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Eye On Boise

Archive for July 2011

It was 20 years ago today…

Today marks my 20th anniversary with The Spokesman-Review. Though things have changed quite a bit since I joined the newspaper as its Idaho editor in 1991, we’re still in the same business - reporting the news. We just do it in a lot of new ways now. I’d like to say: Thanks to all of you for reading.

I'll be gone on vacation next week (windsurfing in the Columbia River Gorge), but I'll still check in occasionally and post some updates. Have a great week.

Guv takes on feds over Lake Lowell recreation

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, on behalf of the State of Idaho, has submitted comments to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with the state's “strong opposition” to the proposed new management plan for the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge, which would restrict some longtime recreational uses, from powerboating to kitesailing. “Although it is now a wildlife refuge, wildlife and recreation have co-existed with irrigation throughout the life of the Deer Flat project,” Otter wrote. “In fact, irrigation was the original purpose of Lake Lowell. As a Bureau of Reclamation project, preservation of wildlife habitat is secondary to the water rights owned by irrigators.”

There's more. Otter asserts that state law supersedes wildlife habitat at the refuge, though the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says the purpose of a national wildlife refuge is “to serve as a refuge and breeding grounds for migratory birds and other wildlife.” As is his wont, Otter directly takes on the federal government. “Make no mistake: The responsibility and jurisdiction to manage fish and resident wildlife belong to the State of Idaho,” he writes. You can read his full letter here, which includes this comment, “If the current use of the manmade reservoir, which includes a multitude of recreation activities, has produced such a high-quality wildlife refuge, then it makes sense for those activities to continue.”

Attached to Otter's letter, at the same link, is a five-page detailed comment from the Idaho Department of Fish & Game, which isn't as confrontational, says Fish & Game “anticipate(s) a cooperative working relationship with Refuge staff in managing fish and wildlife,” and calls for much more restricted no-wake zones, developing additional fishing access at Gott's Point and other areas, and addresses hunting and other issues. Also attached is a two-page formal comment from Idaho State Parks & Rec, backing continuing current management strategies and calling for much more limited no-wake zones. “Restricting boating access would severely impact Canyon County boaters,” the state parks department wrote.

Two more mini-megaloads get permits

ITD has issued two more permits for modified megaloads to travel from Lewiston up through Moscow to Coeur d'Alene, then take I-90 to Montana and Canada. The two permits, issued Thursday, allow for travel beginning Saturday night for one load, and Sunday night for the other. Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil has been cutting down the giant loads of Korean-made oil equipment at the Port of Lewiston to allow them to be transported by a freeway route, while awaiting the outcome of permitting fights in both Idaho and Montana over its proposal to send more than 200 of the loads over scenic U.S. Highway 12. Click below for a full report from reporter Brandon Macz in today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

Safe to go back in the water: DEQ lifts E. coli warning for Sandy Point

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has lifted its E. coli contamination warning for Sandy Point Beach recreation area at Lucky Peak, saying bacteria levels have dropped and it's now safe to go in the water. The no-swimming warning has been in place since July 8. DEQ said in an announcement, “Sampling now shows that E. coli is no longer a threat to public health. Routine monitoring will continue and, if E. coli levels increase above standards, the public will be informed.”

Idaho sets wolf hunting, trapping seasons

Idaho's Fish & Game Commission, meeting today in Salmon, has set the state's wolf hunting season for 2011-12. As planned, the season will lack limits in several zones, to encourage more taking of wolves. Commissioners today made a few tweaks to the original proposal from their staff, upping the limits in two zones that have them, extending the trapping season and extending the hunting season in the Lolo zone, and lowering the nonresident wolf tag price to $31.75 statewide retroactively - nonresident hunters who already bought tags would be eligible for a refund. Fish & Game is posting all the details at its website here.

New Commissioner Kenny Anderson, from the Upper Snake Region, participating in his first commission meeting, asked to increase the limits by five each in the Beaverhead and Island Park zones. “I want more for my area, a better hunt and to take out more wolves,” he said.

New hope for filling the big hole in the heart of downtown Boise

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A Meridian developer says he has signed a contract to buy a prime chunk of real estate in downtown Boise that has been vacant for years. Officials from The Gardner Co. say they have agreed to buy the parcel on the corner of 8th and Main streets from Capps Holdings LLC, which acquired the land in a foreclosure auction two years ago. Gardner Co. Chief Operating Officer Tommy Ahlquist said Wednesday the deal hinges on resolving a handful of issues. He says the company is doing a study to determine what kind of project best fits the property. The site has been vacant since 1987 and is nothing more than a hollow pit. Financial and legal problems scuttled previous plans to build a 25-story tower at the site.

Incidentally, the site became vacant back in '87 when the historic Eastman Building, a grand, multistory sandstone structure that had been vacant for years but for which restoration plans had just been announced, caught fire in the middle of an icy night, thanks to a squatter's campfire, and burned to the ground. I covered the fire as a young reporter for the Statesman, after having just spent a couple of days amassing info on the building's history for a planned story on its looming renovation as part of the city's downtown redevelopment; that evaporated with the flames. Boise's been awaiting the next step ever since.

Redistricting commission sets meeting dates for August, September

After reconvening this afternoon, Idaho's redistricting commission approved minutes from earlier meetings and set meeting dates for August and September, including next Monday, Tuesday starting in the afternoon, and next Wednesday, with possible meetings also on Friday or Saturday. The panel won't meet the following week, but if it's still working, will be back Aug. 15-17. It also identified meeting dates in late August and into September, right up to its Sept. 4 deadline, which falls on a Sunday; commissioners said they hope to be done long before then, but would meet that day if necessary. GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said he was anxious “to get back to work” on his legislative redistricting plan, which he plans to present on Monday, so the panel adjourned until 10 a.m. Monday.

Redistricters likely won’t get GOP legislative district plan ‘til Monday

Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission is back at work this morning, but GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said he's not going to be able to present his new legislative district plan today. “We've made some considerable progress. I think we are well on target to be able to present a full plan with all the documentations, similar to what our fellow commissioners presented last week, Monday morning,” he said. “We were hoping to make this afternoon and it's just, we're just not going to get there, but I'll be working on pulling that together through the weekend.”

The commissioners took care of some business this morning, reviewing their budget status, looking over minutes and discussing their schedule for next week, then recessed until 2 this afternoon. “We're down to basically 30 days to get it done,” said Co-Chairman Evan Frasure.

Esposito said afterward, “The main focus is the plan I'm developing really is going to be consistent in terms of meeting the constitutional, statutory and court guidelines, so we're taking all those into account.” He said, “Hopefully the other commissioners will find it something they can support. At the very least, hopefully it'll be a starting point for coming together and arriving at a plan that we can get a 6-0 vote on.” He added, “We're going as hard as we can. I left here late last night bleary-eyed, but we're getting there. We're making good progress.”

Jeret ‘Speedy’ Peterson dead of self-inflicted gunshot wound

Idaho Olympic skier Jeret “Speedy” Peterson reportedly is dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Utah. Peterson, who won the silver medal in aerials at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, had just pleaded not guilty to a DUI offense in the Sun Valley area after an arrest there Friday; KTVB-TV has a full report here. Here's a link to a Deseret News story on Peterson's 2010 Olympic triumph, in which he talks about his troubled past and the transformative power for him of the remarkable aerial twists and flips that won him the Olympic medal. Here's a link to his TeamUSA profile, which notes he started skiing at age 7 at his hometown ski resort, Bogus Basin. This Men's Journal article from February of 2010 tells of his life struggles and his triumphs.

Wolf issue back in court in Montana

Even as Idaho's Fish & Game Commission prepares to set this year's wolf-hunting season at its meeting this Thursday in Salmon, the wolf issue is back in court in Montana. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy held a two-hour hearing in Missoula today, the AP reports, on a bid by wildlife advocates to challenge Congress' move to strip endangered status from the gray wolf across five states in the Northern Rockies; Molloy now must decide whether Congress violated the separation of powers under the U.S. Constitution. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Matthew Brown in Montana.

Idaho Olympian to fight DUI charge

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A U.S. aerial freestyle skier from Idaho has pleaded not guilty to speeding and drunken driving charges after his arrest Friday. Through his attorney, Jeret “Speedy” Peterson filed paperwork indicating he'll challenge his arrest after police say he raced through Hailey, Idaho at three times the speed limit. Peterson failed field sobriety tests but refused a blood-alcohol test. He's since been released from Blaine County Jail. Doug Nelson, his attorney, didn't return a phone call Tuesday. Peterson, who won a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, was dismissed from the 2006 Turin Olympics after a drunken brawl. In 2009, he was cited in Boise for public urination. And in 2005, Peterson was charged with breaking into a home and stealing weapons. He pleaded guilty after felony charges were reduced.

Redistricters thank, praise all those who submitted proposed maps

Idaho redistricting commissioners had praise today for all those from the public who submitted proposed redistricting plans, from ordinary citizens, to current and former lawmakers, to the city of Meridian and more. Commisioner Evan Frasure noted that former state Rep. Branden Durst of Boise submitted four statewide plans. “He edges out Jared Larsen, because all Jared Larsen's plans are partials,” Frasure said. “Our former legislator certainly deserves credit for his involvement there. … He's taken a very active interest, so we certainly should acknowledge his participation.”

Commissioner Julie Kane said, “I would like to acknowledge and thank everybody that submitted these maps, because I know it took a lot of work. … I think I speak for the entire commission, that we really appreciate all the work and thought that went into that.” She added that she'd “like to give … the excellence in math award to Rebecca Jacobsen, who used the split-line method - she gets an A for creativity.”

Commissioner George Moses said, “We've certainly been faced with a substantial number of people who are willing to talk the talk with us, but these who submitted maps are willing to walk the walk, and that's a substantial contribution.” The commission has now adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow, at which time GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito is expected to propose another legislative district plan.

The redistricting plans drawn by members of the public…

The redistricting commission had gone through more than half of the citizen-submitted legislative district maps so far this morning; it's taking a five-minute break now. Among those that drew comments: Remarking on plan L-3, Commissioner George Moses said, “I guess this is testament to how creative you can be if you don't let those pesky county lines get in your way,” to which Commissioner Evan Frasure responded, “Oh, come on.” Plan L-8, submitted by Jared Larsen, is just for a half-dozen southern Idaho districts, but Frasure noted some of the divisions with interest. “Obviously it isn't a full statewide plan, but these regional ones are interesting,” he said.

Plan L-10, submitted by Joshua Peters, drew lines designed to have urban, suburban and rural residents represented by different lawmakers, to reflect their differing interests. But it also included a giant district stretching across the middle of the state, all the way from Washington County on the Oregon border to Fremont County on the Wyoming border, drawing some chuckles from commissioners about which of those counties would like that less. Plan L-12, submitted by Rebecca Jacobsen, tried a scientific approach, using a “split line” method, dividing the state in half by population using the shortest line possible, then in half again and again until there were 32 districts. “I did try to keep counties together, but it didn't always work out,” she wrote.

You can see all the proposed plans online on the Redistrict Commission's website here.

Redistricters all agree on one point: Stick with 35 legislative districts

Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission is now reviewing all of the citizen-initiated redistricting plans submitted to the commission through the online “Maptitude” program; there are 29 of them. The first one, L-1, drew up a plan for just 30, rather than the current 35, legislative districts; that's allowed, but it prompted a rare moment of unanimous agreement among the six commisioners. “I would suggest that given that we've committed to a 35-district plan, that we skip over any full plan that isn't about 35 districts,” said Democratic Commissioner George Moses. GOP Co-Chairman Evan Frasure said, “I appreciate that, it'll probably cut down this process, but it is duly noted that we appreciate those inputs. … As we held statewide hearings, it is pretty obvious that the commission agrees to go for a 35-district plan.”

At the commission's public hearings across the state, people in all areas urged keeping 35 districts to avoid reducing representation by dropping the number.

Hearing officer rejects megaloads opponents’ motion for reconsideration

Idaho hearing officer and retired district Judge Duff McKee today rejected a motion for reconsideration from opponents of megaloads of oil equipment on U.S. Highway 12, but the opponents say they'll now file another objection. Borg Hendrickson, a Highway 12 resident and one of the leading opponents, said they're “disappointed” with McKee's ruling, but plan to file “exceptions” to his decision within 21 days, as permitted by ITD rules. Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness then would decide whether or not to grant the exceptions and make a final decision, which still would be appealable in court.

The 200-plus giant loads planned for the scenic route on the way from Lewiston to the Alberta oil sands also are facing obstacles in Montana, where a judge partially granted a preliminary injunction against permits for the Montana portion of the Highway 12 route. In the meantime, Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil has reduced some of the loads in size to send them by freeway instead. You can read McKee's five-page decision here; in it, he wrote, “Nothing raised in the motions persuades me that I have overlooked or misapplied the evidence offered in this case, overlooked or misapplied the law that applies to this case, or overlooked or misunderstood any of petitioners’ arguments as advanced previously in their briefs and presentations at hearing.”

Dems say road law for legislative districts violates Idaho Constitution

Here's the map that Democratic redistricting Commissioner George Moses displayed to the bipartisan citizen redistricting commission today showing 24 counties in Idaho that have borders with adjoining counties that aren't crossed by a state or federal highway. He and the other Democratic commissioners contend that following a state law requiring legislative districts to be connected by highways, which is coming into play in this year's redistricting process for the first time, would mean unnecessarily dividing counties, violating a provision of the Idaho Constitution; click below for their full statement.

Credit Suisse: ‘Meritless’ claims are ‘attempt to shift blame’

Steven Vames, vice president for corporate communications for Credit Suisse bank, has issued this statement on the latest legal filings in federal court in Idaho, in which Alfredo Miguel, founder and former board chairman of the failed Tamarack Resort in Idaho, and Tim Blixseth, founder and former manager and developer of the Yellowstone Club in Montana, have filed to intervene in a pending lawsuit against Credit Suisse, charging the Swiss bank with fraud, conspiracy and more, in a scheme they charge directly contributed to the financial failure of both resorts:

“Credit Suisse rejects Mr. Blixseth's and Mr. Miguel's entirely meritless allegations and their attempt to latch onto an existing suit which has already seen many of the plaintiffs' claims dismissed. For Mr. Blixseth in particular, this is simply the latest attempt to shift blame to others and away from his own conduct.”

The lawsuit's racketeering claim under the federal RICO Act, or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, was dismissed in March as not applicable to the case. Other claims, however, including charges of fraud, conspiracy, tortious interference and breach of fiduciary duty, were allowed to proceed. You can read my full story here at

Republicans criticize Dems’ redistricting plan, Esposito hints at compromise

GOP redistricting commissioners are critical of L-28, the legislative redistricting plan proposed by Democratic redistricting commissioners last week, and GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said, “I think the best way we can actually deal with the analysis on this map is to produce our own. So I'm looking at, as quickly as possible, putting a legislative map together.” He said he hopes to have one to present as soon as Wednesday, or at least by next Monday. “And while we might not meet the July 27th date, maybe Aug. 3rd won't be such a bad date after all,” Esposito said.

GOP Co-Chairman Evan Frasure called the Democrats' map “fairly radical” and said it includes “some districts that have never been put on paper before.” Esposito said it retains some undesirable aspects of the current backward-C-shaped District 2, pairing southern Bonner County with Shoshone County and points south; and also took issue with new proposed districts in central Idaho and in the Trasure Valley. One, he said, “sorta looks like a fish with a hook in its mouth or smoking a pipe. … I just think there are some basic problems with the way some of these districts line up.”

Democratic Commissioner George Moses said, “I'm heartbroken you don't like our map.” A key point of contention between the two sides: GOP commissioners said the Democratic plan creates too many districts that aren't connected by highways, a new requirement that lawmakers have imposed since the last redistricting a decade ago. Moses responded by showing a map, demonstrating that half the counties in the state aren't connected by highways to the adjoining counties. “This is over half the land mass of Idaho,” he said. “This statute will require that you divide counties in order to comply with it - that is on its face unconstitutional.”

Co-Chairman Evan Frasure noted that laws are presumed constitutional until courts declare otherwise, so the commission still must comply with the road law. Esposito said, “I guess we're well aware of the adage about roads and good intentions. But I believe we can actually accomplish the task put before us with a minimum number of county splits - maybe not six.” That's the number of counties divided in L-28 plan. Esposito said he'd “like to get to work” on his new plan, hinting it could be a compromise to which all sides could agree. With that he asked that the commission adjourn until 10 a.m. tomorrow, and it did; tomorrow, commissioners likely will review legislative district plans submitted by the public. The panel will meet through Wednesday this week, not longer, to follow it's already-noticed schedule and comply with the Idaho Open Meeting Law; on Wednesday, it'll decide how many days it will meet next week.

Redistricters quibble over rules, process

Returning from their break, redistricting commissioners actually got locked in a 3-3 partisan split over which rules manual they should be following, Mason's Manual or Robert's Rules of Order. GOP Co-Chairman Evan Frasure ruled it should be Mason's; the Democrats objected, but their objection failed on a 3-3 vote. This after an extended debate over GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito's proposal to let Power County commissioners come back and testify about why they've changed their minds about whether their county should be joined with Cassia County in a legislative district; Frasure ruled that commissioners should be able to ask anyone who's submitted written testimony to address the commission in person, and though Democrats grumbled that he was opening the possibility of dragging the redistricting process out through continued public testimony after extensive hearings around the state, they didn't object to his ruling.

Then, Frasure proposed that the gavel continue to be handed from one side to the other at adjournment at the end of each day of meetings, and no one objected. Frasure said it makes sense, “so that each side is treated equally, so that they will have equal opportunity to handle the chair.”

Now the commission is moving on to discussion of L-28, the Democratic legislative plan proposed last week.

Dems say they welcome GOP analysis of their legislative redistricting plan

Democratic Redistricting Commissioner George Moses says he's glad that the next thing up for the commission's consideration this afternoon will be a GOP analysis of the Democratic legislative redistricting plan he proposed last week. “We're ready,” he said. “We want to hear what they have to say, because we want to move this process forward.”

The Democratic plan, L-28, already is raising concerns from some on both sides of the aisle regarding where particular lines are drawn. “We're delighted to have our plan out in front of the public,” Moses said, noting, “There are people all over the state that didn't get what they want.” He said, “We went at it to try to get the best population balance we could get, within the rubric of keeping the counties whole. We're proud of what we did.”

Redistricting commission sets more meetings, backs off July 27 target

Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission convened this morning, and began discussing meeting dates stretching all the way through August and possibly into September, signaling that its ambitious goal of arriving at new legislative and congressional districts by July 27 has been abandoned.  “With the glacial pace that we're on in making decisions in here, I'm not so sure we have enough meetings,” said Co-Chairman Evan Frasure. “I'd have no objection to going all the way through Saturday this week, and … every day until we come to a conclusion.” The commissioners agreed to add more meeting dates, though some will need to check with their employers; they'll finalize that on Wednesday.

Frasure said he plans to “certainly honor the ruling from the co-chair” last week that the commission will now consider both congressional and legislative plans simultaneously, rather than, as he had preferred, finishing new congressional districts before moving on to legislative plans. At that point, GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said he had hoped to present an analysis this morning of the Democrats' proposed legislative district plan, L-28, but it's not done yet; he proposed recessing until 2 p.m. so he can finish that up. “We have no objection,” said Democratic Co-Chair Allen Andersen. The panel has until Sept. 4 to agree on new legislative and congressional districts; it's split evenly, with three Republicans and three Democrats, and it'll take at least four votes to adopt any plan.

Some Dems would have to fight to keep seats under Democratic redistricting plan

The legislative redistricting plan proposed by Democratic Commissioner George Moses, introduced last week, focuses in many areas on keeping counties, cities and school districts intact within newly designed legislative districts. The impact on currently serving lawmakers? Only eight of the 35 districts would force face-offs among incumbents. And among those sitting lawmakers who would have to run against other incumbents to continue to serve are a number of Democratic lawmakers.

Here's the breakout for the plan, L-28: In the proposed new District 1, there would be two sitting state senators: GOP Sens. Shawn Keough of Sandpoint and Joyce Broadsword of Sagle, meaning they'd have to face off in a primary if both wanted to remain in office. In the proposed new District 6, there would be just one sitting senator, Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Lewiston, but three House members for the two seats: Reps. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries; Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow; and Tom Trail, R-Moscow. In the proposed new District 8, once again there would be just one sitting senator - Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth - but three sitting representatives: Reps. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale; House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale; and GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly.

In the proposed new District 19, there are two sitting senators: Sens. John Andreason, R-Boise, and Les Bock, D-Boise. There are also three sitting representatives: Reps. Max Black, R-Boise; Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise; and Elfreda Higgins, D-Boise. (The current District 19 would be the new District 20, and would include all three of its current incumbents.) In the proposed new District 21, three sitting state representatives would face off for two seats: Democratic Reps. Sue Chew and Bill Killen, and GOP Rep. Lynn Luker.

In the proposed new District 23, two GOP representatives who currently serve the same district, Reps. Pete Nielsen of Mountain Home and Rich Wills of Grand View, would have Challis Rep. Lenore Barrett join them to vie for the two seats there. That's because this district would combine a swath of central Idaho, including Lemhi, Custer, Boise and Elmore counties. In the proposed new District 25, there would be one sitting senator, Republican Lee Heider of Twin Falls, but three sitting House members: Republicans Sharon Block, Stephen Hartgen, and Leon Smith, all of Twin Falls.

And finally, in the proposed new District 27, two senior senators, Sens. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Denton Darrington, R-Declo, would vie for the same seat if both want to stay in office; while three sitting Republican representatives would vie for the two House seats: Reps. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, the assistant majority leader; Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert, the chairman of the Resources Committee; and Fred Wood, R-Burley, a member of the joint budget committee and a retired physician.

The plan would create two open House seats and one open Senate seat in Canyon County; the same number in Ada County; and one open House seat in the new District 35 in eastern Idaho, where Barrett would no longer be in a district that instead would include all of Fremont, Jefferson, Clark and Butte counties. “This plan is as fair as we can make it within the structure retired by the Idaho Constitution,” Democratic redistricting commissioners wrote in their plan.

The bipartisan citizen redistricting commission meets at 10 a.m. on Monday; its agenda includes “further review of congressional plans and possible consideration of legislative plans.” You can listen live here.


Tamarack founder sues Credit Suisse for racketeering, fraud, conspiracy, more

Alfredo Miguel, founder and former board chairman of the failed Tamarack Resort, and Tim Blixseth, founder and former manager and developer of the Yellowstone Club in Montana, have filed to intervene in a pending lawsuit against Credit Suisse, charging the Swiss bank with racketeering, fraud, conspiracy and more, in a scheme they charge directly contributed to the financial failure of both resorts.

The existing lawsuit, originally filed in January of 2010 by a group of property owners from four failed luxury resorts, charged the second-largest bank in Switzerland with engaging in a “predatory” lending scheme designed to force all four resorts into foreclosure, and acquire the pricey properties for pennies on the dollar while raking in “enormous” fees. In addition to Tamarack and the Yellowstone Club, the 2010 federal lawsuit covers two other failed luxury resorts: Lake Las Vegas in Nevada, and Ginn Sur Mer resort in the Bahamas.

The filings from Miguel and Blixseth charge that the two resorts suffered “defaults and foreclosures caused directly by shoddy, deceitful, misleading and fraudulent appraisals deliberately inflated by appraisers and lenders resulting in catastrophe for lending institutions, innocent borrowers and other parties collaterally affected by defaulting loans secured by property such as vendors, contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers, title insurance companies and purchasers of real estate.”

The scheme, according to the legal filings, involved a “new and exotic real estate loan product” that Credit Suisse developed in 2004, targeting owners of high-end real real estate resort developments with the pitch that they could enjoy all the future profits and equity from their developments, just as, at the time, homeowners were tapping into their fast-rising home equities through loans. There were differences, though: Little to no risk to Credit Suisse, potential huge profits for the bank when the loans failed, and the bigger the loans, the higher fees the bank made. Plus, appraisal values for the properties were vastly inflated using a new methodology. As a result, the Yellowstone Club was appraised at $420 million in September of 2004, but in July of 2005, it was appraised at $1.165 billion. Tamarack was  appraised at $284 million in December of 2005, but one month later Credit Suisse told Miguel it was worth $1.5 billion.

The Swiss bank ran the huge loans through its Cayman Islands branch, which the new filings charge “consisted of a lonely PO box and no office personnel whatsoever,” stating, “The Cayman Island Branch of CSFB was an outright sham and subterfuge.”

When the original lawsuit was filed, a Credit Suisse spokesman said the bank believed the suit to be “without merit” and would defend itself “vigorously.” The original lawsuit seeks $8 billion in actual damages and $16 billion in punitive damages, including $150 million each for the four communities impacted by the failed resort projects. You can read the Miguel/Blixseth brief here; it includes an allegation that Credit Suisse and Highland Capital called Miguel to a meeting in Dallas in March of 2010, told him not to bring his lawyers, and leaned on him for $1.2 million saying that Highland Capital had a party who was “close to the FBI and was prepared to use 'unorthodox methods' to collect on the guaranty.”

Idaho unemployment held steady in June at 9.4 percent

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Labor says the statewide unemployment held steady at 9.4 percent in June. The agency released the latest jobless numbers on Friday, saying the Idaho labor pool shrunk for the first time in 10 months as fewer jobs were created and more than 1,800 unemployed workers either gave up their search or left the state in June. Idaho's jobless rate fell to 9.4 percent in May, down from 9.6 percent in April. The labor department says more than 30,000 unemployed workers collected $28.8 million in benefits last month, which is down compared to a year ago when more than 38,000 workers received $41.7 million in June 2010. The state reports more than 10,600 unemployed workers have exhausted their benefits and are still without work.

Other states joining Idaho to defy No Child Left Behind requirements

It turns out that Idaho's not alone in vowing to ignore the latest requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act in an act of defiance against the federal government that demonstrates their growing frustration over an education program they say sets unrealistic benchmarks for schools, the Associated Press reports. Joining Idaho are Montana and South Dakota, while Kentucky is seeking a waiver from the law and other states are considering the issue. Click below to read a full report from AP reporters Jessie Bonner and Christine Armario.

The Montana court fight over megaloads…

The Missoulian newspaper today has a look at what comes next in the Montana lawsuit over Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil's proposed megaloads on Highway 12. Montana Department of Transportation officials say they'll continue to fight the lawsuit, to defend their move to grant permits for the loads, but attorneys for Missoula County and three wildlife and environmental groups said they, too, will press ahead with the case, possibly seeking a summary judgment. Imperial/Exxon is still evaluating its options.

Montana District Court Judge Ray Dayton's decision, granting a preliminary injunction against the permits, found that MDT violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act when it concluded that an interstate route was an infeasible alternative, and that the department didn't assess wetlands or floodplain information provided by Imperial's consulting firm, Tetra Tech; it also faulted the department's review of proposed new turnouts to accommodate the giant loads of oil field equipment. You can read the Missoulian's full article here by reporter Kim Briggeman. One modified megaload already has traveled from Lewiston north to I-90 to reach Montana on the freeway en route to the Alberta oil sands.

Meanwhile, this report in the Edmonton Journal suggests Imperial/Exxon may focus on the freeway route to move its megaloads from Idaho to Canada; it's already sent one that way.

Company envisions roads made of solar panels you can drive on; wins grant

A northern Idaho company that aims to transform U.S. highways into a vast, energy-producing network is getting $750,000 from the federal government for the next phase of its project: a solar parking lot, the Associated Press reports. Solar Roadways of Sagle has received a Small Business Innovcation Research grant from the Federal Highway Administration. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Montana judge rules against megaloads

A Montana judge has ruled against transport of 200-plus Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil megaloads through Montana, saying the state's Transportation Department violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act because it approved an insufficient environmental assessment. Idaho has approved the transports to the Montana line, though that decision is being contested; but the giant loads of oil field equipment don't yet have approval to move beyond there en route to the Alberta oil sands project in Canada.

Judge Judge Ray Dayton, ruling late Tuesday, partially granted a preliminary injunction against the transport, the Missoulian reports. He ruled that the environmental assessment didn't analyze whether construction at a similar cost along an interstate route was a feasible alternative, and said MDT didn't take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of the project because it relied on the work of a private consulting firm, Tetra Tech, which was hired by Imperial Oil.  The judge said he could not rescind encroachment permits already issued by MDT, but blocked any further permits. “The practical effect of this ruling is that … activity which requires no further permitting or authorization from MDT may legally proceed,” he wrote. “However, as issuance of further 32-J permits, and any other permits … are hereby preliminarily enjoined, construction would be at Imperial Oil's peril, as it may ultimately be determined that such further permitting will be permanently enjoined.” You can read the Missoulian's full report here from reporter Kim Briggeman.

Idaho changes law after inmate made ballot for president

Idaho has changed its election laws after a prison inmate in Texas successfully made the Idaho ballot for president in 2008, and a Ralph Nader supporter from Arizona won a discrimination lawsuit over the state's nominating petition laws. The fixes were rolled into an innocuous election administration bill that passed near-unanimously this year, but Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says it could all change again soon - now that both parties are going to hold caucuses for their presidential picks, Idaho likely will do away with its presidential primary altogether. “There's no reason to have it,” Ysursa said today.

You can read my full story here at, and click below to read my 2008 story on how Texas inmate Keith Russell Judd made Idaho's ballot for president. Judd had tried to get on the ballot in numerous states, and he qualified as a write-in in several, but only in Idaho did his name appear on the ballot for the Democratic primary, right along with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Judd, who was convicted in 1999 of making threats on the University of New Mexico campus, received 734 votes, or 1.7 percent; Obama won handily, with 56 percent. “We weren't real happy he was on our ballot,” Ysursa said. “There were some changes made.”

Redistricting: ‘The game’s begun’

After Democratic Commissioner George Moses went at length through his legislative district proposal, L-28, the redistricting commission adjourned for the day; they're not scheduled back again until Monday. When Monday rolls around, Republican Co-Chair Evan Frasure, rather than Democratic Co-Chair Allen Andersen, will be chairing the meeting.

Frasure, as he left the room carrying the gavel, said, “You make these rulings - it's a two-way street.” Asked what'll happen on Monday, he said, “We'll address that - the game's begun.” He added, “We're absolutely thrilled, because we now have their plan in front of us, and they don't have anything from us. The maneuver worked very well for us - we couldn't be more happy.”

Repubs withdraw objection, redistricters take up legislative plans

The redistricting commission has reconvened, and GOP Co-Chair Evan Frasure said, “We had an objection on the table, and we would like to withdraw that objection.” Now, Commissioner George Moses is presenting a legislative district plan; it calls for 35 legislative districts, with a total population deviation of 9.82 percent and just five counties split: Bonneville, Bannock, Twin Falls, Canyon and Bonner. It also takes one precinct from Teton County to make it and Madison County the right size for a district.

The upshot: The Democrats appear to have won the parliamentary struggle to move forward with consideration of legislative district plans without first voting on congressional district plans - at least for now.

Redistricters in parliamentary wrangle…

Now that the five congressional district plans under consideration have failed to be adopted, Democratic redistricting Commissioner George Moses said he'd like to present a legislative district plan. Commissioner Evan Frasure objected. Democratic Co-Chairman Allen Andersen ruled that because the agenda for today's meeting calls for consideration of congressional plans and then “possible consideration of legislative plans submitted by the public,” the commission will now consider legislative plans submitted by the public. Frasure again objected, and Moses said he could move to overrule the chair, but Andersen's ruling should stand. The commission then, at Frasure's request, took a five-minute break. Frasure and Andersen, as the Republican and Democratic co-chairs, take turns chairing the commission's meetings; today is Andersen's turn.

Democrats on the commission want to go on to consider legislative plans without first voting on a congressional district plan; Republican have been resisting that move.

Three more congressional district plans fail to win votes, including compromise

Redistricting Commissioner Evan Frasure moved to adopt C-43 as the congressional district plan, the revised version of the Five Mile Plan. “It is absolutely the cleanest line,” Frasure said. “It makes it very easy for the citizens of Idaho. … It appears to be an excellent plan.” His motion failed, with all three GOP commissioners voting in favor, and all three Democratic commissioners abstaining. Frasure then moved to adopt C-38, the compromise plan that GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito proposed yesterday; it failed with three Republican “yes” votes, Democrats Allen Andersen and Julie Kane abstaining; and Democratic Commissioner George Moses voting no.

Frasure than moved to reject C-37, the Democratic proposal to divide the state horizontally, and have Canyon County join eastern Idaho in District 2, while Ada County joins North Idaho in District 1. He said it would leave citizens in Custer County with an all-day trip to see their congressman. That motion failed with all three Republicans in favor and all three Democrats abstaining, so that plan wasn't rejected.

At loggerheads, redistricters start killing congressional district plans

GOP Redistricting Commissioner Evan Frasure, butting heads with Democratic Commissioner George Moses, moved to approve plan C-45 as the new congressional district plan, one of two options offered today to slightly revise the earlier compromise plan C-38 from GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito. All three GOP commissioners voted in favor, Moses voted no, and Democratic Commissioners Allen Andersen and Julie Kane abstained. That means the plan died, as it takes at least four votes to adopt a plan. “It's a crying shame,” Frasure declared. “These bills that we're in the process of killing are excellent bills, and a lot of work went into them.”

Frasure then moved to adopt C-44, another plan that varies only slightly from C-45. GOP Commissioner Lorna Finman seconded the motion. It then went down with three GOP votes in favor, and the three Democrats abstaining. “I am not ready to vote at this time,” said Kane.

Andersen then called a 10-minute break. Notably, there is no rule in the redistricting commission that prevents a plan that's been voted down once from being proposed again - like there is in the Legislature's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on budget motions, where failed motions must be at least slightly altered before being proposed again.

Redistricters hit apparent partisan impasse over process

Idaho's citizen redistricting commission seems to have reached something of an impasse - it looks like both sides would support one of the five congressional district plans on the commission's short list, but the three Democrats are saying they don't want to vote today on congressional district plans; instead, they want to leave that for the end, and go on and start drawing legislative district maps. “I'm simply not comfortable yet that we have a package yet that I'd be comfortable going to the Secretary of State with,” said Democratic Commissioner George Moses, noting that 10 years ago the redistricting commission set both the congressional and legislative district maps on its final day.

“Hopefully we learn from some of their mistakes,” said GOP Co-Chairman Evan Frasure. “They ran the clock on this thing and had to go to court three times. … If you have a winner there, I would certainly like to understand the reasoning why we don't go ahead and vote, get that issue out of the way so we can continue on.” He suggested Moses was advocating “somehow holding this one hostage,” and GOP Commissioner Lorna Finman asked what reasons there are to delay, other than political ones.

Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane told Frasure, “I think you're mischaracterizing it.” She said she comes a long way for these meetings, from Lapwai, and, “When I come down here to do commission business, I want to get it done. I think we're done with congressional maps. … Let's move forward with the legislative maps. Why not?”

“I guess I don't see the crisis that is generated by not taking a  position or not taking a vote at this time,” said Democratic Co-Chairman Allen Andersen. Frasure said, “We've debated for two weeks - we're at decision time.” He said to “hold up this whole process and use it as a bargaining chip” would be a “crying shame and a waste of time.”

Payday lender must reimburse Idahoans

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The state attorney general's office says Idaho residents are eligible for restitution from a Utah-based payday loan lender that was not licensed to practice in the state and attempted to garnish the wages of borrowers without a court order. Attorney General Lawrence says Flobridge Group, LLC has agreed to refund borrowers who sent the company payments after receiving collection notices, wage garnishment requests or court documents. The company agreed to the refunds as part of a settlement. Wasden says Idaho barred Flobridge Group from payday lending within its borders last year because the company wasn't licensed by the Department of Finance. Idaho claims an investigation found the lender hounded borrowers who missed payments with repeated calls, emails and texts to them and their employers while also threatening unauthorized legal action.

Feds to step in, regulate health insurance increases in Idaho

The federal government intends to take over the role of reviewing increases of health insurance premiums in Idaho, the Idaho Statesman reported today; the federal decision may be the first real effect of Gov. Butch Otter's executive order barring the state from carrying out any component of the 2010 federal health care overhaul. Among the reasons: Idaho can't meet the federal law's requirements for oversight on health insurance rates, in part because it doesn't disclose health insurance rate increases to the public. You can read the Statesman's full story here.

Labrador campaign fundraising includes stops in Puerto Rico

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Marking his close ties to Puerto Rico, Idaho Republican U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador made campaign stops in April and May on the island where he was born. According to his July Federal Election Commission report, Labrador held events at the Ponce Hilton and Casino and at the beachfront Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa. He paid about $12,000 to cover catering, airfare, meals, lodging — and a jungle excursion for guests into the Caribbean island's El Yunque rainforest. The report also indicates Labrador raised $10,500 from Puerto Rican contributors including Alberto J. Torruella, an executive at Distileria Serralles, which markets itself as the second-largest premium rum producer for the U.S. Market. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Five district plans move to top of list…

Idaho redistricting commissioners have decided to move five plans to the top of the list for consideration: C-38, the compromise plan proposed yesterday by GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito; three new plans submitted today, two of which are minor revisions of C-38 and one of which is a “cleanup” to the GOP's earlier “Five Mile Plan;” and C-37, proposed yesterday by Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane. The first four generally keep the line between the two congressional districts about where it is, just sliding it to the west in various ways in Ada County; C-37 is a plan that would divide the state horizontally, pairing Canyon, Owyhee and Elmore counties with eastern Idaho in District 2, and joining Ada County with everything north, including Custer and Lemhi counties and all of North Idaho, for District 1. All five plans have population deviations between the two districts of zero to one person.

“From 45 (plans) down to 5 - I would call that progress,” said Commission Co-Chairman Evan Frasure. “We have a lot to digest here. … Hopefully we have a winner in here.” The commission will reconvene at 2 this afternoon.

More congressional district plans unveiled

Idaho's citizen redistricting commission has convened this morning, and GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito has proposed several additional options on congressional district plans. The first, C-43, is a slight revision of the earlier Five Mile Plan proposed by the Republicans, aimed at cleaning up and straightening some lines. Another is a “cleanup” of C-38, the Cloverdale compromise plan he proposed yesterday, to “true up all lines on the northern part of the district,” using Highway 55 as a divider.  “I think this also gives us some very bright lines,” Esposito said. “It's another alternative.” Both, like earlier GOP proposals, simply move the line in Ada County between districts 1 and 2, leaving eastern Idaho in District 2 and North Idaho in District 1.

Idaho loses lawsuit over presidential ballot rules, pays attorney fees

Idaho's Constitutional Defense Council, which includes the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state controller, and the House speaker and Senate president pro-tem, has voted unanimously to pay more than $54,000 in attorney's fees and costs, plus interest, to an Arizona man who successfully challenged Idaho's law requiring signature-gatherers for nominating petitions for presidential candidates seeking to make the Idaho ballot be Idaho residents. “There was corrective legislation passed this session,” Secretary of State Ben Ysursa told the council, to which Gov. Butch Otter retorted, “So it won't happen again.” That drew a laugh, as several council member cautioned that that particular case won't happen again.

The constitutional defense council oversees Idaho's “constitutional defense fund,” which before today's vote had $240,422 left in it; this payment will take it down to around $185,000. “I think it is important that we at some point replenish that fund,” said House Speaker Lawerence Denney. Otter said, “We were going to do that last year, but we didn't do it.” Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, who participated in the meeting by phone, said, “We did lose, and it seems appropriate this would be a good fund to pay the fees out of.” The fund was established by the Legislature for legal defense of state laws on constitutional issues.

Idaho defended its law against the federal lawsuit, saying it comported with federal requirements that a presidential candidate show a “modicum of support” to get on a state's presidential ballot. But a recent  9th Circuit decision in an Arizona case suggested the appellate court won't uphold such restrictions. Idaho's rules were changed in HB 275 this year, which made a series of administrative changes in Idaho's election laws and passed near-unanimously; the bill also reduced the number of required signatures for a third-party candidate for president to make Idaho's ballot to 1,000; they'd previously been set at a percentage of those who voted in the last presidential election, which was many times higher. The lawsuit, Daien v. Ysursa, also successfully raised that issue, saying it improperly burdened independent candidates.

Redistricters adjourn, will be back tomorrow

Idaho's citizen redistricting commission has adjourned for the day and will reconvene at 10 a.m. tomorrow; no one was ready to make a motion, though both sides had indicated possible support for a compromise congressional district plan proposed by GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito. Like today's, tomorrow's meeting will be streamed live on the Internet. Esposito said of his proposal, C-38, “It is a compromise. It's the best good-faith effort - I committed to Commissioner Kane on Friday that I would work on it, something better than the Five Mile Plan that is a little easier to understand.”

When Democrats wanted to go on and start considering legislative district plans, saying they didn't want to waste time while awaiting the congressional plan vote, GOP Co-Chair Evan Frasure bristled, questioning whether they were trying to make the congressional district plan into a “bargaining chip” on legislative districts. Said Esposito, “There's really no linkage.” Idaho's current congressional district lines don't match up with its legislative district lines.

Four more congressional district plans proposed

The redistricting commission has reconvened; Democrats wanted to move ahead with starting to consider legislative district plans while they mull a compromise plan on congressional districts, but Co-Chairman Evan Frasure of Pocatello refused, saying that would “confuse the issue” as “they're two separate tasks.” For now, the commission has decided to introduce several more proposed plans that Frasure has worked up. The first, C-39, has a one-person deviation and is called the “5 Ada Cities Whole Plan;” it moves Boise County into District 2. The second, C-40, dubbed the “Owyhee” plan, leaves all counties in the districts they're in now, and just adjusts the line through Ada County. The third, C-41, avoids splitting any precincts, but has a deviation of plus or minus 104 people. The fourth, C-42, dubbed “Eagle Road,” has a population deviation of plus or minus four people, and a slightly different line through Ada County. Said Frasure, “I guess we'll give you a few more to contemplate overnight.”

Burdick elected chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick has been elected chief justice by his colleagues, succeeding current Chief Justice Daniel Eismann, who will continue to serve on the state's highest court. Burdick, who will begin his four-year term as chief justice on Aug. 1, said he plans to continue Eismann's initiatives to expand drug, mental health and other problem-solving courts in Idaho and to pursue advances in technology that help modernize court operations. Eismann also advocated four-year rotations in the chief justice position; you can read the Idaho Supreme Court's full announcement here. Burdick has been a judge for three decades; he was appointed to the Supreme Court by then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne in 2003 and re-eleced to the court in 2004 and 2010.

Redistricting: Cloverdale plan wins plaudits from both sides

A compromise congressional district plan proposed by GOP redistricting Commissioner Lou Esposito is getting good reviews from commissioners of both parties. “Clearly we're going to need more time to understand all the details on this, but I want to congratulate Commissioner Esposito on an effort to square the circle,” said Democratic Commissioner George Moses. “He has certainly struggled with that and come out, in my opinion, on top. Subject to a little more study, I would have to say that this is a plan, speaking for myself, that I could live with, subject to looking at it a little more closely.”

Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane agreed. “I just want to say that I really like this plan,” she said. “I think Lou made a good effort to move toward brighter lines of demarcation, and at the same time, he managed to keep it within a zero percent deviation. This is something that I think I can support as well, when the time comes for a vote. I think I just really want to tell Lou that I appreciate the work that he did on it. I know it took a while to get there, and I just really appreciate it.”

Esposito's plan is being called the “Cloverdale” plan, because a portion of the dividing line was moved from earlier GOP proposals that had it at Five Mile Road, to Cloverdale Road. Under it, North Idaho would remain in District 1, and eastern Idaho in District 2; the only county that would be divided, as it is now, would be Ada County.

Esposito proposes compromise plan for congressional districts

GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito has proposed a new congressional district plan that sounds like it might be something of a compromise: It uses I-84 as a dividing line between the districts, like the Democrats' earlier plan did, but it divides only one county, Ada, and every county in the state stays in the same district it's in now. Other dividing lines between the two districts would be the Garden City limits, as well as well-known, major roads including Cloverdale, Chinden, Gary Lane, Hill Road, and Highway 55. “I think these are pretty bright lines,” Esposito said. “People are very familiar with Gary Lane, that's the road to the Ada County landfill. Everyone's very familiar with Hill Road, Highway 55. People who live in Garden City know whether they live in Garden City or not.” Plus, the plan has a zero population deviation - exactly the same number of people in each of the two congressional districts.

“We get down to one person, one vote, and also we see other criteria, in terms of easy-to-follow, easy-to-distinguish bright lines,” Esposito said. After Esposito proposed his plan, the bipartisan redistricting commission took a 15-minute break for both parties to caucus.

Dems propose splitting Ada from Canyon in congressional district plan

Democratic redistricting Commissioner Julie Kane has proposed another new congressional district plan, C-37. This plan, like C-36, has a population deviation of just one person. “This plan keeps the counties whole except for a little jog there that pulls over precincts … to try to get to the one-person deviation,” Kane said, in the Meridian area. It moves all of Canyon and Owyhee counties into the 1st District, along with Custer and Lemhi counties. Said Commissioner George Moses, “The only problem I see is if someone would rather divide Ada County even more than this plan does.”

Commission Co-Chairman Evan Frasure said, “You're disturbing well over 300,000 people and moving counties around. … It certainly completely changes the character of both districts.” He said, “You're moving a third of the state around. … I'm not so sure this is a solid plan.”

“Everybody in the state still is going to have the same right to vote,” Moses responded. “To suggest that any proposal deprives anybody of their right to representation is simply wrong.” Said Frasure, “The point is that you're moving hundreds of thousands of people from one district to another. … This is a major departure from what we currently have. … Politically it accomplishes the goal of separating Canyon County from Ada.” He said, “The fact is you're just moving hundreds of thousands of people to a new congressman.” Said Kane, “All we're doing is getting it out there for discussion.”

Finman proposes ‘Boise County North’ congressional district plan

GOP redistricting Commissioner Lorna Finman has proposed a new congressional redistricting plan, plan C-36. It's similar to the earlier GOP plan, but makes some shifts in the line; she called it the “Boise County North” plan. “It moves precincts out of the south and kind of moves things north,” she explained. This plan has a population difference between the two districts of just one person. All of Boise County and all of Garden City would move to District 2. The dividing line between the two districts in Ada County, which would be the only county split, would follow Five Mile Road, Amity Road, Gowen Road and Pleasant Valley Road. Finman said it's a proposal that could perhaps, with a little more “tweaking,” be brought to a zero population deviation between the two districts.

Court documents: Previous ITD director was secretly fired, given ‘graceful’ exit

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A former Idaho Transportation Department director was asked to resign in 2006 following a whistleblower complaint, a detail hidden from the public until court documents were released last week in a separate case. The papers, filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday, reveal circumstances of how former director David Ekern exited his job in August 2006. That month, Ekern said he was quitting to pursue “significant career opportunities.” But a whistleblower complaint from March 2006 alleged Ekern engaged in favoritism and “misuse of power and authority,” prompting Transportation Board members to vote in secret session to remove him. Members then gave Ekern “the opportunity to gracefully leave ITD.” The documents, filed by ex-ITD Director Pamela Lowe, Ekern's successor, seek to bolster her claim that she was illegally fired in 2009. You can read the full story here at

Stitching together a national memorial…

The National 9/11 Flag is on display in Idaho's state capitol today, where the tattered American flag that was destroyed in the collapse of the World Trade Center 10 years ago is being repaired with a patch from each of the 50 states; today is Idaho's turn.

Here, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter takes a stitch; others who showed up on the second floor of the Capitol rotunda, from young students to wounded warriors, got a chance to do likewise. Idaho's patch for the flag was constructed of fabric from a flag that flew over the Idaho National Guard Joint Force Headquarters; each state's patch is coming from American flags that were bound for retirement. The flag was first stitched back together by tornado survivors in Greensburg, Kansas seven years after the 9/11 attacks. There's more info here.

Of ‘bright lines’ and politics…

GOP redistricting Commissioner Lou Esposito said, “I do want to bring us back to what our original goals are. … I'm all in favor of finding the common ground.” He said he's working on a plan that has more of a “bright line” between the 1st and 2nd congressional districts, as advocated by Democratic Commissioner George Moses, but it's not quite done yet. “I'm hoping today that we can have a 6-0 vote for congressional district lines,” Esposito said. “I don't want to see this discussion evolve into a political debate.”

Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane noted that C-34, the Democratic plan, would have 14.5 percent of the Hispanic vote in one district and 7.9 percent in the other; while C-33 would have the Hispanic vote more evenly split, 9.97 percent in District 1 and 12.47 percent in District 2. She said commissioners should consider that as a factor in their district plans, to make sure the Hispanic vote isn't being diminished by the way the lines are drawn. Commissioner Evan Frasure said, “Duly noted.” The commission then broke for lunch and further work on plans; it'll reconvene at 2 p.m. Boise time.

‘Political consequences’ of congressional district plans…

Redistricting Commissioner George Moses said plan C-33, the GOP Five Mile Plan for congressional districts,  “does zig and zag around, and if you were to tell somebody how to figure out which districts they're in … you'd have to be very knowledgable.” He said, “When people get confused, it tends to diminish their participation.” Moses said the Democratic I-84 plan, C-34, creates a “bright and vivid line that everybody can recognize.”

Commission Co-Chairman Evan Frasure said he thought C-34 was “inviting a lawsuit,” because it unnecessarily splits two counties, Ada and Canyon. Plus, Frasure said, “It does have tremendous political implications.” He said, “It's a brilliant political move … This clearly carves a nice district for a member of the minority party here in Idaho to run for Congress in the 1st District. If you haven't done that analysis, perhaps I can share it with you.”

Moses responded, “There's no hidden agenda here that we're aware of.” He said. “This one is all about a bright line.” Frasure noted that C-33 has a zero population deviation, while C-34 has two districts that vary by 53 people, plus or minus. “The reality is anything over zero is going to have a problem, especially if it has political consequences,” Frasure said.

Redistricters look at more plans…

Redistricting commissioners are back at work, and say they have at least three new plans to introduce before their lunch break, as far as where to draw the line between Idaho's two congressional districts. They're also reviewing existing plans C-33, C-34 and C-35.

Redistricting commission back at work…

Idaho's citizen redistricting commission has convened this morning, and briefly discussed comments received over the weekend on the four proposed congressional district plans it's currently considering. “It's clear to me that our partisans have spoken,” said Commissioner George Moses, as the other commissioners chuckled. Said Commission Co-Chairman Evan Frasure, “I think that would be a fair analysis - I didn't see a whole lot of neutral testimony in there.” The Republicans have proposed a “5 Mile” plan, C-33, moving the dividing line between districts 1 and 2 in Ada County two miles to the west, from Cole Road to Five Mile Road. The Democrats have proposed an I-84 plan, C-34, dividing both Ada and Canyon counties and using I-84 as the dividing line; in both those, North Idaho would remain in District 1, and eastern Idaho in District 2.

They were also considering C-22, a citizen-submitted plan that wouldn't divide any counties, and instead would divide the state vertically, making a new District 1 out of Canyon and Ada counties, and pairing North Idaho and eastern Idaho in a new District 2. Commissioner Julie Kane, who dubbed that plan the “Just Sayin'” plan, said, “There were a couple of people that liked that one, but I think that we're safe to throw that one out and narrow it down to three.” Frasure responded, “Fair enough.” The other plan, C-35, is a version of C-33, the GOP plan, that doesn't split any precincts.

Commissioner Lou Esposito said he's working on a revision of the 5 Mile plan and asked for a 45-minute recess to put the finishing touches on it; Frasure, who said he and Commissioner Lorna Finman also are working on plans, agreed; the commission will reconvene at 11 a.m. Boise time.

Idaho GOP central committee votes ‘no confidence’ in McGee after DUI

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Republicans have approved a motion giving Sen. John McGee a vote of no confidence following a drunken driving incident but postponed indefinitely a resolution calling for the Senate majority caucus chairman to resign his leadership position. The no-confidence motion approved by the Idaho GOP's state central committee on Saturday at its meeting in Moscow has no legal effect, but some members say it sends a message that they don't approve of what McGee did. McGee, of Caldwell, on July 1 pleaded guilty to drunken driving on June 19, and in exchange prosecutors agreed to drop a felony stemming from him taking a SUV that didn't belong to him. The Lewiston Tribune reports that committee members spent more time talking about McGee than any other single issue.

Here's the opening of the Lewiston Trib story, by reporters Bill Spence and Cody Bloomsburg: “MOSCOW — A resolution calling for Senate Majority Caucus Chairman John McGee to resign his leadership position was defeated at a state party meeting in Moscow on Saturday, but the group did give the Caldwell lawmaker a vote of no confidence. The Idaho Republican Party state central committee spent more time talking about the McGee resolution than any other single issue. It said the party “agrees with the will of the voters, who disapprove of and seek the resignation of any politician who drinks, steals and drives.” Initially it called for McGee to be censured and expelled from the central committee, but it was later amended to remove the expulsion clause.” Click below for a full report.

Idaho GOP votes for caucus instead of presidential primary, approves controversial resolutions

Idaho's GOP Central Committee, at its meeting in Moscow today, approved moving to a caucus system – like the Idaho Democrats' – for its presidential delegate selection in 2012, making the state's presidential primary election meaningless for both parties. “It would just make it irrelevant,” said Jonathan Parker, Idaho GOP executive director. “So (Idaho Secretary of State) Ben (Ysursa) and I have talked about reaching out to the Democrats … (about) getting a bill through that would just eliminate it altogether.”

Today's GOP central committee meeting also saw 9 of 11 proposed resolutions approved, including a “China-Beachhead” resolution declaring that GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s “Project 60” trade-building initiative is a bid by the Chinese to take over Idaho’s sovereignty, and calling on the Legislature to look into it; a resolution to kick the EPA out of the Silver Valley and instead put the Idaho DEQ in charge of mining contamination cleanup there; and a resolution to study a gold currency to replace the “failing” U.S. dollar. Also approved by the Idaho Republican Party's central governing body:  A resolution from the Boundary County GOP to prevent school districts from running tax levy votes for a year after one fails; one from GOP Vice Chair Todd Hatfield to forbid the state Land Board from “investing in or owning any business that competes in the private sector;” and one from William Roberts of Boise County to push Otter to back gun rights including allowing firearms on state college campuses.

A resolution from John Blattler, Boise County GOP chairman, to back a since-abandoned proposed rule change to have county party committees screen primary election candidates, was pulled “because obviously it was irrelevant,” Parker said. And a measure backing more high-tech efforts by county parties passed with amendments, while one backing Idaho Fish & Game rules for ATV use by hunters cleared the resolutions committee, but was pulled before it went to the full central committee. “A lot of people thought it needed more debate,” Parker said. “It will probably be brought up again.”

The GOP meeting saw lots of debate – the resolutions committee debated for two and a half hours, and the full meeting ran 'til 5:30 p.m., when it was supposed to be over by 3:30. “I thought it was great - it was a very energetic crowd, lively debate,” Parker said. The meeting, he said, reinforced to him that the Idaho GOP is a “party of ideas,” because “ideas were discussed and debated.”

Labrador bill would speed geothermal energy exploration

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador is pushing legislation in Congress to ease restrictions on geothermal exploration on federal lands, a move experts say could lead to more development of a “green” energy source for which the United States is the world's leading producer. The bill, H.R. 2171, cleared a House committee on a bipartisan, 26-16 vote this week, and is now headed to the full House for a vote, likely in the fall. You can read my full story here at

Redistricters want public comment, will take up again Monday morning

Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission has decided to adjourn until Monday morning at 10, “in light of all the good material we've got to digest,” in the words of Co-Chairman Evan Frasure. Said Commissioner George Moses, “We would invite public comments on all that has gone on today, including the four (proposed congressional district plans) that we have under active discussion or any other submissions. That would be very welcome.”

Full breakdown on impact of Keough-Broadsword legislative district plan…

A detailed analysis of proposed legislative redistricting plan L-16, which was submitted this week by North Idaho Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, shows a slightly different impact on incumbents than originally estimated. Here's the breakdown: Under that proposed new legislative district plan for the Panhandle, the new District 1 would contain the same incumbent lawmakers it has now. The new District 2 would have Broadsword along with both current District 3 representatives, Reps. Phil Hart, R-Athol, and Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens.

The new District 3 would have only one incumbent, Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls. The new District 4 would have two incumbent senators - Sens. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, and Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens - and one incumbent representative, Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene. And the new District 5 would be something of a battleground, with just one incumbent senator, Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene; but four incumbent representatives: Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene; Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d'Alene; Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries; and Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton.

Fourth redistricting plan submitted

Redistricting Commissioner Evan Frasure has submitted congressional district plan C-35, which is identical to the GOP's earlier plan but doesn't split precincts. There are now four plans on the table for the commission. Commissioner George Moses raised the possibility of leaving all four out for public comment over the weekend, rather than picking one and voting on it now. GOP commissioners then asked for a five-minute recess.

Dems point to citizen plan that creates Ada-Canyon district

Democratic redistricting commissioners have also pointed to one of the plans submitted from the public, C-22. “We selected this from among the public plans - it divides no counties, divides no precincts, and it is contiguous and compact,” said Commissioner George Moses. Commissioner Julie Kane said she's calling it the “I'm just sayin'” plan.

Said Moses, “This is the only one that combines the Treasure Valley into a single district, the largest community of interest in this state.” Plan C-22 puts Ada and Canyon counties in District 1, then combines a vertical swath of the state to make a District 2 that stretches from southeastern Idaho up north, and includes all of North Idaho from Riggins north.

That plan has a population deviation of plus or minus 278 people. GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito said, “We looked very closely at this plan. Unfortunately when you really look at the logistics of how this is drawn, there's really no way to get there from here, if you're in Pocatello and you want to get to Coeur d'Alene without going through the 1st CD.” Kane noted that the state law requiring roads to connect districts applies to legislative districts, not congressional districts.

Gilmore: ‘Either plan would be defensible’

Redistricting Commission Co-Chairman Evan Frasure asked Deputy Attorney General Mike Gilmore which of the two proposed Idaho congressional district plans - the Republican plan, C-33, with zero population deviation and one county split, or the Democratic plan, C-34, with a population deviation of 53 people and two county splits - would stand up better to a legal challenge. “Zero is more defensible than 53, and one county split is more defensible than two county splits,” Gilmore responded. “But … it is a decision for this body, not for your legal counsel, because I think either plan would be defensible.”

Dems’ plan splits both Canyon and Ada, uses I-84 as dividing line

Democratic Redistricting Commissioner Julie Kane said, “For discussion purposes, I would like to submit a plan as well. … I would call it the I-84 plan.” The Democratic plan has a deviation between the two congressional districts of plus or minus 53 people, .01 percent. “This plan divides two counties, Canyon and Ada,” Kane said. “We tried to follow the highway, which we felt was the biggest geographical marker in that area.” Kane, an attorney, noted that the Idaho constitutional provision against dividing counties applies to legislative districts - not to congressional districts. The Dems' plan pulls Owyhee County into District 2.

GOP submits ‘5 Mile Plan’ for dead-even Idaho congressional districts

Commissioner Lorna Finman has submitted a GOP congressional district plan, which keeps the 1st and 2nd congressional districts essentially as they are now, just moving the line in Ada County west two miles from Cole Road to Five Mile Road. “We call it the Five Mile Plan,” Finman said. Commisioner Evan Frasure said, “That is zero deviation, and that is the cleanest one I could come up with.” The line was shifted at its south end in a sparsely populated area near Blacks Creek Reservoir and I-84, to shift the final 56 people to reach zero deviation. “The nice thing is it shouldn't be too confusing because nobody lives out there,” Frasure said. The northern line between the two districts would stay where it's been for the past 40 years, he said.

“It does divide the one county,” Ada County, Frasure said. But Idaho has divided Ada between its two congressional districts for the past 40 years.

Commission wrestles with one big question in drawing congressional districts: Split Ada or no?

Idaho's citizen redistricting commission is hearing from the state attorney general's office this morning about legal precedents on population variance between congressional districts, and on splitting counties between congressional districts. “The zero deviation does seem to be preferred by the court,” Deputy Attorney General Megan Mooney told the commission, and Deputy Attorney General Mike Gilmore concurred. “So the bottom line is the more equal you can get 'em, the better for the voter,” said Commissioner Julie Kane.

It matters because the big question in dividing Idaho into two congressional districts is whether to continue to divide Ada County between the two districts, as it has been since 1971, or whether to move it fully into one district or the other, which would dictate a much different division of the state. Here's the issue: Idaho can be divided into two districts without splitting any counties, with a difference of plus or minus 278 people between the two districts - a very low deviation. But with a split of Ada County, it can be divided into two exactly equal districts, which identical numbers of people in each.

Commissioner George Moses said, “I'm very concerned that we're going to get stampeded into zero or nothing. This is a political process, and we should not be afraid to make political decisions. … I'm wondering if we're not raising the specter of a lawsuit far higher than it ought to be realistically.” Commissioner Lou Esposito asked Gilmore, “Are we better off to go to the zero deviation, with dividing a county, because that's our best position?” Gilmore responded, “That I believe is an essentially political decision and not a legal decision. And the reason I say that is, it is clear that you can go to zero to meet equal protection challenges. But it is also clear that U.S. Supreme Court case law has affirmed deviations as high as the 270s, if it's done to meet an articulable state standard.”

ITD to pay more than $1M in fines for clean water violations in Highway 95 work

The Idaho Transportation Department has agreed to pay more than $1 million in fines for Clean Water Act violations related to construction on Highway 95 south of Coeur d'Alene, including an additional $774,000 in fines it'll pay now on top of the $325,000 it paid in 2008. The agreement between ITD and the EPA is part of a settlement that also ends five years of annual audits of ITD by the EPA to monitor compliance; in addition, ITD made various improvements in its practices over the past five years as part of its agreement with the EPA, including requiring winter shutdowns for contractors, strengthening compliance rules for contractors, and improving training. Click below to read ITD's full announcement.

Crapo, Risch sponsor bipartisan forest management bill

Idaho GOP Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have joined with Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Begich of Alaska to introduce legislation today designed to overturn a 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that the four say would subject logging roads in public and private forests “to some of the most stringent environmental protection laws in the United States,” by declaring logging road runoff a point source pollution subject to Clean Water Act permitting requirements. Since 1976, such runoff has been regulated under the EPA's silviculture rule as non-point source pollution. You can read the senators' full statement about the legislation here.

Redistricting commission wraps up for today; take up again in morning

The redistricting commission will convene again in the morning; after reviewing all the public plans submitted today, commissioners had questions, including: If the public can come up with plans that divide Idaho into two congressional districts with exactly even numbers of people, to avoid legal challenge, must the commission meet that same standard? And if the public can come up with plans that don't divide counties and still vary only by 556 people between the two districts, must the commission meet that standard, too? Deputy Attorney General Mike Gilmore will report back to the commission in the morning on legal precedents, and the commission's staffers will report on how other states have approached that issue this year.

29 Idahoans have submitted proposed congressional district plans

Among the 29 proposed congressional district maps submitted to the citizens redistricting commission by members of the public are some that split Ada County, as do the current districts; some that put all of Ada County in District 1 while moving all of Canyon and Owyhee counties into District 2; some that try to avoid all county splits; and some that try to make the two districts very closely matched in population - one, C15 from Alex de la Torre, had them dead-even. “This plan essentially keeps the status quo as much as possible,” de la Torre wrote about his district plan. “Overall it is an incumbent protection plan.” Another plan, C13 from Larry Cravens, would avoid county splits, while coupling eastern and northern Idaho together in District 1, with Ada, Canyon, Elmore, Twin Falls and Owyhee counties in District 2; that would put current 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador in District 2, and current 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson in District 1. You can see all the plans here.

Commission Co-Chairman Evan Frasure said, “I want to compliment the public - they're following our requests. I hope they're this detailed when it comes to the legislative ones.”

Idaho GOP backs off plan to screen primary candidates

Idaho Republicans have dropped a proposed rule change to let party committees screen candidates for primary elections and select just two for each office, but they'll consider plenty of other big changes when they gather Friday in Moscow for their annual state central committee meeting, including doing away with their May presidential primary entirely.

Also on tap: An array of resolutions on everything from kicking the EPA out of the Silver Valley, to studying a gold currency to replace the “failing” dollar, and to an “Idaho as China-Beachhead Withdrawal Resolution,” declaring that GOP Gov. Butch Otter's “Project 60” trade-building initiative is a bid by the Chinese to take over Idaho's sovereignty, and calling on the Legislature to look into it. Not on the agenda for the two-day meeting: Letting independents vote in the GOP primary for state offices next May. You can read my full story here at

Redistricting commission back at work

Idaho's citizen redistricting commission has started its work this afternoon, with review of congressional plans submitted by the public up first for consideration. The commission is scheduled to meet until 4:30 today; you can listen live here.

Hundreds honor fallen firefighter

Hundreds of firefighters and dozens of firetrucks, hotshot crew carriers and other fire apparatus accompanied the funeral procession today for fallen Boise firefighter Caleb Hamm, 24, who died July 7 while fighting a fire near Mineral Wells, Texas. His funeral is at 11 a.m. today at the Doubletree Riverside, followed by a private interment; here's a link to his obituary.

In lieu of flowers, his family requests donations be made to the Wildland Fallen Firefighters Foundation (2049 Airport Way, Boise, ID 83705) or Caleb Hamm Memorial Fund at any Mountain West Bank.

Mini-megaloads get clearance to roll

The Idaho Transportation Department on Wednesday reissued permits for two Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil mini-megaloads - giant loads that have been reduced in height by half - to roll up Highway 95 from Lewiston through Moscow to Coeur d'Alene, then take I-90 to Montana en route to the Alberta oil sands project in Canada. That means the big loads have five days starting Friday to move, the Lewiston Tribune reports; click below for a full report from reporter Elaine Williams. She reports that a group is planning a protest in Moscow when the loads come through.

Redistricting: ‘Excellent chance of getting this thing wrapped up without drama’

Idaho's citizen redistricting commission has wrapped up its 14th and final public hearing tonight in Meridian, after a full two hours of testimony. “It has been a profound and rich experience for me,” said Commissioner Julie Kane of Lapwai. “I think we are a very diverse state. … We heard from a lot of people in different areas that have different interests. … We will try our best to accommodate those interests.” She noted that the commission will start considering plans on Thursday. “Now we have to get to work,” she said, to which commission Co-Chairman Allen Anderson of Pocatello added, “Yes, we do.”

Said Co-Chairman Evan Frasure of Pocatello, “We almost tripled the amount of public hearings that they did 10 years ago, and I'll tell you what, it has been kind of grueling at times, but the public input has been so critical in this process.” He said, “Our guidance is that we're not looking at drawing these lines to protect any incumbents or political parties, and that's a hard thing to do, because this is not a nonpartisan commission, it is a bipartisan commission - you do have three Democrats and three Republicans. … It's been an absolute pleasure getting to know all the commissioners. … I think we have an excellent chance of getting this thing wrapped up rapidly without all the drama that you normally see.”

The commission will meet from 1:30-4:30 p.m. on Thursday in the Capitol Auditorium, and will first take up citizen-submitted congressional district plans. You can watch live online here. Additional meetings are scheduled Friday, Monday, Tuesday, and July 25-27; there's more info here.

Testimony: Dividing Ada County, power in voice and unity, rural interests…

Maria Gonzales Mabbut of Nampa urged consideration of the Latino community in drawing new district lines; she said several people are working on submitting maps to reflect that. Brad Hoaglun, Meridian city councilman, said the city of Meridian would like to remain in a single congressional district, and it would prefer the 1st District. “We are the landlord for the main office of the 1st District congressman,” he noted.

Former state Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, asked the commission to keep Ada County in a single congressional district, rather than dividing it, as has long occurred. “There is no reason in the world to divide Ada County,” he said. “The fact is that Ada County should not be divided. There is no legal reason for it.”

Jose Alfredo Hernandez, a social worker from Kuna, told the commissioners, “I can only speak for what I know and what I see.” That includes serious health disparities between Latinos and others, he said. “There is power in a voice and there is power in unity. … There's something that's not just with what's going on with the lack of Latino voices both at the Legislature and in other representation.”

Dennis Tanikuni, assistant director of government affairs for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, said, “We ask that you not isolate cities,” creating large, rural districts surrounding them. Such an approach, he said, “we think will allow urban centers to control the Idaho Legislature. … Help assure rural votes actually do count.”

Redistricting hearing in Meridian: Consider Latino community, Idaho’s largest minority

First up to testify to the Idaho Citizens Redistricting Commission tonight at its final public hearing - its 14th - in Meridian is Alex Zamora, a middle school counselor in Caldwell, Wilder resident and lifelong Idahoan. “Eleven percent of the state is Latino,” Zamora told the commissioners. “There is a need for this group to be specifically considered in this process. … There are specific areas in which the population is concentrated. It is these areas that need to stay in the same districts.” He noted communities around the state with very high percentages of Latinos, well above 25 percent. “Creating new lines that allow this community to maintain its political integrity is essential and fair,” Zamora said.

You can listen live to the hearing here.

Side effect: Vick faces Goedde, Barbieri in district with Chadderdon, Sims

Here's a link to my full story at on how two North Idaho state senators have submitted a proposed redistricting plan for North Idaho that would eliminate the oddly shaped District 2, but would also lump two other senators into the same district and force new Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, into a district with two Coeur d'Alene incumbents. The plan, developed by Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, was designed in part to preserve communities of interest, reunite the cities of Priest River and Clark Fork in District 1, and ensure communities are connected to others in their districts by major roads.

A side effect: New Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, would end up in the same new District 4 as sixth-term Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, meaning the two would have to face off in a GOP primary if both wanted to stay in office. Also, District 4, which would be identical to the current District 4 with just the addition of the Dalton Gardens precinct, would have three incumbent representatives for its two seats: freshman Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; fourth-term Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d'Alene; and first-term Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene, a former state senator. Current Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, would end up in the new District 2, along with an open House seat. 

North Idaho senators propose redistricting plan

North Idaho Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, have submitted a proposed redistricting plan for North Idaho that they say addresses concerns they've heard from their constituents, particularly about the current oddly-shaped District 2; you can see the plan here. Addressing only the North Idaho Panhandle, it does away with the backward-C-shaped District 2 in favor of a more compact District 2 that combines southern Bonner County with northern Kootenai County, including the Athol area. A new District 3 would take in the Post Falls area, and a new District 4 the Coeur d'Alene area; a new District 5 would include all of Benewah and Shoshone counties, the southern portion of Kootenai County including the Coeur d'Alene Reservation, and most of Latah County except for the Moscow area.

Keough and Broadsword noted that the plan would reunite the city of Priest River in District 1; reunite the city of Clark Fork in District 1; and allow for future growth by creating a District 4 in the center of the population area in Kootenai County. “This was just one more idea that we thought we'd put on the table for the redistricting commission to take a look at,” Keough said.

Under the plan, Keough would stay in District 1 and Broadsword in District 2; though Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, would end up in the same district as Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, meaning the two would have to face off in a GOP primary if both wanted to stay in office. Also, District 4, which would be identical to the current District 4 with just the addition of the Dalton Gardens precinct, would have three incumbent representatives for its two seats: Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d'Alene; and Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene. Current Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, would end up in the new District 2, along with an open House seat.

Broadsword said, “District 2 has been such a boondoggle for the last 10 years.” She noted that she has to drive through three other districts to get from one end of her district to the other. “It's not fair for the constituency - having someone who lives closer would be more beneficial for all,” she said.

Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission will hold its final public hearing - its 14th - tonight in Meridian, from 7-9 p.m. at Meridian City Hall. The panel will start meeting to consider plans tomorrow at the state Capitol Auditorium.

East Boise foothills wildfire up to 200 acres

A wildfire in the foothills east of Boise today is up to an estimated 200 acres, authorities report, but so far, winds have been moving the fire away from any homes or other structures. It's up in the hills behind the new East Junior High; this photo was provided by the Boise Police Department and the unified command at the fire from the Boise Fire Department and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management; firefighters have aggressively targeted the fire today with helicopters and ground crews.

Cattle group to push felony animal cruelty legislation next year

The Idaho Cattle Association's feeder council has voted to pursue legislation in 2012 to punish third-time animal cruelty offenders with a felony, the Associated Press reports; the group said it wants to get behind the legislation to help control the outcome and show the public that cattle producers take pride in caring for their animals. The move comes as animal welfare groups are gathering signatures for a 2012 ballot initiative to end Idaho's distinction as one of just three states without felony animal cruelty penalties and increase other animal-abuse penalties; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

McGee comes under fire at county GOP central committee meeting, apologizes

Idaho state Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, came under fire at a Canyon County Republican Party Central Committee meeting last night, but succeeded in heading off a move by committee member Ronalee Linsenmann for an immediate vote on an investigation into McGee's recent drunken driving arrest and conviction and a challenge to McGee's chairmanship of the local party. McGee reportedly was applauded by a standing-room-only crowd at the meeting, during which he gave an eight-minute statement apologizing for his conduct. Click below to read a full report from the Associated Press, and click here for a full report, with photos and the full audio from the meeting, from the Idaho Press-Tribune.

“My behavior that night was uncharacteristic,” McGee told the central committee. “You know that that is not who I am, and I'm very embarrassed by that behavior.” He also told the GOP group, “I can tell you that the 28-Republican-member caucus of the Idaho state Senate has been very supportive. They want me to stay, and they want me to stay as their caucus chairman, in their elected position of leadership, and I am very honored and humbled by that.” McGee, who is in his third year as Canyon County GOP chairman, said, “My plan is to carry out my final year of this term. I have more to give to this party.”

He said, “I have made a mistake, and it was a stupid mistake, and I admitted it. I am taking full responsibility for my actions that night. … I'm paying my debt to society.”  He said, “I am sorry to each and every one of you. … It is difficult for me to express the disappointment that I have in my own actions, much less the disappointment that you might have in my actions.”

Lack of money strains school reforms; Maine had big grants to fund theirs

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey has an interesting look today at how lack of money is straining the implementation of the “Students Come First” school-reform technology initiative, and how the 39-member task force tasked with planning out the tech initiative heard this week about how another state, Maine, took a different tack - launching a laptop computer initiative for middle schoolers with the help of big multimillion-dollar grants that paid for everything from the computers to home Internet access for students who couldn't afford it. You can read his column here.

State budget: ‘Some pretty harsh things have been done’

Here's a link to my full story at, on how the final numbers, out today, show that after anguishing over deep budget cuts, Idaho ended the fiscal year well ahead of projections for state tax revenues, with an $85.3 million year-end surplus. That means public schools will get an additional $59.9 million, and Gov. Butch Otter has decided to reverse this year's decision to put off a scheduled $10 bump-up in Idaho's grocery tax credit next year, at a cost of $15 million. It also suggests some of this year's painful budget-cut decisions might not have been necessary, though most won't be reversed.

Otter said he lost his $100 bet with former Gov. Cecil Andrus that state revenues would be closer to retired chief state economist Mike Ferguson's forecast than to Otter's and the Legislature's; the governor said he's glad to pay up. Otter spokeswoman Emily Anderson said he'll likely pay Andrus “sometime this week – since it was a real bet, he'll pay up. The governor is happy to be able to lose this  bet.” Andrus, who's in Canada on business today, issued this statement: “I'm happy I won the bet on two counts - it's good news for kids in Idaho schools and I'm always happy to take a hundred bucks off Butch. I only wish the entire 85 million dollars was going to education. I look forward to collecting - soon.”

The improved revenue news comes after Otter and lawmakers made deep cuts to the state budget this year, including to schools and Medicaid services for the poor and disabled. Ferguson said, “In that sense I don't feel vindicated, because some pretty harsh things have been done, and it doesn't look too likely that they'll be undone.”

Year-end surplus highlights Otter’s choices: Grocery credit vs. Medicaid

Click below to read AP reporter John Miller's full report on today's state revenue news, which focuses on Gov. Butch Otter's decision to spend $15 million of the 2011 year-end surplus to reverse this year's decision to put off a scheduled $10 bump-up in the grocery tax credit, instead of calling a special session of the Legislature to restore some of the cuts made to Medicaid in next year's budget. Because every dollar cut from Medicaid means losing twice as much in federal matching funds, reversing some of this year's cuts could have restored tens of millions to the health care program for the poor and disabled.

Ferguson on revenue forecasting: ‘People’s lives and health are at stake’

Idaho's recently retired chief economist, Mike Ferguson, asked if he feels vindicated by today's news that fiscal year 2011 tax revenues actually exceeded his much-criticized forecast – rather than running $140 million lower than the forecast, as lawmakers and Gov. Butch Otter predicted – said, “I'm certainly glad that the revenues came in stronger than the numbers the budget was based on. I guess it's essentially about the last forecast I'll probably do, and it's nice to end on a positive note that way. I guess I don't really like to go there in terms of tit for tat and vindication.”

Ferguson said throughout his quarter-century-plus career as the state's chief economist, “I never … had any pressure to modify my forecasts for political reasons. I was always able to produce the best and most honest forecasts that I could produce.” He said, “The thing that I think changed, and that is worrisome, is that the governor and the Legislature have taken to essentially rejecting the work of professional economists that are hired and paid a salary to do that work. And if it was just some kind of abstract thing, it wouldn't really matter too much, but people's lives and health are at stake, people's futures are at stake, in terms of the quality of the education system, the way that people receive services relating to health care, disabilities.”

Ferguson originally forecast $2.43 billion in state tax revenue for fiscal year 2011, but the governor and Legislature instead chose to budget to a much lower estimate of $2.29 billion. In the end,  2011 revenues came in at $2.444 billion. Now, Ferguson noted, it's happened again for fiscal year 2012. “There's no bet – it didn't get the circus effect,” he said. “But the situation is every bit as grave in terms of the consequences for public services, because the year and a half ago that my forecast was rejected, that was the first time ever that a governor had rejected the professional forecast and expressly adopted something different. And that happened again this year. So basically, there's a pattern emerging.”

Lawmakers and the governor this year budgeted based on a prediction of 3 percent growth in state revenue in 2012 over 2011, rather than the 6.9 percent state economists forecast. “Well, that yields a number for fiscal year 2012 that is actually lower than came in in actuality for fiscal year '11,” Ferguson noted, reducing forecasted revenue for next year by $91.5 million to just $2.43 billion. Adding 3 percent to the actual 2011 collections of $2.444 billion would have meant revenues of $2.517 billion for next year. “If you apply the growth rate to $2.444 billion, you get a number for fiscal year 2012 that is considerably higher than the number that the Legislature used and the governor used, and that the school cuts are based on and that the Medicaid cuts are based on,” Ferguson said. Asked if that means Idaho is poised to make painful budget cuts in the coming year that it doesn't need to make, he said, “That would be a logical conclusion.”

Breakdown of school districts’ MOE $$

Here's a link to the full breakout of how much each Idaho school district will get in a one-time payout of discretionary funds, thanks to the state's higher-than-expected state tax revenues for the year; the payouts are required under federal maintenance-of-effort rules attached to earlier stimulus funds. The total, $59.9 million, exceeds the $47 million that state lawmakers cut from public schools in next year's budget, though state officials are warning districts that more cuts still could lie ahead. The highest payout is $7.1 million for the Meridian School District; lowest is $4,216 apiece for two tiny elementary school districts, Arbon and Three Creek. The payouts are based on the number of support units, which is roughly the number of classrooms per district. Boise schools will get $5.1 million; Nampa, $3 million; Coeur d'Alene, $2.1 million; Post Falls, $1.2 million; and Lakeland, $923,261. Many school districts are targeting the one-time funds to cancel planned teacher-furlough days or other budget cuts already ordered.

Idaho’s June tax revenues over forecast by a whopping $19.1 million

Idaho's state tax revenues for June exceeded projections by a whopping $19.1 million, with every category of tax finishing the year ahead of schedule. Highest, according to Wayne Hammon, Gov. Butch Otter's budget chief, was the volatile and hard-to-predict corporate tax, which came in almost $46 million ahead of forecasts for the fiscal year that ended July 1. “That shows companies doing business in Idaho are doing more business than they were a year ago – that's very good news for all of us,” Hammon said. And individual income tax moved back into the positive category again in June. “To see the individual income tax strong again I think is a good, strong indicator for the economy,” he said.

The resulting $85.3 million surplus for the year, compared to the January projections, means Gov. Butch Otter won't sign an executive order to hold off on a scheduled increase in the grocery tax credit next year – a delay that would have saved the state $15 million in next year's budget – even though lawmakers passed a concurrent resolution authorizing him to do so. Otter had asked lawmakers to pass the resolution, and made it part of his budget proposal. Hammon said, “We recommended it because we thoguht it was necessary, but now that we don't need it, we can back off.” The year-end surplus is large enough that even after the required multimillion-dollar payments to schools and community colleges to meet maintenance-of-effort requirements attached to hundreds of millions in federal stimulus funds the state accepted in recent years are subtracted, there's more than enough left to roll over the $15 million into next year's budget to cover the grocery tax hike.

That means that next April, when Idahoans file their 2011 income tax returns, the credit they can take to offset sales taxes paid on groceries will rise $10 from the current $50, to $60 for most taxpayers, and from $70 to $80 for the low-income; seniors also receive an additional $20 credit.

Otter: Revenue numbers in, lost bet to Andrus, schools to get $59.9M

The final numbers are in, and Idaho ended the fiscal year well ahead of projections for state tax revenues - $85.3 million ahead of the January projection. That means public schools will get an additional $59.9 million. Gov. Butch Otter said the final figures should also allow the next scheduled increase in Idaho's grocery tax credit, which the state had planned to put off for a year. Otter said he lost his bet with former Gov. Cecil Andrus that state revenues would be closer to retired chief state economist Mike Ferguson's projections than to Otter's and the Legislature's. “I made a silly bet with Andrus. I was hoping that he was right, and then I did everything I could do to make sure he was right,”  Otter said. “It’s a payment that I’m very happy to make.” Click below for his full new release.

State Dept of Ed adds staffer to help implement school reform laws

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The state Department of Education has hired a program specialist to help implement sweeping changes for Idaho's public schools. The agency says Travis Drake came aboard last Wednesday and will help carry out the new education laws, along with other programs and department initiatives. Idaho will introduce teacher merit pay and shift money from salaries toward classroom technology, phasing in laptops for teachers and students, under the changes backed by public schools chief Tom Luna and the governor in the 2011 session. Luna has already reassigned two staffers within his department to carry out the changes signed into law this year. Luna's agency says the new position was created using savings found within the education department. Drake, a recent Seattle Pacific University graduate and intern during the 2011 Idaho Legislature, will earn $41,600 annually.

Megaloads opponents file petition for reconsideration with ITD

Opponents of proposed megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho have filed a petition for reconsideration of hearing officer Duff McKee's recommendation to the Idaho Transportation Department that permits for the giant loads be approved, saying they “believe there are several clear errors of law and fact” in his decision. Said Laird Lucas, attorney for the opponents, “We believe he misapplied the legal standards we raised under ITD regulations, and we want to give him a chance to correct his decision.”

Among the opponents' points in their petition: McKee compared megaloads to standard commercial vehicles, a comparison Lucas argued doesn't fit ITD regulations for the giant megaloads, which will block both lanes of the two-lane road; they contend the retired judge erroneously held that the opponents had stipulated that the giant loads were feasible; and they contend McKee “substituted his own speculation about the potential impacts of mega-loads on the tourism economy” contrary to their expert's testimony about impacts. You can read the 25-page petition here.

Expert: Secrecy contributed to 9th Circuit ruling

When Joseph Duncan received three death sentences and nine life terms in federal court in Idaho for his murderous 2005 attack on the Groene family in North Idaho, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ordered two extensive mental evaluations that delayed Duncan's death penalty sentencing trial for months. But he never held a hearing on the issue in open court; as a result, all of Duncan's mental evaluations remained secret.

James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University and an expert on the death penalty and mental competency, said, “There's no reason for the judge in Idaho to keep all this stuff secret - there's just no reason at all.” Said Cohen, “The only justification would be to protect the privacy of the defendant.” But, he said, “He lost that when he was indicted for this particular crime.”

Secrecy was extensive in the sentencing trial, with numerous documents sealed from public view, leading to several legal challenges by the media. Much of the secrecy came because the case involved a surviving child victim, but it also covered all issues of Duncan's mental competency. Cohen said there are “at least two benefits” to a public competency hearing. The first, he said, is that psychologists, psychiatrists or other experts “might be able to learn something from his mental illness that could head off others. And two, it's very important that our system work right - and we don't punish people that are mentally ill to that extreme.” You can read my full story here at

Olson: Duncan’s death sentence still in place for now

U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson is making the emphatic point that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling today does NOT overturn Joseph Duncan's death sentence; instead, it reverses U.S. District Judge Lodge's order waiving Duncan's right to appeal, ordering Lodge to hold a retrospective competency hearing before deciding on that issue. Though it's a development that could potentially lead to a rerun of Duncan's entire sentencing trial in Idaho, for now, Duncan's death sentence remains in effect - and he remains on Death Row at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

What the 9th Circuit has done is order Duncan back into court in Idaho for the competency hearing. It's not clear yet how soon that would occur; either side has the option of appealing the 9th Circuit's ruling. Olson said her office has 14 days to decide on that. “We're not going to discuss how we're going to proceed forward,” she said.
“Our position throughout the proceedings was that Duncan was competent. That's the position we asserted.”

Judge Lodge ordered a full competency evaluation of Duncan; it delayed the sentencing trial for months. But he didn't order a hearing on the matter in court. “There was no actual hearing in court where witnesses were called and cross-examination was conducted,” Olson said. “The Court of Appeals is saying, as a procedural matter, the district court should have done that.”

Olson: Every court has found Duncan competent

U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson said in a statement, “Since his arrest in July 2005, Joseph Edward Duncan, III, has been found competent by every court or jury to have considered the issue. He has three times pleaded guilty to murder charges or offenses resulting in death, each time with the assistance of counsel. At the time of his guilty pleas in October 2006 in Kootenai County, Idaho, December 2007 in federal district court in Boise and March 2011 in Riverside County, California, none of Duncan’s counsel asserted in court that Duncan was incompetent to enter a guilty plea. After Duncan was sentenced to death in U.S. District Court in Idaho, he was transferred to Riverside County, California, to face state charges in connection with the 1997 murder of a 10-year-old boy. Both a jury and the presiding judge found that Duncan was competent to proceed in that case. Throughout the federal court proceedings in the District of Idaho, the United States Attorney’s Office took the position that Duncan was competent.”

“The United States Attorney’s Office will participate in the retrospective competency hearing, as directed by the distinguished judges who serve on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. No hearing date has yet been set.” You can read her full statement here.

9th Circuit ruling could lead to rerun of whole Duncan sentencing trial

Here's a link to the 9th Circuit ruling out today on Joseph Duncan, which orders U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge to hold a competency hearing to determine if Duncan was competent to waive his right to appeal his death sentence. If the answer is yes, then the sentence will go forward. If not, the federal court in Idaho would have to “proceed to determine whether Defendant competently waived his right to counsel before the penalty phase hearing.” If it then finds that he wasn't competent to do that, it would have to “vacate Defendant’s sentence and convene a new penalty phase hearing with Defendant properly represented.” That would mean a rerun of Duncan's entire sentencing trial in federal court in Boise for his deadly attack on the Groene family of North Idaho.

9th Circuit suspends Joseph Duncan’s death sentence

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out the death penalty of Joseph Edward Duncan III, saying he should have been given a competency hearing before he was allowed to waive his appeal. The appellate court handed down the ruling Monday, ordering U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge to hold a retrospective competency hearing for Duncan. Duncan was sentenced to die in 2008 for kidnapping, torturing and murdering a 9-year-old Coeur d'Alene boy in 2005. Prosecutors said Duncan snatched Dylan Groene and his 8-year-old sister from their northern Idaho home after killing their older brother, mother and mother's fiance. Duncan kept the children at a remote Montana campsite for weeks before killing Dylan and returning with Dylan's sister to Coeur d'Alene, where he was arrested.

Discovery Education official: ‘Kids have really changed,’ learn differently now

A team from Discovery Education is now addressing the “Students Come First” Technology Task Force, headed by Hall Davidson, a former middle school teacher and now director of global learning initiatives for the Silver Spring, Md.-based company. Davidson said, “Kids really have changed.” They learn differently now, he said, because they've spent so much time, from such a young age, using media, including TV, computers and smartphones. “It affects the way they learn,” he said. “When that happens, it means we have to adjust the material we give to them.” Different media and means of delivering it and interacting with it, including social networks, work better for students now than watching a program all the way through, he said. They'll learn better and faster and with more retention, he said, “if we teach them the way they're wired to learn.”

Here's what Discovery Education says on its website: “BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK. Created by the Discovery Channel, we engage students through dynamic curricular resources like Discovery Education streaming Plus and Discovery Education Science, support teachers through customized professional development and assessment services, and ultimately improve student achievement.” It also says, “Discovery Education has successfully implemented digital instructional materials in school districts of all sizes across the U.S.”

Joining Davidson for the presentation today is Betsy Drennan, sales director for the region; Craig Halper, vice president for customer operations and platform strategy; and Justin Karkow, director of professional development.

Denver shares its Schoolnet experience

Idaho's Students Come First Technology Task Force is now hearing from representatives of the Denver Public Schools Instructional Management System. “As much as we love the technology piece, it's really not about technology, it's really about teaching,” Jason Martinez told the group. “What we hope to do is accelerate the busy work.”

Megan Marquez told the group that in setting up its instructional management system, Denver decided to develop a portal around Schoolnet, the same program Idaho is about to implement. “Schoolnet predicted it would take three months” to set up, Marquez said. “It did not.” It actually took two years to load all the curriculum information and other pieces into the Schoolnet system, she said. The system links assessment data and curriculum, and can be accessed by teachers, counselors and others.

Denver teacher Waunita Vann said she was initially leery of dealing with the data system, but found it extremely helpful in dealing with at-risk students. “It really has just revolutionized the way we work,” she said. Where it might have taken six weeks to figure out what was going on with a problem student, the data is now at her fingertips, she said, all the way back to grade school, and she can work with other teachers and school staffers to develop a plan for that student in a matter of days. “We have been able to make intentional one-on-one intervention plans for students,” she said, and get started on them without delay.

Goedde: Requiring just 2 online classes is ‘realistic’

Idaho state Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he supports the new recommendation for two online courses for high school graduation, down from state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's original proposal of eight. “It wasn't eight for very long,” Goedde said, noting, “Then it went to four.” He said, “Understand we're talking about a graduation requirement, so that's a minimum. … Lots of students … may take 10 or more.”

Goedde, who served on the State Board of Education's committee that settled on the recommendation, said, “The thinking on an asynchronous requirement is that high school graduates are going to need to have the skills associated with online learning when you do not have face-to-face access to an instructor. … They need to have some self-discipline and time management.”

Though the two-course requirement still needs approval from the full State Board of Education, Goedde noted that two state board members were on the committee that settled on the figure. “My guess is it should have fairly smooth sailing,” he said. He noted that the most any state has required, as far as online courses for high school graduation, is one, and only three states have gone that route. “So I'm comfortable with two,” Goedde said. “I think it's realistic.” You can read my full story here at

Tech glitches interrupt online presentation to tech task force

The online presentation from Maine about that state's student laptop program was interrupted by another videoconference back there, and various interruptions from tech people, including one who said he had “hard muted” one of the sources because “it sounds like we're in a math class.” That drew laughter in Idaho. Finally, Maine ed official Steven Garton gave up on answering questions from Idaho task force members and just gave his email address.

Maine ed tech official: ‘It takes the teacher to make this work’

“Students Come First” Technology Task Force member Christine Donnell asked Maine educational technology coordinator Steven Garton, “We have encountered some resistance to this legislation. … Can you help us learn from your experiences, how we can overcome these bumps in the road?” Garton responded, “This has never been a replacement for teachers, and I don't see how this, I think the fear of technology coming in and taking over for a teacher is something that's been out there, but it takes the teacher to make this work, it takes the teacher to use it.”

Garton said the best “virtual schools” have found that “in order for it to work, the student-teacher ratio actually has to be less, because they have to be communicating more with each student.” He said there's some fear that online learning will turn public school classes into a “university lecture hall” type setting where hundreds of students listen to one teacher. “In the public school setting, that's not really what the people are looking for,” he said. “They found that the students do not perform. … We really haven't had that problem in Maine.”

Idaho task force hears how Maine runs its student laptop program

The “Students Come First” technology task force now is hearing an online presentation from the head of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, Steven Garton, on how that state's laptop computer program for every student has worked. State Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, who is chairing the task force this morning (state schools Supt. Tom Luna, the chairman, isn't here, but is participating online), said Maine started its “one-to-one” laptop initiative in 2002, and is “one of the states that probably have the most history behind them in online learning.”

Among Garton's hints to Idaho: His state carefully structured its request for proposals for the computers, and now two other states may join in its next RFP; Idaho could join in too, he said. Maine currently uses Apple computers Other perhaps surprising aspects of the Maine program: The computers must go home with the students. Maine found that damage actually went down with that requirement, Garton said. Without it, he said, “You can't assign homework assignments that must be done at home because the student doesn't have the device.” A key is parent meetings to acquaint them with the expectations for student use of the computers. There's no filtering of student computer use at home; instead, there's logging, showing what students have done so they can be held accountable. He also noted that the Maine program includes elaborate charging programs and battery-replacement, rather than having power cords strung about in classrooms; the service contract requires replacement of batteries once they can't last the whole school day. Schools also have spares on hand for any student whose computer breaks or is in repair.

Garton also told the Idaho task force, “If the student has music on their machine, they're going to take care of it.” And he said professional development for teachers is a top priority in Maine to make the program work. “We have 13 people on our staff that just do professional development,” he said. It includes twice-weekly webinars for teachers and more.

Idaho now looking at requiring 2 online courses for graduation, down from eight

Idaho's tech-focused “Students Come First” school reform plan originally envisioned requiring all Idaho students to take eight online classes to graduate from high school, though that number was later dropped to four, and then left open; Gov. Butch Otter has expressed interest in students taking a dozen online courses or more. Now, a task force of the state Board of Education has recommended setting that number at just two courses, one of which must be asynchronous, meaning it's conducted online at the student's own schedule, as opposed to a live video class on a set schedule. “That will be two online credits for the high school career,” state Department of Education official Luci Willits told the “Students Come First” Technology Task Force this morning. “That is their recommendation.”

If the State Board of Education approves the recommendation in August, it will go out for public comment, and then likely imposed as a rule, which would take effect immediately though lawmakers still would review it in January. “It is important for this committee to know what the state board has decided, and that is two online credits for graduation,” Willits told the task force. She noted that that could change, depending on the full board's action, but it's the likely path, and task force members should consider it as they make their plans. The task force will need to begin drafting its recommendations for implementing the reform program by October, Willits told the group.

School tech committee members don’t want to turn off their tech…

As the “Students Come First” Technology Task Force begins its meeting this morning in the state Capitol Auditorium, facilitator Lauren Morando Rhim reminded members to turn off their technology items, like smartphones, to focus on the business at hand. A committee member, Keven Denton, suggested a change to that: Rather than turning off technology, some members will want to use it to take notes and the like, he noted. Rhim agreed, and amended her instruction: “It's use technology appropriately so it doesn't distract you from the task at hand,” she told the group.

New tax commissioner cutting old ties

Idaho's newest state tax commissioner, longtime CPA and prominent Republican Rich Jackson, says he's going above and beyond legal requirements to step away from professional and political involvements as he moves into his new role. Among the positions he's resigning: He's withdrawing from his CPA partnership, Jackson and Coles in Boise, and said he'll recuse himself from any issues involving former clients, partners or employees of the firm. He's resigning as chairman of the Idaho Legislative Compensation Committee, treasurer of the Boise Metro Chamber PAC, a member of the Idaho Manufactured Housing Board, and treasurer of the Idaho House of Representatives Republican Caucus.

“How can a tax commissioner write checks and make decisions on who gets political funds and really be independent? Even if it's not there, it's implied,” Jackson said. “I just didn't even want to embarrass the governor or the Tax Commission or anybody, so I stepped aside.” He added, “I'm trying to be very methodical and complete, and if I miss something I'm going to fix it. … These economic times are too tough, and I'm fully aware of all the criticism.”

The Tax Commission has come in for much criticism in recent years, from whistleblowers' allegations that it was cutting secret deals with politically connected taxpayers to the resignation of former Chairman Royce Chigbrow in January amid a criminal investigation. Last week, the Ada County prosecutor announced he wouldn't bring charges against Chigbrow despite having found evidence of wrongdoing on at least one count involving mishandling of checks, because a statute of limitations had expired on that charge. Chigbrow had been accused by commission employees of intervening on behalf of his son's accounting firm and attempting to use his position to help a friend embroiled in a dispute with a former business partner.

Jackson is blunt about the impact of the Chigbrow scandal. “I think it tarnished not only the Tax Commission, but CPAs,” he said; Chigbrow, like Jackson, is a longtime certified public accountant. “I'm hurt over it, it's unfortunate,” he said. “But I will tell you the governor's office was very methodical and we've taken lots of additional steps so that can't happen again.” You can read my full Sunday column here at

E. coli found at Sandy Point, no swimming or wading

An unpleasant announcement on this sunny Friday from the Idaho DEQ: High levels of E. coli bacteria have been identified at Sandy Point Beach below Lucky Peak Dam, a popular swimming area and park. Warning signs have been posted; there's no swimming or wading until the dangerous bacteria levels abate. You can read the DEQ's announcement here; it recommends Barclay Bay Beach or Robie Creek Beach on Lucky Peak Reservoir as alternate locations, but Barclay Bay is closed tomorrow morning, from 6 a.m. to noon, for the swimming portion of the Spudman triathlon.

Idaho’s number of women judges stays even - last in nation

When Gov. Butch Otter today appointed Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Lynn Graham Norton to be a 4th District judge, replacing retiring Judge Darla Williamson, he kept the state's number of women judges the same - the lowest in the country, at just over 11 percent. Otter has appointed judges to 24 open positions on the state Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and district courts; just two were women. However, the vast majority of the applicants for the positions were men. This time, of nine applicants, four were women; of the four finalists, two were female. In addition to Norton, the other finalists were Charles F. Peterson Jr., Christine M. Salmi, and Jeffrey A. Thomson. Click below to read Otter's full announcement about Norton's appointment.

Idaho Supreme Court rejects bail bond firm’s lawsuit against county

The Idaho Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by Allied Bail Bonds after the firm lost a lawsuit against Kootenai County, charging that the county sheriff was infringing on its business by steering jail inmates toward credit card bonds rather than its bail bonds. The company offered constitutional and other arguments, but the high court rejected all of them, many on procedural grounds.

“In effect, Allied asserts that by accepting credit card bond payments, the sheriff has introduced a new form of competition to Allied’s licensed bail bond business,” Justice Joel Horton wrote in the court's unanimous decision. “Allied asks this Court to ignore Idaho precedent which characterizes a license as a mere privilege and elevate its bail bond license to a protected property interest. We are unwilling to do so.” The court awarded attorney fees to the county, ruling that Allied's appeal was “not reasonably based in either fact or law.” You can read the decision here.

Medicaid patients sue over change to certified family home regulation

Two men with developmental disabilities and their guardians are suing the state over a recent money-changing change to Idaho's Medicaid program, saying the state is violating their right to freely choose providers, the Associated Press reports. The two are seeking class-action status on behalf of all residents of Medicaid-covered certified family homes in Idaho. Idaho decided this year to contract with just one agency, rather than dozens, to oversee the state's 1,800 certified family homes; the move is expected to save the state $800,000, though it also means far fewer inspections of the homes and other changes. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Fall wolf hunt plan: No limits in Lolo, Panhandle, Selway or Middle Fork

Idaho is planning a fall wolf hunt with no overall limit - and no limits in four zones, the Panhandle, Lolo, Selway and Middle Fork zones - because of “documented impacts to elk and other prey species in those zones,” Idaho Fish and Game officials announced today. It's also planning a trapping season for wolves in the fall, in an effort to reduce the wolf population by more than the 188 animals taken in the state's first wolf hunt in 2009; you can read our full story here at, and read the full proposal here.

Virgil Moore, state Fish & Game director, said the plan is consistent with hunting regulations for other animals. “We don't have harvest limits on most of our other species,” he said, instead using a “general-season approach” for management. Said Jon Rachael, big game manager for F&G, “This is very consistent with the approach we take for black bears and mountain lions. We've done that for a long, long time.”

The proposal also would allow hunters to get two wolf tags per calendar year, rather than one.

Fish & Game is launching a survey of hunters and the public about the proposal, and it will be up for a vote by the Fish & Game Commission at its July 27-28 meeting in Salmon. Moore said under the plan, wolf harvests would have to be reported within 72 hours, and if the number killed becomes excessive, hunting can be cut off in a particular zone. However, he said he doesn't expect that to happen. “We learned in '09 that wolf hunting is extraordinarily challenging,” he said. Fewer than 1 percent of hunters with tags actually shot a wolf in that year's hunt, he said.

Idaho currently has 1,000 or more wolves, the two said, and the department's goal is to reduce that number, well staying well above the minimum federal recovery level of at least 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs statewide, though the department's not setting a specific number for the reduction.

School technology task force to meet Monday, Tuesday

The “Students Come First” Technology Task Force will meet Monday and Tuesday at the state capitol; the agenda includes presentations on the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, the Denver Public Schools Instructional Management System, and one from several executives and the sales director for Discovery Education; subcommittee meetings also are planned. You can see the full agenda here, and watch the meeting live here.

Two Land Board members back away from storage investment, three others don’t

Two of the five members of the Idaho Land Board - Gov. Butch Otter and state schools Supt. Tom Luna - now say they erred last year when they voted to spend $2.7 million to buy a storage business whose revenue benefits Idaho public schools and other state institutions, the Associated Press is reporting; the Land Board voted unanimously on Aug. 17, 2010 to purchase the business. The move came in for criticism during this year's legislative session.

Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller; you can read the Land Board's staff memo here on the proposed purchase, which all five Land Board members had before them when they took the vote. It includes this: “The purchase of Affordable Self Storage meets the purpose and objectives expressed in the board's Asset Management Plan and priorities for new assets in the following ways: Increases net cash flow $228,500-$260,700 annually to Public School Funds; Diversifies asset types to reduce risk; and Reduces single industry dependence (forestland).”

Grant: ‘Another Repub goes unpunished’

Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant has issued a news release slamming the recent decision by Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower to forgo prosecuting former state Tax Commission Chairman Royce Chigbrow because statute of limitations had expired. “It is outrageous that Chigbrow won’t be called to account for his wrong doings,” Grant wrote. “If Republican leadership had acted when they first were told of concerns about Chigbrow’s behavior, maybe it wouldn’t have been too late to hold him accountable.  This is just another case of the Republican Party turning a blind eye to unethical, and in this case, criminal behavior.”

He pointed to recent ethics questions involving state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, and state Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, and said, “It's time the Republican Party holds their leaders accountable.” You can read his full release here.

Idaho DEQ board rejects anti-greenhouse gas petition

A national group that's filed petitions or lawsuits in all 50 states seeking dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions hit a brick wall in Idaho, according to reporter Sean Ellis, who reports in this week's Capital Press that the Idaho Board of Environmental Quality unanimously rejected the petition at its meeting last week. The group, Kids vs. Global Warming, asked that Idaho ensure carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use in the state be reduced 6 percent a year, starting in 2013, and lasting at least until 2050.

DEQ staff told the board that Idaho's biggest source of such emissions is transportation, and regulating residential emissions would be difficult; if just commercial and industrial emissions were targeted, they'd have to be reduced 25 percent a year for the state to meet the petition's goal. Agriculture groups opposed the petition. You can read Ellis' full report here.

Idaho to share in JP Morgan Chase settlement over bid-rigging on bonds

Idaho is one of 23 states that will share in a multimillion-dollar national settlement with JP Morgan Chase & Co. over bid-rigging deals on public bond offerings. The Associated Press reports that J.P. Morgan Securities LLC made at least 93 secret deals with companies that handled the bidding processes in 31 states,  allowing the bank to peek at competitors' offers in trying to secure investment business from state and local governments to invest bond proceeds before the bond-funded projects were fully paid for; the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission announced the deal today, under which the company will pay a total of $211 million, including $92 million to the 23 states and the District of Columbia.

Few Idaho entities were involved, according to the Idaho Attorney General's office; they'll be reimbursed for any losses; injunctive relief also will prevent such actions in the future. The other states are Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Click below for a full report from AP business writer Daniel Wagner in Washington, D.C.

‘Extreme couponing’ movement catching on in Idaho

The “extreme couponing” movement is catching on in Idaho, reports Associated Press reporter Jessie Bonner, with a TLC program about the phenomenon highlighting shoppers who cut their grocery bills by hundreds through rigorous coupon-clipping, classes on how to do it drawing interested adherents, and two Idaho newspapers reporting in the past month that coupons were being stolen from their newspaper racks. Click below for Bonner's full report.

Summer’s first rabid bat reported in southeastern Idaho

Idaho has had its first confirmed rabid bat, as a bat from southeastern Idaho tested positive for rabies last week, prompting a warning from the state Department of Health & Welfare for precautions, from making sure pets and horses are vaccinated against rabies, to avoiding contact with bats, the only animal in Idaho that naturally carries the rabies virus. Click below for the full news release from H&W; Idaho averages 15 rabid bat reports per year statewide.

Otter appoints Rich Jackson to Tax Commish

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has appointed CPA Rich Jackson to the Idaho State Tax Commission, filling the vacancy created by Otter's appointment in June of Commissioner Sam Haws to head the Idaho Commission on Aging (replacing Kim Toryanski, now deputy administrator of the Idaho Division of Human Resources). Jackson, a prominent Republican and former chairman of the Gem County Republican Central Committee, said he'll withdraw from numerous other positions he holds - including chairman of the Idaho Legislative Compensation Committee, treasurer of the Boise Metro Chamber PAC, and treasurer of the Idaho House of Representatives Republican Caucus - to avoid any conflicts with his new role as a state tax commissioner. He's also withdrawing from his CPA partnership, Jackson and Coles in Boise, and said he'll recuse himself from any issues involving former clients, partners or employees of the firm.

“Rich Jackson is the model of an engaged citizen,” Otter said. “He and his wife Trudy have tirelessly stepped up time and again to express their civic virtue and to meet the needs of their community and our state. I’m grateful that Rich will be bringing his CPA skills and deep understanding of Idaho’s people and system of government to the Tax Commission. We all will be the beneficiaries.”

Jackson joins GOP Tax Commission Chair Bob Geddes and Democratic commissioners Tom Katsilometes and David Langhorst; click below for Otter's full announcement.

Rusche blasts ISEE, ‘bungling of major initiatives’

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, has penned an op-ed piece panning Idaho's approach to implementing both the new longitudinal data system for schools, ISEE (Idaho System for Educational Excellence), and the earlier troubled implementation of a new Medicaid claims system last summer; Rusche said the ISEE problems remind him of the Medicaid claims system problems.

“Such bungling of major initiatives is likely to continue,” Rusche writes. “We rely on a department team that only sees part of the whole, is often inexperienced in system and process change, and is often comprised of personnel who are intermittent due to turnover. We are hesitant to involve stakeholders and end users appropriately, we purchase services from entities who can’t deliver or whom we can’t properly manage, and we are driven by “budget” limitations rather than by quality and results, and set timelines based on externalities (i.e. federal reporting requirements or fiscal calendars) rather than reality.” Click here to read his full article.

Dental cuts hit Idaho Medicaid patients

More than 42,000 poor or disabled Idahoans lost their non-emergency dental coverage last Friday due to state budget cuts, and there's some question about whether the state's expected $1.7 million in annual savings really will pay off in the long run. “Some of this stuff, if you don't take care of it at a certain level, then it gets worse, so it can cost a lot more,” said Dr. Jack Fullwiler, a longtime Coeur d'Alene dentist and current president of the Idaho State Dental Association.

Washington made a similar cut six months ago, but it exempted patients with developmental disabilities and those in long-term care from the cuts. In Idaho, all adults on Medicaid will lose non-emergency dental coverage except pregnant women. Fullwiler said Idaho dentists actually were relieved that the cuts didn't go even further. “At least we got the emergency programs for the adults,” he said.

In 2002, Idaho briefly eliminated non-emergency adult dental coverage under Medicaid as part of budget cutbacks, prompting a statewide outcry after an elderly woman who was denied dentures was told she'd have to gum her food; then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and the Legislature restored the benefit the following year. Now, Fullwiler said, “I know they're not going to pay for dentures. They're going to pay for toothaches, basically.” You can read my full story here at

Otter appoints Rigby man to Idaho Fish & Game Commission

Gov. Butch Otter has appointed Kenny Anderson of Rigby to the Idaho Fish & Game Commission, to replace Cameron Wheeler, whose term expired June 30. Anderson, 60, is the founder and owner of Anderson Cabinet and Millwork, and avid sportsman and a lifelong eastern Idaho resident. Otter said, “We had a number of great candidates for this position; we really couldn’t have gone wrong with any of them. But Ken Anderson stood out as someone whose grasp of the issues and even temperament will help the Fish and Game Commission continue its excellent work.” Click below for his full announcement.

Sheriff says no inmates diagnosed with concussion; McGee mum on medical records

Neither Sen. John McGee nor his lawyer has responded to requests to release medical records backing up his lawyer's claim in court that a concussion contributed to his bizarre behavior before a Father's Day drunken driving arrest, the Associated Press reports. Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney issued a statement saying no inmate “reported or was diagnosed with a concussion” during the time that McGee was jailed, and that all inmates booked into the jail are screened by a medical professional and provided appropriate treatment. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Judge blocks anti-union law, says practice proposed for ban is protected by fed law, saves money

Here's a link to the 22-page decision from U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill granting a motion for a preliminary injunction to block a new Idaho anti-union law from taking effect; Winmill issued his decision on Friday. At issue is SB 1007, the “Fairness in Contracting Law,” which otherwise would have taken effect Friday and sought to ban unions from using dues funds to subsidize members' wages to help contractors win project bids.

Winmill ruled that the law directly conflicted with federal law, which protects such “job targeting” programs. Plus, he wrote, “There is some evidence that job targeting programs may have resulted in financial savings on state and local public work projects.” The bill passed amid a flurry of anti-union zeal in this year's Idaho Legislature, reportes John Miller of the Associated Press; click below for his full report.

BSU opening Meridian campus

Boise State University will offer classes in Meridian starting in August, at a site formerly occupied by the University of Phoenix. Classes that BSU previously offered at Columbia High School in Nampa will be at the new Meridian site, along with graduate programs in bilingual/ESL education and literacy education; all are aimed at allowing BSU students who live in the west end of the Treasure Valley to complete some bachelor's or master's degrees without traveling to the Boise campus for classes.

Our desire is to complement and support the courses being offered at College of Western Idaho in Nampa and ease the transition for students who transfer to a four-year program at Boise State,” said Peter Risse, associate dean for BSU’s Division of Extended Studies. “The new site is ideal with easy access off the interstate and Eagle Road.” It's located at 2950 Magic View Lane, Suite 188, in Meridian; there's more info here.

Redistricting: What joins, divides communities?

Redistricting hearings last week in the Magic Valley turned up plenty of questions and differing views about what divides or unites communities there, according to reporter Ben Botkin of the Times-News. Among them: Whether the Snake River Canyon creates a “natural separation” between Twin Falls and Jerome counties or not. Said Jerry Marcantonio of Twin Falls, drawing laughter, “There is a bridge there - last I checked, it's still there.” You can read Botkin's full article here, which touches on the hearings in Burley, Twin Falls and Hailey; next week, Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission will hold a public hearing July 13 in Meridian, from 7-9 p.m. at Meridian City Hall, and also will kick off three days of meetings starting that day in Boise, as part of an ambitious plan to work much of July and come up with a redistricting plan before the end of the month. There's more info here.

Rep. Roberts’ wife drowns in Payette River

The holiday weekend was marred by sad news for state Rep. Ken Roberts of Donnelly, whose wife, Mary Jo, drowned in the Payette River; her body was recovered Saturday about six miles downstream from McCall. Mrs. Roberts, 49, was the subject of a search along the river starting Friday, after she went missing after reportedly going for her usual morning walk before work along the river, which is raging with high flow; her vehicle and belongings were found near a bridge in McCall. KTVB has a full report here; funeral services are pending under the direction of Heikkila Funeral Chapel in McCall. Ken Roberts, 47, is the Idaho House Republican Caucus chairman and a former 1st District congressional candidate.

Two Tamarack lifts targeted for removal, neither was used this season

Two ski lifts that weren't used this past season at Tamarack Resort are targeted for removal by Bank of America's leasing division after the bankrupt ski resort near Donnelly defaulted on payments; the bank is filing paperwork with the state to remove the two lifts, the AP reports; they're partly on state land that was leased for the resort. The two are a transport lift for homeowners, and a high-speed chairlift accessing intermediate and advanced terrain on the resort's northern boundary; their removal could hurt chances of reviving the resort. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Rammell convicted in poaching case

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — An eastern Idaho jury has convicted former gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell of illegally shooting and killing a cow elk. The Post Register reports that the jury of six people deliberated about an hour on Friday before finding Rammell guilty of misdemeanor unlawful possession of wildlife. Magistrate Judge Stephen Clark suspended Rammell's hunting license for two years and ordered him to serve 180 days in jail, with all but five days of the jail sentence suspended. Clark also ordered Rammell to pay a $250 process fee as well as $1,500 in fines, suspending $500 of the fines. Rammell says he didn't get a fair trial and will appeal. Because of the appeal, Rammell's jail sentence was stayed. Idaho officials say Rammell was in illegal possession of an elk on Dec. 8.

No prosecution for Chigbrow despite ‘evidence of wrongdoing’

Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower's office announced Friday it won't prosecute the former chairman of the Idaho State Tax Commission, the Associated Press reports, saying a statute of limitations expired on one complaint despite evidence of wrongdoing and that admissible evidence of illegal activity in other complaints was insufficient. Former Chairman Royce Chigbrow was investigated over several months by an Ada County Sheriff's Office detective on suspicion of failing to appropriately deposit checks from a taxpayer in 2010, providing confidential information to a friend and allegedly receiving stolen checks totaling more than $30,000; Chigbrow resigned in January as agency employees' complaints about these issues became public. Click below for the full report from AP reporter John Miller.

McGee: ‘I’m truly sorry’

Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller on state Sen. John McGee's guilty plea to DUI in a plea deal today, which came as he chocked back tears and his lawyers blamed his erratic behavior on a concussion they say impaired his judgment. McGee, 38, who represents Caldwell and is the Republican Senate Caucus Chairman, was contrite Friday and apologized for his actions. “It's something I'll remember and something that I'll learn from the rest of my life. I'm truly sorry. I take full responsibility for my actions that evening,” said McGee. “Those actions are inconsistent with what I believe in and who I am.”

McGee’s lawyer: ‘He made a mistake,’ took ‘full responsibility for his actions’

Scott McKay, defense attorney for Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, has issued this statement on McGee's plea agreement and sentencing today on a misdemeanor DUI charge:

“Senator McGee is an outstanding person and a dedicated public servant who has served Idaho citizens with distinction for the better part of the last decade. Like all of us, he is not perfect and he made a mistake when he drank too much following a recent golf event. However, Senator McGee’s behavior after leaving the golf course was affected by factors beyond the consumption of alcohol. He fell after leaving the golf course as documented by bruising and cuts on his knee and a significant bump and laceration on his head. Senator McGee has been examined by a respected neurologist who has concluded that as a result of this fall, he likely sustained a concussion prior to the events leading to his arrest. In my judgment, the foregoing would have provided a complete defense to the criminal allegations made against him. Senator McGee, however, advised me that he did not want to pursue this defense but instead wanted to take full responsibility for his actions including promptly reimbursing the affected homeowners for the damage he caused and apologizing to them. Senator McGee has done just that through the resolution of his case today.”

McGee pleads guilty to DUI in plea deal

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican state Sen. John McGee has pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol in a plea agreement reached with prosecutors. The 38-year-old Caldwell Republican reached an agreement Friday during his scheduled preliminary hearing. In return, prosecutors agreed to dismiss one count of felony grand theft stemming from McGee's arrest last month in Boise. Under terms of the deal, prosecutors recommend McGee serve 180 days in jail, with 175 suspended. It also calls for a withheld judgment. McGee was arrested June 19 after police say he took a truck and cargo trailer from the southwest Boise home of a stranger and got it stuck in a yard just down the street. Police also say a breath test found his blood-alcohol content was 0.15 percent, nearly twice the legal limit.

Idaho may loosen wolf hunt rules

Idaho is considering a wolf hunt without quotas in much of the state, the AP reports, but hunters so far have purchased only a fraction of the tags they did in Idaho's first hunt in 2009. “We're not getting near the response this year in term of tag purchases that we did that first year,” Idaho Fish and Game Deputy Director Jim Unsworth told The Associated Press. As of yesterday, only about 3,100 tags had been sold; some 30,000 were sold two years ago. Click below for a full report from the AP.

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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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