mike Simpson and his two GOP challengers. Asked about it tonight during the “Idaho Debates,” Simpson said, “Both my opponents have criticized that vote as have many people.” But he said the country’s financial and credit system was on the brink of “economic Armageddon,” a situation that would have left “every business in this country … under severe financial stress,” with a credit crunch so severe that McDonald’s franchises across the country couldn’t have met their payroll. “This was not a bank bailout,” Simpson said. “It’s the financial system you’ve got to protect.” He added, “It is tied to the Constitution, it’s tied to the first Congress that employed these powers in 1791 when they incorporated and chartered the first national bank of the United States.” The Supreme Court reviewed the action and upheld it as constitutional, Simpson said. “They said … doing so is necessary and proper.”

Mathews responded, “I oppose the TARP and other bailouts. I’m not alone.” He read from a press release from U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo - who voted against the move, as did then-Rep. Bill Sali, while Simpson and then-Sen. Larry Craig voted in favor. Said Mathews, “Bailouts will only make a bankruptcy far worse.”

Heileson then took issue with Simpson’s citing of the 1791 U.S. Supreme Court decision, questioning whether “either the Supreme Court or Congress or anybody … can change the rules of the Constitution.” He said, “The Constitution says that it’s not in there and it’s left to the states, that’s plain and simple. … If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.” Simpson responded, “You know what? People disagree about the Constitution and what it says. … This was 1791, this was two years after the Constitution was ratified, so these were the people that actually wrote it. Ultimately someone has to decide what the Constitution says. Now Chick has his opinion, Russ has his opinion, I have my opinion, we probably agree 90 percent of the time, maybe more. But somebody has to have the authority on what the Constitution says - that’s the Supreme Court.”

Ask Mom who’s debating better?

Score one for the incumbent - in the first question in tonight’s congressional debate, 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson and his two challengers were given 30 seconds to say why they’re running. First, challenger Chick Heileson said he was urged by “my wife and associates and friends to run for Congress … so I looked at it,” and decided prospects were favorable. Then it was Simpson’s turn. Though he had only 30 seconds, he said, “First I want to say, today’s Mother’s Day, and I want to say ‘hi’ to my mother in Blackfoot, Idaho.” Then he launched into his reasons for seeking another term. State Rep. Russ Mathews, R-Idaho Falls, went next, and began, “I would also say ‘Happy Mother’s Day,” before saying he was running for a “bright future.” But Simpson had clearly cornered the Mother’s Day point.

Simpson, challengers debate tonight

2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson, who won 85 percent of the vote in the 2008 GOP primary and 71 percent support in that year’s November general election, is facing two challengers in the GOP primary this year, both of whom are taking political shots at the six-term congressman, former Idaho House speaker and former Blackfoot dentist. Simpson will debate the two - Chick Heileson of Iona, and state Rep. Russ Mathews of Idaho Falls - tonight on live TV; the public is invited to the debate, which will start at 7 p.m. in the Capitol Auditorium. Doors will open at 6 p.m. and close 15 minutes before the start of the live broadcast; noise, applause and demonstrations are prohibited during the debate. The debate will be broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television; it’s co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club, the Idaho League of Women Voters and an array of media co-sponsors.

AP reporter John Miller, in an article today on the race, reports these quotes from each of the challengers: Heileson, a member of the anti-communist John Birch Society, tells prospective voters when Simpson says he supports the U.S. Constitution, “I think he’s reading the Constitution of the Soviets.” And from Mathews: “Chick Heileson is a John Birch conservative. He even called himself an extremist. I’m a mainstream conservative, who has a record.”

Cameras in Court: 9th Circuit to permit cameras for first-ever Pocatello hearing

When the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals holds its first-ever sitting in Pocatello on May 24th, to hear oral arguments in two Idaho cases, it’ll make history in another way as well: Cameras will be allowed in the courtroom. Though cameras are allowed in courtrooms in most state courts, including Idaho’s, under established rules and at the presiding judge’s discretion, they’re banned almost entirely in federal district courts. That crimps TV coverage of federal court proceedings, and is the reason why major federal court cases result in paintings created by sketch artists in courtrooms being published in newspapers and on TV - because actual photos aren’t permitted. The 9th Circuit has been interested in the issue for years, and has allowed cameras in its appellate-level proceedings since 1991; the Pocatello sitting is the latest example. A pilot program also is in the works, at the urging of the 9th Circuit Judicial Council, to have federal district courts in the circuit experiment with permitting cameras in civil non-jury cases, though none have done so yet.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit court, including 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, Senior Judge Stephen S. Trott of Boise and Judge Randy Smith of Pocatello, will hear the two cases in Pocatello; they they are U.S. v. Alfaro, an appeal by a reputed gang leader from Boise who was sentenced to 150 months in prison on gun charges; and Community House Inc. v. Smith, an appeal by the city of Boise on an issue regarding the sale of a city homeless shelter to a religious group. For more on the cameras in the courtroom issue, check out Idaho’s state court rule here; a Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press article on the recent California case that raised this issue here; a TV reporter’s perspective here; and here a legal history of the issue from the First Amendment Center.

Labor touts biggest one-month drop in Idaho unemployment in 25 years

Here’s some positive economic news: The Idaho Department of Labor reports that a surge in hiring across most of the economy dropped Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to 9.1 percent in April, a drop of three-tenths of a percentage point from March and the largest one-month decline since 1983. “April was the second straight month Idaho’s jobless rate declined, bucking the national rate which jumped two-tenths of a percent to 9.9 percent, the department reported. “Until March, Idaho’s rate had climbed steadily from a record low 2.7 percent in March 2007 to 9.5 percent this February.” You can read the full announcement here.

The difference between north and south…

What’s the difference between North Idaho and southern Idaho? Well, there’s that whole water thing. This is Lake Coeur d’Alene this morning, amid country that’s so different from the arid south. And then there’s the wild GOP politics in Kootenai County, where the once heavily Democratic region is now heavily Republican, particularly in fast-growing areas like Hayden and Post Falls that are filling up with newcomers who never saw the old North Idaho Democratic politics. In these parts, there are the Republicans, the Reagan Republicans, the Pachyderm Clubs, the social conservatives, the libertarians, the constitutionalists and a whole lot more.

North Idaho’s hottest legislative race this spring features four Republicans vying for an open District 3 House seat; no Democrat’s even running. l have an overview of North Idaho’s contested legislative primary races this weekend in my Sunday column.

More debates coming…

More of the “Idaho Debates” are coming - this Sunday night, 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson will debate primary challengers Chick Heileson and Russ Mathews, and on Tuesday, 1st District GOP rivals Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward will face off.

Sunday night’s debate will start at 7 p.m.; doors open to the public an hour earlier in the Capitol Auditorium, and close 15 minutes before the live broadcast of the hour-long debate begins. Anyone can attend; signs, applause, shouts or any disruption are prohibited. Tuesday’s debate will begin at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific. For more info, click here.

IACI stands by its attack on Allred

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry is standing by its claims in a new website attacking Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred, though Allred calls them “flat wrong” and is demanding the site be corrected or taken down. In a press release, IACI President Alex LaBeau said, “AllRedInk.com will continue to tell the truth about Keith Allred’s agenda of more government, more debt and more taxes for our state because the people of Idaho deserve to hear the facts, not just Professor Allred’s talking points.”

IACI funded the anti-Allred website through the Idaho Prosperity Fund, formerly called the IACI Business PAC. According to financial disclosure forms filed with the Idaho Secretary of State, the fund took in $34,773 in contributions in calendar year 2009, all in contributions of $2,000 or more from large busineses. Its top givers, each giving $3,500, were Idaho Power, Wal-Mart Stores, Micron Technology, Potlatch Corp., the Idaho Association of Realtors, Monsanto Corp., J.R. Simplot Co. and Union Pacific Railroad.

Meanwhile, Allred released this YouTube video to rebut IACI’s charges, saying the Legislature and Gov. Butch Otter were wrong to assume that 2011’s state revenue would be no better than 2010’s, prompting an precedented cut in school funding. “2011 isn’t going to be as tough as 2010, not for the economy, but it will be a lot tougher on our kids,” said Allred, “who will go into overcrowded classrooms with fewer resources because Otter called it wrong.”


The buzz about SupCourt race…

There’s more and more buzz about this year’s contested Idaho Supreme Court race in the wake of this week’s lively debate between incumbent Justice Roger Burdick and challenger Judge John Bradbury. Here’s a press release from former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Robert Huntley, who says he’s generally refrained from involvement in judicial elections, but since a sitting justice and a former justice have spoken out for Burdick over Bradbury and a state Bar poll that Huntley faults as “scientifically and statistically unsound” has ranked Burdick higher, “Having knowledge of Judge Bradbury’s qualifications, it is my duty to speak out. Having practiced before Judge Bradbury and having known him for a number of years, I respect him as one of Idaho’s most outstanding judges.”

Meanwhile, state Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, has sent out a statement lauding Burdick over Bradbury, and criticizing Bradbury’s statements in the debate about the state’s school facilities lawsuit. “Judge Bradbury’s argument seems to me to be an interventionist and activist interpretation (ie, get more money to the schools) of what should be the rule of law in Idaho and a clear violation of the separation of powers of our Idaho Constitution,” Hartgen wrote.

The May 25 vote on the Supreme Court race is the final vote in the nonpartisan race, though it takes place during the primary election; you can watch the debate online here.

Allred: ‘A dirty game of misinformation’

Check out this commentary from Kevin Richert, who calls IACI’s anti-Keith Allred attack website and robo-call campaign “sleazy even by robo-call standards.” Here’s what the robo-call says, an automated call that directs people to the new IACI anti-Allred website:

“This call is paid for by the Idaho Prosperity Fund.  IACI.org. Democrat Keith Allred wants to bring Washington’s reckless spending habits to Idaho. Visit AllredInk.com to learn how.  Keith claimed that Idahoans shouldn’t make tough spending choices this year. But now we know that would mean $82 million in new taxes for Idaho. Visit Allredink.com to see why Idaho can’t afford Keith Allred’s big spending agenda.”

Allred calls the claims “flat wrong,” “politics at its worst” and a “dirty game of misinformation.” Click below to read his full response.

IACI sets up anti-Allred attack website

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a lobbying group that represents Idaho’s biggest businesses, has developed a special website attacking Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred with criticisms that Allred contends are false, the Associated Press reports. The site, www.allredink.com, says that if the Idaho Legislature had listened to Allred when it set its fiscal year 2010 budget, the state would have been left with an $82 million deficit. Allred calls that “flat wrong” because he criticized only Idaho’s austere budget for fiscal year 2011 starting July 1, not the 2010 spending plan ending June 30, and he demanded the website be corrected or taken down. He contends economic indicators show the economy will improve in 2011. IACI head Alex LaBeau says if the website contains an error he’ll have it corrected, but said, “The information we have is what we double-checked.” Click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

Justice Scalia: ‘A certain amount of civic courage’

When the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in the case of Doe vs. Reed, challenging Washington state’s practice of considering signatures on petitions for a referendum or initiative to be public record, the justices’ questioning showed much concern about openness and transparency; you can see the transcript here (hat tip to Randy Stapilus’ Ridenbaugh Press). Here’s a comment from Justice Antonin Scalia to James Bopp Jr., who was arguing for keeping the names secret: “The fact is that running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage. And the First Amendment does not protect you from criticism or even nasty phone calls when you exercise your political rights to legislate, or to take part in the legislative process. You are asking us to enter into a whole new field where we have never gone before.”

This is a case in which Idaho has filed a friend-of-the-court brief backing the state of Washington, because Idaho’s laws are similar - and the state wants to keep its initiative and referendum petitions open.

Otter to bring ‘Capital for a Day’ to Star

Gov. Butch Otter says he’ll hold his next “Capital for a Day” event in his own hometown of Star on May 17th. At the events, the governor and a slew of top state officials typically meet with the public for a day in a rural Idaho town. “With just a few counties left to visit this go-round, it’s time to give the good folks right here in my hometown a chance to get some ‘face time’,” said Otter, whose ranch is near Star. “I stop in town for coffee almost every morning, but I don’t bring any Cabinet members with me.”

He added, “This will give residents a chance to get their questioned answered personally and directly, and it will give members of my administration a chance to get to know a community that reflects Idaho’s rural heritage while coping with southwestern Idaho’s population growth and all that comes along with it.” Otter plans to bring along 18 high-ranking state officials. The event, which falls eight days before Idaho’s primary election, will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Star City Hall, and will include a lunch at Sully’s Irish Pub at noon to which the public is invited.

Idaho won’t run high-risk insurance pool, would rather feds did it

Gov. Butch Otter announced yesterday that Idaho will join more than a dozen other states in “opting out” of a requirement under the new national health care reform legislation to set up a new “high risk pool” for uninsured residents with pre-existing conditions. Idaho already has a high-risk pool, which serves about 1,500 people, but it charges rates 25 percent higher than standard insurance. The new pool would serve thousands more and charge only standard rates.

“Put simply, Idaho cannot afford to subsidize a second high-risk pool program, especially during these difficult economic times,” Otter said in a press release. He said, “Somebody will have to pay for that subsidy, and it’s going to be taxpayers.” You can click below to read the governor’s full announcement, and read a Washington Post/Idaho Statesman story here that adds national perspective, including that Idaho is one of 18 states opting out. It also notes that the federal government plans to pay for the pools whether they’re run by states or not, so Idaho’s decision means the feds would operate the pool for Idaho.

Fiery debate for high court rivals

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on tonight’s Idaho Supreme Court debate, which was the first of the “Idaho Debates” to take place in front of a live audience, as well as being broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television. The debates are sponsored by the Idaho Press Club, the Idaho League of Women Voters and an array of media sponsors; the next debate is between 2nd Congressional District GOP candidates on Sunday night, followed by 1st District GOP candidates who are locked in a hot primary contest on May 11th.

Heated moments in judicial debate

Things got pretty heated during tonight’s Idaho Supreme Court debate. At one point, Justice Roger Burdick disputed Judge John Bradbury’s statement that the state school facilities lawsuit ended when lawyers were called to a basement meeting and told “it’s over,” without any written order or decision - and despite an earlier ruling that the state’s school funding system is unconstitutional. “It is abject malarkey and nonsense,” Burdick said, adding that the basement meeting was a scheduling conference on another, related case. “I’m not going to say it’s a lie, but it’s darn close to it,” Burdick said. “The Idaho state Legislature are the people who in fact fund the schools. The Supreme Court of Idaho cannot. It is up to the Legislature. The parties who brought this lawsuit in the first case could bring this lawsuit again tomorrow if they wish - this case is not over. We indicated we retained jurisdiction.” Bradbury responded, “If you want to know what happened in the basement of the Supreme Court, talk to the players who were there.”

Another clash came after Bradbury commented, “As to Justice Jones, I sometimes wonder who I’m running against.” Justice Jim Jones, who is running unopposed for re-election, has issued statements on behalf of the court challenging some of Bradbury’s claims about the state’s judicial system, and responded for Burdick to a letter he received from a citizen. Burdick said, “I’m not going to bridle anyone’s First Amendment rights to answer or to in some way respond to Judge Bradbury. … As concerns this letter, … I was up campaigning. … It was a legal inquiry. Little did I know that it was from a political operative of Judge Bradbury’s. … Little did I know that it was going to be used for some nefarious reason later on in this campaign.”

Justice candidates spar

Among issues on which the two Supreme Court candidates have sparred so far: The newly released Idaho State Bar poll and its high rankings for Burdick and low rankings for Bradbury; what happened in the school facilities lawsuit, which Bradbury dubbed “the darkest day in the history of the Supreme Court in Idaho” and Burdick defended, saying, “The court acted consistently with the Idaho state constitution as it has continued to do since I have been on it;” and whether reformer Bradbury could get along with his colleagues should he be elected to a court he’s twice sued and has strongly criticized. “After I was elected (district judge), you will not find a lawyer in my district that will tell you there is even a hint of animosity,” Bradbury declared, though he ran on a reform platform there. Burdick responded, “The bar survey certainly doesn’t indicate what he has said - I beat him in every category in his own district, and in every category in his district he went down since the 2008 survey.”

Audience in place, debate to start

There’s a pretty good crowd assembled for tonight’s Idaho Supreme Court candidates debate, the first of the “Idaho Debates” to take place before a live audience as well as being broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television. It’s being held in the new Capitol Auditorium. The debate is just beginning now.

Preparing for the debate…

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick, left, and Lewiston Judge John Bradbury, center, prepare for the coin toss before their live debate tonight on statewide television, as Idaho Public TV’s Bruce Reichert explains the rules. Burdick won the toss and chose to go second in the opening question and closing comments. The debate begins at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific. Bradbury is challenging incumbent Justice Burdick’s bid for another term on the court; Burdick, a former public defender, county prosecutor, magistrate judge, and district judge before his appointment to the court, has stood for election seven times and this is the first time he’s been opposed. Bradbury is making his second bid for the high court, after losing narrowly two years ago to Justice Joel Horton.

Labrador, Ward clash over immigration

Congressional candidate Raul Labrador called a press conference this morning to speak out on his views on illegal immigration - and accuse his GOP primary opponent, Vaughn Ward, of inappropriately impugning his work as an immigration attorney and his Puerto Rican heritage. “He is hoping, it seems, to appeal to the darkest recesses of the human soul by taking cheap advantage of my work in immigration law and maybe even my ethnic heritage,” Labrador said. Ryan O’Barto, Ward’s campaign spokesman, told the Associated Press Ward never raised Labrador’s Puerto Rican origins. “This is just an outlandish claim,” O’Barto said, before adding Labrador’s willingness to defend illegal aliens and others in federal courts remains a fair campaign issue. “Would he represent terrorists?” O’Barto asked. Click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

Allred sticks by his ‘irrational pessimism’ complaint

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred has issued a statement on the latest April state tax revenue figures, sticking by his contention that Gov. Butch Otter was guilty of “irrational pessimism” in his approach to the state budget during this year’s legislative session. The preliminary figures show state tax revenues falling $55.5 million below projections for April, the biggest revenue month of the fiscal year.

Allred says the figures show that 2009 was a “terrible year economically in Idaho,” based on income tax returns that reflect 2009, but also show that 2010 and 2011 will be better, based on an uptick in sales tax revenues in the first part of 2010. “They were wrong to build next year’s budget based on the assumption that it will be as bad economically as this year,” Allred says of the governor and this year’s Legislature. “Unfortunately, it’s Idaho’s school kids who will bear the brunt of this mistake. Because of Otter’s irrational pessimism, we cut funding for educating our kids for the first time in Idaho history. This first-ever cut to Idaho public education is the biggest mistake state government has made in decades.” Click below to read Allred’s full statement.

Bar survey rankings out as Supreme Court candidates debate live tonight

The new member survey from the Idaho State Bar ranking the candidates in the contested race for the Idaho Supreme Court is out today, and it gives incumbent Justice Roger Burdick considerably higher rankings than his challenger, Judge John Bradbury. However, nearly half the respondents said they did not know Bradbury well enough to rank him, twice as many as said they weren’t familiar with Burdick. The candidates were ranked on such measures as knowledge and understanding of the law and judicial temperament and demeanor; you can see the full results here.

Tonight is the night that Burdick and Bradbury will face off in a debate to be broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television; members of the public can attend the debate, with 130 seats available in the Capitol Auditorium, located in the new underground west wing of the state Capitol, on a first-come, first-served basis. The doors will open tonight at 7 p.m. for the 8 p.m. (Mountain time) debate; audience members are asked to silence cell phones and refrain from any applause, shouts or other outbursts; signs or protests also are prohibited during the half-hour debate, which is sponsored by the Idaho Press Club, the League of Women Voters, and an array of media partners. Tonight’s Supreme Court debate is the first of this year’s “Idaho Debates,” which will feature the candidates in contested races this spring and in next fall’s general election.

The ‘incomplete, preliminary’ April numbers…

Here’s the chart from the state Division of Financial Management on the April state tax revenues, though, as the chart notes, it’s “incomplete preliminary data.” It shows that individual income tax in April came in $47 million below projections, and corporate income tax $11 million below, while sales taxes were $2.6 million above projections and product taxes and miscellaneous revenues were right on projections. That means an overall shortfall, compared to projections, of $55.5 million for April, due in part to higher-than-expected income tax refunds; but what that means overall for the state, compared to already-set budgets, is a $13.5 million deficit heading into the final two months of fiscal 2010. Gov. Butch Otter says he has the tools, including reserves, to make that up and doesn’t plan to call a special session of the Legislature.

Guv’s statement on preliminary April revenues

Here’s a press release from Gov. Butch Otter on the preliminary April revenue report:               

STATE’S APRIL REVENUE WAS BELOW PROJECTION

            (BOISE) – The Idaho Division of Financial Management issued preliminary, incomplete April tax revenue data today that shows the State took in $55.5 million less than projected during the past month. The numbers will be complete and “official” on May 15. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter was briefed on the shortfall and issued the following statement:

“Sales tax receipts were up in April. So were receipts from individual income tax withholding. That means more people are earning money and feeling better about their prospects. That’s good news, but it doesn’t make up for other tax receipts remaining well below projections. I have no doubt that our economy is headed in the right direction. However, April’s tax filings largely still reflect what was happening with the economy last year – not over these past few months of marginally improving conditions. There is a lag between private economic activity and its public benefit. We must keep working to create career-path job opportunities for more Idahoans. If we do that, the revenue will come. But for now it’s clearer than ever that we are doing the right thing by remaining prudent and cautious in our approach to using taxpayers’ money. I’m grateful that legislators recognized that and gave me the tools to balance the budget in Fiscal 2010. The Legislature deserves a lot of credit for working with me to ensure Idaho’s State government lives within the people’s means.”

Preliminary report: April revenue down

The earliest preliminary reports on April’s state tax collections - a key month, with the biggest collections of the year - show they’re down by $55 million from projections, the AP reports, meaning the state would head into the final two months of its fiscal year with a $13.5 million budget deficit. The shortfall was due in part to higher than expected income tax refunds. Click below to read the fully story from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

New Ward ad says banning earmarks and bailouts is ‘only way’ to fix federal spending

In a new TV commercial airing across the 1st Congressional District, GOP candidate Vaughn Ward says “the only way to stop reckless spending” by the federal government is to “end government bailouts and ban earmarks.” The campaign ad, Ward’s second of the campaign and the first to hit the North Idaho airwaves in the race, is prompting some discussion, both about how Ward and others would approach congressional earmarks, and about whether ending earmarks and bailouts would really solve the federal budget problem.

“I think it’s a critical way and a very important way - whether it’s the only way I guess is debatable,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan balanced-budget group in Washington, D.C. “From our perspective, those are important areas to tackle, but there are other areas that we’re going to have to look at.” The Concord Coalition, an influential bipartisan balanced-budget advocacy group based in Arlington, Va., takes a different tack. “Bailouts and earmarks are a very, very, very small part of the problem,” said Josh Gordon, policy director for the coalition. “The real federal budget problem is a long-term imbalance between spending and revenue.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and watch the new campaign commercial here.

Opposition research a ‘modern campaign reality’

AP reporter John Miller takes a look at the role of opposition research in congressional campaigns and what the campaigns are digging up about their opponents in the 1st District congressional race; click below to read the full story. It was opposition research that enabled the Vaughn Ward campaign to snap back with Congressman Walt Minnick’s past late property tax payments when Ward’s own late payments were reported; such research  “reveals a modern campaign reality,” Miller reports.

Rounding up the primary races…

There’s a lot on the ballot in this spring’s primary election, though the marquee race clearly is the vigorous GOP contest between two rising young Republicans for a chance to challenge 1st District Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick in the 1st Congressional District. Every statewide elected office is up for a vote, as are three of the four seats in the state’s congressional delegation and every seat in the state Legislature, plus county races across the state. In my Handle Extra column yesterday, I took a quick look at the contested primary races this year for U.S. Senate, lieutenant governor and state controller, including the candidacy of former Coeur d’Alene restaurant owner Tom Sullivan in the Democratic primary for Senate and how state Controller Donna Jones’ GOP primary challenger, log home company owner Todd Hatfield, is concerned about the size of state timber sales and whether they’re pushing out smaller firms from bidding; next week’s column will examine contested North Idaho legislative races, the following week’s the Supreme Court race, and the week after, the primary contests for governor. You can read yesterday’s column here.

Also this weekend, Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker looked into claims being raised by two Democratic bloggers about Minnick’s role in Watergate back when he was a Nixon White House aide; you can read the story here, which largely lays to rest any aspersions, in part by finding and interviewing key players from the Watergate days. And the Statesman published its extensive voter guide, with information on candidates for federal, state and Ada County races including the area’s legislative districts; you can see it here.

A snowy success story…

Here it is May 1st - and it was a powder day at Brundage! And snowing like mad on and off today, as hundreds of skiers turned out to enjoy midwinter fun in May (the powder was knee deep, and especially at the top, just really, really good, with fog drifting in and out, fine coverage, and untracked shots beckoning through the trees). It’s only the second time in the McCall ski resort’s history that it’s been open in the month of May; it caps a ski season that, while a bit late in starting, was good for Idaho. I have to say for me, those excellent and consistent weekends on the slopes at Bogus Basin all through the legislative session kept me sane. And here’s something we’re not hearing a lot in these economic times: Brundage reports that this was its best season ever - not for overall snowfall, but for revenue.

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

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

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