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Eye On Boise

Archive for October 2010

Strong turnout predicted Tuesday

Looking ahead to Tuesday’s election, Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is predicting strong voter turnout for a non-presidential year election, with 63 to 64 percent of registered voters casting ballots, “which would be our highest non-presidential year turnout since ‘94.”
 
“Candidates and issues make turnout,” Ysursa said, “and I think we’ve got competitive races out there that are driving the turnout.”     Among the many decisions awaiting Idaho voters are whether to keep or replace the state’s governor and members of Congress, four state constitutional amendments, races for an array of county and statewide offices, and votes on every seat in the state Legislature. There’s more information on all of those in our online Voter Guide here; and there’s info for voters on the state’s voter information site here.

Party goes negative so Otter doesn’t have to

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter likes to say he doesn’t go negative - all his TV campaign ads are positive and are about him, not his opponent. But there have been plenty of negative ads airing targeting Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, thanks to a $400,000 infusion this month from the Republican Governors Association to the Idaho Republican Party, which then aired the anti-Allred ads. Both are different versions of the same message: That by saying all options are on the table for reviewing “special interest” tax exemptions, Allred’s really said he’s going to tax everything from child care to church bake sales, a contention he rejects.

“The Idaho Republican Party has a very good working relationship with the Republican Governors Association,” said Jonathan Parker, Idaho GOP executive director. “They were very supportive of the party and obviously wanted to see Gov. Otter handily re-elected, so they chose to invest some resources in the state party to help us get the governor re-elected.” He added, “What we did as an independent expenditure was completely apart from the governor’s office, there was no coordination, they didn’t even know it was coming - legally they can’t.” The RGA is flush this year, Parker said, due to successful fundraising efforts by its chairman, Haley Barbour, that left the group with close to $60 million in the bank in September.

Said Parker, “They were just looking for places to spend it.”

According to the Idaho GOP’s latest campaign finance report, the RGA gave it $200,000 on Oct. 4 and another $200,000 on Oct. 8. So far, the party’s spent $349,530 on independent expenditures in support of Otter, all paid to companies in Washington, D.C. and Virginia, apparently for the TV ad campaign. Asked if something more is coming with the remaining $50,470, Parker said, “Possibly so, yes,” and referenced “things that are currently in the works.”

Ad Watch: Labrador, NRCC launch new campaign ads in 1st CD race

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador has launched a new ad today, a spot entitled “Family” that doesn’t mention his opponent and shows lots of pictures of his wife and kids. You can watch it here; Labrador’s campaign says it will begin airing this weekend. In the ad, Labrador says, “Becca and I want for our family what you want for yours.  A future without big government watching and taxing our every move.”

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee has launched a new ad against incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick in Idaho, showing what appears to be the view from behind the wheel of an out-of-control speeding car. The ad paints Minnick as a clone of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, citing such Democratic proposals as “national energy tax, government takeover of health care,” even though Minnick voted against both the cap-and-trade energy bill and the health care reform bill. “Put the brakes on Pelosi. Replace Walt Minnick,” the NRCC ad says; you can watch it here.

The glitch that could cost North-Central Idaho farmers $10 million…

Click below to read the full story from the Associated Press and Lewiston Tribune about the glitch in the governor’s office that may cost Idaho farmers in Lewis, Nez Perce, Idaho and Clearwater counties $10 million in disaster relief payments over a 2009 storm that damaged wheat crops. The issue prompted a “mea culpa” from Gov. Butch Otter during last night’s debate.

Otter faces rivals in final debate

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter defended his cuts to education and his track record as governor Thursday night, as he met four rivals in the final debate before Tuesday’s election. “The choice had to be made, because there’s only two ways that you can balance the budget, you either cut the government or you increase the tax load for the citizenry,” Otter declared. “We chose the former.” His Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, strongly disagreed, and peppered Otter with criticisms; also debating were independents Jana Kemp and “Pro-Life” and Libertarian Ted Dunlap. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Closing comments: Governor’s debate

Among the comments in the candidates’ closing statements: Ted Dunlap said, “I stand for smaller government in every aspect.” Jana Kemp said, “Are you really willing to trust a person who’s running as a Democrat and says he’s not one? … If neither of these two cowboys, dare I say, are appealing, and you want somebody who will do the best job for Idaho, then vote for me.” Keith Allred said, “I’m proud to be independent and I’m proud of the Democratic Party who would nominate an independent. … Butch Otter has a problem. … He’s running against somebody who’s more serious about cutting taxes than he is.” Otter said, “This is serious business, this is no time for theory, no time for ‘maybe it’ll work.’ … The choice had to be made because there’s only two ways that you can balance the budget, you either cut the government or you increase the tax load for the citizenry. We chose the former.”

The back and forth…

When Gov. Butch Otter said some of the other candidates want to raise taxes, Keith Allred said Otter knows he doesn’t want to raise taxes. Otter responded, “This is Obama-speak,” and said Democrats want to say they’re for cutting taxes but really want to raise them. Allred told Otter to focus on Idaho, not talk about Obama, and noted that personally, he favors keeping the Bush tax cuts in place. Jana Kemp asked if that was the same Fox News appearance in which Allred said he wasn’t a Democrat. Allred said he’s an independent running on the Democratic ticket. Allred said he wants the government to get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the economy, and wants to do so by lowering tax rates and eliminating exemptions. Now it’s time for closing statements.

‘If wolves were eating children…’

The candidates for governor have been clashing over water quality monitoring, and now about wolves. “Enough is enough,” Otter declared, defending his decision to end state wolf management. Allred said Otter has been talking for 30 years about pushing back the federal government, but, “What has he ever done that actually accomplished that? … He’s got one tool in his toolkit, and that’s to file federal lawsuits. … We need to be taking destiny into our own hands and using effective tools for beating back federal control, and we need to do that by being able to monitor our own wolf population” to make the case for delisting.

Ted Dunlap said the wolves that were reintroduced into Idaho are “monsters.” Pro-Life said, “When you’re pro-life, you don’t like wolves. … I’m pretty much a vegetarian.” He added, “I think the animals that are in Idaho belong to Idaho. … I don’t think the federal government should have anything to do with that.”

Otter said the state’s spent only $6,000 on its lawsuit over federal health care reform, $1,000 on its brief in the Arizona immigration lawsuit, $1,000 on slickspot peppergrass litigation and $1,000 on the appeal of the federal ruling re-listing wolves. Pro-Life said, “Well if wolves were eating children, I would do something.”

Otter: ‘We’ve had to make some tough decisions’

Gov. Otter was asked how he squares his promise to make Idaho’s government more efficient and customer-focused with the closing of local Health & Welfare offices, the fumbling of paperwork that cost Idaho farmers millions in disaster aid, and other flubs. Otter responded that when he took office, “We had about a $130 million surplus in our budget, we had 2.7 percent unemployment. This last two years things have gotten a little tough and we’ve had to make some tough decisions.” On the farm disaster paperwork, he said, “You’re absolutely right. … We lost that paperwork for a week and that was the last week that we could actually apply for that. So mea culpa, that was our fault. But the $10 million is a stretch. I would agree that there was some loss, no question about it. … We made three different attempts with Vilsack asking for a federal waiver … then I got the delegation involved, they asked for some consideration and a waiver, and we got neither.”

Jana Kemp said, “The key is that in the governor’s office, all communication must be managed effectively. Without that, things fall through the cracks. … The pattern must come to an end. If you want to keep living in the past and mistakes that have been made, you know how to vote.”

Keith Allred said, “Butch Otter wants to blame all of his administration’s problems on the economy and other external circumstances. The one thing that tells you is don’t expect any better performance in the next four years - he thinks the performance of his administration has been fine.” Allred said it “wasn’t the economy” that caused the state’s Health & Welfare billing snafu that left providers unpaid for months, that threatened to kick hundreds of dentists off the state’s Medicaid contract, or made an error with the disaster aid. “We need a governor who can do his homework and get his facts right,” Allred said.

Things getting lively at debate…

Asked what evidence there is that the “doom and gloom forecasts” used to set the state budget were fiscally irresponsible, Keith Allred said, “The last three months of revenue. … We are $14 million ahead of the projections that were made in August.” Jana Kemp put in, “When we were in the Legislature we talked often about how you can’t bet on money that hasn’t come in.” At that, Otter yelled, “Yeah!” and started clapping. “No applause,” cautioned moderator Thanh Tan, to which Otter responded, “You told the audience, not us.”

Allred said, “You can’t spend money that you don’t take in. … Butch Otter said … if money comes in, then at that point we could go ahead and spend it.” Now, he said, “The money is sitting there,” despite cuts in education that have reduced instruction time. “What are you doing to do about it?” he asked Otter. At that point, Pro-Life commented, “I think this is pretty boring and people are probably turning onto the ballgame.”

Otter said, “I’d like to respond to that.” He said Idaho’s exceeding revised projections, but not his budget. Allred said the state’s now exceeding both.

‘What Otter is offering for his economic vision’

Asked about the economy, Gov. Butch Otter noted that a recent USA Today story said Idaho is one of the states leading the nation’s crawl out of the recession, along with energy states, and touted his “Project 60” to increase the state’s gross domestic product. Jana Kemp said as a small business owner, she never received anything from the state about Project 60 until recently. “This is a great place to live - it needs to be a great place to work,” she said.

Keith Allred said the USA Today story paired Idaho with energy states with large fossil-fuel reserves. “What is it about Idaho?” he asked, that put it in that group. “The lion’s share of personal income growth in Idaho was from unemployment, Medicaid, federal welfare and entitlement money. That’s what Butch Otter is offering you for his economic vision - more dependence on the federal government. … I’ve got a better idea.” Allred called for lowering Idaho’s relatively high state personal and corporate income tax rates. “We cannot get this economy going without taking that brake off of it,” he said.

When Pro-Life said government shouldn’t be involved in the economy, Otter responded, “We’re not in the business of picking winners and losers. … In that aspect, you’re absolutely right,” to which Pro-Life responded, “Yeah, I knew that.”

Candidates for guv differ on tapping endowment reserves for schools

Asked whether they’d again dip into the state endowment’s earnings reserve fund to avoid cuts to schools next year, the candidates for governor had varying answers. Otter said it “depends upon the shortfall,” and it’s “going to be hard” to tap that fund again. Kemp said, “The answer is no. … We need to find bigger, broader systemwide solutions.” She advocated phasing out the federal No Child Left Behind program. Allred said he’d tap the fund. “I supported that, I thought it was a good idea,” he said. “It is one of a number of options that we’ll need to keep education whole in the coming year.”

Debating over budget cuts…

The candidates for governor are debating about possible budget shortfalls. “Butch Otter based a budget … on doom and gloom rather than evidence,” said Democrat Keith Allred. Independent Jana Kemp said she opposed the 2006 special-session decision to cut property taxes, raise the sales tax, and shift school funding to the state. “That was a bad decision then and it’s proven out to be a bad decision now,” she said.

Otter said he wondered what kind of math the other candidates were using, if they want to cut taxes but increase budgets. Then, he and Kemp went back and forth over how she’s been trying to get his budget for next year, and he says it’s not done yet. Allred said he wanted to “jump in,” and said no previous governor has cut education because “they understand what a fundamental priority education is.”

Pro-Life said he opposes public education and would cut it. “It’s a communist doctrine,” he said.

‘This is serious business’

The five candidates are each giving their brief opening statements on why they’re running, with just 30 seconds for each. Among their comments:

Pro-Life: “If you murder babies, that’s pretty darn serious. … This is serious business, this government, and that’s why I run.

Ted Dunlap: “70 percent of the people that could vote in this election are going to stay home. I don’t think they’re lazy.”

Jana Kemp: “As the independent candidate who cannot be owned by anyone, I stand before you tonight to govern Idaho, because the reign of the good old boys must end Tuesday.”

Keith Allred: “Keep the tax burden on Idahoans low and provide a good education for our kids. Right now we’re doing poorly on both.”

Butch Otter: “We had to balance the budget. … We are growing the economy. … I said we were going to push back on the federal government’s constant effort to overtake the state’s sovereignty, and we have done that as well.”

The five candidates for guv…

Here are the five candidates debating tonight: From left, Libertarian Ted Dunlap, Democrat Keith Allred, independent Jana Kemp, Republican incumbent Butch Otter, and independent “Pro-Life”

The reporter panel…

Here’s the moderator and reporter panel preparing for the debate - moderator Thanh Tan of Idaho Public Television, and reporters Jessie Bonner of the Associated Press, Scott Logan of KBOI-TV, and Bill Spence of the Lewiston Tribune.

Almost time for the Idaho Debate…

The Capitol Auditorium has been filling up early for tonight’s big debate in the governor’s race, in which all five candidates - Butch Otter, Keith Allred, Jana Kemp, Ted Dunlap, and Pro-Life - will face off. Earlier, Allred supporters held a raucous rally in Capitol Park. As people filed in, Otter supporters stood with signs near the entrance.

Debate brings out differences between 1st CD rivals

With the latest independent poll showing Idaho’s 1st District congressional race narrowing to a dead heat, Congressman Walt Minnick and GOP rival Raul Labrador clashed in a debate today on everything from wilderness to mega-loads on Highway 12; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

As the two faced off before a luncheon crowd of 400 at the Boise City Club, Minnick sought to paint himself as a centrist and his rival as “so far out of the mainstream” that he wants to withdraw from the United Nations, return to gold and silver as the national currency and repeal the popular election of U.S. senators.

Labrador countered, “On the issues where I’ve been called ‘fringe’ by some people, I’m actually with the people of Idaho. I am actually in tune with the issues that are important to the people of Idaho. … I will be able to represent them well.” He asked the audience, “Are you better off today than you were two years ago?” Labrador said, “It’s his party that has destroyed the future of this country. I believe that we need to do something that is different.”

Moss backs Labrador, calls ad ‘unfair’

Former U.S. Attorney for Idaho Tom Moss has come out with a statement backing Raul Labrador’s handling of a 2001 federal drug case, and calling Walt Minnick’s new campaign ad “unfair.” Moss, a Republican, served as U.S. Attorney from August 2001 to June of 2010. Here’s his statement:

“I am speaking in my personal capacity and not on behalf of the US Attorney’s office or the Department of Justice.  My personal opinion after a review of the matter is that Mr. Labrador did nothing illegal or unethical. He was simply representing his client within the law and according to court procedures as allowed at that time, as I would expect any competent attorney to do. In my personal opinion the television ad is unfair in that it distorts the facts in a prejudicial manner.”

John Foster, Minnick’s campaign spokesman, issued this response: “Mr. Moss was a political appointee who was not directly involved in this case. As the record makes clear, the assistant U.S. attorney involved had a very different view at the time than the one Mr. Moss holds now.”

The latest Minnick ad…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Congressman Walt Minnick’s new campaign ad criticizing GOP rival Raul Labrador for his handling of a 2001 federal drug case involving an illegal immigrant. Labrador’s campaign has called the ad “despicable” and “desperate;” Minnick is standing by it.

Labrador, agent defend handling of Lopez case

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador was joined by retired INS special agent Kent Nygaard at a press conference just now to criticize incumbent Walt Minnick’s latest ad, which involves a case on which Nygaard was the INS agent and Labrador was the defense attorney. Nygaard said there were 26 defendants in the case, and all of their defense lawyers, like Labrador, argued for releasing them pending trial. Nygaard said he opposed the release and argued against it. “It was a continuing battle with the U.S. Magistrate’s office,” Nygaard said. “We would bring illegal aliens in, and they probably half the time would release them subject to some sort of conditions.” In the case of Labrador’s client, Carlos Lopez, because he was an illegal immigrant, he was released to the INS, which promptly deported him to Mexico. That meant he avoided facing the federal charges until three years later, when he was arrested again trying to re-enter the United States.

But Nygaard, who’s backing Labrador’s campaign, said Labrador was just doing his job as a defense attorney. “Mr. Labrador defended his client in this matter as he was required to do under his oath and as expected by the prosecution,” Nygaard said. “His actions in this case were in accordance with proper handling of a criminal case by a defense attorney.”

Labrador and Nygaard both said Lopez was a “low-level” defendant in the case who was accused of being present when money changed hands for a drug deal. “We actually thought he had a good defense,” Labrador said, adding that there was no evidence Lopez knew of the drug deal. “I was just doing my job. He was released into the custody of the INS and the INS deported him.”

Asked if he regrets getting Lopez released - rather than having him face the charges and perhaps win acquittal - Labrador said no. “It’s my job to represent my clients. I would actually lose my license if I don’t do everything I can to represent my clients,” he said.

City Club 1st CD debate: Closing comments

In his closing comments at the Boise City Club debate, GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador said, “On the issues where I’ve been called ‘fringe’ by some, I’m actually with the people of Idaho.” He asked the audience, “Are you better off today than you were two years ago?”

Walt Minnick, in his closing comments, said, “I represent Idaho. I have represented Idaho. I’m the most independent voting member of Congress of either party. And I want to assure you that I don’t represent San Francisco.” He said Labrador’s repeated charge during the campaign that a vote for Minnick is a vote for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is off the mark. “I am a centrist,” he said. “I can work effectively out of the middle in a closely divided Congress.”

Mega-loads, wilderness raised at debate

The two leading candidates for Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat were asked about the “mega-load” shipments proposed for Idaho’s U.S. Highway 12. Labrador said, “I don’t think that there is anything wrong with what the state is doing. … What I see in this case is a group of environmentalists that are trying to prevent this from happening. … I don’t see that there is a problem.”

Minnick responded that Labrador misrepresents his position on the issue. “I am not opposed to those shipments,” Minnick said. But he said he wants a public hearing to address questions that have arisen over the proposal. Minnick said he hopes to call such a hearing after the election, so “both sides are heard so that the best decision is made.”

The two also were asked about Congressman Mike Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill. Minnick said, “I’m sorry my opponent opposes this common-sense solution advanced by my Republican colleague.” Labrador said, “I’m with Gov. Otter on this issue. … I will vote no on this legislation.”

Candidates spar over array of issues

1st District rivals Walt Minnick and Raul Labrador have sparred over immigration, cutting the deficit, and effectiveness in Congress so far in their Boise City Club debate. They mostly agreed on the war in Afghanistan, though Labrador took that opportunity to say he’s publicly praised Minnick’s military service and Minnick’s only lied about his views on veterans.

Asked about campaign finances and the Citizens United court decision, Labrador said, “I think everybody should be able to give whatever amount of money they want to give for a campaign, but it should be disclosed … within 24 hours so the public gets to know who’s supporting whom and where the money’s coming from.” Minnick said, “I think the Citizens United decision was the worst decision of the Supreme Court since Dred Scot … to ignore the distinction between a real person and an artificial creation of law. .. We need to … have spending limits, we need to have shorter campaigns, we need to have equal access to the public media, we need to repeal or overturn Citizens United, it is a bad decision.”

Minnick: Rival is ‘out of mainstream’

Walt Minnick was listing off reasons why he contends rival Raul Labrador is “so far out of the mainstream,” from his positions on withdrawing from the United Nations to his support for repealing popular election of U.S. senators, and concluded, “He would deny his own daughter … the right to terminate a pregnancy if it were caused by rape or incest.” Labrador hit back, “I’m so far out of the mainstream that I was re-elected with 70 percent of the vote in my legislative district. I’m so far out of the mainstream that even the Idaho Statesman says that this is a dead heat, even though he’s spending $2 million to assassinate my character and I’m only spending $500,000. … The people of Idaho like my views.”

Labrador: ‘He accused me of a crime’

Rep. Walt Minnick’s new ad about a drug case that rival Raul Labrador handled in 2001 has led to a heated clash between the two at the Boise City Cloub debate. “This is the biggest example of the lies that Mr. Minnick has said about my record,” Labrador declared, saying that after today’s debate, he’ll hold a press conference with the INS agent who handled the case who will “talk to the press about how this ad is false.” Labrador said, “The court released him and he went into the custody of immigration. Immigration deported him. In the ad, Mr. Minnick states that iIhelped my client escape. So apparently I helped my client escape by having him go into the custody of immigration.”

Minnick responded that he was quoting the U.S. Attorney in the case who said Labrador had a “specific and pre-existing plan to have his client released … and then have him deported to Mexico so as to avoid the federal charges.” Labrador, Minnick said, was accused of “simply standing by doing nothing and allowing him to be deported to Mexico, and that that was part of a pre-existing plan.”

“He just questioned my ethics and he accused me of a crime,” Labrador declared, to which Minnick responded, “I did neither, Mr. Labrador.” Labrador said, “The facts of this case are that my client was a low-level defendant. He was not accused of running a meth lab. He was accused of being present when money was exchanged for drugs.”

Candidates clash over ‘appalling’ ads

The first question in today’s 1st CD debate, from the audience, was about both sides’ “appalling” negative ads. Minnick answered, “There is not a single fact in my advertisements that is not well-documented.” Labrador said, “I think Mr. Minnick’s campaign is going to go down in history as one of the most shameful in the history of Idaho.” He added, “Yes, I am an immigration lawyer and I am proud to be an immigration lawyer.” As the two clashed, moderator Marcia Franklin, who had to rein them in on time limits, got a big laugh from the crowd when she said, “I can see that we’re off to a good start.”

City Club debate: Opening comments

In their opening comments, Walt Minnick and Raul Labrador both agreed on one thing - that the country is in trouble. “The solutions to these problems are complex, they take time, they take hard decisions and don’t lend themselves to politically expedient soundbites,” Minnick said. “And most importantly they take bipartisan consensus, because they need to come from the middle.” Labrador said, “It’s his party that has destroyed the future of this country. I believe that we need to do something that is different.”

Big debate day in Idaho races…

Today is a big debate day in Idaho political races, with 1st Congressional District rivals Walt Minnick and Raul Labrador facing off at noon at the Boise City Club, and all five candidates for governor - Butch Otter, Keith Allred, Jana Kemp, Ted Dunlap and Pro-Life - debating live on Idaho Public Television tonight. The governor’s debate starts at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific, and runs for 90 minutes; there’s more info here.

Medicaid looking at service cuts

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is poised to make more than $8 million in cuts to Medicaid programs and services for low-income adults with severe mental illness and children with autism and other developmental disabilities, the AP reports. The agency has drafted a new set of rules that authorize cuts in services or elimination of some programs designed to trim about $1.6 million from its current fiscal year budget. Those cuts, however, would also trigger the loss of another $6.5 million in federal Medicaid matching funds used to reimburse care providers.

The agency has been under pressure all year to find ways to cut more than $57 million from its Medicaid budget in fiscal 2011 to offset the financial pounding to the state general fund amid the economic downturn. The agency has only cut $36.2 million and will ask lawmakers in January for an additional $41.5 million to plug holes in the Medicaid budget. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Glitch may cost Idaho farmers millions

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and the state’s congressional delegation have contacted federal authorities to try to get some $10 million in disaster relief money for northern Idaho farmers possibly lost after Otter’s office failed to meet a paperwork deadline. The Lewiston Tribune reports that hundreds of farmers in Lewis, Nez Perce, Idaho and Clearwater counties whose wheat crops were damaged in a 2009 storm could be affected. Otter spokesman Jon Hanian says a misplaced fax led to the missed 90-day deadline on Nov. 23 to get the paperwork to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo and Democrat U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick say they hope to submit legislation so Idaho farmers will get the money.

Ad Watch: New Minnick ad says Labrador helped illegal immigrant flee charges

Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick has a new campaign ad out today, focusing on a case GOP rival Raul Labrador handled as an attorney in 2001, in which his client, Carlos Araiza Lopez, was an illegal immigrant arrested in a major drug case in Nampa. After Labrador argued for releasing Lopez pending trial, Lopez was deported to Mexico; Labrador then argued the charges against him should be dropped, but U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge disagreed.

“Carlos Lopez didn’t face justice,” the ad says. “The U.S. Attorney’s office questioned Raul Labrador’s ethics, claiming that he had a ‘specific and preexisting plan’ to help Carlos flee to Mexico to avoid the charges. He was later caught after sneaking across the border again.”

Phil Hardy, spokesman for Labrador’s campaign, called the commercial “a disgraceful ad, a desperate attempt by a campaign in its death throes to save itself.” He had no specific comment on the Lopez case, saying Labrador will address the issue during his Boise City Club debate with Minnick at noon today.

John Foster, spokesman for Minnick’s campaign, said, “What the U.S. Attorney’s office wrote in its response to the motion was very surprising and we thought something that people needed to know.” He said the ad was long planned; it continues a theme from Minnick’s earlier ads, closing with, “Raul Labrador’s record on illegal immigration makes him wrong for Idaho.” Minnick’s campaign released a summary of the case citing specific federal court documents, plus listing four other cases in which Labrador, an immigration attorney, defended illegal immigrants; you can read it here.

Ad Watch: Minnick hits Labrador for opposing vets plate bill

Congressman Walt Minnick has launched a new TV ad that repeats his earlier criticisms of GOP rival Raul Labrador, plus adds a new one: That Labrador “dishonored Idaho’s veterans by voting against a program honoring those who died serving our nation.” Labrador’s campaign called the new claim “a misleading smear.”

It refers to Labrador’s vote in 2009 against legislation creating a new “Gold Star Family” license plate for the families of military members killed in combat. The bill, which made the special plates free for spouses or parents but included fees for other relatives, passed and was signed into law; Labrador was among five House members and four senators to vote against the bill. Gov. Butch Otter, when he signed the bill into law - it was among four new specialty plates approved that year - said, “I’m not going to pick on any one of ‘em, but if there was ever an appropriate specialty license plate, this is it.”

According to House Transportation Committee hearing minutes, two committee members “expressed that while they were committed to not supporting any more specialty plates, they wanted to express their respect and support for veterans.” Phil Hardy, spokesman for the Labrador campaign, said Labrador was one of the two; he’d committed to oppose all new specialty license plates.  John Foster, Minnick’s campaign spokesman, said, “It was a surprising vote and one that, in our travels around the district, appalled a lot of Idaho veterans we’ve spoken to. It was a vote frankly against honoring people who served, so we thought it was an important message to relay to voters.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Denney says he’ll wait ‘til after election to decide on Hart committee post

Here’s a new item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — House Speaker Lawerence Denney will wait until after Tuesday’s election to announce whether he’ll allow state Rep. Phil Hart to remain on a key tax policy committee. A House ethics committee recommended Hart, a Republican from Athol, be removed from House Revenue and Taxation Committee while he wages a constitutional battle with the IRS and the Idaho State Tax Commission over hundreds of thousands in income taxes. Denney says he spoke with Hart a week ago, but that an announcement on Hart’s membership on the legislative tax panel would be premature — until the election is past. Hart originally ran unopposed, but Howard Griffiths announced he’d take on the three-term GOP representative, on grounds that Hart is shirking responsibilities that most other residents fulfill. Reached in Athol, Hart told the AP his tax challenges will keep him busy but that he’s not yet ready to announce what he plans to do about his committee membership.

Supporter has ties to program she lauded

The Associated Press reports that a fan of public schools chief Tom Luna wrote Idaho newspapers this month to praise his math initiative, but the supporter did not disclose her role with a company hired as part of the program. Marisa Alan identified herself as a “parent and educator” in her letter applauding Luna, a Republican running for a second term, and his efforts to improve student math skills. But Alan failed to mention her role with Apangea, a company that Luna’s department has contracted since June 2008 to provide web-based math programs in grades 5-12 as part of the Idaho Math Initiative.

In her letter, Alan praised Luna for “wisely” choosing to continue funding the math initiative. The state is paying Apangea $1.3 million this fiscal year as part of the program.

Alan, who is listed as an Apangea contact on the state Department of Education website, did not immediately return a request for comment. Supporters of Democrat Stan Olson, who is challenging Luna in November, first pointed out Alan’s role with Apangea.

State tax revenues beat forecasts again in September

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho ended fiscal year 2011’s third month with more tax revenue than forecast. According to figures obtained by The Associated Press, Idaho took in $209 million in September, $4 million more than forecast. That’s $590 million in collections since July 1, or $14 million ahead of projections reduced already this year. Officials say it’s too early to say if Idaho will meet 2011 targets next July 1, with big months January and April still to come. But higher collections are reason for optimism, as they show a fragile economic recovery may be continuing. Even if Idaho collects more than anticipated, however, there’s still fear legislators must cut the 2012 budget — or raise revenue — to accommodate existing programs strapped with more demand, including public schools and Medicaid. Federal stimulus money is gone, reserves are drained.

Bill Sali explains all

Former Idaho Rep. Bill Sali penned a “dear friend” letter that was distributed to all attendees at last night’s Kootenai County Republican Central Committee meeting, defending Rep. Phil Hart and pinpointing what he says is the real reason for Hart’s tax and legal troubles: Me. “Why has Phil gotten so much media attention?” Sali asks in the letter. “In the Legislature Phil has been an effective voice for freedom, less government and lower taxes. Apparently Betsy Russell can’t stand that and she wants to silence his voice. She wins if you decide not to support Phil.” You can read the letter here.

SuperPAC alters anti-Minnick ad

SuperPAC for America has revised its “Idaho Voter Guide” ad, removing a false claim that Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick voted for the federal stimulus bill; Minnick was one of 11 House Democrats who voted against the bill. In the new version, that part of the ad is replaced with, “Minnick backed Nancy Pelosi (for speaker), Labrador will not.” At least one Idaho station, KIVI-TV, is now running the new version of the ad.

Weekly: ‘The campaign that wasn’t’

The Boise Weekly sent reporters out to the various corners of the state in recent weeks to “deconstruct the race for governor,” and came up with this rather interesting report, “The Campaign That Wasn’t.” It includes reports from the Panhandle, North-Central Idaho, Southwest Idaho, Central Idaho, the Magic Valley and Eastern Idaho, along with some Q&A about the results with the two leading candidates, Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred.

Kootenai R’s punt on Roetter, back gag order for Central Committee members

So what did Kootenai County Republicans do last night on their bid to oust their state committeeman for not supporting the re-election of Rep. Phil Hart? They didn’t. The central committee voted 35-30 to delay the vote on whether to oust Matt Roetter, which meant the  packed crowd at the meeting didn’t get to discuss the issue. The committee also voted that elected executive members and precinct leaders must support all primary winners, without exception; and appointed a squad to watch what members say in the media lest it violate that edict; here’s the scoop at Huckleberries Online.

Idaho Newspapers Poll: An unsettled electorate

With the election less than a week away, Idaho voters are worried about the state’s economy, wary of plans to run huge trucks across scenic U.S. Highway 12, and averse to generating more funds for road improvements in the state. Those results from the Idaho Newspapers Poll, a collaboration of The Spokesman-Review and six Idaho newspapers, show an unsettled electorate in a state that’s about to decide whether to keep its current governor, members of Congress and other top leaders – and could spell trouble for the incumbents if they hold their seats.

Gov. Butch Otter, an enthusiastic backer of the mega-loads of oil equipment proposed for Highway 12, has pushed without success for the past four years to raise hundreds of millions more for the state’s roads. But the new poll shows nearly a third of Idaho voters don’t see a need, and those who do don’t like his solutions.

Gary Hagman, of Dalton Gardens, who was among the more than 600 Idahoans who participated in the poll, said the state needs to get its economy going again before it can afford to invest in things like roads and schools. “Everybody wants to go back to work, and so do I,” he said. You can read our full story here on today’s poll results, which include questions about the economy, mega-loads on Highway 12, transportation funding and religion and politics, and click here for today’s full poll results.

Ad Watch: New Labrador ad claims bill raised taxes

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador has launched a new TV ad, with the help of funding from the Idaho Republican Party, painting Congressman Walt Minnick as a tax-raiser. The one vote cited in the ad: Minnick voted in favor of HR 4154, which the ad says means he “voted to raise taxes on farmers and ranchers.”

But that bill, the Permanent Estate Tax Relief for Families, Farmers and Small Businesses Act of 2009, actually would have lowered the federal estate tax from 55 percent to 45 percent on Jan. 1, and raised the exemption from the first $1 million of an estate to $3.5 million. Because the bill was blocked in the Senate after passing the House, current law now calls for the higher rate and lower exemption to hit Jan. 1.

The federal estate tax currently is at zero for one year, but it reverts to the old, higher rates and lower exemptions unless Congress takes action. Phil Hardy, spokesman for Labrador’s campaign, said that means the bill would have raised taxes from the current zero level. “Republicans want to abolish the estate tax - Raul Labrador wants to abolish the estate tax,” Hardy said. “There’s no way he would have voted for any of these things.”

Prior to the full House’s passage of HR 4154, Minnick was one of just 18 House Democrats who voted in favor of an amendment to the bill to instead eliminate the estate tax. It failed, 187-233. “When that amendment did not pass, he voted for the compromise to make sure that the tax wouldn’t go up,” said Minnick’s campaign spokesman, John Foster. Hardy said, “That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.” He added, “We’re happy with it - we love the ad.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

IACI hits Allred again, with another $24K

The Idaho Prosperity Fund, operated by IACI, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, has filed another independent expenditure report showing that it made a $24,275 independent expenditure today against Keith Allred, all paid to ORRA SGS of Orlando, Fla. for printing, postage and advertising production. The odd thing is that the fund filed an identical report four days earlier; now, it’s saying it’s done it again, and spent another $24,275.

Ad Watch: Latest Otter ad

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Gov. Butch Otter’s latest campaign ad, which touts the Opportunity Scholarship Fund that Otter helped establish, but doesn’t mention that no new students have been able to apply for the scholarship for the past two years due to lack of funds. Renewals for the original recipients still are being funded, and about 450 students are getting needs-based scholarships of up to $3,000 a year.

Dems fund poll for Allred

The Idaho Democratic Party has filed an independent expenditure report showing that it spent $50,000 on polling yesterday on behalf of Keith Allred, the Democratic candidate for governor. Coincidentally, that was a day before the independent Idaho Newspapers Poll came out today, showing GOP Gov. Butch Otter leading Allred in the race, 52 percent to 30 percent, with 5 percent for independent Jana Kemp, 4 percent for Libertarian Ted Dunlap and 1 percent for “Pro-Life.”

The Democrats hired Winding Creek Group of Washington, D.C. with their independent expenditure.

New Otter ad touts scholarship that’s now frozen to just past-year recipients

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s latest campaign ad touts the Opportunity Scholarship Fund, which he pushed for and helped establish to provide needs-based scholarships for Idaho college students, an area that’s long been sorely lacking in the state. However, not mentioned in the ad is the fact that no new students have been able to apply for the scholarship for the past two years; due to lack of funds, only renewals for those whose scholarships started three years ago currently are being funded. About 450 students are getting the scholarships now, down from about 700 when it started.

In the ad, Otter says, “Now, these are tough economic times, and the Opportunity Scholarship funds give students the funds necessary to pursue a higher education - and a better-paying job. Idaho’s future is bright, and I’m working hard to make it even brighter.” The ad closes with a group of college students saying in unison Otter’s campaign slogan, “Butch Otter, our governor, our future.”

Ryan Panitz, Otter campaign spokesman, said, “It’s definitely something great that he’s done.” Panitz noted that Otter wanted $100 million in the fund, but only got $20 million; no new money has been added for the past two years, though Otter unsuccessfully requested another $1 million this year. “The governor wants $100 million in that fund, but because of the economy there’s only $20 million,” Panitz said. “The governor established the opportunity scholarship fund to help students go on to college, whether it be a four-year institution or a two-year school, and that is actually what the ad says and that’s been done.”

Mark Browning, spokesman for the State Board of Education, which administers the scholarship, said the renewable scholarships are good for up to four years, and most recipients get the maximum of $3,000 per year. It’s a “last-dollar” scholarship, meaning students must first apply for all other available financial aid, and the Opportunity Scholarship steps in only after their family’s expected contribution and all other aid are taken into account. The fact that most recipients get the maximum amount, he said, “tells you how big the gap is” between student needs and what’s available. “It’s a great program, because with that last-dollars mechanism you are really getting the people that need help, but it just really exemplifies what’s going on with the cost of education,” Browning said. “It’s tough, it’s really tough. The upside is you’ve got 450-some people that are able to go on and realize that dream. The downside is there’s many, many more that need it that don’t have access to it, because there’s not more money available.”

Otter appoints Michelle Stennett to Senate

Gov. Butch Otter has appointed Michelle Stennett to the Idaho Senate seat vacated by her husband Clint’s recent death; Stennett had been filling in for her husband as he battled brain cancer, and is now running for the seat in her own right. Otter said he was making the appointment for the remainder of Clint Stennett’s term “with sadness at her husband’s loss but great confidence in her abilities;” you can click below to read his full announcement. Michelle Stennett was the unanimous top choice of the Idaho Democratic Party’s District 25 legislative committee to succeed her husband in the post.

Faith, politics and Mitt Romney…

AP reporter John Miller takes a look today at how Mormonism and politics have merged in two western campaigns, Idaho’s gubernatorial race and Nevada’s Senate race, and the glimpses it provides into scrutiny Mitt Romney could face in a 2012 run for president. “Americans like their candidates to be religious, but not too religious,” Richard Bushman, chair of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate College, says in the article. “If you have a demanding religion, one that fills a large part of your life, that makes them uneasy. Mormonism, as everyone knows, is a demanding religion.” Click below for Miller’s full report.

From bigotry to baloney: NYT looks at Idaho 1st CD race

Here’s a link to today’s New York Times story by reporter William Yardley on Idaho’s 1st CD race, which notes that “racial overtones have developed here, echoing other campaigns where immigration is an issue,” including Nevada’s Harry Reid-Sharron Angle race. “Idahoans are not bigoted, but he’s assuming that the people of Idaho are,” Labrador says of Minnick in the article.  “He’s assuming that the people of Idaho are going to look at those ads and say ‘I’m not going to vote for the Puerto Rican guy.’ ” Minnick calls that “baloney” and defends his ads as revealing Labrador’s “flip-flopping” on the immigration issue.

Also in the article, Minnick offers this explanation for why he wouldn’t switch to the Republican Party: “It’s easier to be a fiscally conservative Democrat than it is to be a socially moderate Republican.”

KTVB pulls SuperPAC ad

At least one Idaho TV station, KTVB-TV in Boise, has decided to pull the SuperPAC for America ad against Walt Minnick that contains a false claim. “It is a non-candidate sponsored commercial, and we just reviewed the facts,” said Doug Armstrong, KTVB general manager. “It appears the commercial is factually incorrect regarding vote #46 on Jan 28th. We’ve decided to pull the commercial effective immediately.”

Outside group is ‘looking into’ its claim in anti-Minnick ad

RJ Laukitis, executive director of SuperPAC for America, just responded to Eye on Boise’s inquiry about its anti-Minnick ad in Idaho, which falsely claims Idaho Rep. Walt Minnick voted in favor of the stimulus bill when he was one of just 11 House Democrats who voted against it. In an email, Laukitis said, “We are looking into this claim.”

And a ‘superPAC’ is…

Here’s an interesting tidbit about SuperPAC for America, the national group headed by Dick Morris that’s running a false ad in Idaho targeting Idaho Rep. Walt Minnick: Opensecrets.org reported yesterday that the group was the single top outside spender in the nation that day, spending $1.08 million in 11 congressional districts. It’s one of the new independent expenditure-only organizations that can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, unions and corporations for political messages that overtly advocate for or against federal candidates. According to Opensecrets, such groups, nicknamed “SuperPACs,” “have arisen in the wake of weakened campaign finance rules in light of federal court rulings in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission.”

Minnick campaign: False SuperPAC ad ‘outrageous’

Congressman Walt Minnick’s re-election campaign is calling a new anti-Minnick ad from a national group headed by GOP strategist Dick Morris “outrageous” for falsely claiming Minnick voted in favor of the stimulus bill. “What’s outrageous is the actual vote they cite says he voted no,” said campaign manager John Foster. “I have already been in touch with our attorneys and with a couple of station managers. We believe the law here is very clear.” Stations have the option of rejecting false ads that come from outside groups, he said.

The ad is from SuperPAC for America, a national group that’s launching ads against 50 Democratic candidates in what it describes as “second-tier” races that Democrats expect to win.

Ad Watch: National group targets Minnick with false claim in TV ad

A new independent ad against Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick that’s airing in Idaho makes a false claim that Minnick voted in favor of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal stimulus bill, when Minnick actually was one of 11 Democrats who voted against the bill in the Jan. 28, 2009 House vote. SuperPAC of America, headed by GOP political strategist Dick Morris, is airing cookie-cutter versions of its “Voter Guide” ads in numerous states as part of its strategy to target 50 “second-tier” seats that Democrats view as safe, in an effort to fuel a GOP pickup of 100 seats in Congress.

“The more we spend on these ‘safe Democratic seats’ the more we put these incumbents in danger,” Morris writes on the group’s website. “The Democrats will have to tie up incredible amounts of resources to defend these second-tier 50 seats that they once thought were safe. They will not be able to help other Democrats in trouble in the first 50 seats now at risk. In football we would call this strategy ‘prevent offense.’” The anti-Minnick ad began running in the Boise market last night.

The group, which says it’s already raised more than $3 million for its ad push, targets other Democratic incumbents across the country for voting in favor of the health care reform bill and the stimulus bill, then touts their Republican challengers. Minnick, however, voted against both those bills. The anti-Minnick ad alters the message on health care to criticize Minnick for not backing repeal of the full health-care reform bill - Minnick maintains some parts, such as insurance reforms, are worth keeping - but then falsely claims Minnick voted for the stimulus bill. SuperPAC for America’s executive director, RJ Laukitis, didn’t immediately respond to a reporter’s inquiry about the ad.

New Idaho Newspapers Poll: 1st CD race is now a dead heat

There’s a new Idaho Newspapers Poll out this morning, and it shows that the 1st District congressional race has narrowed to a dead heat - freshman Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick has 44 percent to GOP challenger Raul Labrador’s 41 percent, which is within the poll’s 5 percent margin of error. The last Idaho Newspapers Poll in September showed Minnick with a 10-point lead; you can read our full story here, and see today’s full poll results here.

The poll also showed Republicans consolidating their leads in other major Idaho races; Gov. Butch Otter led Democratic challenger Keith Allred 52 percent to 30 percent, with 5 percent for independent Jana Kemp, 4 percent for Libertarian Ted Dunlap and 1 percent for “Pro-Life”; Sen. Mike Crapo led Democratic challenger Tom Sullivan 64-20 percent; state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna led challenger Stan Olson 50-34 percent; and 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson led Democratic challenger Mike Crawford 67-17 percent, with 5 percent for independent Brian Schad.

The Idaho Newspapers Poll is a collaboration of seven newspapers: The Spokesman-Review, the Idaho Statesman, the Idaho Press Tribune, the Lewiston Tribune, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, the Post Register, and the Times-News. The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research In., which interviewed 625 likely voters Oct. 20-22. The poll’s margin of error statewide is plus or minus 4 percentage points; it’s 5 percent in the 1st CD.

Kootenai R’s clash over Hart

Today’s Coeur d’Alene Press reports that the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee will vote tonight on whether to remove their state committeeman for denouncing Rep. Phil Hart over his tax and legal troubles. “This vote is important, because it’s going to identify what the local party’s identity is. If they vote me out, it’s because a lot of people support what Phil Hart is about,” said Matt Roetter, a four-term committee member and two-term state committeeman. “This vote’s not really about me, it’s about Phil Hart.” Roetter said, “I won’t support a guy who has these issues surrounding him, because it’s not good for the Republican party. Character matters. Being honest matters.”

Others on the central committee said Hart is the party’s nominee and that’s that; he’s being challenged by another Republican, Howard Griffiths, in a write-in campaign. “I don’t care who it is. If the guy is elected through the primaries, that is the person we’re obligated to support,” said Vermont Trotter, precinct 60 committeeman. “It could be Bozo the Clown, for all I care. Not that Phil Hart is a bozo.” You can read the full story here, and here’s a link to yesterday’s Huckleberries post on the topic.

Otter, Allred both loaning $$ to their own campaigns

Both Gov. Butch Otter and his Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, are making big loans to their campaigns in the final days of the race, the AP reports. While Otter loaned his campaign $206,000 on Thursday, Allred will report on Tuesday that he and his family have loaned his campaign about $115,000; the campaign had no debt as of its last report Sept. 30. Otter spokesman Ryan Panitz said the loan is part of the millionaire governor’s original strategy and will be used to promote the GOP candidate on TV, among other advertising forms. Allred spokesman Shea Andersen says the campaign will continue spending money to help overcome Otter’s advantage in name recognition; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Ross Perot’s grandkids backing Labrador

H. Ross Perot III, the grandson of the quirky Texas billionaire who ran for president twice in the 1990s, has made a last-minute campaign contribution to Idaho GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador, and so have three of his family members. “Good, solid conservatives, the Perots,” said Phil Hardy, spokesman for Labrador’s campaign, who said the candidate had never met the young Perots. “They know when it’s time to get rid of someone who’s not good for our country. It really did lift our day.”

H. Ross Perot III is a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in history last spring. He gave Labrador $2,000 on Friday, as did Peter Hunter Perot and Sarah Catherine Perot, while Sarah Fullinwider Perot donated $1,000.

The contributions showed up in required 48-hour notices of last-minute campaign contributions, which must be filed for contributions of more than $1,000 within two weeks of the election. Labrador has received $36,800 of those contributions, including $5,000 from a Washington, D.C. group called “Every Republican is Crucial.” Incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick has received $92,300 in such contributions, including $5,000 from the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons and $2,000 from Hecla Mining.

In addition to those donations, Labrador reported raising $60,749 for his campaign from Oct. 1 to Oct. 13, and closing that period with $83,604 on hand for his campaign. Minnick reported raising $61,899 in the same period and having $372,645 on hand. Those figures are prior to the last-minute contributions in the campaign’s final two weeks.

Last-minute money flowing, Otter loans his campaign $200K

As the election campaign moves into its final days, candidates or committees that make big contributions or independent expenditures within two weeks of the election have to file notices with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office within 48 hours. Those 48-hour notices are flowing in now, particularly in the governor’s race. Gov. Butch Otter reports that he loaned his campaign $206,000 on Thursday; he also reported $6,500 in big last-minute contributions since last Tuesday, plus another $12,000 last Monday. His Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, reported $63,900 in big contributions since last Tuesday, and loaned his campaign $11,000 on Wednesday. You can see all the notices on the Secretary of State’s website here.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Prosperity Fund, which is operated by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a business lobby, reported that it spent $24,275 on Wednesday on an independent campaign against Allred, for literature, postage and advertising production. And the Idaho Realtors PAC is mounting an independent expenditure campaign against the re-election of Valley County Commissioner Frank Eld; you can see those reports here.

Kempthorne endorses Labrador

Former Idaho governor, U.S. senator and secretary of the interior Dirk Kempthorne today endorsed Raul Labrador for Congress, saying, “The people of Idaho have been well-served by their Republican team of elected officials” and saying Labrador will be  “a fine addition to that successful team.” Kempthorne was the leading booster of Labrador’s GOP primary rival, Iraq veteran Vaughn Ward, whom Labrador defeated in May.

Labrador said, “I am very grateful to Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for this endorsement.  His long and valued service to the people of Idaho and America is a great example for all men and women in public life.  Secretary Kempthorne was esteemed by his colleagues and always represented Idahoans respectfully and with strength.  I hope to serve the people of Idaho in the same manner.” You can read the full announcement here.

The state’s highest-ranking wedding crasher?

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: JEROME, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter accidentally became the state’s highest ranking wedding crasher during a campaign stop. The state’s chief executive entered a room in the Jerome Public Library in southern Idaho with other GOP candidates on Wednesday evening. The Times-News reports that Otter was responding to a difficult question about wolves when wedding guests started arriving from the nuptials in a nearby park and Linda Helms lobbed an even tougher question by wanting to know why the governor had taken over a room reserved for the bride and groom. Helms says Otter broke off the meeting and the candidates left. Republican Rep. Maxine Bell of Jerome says she felt so bad about the mix up she started folding chairs to get the room ready for the newlyweds.

Profile: The race for governor

Butch Otter’s long-awaited turn as Idaho’s governor – he first ran for the post in 1978 and served as lieutenant governor for 14 years – hasn’t turned out quite the way he planned. He promised improvements to education, a business-friendly climate, and a restructured, more-efficient state government that would be “the people’s servant” and allow Idahoans to “achieve greatness.” He’s had some notable successses. But in the last four years, he oversaw the state’s first cut to school funding as Idaho plunged into recession, and amid controversy and budget cuts, abandoned big changes as quickly as they were proposed. The centerpiece initiative of Otter’s term, his plan to raise hundreds of millions in new revenue to invest in Idaho’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure, was defeated even though his party controlled three-quarters of the seats in the state Legislature.

Today, the state is embroiled in lawsuits over a multimillion-dollar school broadband contract award and the firing of its transportation director. Its biggest agency, Health and Welfare, left health care providers unpaid for months in a contracting snafu and recently backed away from a plan to boot hundreds of dentists off the state’s Medicaid program on 30 days’ notice. “In our state we are experiencing a government that is falling apart,” says Jana Kemp, a former GOP state representative who’s challenging Otter as an independent.

As Otter, 68, seeks re-election to a second and likely final term, he’s facing an unusual Democratic opponent – a professional mediator, citizen activist and former Harvard University professor who had won praise from all sides, including from Otter, as a nonpartisan advocate for the “common interest” of all Idahoans. Keith Allred agreed to run as the Democratic Party’s candidate, but only after the party pledged to back his agenda, rather than the other way around. The contrast between Otter and Allred – both on an array of issues and on the basic questions of how best to govern the state – has dominated the race. Here’s a link to my full story on the governor’s race from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review, and you can click here to see how Otter and Allred differ on some key issues in the race.

Profile: The 1st CD race

Freshman congressman Walt Minnick is a new kind of Idaho Democrat – one who votes more often with Republicans than with his own party, one who attracts business support that usually goes to GOP candidates, and one who crusades against earmarks, refusing to request any even if it means his district loses out on pricey projects.

Still, in conservative Idaho, where the 1st Congressional District voted just 35 percent for Barack Obama for president in 2008 and Minnick is the first Democrat to hold the seat since 1994, Minnick’s re-election isn’t assured. The Harvard-educated former timber products CEO beat unpopular GOP Rep. Bill Sali by just 4,211 votes two years ago. This year, he faces an ardent but underfunded rising conservative star from the Idaho Statehouse, Raul Labrador. You can read my full story here on the 1st CD race from Saturday’s Spokesman-Review, and click here to see where the two leading candidates differ on some key issues in the race.

Schools race draws independent spending

You can read my full story here at spokesman.com on how there are now three groups mounting independent campaigns for or against candidates for Idaho schools chief, with the addition of eastern Idaho personal care products firm Melaleuca Inc. The company launched a TV ad campaign in southern Idaho late this week in favor of GOP Supt. Tom Luna, criticizing his Democratic challenger, Stan Olson, and reported today that it’s already spent more than $50,000 on TV and radio ads.

That’s on top of independent expenditure reports earlier this week from for-profit curriculum company K12 Inc. of Virginia, which is funding a separate $25,000 ad campaign for Luna; and an earlier effort from teachers across the state to form “Educators for Olson,” which has spent more than $60,000 since August, mostly on yard signs, and reported spending another $20,835 this week on a mailing.

Frank VanderSloot, Melaleuca chief, said he decided to launch his own anti-Olson ad campaign because he’d heard that the “teachers union” would spend $75,000 “wanting to buy their own guy in the office.” Sherri Wood, president of the Idaho Education Association, which is funding the Educators for Olson effort, countered that her group is supported by small-dollar donations from thousands of teachers across the state. “It’s very interesting to me that the people who are in the classroom, in the trenches every day, who make very little money, have to battle against big corporate Idaho in order to do what’s right by our children,” she said.

Olson has called on Luna to condemn K12’s involvement in the campaign, calling it “just more proof that Idaho students are not priority number one for Tom, but rather special interest groups who need to turn a profit from our kids and their test scores.” Ken Burgess, a spokesman for Luna’s campaign, said if Olson thinks Luna should condemn K12’s campaign, “then perhaps he ought to do the same for the union bosses that are helping him out.”

Palin endorses Otter for re-election

Sarah Palin today endorsed Gov. Butch Otter’s re-election bid, calling him “a voice for commonsense conservatism.” She made the endorsement on her blog and Facebook; you can read the Otter campaign’s full announcement here. “I am honored and humbled to receive Gov. Palin’s endorsement,” Otter said. “I greatly respect her and her work in making Alaska a better place… for its citizens.”

Ad Watch: Minnick’s latest commercial

Here’s a look at the claims in Congressman Walt Minnick’s new campaign ad, which starts running today in the Boise and Spokane TV markets:

CLAIM: “Raul Labrador - misleading you again. It’s gotten so bad he was forced to pull another false ad before it even ran. So who should you trust?”

CONTEXT: Yesterday, Labrador’s campaign pulled an ad before it began airing after being notified that it contained copyright material from the “Idaho Debates” on Idaho Public Television. The clip in question was Minnick in a 2008 debate gaffe saying he favored a “middle class tax increase,” a comment that he corrected two minutes later in the debate by saying he favored a “middle class tax cut,” though the correction wasn’t included in the ad. The Labrador campaign is revising the ad to use different material and likely launch this weekend.

Click below for more…

Melaleuca attack ad targets Olson

Melelauca Inc. yesterday filed independent expenditure reports showing it’s dumped $40,000 into an independent TV ad campaign in favor of incumbent GOP school Supt. Tom Luna, and the firm has launched a TV ad in southern Idaho that belittles Luna’s Democratic challenger, Stan Olson, with a digitally altered clip from an Idaho Public Television debate in which Olson said he’s always struggled with math.

Melaleuca sought permission from IPTV to use the copyright material a week in advance, and was specifically and firmly denied. Frank VanderSloot, Melaleuca chief, said he decided to go ahead with the ad anyway, and has hired copyright attorneys to battle over the issue with the state. “We could have said what he said but then no one would believe it,” VanderSloot told Eye on Boise. “We thought it was important to put it up there in his own words.” VanderSloot said he also plans more  independent ads in the race; click below for more on this.

Minnick launches new campaign ad

In response to yesterday’s flap over a new Labrador ad - GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador pulled his new ad before it aired, after being informed it contained copyrighted material from Idaho Public Television’s “Idaho Debates” - Democratic incumbent Walt Minnick has launched a new ad of his own; you can see it here. Coming soon: A look at the claims.

State gets into the storage biz

Idaho’s state Land Board’s ongoing push to diversify its endowment land holdings has put the state into the somewhat surprising position of being the new owner of Affordable Self-Storage outside Boise, a 5-acre storage facility with more than 400 units. The new acquisition joins offices, a bank building, parking garages and millions of acres of grazing and timber land in the land endowment, all of which is required by the state Constitution to be managed for maximum long-term returns for the endowment’s beneficiaries, chief among which is the state’s public schools; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Tea Party Express endorses Labrador

The Tea Party Express, a national tea party group that earlier chose Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick as its only Democratic congressman to endorse, today announced it’s endorsing Raul Labrador over Minnick. The group said it endorsed Minnick earlier “in light of his independence in standing up to significant items in President Obama’s agenda.” Minnick ended up rejecting the endorsement after the group’s head made racially charged statements on a blog.

In today’s announcement the group said, “Since then, Congressman Minnick has engaged in a pattern of behavior which shows he is more responsive to the Democrat Party’s establishment than he is the voters of Idaho.” Among its complaints: That Minnick “refuses to say he will vote against” Nancy Pelosi as speaker in the next session of Congress, and hasn’t backed a full repeal of health care reform, though he voted against the bill. “In light of his errant actions we are announcing that we are joining the Boise Tea Party and endorsing Raul Labrador for Congress in the General Election,” the group said today; click below to read its full news release.

Labrador issued this statement in response to the endorsement: “I’m delighted to receive the endorsement of the Tea Party Express, an organization that brings a voice to people in America who previously felt they had no voice.  The Tea Party Express and its members are sick and tired of the business as usual attitude and actions of Washington insiders like Walt Minnick.  They are tired of candidates who do nothing to stand up and fight against the status quo.  When I am elected to Congress, I will fight to bring the voice of the people to Washington and not the voice of special interests.”

AP: Labrador backers have been airing Minnick gaffe on Web for weeks

The Associated Press, in its full story today on GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador pulling a campaign ad that featured an out-of-context snippet of Walt Minnick from a 2008 Idaho Public Television debate - but not the comment two minutes later in which Minnick corrected himself - notes, “For weeks now, Minnick’s 2008 gaffe has been taken out of context on pro-Labrador websites. But Labrador’s new ad was the first time the campaign has officially pushed the mistake.” Click below to read the full report from AP reporters Jessie Bonner and John Miller.

Otter disputes Allred’s wolf comments

“I disagree with my opponent’s definition of sovereignty and his idea about the state’s role,” Gov. Butch Otter said today in response to Democratic challenger Keith Allred’s statements about wolves at a press conference this morning. “State sovereignty to me isn’t managing a federally protected species under miles of federal red-tape as a designated agent of the same government that forced wolves on the people of Idaho in 1994 without regard for the devastating impacts it will have on our wildlife, livestock and way of life.” Click below for the rest of Otter’s statement.

Labrador pulls new ad before it airs

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador today sent out a press release announcing a new TV ad for which airtime was purchased by the Idaho Republican Party Central Committee, featuring an audio clip from the 2008 “Idaho Debates” between Walt Minnick and Bill Sali, in which Minnick mistakenly said, “We need a middle class tax increase,” then two minutes later, corrected himself and said, “We need to have a middle-class tax cut.” But the commercial uses only the first statement. Further, the “Idaho Debates” are copyrighted material belonging to Idaho Public Television, and IPTV hasn’t granted permission for it to be used in political ads. Idaho Republican Party Chairman Norm Semanko also sent out a press release touting and supporting the ad.

Asked about the ad, Phil Hardy, Labrador’s campaign spokesman, just said in an email, “We have been notified by Idaho Public Television that part of the material in our intended new advertisement is in fact copyrighted material, which we were not aware of.  As this is the case, our ad will be revised immediately and any material taken from Idaho Public Television will not be used.”

Minnick’s tax-increase comment in the 2008 debate was so clearly a flub that in an after-debate online discussion program, GOP activist Rod Beck, who was discussing the debate with Democrat Betty Richardson, said, “He talked about, ‘Oh, I want to give a middle-class tax cut,’ now of course he kinda sorta caught himself because he originally said ‘middle class tax increase,’ and his wife was down in the audience going, ‘Whoa, whoa, you mean tax cut.’ He later corrected that and said he wants to give a middle-class tax cut.”

Allstate plans new Pocatello-Chubbuck call center in 2011

Gov. Butch Otter was over in Chubbuck today for what his office promised would be a “major economic development announcement.” Now comes the news that Allstate has selected the Pocatello-Chubbuck area for a new customer information call center that will cost $21.9 million and employ more than 500 people. The 75,000-square-foot call center would open in September of 2011. Allstate vice president of direct sales and service Mark Pitchford said, “The Pocatello-Chubbuck area is a terrific community that offers an enthusiastic and energetic population from which Allstate can select the best and brightest to help deliver on our commitment to a superior customer service.”

Said Otter, “I couldn’t be happier to welcome a new corporate citizen to Idaho. Allstate’s decision to locate here is a testament to the men and women at the local and state levels who worked tirelessly to ensure this is the best place for the company to do business and create career opportunities.” You can read Allstate’s full news release here.

Allred says he’d reverse Otter’s move to back out of wolf management

Keith Allred, Democratic candidate for governor, held a news conference on the Capitol steps today to announce that he opposes Gov. Butch Otter’s decision to pull Idaho out of wolf management, and that if elected, he’d reverse it. “We should be expanding state control, not giving it away to the federal government,” Allred declared. “If we want wolves de-listed, we need to stay in the game.”

He contended Otter’s move would harm the state’s efforts to win federal approval for a big wolf-kill in the Lolo district, and to push both in Congress and in court to get wolves again removed from the endangered species list. “With state control, Idaho monitors the wolf population and their predation rates on wildlife and livestock,” he said. “That’s the only way to show Congress, the courts and federal agencies that we can do the job they can’t. … We’re giving away our strongest argument at a critical time.” He added, “We’ve just, in a fit of anger, thrown up our hands and said we won’t play.”

Allred also called for ending the state’s contracts with Molina Health and with DentaQuest, two major Medicaid contracts that have run into big problems in recent months. “I will never claim to have balanced the budget by refusing, for any period of time, to reimburse the small businesses that provide services on behalf of the state,” Allred said. “Idaho can’t afford to see what Otter’s next mistake will be.”

Meridian Chamber endorses Minnick

A day after the Meridian Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate forum for 1st District congressional candidates, the Meridian Chamber PAC has announced it has decided to endorse incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick in the race. “It was a real treat for the Meridian Chamber to host this forum,” said Cameron Arial, the chamber PAC’s chairman. “We express thanks to the candidates for their sacrifice and dedication to Meridian and the 1st Congressional District of Idaho.”

The chamber PAC said it endorsed Minnick “based on both his voting record in Congress over the last two years, and his expressed positions that were favorable to putting America back to work while fighting the huge federal deficit.” It also cited his business experience. Click below to read the full announcement.

Ad Watch: Allred faults Otter for state of Idaho’s economy

A new campaign commercial from Keith Allred, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, blames GOP Gov. Butch Otter for the state of Idaho’s economy, saying Otter “focused on helping special-interest cronies instead of creating jobs.” Allred cites a big decline in the rate of personal income growth in Idaho since Otter took office, compared to surrounding states, along with a drop-off in the growth rate from 2006 to 2008 for the state’s gross domestic product, the very measure Otter has targeted to grow with his “Project 60” economic initiative.

Otter’s campaign counters that a USA Today article just named Idaho one of the states “leading the nation’s crawl out” of the recession, which noted that Idaho rose from 50th in the nation for personal-income growth during the recession years, to 10th since the recession officially ended in June of 2009. The article called that “the USA’s biggest rebound.” “National accolades don’t just happen without true leadership,” declared Ryan Panitz, spokesman for Otter’s campaign. “Gov. Otter made the necessary changes to government and got people working together to better our economy.”

Actually, said Boise State University economics professor Don Holley, “The economy’s not doing very poorly, and it’s not doing very well - it’s just like every other state, it’s kind of reached the bottom and not moved off of it.” The best and most up-to-date statistics on the state of the economy, he said, are employment and unemployment. Idaho had very low unemployment rates before the recession, but “we got worse faster than almost anybody else,” he said, led by the collapse of a highly speculative housing market. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

New Allred TV ad hits Otter on economy

Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred has launched a new television commercial, which is airing statewide including the Spokane TV market, criticizing incumbent Gov. Butch Otter over the economy; you can watch it here. Coming soon: A look at the claims.

For-profit ed firm K-12 Inc. mounts independent campaign backing Luna

K12 Management Inc., a for-profit curriculum developer based in Virginia that provides the curriculum for Idaho’s largest online charter school, today donated $25,000 to a Nampa-based political committee, Idahoans for Choice in Education, which immediately spent $25,000 on an Arizona firm to handle broadcast advertising and production in an independent campaign supporting the re-election of incumbent state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna.

The donation and expenditure were reported in required 48-hour notices of independent campaign expenditures within two weeks of the election, filed today with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office. The Idaho Virtual Academy, which uses the K12 curriculum, is the largest of Idaho’s seven online public charter schools, which allow students around the state to learn online from home under their parents’ supervision at state expense, rather than attend their local schools. Last year, the IDVA had 2,817 students enrolled, according to the state Department of Education.

Otter reverses self, says don’t shoot

In perhaps the weirdest news yet on the wolf front this week, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter late yesterday reversed himself on comments he’d made to the Associated Press a day earlier about whether people ought to shoot wolves. Here’s the AP news item on the reversal:

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is warning Idaho hunters not to shoot wolves they see chasing elk, a reversal of his stance just a day ago. On Monday, he announced Idaho was relinquishing wolf management duties in protest of the federal government’s refusal to allow a public hunt. After a press conference in Boise, Otter told The Associated Press that federal laws allow hunters to shoot wolves they saw pursuing elk or moose. But he clarified his position Tuesday. Otter still believes big game are Idaho’s “livestock,” and that residents should be able to protect them like any livestock owner. But actually shooting a wolf would likely be a violation of federal law. Otter is still hoping for federal permission to kill dozens of wolves in northcentral Idaho’s Lolo region he blames for reducing elk herds there.

NP Tribe: We weren’t consulted

Here’s a statement from the Nez Perce Tribe, whose reservation includes 70 miles of the route that proposed mega-loads of oil equipment would travel along Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, in response to news that ISP patrols to accompany ExxonMobil’s proposed mega-loads were approved by the state back in 2009. The tribe opposes the loads:

“The Nez Perce Tribe has significant treaty-reserved and cultural resource and safety concerns with Highway 12 being turned into an industrial corridor.  These concerns have been formally communicated to the United States Forest Service and Federal Highway Administration leadership and we are awaiting their response.  The Nez Perce Tribe was not contacted about the nature and impact of these projects until recently.  At that point, it was becoming quite apparent that the contact was not in the nature of a consultation about proposed projects but rather an informational session about what would be occurring.”  

ISP escorts for Exxon Highway 12 mega-loads were approved in 2009

State records show that Idaho’s top three elected officials signed off in June 2009 on a plan to have ExxonMobil pay state patrol officers to accompany oversize truckloads of oil refinery equipment as they traveled scenic U.S. Highway 12 in North Idaho. That was a year before three public meetings were held in north-central Idaho about the controversial project, which has drawn hundreds of objections and is currently the topic of a lawsuit pending at the Idaho Supreme Court.

In a memo dated June 1, 2009, Idaho State Police Director Col. Jerry Russell asked the state Board of Examiners to approve the overtime plan for officers. “Exxon Oil Co. is starting a new refinery in Canada,” the memo stated. “The refinery parts are being barged into Lewiston starting in 2010 and will be trucked up U.S. 12 and eventually into Canada with over 150 loads of a special semi-truck/trailer combination that is 150 feet long and 24 feet wide.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Labrador, Minnick clash over ‘letter-marking’

NPR today aired a national story based on an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity into so-called “letter-marking,” or congressmen writing letters to agencies to request funding for specific projects, as opposed to earmarks, in which specific projects are funded in congressional bills. Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick was among those highlighted for opposing earmarks, but writing letters promoting projects from his state seeking stimulus funds, though he strenuously argued that the letters are nothing like earmarks. Instead, he said such letters merely show a congressman’s support for consideration for projects from his state; the funds were given out in competitive grants.

Minnick’s GOP opponent, Raul Labrador, brought up the NPR report at a Meridian Chamber of Commerce debate today, saying, “We come to find out that he has been looking for earmarks through a back-door approach, and I am completely against it. … It was NPR and the Center for Public Integrity that called him out, it wasn’t Raul Labrador.” Minnick’s campaign then responded this afternoon by listing bills Labrador voted for in the Idaho Legislature that spent stimulus funds. “Only one candidate in this race voted for stimulus money, and it was Raul Labrador,” said Minnick campaign spokesman John Foster.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner; you can hear the NPR story here.

Allred blasts Otter over DentaQuest

Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred is blasting Gov. Butch Otter over the DentaQuest contract issue, on which Otter today announced a reversal, keeping all previously contracted dentists in the state Medicaid contract. Otter’s announcement came after a meeting with stakeholders he convened today. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to make changes,” Allred said in a statement. “Butch Otter’s ‘just kidding’ style of leadership is reckless.” He said Otter has “repeatedly made decisions which needed to be hastily reconsidered,” from eliminating state funding for parks and Idaho Public Television to pushing for a gas tax increase in 2008 and 2009. You can read Allred’s full statement here.

DentaQuest issues statement

DentaQuest has issued this statement:

“DentaQuest has been successfully managing the Idaho Smiles program for Blue Cross of Idaho for the past three years. In that time, we have increased the percentage of Idaho Smiles members who receive dental care from 38 to 68 percent. We are proud of our work in Idaho and the strong relations we have built with the dentists in our network. We acknowledge that recent changes in the Idaho Smiles dental network were confusing.”

“After careful consideration, we have decided to allow all dentists already enrolled in the Idaho Smiles program to continue their participation in the program. We are redoubling our efforts to improve communications with the dentists and we will create an advisory committee that we anticipate will include local dentists to provide input into the Idaho Smiles program. We appreciate the leadership from the Governor’s Office and look forward to working with all the parties under the terms of the new contract.”

Otter announces reversal, DentaQuest will let dentists back into state contract

Gov. Butch Otter today announced the reversal of a move to kick hundreds of Idaho dentists off the state’s Medicaid program, a move that left both the dentists and their low-income patients scrambling. Otter, who convened a stakeholders meeting today, was put on the spot over the move in a televised debate last week against his Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, and independent challenger Jana Kemp.

“I appreciate all the leaders accepting my invitation to work this out together,” Otter said in a news release this afternoon. “That continuing discussion has gone a long way toward clearing up the misunderstandings among dentists and patients about changes to the Idaho Smiles program that led to over-generalization at last week’s televised debate about the reasons that some providers were not extended new contracts.”

You can click below to read Otter’s full release; it says the “Idaho Smiles” Medicaid program is being reopened to all previously contracted dental care providers. During the debate, Otter said the 150 to 200 dentists were being kicked out of the program for “doing too much … actually over-providing for their patients.” Allred criticized the move, which gave the dentists just 30 days notice, as typical of Otter’s leadership style, saying, “He just consults a very narrow group. … The dentists were happy to adjust - you’ve just got to talk to them, Gov. Otter.”

Minnick: ‘I have the skill set to do a business-like job’

Congressman Walt Minnick stressed his business experience in a forum before the Meridian Chamber of Commerce today. “I think I have the skill set to go back and work with my colleagues across the aisle to do a business-like job,” he said. Independent Dave Olson responded that his opponents have “wonderful backgrounds,” but said, “We’re going to try things in the future and not sit on our hind ends and say, ‘20 years ago I did thus and such.’ … It’s what you do in the future that’s going to make a difference.”

GOP challenger Raul Labrador said, “If you’re happy with what Pelosi and Obama are doing in Washington, D.C., I’m not your candidate.” He said Minnick has voted against some major Democratic proposals that he also would have opposed, but he said they still passed. “I would’ve stopped those things, just like I stopped legislation in the Idaho House of Representatives,” Labrador said. “I was successful in making sure that we did not have a gas tax in the middle of a recession - whether you agree with me or not, I think you have to give me a little bit of credit for actually fighting for my principles and fighting for things I believe in.”

Labrador: Dems ‘destroying our nation’

Among the comments so far at the Meridian Chamber of Commerce 1st CD candidate forum: GOP candidate Raul Labrador said, “The Democratic Party is destroying our nation.” He said “the worst thing we can do” is send Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick back for a second term.

Minnick, who like Labrador was responding to a question about how to reduce the federal deficit, said, “We’re going to have to do some things that are unpopular and Draconian. … There can’t be any sacred cows. … All options need to be left on the table. We must balance the federal budget. Send me back - it’ll be my No. 1 priority.”

Labrador’s comment on reducing the deficit: First extend the Bush tax cuts.

1st CD candidates face off in Meridian

The Meridian Chamber of Commerce is hosting a forum in the 1st Congressional District race today, featuring Congressman Walt Minnick, GOP challenger Raul Labrador and independent candidate Dave Olson. In his opening comments, Minnick told the crowd, “There’s no question but what our country’s in trouble.” Solutions to the nation’s problems, he said, “can only be done by the two parties working together and from the middle. They’re too toxic to be done by one party by itself.”

Olson, in his opening remarks, said, “The reason I’m running is because I’m not happy with the direction our country is going. … In a lot of cases I think it’s the guy in the middle who’s going to be able to work with either party getting things done.”

Labrador read a letter from a constituent who lost a high-paying job and is now working for $10 an hour, as is his wife, who is no longer able to stay at home full-time with their daughter. “I am running because of this man and every other man like him who in the last two years have lost their jobs,” Labrador said. He said the recession under the Obama Administration “has destroyed American enterprise, and I want to help the American people turn that around.”

‘Lot of anger and angst out there’

Here’s a link to our full story on Gov. Butch Otter’s decision yesterday to back away from wolf management in Idaho, turning that task over to federal authorities. In practical terms, Monday’s pronouncement means state employees won’t monitor wolf populations, investigate suspicious or illegal killings or take part in culling wolf packs that prey on livestock. Any tips will be turned over to federal wildlife officials, writes S-R reporter Becky Kramer.

Asking state wildlife managers to enforce unpopular federal mandates, including no taking of wolves, isn’t fair or safe for employees, Wayne Wright, chairman of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, told the Spokesman-Review. “There’s a lot of anger and angst out there on the part of sportsmen with the whole judicial process,” Wright said. “It would be very difficult for us to put our officers in harm’s way.”

Otter on wolves: ‘Nothing else has worked’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter spoke out tonight about his decision today to pull the state out of wolf management, shifting that authority to federal officials. Asked his response to opponent Keith Allred’s charge that by doing so, he’s yielding Idaho’s state sovereignty to the feds, Otter said, “Nothing else has worked. Everything that they’ve promised us, they’ve not kept. … It’s just time for us to draw the line.”

He also said the decision came “after months and months of frustration,” and said of wolves, “We didn’t want ‘em here in the first place.”

Hart sends partial payment to state for 1996 timber theft, admits ‘mistake’

Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, announced today that he’s sending a check to the state for the 1996 “fair market value” of logs he stole from state school endowment land in 1996 to build his log home, and said, “I was mistaken to have done what I did.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

“My logging experience back in 1996 was an expensive lesson in the school of hard knocks,” Hart said in a statement. “I was mistaken to have done what I did and will never make that mistake again. And just this past week, I have learned more about this case that I did not understand at the time. In order to clear up any question as to whether or not this timber was paid for, today I sent a check for the timber’s fair market value to the Idaho State Public School Permanent Endowment Fund. And since today’s fair market value is only one half of what it was back in 1996, the amount of the check was based on the 1996 value.”

Hart didn’t say in his statement how much he was paying, but in 1996, the Idaho Department of Lands determined that the trees he cut illegally from state school endowment land near Spirit Lake were worth $2,443. Because the penalty for stealing state endowment-owned timber is “treble damages” or three times the value, it ordered Hart to pay $7,328. Instead, he fought the case in court, arguing that as a citizen, he had a right to cut and take the logs to build his own home. He lost three times, ending in the state Court of Appeals, and each time incurred judgments for additional amounts for the state’s attorney fees and court costs for his “frivolous” challenges.

In the end, the Idaho Department of Lands filed a lien against Hart in Kootenai County for $22,827 in the case; that lien still is outstanding, but because more than five years have passed since the judgment, it’s no longer enforceable. The state Attorney General, however, has called it a “moral obligation” that still should be paid. Hart did forfeit a $5,000 bond he put up when he appealed the case to the state Court of Appeals, but there’s no record of any other payments.

You can read Hart’s full news release here.

Allred: Otter wolf decision ‘reckless’

Keith Allred, the Democratic challenger to Gov. Butch Otter, has issued a statement calling Otter’s move today to withdraw the state from wolf management “reckless,” and saying, “Butch Otter just gave away more state power to the federal government. We need to be asserting our sovereignty, not giving it away.” Allred said he would “take control of this issue, not avoid it,” and charged that Otter’s decision amounted to “run(ning) away from the problem.” You can read his full statement here.

Otter to feds: Idaho will back out of wolf management, starting today

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has notified Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that the state is terminating its “designated agent status” for wolf management - meaning the state no longer will be in charge of wolf management, turning that back over to the federal government. “I join many Idahoans in questioning whether there is any benefit to being a designated agent without the flexibility of a public hunt,” Otter wrote in a letter to Salazar today.

It’s an abrupt turnaround from the direction the state Fish & Game Commission endorsed earlier, of remaining active in wolf management despite a federal court having restored the endangered status of wolves due to litigation over wolf management in Wyoming. Otter wrote in his letter that the state “stands ready to manage wolves when the species is once again delisted.” He said he was concerned that if the state were to continue management now, the Department of Interior wouldn’t adequately fund it, leaving open the possibility that Idaho sportsman fees that fund the state’s Fish & Game Department could be tapped. Otter also decried the original reintroduction of wolves to the state in 1994. “Idahoans have suffered this intolerable situation for too long, but starting today at least the State no longer will be complicit,” he wrote. You can read Otter’s full letter here, and click below to read his full press release announcing the move.

Idaho gets $1.65M in drug settlement

Idaho will collect $1.65 million in a legal settlement with the prescription drug manufacturer Sandoz Inc. for overstating the average wholesale price of drugs, causing Idaho’s Medicaid program to overpay; among others, Sandoz manufactures a generic version of the drug Prozac. The company admits no wrongdoing in the settlement but agrees to pay; Wasden has reached six similar settlements with drug manufacturers since 2005, resulting in payments of another $7 million to Idaho taxpayers. Three more average wholesale price cases, involving two dozen other drug manufacturers, still are pending. Click below to read Wasden’s full announcement.

Moscow senate candidate says religious mailers were hoax

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press, via the Moscow-Pullman Daily News: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — Republican State Senate candidate Gresham Bouma denies sending out religious-leaning mailers in Latah County that urged voters to become true believers or be “struck down.” Bouma’s campaign is offering a $1,000 reward for information on the postcards, which were made to look as if they carried his endorsement and told voters: “You are not a true Christian and you are on the path to hell.” The Latah County prosecutor’s office is also investigating the mailer, which said a vote for Bouma was not enough and urged voters to join Freeze Community Church, which Bouma’s family attends. Pastor Lloyd Knerr says his church has never prayed to “strike down” anyone. Bouma beat nine-term Republican senator Gary Schroeder during the primary and faces Democrat Dan Schmidt in November.

Click below to read a joint statement from the Latah County Democratic and Republican party chairmen disavowing the postcard.

Minnick’s legislative batting record exceeds other Idaho frosh reps

Freshman Rep. Walt Minnick has sponsored more legislation, and seen more of it pass, than any other first-term U.S. House member from Idaho in the past two decades. A Spokesman-Review analysis shows that Minnick has sponsored 27 bills or amendments in his two years in Congress, and 10 passed. Three more bills are lined up for possible passage when Congress reconvenes in November. Minnick’s measures range from successful tweaks to major Democratic legislation, like financial reform, to his own smaller version of a stimulus bill. He’s championed expanding job-training programs, banning earmarks, increasing veterans’ benefits and reforming the commercial credit market. A dozen of the bills Minnick sponsored were co-sponsored by Idaho GOP congressman Mike Simpson.

By comparison, in his freshman term in Congress in 1999-2000, Simpson sponsored nine bills and one amendment; one bill passed. Minnick’s predecessor in the Idaho 1st Congressional District, Republican Bill Sali, sponsored 16 bills and four amendments in his two years in office; one bill and two amendments passed. Minnick’s tally, both for sponsoring and passing legislation, also exceeds the first-term numbers for former Idaho 1st District Reps. Butch Otter, Helen Chenoweth and Larry LaRocco, the last Democrat to hold the seat.

Minnick’s GOP challenger, Raul Labrador, said, “I think the real question is how many jobs did these bills bring to Idaho? … Congress with Minnick’s assistance continues to spend too much money, over-regulate and tax us more.” You can read my full story here, and see the results of the bills-sponsored analysis in a bar chart here.

Minnick, Labrador pile up campaign cash for final stretch

Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick had nearly half a million dollars cash left in his campaign warchest heading into the final stretch of the campaign, more than three times as much as GOP rival Raul Labrador. In campaign finance reports filed today, Labrador reported raising $255,832 in campaign contributions in the last quarter, spending $178,253 and ending the period on Sept. 30 with $134,323. He also reported $2,000 in new contributions on Friday, $1,000 from a civil engineer in Puerto Rico and $1,000 from the Ada County Republicans. To date, he’s raised a total of $544,725 for his campaign, including $100,000 in loans of his own funds.

Minnick reported raising $524,958 in the last quarter, spending $1.18 million, and ending the period with $482,083. He also reported $13,600 in new contributions Friday, $3,000 of that from political action committees and the rest from individuals in Washington, D.C., New York and Massachusetts. To date, Minnick has raised nearly $2.5 million, and has $250,000 in loans of his own funds outstanding from his 2008 campaign but no new debt. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Latest Minnick ad faults Labrador on domestic violence votes

Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick has launched two new campaign commercials, one touting his work on veterans’ issues and the other criticizing GOP challenger Raul Labrador for his votes in the Idaho Legislature on domestic violence issues. Labrador has no beef with the veterans’ ad, which highlights Minnick’s Army service and his work on legislation to expand benefits for veterans and their families. But he takes sharp issue with the domestic violence ad, which features the mother of Angie Leon, a young Nampa woman who was killed by her abusive husband in 2003.

Labrador said his votes on bills in 2007 and 2008 couldn’t have saved Leon’s life in 2003. “I think it’s a shameful ad, because it seems to imply that if we would have passed the legislation that he’s talking about, that this poor family would have been prevented the tragedy that fell upon them. … In a political season, I could never conceive of using a family’s tragedy for my political purposes.” Minnick’s campaign defended the ad, saying Labrador has a “very troubling record on domestic violence issues.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see the veterans ad here and the domestic violence ad here.

Last night’s 1st CD debate…

The Idaho Statesman’s Kevin Richert offers a breakdown here of last night’s 1st CD debate - who won, who lost, and how it went. It’s an interesting take. And here’s some background from the Statesman’s Dan Popkey on the Reagan tax issue that came up during the debate. As one of the reporter panelists, I found it to be a really good and lively debate, with each of the candidates having some fine moments and some low points. Among them: Raul Labrador displayed his formidable rhetorical skills and had the audience, which wasn’t supposed to be demonstrative, laughing out loud at some of his more creative cracks at Walt Minnick. Minnick articulated, for the first time I’ve heard, why he’s a Democrat. And independent Dave Olson pounded this point: “I’m the only independent in the race, period … I’m the only one that’s not obligated to either party.”

If you missed the debate, you can watch it online here.

‘Idaho will miss his leadership’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has issued a statement mourning Clint Stennett’s passing, saying, “Clint was a model of civility and bipartisan cooperation  who led by example. I’ll miss his good humor and wise counsel, and Idaho will miss his leadership.” Otter announced that all state buildings will have their flags lowered to half-staff on the day Stennett is laid to rest; click below for the governor’s full announcement.

Clint Stennett dies at age 54

Former Idaho Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett has died at age 54, after a long battle with brain cancer. Stennett died Thursday afternoon at his Ketchum home with his wife, Michelle, by his side. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Debate wraps up…

Wow, that was quite a debate. It just wrapped up, and the “Takeaway” online discussion is about to begin; you can watch here (click on “Watch Live”). Click below for a complete report on the debate from Associated Press reporter Jessie Bonner.

Watch tonight’s debate…

Tonight’s 1st Congressional District debate starts at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific, and airs live on Idaho Public Television. You can also watch it online here; the link to the live stream will be up shortly before the debate begins.

1st CD debate is tonight…

Tonight is the big debate in the 1st Congressional District race, the sole statewide televised debate of the campaign. It starts at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific, at the Idaho Capitol Auditorium. In addition to taking place before a live audience, the debate will be broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television. It’s part of the “Idaho Debates,” sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club; there’s more info here.

Incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick and GOP challenger Raul Labrador got the sparks going when they faced off yesterday on a “town hall” debate on KBOI radio in Boise. In tonight’s debate, I’m on the reporter panel, along with Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey and Associated Press reporter Todd Dvorak. Got suggestions on questions for the candidates? Post ‘em here before 4 p.m. today.

Lawmakers mull limiting absentee voting

As the Idaho Vote By Mail initiative drive ends without qualifying for the ballot, Idaho House GOP leaders are mulling further limiting, rather than expanding, absentee voting in the state. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said, “It’s not just me - there are several legislators talking about trying to do something along that line.” Moyle, author of the new law that requires Idaho voters to show photo I.D. at the polls, said he’s concerned that federal laws may also require I.D. for absentee voting. “We may be breaking a law now,” he said.

“It’s been brought up by some other legislators, we talked about it a little bit, but nothing’s been decided yet,” Moyle said. “I’ve got to figure out what’s legal and what’s not.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho Vote By Mail drops initiative

Idaho Vote By Mail has called off its signature-gathering effort to get an initiative on the 2012 ballot giving Idahoans the option of permanently requesting an absentee ballot, saying it just hasn’t been able to gather the required thousands of signatures using volunteers. “We needed 51,000 signatures, and I could just tell from the way we were going that we weren’t going to meet the mark,” said Larry Grant, a former Democratic congressional candidate from Fruitland who led the effort. “I didn’t want people working on it for another couple months knowing we weren’t going to make it. 51,000 is a lot of signatures.”

The group had gathered fewer than 10,000, though it’d been working at it for a year, and had volunteers out at county fairs, farmers markets and the like; the deadline is February 2011. “Most folks I believe are supportive of it, but actually getting volunteers to go gather signatures and do the necessary work is a little more difficult,” Grant said.

Interest in voting by mail in Idaho has been growing strongly over the years, with 29.5 percent of Idaho’s votes cast by absentee ballot in 2008 - 35.4 percent in Kootenai County and 43.5 percent in Ada County. Ada County sent absentee ballot requests to every voter that year, after the previous election resulted in long lines, angry voters and polls that had to stay open long after closing time to accommodate everyone. At least four states, including Washington, allow voters to file no-excuses, permanent absentee ballot requests, but in Idaho, voters have to file a new request every election.

The Idaho Legislature has been hostile to any moves toward allowing more mail-in voting, repeatedly killing bills before they come to a vote in the full House. Grant said he’s hearing that House GOP leaders may try to restrict absentee voting further next year, possibly preventing absentee voting unless people give a valid excuse, such as that they’ll be out of town.

Early voting, in which voters go to a central county polling location and cast an absentee ballot in the weeks prior to Election Day, opened on Monday, and in Ada County, 400 people voted the first day. Idaho’s county clerks, who run elections, have been supportive of more mail-in voting, as has GOP Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, the state’s chief election official.

Grant said his hope was that the excitement of an election year would generate volunteers to gather signatures for the permanent absentee-ballot option initiative, but instead, he found that volunteers were busy working for candidates. “We may revive it next cycle,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Otter, Allred, Kemp clash in debate

Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred sharply disagreed over recent cuts to dental programs for the poor; independent candidate Jana Kemp said Otter’s “Project 60” isn’t working and backed privatizing state liquor sales; Otter said tax exemptions were put in place for good reason; and Allred promised no cuts in school funding next year if he’s elected. That was on tonight’s debate in Caldwell, sponsored by KTVB, KIFI and KREM TV stations. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller; here’s a link to video of the debate. On Oct. 28, all five candidates for governor will face off on Idaho Public Television.

Closed primary trial: Party makes case

The Idaho Republican Party finally got its chance Wednesday to make a case for scrapping the state’s open primary, the AP reports, which they say allows Democratic voters to unfairly influence GOP politics and results at the ballot box. Click below for a full report on the first day of the closed-primary trial from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Guv candidates debate tonight

Three candidates for governor will face off in a televised debate tonight on KTVB-TV in Boise, in partnership with KIFI-TV in Idaho Falls and KREM-TV in Spokane. The debate, featuring Gov. Butch Otter, Democratic challenger Keith Allred, and independent Jana Kemp, starts at 8 p.m.; there’s more info here.

The final debate in the governor’s race will be Oct. 28, when all five candidates for governor debate on Idaho Public Television as part of the “Idaho Debates,” sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club; there’s more info here.

Idaho Fish & Game chief questioned in hunting trespass case

Idaho’s Fish & Game director, Cal Groen, and his hunting companions have been questioned regarding a reported trespassing incident in the Elk City area, the Fish & Game Department reports. Here’s the department’s press release:

Idaho Fish and Game Director Cal Groen has notified the Fish and Game Department that he and hunting companions have been questioned regarding a reported trespass incident in the Elk City area. The incident involves Groen in his personal, and not his official capacity. Fish and Game officials have not been involved in the investigation of the incident. The Idaho County Sheriff and Idaho County Prosecutor are in charge of investigation and reviewing the matter. Fish and Game reminds all hunters of the importance of knowing their hunting ground and to ask first before each hunting season to ensure they have appropriate permission to hunt on any private property.

Big 1st CD debate is tomorrow night; some tickets still available

More tickets have been released for tomorrow night’s big debate in the 1st Congressional District race, the sole televised debate of the campaign. It starts at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific, at the Idaho Capitol Auditorium; free tickets are available here. In addition to taking place before a live audience, the debate will be broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television; it’s part of the “Idaho Debates,” sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club.

I’m on the reporter panel, along with Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey and Associated Press reporter Todd Dvorak. Candidates debating are 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick, his Democratic challenger Raul Labrador, and independent Dave Olson.

Jerry Evans endorses Allred for guv

In a statement entitled “A Difficult Choice,” former longtime Idaho GOP state schools Supt. Jerry Evans today has endorsed Keith Allred, the Democratic candidate, for governor over incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter. “It came as a disappointing surprise this year when Governor Otter recommended a large cut in public school support,” Evans writes. “We cannot afford another four years like the past four.” You can read his statement here.

Closed primary trial kicks off in federal court

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is in federal court today, defending the state’s primary election system in a lawsuit from his own party, the Idaho Republican Party. The party sued to try to force the closure of its primary elections to anyone other than registered Republicans; Idaho has never had party registration. The three-day bench trial before U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill kicked off this morning with cross-examination of expert witnesses, as much of the arguments and direct examination of experts has been submitted in advance in writing. First up today was Bob Moore, of Moore Information, which conducted a survey the party cites to argue that “crossover” voting by Democrats in Republican primaries violates its rights and has forced Republican candidates to modify their positions.

The state, in its trial brief, argues that evidence, including expert reports submitted by both sides, shows “no legally significant adverse impact to the Republican Party from operation of Idaho’s long-standing primary system.  The party instead has thrived electorally and achieved a level of political dominance unmatched in any other state.”

After the party sued, both sides filed motions for summary judgment in the case in 2008; the court denied both in 2009, and asked for proof about whether crossover voting happens in Idaho, and to what extent it affects the message of the Idaho Republican Party and its candidates. In this week’s trial, the two sides are sorting through what each has submitted as proof. You can read the party’s trial brief here and the state’s trial brief here.

Idahoan imprisoned for timber theft has beef with Hart

S-R columnist Shawn Vestal writes today that John McHone has a beef with Phil Hart. McHone thinks anyone who steals timber from public lands – as Hart did to build a log home in Athol – ought to pay the penalty. “I think the (good Mr. Hart) ought to get some kind of time out of it,” McHone said – though his original comment was much saltier. “They got a lot of federal joints around here. They put me in a federal penitentiary.”

Like Hart, McHone stole timber from public lands. Unlike Hart, he served a sentence for the crime: a year in the federal pen. He and a team of others were busted cutting firewood in the Nez Perce National Forest back in 2003. You can read Vestal’s column here at spokesman.com.

Otter pulls ahead in campaign fundraising

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today reported raising $752,000 in campaign funds in the past four months, while his Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, raised $372,500. With both candidates spending heavily on advertising as the campaign season hits its peak, Otter reported $211,634 in cash on hand at the close of the period on Sept. 30, while Allred reported $102,072.

Otter’s campaign said he has another $67,200 in contributions already committed, but not yet paid. “This has been an incredible quarter for my campaign,” Otter said in a statement. “We not only raised a significant amount of money, but the momentum going forward is extremely high.” Allred had actually outraised Otter, the incumbent Republican who’s seeking a second term, in the previous two reporting periods, but Otter turned that around in the most recent period, which ran from June 5 through Sept. 30.

Year to date, Otter’s raised $1.04 million and spent $1.34 million, but he also carried over $316,718 from the previous year. Allred, year to date, has raised $732,640 and spent $757,532; he carried over $126,963 from the previous year. Neither candidate reported any debt; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Closing comments from Sullivan, Crapo…

“Americans should be working their way into the middle class, not falling out of it,” Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Tom Sullivan said in his closing comments in tonight’s debate. “To do that we have to tax fairly and cut wisely.” Incumbent Sen. Mike Crapo said if Sullivan is elected, “He will be another vote for the Harry Reid-Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama agenda.” Crapo said, “This country is in very serious trouble,” and said he’ll push for “sensible conservative solutions that will work.”

Sullivan: ‘I’ve nearly paid it off’

Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Tom Sullivan was asked, given his struggles with big tax debt in his business, why voters should choose him to replace Sen. Mike Crapo, who holds a key finance committee position. “Because I have been the one who has been able to pay down my debt,” Sullivan said, saying Crapo wasn’t able to reduce the national debt. “I was caught up in this 2008 downturn. I’m not complaining, I’m not crying, I rolled up my sleeves and I got to work and I’ve paid it off, nearly completely paid it off. … I worked, I paid it off, Mike Crapo has not.”

Crapo declined to comment on Sullivan’s personal tax issues. “With regard to the tax issues, I have not made it an issue in my campaign and I don’t have a comment on it now,” he said. Asked if he should be accepting bankers’ contributions, and whether he’d continue to do so as he decides major financial issues in the Senate, Crapo said, “Yes. My record … is very solid.” Businesses, he said, “support the kinds of policies I support, and that’s why I have received their support.”

Clash over tax cuts…

In tonight’s U.S. Senate debate, Sen. Mike Crapo and Democratic challenger Tom Sullivan already have clashed repeatedly over taxes. “I don’t think the Republicans are in favor of tax cuts for anybody except the wealthiest people in this country,” Sullivan declared. “The real tax cuts are going to the people at the top of the income chain. … I think it’s time that we have a system of fair taxation - not, you know, Mike Crapo’s friends at Goldman Sachs.”

Crapo responded, “That’s the spin we always hear about tax relief - it’s always for the rich people.” He said the Bush tax cuts weren’t just for the wealthy. “Everybody’s income tax was reduced,” Crapo said. He said he supports continuing them; Sullivan said he opposes extending them for the wealthiest. “I just don’t think that old tired spin plays any more,” Crapo responded. “Americans know that this is not the time to be increasing taxes on anybody, particularly on small businesses.”

Senate rivals: ‘Fight for future of nation’

In their opening remarks, Tom Sullivan, who’s running against Sen. Mike Crapo, said, “I am terrified about the size of our national debt. … We need something different from what Mike Crapo has been delivering for the last 18 years in the  United States Congress.” Crapo, in his opening remarks, said, “America is facing very difficult times - reckless spending, skyrocketing debt, looming tax increases and exploding government control.” He said he wants to press “Idaho’s principles in the fight that we will inevitably have for the future of this nation.”

It’s debate time: U.S. Senate

It’s time now for the debate in the U.S. Senate race, between Sen. Mike Crapo and his Democratic challenger, Tom Sullivan of Tetonia. Here’s a bit about the two:

    Mike Crapo, 59
    Republican
    BIO: Two terms in U.S. Senate, three in U.S. House; eight years in Idaho Senate; Harvard-educated lawyer; B.A., Brigham Young University; Idaho Falls resident; married, five children and two grandchildren.
    Campaign promises: “I promise to work hard for Idahoans, fight to protect our Constitution, eliminate the national debt and our culture of deficit spending,  reduce federal regulations that choke our economy, cut the size, expense and control of the federal government, and always to listen to Idahoans to find common sense solutions to our problems as I represent Idahoans in the U.S. Senate.”
    Notable: In his Owyhee Initiative, Crapo helped bring together ranchers, conservationists and more in a collaborative wilderness proposal that passed and was signed into law. He’s also a prostate cancer survivor who’s crusaded for early detection.
    P. Tom Sullivan, 42
    Democrat
    BIO: Owns credit card processing business in eastern Idaho; partner in a weekly newspaper; first run for office; former owner of Tubbs Cafe in Coeur d’Alene; high school equivalency degree; married, two children.  
    Campaign promises: “I will work to see “Made in America” again; I will support small business, fair taxes and responsible spending to avoid ever repeating the enormous deficit racked up between 2000 and 2008 and I’ll vote in the interests of the people of Idaho, not for Wall Street interests; I will work to bring new technology, jobs, training and education to make Idaho a green energy leader in 21st century.”
    Notable: Sullivan, who has both federal and state tax debt after a bank failure left his business struggling with the credit crunch, has been critical of Crapo’s record on financial issues, accusing him of promoting corporate interests over small businesses.

Ad Watch: A look at the claims in new Labrador campaign ad

Here’s a look at the claims in GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador’s new campaign commercial, his first of the campaign, which just began running in the Boise broadcast TV market today, and also is coming out on cable elsewhere. It seeks to cast freshman Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick as a close ally of President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though the “blue-dog” Democrat has bucked his party leadership on many of its key initiatives; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

CLAIM: “Democrat Walt Minnick isn’t telling the truth. He says he’s against amnesty but wouldn’t send illegals back. Can’t have it both ways, Walt.”

CONTEXT: Minnick has been sharply critical of Labrador’s work as an immigration attorney in two recent campaign commercials. However, Minnick doesn’t list an immigration position on his campaign website. A national group that backs reducing immigration, NumbersUSA, recently rated both Minnick and Labrador as “true reformers” on the issue; both said in the group’s survey that they oppose offering the estimated 11 million people living illegally in America long-term work permits and/or a path to citizenship.

Labrador’s campaign cites comments Minnick made at a Boise Young Professionals event in April of 2009, at which he said he’d want illegal residents who came forward to face a judge, be penalized, and go to “the back of the line for legal immigration. I wouldn’t send them home.” He called his approach “not politically expedient” but “practical.” Phil Hardy, Labrador’s campaign spokesman, said, “If they don’t have to leave, that’s amnesty in our opinion.” Minnick’s campaign disputed that, saying Minnick always has supported punishment for the crime of illegal immigration.

CLAIM: “Minnick voted with Obama/Pelosi over 70 percent.”

CONTEXT: The source cited in the ad, www.opencongress.org (the ad says .com, but that leads to the .org address), a project of the Participatory Politics Foundation, tracks all roll-call votes in Congress. It found that Minnick voted with his party - the Democrats - 74 percent of the time. But many of those were unanimous votes. The same site showed that Minnick voted with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just 57 percent of the time, but voted with GOP Congressman Mike Simpson of Idaho 77 percent of the time (it also showed Simpson voted with his party, the Republicans, 91 percent of the time), and Minnick voted with House GOP Leader John Boehner 78 percent of the time (Boehner voted with his party, the Republicans, 97 percent of the time).

CLAIM: “Voted for $68 billion in more stimulus, and Minnick won’t commit to repealing Obamacare. Bottom line, Minnick’s hiding his liberal Obama/Pelosi record.”

CONTEXT: Minnick voted against both the economic stimulus bill, HR 1, and the health-care reform bill, HR 3590. He was one of just 11 House Democrats to oppose the House version of the stimulus bill in February of 2009, and one of just seven to oppose the final version. He was one of 34 House Democrats to vote against the health-care reform bill.

The ad cites two other bills to back its stimulus claim, HR 1586, a state-aid bill for schools and Medicaid that was signed into law Aug. 10, and HR 5297, a measure establishing a small-business lending fund. Minnick voted for HR 1586, and he successfully pushed an amendment to HR 5297 to make non-owner occupied commercial real estate loans eligible for the program. Minnick also is a cosponsor of a Republican bill to repeal a section of the health care bill, regarding a record-keeping requirement for small businesses, and has backed repealing other sections as well.

Hardy said, “The use of the word ‘stimulus’ now is a catch-all, even by the media, for continued efforts to prop up the economy by the president and the Pelosi agenda.” He called both the school/Medicaid funding bill and the small-business lending fund bill “all stimulus,” and said, “It’s all a culture of spending that Raul Labrador does not support at all.”

CLAIM: “I’m Raul Labrador, and I approved this message because I’m a conservative Republican who’ll stand up to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.”

CONTEXT: Labrador is a conservative Republican who bucked his own party’s governor in the state Legislature on a proposed gas tax increase. Minnick is a conservative “blue-dog” Democrat who has bucked his party’s leadership on many of its signature initiatives and favors banning earmarks.

Allred: ‘No to the mega-loads’

Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred said today that he’s against the proposed mega-loads of oil equipment proposed to travel along Idaho’s narrow and scenic U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho, for which current Gov. Butch Otter has been an enthusiastic proponent. “In an Allred administration, these trucks wouldn’t get permits,” Allred said. “There simply are not good enough answers to the questions Idaho citizens have raised about these shipments.” You can read Allred’s full announcement here.

Labrador launches first ad, Minnick calls it ‘misleading, false’

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador has launched his first TV ad of the campaign, which just started running in the Boise market. In it, he sharply criticizes incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick on immigration, economic stimulus and health care reform, and declares, “Minnick’s hiding his liberal Obama/Pelosi record.” Minnick, who voted against both the economic stimulus bill and the health care reform bill, immediately denounced the new ad as “misleading” and “false.” You can watch it here; coming soon, a look at the claims and counter-claims.

Conoco wants quick go-ahead for mega-loads

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — ConocoPhillips is asking the Idaho Supreme Court to quickly announce whether it will uphold or overturn a lower court’s decision to halt the movement of four oversized loads of refinery equipment on Idaho roadways. ConocoPhillips wants to transfer the refinery equipment from Lewiston over Lolo Pass and in to Montana, where it will be used to upgrade a refinery in Billings, Mont. The Lewiston Tribune reports the company filed a motion Monday asking the high court to announce its decision as soon as possible, even if the written ruling is not yet available. The company says if a favorable decision is received quickly, it could still have time to move the loads over the pass before winter sets in. The court heard arguments on Oct. 1.

You can read Conoco’s motion here.

Political debates galore…

Tonight will be a political junkie channel-changer’s bonanza: The U.S. Senate debate airs live on Idaho Public Television at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific, with Sen. Mike Crapo debating his Democratic challenger Tom Sullivan; at the same time, KTVB-TV will air a debate between the candidates for state superintendent of schools, Tom Luna and challenger Stan Olson, who first faced off on IPTV last week. There’s more to come; tomorrow night is KTVB’s debate in the race for governor, with Gov. Butch Otter facing off with challengers Keith Allred and Jana Kemp; and on Thursday night on Idaho Public TV, it’s the big debate in the 1st Congressional District, in which freshman Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick faces off with GOP challenger Raul Labrador and independent Dave Olson.

Batt endorses Labrador, cites Minnick’s ads

Former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt has issued the following statement on the 1st Congressional District race:

“Walt Minnick has made some courageous votes in Congress, usually reflecting the views of most Idahoans. Nevertheless, it is imperative that this nation reverse the headlong rush toward fiscal insolvency taking place under the Democratic leadership. We must replace Speaker Pelosi and her crew of Democrats. Therefore, I am endorsing Mr. Raul Labrador for Congress. I supported Mr. Labrador’s opponent in the primary election and had intended to refrain from public comment during the period leading to the general election. But Mr. Minnick’s dishonest attempt to warp Mr. Labrador’s views on illegal immigration have prompted me to break my silence. I’m backing Raul Labrador for congressman from Idaho’s 1st District.”

Click here for more on this from Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey.

Hart on sheriff’s dept video on timber theft: ‘You can take ‘em off state land’

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Here’s video of Phil Hart being interviewed by the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department back in 1996 about the theft of timber from Idaho state school endowment land. In the video, obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law, Hart, now a three-term Idaho state representative, tells the sheriff’s department his reasoning for why he thought it was legal to cut down and take 8,000 board feet of timber from the state land to use in building his log home in Athol, an argument that subsequently was rejected three times in court.

Candidates get another day

The deadline to turn in the latest campaign finance reports, showing campaign activity from June 5 through September, was Oct. 10, but that was a Sunday. Then the next day, today, is Columbus Day, a state holiday. So the candidates have an extra two days to file, with their reports due tomorrow, the next business day. That doesn’t stop candidates from filing earlier, but most haven’t. According to the Idaho Secretary of State’s website, the statewide candidates who’ve already filed and had their reports posted include both candidates for Secretary of State; the Democratic challenger for state controller, Bruce Robinett; and the Democratic candidate for state Superintendent of Schools, Stan Olson, who is challenging GOP Supt. Tom Luna.

According to Olson’s report, he’s raised $103,772 for his campaign to date; spent $72,744; and had $31,027 on hand in his campaign warchest at the close of the period Sept. 30. Olson’s biggest contributions were $10,000 from the PAC for Education, $5,000 each from A.J. and Susie Balukoff, and $5,000 from Syringa Networks, but the vast majority of his donations were smaller contributions of $100 to $500 from individuals or couples who live in Idaho, a list that stretches on for 25 pages.

‘This is Newt Gingrich…’

The Idaho Republican Party today launched a big round of robo-calls in the 1st Congressional District featuring a recorded message from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich asking voters to send Republican Raul Labrador to Congress to help build a GOP majority there. “I’d rather not say the exact number, but it was a pretty substantial amount of homes we called, all today,” said Jonathan Parker, Idaho GOP executive director. He said the idea of using Gingrich, who became speaker in 1995, was to hearken back to the 1994 Republican electoral sweep he helped lead. “I think there’s a lot of parallels between 2010 and 1994,” Parker said.

Parker spoke from the Idaho Republican Bus Tour, which kicked off this week and this afternoon was rolling out of Cascade with candidates aboard including Gov. Butch Otter, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Labrador, Tom Luna and Ben Ysursa. “It’s a great party unity event,” Parker said of the bus tour, which hits southern and eastern Idaho this week, and heads to North Idaho next week.

Conservative Union backs Labrador, small-business federation backs Minnick

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador has won the endorsement of the American Conservative Union PAC, whose director, Larry Hart, called Labrador “the clear conservative choice for Idaho’s First District,” and lauded his record in the Idaho Legislature. You can read Labrador’s full announcement here.

Meanwhile, incumbent 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick has won the endorsement of the National Federation of Independent Business, whose vice president, Lisa Goeas, said Minnick’s “commitment to Idaho’s Main Street businesses speaks for itself,” and lauded his votes in Congress against health care reform and cap-and-trade legislation. You can read Minnick’s full announcement here.

Rep. Hart logged school land to build house; says ‘loophole’ made it OK

Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart stole timber from state land to build his log home in Athol in 1996, according to court documents, and still hasn’t paid a judgment against him for the theft. What’s more, the property Hart illegally logged is school endowment land, meaning the timber there is supposed to benefit Idaho’s public schools.

Hart contended then – and still does today – that a loophole in state law allowed him, as a citizen, to cut and take the logs, totaling nearly 8,000 board feet of timber. But three court rulings found that argument not only wrong but unreasonable and “frivolous.” In court documents, the state called Hart’s conduct “a blatant, unjustified trespass on state endowment land that resulted in a substantial loss to the state’s school endowment fund.”

Hart, whose only opponent for a fourth House term this November is a write-in candidate, did forfeit a $5,000 bond he had to put up for his last appeal in the case. And he may have made a partial payment for attorney fees; state records are unclear. But liens against Hart filed in Kootenai County by the Idaho Department of Lands for $22,827 were never lifted – and now they’re not enforceable, because more than five years has passed since the judgment. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, read the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department investigative report on the log theft here, read the Court of Appeals Decision in the case here, and click below to read a summary of Idaho’s school endowment and how it works.

More mega-loads proposed for Hwy 12, ITD quietly met with Korean firm Sept. 15

The Idaho Transportation Department met with a Korean firm in September that wants to move another 40 to 60 giant truckloads of oil equipment across scenic U.S. Highway 12, and local residents who are suing over four other shipments didn’t find out until their attorney filed a public records request. ITD officials met with half a dozen representatives of Harvest Energy and its associates on Sept. 15 to discuss the additional oversized truckloads, proposed to start in June of 2011 and travel through Idaho and Montana on the way to the Alberta oil sands project in Canada. The loads would travel from the Port of Vancouver to the Port of Lewiston by barge; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

“A single state agency is in the process of changing forever the character of Idaho’s Clearwater-Lochsa corridor,” Highway 12 residents Borg Hendrickson and Linwood Laughy said in an email. They decried “closed-door meetings” and a lack of input. Adam Rush, ITD spokesman, said, “The transportation department and Harvest Energy discussed load dimensions, bridges on U.S. 12, clearances, traffic control plans and the weight of shipments. No proposals were submitted to ITD by Harvest Energy. June of 2011 was mentioned as a preliminary start date to move equipment.” He added, “The department meets routinely with haulers who have questions about permits.”

The Idaho Supreme Court is currently weighing an appeal by ITD and ConocoPhillips of a lower court decision to revoke permits for four mega-loads to travel the route right away. Laughy is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that blocked the permits, charging that ITD violated its own regulations in granting them.

Allred dubs new GOP ad ‘wild distortion’

The Idaho Republican Party’s new attack ad against Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred charges that he’d tax everything from child care to church bake sales, a claim Allred dubs a “wild distortion.” Norm Semanko, Idaho Republican Party chairman, said the new TV commercial, which is running statewide including in the Spokane TV market, is based on Allred’s statement at a debate in Twin Falls that everything is on the table when it comes to reviewing existing tax exemptions.

“That means school lunches,” Semanko said. “That means sales of meals by churches to their members - all of these things are in Idaho Code as tax breaks. That seems to be a very dangerous road to head down during tough economic times.”

Allred, however, says his proposal is not to raise taxes, but to broaden the tax base by removing exemptions to allow overall tax rates to be lowered. “I have been absolutely consistent for the entire 10 months of this campaign that every dollar raised by closing tax exemptions goes to cutting tax rates on Idaho families,” Allred said Friday. “That is my iron-clad commitment. I have never talked about anything else.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Crapo on list of top three senators for taking contributions that exceed limits

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: MIAMI (AP) — Three U.S. Senate candidates are responsible for nearly half the notices the Federal Election Commission has issued in the past year for taking contributions that appear to exceed federal limits. An Associated Press analysis found that GOP candidates Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho have received four notices each, while New York’s Democratic senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, got three. Thirteen other candidates have received one notice each. There are 75 major candidates still in Senate races nationwide. Individuals can donate up to $2,400 per candidate for the primary and another $2,400 for the general election. The FEC says it often contacts candidates about such problems. Most turn out to be accounting errors; click below for the AP’s full report.

Labrador says he raised $250K in past quarter; still lags Minnick

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador has announced that he’s had his best campaign fundraising quarter, and raised more than $250,000 in monetary and in-kind contributions combined during the quarter that ended Sept. 30. The report on that quarter isn’t due out for another week; that’s when full details will emerge. As of the last quarterly report, which went through June 30 and came out July 15, incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick had a million-dollar edge over Labrador in cash on hand. He’d raised $1.8 million, while Labrador had raised $285,673 including $100,000 of his own money; Minnick had $1.14 million on hand, while Labrador had $68,789.

In a news release today, Labrador said he’ll release full figures at the deadline, but said his campaign has now received more than $525,000 in total contributions. “I want to thank everyone who made these generous donations to my campaign; this is yet more proof that my candidacy has all the momentum in this race,” Labrador said.

Meanwhile, Minnick’s campaign announced that he raised more than $525,000 in the past quarter, not including any in-kind donations, and more than $2.4 million total for the election cycle.

National lower-immigration group rates both Minnick, Labrador as ‘true reformers’

A national group that supports curbs on immigration has weighed in on Idaho’s 1st CD race, the AP reports, and declared both Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick and his Republican challenger Raul Labrador “true reformers.” Click below to read the full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Lively debates for two lower-profile offices

Lively debates tonight for a couple of lower-profile statewide elected positions, Secretary of State and Lieutenant Governor. Here, in this Idaho Public TV photo, Mack Sermon, left, Democratic challenger, speaks; incumbent Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is at right. Sermon championed vote-by-mail, saying Idaho would save “millions,” and called for election reforms. Ysursa said he’s proud of his record, and objected - though only mildly - when Sermon said he thought his current job as a college debate coach was just as complicated as serving as secretary of state. Ysursa said he thought it was important to debate his challenger: “I truly believe that participation is the essence of democracy.”

In the lieutenant governor’s debate, Lt. Gov. Brad Little faced off with Democratic challenger Eldon Wallace, and there were some quick points of agreement. Both said they wouldn’t veto bills the governor wanted signed when the governor is out of town - as then Lt. Gov. Butch Otter did in 1987 on raising Idaho’s drinking age. Both also endorsed all three constitutional amendments regarding municipal debt that are on the November ballot.

Idaho Debates: LtGov and Secretary of State

The “Idaho Debates” tonight will feature the candidates for Lieutenant Governor, incumbent Republican Brad Little and Democratic challenger Eldon Wallace, starting at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific; followed by the candidates for Secretary of State, incumbent Republican Ben Ysursa and Democratic challenger Mack Sermon, at 8:30 Mountain, 7:30 Pacific. Watch it live on Idaho Public TV, or head down and see it in person at the Capitol Auditorium (enter from 8th Street stairs).

Labrador releases own poll, showing Minnick still ahead but lead shrinking

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador released his own poll today showing Minnick leading him 37 percent to 31 percent, with 6 percent each for independent Dave Olson and Libertarian Mike Washburn and 21 percent undecided or favoring none of the candidates. The poll was conducted by Moore Information, which also did Labrador’s July 15 poll that showed Minnick leading Labrador by 10 points, 37-28 percent, with 26 percent undecided. “The momentum is with us,” said Labrador, who said he was “delighted” with his latest poll results; you can read more about it here.

The independent Idaho Newspapers Poll, conducted Sept. 13-15 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, showed Minnick leading Labrador 46-36 percent.

Idaho state GOP launches anti-Allred ad

The Idaho Republican Party has come out with a new TV commercial attacking Keith Allred, the Democratic candidate for governor, which is airing statewide, starting yesterday in the Treasure Valley and throughout the rest of the state, including the Spokane market, today. “It’s an independent expenditure by the state party,” said Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko. “It’s a substantial buy.” You can see the commercial here. Coming tomorrow: A look at the claims.

Minnick wins police endorsement, Labrador plans rally with ‘Fire Pelosi Bus’

Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick has been endorsed by the Idaho Fraternal Order of Police, who said in a statement that the freshman Democrat “has shown that he is someone Idaho can trust on issues important to anyone who cares about enforcing the rule of law.” You can see Minnick’s announcement here.

Meanwhile, Minnick’s GOP challenger Raul Labrador announced that he’ll hold a rally on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in Caldwell, when the Republican National Committee’s “Fire Pelosi Bus” comes to town; there’s more info here. Labrador says he’ll give a “major campaign address.”

Ad Watch: Allred’s latest commercial

Keith Allred, the Democratic candidate for governor, has a new TV commercial out that’s running statewide. Like his last one, it criticizes Gov. Butch Otter for this year’s 7.5 percent cut in funding for public schools. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and here’s a look at the claims:

CLAIM: “We have a great country and a great state because we’ve invested in education. Cost-effective investments in education are an investment in a strong economy with the new and better jobs that go with it.”

CONTEXT: Few would dispute this claim; Otter has made similar statements.

CLAIM: “This is a governor who doesn’t get it when it comes to the priority that education is. He cut education for the first time in Idaho history, a whopping seven and a half percent, while also trying to raise taxes. It didn’t have to happen.”

CONTEXT: It’s true that Otter and the Legislature cut public school funding by 7.5 percent this year, though Otter notes that other programs took deeper cuts; but the tax increase that Otter championed, a gas tax hike to fund road maintenance, was pushed unsuccessfully in the two previous years, the 2009 and 2008 legislative sessions. Otter made no gas tax proposal this year, instead opting to appoint a transportation funding task force that will make recommendations in December, after the election; that task force is meeting again tomorrow.

Jim Weatherby, political scientist emeritus at Boise State University, said, “The timing here is off. It’s clear he’s talking about 2010 here, but then using a 2009 reference. It’s not completely accurate.”

The claim about cutting education for the first time is something even Otter acknowledges. Idaho actually cut general funds for public schools the previous year by $68 million, a first, but that year, the difference was mostly made up with federal stimulus funds, leaving schools with an overall funding increase of a fraction of a percent. This year’s cut is a drop in total funding for schools.

Allred’s claim that “it didn’t have to happen” refers to his position that the state shouldn’t have low-balled tax revenue projections for this year, forcing deeper cuts, and should have funded more tax collectors to collect due but uncollected taxes, a move the Tax Commission says would bring in millions. If estimates held, those two moves would have added up to millions more than this year’s $128.5 million cut in school funding.

Questions, questions…

UPDATE: This is tonight! Granted, these are not the most high-profile state elected offices, but they do matter - the lieutenant governor, for example, casts tie-breaking votes in the state Senate, and the Secretary of State is our state’s chief election official and serves on the state Land Board, which oversees state endowment lands. Please post your questions here - in the comments section below - by 4 p.m. today…

I’m on the reporter panel for the “Idaho Debates” tomorrow night - that’s the Lieutenant Governor debate Thursday at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific time, and the Secretary of State debate at 8:30 p.m. Mountain time, 7:30 Pacific, both to be broadcast live on Idaho Public Television - and we need viewer/audience questions. Your questions for the candidates - Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Democratic challenger Eldon Wallace, and Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and Democratic challenger Mack Sermon - can be submitted on Facebook here, on Twitter with the hashtags #LittleWallace or #YsursaSermon, or even, if you do it before 4 p.m. Thursday, as comments on this blog post right here. Fire away!

Otter: ‘Mitt and I have similar value systems’

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s campaign visits to southern and eastern Idaho by Mitt Romney, as Gov. Butch Otter moves to shore up support among LDS voters. BSU political scientist emeritus Jim Weatherby said, “I’m not surprised Otter brought Romney in, not for his support of a health care mandate in Massachusetts, but for his popularity in eastern Idaho.” Otter is a vocal opponent of a government mandate that individuals  purchase health insurance; Idaho is suing the federal government over the issue. Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, enacted a mandate there as a key part of that state’s health care reforms.

The LDS vote, Weatherby said, is “a significant factor in eastern Idaho, where Butch Otter has not run very strongly.” Otter said, “Mitt and I have very similar value systems and I consider him a close friend and confidant.”

Otter decides to break silence on amendments, earlier said he’d take no position

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has abandoned his silence — at least partially — on three constitutional amendments on the Nov. 2 ballot. Earlier this week, he declined to take a position. His rival, Democratic candidate Keith Allred, supports all three. Otter now says he supports letting 11 municipal power companies sign longterm energy contracts, without a vote of the people. But he’s still deciding on the other two amendments. They’d allow publicly owned airports and hospitals to take on debt without an election, provided revenue, not taxes, covers the projects being financed. Otter says he’s still waiting to hear if public projects in other states financed by revenue bonds ever left taxpayers on the hook in the event of a default. His says his support will depend on whether he’s satisfied taxpayers are protected.

Allred response: ‘Unfortunate use of religious, partisan labels’

Here’s Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred’s response to incumbent Gov. Butch Otter’s campaign rally with Mitt Romney in Boise today and Frank VanderSloot’s comments there:

“It’s unfortunate that Frank Vandersloot wants to use religious and partisan labels to distract people from the actual positions held by the candidates. I stand for keeping taxes low on Idaho families and providing a great education for Idaho schoolkids. These are priorities that Republicans and Democrats, Mormons and non-Mormons alike support. By contrast, Butch Otter tried to raise taxes on Idaho families during the worst recession in our lifetimes, and pushed through an historic cut to Idaho’s schools. It’s precisely because my priorities are resonating so well with Idahoans that Butch Otter has asked Mitt Romney to ride to his rescue.”
 

Romney stumps for Otter in Boise

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter brought in former presidential candidate Mitt Romney to stump for him today in Idaho Falls and Boise, in an effort to pump up support among LDS voters in southern and eastern Idaho. Idaho Falls businessman Frank VanderSloot, who hosted the Idaho Falls campaign stop at his Melaleuca Inc. headquarters, rallied the crowd in Boise, saying Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, has been sending eastern Idaho Mormons the message, “I’m Mormon so vote for me because I’m one of you guys.” VanderSloot said, “My answer to that is, well, Harry Reid is a Mormon.”

A third of Idaho’s population belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Romney and VanderSloot are members, as is Allred; Otter is Catholic. Allred, who is running as a Democrat but has made his mark as a non-partisan citizen activist, has recently announced the support of a number of prominent eastern Idaho Republicans, many of whom are LDS. The recent Idaho Newspapers Poll showed Otter ahead of Allred statewide 45 percent to 29 percent, but in southeastern Idaho, that lead shrank to 42 percent to 36 percent.

Romney, who also came to Idaho to campaign for Otter when he first ran for governor four years ago, told a crowd of more than 100 at the Linen Building in Boise, “People recognize we’ve got a chance to get this country on the right course again.” He criticized “liberals,” and said, “They’re smothering the spirit that makes America such an engine of vitality and growth, and we’re not going to let them do that.” He said, “When things are tough … that’s when you test the real mettle of a leader,” and said Otter showed his leadership as governor by making “sure that the state government lives within its means.”

Otter, speaking after Romney, called up the four statewide elected officials who were in the audience - Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, state Controller Donna Jones and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden - to join him, and said, “We’re asking you now to keep this team together. … The last four years this team, along with the state Legislature, has had to make some tough decisions.” The Boise rally, which was free, followed a luncheon at Chandler’s steakhouse downtown for big-dollar campaign contributors, at which Otter spoke and Romney mingled; about 60 people attended. In Idaho Falls, Otter campaign spokesman Ryan Panitz estimated 400 to 500 people attended a rally in a large auditorium at Melaleuca, about a quarter of them Melaleuca employees.

The debate for state schools chief…

Here’s a link to my story at spokesman.com on the debate tonight between the two candidates seeking to lead Idaho’s school system for the next four years, and you can click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner. Tonight’s live debate was the first in a series; the “Idaho Debates” continue on Thursday with candidates for Secretary of State and Lieutenant Governor facing off, followed in the coming weeks by the candidates for U.S. Senate, Congress and governor. The Idaho Debates are sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club, and are broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television; click here for more info.

Supt candidates speak out in closing comments

In their closing comments at the end of tonight’s debate, each candidate for superintendent of public instruction spoke out. “Idaho needs a real advocate for education,” incumbent Supt. Tom Luna declared. He then asked, “Is an advocate for education someone like me who is reducing his pay by 4 percent … (or) my opponent, who pays himself $175,000 a year and doesn’t reduce his pay by one dollar?” He said, “Folks, actions speak louder than words. I have always been an advocate for public education, not just in words but in deed.” He said kids need to realize their dreams. “If you elect me again, I’ll fight every day to make that happen.”

Olson said there are “very defined distinctions between the two of us.” He said of Luna’s comments in the debate, “I’ve heard this for four years, I have been boots-on-the-ground on the receiving end of this and I know full well that politics has trumped educational leadership year after year after year.” The state’s largest school districts have been “able to deal with it and move forward,” he said, but not the majority of districts that are smaller and rural. “We need to do better,” Olson said. “We are cheating the children of the state. We are giving them false hopes and giving them inadequate preparation … for the life that is before them. … We must do better.” He said he wants to “begin the process of transforming education back to where it should be.”

Candidates on their backgrounds…

Asked how their backgrounds - Luna’s as a businessman, and Olson’s as an educator - qualify them to serve as state superintendent, Olson, answering first, said he, too is a businessman, recounting the budget he oversaw at the Boise School District, the large number of service centers - schools - and clients - students. “We run a business operation from stem to stern,” he said. “Interestingly enough, our budget plan for the last six years has received national recognition for the work that’s been done by our staff and our board of trustees.”

Luna said, “I’ve been involved in improving education for twice as long as my opponent’s lived in Idaho. … Along with my business background, it’s helped me to see education from many, many different angles.” He said his business background helped him “analyze every source of revenue … every funding formula, to find ways to operate more efficiently to get more money into the classroom, because that’s where education happens.”

Teacher pay and a ‘parallel universe’

Asked about teacher pay, Luna said, “We have to do something about low teacher pay not just in Idaho but across the country. … We have to give teachers in Idaho more control over how much money they make.” He said he’s a proponent of career ladders and pay for performance. Olson said, “I know you are a proponent,” but said Luna didn’t execute because his pay-for-performance proposal for teachers was “not appropriate for the state, wasn’t well thought out and it was a boondoggle.” Luna responded that no Democrats voted for his plan because “the union” objected. He said, “Teachers don’t like the current system that they work in. They want it changed.” Luna said after his ISTARS proposal failed, he reached an agreement with the teachers’ association, the superintendents’ association, and others, and “when the economy turns around we’ll be ready to roll it forward.” Olson questioned that, and said, “I must have been serving in a parallel universe.”

Clashing on math initiative…

Asked about the state’s math initiative, Luna said it’s had “tremendous impact.” He noted that, among other changes, students are choosing to do additional math through the Apangea math program he’s added in classrooms. “We have states from all over the country that are coming to Idaho to learn about our math initiative,” Luna said. Olson said that program hasn’t impacted instruction, and questioned whether its manufacturer was a campaign contributor to Luna. “It would be compared to the rooster crowing in the morning being credited for the sunrise,” he said.

Luna: ‘That’s because it’s difficult, folks’

Reporter panelist Michelle Edmonds of KIVI-TV asked the two candidates if they’d take the ISAT test themselves and publicize their scores, a question that was submitted by a viewer online. Olson said, “I would not want to take especially the math portion of the ISAT. … Math is an area that I have struggled with all of my life, and still am in the process of developing my skills and my understanding.” Luna responded, “So let me see if I understand this right - this test is such a low bar and so easy, but it’s something you would avoid taking? … That’s because it’s difficult, folks.” He added, “As a matter of fact, I took those tests.” Luna said he, many legislators, and then-Gov. Kempthorne took the test when it was first rolled out. Olson responded, “We’re not allowed to open up the test” and administer it to others. “That’s bad test protocol.”

‘Have to tell you about that some day’

Challenger Stan Olson was describing a program in the Boise School District, which he headed as superintendent until his retirement this summer, and said, “It’s kind of like defending a dissertation - I’ll have to tell you about that some day.” That was a crack at Luna’s lack of a doctoral degree in education - Luna has only a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with a focus on measurement science, while Olson has doctorate, master’s, specialist and bachelor’s degrees in education.

Debate: ‘We’re lying to our children’

Asked about testing and the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, Olson said of Idaho educators, “They know like I know that ISAT is a low-bar assessment.” Among the standards Idaho’s students should be tested for, he said, is “post-secondary readiness, and we’re lying to our children when we tell them the ISAT will get them there.”

Luna said the percentage of Idaho schools making “adequate yearly progress” under the No Child Left Behind Act, measured by the ISAT, has risen sharply. “Idaho has been a national leader in the increase of the number of our schools meeting these academic goals,” he said. “Mr. Olson will try to tell you this is an easy thing to do.” He added, “I believe that every child can learn and every school can be successful - my opponent apparently does not.”

Olson said the state is using “sealing wax, smoke and mirrors” to boost those percentages. “Our focus again needs to be on assessment that matters and that makes a difference, and that helps children establish where they are and where they need to go, and helps teachers.” He said some of the state’s top schools didn’t make AYP, and called it “nonsense.”

Candidates spar over budget, ‘special interests’

There was a pretty heated back-and-forth between the two candidates when they were asked by reporter panelist Adam Cotterell of Boise State Public Radio what they would have done differently in this year’s cuts in school funding. Luna said, “I would have preferred that the Legislature would have followed the … budget that I proposed.” He said that “special interests” insisted on different approaches, including cuts in things like classroom supplies that he didn’t want to make. Olson responded that “those special interests” are the educators involved, and that they should have a part in the decisions.

Supt candidates on ‘turning over every rock’ to find more money for schools

Incumbent state Supt. Tom Luna said he went to the state Land Board for more money for schools “when everybody else threw up their hands.” He said, “I fought that battle and in many ways fought it alone, and we were successful in getting $22 million. I still think there’s $30 million that could have been distributed. … I’ll continue to turn over every rock, I’ll shake every tree.”

Olson responded, “The problem with the rock turning … is that it’s all 11th-hour and 59th minute. My question is, Where were you three years ago and four years ago?”

Olson, Luna address revenue for schools

Reporter panelist Bill Roberts of the Idaho Statesman asked the two candidates if they’d support more revenue to spare schools from additional cuts next year. Olson said, “Before we spend the next dollar, we’ve got to … define a thorough system of education. … We keep getting an 11th-hour version of what that is.” Luna said he’d support taxing online sales, and “make sure that our Tax Commission has the right amount of tax collectors,” which he said would “immediately increase our tax revenue considerably and begin to provide more and more money for education.”

Why they’re running…

The first question for the two candidates, from moderator Thanh Tan of Idaho Public Television, was why each candidate is running for the position of state superintendent of schools. Incumbent Republican Tom Luna, who was first to answer, said, in part, “When I ran for this office I said that I wanted to be judged based on results, meaning higher student achievement. … Throughout this debate we’re going to have an opportunity to talk about the results we’ve seen the last four years.”

Olson said, “I”m a practitioner, I’ve been in the field 40 years. … We need to do much better, we are not doing well by our children, we are not doing well by our state.”

Ready for the debate…

People are filtering in for tonight’s debate, the first of the “Idaho Debates” this fall and the big face-off between the candidates for state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Here, reporter panelists and moderator Thanh Tan, left, of Idaho Public Television, get set up. Here’s a look at the two candidates:

Tom Luna, 51
Republican
Bio: Incumbent superintendent, elected in 2006; senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, 2003 to 2005; businessman, owner of Scales Unlimited; served seven years on Nampa, Idaho school board, including three years as chairman; attended Ricks College and Boise State University; online bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison University in liberal arts with focus in measurement science, 2002; married, six children, five grandchildren.
Campaign promises: “My goal is to continue to change the culture of education to a customer driven system where we make decisions based on the customers of education and not what’s best and most comfortable for the bureaucracy of education.  Idaho is now recognized as a leader in student achievement, and my commitment is to continue to fight for the resources and reforms to keep student achievement moving forward.”

Stan Olson, 60
Democrat
Bio: Boise School District superintendent, 2002 to retirement on June 30 of this year; education career started as teacher and coach in 1971, included administrative posts in Michigan and Wyoming before Idaho; doctorate degree in educational leadership, Western Michigan University, 1983; master’s degree in education, Eastern Michigan University, 1977; bachelor’s degree in education, Central Michigan University, 1970; married, two children, two grandchildren
Campaign promises: “Forty years of educational experience has taught me that collaboration with parents, legislators, students, educators, and business leaders to build a strategic plan is the best way to help every student in Idaho succeed. I promise to cultivate such relationships to produce verifiable educational results, guarantee adequate funding for top priorities, ensure post-secondary readiness, and focus on educational success for all children, not on political ideology.”

Otter says he’ll sign ‘Spice’ ban Friday

Gov. Butch Otter says on Friday he’ll sign a temporary rule proposed by the state Board of Pharmacy to add the chemicals used in “Spice,” a form of synthetic marijuana, to the state’s controlled substances list. The state Legislature then will consider making that move permanent when it convenes for its regular session in January. Click below to read Otter’s full announcement.

Labrador: ‘This is a lie’

You can read my full story here about Congressman Walt Minnick’s latest campaign commercial, which is out today and replaces both of his earlier ads; the new one, like one of the earlier ones, faults Minnick’s GOP challenger, Raul Labrador, on immigration. Labrador decried the new ad as “deceptive” and “intentionally misleading;” Minnick’s campaign defended it as “informational” and “the truth.”

Meanwhile, Minnick also launched a radio ad that’s similar to the new TV ad but longer, with former U.S. Marshal for Idaho Mike Johnson talking about illegal immigration and about a do-it-yourself immigration law website Labrador operated until three years ago. In the radio ad, Johnson says, “Raul Labrador profited on immigration by selling documents to people they could have gotten for free,” a claim Minnick himself also made this week in an op-piece distributed to Idaho newspapers that editorialized against his earlier immigration ad. “Raul’s business website sold immigration documents that could be obtained for free from the U.S. government, taking advantage of those who did not know better,” Minnick wrote in the op-ed article.

Labrador sharply disputed that point, and said he never sold official immigration forms. “This is a lie,” Labrador said today. “It’s a complete fabrication. … I did not sell documents people could have gotten for free. I included forms, but that’s not what I was selling.” The do-it-yourself immigration law packets focused on instructions, Labrador said. “They had instructions on how to fill out the forms and included the forms for the convenience,” he said, “and it also sent them to the USCIS website so they could get the latest forms, just in case forms had changed.” He said, “They’re trying to say that I was trying to dupe people - it’s not true.”

Minnick’s campaign pointed to an Associated Press article about Labrador’s website, which said, “Some packets included forms seeking the same information as a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services questionnaire would ask, though the materials noted that rapidimmigration.com would use the information to fill in the federal application forms.” It also provided copies of a federal form and a form from one of Labrador’s packets that sought identical information.

Big debate tonight for state schools chief

Tonight is the big debate in the race for state superintendent of schools - incumbent Supt. Tom Luna vs. challenger Stan Olson. You can watch the debate live on Idaho Public Television starting at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific time, and submit your questions for the candidates on the IPTV Facebook page here. I’ll have live updates here at Eye on Boise. The debate will take place before a live audience in the Capitol Auditorium, and will be followed by a discussion and analysis to be broadcast online at www.idahoptv.org. Click here for more info.

Otter won’t take stand on amendments

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has refused to take a public stand on three proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 2 ballot, playing it safe on an issue he knows could alienate voters regardless of which side he came down on. His Democratic rival Keith Allred supports the amendments, to help local governments take on debt for projects or enter into longterm contracts without first asking voters, provided no taxpayer money is at stake. Otter says it’s up to voters, insisting he doesn’t want to “unduly influence” anybody’s view on measures he neither initiated nor championed. But the issue is dicey, especially this year, on an issue that’s divided the Idaho Republican Party: The GOP-led Legislature backed the amendments, while tea-party-leaning conservatives are fighting them fiercely.

Here’s a link to our recent full story on the three amendments by reporter Alison Boggs.

1st CD rivals focus on immigration issue

Here’s a link to our full story in today’s Spokesman-Review on Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s appearance in Coeur d’Alene at a Republican fundraiser yesterday, where he endorsed Raul Labrador’s run for Congress, saying Labrador will “help America solve the problem of illegal immigration.” Meanwhile, incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick has come out with a new campaign commercial - replacing the two he was running earlier, including one sharply criticizing Labrador on immigration - and the new one also faults Labrador’s immigration record, this time with former U.S. Marshal for Idaho Mike Johnson talking. You can see the new ad here.

Report: Kootenai GOP fractured over Hart

According to an article in today’s Coeur d’Alene Press, the Republican Party in Kootenai County has fractured, in part over the tax woes of Rep. Phil Hart. “What you’ve got is a group of wackos that have taken over the party,” Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, told the newspaper, “and they are supporting Phil Hart’s agenda.” Hart told the paper that now is a time for “party unity” with the general election approaching; you can read the Press story here.

IRS backtracks - Hart owes a little over half a million, not a million

The IRS has reversed itself and now says the new liens it filed last week against tax-protesting Idaho Rep. Phil Hart as a nominee of a trust could duplicate other liens it earlier filed against Hart personally; it’s a nearly half-million-dollar difference when it comes to total tax debt for Hart, who maintains his decade-and-a-half fight with the IRS is the result of political persecution. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Today’s IRS comments were the opposite of what the agency said on Friday, when IRS spokeswoman Karen Connelly said the IRS typically won’t file duplicate liens for the same tax debt, and said, “No, generally speaking, you add them together, because otherwise, it’s sort of like double jeopardy. If it’s an individual plus a nominee on a trust, usually those two amounts would be for two separate tax issues.”

Today, Connelly said she’d been mistaken. “Apparently nominee liens can and often do cover the same tax debt as individual liens,” she said. Here’s why it makes a difference: A line-by-line comparison of liens the IRS has filed against Hart and those it’s filed against him as a nominee of the trust that owns his Athol home shows that virtually all of the liens against the house trust duplicate some, though not all, of the liens against Hart himself. That means Hart’s total tax debt to the IRS, as identified in liens that are public record, should be reduced from $941,347.90 to $493,088.91. That includes the $471,269.79 the IRS has filed in liens against Hart personally, plus the $21,819.12 in liens it’s filed against another trust Hart set up as owner of his Hayden engineering firm; those liens are for business taxes and do not duplicate the other liens. When his state income tax debt of $53,523, an amount he’s still attempting to appeal, is added to the total, it brings Hart’s total state and federal tax debt for back taxes, penalties and interest to $546,611.91.

So what’s the significance of the new liens filed last week? They show the agency is still going after Hart, though he contends he’s paid thousands in taxes in the past five years and is in negotiations with the IRS about the remaining amounts he owes. Hart said Friday that he didn’t want to discuss those negotiations, but that they’re still ongoing. Interestingly, the liens the IRS has filed against the trust that owns Hart’s home now total $448,258.99 - far more than the assessed value of the home, which according to Kootenai County records is just $271,573.

The IRS doesn’t comment on individual taxpayers’ cases, but Connelly said she wanted to “set the record straight” about her earlier comments on duplicate liens. “The IRS nominee lien secures the government’s interest in property that a taxpayer transfers to a nominee entity,” she said. “We file a ‘regular’ tax lien and also a nominee lien for the same tax years. In essence, it can be construed as a duplicate lien. We need it to ensure creditors understand the IRS has a lien interest in the property that is titled to a nominee.”

See the candidates clash: It’s debate season

It’s debate season, with major debates set in the coming weeks in Idaho’s top political races, giving voters who tune in a chance to see and compare the candidates. The Idaho Debates, which have been sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club and aired on Idaho Public Television live for the past three decades, kick off this week with tomorrow night’s live debate in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction, and on Thursday night, debates in the contests for Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State.

The superintendent’s debate, featuring incumbent Republican Tom Luna and Democratic challenger Stan Olson, will be broadcast live tomorrow night starting at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific time, from the Capitol auditorium, where it will take place before a live audience. On Thursday night, the Lieutenant Governor debate will air at 8 p.m. Mountain, 7 p.m. Pacific, followed by the Secretary of State debate a half-hour later.

There’s more: Candidates for U.S. Senate, including incumbent Mike Crapo and Democratic challenger Tom Sullivan, will debate on Oct. 12; candidates for the 1st Congressional District seat, including incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick, GOP challenger Raul Labrador and independent Dave Olson, will debate on Oct. 14; and  all five candidates for governor will face off in a live debate on Oct. 28th. Each debate will be followed by a live online post-debate analysis and discussion; this year’s Idaho Debates are co-sponsored by a wide array of media partners, including the Associated Press, KIVI-TV, KBOI-TV, the Idaho State Broadcasters Association, the Idaho Statesman and more.

Candidates for governor also are scheduled to debate Oct. 13 at the College of Idaho, in a separate debate organized by three TV stations including KTVB-TV in Boise.

First Exxon loads arriving from Korea

The first shipments of oil field equipment for Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil’s Kearl oil sands project in Canada will arrive at the Port of Vancouver from Korea on Monday, the Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. reports; those are the mega-loads that ExxonMobil hopes to truck through Idaho along scenic U.S. Highway 12 from the Port of Lewiston, then through Montana and up to Canada, starting in November and lasting for a year, though the company doesn’t have permits yet from either Idaho or Montana. You can read the Columbian’s report here. The Port of Vancouver is expecting to make $1 million from having the oversized loads pass through its port.

Financial woes surround Canyon County prosecutor resignation

The news that Canyon County Prosecutor John Bujak was resigning on Friday was quickly followed by the revelation that Bujak owes the county hundreds of thousands of dollars, money he collected under a contract to have the county handle prosecutions for the city of Nampa, but didn’t turn over to the county. Here’s a link to the Idaho Press-Tribune’s coverage today of the story, and here’s a link to the Idaho Statesman story, which notes that Bujak has had financial troubles since he was elected prosecutor two years ago; his Nampa home went into foreclosure in 2009, and Idaho court records list a variety of civil claims against him. Canyon County commissioners accepted Bujak’s resignation on Friday; deputy prosecutor Tim Fleming will fill in until a new prosecutor is named.

IRS hits Hart with new liens, total tax debt now approaching $1 million

The Internal Revenue Service has filed another nearly $300,000 in tax liens against Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, bringing the total that public records show Hart owes in back taxes, interest and penalties to nearly a million dollars. The IRS filed two liens for $292,935 against Hart on Wednesday in Kootenai County, both targeting Hart as a nominee for the trust that owns his Athol home. All are for individual income taxes, penalties and interest from the tax years 1997 through 2003, plus 2006 and 2008. In addition, on Sept. 7, the federal tax agency filed another $3,906.86 in liens against the trust that owns Hart’s North Idaho engineering firm; those liens were for withholding taxes and corporate income taxes.
    
Hart said Friday that he was unaware of the additional liens until informed of them by a reporter. “I’m finding out about it for the first time,” he said. Asked why the IRS might be filing additional large liens against him now, Hart said, “Well, all I know is it’s the election season.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see the new liens here.

Idaho appeals wolf ruling, Otter criticizes Montana judge

Idaho filed an appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today, asking the appellate court to reverse U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy’s decision to return wolves to the endangered species list. Gov. Butch Otter, in a news release, denounced the Montana judge, saying his ruling yesterday overturning the “Idaho Firearms Freedom Act” and several other state laws that sought to end federal regulation of guns sales within states, combined with his wolf ruling, showed “a troubling pattern” and “disdain” for states’ rights under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Click below to read Otter’s full release.

Justices pondering Highway 12 mega-loads case

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on this morning’s arguments at the Idaho Supreme Court in the Highway 12 mega-loads case, in which the justices raised complex legal issues along with lots of questions; they then took the case under advisement and will issue a written ruling. And here’s ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten’s statement on this morning’s hearing:  “ITD thanks the Supreme Court for its attention and focus on the issues. We believe we made a strong argument demonstrating the department acted appropriately, within its own rules and the laws of the state. We look forward to the court’s decision.”

Promises, promises…

Here are the campaign promises offered by the five candidates for governor of Idaho this year:

Butch Otter, Republican incumbent:  “I am committed to keep working tirelessly to grow Idaho’s economy and career opportunities for our citizens and our communities; I promise to keep protecting the people of Idaho from the additional financial burden of government excess; I promise to do even more to ensure that state government lives within the people’s means; I promise to keep protecting and improving educational opportunities for all Idahoans; I promise to promote greater liberty, wider opportunity and more economic prosperity; and I promise to keep protecting Idaho’s family and faith-based values.”

Keith Allred, Democrat: “I have two main priorities: lower taxes to help small businesses generate more jobs, and a stronger education system. We cannot build a great state without making sure we give all of our kids an equal opportunity for a great education.”

Jana Kemp, independent:  “As governor I will bring an end to the good ol’ boy decision making structure that is not looking out for the best interests of our whole state. As governor I will build businesses and education so that we have a great place to work and live.”

Ted Dunlap, Libertarian: “As governor, I will reduce government size, cost and intrusion. I will increase your control over your money and your life.”

Pro-Life,” independent:  “I will stop pre-born baby murder in Idaho, I will veto all socialist legislation, and I will work to stop the fascist licensing of professions and occupations.”

Canyon County prosecutor resigns

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — Canyon County Prosecutor John Bujak has resigned two years after taking public office. Bujak unseated four-term county prosecutor Dave Young in 2008, leaving his job at a Nampa law practice. Canyon County Commissioners say they accepted Bujak’s resignation early Friday. Deputy prosecutor Tim Fleming is scheduled to take over Bujak’s duties as interim prosecutor. County officials say they will discuss the resignation at a press conference later Friday.

Laughy: ‘This is skirmish No. 2’

Linwood Laughy, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit trying to block four mega-loads of oil refinery equipment from being trucked across scenic Highway 12 in the Clearwater/Lochsa river canyon, was among the onlookers in a nearly full Idaho Supreme Court chambers today as the court took oral arguments in the case, in which ITD and ConocoPhillips are appealing an Idaho District Court ruling revoking the permits for the shipments. The lower court found that ITD violated its own regulations in approving them, because they’d block traffic for more than 10 minutes at a time, and because the agency didn’t give primary consideration to “public safety and convenience.”

 ”Basically this is skirmish No. 2,” Laughy said. “This issue is not in all likelihood going to be settled by this court decision, whichever way it goes.” After listening to the arguments, he said, “Obviously there are some complex legal matters involved.” But he said for residents and businesses along the route, “The real issue is whether we’re going to convert U.S. 12 into a permanent high-and-wide corridor for the transportation of high-and-wide loads.”

The four ConocoPhillips loads are just the first of more than 200 giant loads proposed to be trucked across the route over the next year, with ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil working on plans for a year’s worth of nighttime shipments along the route starting in November, bound for its oil sands project in Canada. The state of Montana still hasn’t issued permits for either firm.

Laughy said if the Supreme Court overturns the lower court decision, he expects ITD to issue permits for the Conoco loads the same day. “They have seemed like they were such strong proponents of these loads,” he said.

Laird Lucas, the attorney with Advocates for the West who’s representing Laughy and other residents for free, said, “We think the Idaho Supreme Court is taking this really seriously, and the question really boils down to has ITD acted reasonably. … I’m hoping the court will realize that ITD did not follow its own regulations.” He also echoed the justices’ questions about why ConocoPhillips moved its oversize equipment from Japan to Lewiston if it wasn’t assured of getting permits for the trucking, which will block both lanes of the two-lane route. “They made a multimillion-dollar gamble that they would get the permit,” he said. “It’s my guess it wasn’t a gamble.”

Justices have lots of questions in Highway 12 shipments case

Justices of the Idaho Supreme Court had lots of questions for all sides at the hearing this morning on the Highway 12 mega-loads appeal. Here, the justices shake hands with attorneys on both sides - those for the Idaho Transportation Department and ConocoPhillips were seated on the left, and those representing Highway 12 residents and businesses were on the right - at the end of the arguments. After hearing from both sides, the court took the case under advisement.

Among the justices’ questions:

Several questioned why ConocoPhillips moved its giant Japan-made coke drums to the Port of Lewiston in May, if no permit had yet been approved to truck them over scenic Highway 12 to Billings.  “What gave ConocoPhillips the inkling that they could go ahead and move their stuff to Lewiston?” asked Justice Jim Jones. “I just wonder why they did that when they did not have a permit in hand.” ITD’s attorney, Larry Allen, responded that it was a “business decision” on the company’s part. Jones responded, “Did the department really understand that it could either grant or deny the permit?” “Absolutely, your honor,” Allen replied. Erik Stidham, attorney for ConocoPhillips, told the court the company made the decision to move the drums to Lewiston “based on the input given by the experts at ITD” that it could meet the state’s permit requirements.

Justice Joel Horton commented, “It feels like we’re being asked to decide a lot more than these particular loads.” He also asked about liability for personal injury or property damage to residents along the route from the shipments, as opposed to liability for damage to the state, for which the state is requiring a $10,000 bond.

Justice Warren Jones raised questions about whether the district court even had jurisdiction to review the case, and Chief Justice Daniel Eismann joined in that line of questioning.

Eismann told the residents’ attorney, Laird Lucas, that he agreed with ITD’s argument that its regulation requiring oversize loads to let traffic pass at least every 10 minutes doesn’t apply if there’s a traffic plan that allows for “frequent passing.” Lucas disagreed, saying that interpretation would allow ITD to define “frequent passing” as once an hour, defeating the purpose of the 10-minute rule, which he said sets the “outer boundary.” Horton asked Allen, “Why shouldn’t we look to the 10-minute rule at that point?” to which Allen responded that situations vary, and some loads might provide for passing without scheduled turnout times. Justice Jim Jones said, “I think the issue of the 10-minute rule and all that stuff is pretty much cut and dried.”

Justice Roger Burdick asked ITD how much it costs to rebuild a highway, per mile; Allen said he didn’t have that answer.

Highway 12 mega-loads case hits Idaho Supreme Court today

The Idaho Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this morning on the Highway 12 mega-loads appeal; the arguments start at 9 a.m. and are scheduled to last an hour. They come as a tanker truck crash and diesel spill this week along the Lochsa River on Highway 12 has focused renewed attention on risks to the scenic corridor; click below for a full report on that from AP and the Lewiston Tribune.

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About this blog

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

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

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