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Eye On Boise

Archive for September 2010

Court tosses out state gun rights case

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A federal judge in Missoula is dismissing a lawsuit launched by gun rights advocates and states seeking freedom from federal gun laws. The decision from U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy was expected since his magistrate a month ago recommended tossing out the lawsuit. The decision sides with the U.S. Department of Justice, which says Congress can set standards on such items as guns through its power to regulate interstate commerce. Gun control advocates who also joined in the case welcomed the decision. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says the court rejected a “dangerous, misguided and unconstitutional law.” Montana, Utah, Alabama, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wyoming and West Virginia were seeking freedom from federal gun laws. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Matt Gouras in Helena.

Running for cowboy-in-chief?

AP reporter John Miller has a look at the “cowboy cred” of the two leading candidates in Idaho’s governor’s race today, incumbent Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred. “They have castrated thousands of calves,” Miller writes. “They spend free time riding the range on horseback or hunting with shotguns slung over their shoulders. Cowboy hats, oversized belt buckles and scuffed-up boots are standard attire. Meet the candidates for Idaho governor — two champion horsemen who seem to be running as much for cowboy-in-chief as they are for the state’s top political office.” Click below for his full report.

What they’re promising…

When Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick and his GOP challenger, Raul Labrador, each were asked for a one- to two-sentence statement of their campaign promises, this is what they each had to say:

MINNICK:  “I am running to continue working hard for Idaho veterans, seniors and families. Whether it’s fighting red tape for a small business, helping a family with an adoption or standing firm for fiscal responsibility, I promise to always do what’s right for Idaho.”

LABRADOR:  “I will bring true Idaho conservative values to Washington, DC.  I will always fight for my principles and the principles of the Republican Party:  limited government, lower taxes and a commitment to creating jobs without more bailouts or adding to the national debt.”

Pro-Life’s atomic theory…

The candidate for Idaho governor who was formerly known as Marvin Richardson - until he legally changed his name to “Pro-Life” - shared this with Eye on Boise today: “I believe that when you split atoms, you’ve murdered an atom, that God doesn’t intend any of the atoms to be split. That’s the basic building blocks of the universe and eternity. And that’s why you get such toxic waste from splitting atoms. I think it’s just the most stupid and horrendous thing to think of.” He added, “That’s kind of a spiritual position.”

Hart’s lawyer can’t appeal ethics ruling

Remember when Rep. Phil Hart’s attorney, Starr Kelso, issued a statement last week charging that the House Ethics Committee’s action against Hart, through its unanimous vote to recommend his removal from the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while he presses his own personal fight against back state income taxes, had “no basis in law or procedure and exceeds the Committee’s authority”? Turns out those claims aren’t going anywhere. Here’s why: “There is no judicial review of this,” said Brian Kane, the deputy attorney general assigned to the Ethics Committee, who attended all its meetings and advised members throughout the process.

“This is a wholly internal procedure of a single chamber of Idaho’s Legislature,” Kane said.  “Courts generally have been extremely resistant to getting into the inner workings of the legislative body, as far as committee assignments and things like that. That would be a really clear violation of the separation of powers, in my opinion.”

Kane outlined for the panel, at both its meetings, the options it had before it: Dismissal of charges, reprimand, censure, or expulsion. “Each of those are recommendations to the full body,” he said. “And they can include within those measures additional recommendations such as removal from a committee or removal from all committees, or different combinations of things that perhaps the speaker or the body would want to invoke against that member.”

More national attention for BSU football…

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The “firsts” keep coming for the Boise State football team. The third-ranked Broncos will be featured on the national cover of Sports Illustrated magazine this week. The Idaho Statesman reports that SI writer Austin Murphy spent much of last week in Boise to report and write a story about whether the Broncos should be eligible to play for the BCS national championship. Two photographers shot the Boise State-Oregon State game on Saturday night. Boise State was on a regional cover of Sports Illustrated’s college football preview in August, but this is the school’s first national cover. It hits news stands Wednesday. Boise State’s game against Oregon State also drew ESPN’s “College GameDay” show to Boise for the first time on Saturday. And the game against Oregon State was the first regular-season Boise State game to air nationally on network television.

Homeowner’s exemption to fall in 2011

Idaho’s homeowner’s exemption from property tax will drop in 2011 to a maximum of $92,040, from the current $101,153. “The drop reflects the recent state of the housing market,” said Alan Dornfest, property tax supervisor for the Idaho State Tax Commission. In 2006, Idaho lawmakers tied the homeowner’s exemption to the Idaho Housing Price Index, which goes up and down, reflecting housing price values in the state. That year, lawmakers raised the exemption to a maximum of $75,000; before that, it had been at a $50,000 maximum since voters put it there by initiative in 1983. You can read the Tax Commission’s full announcement here.

Census: Idaho incomes see big drop

Idaho families saw their take-home pay drop nearly 5 percent last year – one of the steepest declines in the nation. New reports today from the U.S. Census Bureau show that median income in Idaho fell by 4.9 percent from 2008 to 2009. By comparison, income fell 1.7 percent for Washington households and declined 2.9 percent nationally. Based on the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Surveys, the median household income was $44,926 in Idaho, $56,548 in Washington and, nationwide, $50,221. The new data also shows Idaho’s poverty rate is up, and Idaho women are among the nation’s lowest-earning; you can read our full story here at spokesman.com.

Allred launches ed tour, Otter announces Romney campaign visits

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred kicked off an “Education Matters” tour around the state today with sessions at a middle school in Rexburg and an arts center in Idaho Falls; he’ll hit Twin Falls on Tuesday, Meridian Wednesday, Lewiston and Moscow Thursday, and more. Allred said the tour will highlight the positive impacts of a strong education system and the danger of this year’s school funding cuts; you can see his announcement here.

Meanwhile, Gov. Butch Otter is bringing Mitt Romney to Idaho to campaign for him on Oct. 6, with stops planned in Idaho Falls and Boise. The Idaho Falls stop will include a breakfast fundraiser with business leaders at Melaleuca, followed by a public rally, also at Melaleuca. In Boise, Romney will join Otter for a lunch fundraiser with business leaders at Chandler’s Restaurant, followed by a rally at the Linen Building; you can see his announcement here.

Idaho fish farm faces big EPA pollution fine

An Idaho fish farm in Buhl is facing up to $177,500 in fines for five years of violations of the Clean Water Act, the EPA reports today. The agency said the ARK Fisheries Tunnel Creek operation, which the operator says has capacity to raise up to 275,000 pounds of trout and 80,000 pounds of sturgeon a year, has polluted a tributary of the Snake River. “EPA has provided assistance to ARK Fisheries on numerous occasions over several years to help them comply with their permit,” said Kim Ogle of the EPA in Seattle. “Unfortunately, the Tunnel Creek facility continues a trend of incomplete or late reports, instances of non-reporting, and discharge permit violations.” The agency cited violations from discharging pollutants without a permit for two months in 2005 to failing to submit annual reports for 2008 and 2009 to exceeding permit limits for phosphorus in January of 2010.

Meanwhile, another Idaho business, the John C. Berry & Sons, Inc. oil storage and distribution facility in Idaho Falls, has agreed to pay a $15,000 fine for Clean Water Act violations; that plant is 800 feet from the Snake River.

From the campaign trail…

Been interviewing candidates in North Idaho contested legislative races today for the S-R’s upcoming voter guide; among their comments: Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard, said, “I think my district is very much gone Republican. As far as Shoshone County, I think they’re hanging in there Democrats.” Shoshone County in North Idaho’s Silver Valley, from which Shepherd hails, has long been the bastion of traditional lunch-bucket Democrats, but Shepherd is the last Democrat now representing the district, which along with Shoshone County includes all of Benewah County plus half of Bonner and a smidge of Kootenai.

Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, who represents the same district, said folks he’s talked to while campaigning for re-election are “just frustrated - they’re frustrated with the economy and the way things are running.” He added, “On a federal level, they’re so frustrated with the federal government, because it seems like no matter what you say, they’re just going to do what they’re going to do. … The biggest thing I’ve noticed is the frustration of folks with government as a whole.”

His Democratic challenger, Jon Ruggles, the chairman of the East Shoshone Hospital District board and founding member/past president of Friends of Coeur d’Alene Trails, said he’s hearing a different message from voters as he campaigns. “It’s jobs, the level of instability, is my son or daughter going to be able to stay in Idaho? What am I going to do if I lose my job?” Ruggles said, “Really, I’m not hearing ‘let’s go out and sue the federal government,’ which is what Harwood and all those guys want. Let’s spend our money on classes, not courtrooms. When I tell people that, they all nod their heads.”

Ad Watch: Stats belie Otter ad’s claim that Idaho is among nation’s leaders in alt energy

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s latest campaign commercial focuses on alternative energy, and claims Idaho’s   “among the leaders in the nation” because he’s “made alternative energy research a top priority.” But the Otter campaign could offer no documentation that Idaho’s among the nation’s leaders, and national statistics show otherwise. Idaho’s rank for installed renewable energy capacity excluding hydropower: 36th in the nation, or 20th if that figure is viewed on a per-capita basis. That’s according to figures released in August by the U.S. Department of Energy, which are based on 2009 data. Idaho ranked 25th for wind energy, 33rd for solar, fifth for geothermal (though 41 states had none), 25th for biomass, and 7th for hydropower.

Idaho is home to one of the nation’s 12 national laboratories, where renewable energy is among the research fields. But universities, other labs and others across the nation also are doing major research in the area, and there’s no evidence that Idaho’s doing more. Paul Kjellander, Otter’s Office of Energy Resources director, scoffed at “tired old statistics sitting in reports that are already old before they get filed” and said, “We are moving forward.”

In 2008, Idaho ranked seventh in the nation for the percentage of its electricity generated from renewables, but almost 100 percent of that was from conventional hydropower, which Idaho has used for a century - not from new research into alternatives. In that year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Idaho produced 0.7 percent of its electricity from geothermal, none from solar, 1.7 percent from wind, and 3.8 percent from wood waste. You can read my full adwatch story here at spokesman.com.

Luna response to teacher rally: ‘Union’s priorities are clearly different’

Camille Wells, campaign manager for state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna’s re-election campaign, had this statement in response to the teachers’ rally on the Statehouse steps today for Luna’s Democratic challenger, Stan Olson: “It’s no surprise that union leaders are supporting the Democrat candidate.  Because Superintendent Luna has focused on students and resources in the classroom, he has strong support from teachers who are currently working hard in the classroom.  The union’s priorities are clearly different and do not reflect the opinion of most teachers.”

Teachers rally for Olson, decry school cuts

Idaho schoolteachers are coming out in force behind the candidacy of just-retired Boise school superintendent Stan Olson for state superintendent of schools, against incumbent Supt. Tom Luna. At a rally on the Statehouse steps today, more than 100 teachers from 75 school districts around the state gathered to kick off an independent campaign for Olson, announcing that an Idaho Education Association survey of its 13,000-plus members found that nearly eight in 10 teachers back Olson, and fewer than 5 percent plan to vote to re-elect Luna. All said they’re concerned about Idaho’s historic cuts in public school funding, which are hitting classrooms this fall.

“Idaho educators are outraged that Tom Luna presided over the first-ever cuts to our public schools,” said IEA President Sherri Wood. “They happened because our children and our schools lack an advocate in the state superintendent’s office.” Teachers at the rally decried rising class sizes, higher fees for families, shrinking school bus routes, cuts in funding for books and classroom supplies, and shortened school years. Josh Noteboom, head of the Kuna Education Association, said, “Unfortunately, it’s the students who are taking the greatest hit.” He said in his district, “Our class sizes are growing to numbers of nearly 40.” “Is this really what we want for education?” asked Shannon Nicholson, head of the Meridian Education Association, who declared, “It is time for a change.”

Andrew Rath, head of the Boise Education Association, said 83 percent of Boise teachers already have   decided to back Olson, their former boss. Candy Turner, a first-grade teacher at Priest River Elementary School who participated in the rally, said, “I believe in public education, and I feel that kids in Priest River have been neglected through the cuts that have come down. We need to educate these children, so that they can compete in the nation and in the world.” Wood said the IEA’s independent campaign in favor of Olson will include advertising, events around the state, direct mail and a website, EducatorsForOlson.com.

Otter’s newest campaign ad focuses on alternative energy development

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has launched a new campaign commercial, this one focusing on alternative energy development in Idaho; you can see it here. Coming this weekend: A look at the claims in the ad. Click below to read a report from the Associated Press’s John Miller on the ad, including a charge from Otter challenger Keith Allred that it greenwashes Otter’s record.

Idaho Newspapers Poll: No to repeal of 17th Amendment, yes to Tea Party

Idahoans are dead-set against handing over selection of U.S. senators to the state Legislature, and Idaho Republicans are even more against the idea than Democrats or the state as a whole, according to the Idaho Newspapers Poll, a collaboration of seven Idaho newspapers. Yet that move is a plank in the Idaho Republican Party platform, raising questions about how closely the leadership of the state’s largest political party reflects its members.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of Idaho Republicans, and nearly half of the state as a whole, say they generally support the agenda of the tea party movement, with the numbers in North Idaho rising to a 56 percent majority, compared to 47 percent support in southeastern Idaho and 43 percent in the Treasure Valley. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see today’s full poll results here.

No fine for Hart on PAC filing discrepancy

The Idaho Secretary of State’s office says Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has supplied the missing information from his campaign finance filings for a PAC he formed this year called “North Idahoans for Liberty,” and it’s closed the case without fining Hart. “Our main goal is disclosure, and we’ve been working with him to get it,” said Tim Hurst, chief deputy secretary of state. “We use a penalty as more of a last resort than the first attention-getting device.”

Hart’s write-in challenger, Hayden businessman Howard Griffiths, filed a complaint earlier this month over the ongoing discrepancies in the report, which was due two and a half months ago; he questioned how the PAC could have spent more than it raised. Griffiths said Thursday that he was surprised at the outcome. “I don’t know why it takes this long to find something like this,” he said. “There’s definitely some arrogance there, I guess.”

Hart, who didn’t return a reporter’s calls for comment, put on a “fundraising event” for the PAC, a dinner in May at the Coeur d’Alene Resort featuring Dick Heller, the plaintiff in a landmark court case over gun rights in the District of Columbia. He charged $50 per person and also held a fundraising auction. According to the amended report, the PAC actually raised more than $7,500, but spent all but $237 of that. The list of cash donors swelled from just six to 20; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Labrador plans fundraiser in Puerto Rico

Idaho GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador plans to travel to his native Puerto Rico next week to raise money for his campaign against Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick, the AP reports. A campaign flier says Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno is expected to attend a $500-per-person reception next Thursday for Labrador, who was born in the U.S. territory. Eric Labrador, a Republican who served in former Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello’s cabinet and is Labrador’s half brother, is among nine dignitaries hosting the fundraiser.

Denney: ‘Might be best’ for Hart to exit House Rev & Tax panel

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — House Speaker Lawerence Denney says it “might be the best” for a lawmaker embroiled in a $700,000 tax dispute to be stripped of his assignment on a key legislative tax committee. A seven-member House ethics panel voted Wednesday to recommend Rep. Phil Hart’s removal from the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. Denney told The Associated Press Thursday he won’t make a final decision until December. He first wants to sit down with Hart and discuss the matter. Still, Denney, a Republican from Midvale, said removing Hart from House Revenue and Taxation Committee “might be the best thing.” Before making their removal recommendation, a majority on the ethics committee concluded Hart’s votes didn’t violate conflict of interest rules, and dismissed a charge of abuse of legislative privilege; however, they said his continued service on the tax committee while he presses his personal tax fight did constitute a conflict of interest.

Idaho Newspapers Poll: Idahoans oppose education cuts, many undecided in supt race

As Idaho voters make clear their displeasure with cuts to public education spending, the men running to lead the state’s schools for the next four years are campaigning in relative obscurity, reports Ben Botkin of the Times-News in today’s installment of the Idaho Newspapers Poll; you can read our full story here. Day 3 of the poll results examines Idahoans’ concerns about education funding - 56 percent think we’re spending too little on K-12 education, and 59 percent oppose this year’s school funding cuts - and about the race for state superintendent of schools, in which incumbent Tom Luna faces a challenge from just-retired Boise School District superintendent Stan Olson.

You can see today’s full poll results here. Coming tomorrow in the poll, a unique collaborative effort between seven Idaho newspapers, are the results looking at party affiliation, platform planks and support for the tea party movement; that final installment was my piece to report and write. All the papers are running the stories and contributing to the coverage.

Hart issues response disputing Ethics Committee’s authority to act against him

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart’s attorney, Starr Kelso, has sent out a defiant response to today’s House Ethics Committee decision on Hart’s behalf, arguing that the panel’s decision “has no basis in law or procedure and exceeds the committee’s authority.” That’s not what the Idaho Attorney General’s office advised the ethics committee. You can read Kelso’s statement here; headed, “Phil Hart’s Response to the Idaho Ethics Committee Rulings,” declares, “Since January 2005 Mr. Hart has paid over $120,000 in txes. Mr. Hart believes that when the law is applied to the facts it will be determined that he has overpaid his income taxes.”

Public records, including IRS liens, show that Hart owes $700,000 in back federal and state income taxes, penalties and interest. In a motion for reconsideration to the state Board of Tax Appeals that Kelso provided to the Ethics Committee on Wednesday, he wrote that Hart’s tax woes are “entirely the result of political persecution of Mr. Hart by the IRS.”

Loertscher: ‘Write the other guy in if don’t approve of what he’s done’

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, chairman of the special House Ethics Committee, said after the panel’s meeting today that he’s wondered why Hart delayed so long to file a state tax appeal that was due in December - he waited until March 31st - but decided “it’s immaterial.” He added, “That’s not the way I would do business.”

Hart claimed legislative privilege allowed him the delay, but the state Board of Tax Appeals said even if that did apply, he’d still missed the deadline. Loertscher said that left the ethics panel without guidance on the privilege issue. “I’ve thought about this and agonized about it a lot,” Loertscher said. “It’s a hard process. … No matter how bad it looks, he hasn’t violated the rule as determined by the majority of this committee.”

Hart, who stopped filing both federal and state income taxes in the mid-1990s while he unsuccessfully pressed a lawsuit claiming that the federal income tax is unconstitutional, owes nearly $700,000 in back state and federal taxes, penalties and interest, according to public records. He was running unopposed for re-election in November until Hayden Lake businessman Howard Griffiths decided to run against him as a write-in because of his tax woes.

Loertscher said, “I think he’s got enough constituents up there - write the other guy in if they don’t approve of what he’s done.”

Sayler: ‘Cast a black mark on the Legislature’

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the House Ethics Committee hearing today, in which the panel voted unanimously to recommend that Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, be removed from the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while he presses his own personal fight against back state income taxes.

That vote was unanimous, but Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, voted with the panel’s Republican members in an earlier 5-2 vote to dismiss a charge against Hart of abuse of legislative privilege. “I’ve said before I don’t think this is a partisan issue,” Sayler said. “I don’t see that we had a clear standard to judge by, in terms of the immunity clause … when it can be used and when it cannot be used. I certainly thought it was inappropriate, and cast a black mark on the legislative body, and I would hope that Rep. Hart would change his practice, but in terms of a clear violation of that clause, I didn’t see it.”

Sayler said, “From a personal perspective, I do believe his behavior was unethical. But from a legal perspective, I didn’t see we had the justification.”

Ethics panel unanimous: Remove Hart from House Rev & Tax Committee

Rep. Dell Raybould then moved that the Ethics Committee recommend to the speaker to remove Rep. Hart from the House Revenue & Taxation Committee. Rep. George Sayler seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.

One complaint dismissed

Rep. Dell Raybould has moved to dismiss the complaint against Rep. Hart for abuse of legislative privilege. Rep. Rich Wills seconded the motion, and it passed on a 5-2 vote. Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, joined the panel’s Republicans in that vote. Now the committee is moving on to consideration of Hart’s membership on the Rev & Tax Committee.

Panel will address, since Hart won’t resign

Rep. Wendy Jaquet said Hart can talk to the speaker and his fellow committee members any time. “I don’t think the people would be very satisfied with that answer,” she said. Chairman Tom Loertscher said, “If he chooses not to resign (from the House Rev & Tax Committee) at this point, then we will discuss that matter.” Kelso responded that in his view, the only issue before the committee is “whether or not there was a violation of ethics by the assertion of a constitutional provision. … I’m just clarifying the issue, that’s the issue,” Kelso said.

“It seems to me that his continued presence there is problematic,” said Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, noting that the committee’s original charge included the option of recommending that Hart be removed from the tax committee.

Hart refuses to resign from Rev & Tax

Rep. Phil Hart is refusing to resign from the House Rev & Tax Committee. “I am authorized on behalf of Rep. Hart to state that regardless of which direction the vote of the Ethics Committee goes, he will speak and discuss this issue with the speaker of the House and the committee membership,” his attorney, Starr Kelso, told the Ethics Committee. Rep. Wendy Jaquet tried to ask Hart a question about that, but Hart won’t answer; Kelso is speaking for him.

Ethics panel takes break, awaiting Hart word on whether he’ll resign from Rev & Tax

The House Ethics Committee is taking a 15-minute recess, at the suggestion of Rep. Dell Raybould, “to  see whether or not Rep. Hart would prefer to resign from the Rev and Tax Committee while this process with the Tax Commission is going on, so that there isn’t any conflict.” Raybould said, “If he would voluntarily do that, why then I think this issue would be completely resolved … for now.” The committee then voted unanimously to take the 15-minute break.

Raybould: Hart’s personal tax case may be conflict with his service on Tax panel

Rep. Dell Raybould said, “What I think we ought to discuss here today, is whether his membership on the tax committee is a conflict because of his personal issue with the Tax Commission.” He said the previous ruling of the committee that Hart didn’t have a conflict of interest in his votes came because the votes referred to a class of people, but now the committee is looking at Hart’s personal tax case - which doesn’t affect anyone but him. Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, said he agreed. Rep. Bert Stevenson added, “I do have some concern with the fact that he has served on the Rev & Tax Committee.”

Killen: ‘I think it is a big deal’

Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, said if the ethics committee lets Hart slide, it’s setting precedent with regard to abuse of legislative privilege. “We’re suggesting to future bodies that it’s no big deal - I think it is a big deal,” he said.

Jaquet: ‘He tarnishes the reputation of legislators’

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said she believe the ethics committee must consider the abuse of privilege issue. “It seemed like basically a smokescreen to again not pay what was due the state,” she said. “So even though we don’t have any precedent, I think that our constituents feel that this is a person that’s taken advantage of something that he shouldn’t have taken advantage of, that he’s taken advantage of it over a period of time. … He’s basically saying I don’t care about the institution of the Legislature, I don’t care about what my actions do with regard to other legislators, I just am going to continue to do this because I don’t believe I should pay my taxes, and I’m just going to drag this on forever. Frankly I think he tarnishes the reputation of legislators and he tarnishes the institution of the Legislature.”

Loertscher: ‘Might be difficult for us to do’

Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, is arguing that because the Board of Tax Appeals didn’t rule on whether the legislative privilege from civil process applies to a lawmaker’s personal tax appeal or not - they ruled that even if it did, Hart still exceeded the timeline for an appeal, so his appeal was rejected - that it may be difficult for the Ethics Committee to act on the charge against Hart of abuse of the privilege. “I think the question is do we want to go there and talk about the provision in the Constitution altogether, or do we want to base our decision on whether or not it was improperly used in this case? That might be a difficult thing for us to do, seeing as how the Board of Tax Appeals did not use that as an issue at all,” Loertscher said.

Hart wants reconsideration from Tax Appeals Board

Rep. Phil Hart has filed a motion for reconsideration with the state Board of Tax Appeals, Ethics Committee members were informed. Hart last month lost his case there, where he’d tried to get extra time to appeal a state order to pay $53,000 in back income taxes, penalties and interest on the basis of legislative privilege - because he said his status as a state lawmaker should allow him more time. He cited the constitutional privilege against arrest or civil process during legislative sessions.

Ethics committee convenes

The House Ethics Committee is gathering for its meeting. Chairman Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, asked about the agenda, said, “We’re just going to discuss this last item about this matter and resolve it once and for all, get this behind us so we can move on with life.”

Ethics Committee to convene today on Hart

The special House Ethics Committee investigating the actions of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, convenes this afternoon at 2:30 Boise time in the House State Affairs Committee hearing room, East Wing Room 40 in the lower level of the state Capitol, for a telephone conference call meeting. A live audio stream will be available to the public at the Legislature’s website under “Announcements.” Here’s a link to the official notice of the meeting.

Ad watch: The new Allred TV ad

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred’s new TV commercial focuses on education cuts, for which he criticizes Gov. Butch Otter. Here’s a look at the claims:

CLAIM: In the ad, Allred says, “Butch Otter doesn’t do his homework. He botched the budget and cut education 7 percent, the first cut in Idaho history.”

Allred has rounded down; this year’s cut in Idaho’s public school budget, from all fund sources, was $128.5 million, or 7.5 percent (the correct figures appear on the screen as Allred speaks). Otter himself has acknowledged the historic nature of the cut, saying it’s the first since at least the 1950s. Last year, Idaho cut state general funds to schools, which also was historic, by 13.7 percent, but the overall budget for schools actually rose by a tiny amount, 0.4 percent, because of the impact of $145.7 million in federal stimulus money that was pumped into the 2009-2010 school budget. This year’s school budget is a reduction both in state general funds and total funds. Another measure of Idaho’s school funding, discretionary funds to school district per classroom unit, dropped by 14.4 percent, according to the 2010 Idaho Legislative Fiscal Report.

CLAIM: Allred says in the ad, “The result: Too many kids per class. Not enough textbooks or instruction time.”

The impact of the budget cuts varied by school districts, but Idaho districts did report increased class sizes, cuts or delays in textbook purchases, and decreases in instruction time. Among them: The Cambridge school district imposed six unpaid furlough days on teachers and went to a four-day school week; Filer shortened its school year by four days and Buhl by six days; Genesee cut 15 days while lengthening the school day; Parma cut six days from the school year, and Firth cut 10. The Idaho Falls district left teaching positions unfilled, swelling class sizes. Some of the impacts of the cuts are being mitigated by a last-minute infusion of federal funds aimed at saving teachers’ jobs, but it’s not enough to make up even half this year’s cuts, and Otter is urging schools to spread that money across the next two years.

CLAIM:  Allred, in his ad, says, “It didn’t have to happen. I’m Keith Allred. I’ll make cost-effective investments in education without raising taxes. Otter helped special interests and hurt schools. As governor I’ll work for you and them.”

Allred maintains Idaho could have eliminated tax exemptions for special interests and filled vacant positions at the state Tax Commission to collect more tax money. Otter responds that he’s signed just one tax exemption into law since he’s been governor, and that he successfully proposed a plan to phase in more audit staff at the Tax Commission over several years, while monitoring that the investment pays off. Allred also has contended that Otter and the Legislature estimated tax revenues for the coming year too low, ignoring forecasts from experts and forcing deeper cuts than were necessary; only time will tell on that.

Otter’s campaign spokesman, Ryan Panitz, had this response to the ad: “We invite our opponent to actually do his own homework and study these facts!  Governor Otter put more than $394M in to education to insulate it and put $20M straight in to the classroom for textbooks, supplies, and important programs to our students.  Governor Otter’s initiatives, like the Idaho Education Network, have connected our students to new learning opportunities.  In addition, the Governor’s new Opportunity Scholarships are providing more chances for our children to go on to college than ever before.”

The ad includes an image of a troubled Otter looking down at a tall stack of papers; that’s a composite image in which the papers and other elements were added. “He is consistent in saying that we had alternatives to making the cut to education that Otter chose to make,” said Allred’s campaign spokesman, Shea Andersen. “So we talk about studies from the state’s economists, from the Tax Commission, there’s several out there that say there were options. So the message in the ad with that image is the evidence stacks up and Otter still does the wrong thing.” The children shown in the ad are from families of Allred supporters who volunteered to participate in the commercial. It started airing last night in markets from Boise to Idaho Falls. Andersen said the campaign anticipates running TV ads in northern Idaho as well, but thus far has not.

Tax exemptions in campaign spotlight; Risch blasts Allred

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Grappling with Idaho’s $1.7 billion worth of sales tax exemptions is becoming a centerpiece in the 2010 race for governor. U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, a Republican supporter of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, upped the ante this week by lending his name to a partisan attack on Democrat Keith Allred. Risch blasted Allred in a mailer — paid for by a business lobby — saying Otter’s challenger would repeal millions in tax cuts and kill thousands of jobs. In fact, Allred has been pushing to end some of the $1.7 billion worth of tax exemptions he says benefit well-connected special interests to the exclusion of other Idaho taxpayers, then using the revenue to reduce Idaho’s overall tax rate. He contends the roughly 130 exemptions enacted since 1965 include some that succeeded only because one industry had a better lobbyist than another. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho Newspapers Poll: Protect education, reform sales tax

In Day 2 of the results of the Idaho Newspapers Poll, Idahoans say they want the sales tax reformed, but they’re unclear as to how; they’re also very concerned about school funding. You can read a full report here, including reactions from Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred, and see today’s full results here.

The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., is a collaboration of seven Idaho newspapers: The Spokesman-Review, the Idaho Statesman, the Idaho Press-Tribune, the Lewiston Tribune, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, the Post Register in Idaho Falls, and the Times-News in Twin Falls.

Researcher: Meth decline not linked to ad campaign in Montana

A new study concludes that a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to deter youths from trying methamphetamines has failed to speed up a long-standing decline in the drug’s use, the Associated Press reports. Economics researcher D. Mark Anderson of the University of Washington said Tuesday that abuse of the drug already was on the decline because of more aggressive law enforcement before the high-profile Montana Meth Project began in 2005. Identical programs have since been launched in seven other states: Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Wyoming, Colorado, Hawaii and Georgia; click below for a full report from AP reporter Matthew Brown.

Allred launches education ad

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred has launched his second TV ad of the campaign, focusing on this year’s funding cuts to public schools; more on the ad tomorrow; you can watch it here. With TV ads playing such an important messaging role in Idaho’s big campaigns, reporters like me work to check out the claims and put the ads in perspective, but it’s not always an easy thing to do on deadline. That’s why this year’s Idaho Press Club fall conference couldn’t be better timed: It will bring in the head of FactCheck.org to advise reporters here on skills and tools for effective fact-checking on deadline, and holding politicians accountable for their claims.

Also scheduled: Sessions on tapping social media and new media and the law. If you’re an Idaho reporter or editor and haven’t yet registered for the conference, do it now; there’s info here. (Yes, I’m the president of the Idaho Press Club, but I can’t claim any credit for this conference - it was organized by our Southwest Chapter board, which is ably headed by Todd Dvorak of the AP.) The conference, entitled “Behind the Lines: A reporter’s path to the truth,” is this Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Sen. Hill on Tax Commission: ‘We’ve taken care of it’

Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, chairman of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, said he doesn’t see great need to reform Idaho’s state Tax Commission. “We tried to address some of the concerns with compromises, and yet these whistleblowers keep claiming there should be no compromises, and I don’t agree with that concept,” said Hill, a CPA. “That’s why the Legislature stepped in and very clearly said, ‘Yes, there should be compromises under these circumstances,’ and we outlined those.” He added, “As far as I’m concerned, we have addressed this issue, we’ve taken care of it, but … we are certainly amenable to suggestions from the public, from other legislators, from anyone else of how we can run our government better, and that includes the state Tax Commission.”

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, is proposing sweeping reform legislation, aimed in part at taking politics out of the process; but Hill said issues like property tax rules and revenue forecasts ultimately are decided by the state Legislature. “How you depoliticize the Legislature I don’t know - politics is part of what makes representative democracy work,” he said. “I don’t think politics is a bad thing necessarily.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Crapo, Risch introduce wolf delisting bill

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s U.S. senators introduced a measure to lift Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in Idaho and Montana, as well as portions of Washington, Oregon and Utah. The bill Idaho Republicans Mike Crapo and Jim Risch introduced Tuesday is a response to a federal court order in August that restored protections. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled it was illegal for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist a species on a state-by-state basis in Montana and Idaho, while leaving out Wyoming’s predator population. Crapo says his legislation comes as frustration over wolf management is mounting. The animals’ population in the northern Rocky Mountains has swelled to 1,600. He hopes bills like his, as well as court appeals of Molloy’s decision, keep this issue in the spotlight.

Judge halts state budget cut for disabled

Idaho’s planned cutbacks in Health & Welfare programs have run into a snag - a federal judge has temporarily barred the state from cutting a cash assistance program for some developmentally disabled adults. The recipients, who all function at the level of an 8-year-old or below, are part of a proposed class-action lawsuit charging that cutting their monthly payments could force them to become institutionalized, actually costing the state more than paying to keep them in certified family care homes. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Rep. Jaquet proposes sweeping reforms of Idaho State Tax Commission

Idaho Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, has unveiled sweeping legislation she plans to introduce to reform the state Tax Commission, shifting it from an agency run by four full-time political appointees to one run by a professional director with a part-time commission, and consolidating the revenue forecasting functions that now fall under the governor’s Division of Financial Management into the new agency, to be renamed the Department of Revenue and Taxation.

“It is high time to professionalize the Commission,” Jaquet said in her announcement; you can read it here. It says, “Jaquet said she decided to act when it became obvious that the current administration was not taking steps to address recent whistle blower allegations of favoritism and, in fact, seems perfectly comfortable with the status quo.”

She also calls for a full, outside forensic audit of the state Tax Commission and its operations, and a new process to determine whose taxes get audited “where the selection is blind, which will ensure that the process is fair for all Idaho taxpayers.” In her announcement, she makes note not only of the whistleblower allegations about secret deals with influential taxpayers, but of a major dispute between the current Tax Commission chairman, Royce Chigbrow, and the state’s elected county assessors over property tax issues.

Jaquet said, “The governor’s office and I have talked about this for the last couple years, and they may be working on something themselves, but I just wanted to get out there and say it’s time to do this.” The move of economic forecasting to the new department, she said, would help “keep politics out of revenue forecasting.” Jaquet, an eight-term state lawmaker, is the former House minority leader, a former member of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee and a current member of the joint budget committee; she is unopposed for re-election in November.

Idaho Newspapers Poll: Undecideds still high in guv’s race, 1st CD close in North

Seven Idaho daily newspapers, including The Spokesman-Review, have joined together to commission the Idaho Newspapers Poll, a statewide poll of 625 likely Idaho voters taken Sept. 13-15 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C. Today, the first installment of poll results is out in all the papers, which include the Lewiston Tribune, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, the Idaho Statesman, the Idaho Press Tribune in Nampa, the Post Register in Idaho Falls, and the Times-News in Twin Falls.

The top news today from the poll: Gov. Butch Otter leads Democratic challenger 45-29 percent with 20 percent undecided; and 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick leads GOP challenger Raul Labrador 46-36 percent with 16 percent undecided. Minnick’s lead shrinks, however, among the poll’s North Idaho respondents to 43-40, which is within the poll’s margin of error; you can read our full story here and see today’s full results here.

The statewide poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. In the 1st CD, the margin of error is 5 percent; sixty additional interviews were conducted in the 1st Congressional District to bring the total sample size there to 400 likely voters, and 15 additional interviews were conducted in the Second Congressional District to bring the sample size there to 300, with the extra interviews covering only the congressional races. Additional installments of the joint project coming this week will look at taxes (Wednesday), education (Thursday) and party affiliation (Friday).

Idaho could gain if Bush tax cuts expire

Idaho is one of nine states that that would gain state tax revenue if some or all of the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, according to a new report from Stateline.org. The reason: The nine states collect state taxes based on federal taxable income, not adjusted gross income. So if increased deductions go away, federal taxable incomes rise, and people would pay more in state income taxes. Stateline reported that in these states, a legislative decision on whether to match federal tax changes “would allow them to raise revenues without legislators having to vote on a tax increase.”

Idaho almost always matches its tax code to federal changes, in a process dubbed “conformity” that usually sees little opposition in the Idaho Legislature - even when it costs the state millions - because matching the federal tax code is so much easier on Idaho filers, who otherwise would have to essentially keep two sets of books for state and federal taxes.

Labrador advances in ‘Young Guns’

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador has been named to “Contender” status in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program, the second tier of the three-tier program. “By achieving ‘Contender’ status, Labrador has already demonstrated his ability to build a successful campaign structure and achieve vital fundraising goals,” the NRCC said this morning in a press release; you can read it here. In it, NRCC Chairman Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Tex., said, “Raul Labrador has met a series of rigorous fundraising and campaign goals that will go a long way in helping to put this seat in the Republican column.”

Asked what those goals were, NRCC spokesman Greg Blair said, “That’s something that’s just between us and the campaign. Those goals are different for every campaign … we can’t comment on internal strategy like that. I will say that he did have to reach a bar, and he accomplished that.”

Labrador has lagged badly in fundraising, with incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick reporting a million-dollar cash-on-hand edge as of the last campaign finance report, though that was early in the summer. Labrador initially said he’d decided to “opt out” of the Young Guns program, after it touted his GOP primary opponent, Vaughn Ward, and boosted him to its top rank well before the primary. Labrador changed his mind a month and a half ago.

Asked how reaching ‘Contender’ status will benefit Labrador’s campaign, Blair said, “Basically they keep us in the loop on what they’re doing and we provide guidance where we can on building their campaign infrastructure, building their media plan, building their campaign plan, helping them build a path to victory. … That’s where they’ll see the benefit now.” The designation carries no financial benefit. “Raul’s put in a lot of hard work, and we’re looking forward to working with him for the rest of the campaign,” Blair said.

National Dem blog slams Minnick

The Daily Kos, a national Democratic liberal/progressive blog, slammed Idaho Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick over the weekend for his latest campaign commercial, which targets GOP challenger Raul Labrador over immigration. “Minnick is up 20 in the polls, while his opponent is broke and has zero institutional support (he’s a teabagger who beat the establishment’s choice),” Kos writes. “It’s a done race, yet Minnick decides to be a bigot anyway by attacking his opponent’s work as an immigration lawyer. Not only is this gratuitous, but it hurts his state’s small but growing Democratic Party.”

Kos concludes his post with an epithet, after writing, “Minnick has decided, for no obvious reason, to run a hateful campaign.”

Hawk makes a house call…

There was a loud thud against the living room window this morning, startling the cat who was looking out the window, and something large fell outside. Looking out, expecting perhaps a pigeon (it was too big for a quail), we were surprised to find a stunned Cooper’s hawk down on the ground below the second-story window, lying on its back unconscious. This is one of those Boise experiences. A quick call to the experts yielded instructions to put the injured bird in a box covered by a towel to recover; by that time, it had opened one eye and was starting to come around.

My husband took the bird off to a raptor rehabilitator, who checked out the hawk, a one-year-old female, and declared her sound and able to fly - and feisty as could be (her talons drew blood in the process). Then, we were instructed to release the hawk in our backyard, where it came from. When the box was uncovered, the hawk sat for a moment, looking around, then with a rush of wings, flew to the top of a tall tree, where it’s now resting comfortably and eyeing the view.

State revenues for August $5.7M over target

Idaho’s state tax revenues surged another $5.7 million over the state’s projections in the month of August. When combined with the $4.5 million that state taxes beat projections in July, that puts the state $10.2 million ahead so far for the fiscal year that began July 1, according to the state’s Division of Financial Management. Individual income tax was the largest source of revenue strength in August.

Mike Ferguson, Gov. Butch Otter’s chief economist, reports the latest numbers in DFM’s monthly “Idaho Outlook” report, which also includes a look at what would happen in Idaho if the nation descends into a “double-dip” recession. However, national models now put the chances of that at 25 percent, and Ferguson notes that a double-dip is “not expected” because factors that have pushed the nation into the two previous double-dip recessions, in the late 1950s and the early 1980s, are lacking now. You can read the September report here.

Jorgenson condemns Minnick ad

Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, today issued a press release objecting to Congressman Walt Minnick’s negative campaign ad targeting GOP challenger Raul Labrador over immigration, though it takes a similar approach to a press release Jorgenson himself sent out in December of 2009 calling on Labrador to withdraw from the congressional race. In today’s release - read it here - Jorgenson says he was “appalled and disappointed” by Minnick’s ad, and said, “I cannot condemn it enough.” Here’s a link to Jorgenson’s 2009 release, which was headed, “Labrador Wrong For Idaho.”

Political news of the day…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the flap over Congressman Walt Minnick’s new negative ad targeting GOP challenger Raul Labrador. Here’s a link to an article today by Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman on how Minnick is in a quarter-million-dollar dispute with the IRS over the value of a conservation easement. Here’s a link to Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker’s report on House GOP leaders disputing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred’s role in the 2009 gas tax fight in the House, and here’s a link to a Lewiston Tribune article on Gov. Butch Otter deciding to do a radio call-in show in Boise on Oct. 7, the day that formerly was to be the Lewiston gubernatorial debate until Otter backed out.

And here’s a link to a Wall Street Journal article today on how business interests are increasingly worried about how the election of Tea Party-backed GOP candidates to Congress could threaten their priorities next year; Labrador is interviewed in the article as a prime example, saying he opposes any government program that could help one segment of the business community over another. “I’m against all of them,” Labrador told the Journal. “I don’t think the government should be picking winners and losers.”

Campaigns clash over new Minnick ad

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador issued a statement tonight calling Congressman Walt Minnick’s new campaign ad “disgusting,” “disgraceful” and “shameful,” and saying it “succeeds in only twisting and editing my words into quotes that are blatantly untrue.” He also demands that Minnick immediately remove “this sleazy, degrading ad.” You can read Labrador’s full statement here. Meanwhile, Minnick campaign manager John Foster said in a statement, “Raul’s clients may deserve fair representation, but so do the people of Idaho. These are very tough times, and people deserve to know the truth about their candidates.” Minnick’s campaign also sent out a fact sheet citing the sources for the statements used in the ad, with links; you can see it here. Phil Hardy, Labrador’s communications director, sent out his own version in an email to the media tonight; you can read it here.

Minnick targets Labrador in new ad

Idaho 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick has put out a new campaign ad, and this one is a negative ad targeting his GOP challenger, Raul Labrador, for his work as an immigration lawyer. The ad just began airing this evening throughout the 1st Congressional District, including the Spokane market and North Idaho. It suggests that “illegal immigration may be good for Raul Labrador” because of his line of work, and says, “That sure makes him wrong for Idaho;” you can see the new ad on YouTube here.

Jim Weatherby, Boise State University political scientist emeritus, said it’s surprising to see an incumbent who’s ahead in the polls come out with a negative ad at this stage in the campaign. “That’s not typical, and may tell you that Minnick is more concerned about Labrador than a front-runner might ordinarily be,” Weatherby said. “But it also tells you in this political environment, I think candidates are learning from Lisa Murkowski and others: Take nothing for granted. Murkowski did not engage in any negative campaigning with her opponent. She paid a huge price.”

Murkowski is the Alaska senator who was defeated by Tea Party candidate Joe Miller in the GOP primary; she’s considering running in November as a write-in or third-party candidate. “The polls indicated she had no reason to be concerned, (and had) a sizable lead with an underfunded unknown candidate” challenging her, Weatherby said. “It’s typical that front-runners act like they don’t have an opponent - just ignore their opponent. But this is a different kind of year. Obviously, Minnick is taking no chances.”

Rabid bat found in Canyon County

Another rabid bat has been found in Idaho, this time in Canyon County, where it flew into a home and was being played with by a cat. The bat tested positive for rabies, and the cat hadn’t been vaccinated. “That’s why it’s so important to have your pets vaccinated, because if they aren’t vaccinated, the family has to make the unfortunate choice of either euthanizing the pet or … keeping them in isolation for six months,” said Laurie Boston, public information officer for Southwest District Health.

So far this year, rabid bats have been reported in Blaine, Boise and Shoshone counties; eight were found last year. Health & Welfare officials advise people to stay away from bats, and contact their health care provider if they’ve been bitten or scratched.

AARP launches statewide voter-ed campaign

The Idaho AARP is launching a statewide voter-education effort complete with voter guides for every legislative race in the state along with statewide and congressional races, meetings and discussions with its members throughout the state to bring them up to speed on issues before they vote, and more. Why that matters: The group estimates that 56 percent of Idaho’s votes in November will come from voters age 50 and older, and 30 percent of all ballots will be cast by AARP members. “The 50-plus in Idaho and across the nation is a voting powerhouse,” said AARP volunteer C.J. Petrovsky of Eagle. “We’re going to help them get the facts, learn the candidates’ positions on key issues and raise their voices.”

Petrovsky was among a group of AARP officials and volunteers who gathered on the Statehouse steps today to kick off the effort, which also will include advertising in print, online and on the radio, with the theme, “Your right, your decision, your vote.”

“This is the first time ever we’ve done a voter guide for every single race in the state, and the first time the questions came directly from our members,” said Jim Wordelman, state director for AARP in Idaho. Response from candidates has been strong, he said, with about 100 state candidates responding. For those candidates who didn’t respond, AARP is urging its members to continue to ask them where they stand on the issues. The voter guides for state and legislative races went up online today at www.aarp.org/yourvote, and the congressional guides will be up the first week of October.

For state races, AARP members chose the state budget as their top issue, but the second-top issue is a “conscience” law that Idaho’s Legislature enacted this year. It lets any health care provider refuse to provide end-of-life care that violates the provider’s conscience, and AARP says it threatens Idahoans’ rights to have their living wills and advance care directives honored. “A lot of people are worried about the conscience law,” said David Irwin, AARP spokesman. “Our members are looking for whoever they vote for to fix this thing.” He added, “We went to our members. … These are their issues.”

Education funding, campaign financing and addressing Idaho’s doctor shortage also are issues covered in the guides; the congressional voter guides will focus on the future of Social Security, Medicare fraud, access to doctors for Medicare beneficiaries and how the candidates will help older workers get back to work.

The voter guides are available to anyone; the member meetings will start with a Sept. 27 gathering in Coeur d’Alene and continue around the state.

Ethics panel sets Sept. 22 meeting on Hart

The special House Ethics Committee that’s investigating ethics complaints against state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has set its next meeting for Sept. 22, when the panel will meet at 2:30 p.m. via conference call. A live audio stream of the meeting will be available to the public on the Legislature’s website under “Announcements,” and the meeting will take place in the House State Affairs Committee meeting room, east wing room 40 in the lower level of the state Capitol. At its July meeting, the ethics committee voted 4-3, along party lines, to clear Hart of one of the two charges, conflict of interest. The remaining charge is abuse of legislative privilege. Both involve Hart’s actions as a state lawmaker while pressing his personal fights against both federal and state income taxes, which he contends are unconstitutional.

Has Gov. Otter changed his stand on repealing the 17th Amendment?

Has Gov. Butch Otter changed his stand on repeal of the 17th Amendment? Today during a campaign debate before an audience of more than 400, Otter was asked by moderator Jim Weatherby, posing an audience-submitted question, “Governor, where do you stand on the 17th Amendment? You’ve implied your support for repeal. Simple question: Do you want Idahoans to elect our U.S. senators?” Otter responded, “I want Idahoans to elect our U.S. senators.” The 17th Amendment shifted selection of U.S. senators from state Legislatures to a vote of the people, and repealing it is a plank in Idaho’s Republican Party platform. Otter added, “I have said time and time again, and I’ll say again, my focus is on the 10th Amendment. I do not  believe you’re going to repeal the 17th Amendment, and have spent no time on repealing the 17th Amendment. That was a decision, and a very populist decision that was made in the early 20th Century, and I believe that decision is one that is going to stand no matter who wants the 17th Amendment repealed.”

But when he was the keynote speaker at the Spokane Tea Party rally in Spokane on April 15, Otter was sharply critical of the 17th Amendment. There, he told a cheering crowd, “All of the amendments to the Constitution in one form or another, some of ‘em I have a serious objection with, like the 17th Amendment, the direct election of United States senators. You know, that was the first big loss we had in states’ rights.” Since then, he’s been non-committal in his comments about the issue, saying he understands concerns about electing senators by popular vote rather than having legislatures choose them, but didn’t think the issue was likely to be addressed. Backers of repeal contend it would increase states’ rights by giving state legislatures a more formal say in the federal government.

Otter’s campaign spokesman, Ryan Panitz, said Monday afternoon that Otter “has always disagreed with the 17th Amendment but from a practical stance, repealing it isn’t going to happen.” Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, responded during today’s debate, “This is what you see with career politicians, the flipping and flopping back and forth depending on their audience. I have been consistent and clear. Idahoans can, should elect their own senator.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

No pay cut for Idaho lawmakers

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A panel appointed to set pay for state lawmakers has decided against salary cuts, recommending that legislators keep their current salaries at $16,116 a year. The Legislative Compensation Committee approved the recommendation Wednesday despite strong objections from panel member Deb Kristensen, who argued that state lawmakers should take at least a 2 percent pay cut. Kristensen says the recommendation to not reduce the salaries of Idaho lawmakers sends the wrong message at a time when state workers have been laid off and forced to take unpaid furlough days. Instead of cutting pay, the committee opted to reduce how much lawmakers receive for constituent services to $1,875. Lawmakers living within 50 miles of Boise would still receive $49 per day during the session, under the proposal. Those living outside Boise who maintain second residences would still get $122 per day.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Closing statements: Guv candidates sound themes

In their closing statements at today’s City Club of Boise debate, the two major-party candidates for governor sounded the themes of their campaigns. “In these tough times, it’s not enough to just talk about the founding fathers,” said challenger Keith Allred. “Today we need a leader with a track record of bringing Idahoans together to identify the solutions that will attract that broad support. We need a leader with a track record of beating back the extreme partisanship of the special interests of our day. That is not Butch Otter’s track record.”

Otter, in his closing statement, said, “Idaho has and Idahoans have the right to be the architects of our own destiny, and we’re not now. … We generally run into some federal rule and regulation. We’ve tried every effort in the last four years to push back on the federal government, to recognize and appreciate the fact that we are a constitutional republic and that it should be Idahoans that are deciding what land is locked up … what our schools look like … what kind of activity we have in our economy. You can’t operate a state on theory, folks.”

Otter comes out against 17th Amendment repeal

Asked about possible repeal of the 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution - the amendment that established popular election of U.S. senators - Gov. Butch Otter said, “I want Idahoans to elect our U.S. senators. I have said time and time again, and I’ll say it again, my focus is on the 10th Amendment. … I certainly understand the frustration, but repealing the 17th Amendment is just not in the scope of political reality. It’s theoretical.”  Challenger Keith Allred responded, “Here at the City Club in Boise, Butch Otter tells you that he thinks Idahoans should elect their own senators, but when he goes across the state line to speak” at a Tea Party rally in Spokane he says the 17th Amendment was among the nation’s “biggest mistakes.” Said Allred, “This is what you see with career politicians.” He added that he’s a staunch defender of the 17th Amendment and “William Borah’s good legacy on that.”

Who had ‘better lobbyist’…

Asked about which tax exemptions he’d eliminate, gubernatorial challenger Keith Allred said ski resorts get a sales tax exemption that golf courses don’t, and there’s no reason other than this: “The ski resorts had a better lobbyist than the golf courses.” That got a laugh and even a grin from Otter. Otter then responded that if the ski resorts lost that exemption, “Folks, that wouldn’t be enough money to wad a shotgun.” He added, “I just want to mention that I have signed one exemption, one exemption in the four years that I have been governor. All those other exemptions were put in place, and for good reason, and there was good deliberation on those by the tax committees and by the other folks, before they put those tax exemptions into place. … But if you’re looking for the big money, then folks, you have to get rid of the production exemption, so every farm - you have to get rid of the construction exemption, so every building that we build in the state.”

From funding questions to opponent’s strengths…

Butch Otter and Keith Allred have been quickly and directly addressing lots of questions: Road funding, parks funding, what their opponent does better than them, the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness (Otter against, Allred for), and education cuts. “Obviously it was painful for us to do,” Otter said of the cuts. Allred said, “During the Otter Administration we have let tax deadbeats steal textbooks from Idaho schoolkids.”

As for what the other does better, Allred said, “Butch Otter is a good sport when he comes off his horse. I don’t know I just don’t come off my horse as much.” He then added that he thinks Otter is better and reaching out to people, convening and listening to them. “The problem comes on the back end, nothing ever happens. … We’ve had a lot of window dressing.” Otter said, “Where to begin. Well, I would tell you that I’m impressed with Keith’s credentials, you know, the fact that he went to Columbia, the fact that he taught at Harvard for so many years. I would tell you that that’s very impressive, but it’s also very theoretical and you have to have more than theory to run government.”

Candidates differ on tax deals

The first question in today’s Boise City Club debate was on whether the two major-party candidates for governor support a “proper investigation” into allegations of special deals at the state Tax Commission for influential taxpayers. “I do support a proper investigation of it, in fact … we did have an independent investigation,” Gov. Butch Otter responded. Otter said the state investigation two years ago showed a need for several reforms in the tax compromise process, including new definitions and new steps in the process, and they were adopted. “I will tell you that that Tax Commission and those previous definitions were put in long before Butch Otter became governor,” he noted.

Challenger Keith Allred responded, “This is just one of the many areas, special interests get better treatment than everyday Idahoans, and Idahoans are frustrated about that. … You think about who it is that really engages the Tax Commission and tries to oppose an audit and challenge it.” Allred said it’s those with the resources to fight, while “those who play by the rules get punished. We’ve got a problem there and Butch Otter is telling you it’s just fine the way it is, I don’t think it is.”

Allred: ‘We’re doing poorly on both’

Democratic challenger Keith Allred, in his opening statement, said his goal is to “advance our priorities, not the priorities of political parties and special interests.” As for those priorities, he said, “Two rise above the rest - first keep the tax burden on Idaho families low, second provide a great education for every Idaho school kid. You know, we’re doing poorly on both those right now.”

Otter: ‘Had to do the soul-searching that was necessary’

The two candidates for governor each have a five-minute opening statement. By coin toss, Gov. Butch otter went first. “Four years ago, I was honored and humbled to become your governor, and since that time the economic landscape … has changed very dramatically,” he said. “Everyone had to do the soul-searching that was necessary in order to do the right thing.”

Full house for guv’s debate in Boise today

There’s a very full house for the Boise City Club debate today between Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred. It’s the biggest crowd the city club ever has had, with more than 400 reservations for lunch and an additional 70-plus listening in. The audience includes many other elected officials and legislators, plus at least two other candidates for governor, independents Jana Kemp and “Pro-Life.”

State’s chief economist Mike Ferguson to retire at end of the month

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s chief economist Mike Ferguson is retiring at month’s end. Ferguson has been the state’s top economic forecaster since 1984, surviving five governors starting with John Evans even as the office changed hands from Democrat to Republican in 1994. It was Ferguson’s job to monitor macroeconomic events and forecast how much tax revenue Idaho would reap annually, to help lawmakers and governors set budgets. For two years, his forecasts missed actual state revenue totals, prompting criticism from some lawmakers he was too optimistic amid turbulence that accompanied the 2008 financial crisis and collapse of the housing bubble. The 60-year-old, an avid cyclist and kayaker, says he’ll now decompress from the economic turmoil that turned his stomach like a roller coaster in recent years. Ferguson says, “It was gut-wrenching, absolutely gut-wrenching.”

Whistleblowers: Pending tax deals could cost Idaho $75 million

Idaho stands to lose more than $75 million just from tax compromises that are now in the works, according to a group of whistleblowers who are current and former employees of the state Tax Commission - including one $203,000 tax break about to be handed to a taxpayer on his $7 million private plane. “This is the worst scandal I’ve seen in Idaho since I first came here in 1950,” declared Robert Huntley, the former Idaho Supreme Court justice who’s representing Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, for free in her lawsuit against the state over the deals.

Ringo has offered to put the lawsuit on hold in favor of an immediate state investigation, along with job protection for the current Tax Commission auditors and managers who came forward with sworn statements about the deals. But so far, the state hasn’t taken her up on the offer; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com, plus see the full documents.

Risch collects on bet over BSU football

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch won his bet with Virginia Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia when the BSU Broncos defeated Virginia Tech on the football field, 33-30, so today, Warner had to pay up by posing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in a Boise State jersey. Here’s the photo. Interestingly, Risch has long been an outspoken opponent of gambling, and led the fight in the state Senate in 2001 to reject then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s negotiated tribal gaming compacts with Idaho’s Indian tribes; Risch said then that the move would “sell our beautiful Idaho into the harlotry of casino gambling.”

Labrador: Minnick a ‘fat cat Washington insider’

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador has issued a blistering press release in response to incumbent Rep. Walt Minnick’s decision to back out of a scheduled debate against him on KTVB-TV and its partner KREM-TV; in it, Labrador recalled Minnick’s comments in 2008 about the value of debates, when he challenged then-Rep. Bill Sali to a series of 10 joint town-hall meetings across the district. “What a difference two years makes; it was all the time it took for Walt Minnick to become a fat cat Washington insider who shows nothing but contempt for the voters of Idaho and for his own previously held values,” Labrador declared. “Washington has tainted Walt Minnick and it’s time for the voters of Idaho to send him into retirement.  But before he goes I am asking him to honor his word and stop canceling the few opportunities voters will have to hear both candidates debate and discuss where they stand on the issues.”

The two candidates are scheduled to face off on Oct. 14 in a debate to be aired live statewide on Idaho Public Television; yesterday, Minnick pulled out of the additional televised debate on KTVB/KREM, which had been scheduled for late October. You can read Labrador’s full statement here. John Foster, Minnick’s campaign manager, had this response: “Over the last three months it has become increasingly clear that Raul Labrador knows nothing else but petty name-calling and untruthful attacks. He lies repeatedly about Walt’s record, struggles for support and now demands free television time to prop up his campaign. This latest desperate salvo does little more than reinforce the troubling questions about Raul’s character and qualifications for office.”

Congressman calls for investigation of oversize Highway 12 shipments

An Oregon congressman who chairs a House subcommittee on highways is calling for a federal investigation into plans for oversize shipments of oil equipment across U.S. Highway 12 to Canada, saying he doesn’t want U.S. taxpayers subsidizing Canadian oil production. “I am concerned about the ExxonMobil Canada plan to use U.S. roadways to haul oversize loads to Alberta, Canada for the Kearl Oil Sands project,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, wrote to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on Aug. 25; you can read his letter here. “If Idaho and Montana issue oversize and overweight load permits in violation of the Federal Bridge Formula, American taxpayers will pay the price for the unprecedented wear and tear on our highway system,” DeFazio wrote. “I am opposed to subsidizing ExxonMobil oil sands mining in Canada with taxpayer dollars.”

DeFazio, who has represented southwest Oregon in Congress since 1986 and is a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wrote that moving truckloads as large as those proposed would “degrade highway surfaces and subsurfaces, damage bridges and road shoulders, and dramatically increase maintenance and repair costs,” while the only ones to benefit would be a Canadian oil company and the Korean manufacturer of the equipment.

Neither state has yet issued permits for the 200-plus huge loads that ExxonMobil plans to truck to Canada from the Port of Lewiston starting in November. But Idaho is locked in litigation now with ConocoPhillips over four similar oversize loads that firm wanted to haul over the same route starting three weeks ago; you can read my full story here from today’s Spokesman-Revew.

Otter, Minnick trim debate schedules

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Politicians opting out of televised debates are again news in Idaho. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter told organizers in Lewiston he couldn’t do an Oct. 7 debate, though he’s scheduled for three other meetings with Democratic challenger Keith Allred. And U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick opted out of a late-October debate on KTVB-TV in Boise, saying he wanted to keep his calendar as flexible as possible. The Democrat is still set to debate Republican Raul Labrador on Idaho Public Television on Oct. 14. Labrador spokesman Phil Hardy blasted Minnick’s move as “cowardly” and says he’s depriving voters of an important public forum. Minnick aide John Foster contends the public TV debate serves that purpose. Foster also said televised debates are less relevant these days, since voters have more opportunities to connect with candidates via other electronic media.

BSU sets enrollment record

Boise State University has set an all-time record with its enrollment this year of 19,993 students, up 5.6 percent from last fall. At the same time, the number of new student applications is up 16 percent. BSU’s enrollment has grown 21 percent since 2000 and 48 percent since 1990; there’s more info here.

Guv candidates tout supporters, Allred gathers ‘Republicans for Allred’

Both major-party candidates for governor released lists of supporters today, with incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s list including regional chairmen around the state, from Freeman Duncan in Region 1 to Madison County Commissioner Kimber Ricks in Region 7, and continuing with county and “grassroots leaders” to stretch on for a total of five pages. Democratic challenger Keith Allred’s list was shorter, but  there was something notable about it: It was all Republicans. Allred held a press conference on the Statehouse steps with nearly two dozen GOP supporters, from former longtime GOP Ada County Sheriff Vaughn Killeen to current Twin Falls GOP County Commissioner Tom Mikesell.

Killeen said when Allred first approached him several months ago, “I wouldn’t commit - I’ve been a Republican my entire adult life.” But, he said, “I started thinking, am I more loyal to the state of Idaho or to the Republican Party? … A candidate like this doesn’t come along every four years.” Former GOP state Sen. Judi Danielson said, “The decision is not to become a Democrat - the decision is to be an Allred supporter.” She said Idaho needs “thoughtful” leadership. “The shoot from the hip response is not good for Idaho government,” Danielson said.

More than half those assembled on the Statehouse steps today were members of Allred’s Common Interest citizen group, which collaborated to take positions on issues for which Allred then lobbied the state Legislature. Former GOP state lawmaker Dennis Hansen, who was appointed to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission by GOP Govs. Phil Batt and Dirk Kempthorne and who once gave a Lincoln Day speech for Otter when Otter was running for lieutenant governor, said, “I am a very strong, committed Republican. … The issues facing Idaho and this nation are some of the most challenging that I have seen. … We need somebody that has the ability and leadership to reach consensus and move us forward, which has lacked the last four years.”

Sharon Parry, an Idaho Falls city councilwoman who coordinated Otter’s campaign in Bonneville County in 2006, said, “We want our conservative values portrayed in the governor’s office in a very consistent way.” She said, “It was actually a fairly easy decision once I decided that every Idahoan deserves a voice in the governor’s office.” Sarah Benson Burton of Eagle, who was Miss Idaho in 1991 and whose great-uncle was Ezra Taft Benson, said she and her husband Dan have known Allred and his wife, Christine, for more than 10 years. “They are good-hearted and really want what’s best for Idaho,” she said. “They’re not in it for the politics.”

Here’s what Otter had to say about his list of supporters released today: “These community leaders play a vital role in my re-election campaign and I am extremely grateful to have them on my team. We have an important message for the people of Idaho and together we all work throughout the state to make sure every citizen knows we are going in the right direction and we must stay the course.”

Labrador hires Hardy from state GOP

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador today announced two changes in his campaign staff: He’s hired Phil Hardy, who had been serving as the Idaho GOP’s “state victory director” staffer working on behalf of Labrador’s campaign and other GOP campaigns, as his new communications director; and promoted spokeswoman China Veldhouse Gum to the new position of political director. “I am so excited to be making these improvements to my campaign team at this time as we prepare for the final stretch of this successful campaign,” Labrador said; you can read his full announcement here.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Republican Party announced that Trevor Thorpe will replace Hardy as victory director. “While it’s tough to lose Phil, we are delighted to have Trevor come aboard and keep the Idaho GOP Victory programs going,” said state GOP Chairman Norm Semanko. The party’s victory program has placed more than 35,000 calls to voters in the 1st CD in a little over a month, according to Jonathan Parker, the state party executive director. Thorpe is a Virginia native and a 2010 graduate of BYU; he most recently interned at the U.S. State Department.

Last blast of summer?

Boise is basking in summer-like weather today, and has been all weekend; here, a windsurfer and kitesailors enjoy the sunny waters of Lucky Peak lake early this morning. After predicted highs of up to 90 degrees today, there’s a chance of rain tomorrow.

State budget cuts eliminate largest youth drug and risk survey

Idaho has made much of a startling statistic - that teen meth use in the state dropped 52 percent from 2007 to 2009, the largest percentage drop of any state, just as the Idaho Meth Project was ramping up its graphic anti-meth TV ads and billboards. But that percentage was boosted by a small increase from 2005 to 2007; 11 states actually saw greater declines from 2005 to 2009, according to the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey. A separate, similar survey with a much larger sample size shows smaller, steadier drops in teen meth use in Idaho - similar to drops seen for the past decade nationwide.

That second survey, the Idaho School Climate Survey, has been conducted every other year since 1996, and it would have been administered to 15,000-plus Idaho teens again next month - except that state budget cuts have eliminated the funding. “It’s a huge blow,” said Matt McCarter, safe and drug-free schools coordinator for the Idaho State Department of Education. “We’ll lose the trend data. … It’s going to be a huge impact, because we’ll have less data to be able to inform programs, policy and funding.” He added, “It’s a blow to the program, but they’re impossible decisions. The money’s not there, and you’ve got to keep the lights on and the doors open and the janitors there.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Lewis, Clark, and ConocoPhillips?

Legal arguments filed with the Idaho Supreme Court in advance of the Oct. 1 oral arguments in the Highway 12 giant-shipments case include this from ConocoPhillips, the company that wants to move oversized equipment for its Billings oil refinery through the scenic byway and historic river corridor: A comparison of the search for an appropriate route to move the refinery equipment to Lewis and Clark’s historic journey along the same route, seeking a northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean. The route is now designated as the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway. “A big oil company is invoking the spirit of famed explorers Lewis and Clark to help make its case before the Idaho Supreme Court to ship four oversized loads of refinery equipment along a northern Idaho highway,” writes AP reporter Todd Dvorak; click below for his full report.

KTVB poll shows Minnick with 2-1 lead

KTVB-TV reports that it joined with two other TV stations, KIFI in Pocatello and KREM in Spokane, to commission a statewide political poll on major Idaho races, with these results:

In the 1st Congressional District, incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick led GOP challenger Raul Labrador, 59.8 percent to 29.6 percent, with 5.4 percent favoring independent Dave Olson and 5.2 percent for Libertarian Mike Washburn. For governor, incumbent Gov. Butch Otter led Democratic challenger Keith Allred, 53.6 percent to 34.4 percent, with independent Jana Kemp at 8.6 percent; “Pro-Life” at 1.8 percent; and Libertarian Ted Dunlap at 1.6 percent.

In the race for state superintendent of schools, incumbent Tom Luna led Democratic challenger Stan Olson, 55.5 percent to 44.4 percent; and U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo led Democratic challenger Tom Sullivan 73.5 percent to 15.7 percent, with 10.8 percent for Constitution Party candidate Randy Lynn Bergquist. The stations didn’t announce the margin of error for the poll, but said it had a statewide sample size of 1,347 registered and likely voters over age 18, and was taken Sept. 1-9.

Little on ‘friendship mission’ to Basque country

Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little wraps up a “friendship mission” to the Basque country tomorrow, which included a meeting with Basque President Patxi Lopez on Thursday. Little reported that the Basque country pledged to work with Idaho on three initiatives: Creation of a Basque economic development office in Boise; launching a joint Idaho/Basque Renewable Energy Task Force, to meet twice a year; and an agreement to explore additional exchanges in culture and education. “We have 100 years or more of history with the Basque people as a fundamental part of the Idaho fabric,” Little said. “In the global economy, we need to foster strong relationships abroad, to access markets and grow our hometown businesses. This link with the Basques is a natural one, and we found a very receptive audience this week.”

Little, who went on the trip with Idaho businessmen Mark Rivers and Ed Miller, wasn’t traveling at taxpayer expense, his office reported; the trip was entirely funded by contributions from businesses.

Hart hit with campaign finance complaint

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart’s write-in challenger, Howard Griffiths, has filed a complaint with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office over Hart’s campaign finance filings for a PAC he formed this year called “North Idahoans for Liberty.” Tim Hurst, chief deputy secretary of state, said the office has not yet received the complaint, but Hart’s report for the PAC has been under review by staffers in the office since it was filed for errors and discrepancies, including possible missing pages. “They’ve asked him repeatedly to get those in, he hasn’t done so,” Hurst said today. “I just called him to tell him, and he wasn’t in, but I left him a message that we need that report in and we need it in now.”

Political candidates or committees that fail to file reports or that falsify the data can face fines and even misdemeanor criminal prosecution; for a PAC, the fine can be up to $2,500. Late filings can bring fines of $50 per day. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and read the complaint here.

That’s not a house cat…

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  KETCHUM, Idaho (AP) — Two Gimlet residents told state wildlife officials they arrived home last week to find a mountain lion in their house. Department of Fish and Game conservation officer Lee Garwood says he was called to the house on Sept. 3, but did not see the cougar. The Idaho Mountain Express reports a woman and her son arrived home to see the cougar standing by a set of open French doors. Garwood says he believes the cougar entered through the doors. The cougar turned and left when it saw the residents. Garwood said since the cat reacted as it should have, they will not try to trap it. Garwood advised people living in areas where mountain lions have been spotted to keep ground-level doors closed.

Funeral services set for Smeed

Funeral services have been set for Ralph Smeed, the 88-year-old libertarian activist and Canyon County political icon who died this week of pancreatic cancer. Smeed will be remembered in a service Monday, Sept. 20, at 3 p.m. at the Jewett Auditorium on the campus of the College of Idaho in Caldwell. Also, on Saturday morning on KBOI-AM radio, Doug McConnaughey will host a Ralph Smeed tribute program from 5 to 8 a.m., and invites callers to share their stories about Smeed.

In a posting today, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey shares a remembrance of Smeed from former Idaho Sen. Steve Symms, and Marc Johnson writes about his long interaction with Smeed at The Johnson Post here, in which he calls Smeed “one of those characters who can’t help but enrich our political system.” In 2000, Smeed talked to me about mentoring Butch Otter, who came to him for advice before his first run for the state Legislature in 1972, and Otter recalled that Smeed “gave me my first $20.” Smeed later called back to complain that I described him as “an outspoken, often profane libertarian,” though he didn’t dispute the statement’s accuracy. This year, according to Idaho Secretary of State’s records, Smeed contributed to just one Idaho politician: Sharon Ullman, who mounted a challenge to Otter in the Republican primary in May.

Moyle switches sides, opposes airport amendment

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho legislator has withdrawn backing for a constitutional amendment aimed at letting public airports including Boise’s finance projects like a new parking garage without first asking voters. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle supported the proposed amendment when it cleared the 2010 Legislature. But it has to pass voter muster on Nov. 2, when Moyle says he’ll vote against it. The reason: The Republican from Star doesn’t think Boise should be using $60,000 in public money to pay for an education campaign, contending that shows leaders in Idaho’s capital can’t be trusted to spend public money wisely. City leaders support the amendment, but contend their educational campaign doesn’t take sides. The amendment would allow airports to finance projects without a vote — if project revenues, not taxpayers, cover the debt.

Minnick launches first TV ad, Labrador doesn’t

Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick has launched his first television commercial of the campaign season, while his Republican challenger, Raul Labrador, still hasn’t been able to hit the airwaves. Minnick’s ad, the first of a series, began running on Monday morning throughout the 1st Congressional District, including in the Spokane TV market, in Lewiston and on North Idaho cable. In it, he focuses on his fiscally conservative voting record in Congress, including opposing many of the major initiatives of his own party’s leadership. Labrador’s campaign spokeswoman had no comment on when or if his campaign will launch ads of its own; you can see Minnick’s ad here, read Labrador’s response to Minnick’s ad here, and read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Three more Tax Commission workers go on record about secret deals, brings total to 8

Three current employee of the Idaho State Tax Commission - a manager and two auditors - have gone on the record in affidavits in Rep. Shirley Ringo’s lawsuit over secret tax deals, the Times-News reports today, making a total of eight current or former Tax Commission employees, each with decades of experience, charging under oath that influential people got big tax breaks at everyone else’s expense. Click here to read the full report from reporter Ben Botkin, and see the full documents in the case.

Ringo, D-Moscow, has offered to dismiss the state Legislature as a defendant in the lawsuit if the state convenes an investigation and offers job protection to Tax Commission employees to testify.

Smeed dies at 88

Canyon County libertarian activist Ralph Smeed died yesterday at the age of 88, of pancreatic cancer. Smeed was a prickly Idaho political icon, a mentor of Gov. Butch Otter, a friend of Congressman Walt Minnick, and a confidante of former Sen. Steve Symms. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Kempthorne’s new gig: Insurance lobbyist

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Former Idaho governor, U.S. senator and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is taking over as the top lobbyist for the country’s life insurers. According to a statement from the American Council of Life Insurers, Kempthorne will succeed former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating as chief executive officer and president of the group. Kempthorne and his staff will advocate for more than 300 legal reserve life insurer and fraternal benefit society member companies. The Washington, D.C.-based group says Kempthorne, who was elevated to Interior secretary by President George W. Bush in 2006, “will be a tremendous asset in advocating for an industry that plays a vital role in Americans’ lives.” Early in his career, Kempthorne was a lobbyist in Idaho for chemical maker FMC Corp. He’ll take the post Nov. 3.

A misleading claim, an overstatement, and the campaign season is on…

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s first campaign commercial for his re-election bid contains a misleading claim, while that of his Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, includes an overstatement. But both TV spots, unveiled as Labor Day marks the start of the thick of the campaign season in Idaho, begin to delineate the candidates, from the incumbent who strongly defends his state budget cuts as a victory in shrinking government to the challenger who draws himself as an Idaho everyman who’s not beholden to “special interests.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, examining the claims in the two ads.

Idaho campaigns fire up the airwaves

Wham! Labor Day passed, the weather cooled, and now the airwaves are alight with campaign ads, some of which started airing just as Idahoans were glued to their TVs for the exciting college football matchup last night between the BSU Broncos and Virginia Tech. Candidates unveiling their first TV commercials of the campaign include incumbent Gov. Butch Otter, his Democratic challenger Keith Allred, and incumbent 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick.

Otter’s ad, “Gov. Otter tackles the issues ‘Head-On’,” started airing in the Boise, Idaho Falls and Pocatello areas and will launch in North Idaho and Spokane “soon,” his campaign reports; it’s the first in a series of commercials that will run in rotation. Allred’s ad, “Keith’s Values,” started airing in southern Idaho last night and, like Otter’s, soon will launch up north. Minnick’s ad, “Standing up to Washington is right for Idaho,” is running in Boise, Lewiston and Spokane, throughout the 1st CD.

Guv campaign rekindles gas tax debate

There’s good reason why Washington plates are such a common sight at Idaho gas stations near the state line in North Idaho - gas is just plain cheaper in Idaho. Among the reasons: Washington’s 37.5 cent-per-gallon gas tax is a full 12.5 cents higher than Idaho’s, which has stood at 25 cents a gallon since 1996.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has spent several years unsuccessfully trying to persuade state lawmakers to raise Idaho’s gas tax to boost funding for road maintenance in the state. Now, as he seeks a second term in office, his Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, is proposing the opposite: He wants to lower the tax to 22 cents per gallon, and up fees on heavy trucks to make up the difference. The debate in Idaho comes as the state’s long-unchanged per-gallon tax, combined with increased fuel efficiency, has led to stagnant funding for roads despite growing traffic. You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Idaho joins appeal on Ariz immigration law

Idaho has joined Michigan in a “friend of the court” brief siding with Arizona in its appeal from a federal judge’s initial ruling invalidating portions of the state’s far-reaching immigration law; 11 states have now joined in the appeal. Gov. Butch Otter said, “It’s our affirmative duty to protect states’ rights, and that’s particularly important when a lawsuit seeks to punish a state for doing what the federal government has failed to do – protect our borders and American citizens.” Click below to read his full news release.

Aggressive bats strike again in Wood River Valley; three undergoing rabies shots

It’s happened again: Aggressive bats have attacked people in the Wood River Valley, and three people now are undergoing painful rabies vaccines. The Idaho Mountain Express reports that one person was bitten and two more may have been bitten; the encounters were in Bellevue, Hailey and Ketchum. This comes after a fisherman on the Wood River west of Hailey was pestered by an aggressive bat in July, and the bat, which he captured after finding it attached to his life vest as he went to leave, tested positive for rabies. In early August, a child who was swimming in a pond in Crouch was exposed to a rabid bat that swooped down and scratched him; the boy’s father captured the bat, and it, too, tested positive for rabies. No bats were captured in the three Wood River Valley incidents in the past week. The first rabid bat found in Idaho this year was in Shoshone County in North Idaho in March; last year, eight were found.

Health & Welfare officials say it’s unusual for a bat to be active during the daytime, let alone to aggressively attack humans; the odd behavior can be a sign of rabies, a fatal viral illness. “Bats and other mammals can carry rabies, making it extremely important for people to avoid bats or other animals, wild or domestic, that may appear sick or are acting aggressive or in an abnormal manner,” said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, deputy state epidemiologist. “People should not pick up or touch any bat. People should call their health care provider immediately if they have been bitten or scratched by a bat. Medical therapy administered to people soon after a possible rabies exposure is extremely effective in preventing rabies.”

Western lawmakers to converge on Idaho

Legislators from 13 western states are headed to Sun Valley Sept. 11-14 for the 63rd annual meeting of the Council of State Governments-West, which this year is being hosted by the Idaho Legislature. More than 400 people are expected to attend. Speakers will include pollster Frank Luntz, National Public Radio correspondent Mara Liaason, economist Jeff Thredgold, and futurist Thomas Sanderson, who will talk about the world in 2025. There’ll be a North America Summit on trade with experts from the U.S., Canada and Mexico; “legislative effectiveness training;” policy forums on everything from state budget challenges to energy, environment and health care; and Idaho Public TV will host a Western Legislative Innovations Fair on ways to improve legislative efficiency and transparency. There’s more info here.

Doing the right thing…

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  REXBURG, Idaho (AP) — A 22-year-old woman who has been working as a housekeeper at a Rexburg hotel to save money for college turned in $5,000 she found in a bank envelope while cleaning a room. Kelsey Ricks says it was simply a matter of doing “what’s right.” Springhill Suites Marriott sales manager Ben Lee says the hotel was able to return the money to the businessman who had stayed in the room early last week. Ricks plans to attend BYU-Idaho and the money she turned in would have paid for nearly two semesters of tuition. She says she didn’t have to think twice about turning the money in, because that’s how she was raised. The businessman did not leave a tip or reward, but Ricks says that’s not why she turned in the money.

More balloons over Boise…

I counted 24 hot-air balloons in the sky over Boise at once this morning, including one shaped like a rocket ship. Many drifted low and leisurely from their Ann Morrison Park launch over the city, roughly following the path of the Boise River and gliding on the light east wind, before eventually picking their landing spots and settling gently into the sea of trees. A few went high, their bright colors dimming to mere dots on the horizon.

Conditions were great this morning for the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic, and they’re predicted to be the same tomorrow, before a big change in the weather hits Sunday, with forecast highs of 69, down from the low 90s today and Saturday, and possible northwest wind gusts on Sunday morning up to 30 mph. Tomorrow’s looking great, though. The Balloon Classic tomorrow will include a pancake breakfast from 7 to 9 a.m. at the park; a balloon competition in addition to the morning launch; and a balloon “Night Glow” light show and concert in the park from 6-10 p.m.

GOP leaders misfire in attack on Allred

Two press releases went out today, one from legislative GOP leaders and the second from Gov. Butch Otter’s re-election campaign, charging that Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, is wrongly taking credit for successful Idaho legislation to raise the state’s homeowner’s exemption from property taxes and index it to changes in the Idaho Housing Index, though it was Allred who proposed the housing index tie to the Legislature, and with his Common Interest citizen lobbying group, helped push it through. The releases also contained several errors, including  claiming that Otter signed the bill into law in 2006 (it was then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne).

In the Otter campaign press release, campaign manager Debbie Field said, “The governor’s opponent is taking credit for passing a bill that he had nothing to do with.” The legislative leaders’ release said Allred was “involved on a very minimal basis.” But Sen. Hal Bunderson, R-Meridian, who chaired the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee at the time, said, “Keith was an integral part of our effort to index the homeowners’ exemption to the Idaho House Price Index. It was Keith who brought the index to our attention.” The AP also found public records showing that Allred testified on the issue in both houses.

Allred said he’s proud of the work he did on the issue. “I think the errors in today’s press release were honest mistakes,” Allred said in his response.  “In the five years that I led The Common Interest, they tried to get their facts right and we worked together well.  I look forward to working well with them again as governor.” Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Ward named head of for-profit hospital

Vaughn Ward, the candidate who lost the GOP primary in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District this year to rival Raul Labrador after a series of campaign missteps, has been named CEO of the for-profit Northwest Specialty Hospital in Post Falls, the AP reports, and will start the job Sept. 27th. Ward and his family plan to relocate from Eagle to North Idaho; click below for the full report from the AP and the Coeur d’Alene Press.

Balloons over Boise…

Hot-air balloons filled the sky over Boise this morning, as they have in so many past years. At one point, I counted seventeen in the sky at once.

Launches are planned each morning through Sunday as part of the “Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic,” along with a “Night Glow” show and concert in Ann Morrison Park from 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday.Organizers say close to 30 hot-air balloons are scheduled to participate.

Voters to decide on three constitutional amendments in November

There are three constitutional amendments regarding long-term municipal debt on the November ballot, all approved overwhelmingly by the state Legislature in the wake of the Frazier decision, in which the Idaho Supreme Court in 2006 crimped such borrowing without a public vote. The three are specifically for debt for public hospitals, airports, and city-owned electric systems, and none of the debt could be against tax dollars. In today’s Times-News, reporter Ben Botkin takes a look at the three amendments and interviews an opponent - Frazier - and a backer of the measures, legislative sponsor Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley; you can read his piece here. Also, mayors from across the state have sent out a press release and set up a website regarding the airport measure, with mayors from Idaho Falls to Nampa to Coeur d’Alene speaking out about the needs of their local airports; click below to read their full release. You can read opponent Frazier’s white paper about the amendments here.

9th Circuit court rejects ‘absurd’ Idaho hate crime appeal

Here’s a news item from the AP:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal court has rejected an appeal from an Idaho man who was convicted of a hate crime for beating a black man outside a Nampa Wal-Mart. In his appeal, Richard C. Armstrong said his sentence was too harsh because he said he wasn’t guilty of selecting a victim on the basis of race. Rather, Armstrong contended, his co-defendant is the person who actually selected their victim. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel agreed with a lower court judge who said Armstrong’s argument was absurd. Armstrong was sentenced last fall to 3 years and 10 months in prison for the 2008 attack, based on federal sentencing guidelines that allowed the judge to give additional time because he found Armstrong lied during the trial and the assault had a hate crime motivation. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

AAA: Idaho’s high gas prices ‘difficult to comprehend’

Idaho’s average gas price is now $2.99 per gallon, up four cents in the past three weeks and 31 cents above the national average of $2.68, according to AAA of Idaho. But the AAA is forecasting a 10 percent increase in auto travel over the Labor Day holiday weekend in Idaho and the region, compared to last year, despite the pricier gas. “We do not expect Idaho’s higher gas prices will have any sizable impact on travel intentions, though the final tally may have more to say on that topic,” said Dave Carlson, director of public and government affairs for AAA Idaho.

The group’s daily fuel gauge report showed that Idaho’s average gas price ties for the fifth-most expensive gas in the country, behind only Alaska, $3.51 per gallon; Hawaii, $3.47; California, $3.08; and Washington, $3.06. Idaho tied with Oregon, but Oregon doesn’t have self-serve gas, requiring motorists to let an attendant pump their gas for them.

AAA said Idaho’s average price has been more than 20 cents higher than the national average gas price for the past five months. “Market factors can influence prices from region to region and even locally, but it’s difficult to comprehend what’s driving this year’s high pump prices in Idaho,” Carlson said. Click here to read AAA’s full statement.

Accusations fly over ‘secret’ fundraiser

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Republican Party criticized a private fundraiser for Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick, though the GOP has also barred reporters from events. Idaho Republican leader Norm Semanko says Minnick smuggled in House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland for “secret meetings” with supporters — and barred media. In January 2009, reporters were kept out of a GOP fundraiser for newly-appointed Lt. Gov. Brad Little. GOP activists were upset at the time by a news report that the lieutenant governor was taking lobbyists’ cash during the 2009 Legislature — after Little had said lawmakers shouldn’t accept lobbyists’ money until the session ended. The Idaho GOP’s Phil Hardy said Wednesday Hoyer’s visit was problematic because it was kept quiet; Hardy said Little’s 2009 event, while private, was common knowledge. Minnick staffers say Hoyer’s trip was no secret, either.

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

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

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