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Eye On Boise

Archive for October 2012

Otter: First lady asked NY mayor Bloomberg to donate to Idaho campaign group

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says it wasn't him who asked New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to donate to Idaho's school-reform fight - it was First Lady Lori Otter. “The first lady was the one that talked to Mike's organization,” Otter said today, before judging a children's Halloween costume contest on the state Capitol steps. “You know, we got to know Mike pretty well, going up to the, Herb Allen has his gathering up in Sun Valley, and so every year we've gone up, we've ran into Mike, and had an opportunity to kind of get to know each other. He's been interested in education, and Lori I think was telling him about it while we were up there, and he said, 'Give me a call, I'll see if I can help you,' or give his organization a call, I should say, and he'd see if he could help us.” Bloomberg donated $200,000 to the secret-donations group Education Voters of Idaho, which today revealed its donors under a court order.

Otter said he was the one who made the pitch to Albertson's heir Joe Scott, who anted up $250,000. “And he was very gracious,” Otter said. “But he wanted everybody to know and to make sure that it was him personally,” as opposed to the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation. Both Otter and the first lady today were dressed in costumes consisting of academic caps and gowns, with the foundation's “Go On” slogan festooned on them, urging kids to go on to higher ed after college.

Otter said he did participate in a fundraiser for the school-reform campaign at the Republican National Convention that featured Jeb Bush. He asked how much EVI reported today that it had raised overall, and seemed pleased with the $641,000 figure, saying, “OK, good!”

The group was presented by its chair, Debbie Field, and co-executive director, John Foster, as a way to provide a voice for parents in the debate, but its donor list is heavy on businesses and organizations and out-of-state wealthy folks. “As far as corporations, those other organizations, remember they all have employees, and those employees have kids,” Otter said. “And they also want to look forward to tomorrow's workforce, and they know that a good education is an important part of that.”

Otter said he was fine with the donors being disclosed. “I think, look, that's the law,” he said. “No matter where you organize the organization … they've got to obey our laws. And that has been my position all along.”

Ysursa: ‘We do think this will send a message’

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says Education Voters of Idaho has now complied with the state's Sunshine Law, by filing the required forms revealing its donors. “This seems to be in total compliance with what we wanted, and of course the judge's order,” he said. “This is what we always wanted, we wanted disclosure. Let the people decide with all the information in front of them, who gave what to a ballot measure committee. That's certainly required by the Sunshine Law that 78 percent of the folks voted for way back in 1974.”

He noted that other states are grappling with similar issues. California is currently trying to get pre-election disclosure on an $11 million donation, Ysursa said. “We're watching the California issue very, very closely from a legal point of view.” He said, “We can always fine-tune our law to make it crystal-clear.” But Ysursa said Idaho has the right, as a matter of state sovereignty, to regulate campaign finances as it chooses and require disclosure.

“We do think this will send a message,” Ysursa said. “This office takes its duties very seriously on campaign disclosure, and when we came up across this scenario, we felt compelled that we had to go into court and follow the law.” He added, “I just hope we all get back to what's very important, and that's Nov 6 and get people out to vote.”

Overall, the campaign finance reports filed by Education Voters of Idaho today showed that most of the donations were large and many were from out of state, including the marquee donation of $200,000 from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Of the group’s 25 donors, 10 were from outside Idaho; the out-of-state donors’ total of $320,000 in contributions nearly matched the $321,000 from in-state donors. Twelve of the 25 donors were businesses or organizations; 13 were individuals. You can read my full story here at

EVI leaders: ‘We are proud of our donors’

John Foster and Debbie Field of Education Voters for Idaho submitted a letter to Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa when they filed their required campaign finance disclosure forms for the group this afternoon. In it, they said they “strongly disagree” with 4th District Judge Mike Wetherell's decision ordering them to disclose, but, “we have decided to fully comply with his order rather than immediately file an appeal.” They said they are still considering whether to file an appeal.

“We want to make it clear to you and to the public that our actions were based solely on what we believe are our duties to our donors,” the two wrote, “and our duty to protect our rights as a corporation under Idaho code, the Idaho Constitution and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We are proud of our donors and humbled by their strong support for long-term education reform in Idaho.” You can read the full letter here.

Albertson Foundation: ‘It wasn’t us’

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation has released this statement: “The donation made by Joe B. Scott to the Education Voters of Idaho fund was made by Mr. Scott as a private, concerned citizen. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation was not involved in any way in the contribution and no Foundation funds were used.”

Click below for the remainder of the statement, which focuses on the foundation's vision of “limitless learning for all Idahoans.”

New York mayor’s office doesn’t know why Bloomberg gave, and they’re ‘wall to wall’ with storm

Asked why the mayor of New York donated $200,000 to an Idaho school reform ballot measure campaign, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg's press office said, “I don't know the answer. … We're a little wall-to-wall right now.” The city is in the midst of coping with the giant superstorm that's hit the east coast. “That's a separate operation, the mayor's private money,” the spokesman said. “This is city hall. … I will pass this along and see if I can have someone get back to you.”

Link to the full reports…

Here's a link to the full campaign finance reports filed this afternoon by Education Voters of Idaho, which show that the group has collected more than $641,000 in until-now anonymous donations to back state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reforms. The two biggest givers, by far, were New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, $200,000, and Albertson's heir Joe Scott, $250,000. Others who gave $10,000 or more included John D. Bryan of Lake Oswego, Ore., $10,000; Intermountain Gas Co., $10,000; Idaho Forest Group, $10,000; F. Friess of Jackson, Wyo., $25,000; Republican Governors Public Policy Committee, $50,000; M3 Eagle LLC, $10,000; Hagadone Hospitality, $15,000; and Clear Springs Foods of Buhl, $10,000.

Mayor of New York among big givers to Idaho secret-donors school reform campaign

Education Voters of Idaho, acting under a judge's order, filed its campaign finance disclosure report this afternoon, revealing the until-now anonymous donors to the group's statewide TV ad campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform measures. Among them: $200,000 from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and $250,000 from Boise's Joseph B. Scott.

Michael Bloomberg is the third-term mayor of New York, an independent, a former Republican and former Democrat, and one of the nation's richest men. He is pro-choice, pro-gun control, and made national waves this year with his move to ban the sale of sugary soft drinks in servings bigger than 16 ounces on public health grounds. He's clashed with the city's public employee unions, including during a transit workers strike in 2005, and as mayor took direct control over the city's public schools, where he's pushed for reforms.

Joseph B. Scott is the grandson of the late grocery store magnate Joe Albertson; he's the chairman of the board of the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation, which has donated millions toward public education projects in Idaho, from funding the Idaho Education Network to giving grants to Idaho school districts. The foundation ran full-page ads in newspapers across Idaho in 2011 promoting state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reform plan. Scott also made millions with his own investments in for-profit online education firm K12 Inc., according to the Associated Press, even as the family foundation handed out grants in Idaho to increase online learning.

Note: Despite the time stamp on this post, I didn't get this early. My newspaper's servers are in the Pacific time zone, so the time stamps show a time an hour earlier than the Mountain time I operate in here in Boise.

Awaiting the big reveal…

Idaho political watchers are awaiting the big reveal today - when a secretive group, under a court order, reveals the source of more than $200,000 it collected to underwrite statewide TV ads in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform measures. The rumor mill is going wild, but nothing's been filed yet. A judge has ordered Education Voters of Idaho to file its disclosure report with the Idaho Secretary of State's office by 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, click below for AP reporter John Miller's report on how Idaho isn't alone in scrutinizing how campaign disclosure laws apply to nonprofit groups.

Columnist: Idaho judge gives ‘eloquent reminder’ of ideals that underly election season

“It’s too bad that the time most ripe for optimism and enthusiasm regarding democracy and citizenship – elections – is so persistently darkened by cynicism,” writes Spokesman-Review columnist Shawn Vestal today. “It’s too bad, but not surprising or unfounded. One of the chief failures of our public life is the failure of frankness, and it’s widespread, and it causes an entirely reasonable loss of faith in the whole enterprise. That’s why the 19 pages written by Judge Michael Wetherell and filed in a Boise courtroom this week are such an invigorating tonic.” You can read Vestal's full column here at

Lawmaker’s son accidentally wounds wife with hunting rifle

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) ― Authorities in eastern Idaho say the son of a Democratic state lawmaker shot his wife accidentally with a rifle following a day of hunting. The Idaho Falls Post-Register ( ) reports that 31-year-old Ian Malepeai and his wife, Hailey Hodges, of Irwin, had been hunting Monday. Malepeai is one of three children of Idaho Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai of Pocatello, who is retiring from the Idaho Legislature this year. According to sheriff's reports, Ian Malepeai was removing a 7 mm rifle from his pickup truck just after 7 p.m. when it discharged, sending a bullet into her buttocks. Bonneville county Sheriff's deputies say Hodges, who is also 31, was transported to a hospital in the region. After treatment, she's reported to be in stable condition.

Campaign finance reports show VanderSloot, union up ante in ed overhaul fight

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Eastern Idaho Republican businessman Frank VanderSloot has now spent more than $1 million to help support public schools chief Tom Luna's education overhaul survive the Nov. 6 vote. VanderSloot hopes his money, most coming from his direct-marketing company Melaleuca, is an antidote to efforts financed by the National Education Association and its state affiliate. According to Tuesday's campaign-finance reports, they've bankrolled TV commercials and other advertising against the education changes in excess of $2 million. VanderSloot's TV ads have sought to portray those fighting the education changes as simply seeking to protect union power. Luna's 2011-passed laws limit teachers' collective bargaining rights, require online classes and mandate laptops for ninth-graders, a program due to cost Idaho $180 million over eight years. Luna's foes contend that will take money from teachers.

Former state official would play key role under laptop contract

The state's $182 million, eight-year contract for laptop computers for high school students includes information about key staffers for the companies that partnered in the successful bid, including Hewlett-Packard, Education Networks of America and Xtreme Consulting. Among them is a familiar name: Garry Lough, Idaho director of customer services for ENA. Until March 2 of this year, Lough was a state of Idaho employee, working for the state Department of Education and the Department of Administration as communications director for the Idaho Education Network.

The IEN is a state project that provides a broadband connection to every Idaho high school; despite a lawsuit from other bidders, ENA and partner Qwest, now CenturyLink, won the multimillion-dollar statewide contract in 2009. Now, it has a continuing $8 million annual contract to operate the network for the state.

Lough is a former Idaho Republican Party executive director who went to work for the state in 2007 as  a legislative liaison for the State Department of Education after a stint with the state controller's office. According to state records, during his five years with the state, his pay rose from about $65,000 a year to about $72,800 a year.

Now, Lough is in a key position as ENA is a subcontractor with Hewlett-Packard in the laptop computer contract, with ENA in charge of setting up and operating wireless networks in every Idaho high school, using that same broadband connection the firm already helped bring to the schools with the IEN. “I think it'll be a great asset to the state,” Lough said. “We have great relationships to a lot of the schools, we've demonstrated success.” He said the IEN project came in below budget and a year ahead of schedule. “And I think that same effort and deliverable is going to be executed (in the new project), if everything can proceed as we'd like it to.”

As for his move from the state to ENA, “It was just a good timing and there were some synergies there,” said Lough, who holds a degree in international studies from Idaho State University. “Basically they had a national guy that was here a lot, and it was just becoming too costly.” In addition to working on the Idaho project, Lough is working on an ENA bid for a major school network project in Wyoming. “My job as director of customer services is to ensure that all the end users, the customers of the IEN, are being served optimally,” he said, “and also to pursue other opportunities in other states.” You can read my full story here at

Expert on laptop contract: ‘A really complex deal’

I spoke last night with Leslie Fiering, research vice president for Gartner Inc., a leading market research and advisory firm focusing on the information technology industry and a recognized expert in major IT acquisitions, about Idaho's $182 million laptop contract. She said lease deals are not uncommon, and said she couldn't say if it's a good deal or not for the state. “It's a really complex deal,” she said. But she pointed to a plus for the state: “They have a built-in refresh,” meaning the deal automatically calls for the laptops to be replaced every four years. “So that means that they're not struggling to keep old equipment going. It means that they're not scrambling to pull up capital budget every year, which could then get cut. Assuming they could keep this funded, it gives them a secure basis for operations.”

She added, “I work with school districts on a regular basis who are tying themselves into knots trying to figure out how they're going to get these devices into the hands of kids.”

On the down side for the state, she said, “There is liability on the accidental breakage,” which Fiering said could prove “contentious.” She said, “Kids are very tough on the machines. … I used to joke that the kids were second only to the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan in how rough they are on their computers, and I was corrected by the hardware manufacturers, the maintenance organizations and the school districts that I work with that I was wrong, the kids are worse than the soldiers. So I can understand why H-P did that to protect themselves.”

$182M laptop contract is just for rental, not purchase

Idaho's newly inked $182 million, eight-year contract with Hewlett-Packard Co. for laptop computers for its high school students contains a surprising feature - the state won't actually own the computers, and if they're lost, damaged or stolen, it'll have to pay H-P for them. You can read my full story here at The contract price is $292.77 per year per laptop, with each unit on a four-year replacement schedule. That means over the four years, the state will pay $1,171 per unit, including wireless networks and training as well as the laptops themselves.

H-P, in the contract, agrees to provide a full manufacturer's warranty on the laptops for four years. An example: If the hard drive went out in the third year, they'd replace it. But they wouldn't cover accidental loss, damage or theft. State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said the state doesn't expect much in the way of such losses. “In speaking with other schools and the state of Maine that have fully implemented one-to-one programs, they estimate just about 1 percent of devices a year, if even that, must be replaced or repaired outside the warranty,” she said. “We do not believe Idaho will be any different.”

Supplying every Idaho high school student with a laptop computer is a centerpiece of Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's “Students Come First” school reform plan, which goes before voters next week in three ballot measures. If voters reject Proposition 3, the laptop contract would be canceled. Luna has touted the contract as a bargain for the state; a copy was obtained by The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday under the Idaho Public Records Law.

Secret-donations group apparently giving in, will disclose donors tomorrow

Education Voters of Idaho, the group that's been fighting to keep secret its contributors who financed a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, apparently has given in and will reveal its donors tomorrow in accordance with a court order. “That's what it appears,” said Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst. “They said they were going to file, yes.”

Today, the group filed its C1 form, the initial reporting form required of political committees. It shows that EVI's chair is Debbie Field and its treasurer is Cordell Chigbrow. That information is identical to that reported for Parents for Education Reform, the group that purchased the TV ads after getting $200,000 handed over from EVI. Yesterday, 4th District Judge Mike Wetherell ordered the group to disclose the sources of its funds under the state's Sunshine Law, and to do so by 3 p.m. on Wednesday.  “We're hopeful that they're going to do what the judge ordered and file the other reports,” Hurst said. If so, “They'll be online immediately.”

Attorney Christ Troupis had indicated he was considering appealing Wetherell's order to the Idaho Supreme Court, but no appeal was received there by the close of business today. Troupis didn't return a reporter's call this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Parents for Education Reform has filed its campaign finance report, showing that it got another $100,000 from EVI on Oct. 2, but refunded the payment back to the group  on Oct. 19. The PFER report also shows contributions of $50,000 from U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and $100,000 from StudentsFirst, a Sacramento, Calif.-based group launched by former Washington, D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee whose mission is “transformative reform” of schools. As for its campaign activities in October, PFER reported spending another $100,000 Oct. 2 on broadcast advertising, on top of the $200,000 it spent earlier from EVI funds.

Contract: State must pay if laptops are damaged, lost or stolen

Here's a surprising feature of the state's new $182 million, eight-year contract with Hewlett-Packard for laptop computers for high school students: The company will retain title to the computers, and the state, which will just be renting them, will be liable for all risk of loss, including damage or theft. The contract, in Attachment 1 on Page 5, says, “Lessee,” which in this case is the state, “shall bear the entire risk of loss with respect to any asset damage, destruction, loss, theft, or governmental taking, whether partial or complete.” If a laptop is damaged, the state must have it repaired at state expense - within 60 days. If one is lost or stolen, the state would have to pay H-P for it.

The amount the state would have to pay would be the “casualty value,” which would be, “All amounts due to date of payment plus the remaining payments for the balance of the Schedule term plus $35.” The schedule term? Four years. The state has contracted to pay $292.77 per unit per year, with each unit on a four-year replacement schedule; that means over the four years, the state will pay $1,171 per unit.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said the state doesn't expect much in the way of such losses. “In speaking with other schools and the state of Maine that have fully implemented one-to-one programs, they estimate just about 1 percent of devices a year, if even that, must be replaced or repaired outside the warranty,” she said. “We do not believe Idaho will be any different.”

H-P, in the contract, agrees to provide a full manufacturer's warranty on the laptops for four years. An example: If the hard drive went out in the third year, they'd replace it. But they wouldn't cover accidental loss, damage or theft. In fact, H-P writes in its proposal that it “strongly recommends” an optional one-year accidental damage protection service that it provides for new laptops at a cost of $17 apiece. That's not covered by the contract, however. Neither is an optional service that would cover “No-Fault Replacement Service” for the computers. Schools or districts could purchase that additional service at a price of $4,750 for 10 incidents, according to the contract.

The contract includes a provision that H-P will provide extra units - 3 percent beyond those ordered - for “hot-spare replacement units.” That would allow a student whose computer stops working to get an immediate replacement, while the non-working one goes in for repair. But that's only for items covered by the manufacturer's warranty. “Those not covered under the four-year warranty would be in addition to the contract,” McGrath said.

What the contract says…

I'm still awaiting answers from the State Department of Education to a series of questions I had after reviewing the $182 million, eight-year contract between the state of Idaho and Hewlett-Packard Co. for laptop computers. But one thing is clear: The state's not getting the laptops for $249 apiece.

A fact sheet the department distributed on the day the contract was signed said, “Idaho is paying $249.77 per student/teacher for the managed service of providing the device, maintenance, security and technology support. If you include wireless infrastructure and professional development, the state is paying $292.77 per student/teacher.”

According to the contract, the state will pay $292.77 per laptop per year under a lease, and they're on a four-year replacement schedule. That means over the four years, the state will pay $1,171 per unit. At the end of the four years, the state is obligated to wipe the data from the laptops and let H-P pick them up, unless it wants to buy the units for $35 apiece. It also would have the option of buying them before the four years are up at various discounts: $147.56 after three years; $260.12 after two years; or $372.68 after one year.

Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, disputes the $1,171-per-unit figure, because the $292.77 is a “fully burdened” cost per unit that includes tech support, wireless system maintenance, training and more. (However, in addition to the $292.77 per unit per year, the contract calls for the state to pay H-P $5.5 million for “infrastructure and project startup cost.”)

“It's not just one device and you're paying for it every single year to get that device - you're paying for a lot more than that,” McGrath said. If you use the department's $249.77 figure instead, the state's cost per laptop would be $999 over the four-year period.

The $180 million-plus laptop contract…

Here it is - the $181,935,125 eight-year contract that the state of Idaho has signed with Hewlett-Packard Co. to supply laptop computers to every Idaho high school student and teacher. It may take a bit to load, but you can see the full contract here; it's 362 pages, making a rather large pdf. Some portions have been redacted “relating to HP trade secrets.” In response to my public records request, the State Department of Education provided the contract on paper only, saying, “the file was far too large to send electronically.” I took it straight to Kinko's, where my newspaper paid to have it scanned it so I could post it here for you to see.

The ‘selective enforcement’ argument…

Among the unsuccessful defenses that the secretive “Education Voters of Idaho” offered yesterday in court for its position that it shouldn't have to disclose its donors was “selective enforcement.” Attorney Christ Troupis noted that John Foster, co-executive director of the group, submitted an affidavit to which he attached 215 examples he dug up from over the years of corporations that donated to political committees in Idaho without turning the corporations themselves into political committees that fall under campaign finance laws. Among them: The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation and Micron Technology.

Idaho Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane responded, “The reason why corporations like Micron and Farm Bureau aren't under the microscope is because they weren't taking contributions.” He noted that Foster and partner Kate Haas, in affidavits submitted to the court, “both acknowledge that Education Voters of Idaho solicited contributions.” Kane also told the court, “A political committee doesn't necessarily have to be a corporation, but a corporation most certainly can be a political committee.”

Here's what 4th District Judge Mike Wetherell had to say about the “selective enforcement” argument: “I will point out that the issues that are addressed here, from my standpoint, are legal issues. I can appreciate Mr. Troupis' frustration with the arguments he's made related to selective enforcement or that they have been singled out, but as the Secretary of State is fully aware, if someone is dissatisfied with the way he is administering the law, the solution is at the ballot box - it is not in this courtroom. And so that is not going to be a major factor that this court is going to be looking at.”

Judge on secret donations: ‘Idaho’s law is clear and unambiguous’

Here's a link to my full story at on today's court decision upholding Idaho's Sunshine Law and ordering a secret-donations group to reveal its donors by Wednesday. Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell ordered Education Voters of Idaho to disclose its donors by 3 p.m. on Halloween. The group must “file all required further reports when required or face sanctions,” the judge wrote. Possible sanctions include fines and penalties contained in the state's Sunshine Law. In addition, anyone flouting a court order could be held in contempt by the court, and even jailed until they comply with the order.

Christ Troupis, attorney for EVI, said he's reviewing the decision and considering an appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who sued to enforce the Sunshine Law's disclosure requirements, pointed to a clause in the law that forbids groups from concealing the true source of funds used in campaigns. Wetherell cited that clause from the law twice in his decision, once in bold-face. “Idaho law is clear and unambiguous,” he wrote. “There can be no anonymous contributions either in favor of or in opposition to Propositions 1, 2 and 3.” He also pointed to a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in a 2010 Washington case, Human Life of Washington Inc., that upheld that state's similar disclosure requirement.

Judge orders EVI to disclose donors

Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell has ruled in favor of the state of Idaho in its lawsuit seeking disclosure of the secret donors to a campaign against three Idaho ballot measures; Wetherell ordered Education Voters of Idaho to disclose its donors by 3 p.m. this Wednesday, Halloween. The group must “file all required further reports when required or face sanctions,” the judge wrote. You can read his 19-page decision here.

Wrote Wetherell, “A failure by the Defendants to follow the requirements of the Sunshine Initiative is in violation of the rights of Idaho citizens as provided by law, and a failure to grant injunctive relief at this time would permit the law to be violated with impunity and would result in irreparable harm to the voters of Idaho whose rights under the Sunshine Initiative the Secretary of State is charged with protecting.”

Ad Watch: Latest ad charges school reform laws hamper teachers

The latest campaign commercial opposing Idaho's school reform ballot measures draws on a variety of criticisms of the measures to suggest they hamper teachers in doing their jobs. “We want to give your children the best education - but the Luna laws make that harder,” says the ad, which is airing statewide, including in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene market. The ad cites an array of criticisms of the measures, some directly related to the propositions and others more general, from school funding issues to parent fees.

“You have significant number of undecided, and I expect to some extent, bewildered voters who are trying to sort all of this out,” said Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor at Boise State University. “I think some bewildered voters vote no or don't vote at all. I'm not suggesting that is their intent, but I think it could be an unintended consequence.” You can read my full story here at

Secret-donations arguments: ‘The court’s opportunity to let that sun shine’

4th District Judge Mike Wetherell, after taking close to an hour of arguments from both sides in the secret-donations case, said he's going to try to have his opinion out by 5 p.m. today. “I don't know whether I'll make it, but I'm going to attempt to,” he said. He added that the parties are “going to run out of here to the Supreme Court as soon as the opinion's done anyway, I'm sure,” and Christ Troupis, attorney for Education Voters of Idaho, laughed heartily.

Asked afterward, he said if the secretive group that ran statewide TV ads backing Propositions 1, 2 and 3 doesn't prevail today in its bid to head off the Secretary of State's demands that it reveal the sources of the money for the campaign under the Idaho Sunshine Law, he will appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court.  “These are important issues,” Troupis said. “This needs to be a considered decision.”

He maintained that EVI, which was formed on the same day and by the same people as a political committee that placed the TV ads, is akin to the Idaho Statesman newspaper or Micron Corp. in engaging in politics - the newspaper through endorsing candidates, and Micron in donating corporate funds to a PAC. But Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane argued that EVI is different, and that its activities show a clear effort to evade the Sunshine law and avoid disclosure. “There is a need for disclosure. The public has a right to know,” Kane told the court. “This is the court's opportunity to let that sun shine.”

Guv, first lady to host kids for Capitol trick-or-treating on Wednesday

Gov. Butch Otter and First Lady Lori Otter will host a free “Trick or Treat” party for children at the state Capitol on Wednesday, with trick-or-treating from 3:30 to 6 p.m. and a costume contest at 5:30. Prizes will be awarded for the best costume portraying an Idaho historical figure, a book or movie character, the scariest, and the most creative; click below for more information. The first lady also will hand out copies of her her children's book, “Ida Visits the Capitol.”

Simpson, LeFavour face off in debate

2nd District GOP Rep. Mike Simpson and his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Nicole LeFavour, debated on live TV last night in the “Idaho Debates.” You can watch the full debate online here. The two clashed over women's issues, from pay inequity to lawmakers' comments about rape. “For many women it’s been a rough year to watch Congress,” LeFavour told Simpson, “and I’m sorry you have participated in that.” He responded, “I’m sorry you feel that way, because it’s absolutely not true.” Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker has a full report on the debate here.

The two also debated deficit reduction, energy funding and the Idaho National Laboratory, jobs, forest fire management and more. Simpson is a seventh-term congressman and former Idaho House speaker who chairs a key House appropriations subcommittee. LeFavour is an outspoken fourth-term state lawmaker who's served two terms in the Idaho House and two in the Senate; click below for a profile of the race by AP reporter John Miller.

Lawmakers spar over laptop contract costs

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The eight-year, $180 million pact with Hewlett-Packard Co. for laptops required under public schools chief Tom Luna's education overhaul is dividing Idaho's Republican lawmakers. Rep. Lynn Luker of Boise said Friday during a meeting inside the Capitol the price was “double pretty much what we anticipated.” Sen. John Goedde of Coeur d'Alene countered it's only 10 percent above estimates. Who's right? In 2011, Luna estimated the five-year cost at $70.8 million, or $14.6 million annually. For the first five years of the actual H-P contract, the cost is $82 million, about 16 percent higher, conceded Luna spokeswoman Melissa McGrath. And over eight years, the average annual cost runs $22.5 million, well over Luna's estimate when calculated yearly. Voters weigh in on the computers and Luna's additional education changes Nov. 6.

Labrador: Raise Social Security retirement age to 70

Here's a link to my full story at on last night's lively debate between Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador and his Democratic challenger, Jimmy Farris. During the face-off, Labrador backed raising the Social Security retirement age to 70, cutting a third of the staff at the Pentagon and banning all abortions other than those to save the life of the mother. Farris differed sharply on the retirement age and abortion, but found common ground with Labrador on trimming military spending. “I think there are a number of places that we would agree and admit that we can find savings,” Farris said. “If Pentagon staff is one of them, I'd certainly like to look at it.”

Labrador said people are living much longer now than they were when Social Security and Medicare were started, and people like himself, at age 44, have to recognize “that I'm going to have a different program than exists today.” Farris disagreed, saying a better way to ensure the solvency of Social Security would be to raise the cap on earnings subject to the Social Security tax.

On abortion, Labrador said he opposes making exceptions for victims of rape or incest. “I think life begins at conception, so I believe it's important that we protect life,” he said. Farris said, “This is an issue where we strongly disagree. I do support a woman's right to choose what happens to her body. … I don't think it's the government's place to be making decisions for women about their health care.” You can watch the full debate online at

Hart files for bankuptcy - again

State lawmaker and tax protester Rep. Phil Hart has filed for bankruptcy — again — prompting a federal tax foreclosure case against him to be put on hold. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone. Hart's new bankruptcy filing comes almost two months after he voluntarily dropped his previous one, acknowledging it was improperly filed under Chapter 13 of federal bankruptcy laws. His new filing is under the same chapter with largely the same circumstances.

Working group votes for non-profit state-run health insurance exchange

Gov. Butch Otter's health insurance exchange working group has voted overwhelmingly in favor of a state-based health insurance exchange, opting for the model of using a private non-profit group set up by the state to run it. The recommendation now goes to Otter, who must notify the federal government of which way the state will go by Nov. 16. If the state does nothing, it gets a federally run health insurance exchange and loses state regulatory control over its health insurance industry. Rep. Lynn Luker's substitute motion to hold off on any decision for a year was overwhelmingly rejected. Only two members, Luker and Wayne Hoffman, dissented in the panel's decision.

Luker: Let’s wait a year on insurance exchange

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, has offered a substitute motion at the Health Insurance Exchange Working Group to defer a decision for one year; Wayne Hoffman seconded his motion. Luker said he wants to “defer this decision 'til after the election, 'til after we see what the federal government does with implementing a federal exchange, which we're probably going to get anyway given our level of preparation, and that we reconsider this in a year.” If the substitute motion fails, Alex LaBeau's original motion is still on the table.

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said opting for a federal exchange would mean much higher health insurance costs for Idahoans, “charging the citizens of the state of Idaho $120 million more for basically the same insurance they're getting now.”

Panel member Tom Shores said, “I think the problem is we've waited long enough. We couldn't get the Legislature to do anything.” Waiting again, he said, would be “folly.” John Watts said, “I just don't know why we'd want the federal government to control absolutely everything if we have an option to avoid that.”

Exchange working group debates, Hoffman compares feds to abusive spouse

As the Health Insurance Exchange Working Group ponders Alex LaBeau's motion to support a state-based health insurance exchange, Wayne Hoffman, a group member, spoke out in opposition, comparing the state's relationship with the federal government to “the relationship of an abuser to a spouse. We keep getting beat up by the federal government and we keep running back to the federal government, and we have done it time and time again.” He said, “I think the best interest of the state is  to continue to resist this constitutionally dubious federal law. … The only way you're going to get the federal government, Congress and the executive branch to reconsider the law is just to resist its implementation.”

LaBeau said, “We're all paying for everybody's health care as it is, whether it's thru Medicare and Medicaid, your property taxes or your insurance. The other important thing to remember, in a small state like Idaho, this is going to impact small employers.” He said small employers - those with 50 or fewer employees - are 96 percent of Idaho's employers, and they employ half of Idaho's workers. “That's a substantial number of Idahoans that are going to be impacted by the decision that is made here today.” LaBeau called for a state-based exchange, using a private non-profit model, “because it's the most flexible.” He said a state-based exchange is the only way Idaho can protect small employers from big jumps in their costs and maintain Idaho's regulatory role over its insurance industry.

Panel member Kevin Settles said, “We need to get past arguing the legality of the law. The Supreme Court settled the issue.” He said, “We can make something good out of this. … With the state-based non-profit exchange, we can make it reflect Idaho.” He noted that Idaho's current insurance premiums are among the lowest in the nation.

Judge Mike Wetherell gets secret-donations case, hearing re-set to Monday

The secret-donations case has now been assigned to a new state judge and a new hearing date and time set. Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell will hear from both sides Monday at 1:30, on the state's motion for a court order forcing Education Voters of Idaho to disclose the source of the more than $200,000 it collected for a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot, the “Students Come First” school reform measures. EVI has maintained it's exempt from the state Sunshine Law's requirement to disclose its contributors; the state strongly disagrees, and is seeking disclosure before the fast-approaching Nov. 6 election.

Secret-donations case bounced back to state court, but today’s hearing is off - EVI wants a new judge

Here's an update from AP reporter John Miller: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A lawsuit to force a group touting public schools chief Tom Luna's education overhaul to reveal still-secret financiers is back in state court. The group, Education Voters of Idaho, sought a shift to federal court, to help it fight Secretary of State Ben Ysursa's demands. But on Friday, Ysursa's attorney and the group's lawyer, Christ Troupis, signed papers agreeing to contest the matter in 4th District Court. Even so, a hearing on Ysursa's lawsuit that had been set for Friday at 1:30 p.m. has been postponed ― and the original state judge removed from the case. Ysursa demands EVI disclose names of donors of more than $200,000 to broadcast ads promoting Luna's education changes before the Nov. 6 election. Troupis argues his group has the right to conceal donors' identities.

Bob Cooper, spokesman for the Idaho Attorney General's office, said, “My understanding is that the other side wants a different judge.” No new hearing date has yet been set. “But they are talking,” Cooper said, “and they're trying to get a new judge named and get  a hearing set for Monday.”

Former Idaho F&G chief opposes HJR2aa, the right to hunt, fish and trap amendment

The Boise Guardian reports today that retired Idaho Fish & Game Director Steve Huffaker has come out against HJR2aa, the right to hunt, fish and trap constitutional amendment on the November ballot, and raised questions about the inclusion of a clause about water rights, which was among various changes made to the bill during the legislative process. “I see no valid reason to amend the constitution,” Huffaker told the Guardian. “We opposed similar attempts for 10 years. And now they have inserted the water language which is certainly not good news for fish.” You can read the Guardian's full post here. The current Idaho Fish & Game Commission has endorsed the measure.

Legal motions fly back and forth in secret-donations case; fate of today’s hearing uncertain

The state of Idaho has filed a motion in federal court to remand the secret-donations case back to state court, after attorney Christ Troupis, representing Education Voters of Idaho, filed a motion yesterday to remove the case to federal court. Troupis claimed it should go there because the issue involves the First Amendment and 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In legal documents filed in federal court this morning, the Idaho Attorney General's office writes that “not one word” of the Secretary of State's complaint against the secretive group was grounded in the 1st Amendment, the 14th Amendment, “or any other provision of federal law. The substantive law to be applied was the Idaho Sunshine Initiative found at Idaho Code 67-6601.” 4th District Judge Deborah Bail had scheduled a hearing for 1:30 p.m. today in state court on the state's bid for a court order forcing EVI to disclose its funding sources. It's now unclear whether that hearing will take place today or not.

The group funneled more than $200,000 in anonymous donations into statewide TV ads in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot, and is refusing Secretary of State Ben Ysursa's demand that it disclose the donors under Idaho's Sunshine Law. You can read the state's latest filing here.

The state's lawyers argue that EVI is wrongly attempting to use the process of removing the case to federal court to delay disclosure until after the election, which is just 11 days away. “Defendants should not be able to use the processes of Federal District Court removal to postpone their day of reckoning under Idaho law until after the general election is over,” they write. They also argue that federal law clearly allows removal only when federal issues are cited in the original complaint, not when the defendant cites a federal issue in its defense.

Pressure on as insurance exchange working group holds final meeting today…

As Gov. Butch Otter's health insurance exchange working group holds its final meeting today, to settle on its recommendation to the governor, a group calling itself the Idaho Health Exchange Alliance has swelled to 316 members around the state, pressing for a state-based insurance exchange, rather than allowing the federal government to run an exchange for the state. The members include insurers and insurance agencies large and small, construction and manufacturing firms ranging from Oppenheimer Companies and Contractors Northwest to General Pneumatic Tools LLC and Madison Roofing, the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Idaho Academy of Family Physicians, Idaho Forest Group, the Twin Falls Canal Co., two auto-body repair businesses, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the Idaho Hospital Association and the Idaho Mining Association.

The alliance has sent a letter to the working group saying, “Our members encourage you to support the creation of a state-based health insurance exchange. Such a strategy is far superior to ceding design and control of something as important as health insurance to the federal government;” you can see the full letter here.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Main Street Alliance and the Idaho Community Action Network have scheduled a news conference this morning at 9:30 in room WW53 of the state Capitol, prior to the working group meeting, calling for an exchange plan that “works in the best interst of Idaho's small businesses and families, not cater(s) to insurance CEOs.” That group wants to make sure big insurers don't dominate the new exchange's board. “We need an exchange that will negotiate on our behalf, using our bargaining power to get the best plans at the best prices,” said Main Street Alliance leader Christina McNeil. “Small businesses deserve nothing less, and we should demand nothing less.”

The working group meeting is from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today in the Capitol Auditorium; you can see the agenda here, and watch live online here.


Labrador, Farris face off in lively debate

1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador and Democratic challenger Jimmy Farris faced off in a lively debate tonight on Idaho Public Television. Among the highlights: Labrador called for raising the retirement age for Social Security to 70 and cutting a third of the staff at the Pentagon; and said he backs banning all abortions except to save the life of the mother. Farris opposed raising the retirement age and instead called for raising the cap on earnings taxed for Social Security; and agreed with Labrador that cuts in defense spending could reduce waste. Labrador said, “The first decision I made in Congress was to actually listen to Walt Minnick,” his Democratic predecessor, who urged him to hire his constituent services chief. “She has been the best decision I made as a congressman,” Labrador said.

I'll have a full report tomorrow. For more on the Idaho Debates, click here.

Secret-donations group files to shift court case to federal court

The secret-donations group that's fighting an attempt by Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa to force it to reveal its contributors before the election has filed a request to move the court case over the matter to federal court, the AP reports. The move by Education Voters of Idaho, which paid for more than $200,000 in statewide TV ads in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot, came just hours before a Boise judge is scheduled to hear the state's motion for a court order against the group. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

City’s tab for homeless shelter lawsuit could triple

The city of Boise could see its tab for losing a lawsuit over housing for the homeless climb from $1 million to nearly $3 million once attorneys' fees and costs are added, the AP reports. A federal jury ordered the city to pay $1 million to Community House in September, after finding that the city discriminated against homeless women and children and retaliated against the organization when board members complained. Now the attorneys that represented Community House in the lawsuit are asking that their client be compensated for fees and costs — which they say total nearly $1.9 million. Attorneys for the city, meanwhile, are seeking to set aside the judgment or get a new trial. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Washington Post Magazine profiles Idaho Dem congressional candidate Farris

The Washington Post Magazine has an extensive story today about Idaho Democratic congressional candidate Jimmy Farris, the former NFL football player and first-time candidate who's running against 1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador. The article, headed, “Election 2012: Former Redskins player Jimmy Farris in the run of his life in Idaho,” is a warts-and-all tale of a neophyte candidate who takes on a political contest facing long odds, and particularly financially, discovers just how hard it can be. It's an interesting read; you can read it here.

1st CD debate is tonight on Idaho Public TV

Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador will debate his Democratic challenger, Jimmy Farris, tonight on live statewide TV. The debate starts at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific time on Idaho Public Television; it'll run for an hour, and take place before a live audience in the state Capitol Auditorium. The public is invited to attend, and is asked to arrive early; doors will close several minutes before the live broadcast begins.

The event is part of the Idaho Debates, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Idaho Press Club and Idaho Public Television, along with an array of other sponsors; they've been a tradition in Idaho election contests for more than three decades. There's more info here.

Greg Hahn of Idaho Public TV will moderate tonight's debate; reporters who will question the candidates include myself, Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman, and Scott Logan of KBOI2 News. On Sunday night, the Idaho Debates will feature the 2nd Congressional District race, with GOP Congressman Mike Simpson debating his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Nicole LeFavour. That debate will begin at 7 p.m., also in the Capitol Auditorium before a live audience; Hahn will moderate, and reporter panelists will be Melissa Davlin of the Twin Falls Times-News, Clark Corbin of the Idaho Falls Post Register, and Emilie Ritter-Saunders of StateImpact Idaho.

Ad Watch: Teacher departures and the 2011 law changes…

The latest TV campaign commercial from opponents of Idaho's school reform propositions focuses on the number of Idaho teachers who have left the profession since the laws passed in 2011. “Since the Legislature passed Props 1, 2 and 3, over 1,800 Idaho teachers have left teaching,” the ad says. That claim is based on data compiled by the state Department of Education. The department's data shows that 1,884 certificated Idaho teachers left the profession of teaching in the 2011-2012 school year, a number that rose sharply from the 1,276 who left in the 2010-2011 year. Both those figures were way up from the 2009-2010 school year, in which the data show 716 Idaho teachers left the profession, a figure that at that point had been relatively stable for three years.

That means the ad's claim is correct - if anything, it understates the figures. The laws passed during the 2011 legislative session; that was the 2010-2011 school year. So, depending on when in the year the teachers departed, it's possible that as many as 3,160 Idaho school teachers have left the profession since the reform laws passed. Read my full ad watch story here at

Lawmakers suffering some ‘sticker shock’ over $180M laptop contract

The AP reports that with the $180 million contract now signed for laptop computers for Idaho's high schools, lawmakers are suffering from sticker shock. In 2011, when lawmakers were considering the laptop plan, chief proponent and state schools Supt. Tom Luna and his staff estimated the cost for five years at $60.8 million. When costs for improving the wireless infrastructure are added to the equation, staff pegged the total five-year price tag at $70.8 million. Now, it's $180 million over eight years. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

IEA responds to Ysursa’s disclosure demand

The Idaho Education Association has sent a response to the Idaho Secretary of State's office's demand that it disclose its contributors, since it made in-kind contributions to the “No on Props 1,2,3” campaign of more than $180,000. In the letter from its attorney, the IEA says it's not a political committee, but does fall under under a clause in Idaho law for a “non-business entity,” a category for non-profit organizations that in the previous year have received contributions or membership fees that exceed 10 percent of its receipts for the year. Under Idaho law, a “non-business entity” is required to disclose all contributions of more than $500, as opposed to political committees, which must disclose all contributions of more than $50.

The IEA said its money all came from annual member dues that are less than $500. So it'll formally declare itself a non-business entity and file the required disclosure forms, but it won't have any contributions over $500 to disclose. In a news release, IEA chief counsel Paul Stark said, “The IEA has always endeavored to be fully compliant with all laws that pertain to the organization. We will continue to do that as we have throughout our 120-year history.”

To qualify as a “non-business entity” under Idaho law, an organization must have been in existence for at least a calendar year. That means the new group that sparked the issue, Education Voters of Idaho, which just formed in August, isn't a “non-business entity.” The Secretary of State's office contends EVI is a political committee that must disclose contributors over $50; a 4th District judge has set a hearing on the issue for Friday.

Cantor makes Boise stop to stump for Labrador, says lame-duck session will be ‘very productive’

U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor stopped in Boise tonight to raise funds for Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador's re-election campaign and urge Idahoans to send the freshman  back to Washington for another term. “I believe in Raul,” Cantor declared. “He has come in and joined this freshman class and has proven himself an independent thinker.”

He also lauded Labrador's work on an immigration visa bill, the STEM jobs bill, which failed in the House last month. “He took the lead on that,” Cantor said. “There's Marco Rubio in the Senate and there's Raul Labrador in the House.”

Just moments later, after Cantor said he was “looking forward to a very productive lame-duck session” in Congress after the election - including action on the delayed farm bill and on debt reduction, entitlement reform and military funding - a reporter pointed out that the night before, Labrador said during a debate that he believes there should be no votes during a lame-duck session. Labrador, while debating Democratic challenger Jimmy Farris on KTVB-TV last night, said a lame-duck session that follows the election isn't the place for big decisions, when a new president could be coming in and members of Congress “are not really that excited to be back there.” He declared, “Every major decision that is made during a lame-duck session is actually bad for America.”
But when asked who would win that argument - him or Cantor - Labrador gestured toward Cantor with his thumb and said, “He will.” “We've got some things that have to be addressed,” Cantor said. “I don't want to see the sequester imposed. … We don't want that to happen. We have to vote on something like that.” He said, “What's different about this year is the statute automatically will cause taxes to go up on everyone who pays taxes, if we do not do something to act to stave that off. So we're going to have to have some votes in the lame duck.” Labrador said, slightly sheepishly, “He's the one who sets the schedule for the House, so he's the one who will decide. I don't think I will be.”

Cantor arrived in a rainy Boise from Sacramento, and after a visit that included a quick tour of Micron Technology and the downtown fundraiser, will head back out to Montana. He's also scheduled to make stops in Salt Lake City and Phoenix. “This is all about House races,” he said.

SDE: ‘Buyout’ clause in laptops contract wouldn’t kick in ‘til after the election

Here's the answer from state Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath as to how soon the $14.2 million “buyout” clause kicks in in the state's $180 million laptop contract, requiring the state to pay the contractor if it cancels the contract: “The buyout would not kick in until the state begins incurring costs. The state does not plan to do so until after Nov. 6. Right now, the state is in the process of working with HP and HP’s partners to develop a project plan based on the contract that was signed Tuesday. This will be done between 30-60 days from now, per the contract.”

Also, it sounds like I'm not going to get the contract today. The SDE says their lawyers are still reviewing it before releasing it under the Idaho Public Records Law. “I would hope that you're going to get it tomorrow,” McGrath said.

State files for restraining order on secret-donations group

The state of Idaho today filed for a temporary restraining order against a secretive group that underwrote more than $200,000 in campaign ads in support of three school-reform ballot reform measures and has refused to disclose its funding source, and a judge set a hearing on the matter for Friday; you can read my full story here at 4th District Judge Deborah Bail will hold a hearing on the motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction at 1:30 p.m. on Friday.

The group, “Education Voters of Idaho,” incorporated in August and within the next 40 days, had transferred $200,350 to a political committee, Parents for Education Reform, the motion says. That group then immediately spent the money on the statewide TV ads. The contribution and expenditures “were made, directly or indirectly, in a fictitious name, anonymously, or through an agent or other person in such a manner as to conceal the identity or identities of the source(s) of the contributions to EVI, which were in turn immediately spent for political purposes by” the second group, the state's motion says. It adds that Idaho's Sunshine law, enacted by voter initiative in 1974, “prohibits gamesmanship by which nested political committees string together a daisy chain of contributions and expenditures that hide the true contributors.”

You can read the state's argument here on its motion for a temporary restraining order.

State releases a few more details about $180 million laptop contract

I still have not received a copy of the $180 million contract the state of Idaho signed yesterday with Hewlett-Packard Corp. and partners for laptop computers for Idaho high schools, but the State Department of Education just sent me this cost breakdown. It shows that the total amount of the contract is $181,935,125. Their figure for the total number of laptops matches the one from the RFP, at 90,376. But with the phase-in over the eight years, the total number of laptop-years in the contract comes to 554,251, because smaller numbers are included for the first, second and third years. The contract includes $292.77 for each of the 554,251 laptop-years, which adds up to $162,268,065.

Then, it adds on top of that $5.5 million for “incremental cost,” defined as “upfront costs paid in the first few years of deployment for infrastructure” - even though the cost of setting up and maintaining the wireless networks is included in the $292.77 per-unit figure - and another $14,167,060 for “Buyout.” The explanation for that: “This cost is only paid if the contract is severed for some reason. It is a built-in cost and may or may not be paid, but we chose to include it in the total cost. Cost without buyout is total $167,768,065.”

This raises the question: If the voters, less than two weeks from now, turn thumbs-down on Proposition 3, does this contract require the state of Idaho to pay the contractors $14.2 million? Here's the answer from SDE spokeswoman Melissa McGrath: “We will not pay the buyout if Proposition 3 is overturned. There is specific language in the contract to address this.”

Not yet answered: When does the buyout clause kick in?

VanderSloot launches pro-school-reform TV ads showing Romney criticizing teachers union

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Eastern Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot is employing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to criticize unions and promote Tom Luna's education overhaul at the ballot box on Nov. 6. VanderSloot, an overhaul supporter, is paying for TV commercials showing Romney criticizing the teachers union. The National Education Association gave nearly $1.1 million to the campaign against Luna's education changes, which include limiting union bargaining power and requiring online classes. The VanderSloot-backed campaign commercial uses Romney, who is popular in Idaho, to suggest unions oppose the overhaul because it erodes their power. In the 30-second commercial, video footage from Romney taken from C-SPAN shows him describing the union as an organization that's lost its way by opposing changes to the nation's education system. VanderSloot owns Melaleuca, a direct-marketing home health products company.

Arithmetic and the $180 million contract…

I've heard a lot of questions today about the numbers behind the $180 million contract Idaho signed yesterday with Hewlett-Packard and partners to supply laptops to every Idaho high school student and teacher for the next eight years, under the “Students Come First” reform laws - the ones that are up for a possible repeal in the Nov. 6 election. Specifically, the state Department of Education said the contract equates to $249.77 per student or teacher per year for just the laptops, maintenance, security and tech support, or $292.77 if the costs of wireless infrastructure and professional development are added in.

According to the state's RFP for this project, the state estimated that 6,551 teachers and administrators would get laptops the first year, and it estimated the number of students, after a three-year phase-in, at 83,825. That's a total of 90,376 laptops. If you divide $180 million by 90,376, it comes out to $1,992 per laptop, not $250. However, the department specifically said it was paying that amount per laptop PER YEAR of the eight-year contract. So, multiply 90,372 laptops by eight years, and you get 723,008. Divide that number into $180 million, and the result is $249.

These may not be the exact numbers in the contract, as they're from the RFP as issued last spring; I have requested a copy of the contract under the Idaho Public Records Law. When I receive it, I will post it here.

Popkey: ‘Don’t mess with Big Ben’

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey has a column today entitled “Don't mess with Big Ben,” in which he notes that backers of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 are taking on the state's most popular Republican official by defying his call to disclose their donors for a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of the measures, as Secretary of State Ben Ysursa contends is required under Idaho's Sunshine law. Ysursa was the state's top vote-getter in both 2002 and 2010, out-polling every other contested candidate and averaging 76 percent of the vote.

Popkey writes, “In what appears a desperate attempt to keep secret embarrassing information about the contributions,” the heads of a group dubbed Education Voters of Idaho, Debbie Field and John Foster, are “linking Ysursa, a life-long Republican, with teachers unions the campaign calls 'thugs.' ” In an op-ed piece distributed Monday to Idaho newspapers, Field and Foster wrote, “Although efforts by the Secretary of State, the union and its allies have temporarily chilled our ability to fulfill our mission, we won't back down.” Popkey notes that Ysursa is going after the teachers unions for disclosure as well. Late Monday, Ysursa went to court seeking a judge's order that EVI disclose its donors prior to the election. You can read the full column here.

Popkey reports that Ysursa had private talks with Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a leading backer of the propositions, to try to get the group to disclose its contributors. “This should have been vetted a lot more than it was,” Ysursa told Popkey. “Everybody's antenna should have gone up when they're going to give money anonymously.”

Gas prices tumble nationwide, but not in Idaho…

Gas prices across the nation have just posted their biggest one-week decline since 2008, AAA Idaho reports, but Idaho hasn't yet felt it. In the Gem State, gas prices are averaging $3.82 a gallon, 19 cents higher than the U.S. average and down just a penny in the last week. The national average dropped 13 cents in the last week to $3.63 a gallon.

AAA predicts that national average gas prices will fall to between $3.40 and $3.65 by Election Day - just two weeks away - and down to $3.25 to $3.40 by Thanksgiving. But in Idaho? “We don't know,” said Dave Carlson, director of public and government affairs. “I would think it's safe to say that we should see some decline in prices.” You can read AAA's full news release here.

Luna on laptops: ‘This train has left the station’

Here's a link to my full story at on how today, two weeks before the November election, in which Idaho voters could cancel the whole program, the state of Idaho signed a $180 million, eight-year contract with Hewlett-Packard to supply laptop computers to every Idaho high school student. If voters turn thumbs down on Proposition 3 in two weeks, the contract will be canceled.

But Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, author of the law that's being tested in Proposition 3, said, “This train has left the station when it comes to transforming our schools and the 21st century learning opportunity. We'll see what happens on election day, but it's not going to stop the transformation that's happening.” Mike Lanza, chairman of the Vote No on Props 1,2,3 campaign, said, “I think that the outcome of the election will determine whether anything goes forward.”

H-P’s partners in the contract…

The partner companies along with Hewlett-Packard in its successful bid for Idaho's $180 million, eight-year laptop computer contract for schools are: Education Networks of America, which will do the wireless networking and which also got the earlier contract to set up the Idaho Education Network; Xtreme Consulting Group, which will manage the PC imaging, putting the appropriate software on the products, making sure it's updated and operating the help desk, providing any assistance that's needed with the products; Black Box, which will “provide the break fix for these products,” according to H-P official Von Hansen (who added: 'They're right on site here, we use them for H-P. Very capable company.”) And the Idaho Digital Learning Academy will handle the professional development and training. “They're very capable folks right here in Idaho,” Hansen said, “and these are great partners, they're proven partners, ones that already work across the state.”

Contract to total $180 million over 8 years

The eight-year contract that Idaho is signing with Hewlett-Packard for laptop computers for Idaho high schools totals $180 million, according to a news release from Gov. Butch Otter. It covers implementing wireless networks in every Idaho high school, deploying the mobile devices, monitoring and maintaining the system and devices, and training teachers and staff; click below for Otter's full news release.

HP official: ‘We’re proud to open this new chapter in our relationship with the state’

Von Hansen, vice president and general manager at HP Boise, hailed selection of his firm to supply laptop computers for Idaho high school students through a contract with the state of Idaho. He noted that HP has had thousands of employees at its Boise campus and has had a presence here for decades; “the most successful product line of H-P came from here,” he said. “Our ties to the community are deep. … Our kids attend schools here in this state.”

Hansen said, “We're proud to open this new chapter in our relationship with the state. … This is a great honor for H-P.” He noted that the contract includes other partners as well: Education Networks of America, the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, Xtreme, and more. “We've got a very capable team,” he said. “We're very excited to be part of this whole rollout.”

In addition to supplying and maintaining the laptop computers, the contract covers setting up and maintaining a wireless network in every Idaho high school, using broadband connections already supplied by the Idaho Education Network.

Luna: ‘Schools are excited about these’

“Schools are excited about these,” state schools Superintendent Tom Luna said of the laptop computers that Idaho has selected from Hewlett-Packard Corp. to supply to every Idaho high school student, under an eight-year, $100 million-plus contract. “They want this one-to-one opportunity. They don't want to wait for it.”

Luna said by having one computer for every Idaho high school student, “They become the textbook for every class.” Chiropractors will be unhappy, Luna said, because students no longer will have to carry heavy backpacks full of books.

Said Luna, “The economic opportunities that it provides this valley and the rest of the state is tremendous. … Together we'll bring more equity and … access to all students in the state of Idaho, no matter where they live.” He said, “We are now going to be able to deploy these devices in schools across Idaho.”

The first laptops are scheduled to go to teachers and administrators at Idaho high schools this year, with students starting to get them next year. However, if the reform laws are repealed in a Nov. 6 referendum, the contract would be canceled.

Otter: A ‘big day’ with Idaho company successful bidder for laptop contract

Gov. Butch Otter called this a “big day,” announcing that Hewlett-Packard Corp. has been named the successful bidder to supply laptop computers to Idaho high school students. “It's a proud moment for me,” Otter said, “that we had an Idaho company that was the successful bidder and that will lead us into that 21st Century classroom.”

Otter, Luna, HP officials gather at HP to announce ‘major partnership’ on laptop contract

Three Hewlett-Packard laptop computers are lined up next to a stack of battered textbooks, binders and a calculator today in a conference room at Hewlett-Packard Corp., where Gov. Butch Otter and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna are gathered along with dignitaries for the announcement of a “major partnership between HP and the State of Idaho:” HP has been selected as the vendor for student laptops under the “Students Come First” technology program.

On the big screen behind the laptops is the logo for Students Come First, Luna's reform program that calls for supplying every Idaho high school student and teacher with a laptop computer. The state has been in the final stages of negotiating an eight-year, $100 million-plus contract to supply the laptops.

ISU head football coach Mike Kramer suspended in wake of shoving incident

Idaho State University head football coach Mike Kramer has been suspended for his team's game at Montana on Saturday for violating the university's conduct policy, the Associated Press reports, in the wake of a shoving incident in which Kramer was captured on video running across the field and shoving wide receiver Derek Graves to the ground during practice Oct. 3. Graves, who reported the incident to Pocatello police, suffered neck spasms and hasn't been cleared to play or practice by ISU's medical staff since the incident; the video received widespread national attention. Athletic director Jeff Tingey announced the suspension and said Kramer also was issued a letter of reprimand; the university said it would have no further comment because the matter was a personnel issue.

The Bengals' associate head coach Don Bailey will serve as the acting head coach on Saturday as Idaho State (1-6, 0-4 Big Sky) takes on Montana (3-5, 1-4).

State judge facing DUI says she’ll retire

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: CALDWELL, Idaho (AP) ― A state judge who is facing a drunken driving charge says she will retire effective Jan. 4. The Idaho Press-Tribune reports 3rd District Judge Renae Hoff has announced her retirement. Seven candidates have submitted applications for the vacant position. Applications are being taken until Nov. 9 by the Idaho Judicial Council. Hoff was arrested and charged with misdemeanor DUI on Aug. 25. She was removed from presiding over criminal cases until her DUI charge is resolved. She pleaded not guilty and her trial is set for Dec. 4. The judicial council is scheduled to meet at the Canyon County Courthouse Dec. 6 to interview the candidates.

It’s Debates Week in Idaho’s congressional races…

It's debates week in Idaho's congressional races, with two debates scheduled tonight, one on Thursday, and another on Sunday. 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador and his Democratic challenger, Jimmy Farris, will face off at 7 tonight on KTVB-TV's 24/7 channel, and again in the Idaho Debates on Thursday on Idaho Public Television.

Thursday's debate will air live statewide, starting at 8 p.m. Mountain time, 7 p.m. Pacific; the hour-long debate will take place before a live audience in the Capitol Auditorium on the lower level of the state Capitol. The public is invited, with seating on a first-come, first-served basis; the doors will close several minutes before the debate begins. Those interested in attending are advised to arrive early. The Idaho Debates are sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Idaho Press Club and Idaho Public Television, along with an array of other sponsors; they've been a tradition in Idaho election contests for more than three decades.

2nd District GOP Congressman Mike Simpson and his Democratic challenger, Nicole LeFavour, also will debate tonight on KTVB's 24/7 channel, starting at 8 p.m. They'll face off again in the Idaho Debates on Sunday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. That matchup also will take place before a live audience in the Capitol Auditorium.

For more information about the KTVB debates, see their website here; for more on the Idaho Debates, see their website here.

Ysursa goes to court to force disclosure of secret donors

Idaho's Secretary of State went to court today, seeking a court order to make a defiant secret-donations group reveal the source of more than $200,000 spent on statewide campaign commercials backing three controversial school-reform measures. “The voters made it clear, when they passed the Sunshine initiative, that public disclosure is an essential element of Idaho elections,” Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said in a statement. “The citizens want to know where the money comes from and how it's spent. That's been the policy and the law of this state for 38 years. My job is to enforce that law.”

You can read Ysursa's full statement here, and read the state's 13-page complaint here, filed today in 4th District Court in Ada County; read my full story here at

Idaho's Sunshine law, enacted by voter initiative in 1974, says its purpose is “to promote openness in government and avoiding secrecy by those giving financial support to state election campaigns and those promoting or opposing legislation.”

Three groups - IEA, NEA, Conservation Voters - asked to disclose donors

Three organizations - the Idaho Education Association, the National Education Association, and the League of Conservation Voters - have been sent letters from the Idaho Attorney General's office asking them to report the sources of their contributions that they collected and then passed along to political committees. Each of the three letters contains this statement:

“Recent inquiries in Idaho have brought to the forefront the practices of organizations that collect donations from individuals and that make substantial lump sum contributions to political committees, but do not themselves report their contributions as political committees. After reviewing the relevant laws, the Secretary of State's office has come to the conclusion that organizations that 'bundle' donations for contributions to other political committees are themselves political committees. We are writing several such organizations at this time to inform them of their reporting obligations under Idaho law, which have not been clearly enunciated in the past.”

The letters note that the NEA donated $1.06 million to the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign; the IEA made in-kind contributions of $180,021 to the same campaign; and the League of Conservation Voters contributed $15,000 to Conservation Voters for Idaho Action Fund. All three groups are being asked to “please promptly file the required reports.”

Ysursa: Group welcome to campaign - just needs to disclose donors

Here's a link to my full story at on the developments so far today on the secret-donations group, Education Voters of Idaho, and its vow to step back up its campaign in favor of three Idaho school reform ballot measures without disclosing who's funding it. “We won't back down,” Education Voters of Idaho co-founders John Foster and Debbie Field said in a news release.

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said he has no problem with the group conducting whatever campaign activities it wishes - as long as it complies with the state's campaign finance disclosure laws. “I commend them for their involvement,” Ysursa said. “All we're after is disclosure of contributors. … We're out to enforce the provisions of the state's Sunshine laws.”

Last week, the group offered to refund the $200,000-plus in contributions rather than disclose the donors, but the state today deemed that unacceptable. “The money has been received, and the money has already been spent,” Ysursa said. “It's hard to undo that.” He said, “We think our law matters. … Pre-election disclosure is crucial.”

State to secret-donors group: You must disclose donors, so must IEA, NEA

The state of Idaho has sent a formal response to Christ Troupis, attorney for Education Voters of Idaho, the secret-donations group backing the school reform ballot measures, Propositions 1, 2, and 3, calling the group's position “not acceptable” and reiterating that the state believes the group is “a political committee that must comply with the reporting requirements of Idaho Code 67-6607.”

The letter, from Deputy Attorney General Michael Gilmore, says, “EVI's status as a Section 501 (c)(4) corporation has no bearing on the issue of its status as a political committee or not. Any corporation that receives donations that are in turn spent in support of or opposition to ballot measures is a political committee when it exceeds the monetary thresholds of Idaho Code 67-6602(p) without regard to whether promoting or opposing the ballot measures is the corporation's principal mission or only part of a larger mission.”

He adds, “You are correct that the IEA and NEA are in many ways similar to the EVI with regard to receiving contributions and in turn forwarding them to other political committees. That is why similar demands are also being directed to them.”

The letter also responds to Troupis' contention that the state's demand that the group disclose its donors violates the group's 1st Amendment rights. “In the absence of the most extreme circumstances, e.g., where persons who exercise their First Amendment right might be in danger if their identities became known, there is no First Amendment right to keep one's significant contributions to political speech secret,” Gilmore wrote. “The Secretary of State is aware of no such circumstances here.” You can read the full letter here.

Defiant secret-donations group to restart its pro-Props 1,2,3 campaign

A shadowy group that raised and spent more than $200,000 in anonymous contributions to fund statewide TV ads in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform referenda, issued a defiant news release today headed, “Founders: 'We won't back down,'” asserting that it'll resume its activities to “talk to voters about education reform and make sure they understand the education issues on Idaho's ballot” in the final two weeks before the election - despite a legal dispute with the Idaho Secretary of State over the legality of the group not disclosing its contributors.

The group also distributed an op-ed piece to Idaho newspapers today, asserting that it was formed because “for too long, Idaho parents have been left on the sidelines of the political debate over education,” because organizations represent school administrators, school board members and teachers, but “the most important voices in this process are often lost or outright ignored - there are too few groups advocating for the rights of parents with school-age children.” That overlooks the Idaho PTA, a statewide organization with thousands of members.

According to its website, “Idaho PTA is the largest parent organization in the state” and is “an organization dedicated to the welfare of children and youth.” At the Idaho PTA's annual convention in April, keynote speakers included state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, discussing the school reform measures, and national PTA President-Elect Otha Thornton. The Idaho PTA's legislative priorities this year were education funding, parent involvement and responsibility, endowment land management for the benefit of schools, and promoting child nutrition, health and safety. That group hasn't taken a position for or against the reform measures, but has been urging its members to research the measures and cast their votes accordingly.

John Foster, co-founder of Education Voters of Idaho, and former longtime Idaho state Rep. Debbie Field, R-Boise, who's also been the longtime campaign manager for Gov. Butch Otter, say in the op-ed that their group suffered “attacks,” showing “just how dangerous a powerful group of motivated parents will be to a politicized system in desperate need of improvement and change.” Foster said the group's statewide TV commercial wasn't pulled, but completed its two- to three-week run; the group then suspended all its activities, but now will restart all of them, despite the legal dispute with the state. “A decision about further television advertising hasn't been made yet,” Foster said. You can read the op-ed piece here.

Wrestling with options for Idaho under health care reform…

The Idaho Legislature's Health Care Task Force, a joint committee of 14 senators and representatives, is hearing updates this morning on the progress of two working groups looking into how Idaho should proceed under the national health care reform law on two fronts: A health insurance exchange, and expansion of Medicaid. State Insurance Director Bill Deal told the lawmakers that the exchange working group will hold its final meeting this Friday, and will settle on its report and recommendations to Gov. Butch Otter on how to proceed.

State Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong told the task force that the Medicaid expansion working group is working through three options: Don't expand Medicaid and keep Idaho's current medical indigency/catastrophic health care fund as-is; don't expand Medicaid and revise the CAT fund system; or expand Medicaid. The no-change option would lead to very fast-growing costs both for the state and for county property taxpayers, Armstrong said. Forecasts show county costs would rise from $29.6 million a year today to $39.6 million a year in 2020, and state costs to the state's general fund from $39 million this year to $52.5 million in 2020.

Revising the CAT program likely would save only about 2 percent on costs, he said, with a new, standardized claims-processing system costing between $1.5 million and $3.5 million. Medicaid expansion, combined with other expected increases in Medicaid, would push Idaho's Medicaid program from the current 229,000 participants to an estimated 453,000 in 2020. Costs would be almost entirely borne by the federal government, though Armstrong warned that that could change in the future if federal policies change.

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said the three options don't include one he's been hearing questions about when he goes door-to-door campaigning for re-election: Don't expand Medicaid and eliminate the CAT program, and just say Idaho won't pay for indigent people's medical costs. “Could the state of Idaho just say we're not going to pay for indigent health care?” Schmidt asked. “People argue that that's something we should consider.”

Armstrong responded, “Well, then the bad debt would fall on the hospitals and the providers. My first-blush guess is all of us that pay for our own hospital care through insurance, that difference would be immediately transferred. It would be an immediate cost shift to anybody and everybody that's paying for health care - they would have no choice.” He added, “It would mean all of the dollars would then end up moving to another pocket.”

UI fires head football coach Robb Akey

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) ― The University of Idaho has fired football coach Robb Akey, with the team 1-7 and coming off a blowout loss. The school announced the move Sunday and promoted offensive coordinator Jason Gesser to interim coach. Gesser, a former Washington State quarterback, has been on the Idaho staff for two seasons. Akey was 20-50 at Idaho since taking over in 2007. He had one winning season with the Vandals, going 8-5 in 2009 and beating Bowling Green 43-42 in the Humanitarian Bowl. Idaho lost 70-28 to Louisiana Tech and allowed 839 yards Saturday. “The president (Duane Nellis) and I believe it is important to make this move now so we can immediately begin the process of hiring a new coach for the 2013 season,” athletic director Rob Spear said. “We appreciate Coach Akey's enthusiasm and dedication to the University of Idaho, but this is the right move at this time.” Akey's contract runs through the 2014 season. Idaho is a member of the Western Athletic Conference, which won't have enough members to compete in football beyond this season. The school already has plans to play as an independent starting next season.

You can read more here.

A look at Labrador’s record as he seeks re-election to 1st CD seat…

As Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador seeks re-election for a second term in Congress, he’s made a name for himself in Washington, D.C., as a tea party favorite and hard-line conservative. He’s frequently appeared on national TV and has been prominent in helping GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney court Hispanic votes around the country.

Yet his legislative record for his two-year term is light - he's introduced and passed fewer bills than his three first-term predecessors in the 1st Congressional District seat.

Labrador has sponsored seven bills and one amendment; one bill and one amendment passed the House. By comparison, his predecessor, Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick, sponsored 27 bills or amendments in his two years in Congress and 10 passed. Before him, GOP Rep. Bill Sali sponsored 16 bills and four amendments in his two years in office; one bill and two amendments passed. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who held the seat for three terms before Sali won it, sponsored 14 bills and one amendment in his first two-year term; four bills and the amendment passed.

“I don't think that your legislative career is measured by how many bills you pass,” Labrador said. “In fact, one of the problems in Washington now is that we pass too many bills. We have a bloated government and we need less of it.”

His Democratic challenger, former NFL football player and first-time candidate Jimmy Farris, sees it differently. “He's had a lot of harsh rhetoric about Democrats,” Farris said. But Farris said if he went to a football team and said he was a good player and the team should sign him, “They'll say, 'That's great - let's look at the numbers.'” He maintains the numbers show Labrador to be a weak player, from his attendance record to his legislative batting average.

Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor of public policy at Boise State University, said, “In a race with an opponent who had resources to make an issue, it could be a potential area of vulnerability for Labrador, with few legislative accomplishments combined with a relatively high absentee record.” But, he said, “In this conservative Idaho district, in a presidential election year where Democrats don't do well generally anyway, I can understand why it's hard - against a very conservative congressman who has an engaging personality and who is a pretty effective campaigner.”

Though Labrador, who's raised nearly $800,000 in campaign funds, could afford TV ads for his campaign, he's chosen not to bother. “I think we're doing everything we need to do to get re-elected,” he said.

Labrador's legislative record shows he's co-sponsored 138 bills proposed by other House members. Among those, seven were to repeal all or part of the national health care reform law; five to restrict abortion rights, including a bill to grant full constitutional rights at conception; and five to expand gun rights. You can read my full story here at

Rep. Barbieri calls on Christians to pull their kids from Idaho’s ‘Godless’ public schools

Rep. Vito Barbieri is defending a statement he posted on his re-election campaign website in which he called on Christians to pull their children out of Idaho's “Godless” public schools. In a debate between Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, and his Democratic challenger Cheryl Stransky, also from Dalton Gardens, on TV Channel 19 that's now posted on the city of Coeur d'Alene's website, Barbieri was asked about this statement he's posted on his website regarding public schools: “One more thing: If you accept Jesus Christ as Lord and God, then pull your kids out of that Godless institution.”
Barbieri told questioners from the Coeur Group that he stands by the statement. “My words exactly,” he said. He said he wants to push legislation to direct state funds to private schools through a new tax credit, to “allow an alternative to this public school system that is certainly serving a purpose, but there are questions about the curriculum, and that's what I'm concerned with.” Stransky differed sharply, saying, “Public education is the great equalizer in this country, it has always been, and I think it needs to stay that way.”

You can read my full Sunday column here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review. To see the 15-minute debate between the two candidates, along with debates in other Kootenai County legislative and local races, go to the city's website,, and click on “TV Channel 19.”

Attorney for secretive pro-school reform group maintains it doesn’t have to disclose donors

Last week, the state of Idaho sent a letter to Education Voters of Idaho and its attorney, asking the secretive group to disclose the source of more than $200,000 donated to another group, Parents for Education Reform, to fund TV commercials that aired across the state supporting Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the Idaho ballot - or show why it wasn't required to do so. The two groups share chairs, boards and the same address. Now, attorney Christ Troupis has sent a four-page letter back to Secretary of State Ben Ysursa contending that the newly formed EVI has no more duty to file campaign disclosures as a political committee than the Idaho Education Association or the National Education Association, both of which donated large sums to the No on Props 1, 2, 3 campaign.

In the letter, Troupis offers to have PFER refund the money back to EVI, but says EVI won't disclose its donors. “My client's First Amendment right to Freedom of Association and Freedom of Speech have been chilled and severely infringed by the unwarranted demands and threats of legal action made by your office,” Troupis writes; you can read his letter here. Troupis is the same attorney who represented the Idaho Republican Party in its closed-primary lawsuit against the state. The money in question went to pay for a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of the school reform propositions, with the slogan, “Education reform for the 21st century is as simple as 1, 2, 3.”

Idaho Code 67-6602 defines a political committee as one that “receives contributions and makes expenditures in an amount exceeding five hundred dollars ($500) in any calendar year for the purpose of supporting or opposing one (1) or more candidates or measures.” The Secretary of State's office has contended that EVI is a political committee; the group says it's not. Ysursa is expected to have some response to Troupis' letter Monday; click below for a full report from AP reporter John MIller. “Disclosure of money given by Sept. 30 is the goal,” Ysursa told The Associated Press today while meeting with state lawyers in his office.

State Board votes 4-3 for second year of UI law program in Boise

The Idaho State Board of Education, meeting in Lewiston today, voted 4-3 in favor of offering a second year of law school in Boise through the University of Idaho; currently, the UI College of Law offers just one year - the third year - of its law program in Boise. Under the proposal, if lawmakers in their session that starts in January approve, the second year of law school also would be offered in Boise, starting in the fall of 2013. That would require lawmakers approving a $400,000 appropriation for the program.

If they do, law students still would go to Moscow for the first year of the program, but would have the option of learning in Boise for the second and third years. Here's the vote breakdown in today's board vote:

Voting in favor: Board members Emma Atchley of Ashton, Bill Goesling of Moscow, Tom Luna and Don Soltman of Twin Lakes.
Voting against: Board members Rod Lewis of Boise, Richard Westerberg of Preston, and Ken Edmunds of Twin Falls.

Board member Milford Terrell was absent.

Miner drops controversial plan to use suction dredge in the Salmon River

The hobbist miner from Grangeville whose permit use a suction dredge in search of gold and garnets in the Salmon River prompted a lawsuit against the state now says he'd decided not to dredge there afer all. “I declined to do that mineral lease a few weeks ago … because there is no gold in the river where I was dredging,” Conklin told The Lewiston Tribune in a story published today. 

Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League said the ICL's attorneys are reviewing whether to continue pursuing the lawsuit now that Conklin has nixed his mining plans. “We continue to have questions as to whether the Land Board appropriately followed state law,” Oppenheimer said. “On behalf of the anglers, local businesses and scientists who spoke up for the Salmon River, we appreciate that Mr. Conklin has reconsidered his plans.” Click below for a full report from the Associated Press and the Lewiston Tribune.

Ad Watch: Latest anti-school reform ad charges measure treats kids like ‘widgets’

The latest TV campaign commercial from opponents of the education reform propositions on Idaho's November ballot focuses on Proposition 2, the teacher merit-pay measure, suggesting that Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna wants to “treat children like widgets,” a claim he disputes. The measure sets up a new merit-pay bonus system for Idaho teachers, allowing teachers to earn bonuses if their entire school shows growth in student test scores on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test. The law also allows bonuses for other student-achievement measures set by individual school districts, and next year, would cover additional bonuses for teachers who take leadership roles or hold hard-to-fill positions. You can read my full story here at

ITD issues permit for new Highway 12 megaload

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― A large shipment of water-purification equipment will be transported through Idaho to Montana on a disputed mountain highway where big loads have been the subject of oversized controversy. The Idaho Transportation Department announced Wednesday a trucking company will transport the purification equipment on U.S. Highway 95 and U.S. Highway 12 next week. The shipment weighs 520,000 pounds and is 300 feet long, 20 feet wide and 22 feet high. Shipments along Highway 12, which parallels the Lochsa River through northcentral Idaho, have been the subject of heated debate after Exxon Mobil sought to use the route to get enormous refinery gear from a Snake River port to Canadian oil sands. Amid opposition, the company trimmed its loads and used another route. The purification equipment begins its four-day journey Monday night.

Read the ‘Students Come First’ RFP…

Here's a link to the full 79-page RFP, with attachments, for Idaho's “Students Come First” laptop computer contract, obtained by The Spokesman-Review under Idaho's public records law. The eight-year contract to provide and maintain laptop computers for every Idaho high school student and teacher, along with setting up and maintaining wireless networks in every Idaho high school, is worth more than $100 million; it would be renewable for up to 16 years. After the state didn't get competitive bids in response to the Request for Proposals in June, it began negotiating with potential providers; it's now negotiating with up to half a dozen. State Purchasing Director Bill Burns said the RFP still is “the basis for every negotiation.” Essentially, companies are being asked indivdually how they can provide what's in it or the closest they can get to what's in it.

The process has dragged out well beyond original timeframes, which envisioned the first batch of laptops in the hands of teachers and principals this month; you can read my full story here at

Idaho wins NCLB waiver, approval to use 5-Star school assessment system instead of ‘adequate yearly progress’

Idaho's request for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Law's measuring standards for school success has been granted by the U.S. Department of Education. The state plans instead to use a new “Five-Star Rating System” to judge school success, rather than the NCLB law's “adequate yearly progress” standard, which is based on how many of the school's students, including those in various subgroups, score as proficient on tests; under the federal law, schools that repeatedly fail to meet that standard face sanctions, including lost funding, and can be labeled as failures.

Idaho's new five-star standard weighs proficiency, academic growth, and measures of readiness for post-secondary education or careers. Idaho used the standard last school year, and more than half of the state's schools achieved a four-star or five-star rating, while just 15 percent earned one or two stars. A quarter fell in the middle, with three stars. Under the NCLB standard, for the same  year, just 60 percent of Idaho's schools made AYP, meaning 40 percent were labeled as potential failures.

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna hailed the approval, which still needs a final OK from the state Board of Education at its meeting this week in Lewiston. “We will use this data to recognize our excellent schools and provide intensive technical assistance to schools that are struggling,” Luna said. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak; click here to read the full announcement from the state Department of Education.

H&W identifies nine Idaho medical facilities that got suspect drugs, includes St. Al’s, St. Luke’s

The Idaho Department of Health & Welfare has identified nine Idaho medical facilities that received potentially contaminated injectable drugs from a New England compounding pharmacy, and they include Boise's two biggest hospitals, St. Luke's and St. Al's, along with facilities in Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, Pocatello, Burley and Coeur d'Alene. None have reported any illnesses among their patients, but they are contacting patients treated with the drugs to ask them to report any symptoms of infection or meningitis. Click below for the full announcement from Health & Welfare.

Trinity Ridge fire 100 percent contained, hazards continue in fire areas…

The Trinity Ridge fire, which threatened the towns of Pine and Featherville and blazed across more than 146,000 acres for more than two months, has now been fully contained. After that official designation came on Monday, an inch of rain fell on it Monday and Tuesday, helping further dampen the still-smoldering blaze. Meanwhile, at least eight active wildfires still are burning in Idaho, most of them smoldering or creeping, though their growth has been dampened by the change in weather. Several fires continue to burn in north-central Idaho.

The Halstead fire 18 miles northwest of Stanley is 65 percent contained; the Wesley fire 12 miles northwest of New Meadows is 50 percent contained with an estimated containment of Nov. 1; and the giant Mustang Complex fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest, which covers 340,659 acres, is 59 percent contained with an estimated containment date of Oct. 30.

Some closures continue in the fire areas, and hazards include falling and rolling trees and snags, fire officials report. Rehab work already has started in the Trinity Ridge area, including erosion control work aimed at limiting damage when the post-fire spring runoff hits. That fire started Aug. 3.

‘Students Come First’ laptop rollout slips behind schedule; no vendor selected yet

The first round of more than 6,000 laptop computers, one for every high school teacher and administrator, was supposed to be out in Idaho's schools this month under the “Students Come First” school reform plan, but holdups in finding a suitable vendor have pushed that way back. After canceling a bidding process in June for lack of competitive bids, the state is now negotiating with up to a half-dozen potential providers of the computers, with hopes of picking one in the coming weeks and getting them out in the second semester.

At stake is an eight-year contract worth more than $100 million, under which the provider would supply and maintain laptops for every Idaho high school student, provide technical support, and set up and maintain wireless networks in the Idaho schools. “It's the whole ball of wax,” said Idaho Division of Purchasing Director Bill Burns. “It's a pretty big contract.”

The state has budgeted $2.56 million for the first round of laptops this year, an average of $391 apiece. But the bidder will set the price, and it's unclear what will happen if the bid comes in higher than that. Meanwhile, a clause in the contract will state that the whole thing goes away if voters repeal the program on Nov. 6; you can read my full story here at

ISU football player says coach shoved, injured him; video draws national attention

The Idaho State Journal reports today that a video showing Idaho State University head football coach Mike Kramer shoving wide receiver Derek Graves to the ground during an Oct. 3 practice is gaining national attention and was posted on on Tuesday night; the player reported the incident to the Pocatello Police and has retained an attorney. Graves told ESPN's “Outside the Lines,” “I’ve seen Kramer get in guys’ faces and curse them, but never saw him do anything like this or put his hands on anyone. … I was humiliated at the moment. If I retaliate, I could lose my senior season. If I didn’t do anything, I would look like a punk. It was a no-win situation.”

The college football player said he's suffered neck spasms since the shoving incident and has not been  cleared to practice or play by the ISU medical staff; you can read the State Journal's full report here, and see the ESPN report here, including the video.

Nine more Idaho medical facilities may have received contaminated drugs

There are now nine more Idaho medical facilities that may have received contaminated injectable drugs that have been implicated in the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak; earlier, just two had been identified, and one man from eastern Idaho has been diagnosed with the serious disease. Idaho Health & Welfare reports that it's now contacting nine facilities that received certain pharmaceuticals since May of 2012 that were used for joint pain or used in heart or eye surgeries; they came from the same source as the epidural steroids first identified in the outbreak. Click below for Health & Welfare's full report; the agency said it will identify the facilities when it confirms they received and dispensed the drugs.

Risch hires new press secretary, from office of outgoing Sen. Dick Lugar

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch has announced the hiring of a new press secretary, Suzanne Bottorff, who previously worked for Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., as an assistant press secretary and interim press secretary. Bottorff replaces Kyle Hines, who left Risch's office for graduate school at the University of Texas. In her new position, Bottorff will be Risch's media contact in Washington, D.C., and also will work with constituent communications through the office's website, electronic newsletter and telephone town halls. Risch said, “I am very pleased to have Suzanne join my staff to handle communications in my Washington, D.C. office. Her experience will be an asset in communicating with Idahoans about my work on their behalf.”

Lugar, the senior senator from Indiana, lost his bid for a seventh term in the GOP primary this year.

ICL sues state over Salmon River dredging

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― An environmental group has sued the state after officials including Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter approved a plan to dredge the Salmon River for gold. The Idaho Conservation League on Tuesday announced it had asked a 4th District Court judge to require Idaho to approve a reclamation plan before signing off on any mining projects. In September, Grangeville miner Mike Conklin was awarded a five-year lease by the Idaho Land Board, giving him sole access to a half-mile stretch about 13 miles downstream of Riggins. The Boise-based environmental group contends the board ignored laws meant to protect Idaho's water, arguing that miners who use gasoline-powered suction dredges often leave big holes in the riverbed that damage valuable habitat for salmon and steelhead. Some anglers opposed Conklin's permit, saying it will hurt fishing. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Rain, rain, put out the fires…

Whoosh - and just like that, the season has changed. Rain came cascading down in Boise, and a big wind gust just knocked half the golden leaves off this tree. Best of all, some significant rain has been reported in the mountains across the state - raising hopes of a long-awaited end to this year's destructive wildfire season.

Gov. Butch Otter said today he's asked the Idaho Department of Fish & Game and the state Department of Environmental Quality to work up estimates of damage from this year's extensive forest fires, particularly the Mustang Complex and Halstead fires, which he noted have heavily impacted the Salmon River drainage, “where we've spent a lot of money on salmon restoration.” Otter said he wants to get a handle on how ash and erosion from the fires are likely to damage salmon habitat once spring runoff hits. He also said he's gotten an initial estimate from DEQ that this year's wildfires put 1.7 million tons or more of pollutants into Idaho's air, and reactivated 2.5 million tons of mercury, releasing it back into the air.

School reform forum draws a crowd

Last night's public forum on the school reform ballot measures drew a near-capacity crowd of 350 at Centennial High School, the Idaho Statesman reports; you can read their full report here.

Public invited to forum on school reform measures tonight at Centennial High

Tonight, the League of Women Voters, Transform Idaho and the AAUW are sponsoring an educational panel discussion on Idaho's school reform referenda; the forum, which is free and open to the public, will be at Centennial High School from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. “The objective is to clarify the referendums and the impact of the resulting vote on Idaho's educational system,” the groups said in a news release announcing the event.

The panel will include Ken Burgess, partner at Veritas Advisors and campaign manager of the Yes4Idaho campaign, and Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff to Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, representing the “yes” side; and Mike Lanza, chair of the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, and Cindy Wilson, government teacher at Centennial High, representing the “no” side. Current perspective on how the laws are working in the Boise and Meridian school districts will be provided by Don Coberly, Boise schools superintendent; A.J. Balukoff, Boise school board president; Eric Exline, Meridian School District community relations director; and Anne Ritter, vice chair of the Meridian School Board.

Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor at BSU, will moderate. Those attending are encouraged to arrive by 6:15 p.m.; Centennial High School is located at Cloverdale and McMillan roads in Boise.

1st CD finance reports in: Labrador flush with cash, Farris not so much

1st Congressional District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador reports today that he's raised $177,609 in the latest campaign finance reporting period - a total of $797,686 for the election cycle to date; he's spent $87,073 ($510,197 to date), and had $290,984 in cash for his campaign at the close of the reporting period, which ran from July 1 to Sept. 30. His Democratic challenger, Jimmy Farris, reported raising $32,606 in the reporting period - $69,993 to date; spending $31,024 ($60,086 to date), and had just $9,888 on hand at the close of the reporting period.

You can read Farris' 54-page report here, and Labrador's 115-page report here, both at the Federal Election Commission website.

Just over half of Farris' fundraising for the period, $17,000, came from unions. The rest was from individuals, including online donations through the ActBlue Democratic fundraising site, or from Democratic Party committees.

Labrador raised $119,109 from individuals, including lots of business owners and top executives in Idaho, and $58,500 from PACs during the reporting period. His biggest single donation was $10,000 from The Freedom Project, House Speaker John Boehner's House GOP leadership PAC; he also received $2,000 from Friends of John Boehner. Other donations of note to Labrador were a total of $10,000, in four pieces, from two couples from Louisiana who own one of the largest vessel brokerage businesses in the Gulf of Mexico serving the oil and gas industry; $1,000 each from two out-of-state Indian tribes, in Minnesota and Washington; and $2,500 this period for a total of $7,500 to date from the beer wholesalers' PAC.

Labrador continued to pay his wife, Becca, a $2,063 per month salary for her work on the campaign.

Both Labrador and Farris used some of their campaign funds for expenditures identified as political donations. Farris gave $5,000 to the Idaho Democratic Party. Labrador gave $10,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee; $5,332 to the Idaho Republican Party; $500 to the Idaho Freedom Foundation; $310 to the Conservative Women of Idaho State PAC; and $1,000 each to the re-election campaigns of GOP Reps. Joe Walsh of Illinois and Jeffrey Landry of Louisiana.

‘No’ campaign: ‘There’s widespread opposition’

Mike Lanza, chairman of the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, asked why the National Education Association gave $1.06 million to the campaign against the school-reform measures, said, “Because they're an organization of teachers and they support their subsidiary organizations around the country. Their membership helps decide these things, what they want to support. They, I think, recognize that what's going on in Idaho is similar to what's happening in other states, and that frankly these are key education questions about how our schools are going to run for many years to come.” He said, “We appreciate the fact that there are teachers outside of Idaho who support what we're doing as well.”

As for the pro-reform campaign's latest TV ad, which uses an edited 2009 video clip to suggest that the reason the NEA is backing repeal of Idaho's reform laws is to flex the muscles of union power, Lanza said, “The other side has been wanting to portray this from the get-go as union vs. Tom Luna. But I think they're dodging a mathematical reality that we would not be talking about that, and it would not be on the ballot, if it wasn't for the fact that there's widespread opposition to these laws beyond teachers. We got 74,000 signatures.” The Idaho Education Association, Idaho's teachers union, has roughly 13,000 members.

The “No” campaign's most recent campaign finance report showed the group has raised $1.4 million and spent $1.3 million, with the largest chunk of its fundraising, $1.06 million, coming from the National Education Association, $280,000 from the Idaho Education Association and the rest from hundreds of small donations from individuals across the state.


The “Yes” campaign's report showed it's raised $164,858 and spent $112,679; the biggest contributions were $50,000 from Melaleuca and $15,000 from Hagadone Hospitality, with other big givers including the Idaho Prosperity Fund at $20,500 and the Idaho Republican Party and Lorna Finman at $10,000 each. In addition, Parents for Education Reform reported raising and spending $200,350 from undisclosed donors; and the Idaho Federation of Republican Women reported raising and spending $115,000, $110,000 of that from Melaleuca.

Idaho Secretary of State says he’ll likely demand disclosure of donors

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says he's likely to demand that a group helping finance the campaign to save Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's education reforms reveal the names of its contributors, the AP reports. Education Voters of Idaho collected at least $200,000 to promote Luna's reforms ahead of the Nov. 6 referendum, but says it doesn't have to disclose donors because it's a nonprofit organization under federal tax law. On Monday, Ysursa said the group has yet to provide a legal explanation for why it's not a political action committee required by Idaho's 1974 “Sunshine laws” to disclose donors ahead of the election. “It eviscerates the law if we don't get disclosure,” Ysursa told the Associated Press. “We personally do not believe there's a doubt here.”

Absent a response from the group, Ysursa said he'll seek “legal remedies” that could include a request for a court order for it to reveal its donors. He expects to act this week. Susan Buxton, Education Voters of Idaho's attorney, didn't return a call seeking comment Monday. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Pro-reform group defends use of old video clip in ad

Ken Burgess, spokesman for Yes for Idaho Education, is defending his group's use of an edited clip from a July 2009 speech by a retiring NEA official in a campaign commercial that says it shows “the national teachers union as they explain why the union is spending millions to defeat education reform like Props 1, 2, and 3 here in Idaho.” “The purpose of that ad is to demonstrate to Idahoans really what and who the NEA is all about,” Burgess said. “What's most important to them really is just being able to have members.”

Asked how the 2009 clip shows why the NEA is spending big on the Idaho campaign in 2012, Burgess said, “Oh, they've engaged in these types of efforts in many states around the country where education reform has been attempted. It's nothing new for Idaho, it's nothing new for this year. … It's stuff that they have done all along, because they basically oppose reform of the status quo.”

Burgess said an earlier ad in favor of Props 1, 2 and 3 that was being run by a group coordinated by lobbyist and political activist John Foster is no longer running, but he promised “a very aggressive effort on our part … all the way through Nov. 6” to push for support for the measures, possibly including additional ads. The new TV commercial is running across southern Idaho, and a radio version is running statewide.

Ad Watch: New Idaho pro-school reform ad takes 2009 video clip out of context

The latest campaign commercial in the school reform fight comes from “Yes for Idaho Education,” the group leading the campaign in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, and features an edited clip from a July 2009 retirement speech by then-National Education Association general counsel Bob Chanin, talking about why he believed the NEA had become an effective advocate during the 41 years he'd been with the group. That's not what the ad says the clip is about, however.

“Listen to the national teachers union as they explain why the union is spending millions to defeat education reform like Props 1, 2 and 3 in Idaho,” the ad states. It then plays this edited clip from Chanin's speech: “It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children, and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. It's because we have power.” The narrator then says, “Don't let the union stop education reform in Idaho - vote yes on Props 1, 2 and 3.”

However, not only is the statement not about why the NEA is backing the campaign against the reforms - which campaign finance reports show it's doing to the tune of $1.07 million so far - the clip is of statements made more than two years before Idaho's reform laws even passed. The same cropped video clip has been used repeatedly over the past three years to try to discredit the NEA, notably in February of 2011 by Sean Hannity on Fox News and by conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh, both of whom used the clip to suggest that the national teachers union doesn't care about children; and in a March 2011 anti-union ad from Crossroads GPS and Karl Rove that prompted criticisms both from the NEA and the conservative Cato Institute; Talking Points Memo reported here on that dustup.

Yes for Idaho Education has not yet responded to reporters' inquiries about its new ad.

School fee lawsuit expands, questions Idaho’s school funding system

A lawsuit charging that Idaho schools are violating the state Constitution by charging fees has expanded to include wider school-funding issues at the heart of a long-running lawsuit that prompted the state's school funding system to be ruled unconstitutional in 2005 by the Idaho Supreme Court, the AP reports. An amended complaint in the fee lawsuit adds a second cause of action, charging that state lawmakers have ignored the 2005 Idaho Supreme Court ruling.

Deputy Attorney General Mike Gilmore told AP reporter Rebecca Boone, “There have been changes. The issue now is whether enough has changed, and that's why there's a lawsuit.” Robert Huntley, attorney for the parents and students bringing the lawsuit, said the public should be “ashamed and alarmed” at the continuing deficiencies in Idaho's school funding system. Click below to read Boone's full report.

Woolf becomes Idaho’s 21st state controller

Here's a link to my full story at on today's appointment of Brandon Woolf as Idaho's 21st state controller, with the retirement of controller Donna Jones. Idaho's state controller is the state's chief fiscal officer; manages the state's payroll and financial management and reporting and accounting systems; and is a full voting member of the state Land Board, which oversees management of the state's endowment land that is held for the benefit of trust beneficiaries including Idaho's public schools.

It is one of seven elected executive officers specified in the Idaho Constitution; the others are governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, and superintendent of public instruction. After administering the oath of office to Woolf as the new state controller, Gov. Butch Otter lined up all the state's constitutional officers for a photo. As they posed, he joked that the menagerie now includes an Otter, a Woolf and a Crane (state Treasurer Ron Crane).

Otter appoints Woolf as state controller; Jones retires to focus on recovery from accident

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter called a press conference this morning to name acting state Controller Brandon Woolf permanently to the position, with the news that state Controller Donna Jones is retiring to focus on recovering from injuries sustained in a May 25 car accident.

Woolf, 40, started in the controller's office 15 years ago as an intern; he's been a bureau chief, division administrator and chief of staff before being named acting controller during Jones' absence. His appointment is subject to approval by the Idaho Senate. “Brandon is an Idaho kid,” Otter said, calling his career in the controller's office “a great success story in and of itself.”

Woolf said Jones has recently learned that her recovery from her injuries likely will take about two years. “Donna is not a quitter, but she wanted to do what was best for the citizens,” Woolf said. Woolf said he does plan to run for the position in 2014 when the current term ends; he said he'll run as a Republican.

Right to hunt, fish and trap amendment on ballot stirs debate

Idaho has a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to enshrine a right to hunt, fish and trap in the state Constitution - a concept that likely would generate virtually no opposition in the outdoorsy state but for the specific inclusion of trapping. Thirteen other states have passed right-to-hunt-and-fish amendments, all but one of them in the past 15 years; three others besides Idaho - Kentucky, Nebraska and Wyoming - are considering them in November. But only five states have specifically protected the right to trap.

Click here to read my full story from Sunday's Spokesman-Review, which explores the debate over trapping in Idaho; click below for a letter from a reader who maintains the wording of the amendment itself raises concerns for hunters, aside from the trapping issue.

Poll: Idahoans deeply divided over school reform propositions

A new statewide poll out sponsored by the Idaho Statesman newspaper shows Idahoans deeply divided over the school reform referenda measures on the November ballot, Propositions 1, 2 and 3. The poll of 625 likely voters, conducted last week and released over the weekend, showed these results:

Prop 1: 42 percent against, 38 percent in favor, 20 percent undecided
Prop 2: 42 percent in favor, 39 percent against, 19 percent undecided
Prop 3: 47 percent against, 40 percent in favor, 13 percent undecided

Plus, when asked if the propositions, if approved by voters, will improve the quality of education in Idaho public schools, 44 percent said no, 39 percent yes, and 17 percent were undecided. You can read a full report here in the Statesman.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C. conducted the poll for the Statesman; pollster Brad Coker told Statesman reporter Dan Popkey that the high number of undecided voters is likely to end up breaking 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 against the measures. “The fact that all the results are close is misleading,” Coker told the Statesman. “The truth is that all three face a stiff uphill battle. All things being equal, they are likely to lose by margins much larger than what these numbers show.”

This is the first independent poll conducted and released on Idaho's hottest election-season issue this year.

Attorney for indicted would-be Tamarack buyer wants off the case

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The lawyer for a would-be Tamarack Resort buyer who is under indictment wants off the federal fraud case, citing communication problems and a potential conflict of interest. Eagle-based lawyer Dennis Charney filed paperwork Thursday in U.S. District Court in Boise, asking a judge to relieve him of his duties representing Matthew Hutcheson. Hutcheson was charged earlier this year with diverting some $5 million from retirement accounts he oversaw to help finance his failed bid to buy Tamarack, a struggling resort 90 miles north of Boise. Charney says he and Hutcheson disagree over “strategy and presentation.” Moreover, Charney says he could be called as a witness at the criminal trial later this year because of unspecified evidence that may be brought by the government. Hutcheson faces decades in prison, if convicted; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

VanderSloot pledges to up his spending in support of school reform laws

Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports today that eastern Idaho millionaire and GOP activist Frank VanderSloot is planning to sharply up his spending in support of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the school reform referenda, now that a legal dispute over disclosure of donors is holding up a big batch of anonymously raised funds intended for the campaign. VanderSloot, CEO of Melaleuca, already has spent more than $200,000 on behalf of the “yes” campaign backing the measures, including $50,000 donated to Yes for Idaho Education, $110,000 to the Idaho Federation of Republican Women for radio ads, and $20,000 a week for the last several weeks for his own separately funded full-page ads in newspapers across the state.

VanderSloot told Popkey that campaign finance reports showing opponents of the measures have raised  $1.3 million from teachers unions - along with undisclosed internal polling showing the measures trailing - prompted him to dig deeper himself; you can read Popkey's full report here. VanderSloot also told both Popkey and the Idaho Falls Post Register that he never donated to the anonymous fund.

Meanwhile, VanderSloot also told Popkey that despite his backing of the reform plan, he's “not very enamored with Prop 3,” the measure that requires the state to provide every high school student with a laptop computer and mandates a new focus on online learning. “I never have been,” VanderSloot said, telling Popkey he's more concerned about the other two measures, which roll back teachers' collective bargaining rights and impose a new merit-pay bonus system. You can read Popkey's full post on that here.

Eric Cantor to help Labrador raise funds in Idaho; Barney Frank pitches for funds for Farris

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will come to Idaho the week after next to hold a fundraiser for GOP Rep. Raul Labrador. Labrador said, “I am thrilled that Congressman Eric Cantor is coming to Idaho. He is a thoughtful and effective leader who understands the challenges Idaho families face everyday. I look forward to helping him become better acquainted with our great state.” The Oct. 24 event will feature a roundtable discussion with Cantor and Labrador, followed by a reception; PACs pay $2,500 for the discussion, individuals are $1,000 a head; and it's $250 to attend the reception and get a photo; there's more info here.

Meanwhile, longtime Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank sent out a fundraising email this week for Labrador's Democratic challenger, Jimmy Farris, writing, “The Tea Party extremists have essentially taken over the Republican Party, and the right wing majority on the Supreme Court has guaranteed that these extremists will have virtually unlimited fat cat money being spent on their behalf. Since their substantive record is indefensible, they have gone on the attack, and Democratic candidates face a barrage of twisted, demagogic attacks.” Urging donations to Farris, Frank's email said, “We have to fight back against the Tea Partiers and their wealthy backers, which is why I volunteered to help Jimmy, who is one of their targets, because of his commitment to the values we believe in, and that they have never been so seriously challenged as they are this year.”

Senate leadership PAC backs all Senate GOP contenders - except two

In practically every legislative district in the state where there's a contested race - and even one where there's not - the Senate Republican PAC has made a campaign contribution to the Republican candidate. The two exceptions: Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, in District 8, and Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, who's running for the Senate seat now held by the retiring Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene.

It turns out that Pearce was left out by mistake. “It was an oversight if we didn't make him one,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “We need to make one to him. … It wasn't intentional.” Pearce, chairman of the Senate Resources Committee, faces Democrat Alma Hasse in the November election.

Nonini was another matter - it was no oversight. Hill said, “We had talked to him. He had $21,000 at the end of the last reporting period and his opponent had, like $30 or something like that, and it didn't seem like he needed the support on that.” He added, “Might there be feelings if he received funds from that PAC when some of the people that helped raise the money for that are people that he tried to get defeated? There may have been. That may have been part of our consideration, but it certainly was not the only consideration.”

Nonini targeted three sitting GOP senators for defeat in the primary, pouring thousands into their primary opponents' campaigns, but failing in all three cases to unseat them.

The remaining Senate GOP incumbents and aspiring GOP senators, even those facing long odds, got donations from the leadership PAC of $250, $500 or $1,000 each. Hill said the money was allocated “where we felt the need was, and where the funds would do the most good.” The unopposed senator who received money - $500 - was Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. Her Democratic opponent withdrew from the race in June. Said Hill, “I hate to appear behind the times, but I don't think we knew that.”

Oddest campaign expense line: Septic tank service

The most offbeat item I've seen so far in the latest batch of campaign finance reports is this: A $109.99 payment to Ace Septic Tank Service in Sagle, filed under the category for campaign event-related expenses. Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, laughed when I asked him about the entry in his report. “Maybe I'm the first one to ever have to rent a Porta-Potty for my campaign,” he said. “Does that say anything about me? Probably nothing good.”

The event in question was Gov. Butch Otter's “Capitol for a Day” at Nordman last month, which was held outside the Priest Lake Lodge on the shores of Priest Lake. “We had 350 people there, and there's no way that Nordman's sewer would've probably handled that at one time. You've only got one facility for men and one for women,” Anderson said. His campaign was among the event's sponsors; in addition to renting two portable toilets, he bought 300 pounds of beef for the barbecue and purchased hundreds of dollars worth of potato salad, beans and fixings. Others helped out, too, doing the cooking and serving; the Lion's Club set up the tents. “All the resorts pitched in - they all brought tables and chairs,” Anderson said. The crowd included “pretty much everybody from the lake, on a Wednesday in September.”

Asked if it was his biggest campaign event of the year, Anderson said, “By far - it was by far the biggest campaign event for my whole life. And the funnest I've ever had.” Otter's “Capitol for a Day” events allow folks in small towns to ask questions of the governor and top state agency officials; Lt. Gov. Brad Little and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna were among those attending. “There wasn't a question left unasked,” Anderson said.

The hottest topic of the day: Salt on the roads. “People have been noticing their cars are getting rusty now the last two or three years much more than they ever have in the past,” Anderson said. “That was a big topic.” Other hot topics included state-owned cabin sites; caribou habitat; wolves; Fish and Game; kokanee recovery; and the school reform referenda measures. Said Anderson, “It was just so great for everybody to be out and about. It was a really nice day.”

Idaho insurers line up behind private non-profit option for exchange

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― With a looming deadline approaching, insurers are making a last-ditch plea to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter for a nonprofit, state-based insurance exchange in Idaho as part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. On Tuesday, Idaho's advisers said the state likely has too little time ― and too much work still to complete ― to establish a state-run exchange by 2014. But insurance companies including Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence Blue Shield and PacificSource urge the state not to default to a federal exchange, like many states are doing. Jack Rovner, an attorney working for the insurers, says Idaho can still develop a state-based nonprofit to manage this online insurance marketplace. Insurers fear a federal exchange would invite regulation from Washington, D.C. Idaho must announce its intentions by Nov. 16.

Otter to bring ‘Capitol for a Day’ to tiny Pine, Idaho

Gov. Butch Otter has announced that he'll hold his next “Capitol for a Day” event in Pine a week from Friday. That's the same tiny town where Otter has a cabin, and that faced evacuation this summer, along with nearby Featherville, due to the Trinity Ridge wildfire.

“Pine is the kind of place where people from the city go to get away from crowds and breathe fresh air,” Otter said, “Now, wildfires have made it a lot busier and smokier than any of us would like this year. And for some of us, that’s more than an inconvenience, because Pine is home. I’m looking forward to hearing from my neighbors about the issues that matter most to them, and to letting them know their community and the independence it represents are important parts of the Idaho way of life.”

Otter will be at the Pine Senior Center on Oct. 19 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., including a noon luncheon with local officials and residents; among those accompanying him will be the state's directors of Fish & Game, Parks & Recreation, Insurance, Homeland Security, and Species Conservation, along with Lt. Gov. Brad Little and officials from the departments of Agriculture, Health & Welfare and Transportation.

Otter's been holding the events monthly, and has already held 59, including at least one in each of Idaho's 44 counties; his goal is to get to every county twice before he completes his current term.  Many have been in similarly small towns around the state; last month, he was in Nordman, on Priest Lake.

Campaign finance reports still trickling in after yesterday’s postmark deadline…

Not all the campaign finance reports are in from yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're late: This deadline is a postmark deadline, so some candidates could have mailed their reports with a postmark by 5 p.m. yesterday, and still be on time. Among the North Idaho legislative races for which both reports are in is the race for outgoing Rep. Phil Hart's seat between Republican Ed Morse and Democrat Dan English.

English reported
raising $5,076 in the reporting period and spending $4,213, and had $863 cash on hand and $310 in debt at the close of the period. He received nine donations from individuals in North Idaho; his biggest contribution was $400 from the Kootenai County Democratic Central Committee. Most of English's spending was for campaign literature and advertising.

Morse reported
raising $9,873 in the reporting period and spending $5,874; he had $3,999 cash on hand and $10,000 in debt left over from the primary race. Morse received a slew of PAC contributions, $1,000 from Idaho Power Corp., and $500 from House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. Most of Morse's campaign spending went to Strategery Group of Post Falls.

School reform campaign groups offered two ways to donate: Regular or secret

Idaho's campaign finance deadline came and went Wednesday without any word on who funded a statewide TV ad campaign in favor of controversial school reform measures - and backers say they don't plan to disclose their donors. Former state Rep. Debbie Field, the former two-time campaign manager for Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, said potential donors to the campaigns backing the reform laws are being told they have two avenues: Donate to the official “Yes for Education” campaign, which means their contributions will be reported; or give anonymously through two new groups she's chairing.

Field said she believes people have been intimidated by unions on the school reform issue, and the groups provide an avenue “for people who really wanted to give, but didn't want to go through the intimidation.” She said, “They will give if they feel like they can give anonymously to a place that will support education, but they don't want to be maligned.” The arrangement is currently under legal review at the Idaho Secretary of State's office, opponents of the measures decried it as a front for mischief and called the intimidation claim “preposterous.” You can read my full story here at

Caldwell fire chief wins $1 million prize in Idaho Lottery

The fire chief for the city of Caldwell has won $1 million in the Idaho Lottery, the lottery reported today; Mark Wendelsdorf and his wife Kim claimed the prize today. The fire chief plans to stay on the job; the couple will use their winnings to pay off debts, buy a few things and make investments. “When we wake up on Friday morning, we will be debt free,” Weldensdorf. Click below for the full announcement from the Idaho Lottery.

Eastern Idaho man contracts meningitis from contaminated steroid injection

An eastern Idaho man has been diagnosed with fungal meningitis caused by a steroid injection in September, part of a nationwide outbreak of the serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a batch of contaminated steroids. “We are very concerned for this patient and are working closely with his physicians,” said Idaho State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn. Two Idaho facilities received shipments of the suspect steroids: Walter Knox Memorial Hospital in Emmett, and Pain Specialists of Idaho in Idaho Falls. Four people got spinal injections from Walter Knox, while the Idaho Falls pain clinic treated 35 people.

Nationally, 138 people from 11 states have been sickened, with 12 of them dying. State authorities are urging anyone who had a steroid injection from one of the facilities to keep in close touch with medical providers and watch for symptoms; click below for the full announcement from the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare.

Idaho dairy workers charged with animal cruelty

Three former workers with Idaho's largest dairy operation have been charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty, the AP reports, after undercover video shot by an animal rights group showed workers stomping, dragging and beating cows inside a milking barn. The video was shot using a hidden camera by a member of Mercy for Animals who got a job at Bettencourt Dairies' Dry Creek Dairy in Hansen for a few weeks this summer. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Funding for $200K in pro-school reform ads came from undisclosed source

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports that Debbie Field, Gov. Butch Otter's former drug czar and two-time campaign manager, has raised $200,350 from a single source and spent it on broadcast ads supporting Propositions 1, 2 and 3, the “Students Come First” school reform laws. Field filed a campaign finance report today saying the money, all spent on the broadcast advertising, came from a group called “Education Voters of Idaho” that shares the same Boise post office with Field's group, “Parents for Education Reform,” and referred Popkey to John Foster for information about the funding group; Foster told Popkey the funding group is a 501c4 non-profit that doesn't have to disclose the source of the money. Popkey reports that the Idaho Secretary of State's office said that question is “currently under legal review.” You can read Popkey's full post here.

Weighing costs, options, timing on health insurance exchange…

Consulting firm KPMG has offered some estimates of the costs for a state-based health insurance exchange: $77 million to set it up, and $10 million a year for operations. A partnership or “hybrid” exchange, in which the federal government would handle some aspects and the state others, would have a lower startup cost of about $15.5 million, and operating costs of about $1.7 million a year. Costs for the federally run option, as far as Idaho, couldn't be estimated. “There are grant funds available under all these scenarios,” said Sandy McBride of KPMG. Nevada, for example, received a $75 million federal grant for start-up of its exchange; Washington has received $152 million.

Gov. Butch Otter's health insurance exchange working group is meeting today in the Capitol Auditorium and will meet again in its final meeting on Oct. 24; you can see the agenda here and listen live here (a lunch break is planned from noon to 1 MT). Otter will have to declare by Nov. 16 whether Idaho will set up its own state-based exchange; default to a federally run exchange; or go with a partnership between the two. States do have the option to change their choice on that same date each year thereafter, presenting a fourth option: Start with a partnership, and transition toward a state-run exchange over time; a state-run exchange would allow Idaho to continue to control the regulation of its health insurance market.

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said of the consultant's report today, “I think that they're saying what some of us have been saying for a while: That by dawdling, we've taken options off the table.” He said, “I'm not surprised - I'm disappointed.” But he noted that not all the information is in yet as far as whether Idaho could pull together some form of state-run exchange. “There are people that are still hopeful,” he said. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

A private option for Idaho health insurance exchange?

Consultant Jack Grovner was asked by Gov. Butch Otter's health insurance exchange working group to look into whether Idaho could pursue a privately run model and still meet federal requirements under the health care reform law. The answer: Yes, if it comes through a state-established private non-profit corporation. That's a subset of the state-run exchange option; Idaho must decide whether to go with a state-run exchange, default to a federally run exchange, or go with a partnership between the two.

Rovner found that Idaho has a precedent for a private, non-profit model: Its Idaho Health Data Exchange, a non-profit created in 2008 to carry out the initiative started by President George W. Bush in 2004 to move toward a nationwide tech infrastructure for exchange of medical data. The Idaho Health Data Exchange, incorporated by state Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong, was designated by Otter in 2009 as the entity carrying out that initiative for the state, qualifying it to receive federal grant funds.

A similar model could be adopted for an Idaho state health insurance exchange, Rovner said; Hawaii already has gone that route. The non-profit could receive federal grant funds for set-up, but not for operations; the state could set it up so that the exchange would have to be self-sustaining through fees or assessments, and would receive no state taxpayer funding. Hawaii's private, nonprofit exchange already has received a $62 million federal grant for set-up.

“What Idaho did on that health data exchange is really the perfect template,” Rovner said. “This is an option that will work, if you're interested in it - it's legal.” Rovner will make a presentation to the working group this afternoon; you can read his memo here.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, has been promoting the idea of a private option, but possibilities he raised earlier, including “renting” an existing exchange structure, or essentially contracting out the service to a private firm, haven't proven workable under federal requirements. Goedde called the private non-profit model “intriguing,” and said it may offer a path that's more politically appealing in Idaho. “I think we need to take a look at every viable option we've got,” Goedde said. “Idaho, I think, traditionally has been a state where they feel less government is better. And if we can move something into a nonprofit arena as a viable option, certainly we need to consider that.”

Last month, hopes for a private model dimmed after State Insurance Director Bill Deal addressed lawmakers on the Health Care Task Force; but Deal said he was addressing the prospect of using an existing outside firm. “Basically what I was saying was if you go out to the marketplace today, you cannot find a not-for-profit or even a for-profit organization that has all of the pieces that could come in and hire them to run an exchange,” he said. “There's just not one out there.”

Rovner said a private non-profit could be established by executive order, and wouldn't necessarily require legislative action. However, Deal said, “That's a political issue. … This has been such a controversial issue in Idaho,” that it might be better for lawmakers to weigh in. “I just think in the long haul, it would be a cleaner method of getting to a conclusion of what that exchange should look like.”

Legislation that was prepared last year, but never acted on, called for a quasi-governmental entity to oversee a state-run Idaho exchange, rather than a private non-profit. Deal said either way, a board would have to be set up and all the details determined as to how the exchange would work, and timelines are tight for that. “That isn't going to be set up like magic no matter what,” he said. “The timeline is our enemy.”

‘Impractical’ for Idaho to build its own health insurance exchange by deadline…

Gov. Butch Otter's health insurance exchange working group is meeting today; you can watch live here. First up, the panel is hearing a cost analysis report from consulting firm KPMG. Among the conclusions, KPMG project manager Robert Mitchell told the panel: “We believe it's impractical for Idaho to try to build your own exchange by Oct. 1, 2013.” He added, “There is a whole lot to be done.”

Other states that are much farther along still are wrestling with details, he said. Idaho faces a Nov. 16 deadline to tell the federal government whether it wants to go with a state-run exchange; a federally run exchange; or a partnership between the two. If it makes no decision, the state defaults to a federal exchange. A partnership could allow the state to maintain control of plan management and/or customer outreach components, and then, in the future, move toward a state-run operation, Mitchell said.

Rexburg cheesemaker that signed Idaho cheese deal with Walmart to close

StateImpact Idaho is reporting that the Rexburg, Idaho cheesemaker that just closed a deal with Walmart to provide Idaho-brand cheese is shutting down. Nelson-Ricks Creamery Co. will still supply the cheese, but instead of making part of it it itself, it will buy it from other Idaho cheese manufacturers and cut and package it at its Salt Lake City, Utah facility. The creamery was founded in 1907 and has struggled in the recession; its longtime lender decided not to renew its line of credit. It will lay off more than 15 people when the Rexburg facility closes this month. You can read StateImpact's full report here.

Jerry Conley, former longtime Idaho F&G chief, dies at age 71

Jerry Conley, the longest-serving director of Idaho's Department of Fish & Game, has died at age 71. Conley, who headed Idaho Fish & Game from 1980 to 1996, then became head of the Conservation Department for his native state of Missouri; he retired in 2002 and returned to Idaho. Among the initiatives he spearheaded as director in Idaho were the successful introduction of wild turkeys to the state; the nongame income tax checkoff; Citizens Against Poaching; the Idaho Wildlife Congress; and the MK Nature Center, which he continued to visit regularly with his grandchildren almost until the day he died.

You can read Conley's obituary here in the Idaho Statesman; in lieu of flowers, he requested that donations in his memory be made to the MK Nature Center, 600 South Walnut, Boise, Idaho 83712. A memorial service will be held Friday at 1:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Rockies, with a reception to follow.

Bruce Willis hands over Soldier Mountain ski area to non-profit group

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: FAIRFIELD, Idaho (AP) ― Hollywood actor Bruce Willis is handing over the keys to a small Idaho ski area to a nonprofit group. Willis, who starred in TV's “Moonlighting” and the “Die Hard” movie franchise, has owned Soldier Mountain Ski Area near Fairfield, in the mountains between Boise and Sun Valley. But he's been trying to exit the operation ― and sell his home and a bar in nearby Hailey. Now, five people have formed a nonprofit that's assuming ownership of Soldier Mountain, a three-lift, 867-vertical-foot resort. A town hall meeting is scheduled Thursday to formalize the handover between Willis and the group, Soldier Mountain Ski Area, Inc. The names of the five people behind the nonprofit haven't been released, but a public relations firm that's touting the change-of-hands says some live in Fairfield.

Expensive caucus drained Ada County Republicans’ campaign cash

Ada County Republicans are struggling with the bill from their biggest-in-the-nation presidential caucus last spring: $35,000. Now they're leaning against holding a big, single-site caucus again in 2016; the hefty price tag has left the Ada GOP coffers drained going into the general election season, the AP reports. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho state tax revenue beats forecasts for September

Idaho's state tax revenues beat forecasts in September, driven by a month of strong individual income tax collections. The total revenue for the month of $248.1 million was 3.7 percent, or $8.8 million, over the forecast; individual income tax receipts, which had missed forecasts in both July and August, came in $12.5 million above the forecast for September. Sales taxes came in slightly ahead of forecasts, while corporate and miscellaneous taxes dipped below.

The strong month put the state's year-to-date revenues back on track with forecasts, running 0.5 percent ahead. That means state tax revenues overall are running 5.7 percent ahead of last year; forecasts anticipated a 5.2 percent increase. You can read the full general fund revenue report here from the state Division of Financial Management.

Andrus tells paper he regrets he never convinced McLaughlin to run for guv

The Lewiston Tribune reports today that former four-term Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, who will be in Lewiston for Saturday's Cecil D. Andrus Statesmanship Award presentation to former longtime Idaho Sen. Marguerite McLaughlin, D-Orofino, tried hard to convince McLaughlin to run for governor. “She was without question one of the hardest-working individuals in either political party,” Andrus told the Tribune. “She always ignored the political labels.”

Andrus said he regrets that he failed to convince McLaughlin to run for governor. “I thought she was better prepared than any other person to be governor,” Andrus told the paper. “Had she run and been elected she would have been one of the top two or three governors the state has ever known. She has wisdom beyond her years. It takes a unique person to come from a little old lumber town like Orofino to raise to that level. She is a jewel.”

McLaughlin served two terms in the Idaho House and nine in the Senate, retiring in 2000.

As Idaho wrestles with gov’s mansion issue, Simplots don’t want it back…

Idaho is discovering that it's easier to take a mansion than it is to give it back, reports AP reporter John Miller: The heirs to J.R. Simplot, the self-made billionaire who died in 2008 at age 99 and who donated his hilltop home to the state for a governor's mansion, don't want it. “The family's position hasn't changed,” said David Cuoio, a Simplot spokesman, on Wednesday, referring to an earlier statement. “J.R.'s home was given to the state with the understanding that it would be used as the governor's house.” Click below for Miller's full report.

School reforms draw candidates in North Idaho legislative district

Two decades ago, Coeur d'Alene's delegation to the state Legislature was all-Democrat, like most of the North Idaho Panhandle back then. Now, it's all-Republican, but District 4, which takes in the city, was the last Panhandle district to send a Democrat to Boise - and Democratic Rep. George Sayler's fourth term just ended two years ago. Now a new crop of Democrats, all first-time candidates and opponents of Idaho's controversial school reform laws, is trying to retake the district's seats. You can read my full story here on the district's races this fall.

Court of Appeals: Sex offender’s case could be sealed if lower court chooses

Here's a news  item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The Idaho Court of Appeals says a lower judge has the discretion to seal a convicted sex offender's case because the felon's criminal record is hurting his finances. But the appellate judges made clear in Thursday's ruling that they weren't recommending a Bonner County judge actually seal the case, only that he has the power to, if he chooses. The appeal was brought by a man calling himself John Doe, who was convicted in 1990 after pleading guilty to felony battery with intent to commit rape. After serving four years in prison, Doe was released on parole, and he's no longer required to register as a sex offender. Doe contended that his conviction is showing up on background checks and hurting job opportunities, and so should be sealed. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Otter calls for more logging, grazing on public land to prevent wildfire

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has sent out a guest opinion to Idaho newspapers this afternoon, blaming federal land management policies for this year's destructive wildfires and calling for change. Otter says the answer is more logging and grazing to reduce flammable fuels on federal lands.Despite the best efforts of our congressional delegation, Idahoans and all Americans will continue paying in many ways for the lack of direction – or misguided direction – that federal laws and policies provide public land managers,” he writes. “And while our exceptional firefighters put their lives on the line, the challenges they face on the ground are aggravated by litigious single-interest environmental groups devoted to economically undermining such traditional industries as ranching and forest products.”

Click below to read Otter's full article, which concludes: “It’s time for a new dialogue and a new approach to federal land management.”


U.S. Attorney’s office collects 10 times its budget in fines, forfeitures, debts

Idaho's U.S. Attorney's office has set a record by collecting more than $84 million in fines, restitution, civil debt and criminal forefeitures in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. That includes $3.2 million from criminal fines, assessments and restitution; $79.4 million in civil debts, and $1.7 million in asset forefeitures. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson noted that the total is more than 10 times her office's annual budget. A big chunk of the collections came from Hecla Mining pursuant to a settlement involving the Bunker Hill Superfund site in the Coeur d’Alene Basin. Click below for the U.S. Attorney's full announcement.

Rep. Hart ordered to pay state $10K for attorney fees, costs in his state income tax appeal

The Idaho Supreme Court has ordered tax-protesting Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, to pay the state $10,128 in attorney fees and costs for his unsuccessful state income tax appeal to the court, finalizing a decision it first issued in June. At that time, the court dismissed Hart's request to reconsider his appeal; ordered that its earlier April 2012 decision rejecting the appeal be complied with “forthwith;” and ordered Hart to pay the state's attorney fees and costs. That order was issued “subject to the automatic stay in Appellant's bankruptcy proceeding.” Hart had filed for bankruptcy, but has since voluntarily withdrawn that petition; his bankruptcy filing had prompted an automatic stay on other court cases involving his finances, including a federal foreclosure lawsuit seeking to foreclose on his Athol home for more than $500,000 in back federal income taxes, penalties and interest. That stay has now been lifted.

Hart repeatedly appealed an order to pay more than $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest; he has maintained that both state and federal income taxes are unconstitutional. In his appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, he argued that his status as a state lawmaker should have entitled him through legislative privilege to more time to file his appeal after a 91-day appeal period had expired, because a legislative session followed the appeal period. The court disagreed, writing, “In this instance, Hart is just a taxpayer, with no greater privilege than his constituents.”

Hart lost his re-election bid in the May GOP primary, so he leaves office at the end of his current House term, his fourth. Bill von Tagen, deputy attorney general for the state Tax Commission, said Hart owes the state both for the attorney fees and the underlying tax liability, and the state will be “seeking to collect it if we can.” He added, “There's a lot of people in line ahead of us, unfortunately.”

Luna repays lobbying firm for staffers’ luncheons at City Club forum

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports that state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna has reimbursed a lobbying firm that represents Apple and other clients for hosting his state staff for lunch during the City Club of Boise forum on Luna's school reform laws this week; the laws include big state investments in laptop computers. Popkey reports that when he first asked Luna about having his staffers hosted at the lobbying firm's table, Luna told him, “I didn't know about that,” but said, “I don't have a problem with it.” Later, Popkey reported, Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, emailed him to say Luna had repaid the firm out of his own pocket. “He does not believe there was any wrongdoing in his staff sitting at the Sullivan Reberger Eiguren table at City Club; however, he does not want even the appearance to be misunderstood,” McGrath wrote. You can read Popkey's full post here.

Hahn to give multimedia presentation on ‘The Left, the Right, Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party’

Today is First Thursday in downtown Boise, and there's a particularly interesting presentation scheduled: Greg Hahn, host of Idaho Public TV's “Idaho Reports,” will give a multimedia presentation at 5:30 p.m. in the Rose Room entitled, “The Left, the Right, Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.” It's part of the Fettuccine Forum series, produced by the Boise City Department of Arts & History in conjunction with Boise State University; an array of sponsors include the Idaho Humanities Council.

“A shrinking middle class, years of economic uncertainty and an increasing turn to the politics of resentment have helped push people across the country to the ideological extremes - but what does that mean for the average Idahoan?” the announcement of the program says. “Maybe more than you realize. Idaho Public Television's Greg Hahn uses video, audio, images and close to two decades of experience as a political journalist to explore how we got here and what could happen next.”

Doors open at 5 p.m. for the session; beverages will be sold by Jo's Traveling Bar. The Rose Room is located at 718 W. Idaho St.

The Luna-Cronin clash: What was that he said?

Both sides are standing by their conflicting versions of what was said yesterday in the Luna-Cronin clash at the City Club of Boise, shown here, when, just after Rep. Brian Cronin's opening remarks, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna leaned over to him and expressed displeasure about Cronin's remarks. This photo, taken by Dan King, photographer for the City Club, captures the moment.

I requested the audio from Boise State Public Radio, which broadcasts City Club forums, and will broadcast this one on Saturday evening; the forum also is scheduled to air on KTVB's 24/7 channel twice tomorrow, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. (KTVB also has posted video of the forum here; the exchange comes about 28 minutes in, near the end of Part 1). Cronin maintains that Luna said something like, “That's the biggest piece of bullshit I've ever heard.” Luna maintains he said something like, “I could not believe the rhetoric in your speech” or “I could not believe what you said in your speech.” After the disputed comment, Cronin says “Mm-kay,” or laughs, and then Luna makes a comment that includes the word “lobbyist,” something like, “I tell you what, I'll never call you a lobbyist if you don't know what your roles are.” At that point, the audio cuts out because the moderator began speaking.

The audio is very difficult to make out, because Luna is practically whispering in Cronin's ear while the audience is applauding loudly. Cronin said he has “no doubt” that Luna made the BS comment; Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said, “Supt. Luna does not recall ever using that language yesterday.” You can listen for yourself (try some good headphones); here's a version with noise reduction that I found a little clearer; and here's one without. So far I've heard mixed verdicts from those who listen: Some hear one thing, others hear another…


Latest school reform ad from opponents hits union issue

The latest statewide TV commercial to air in the battle over Idaho's controversial school reform laws comes from opponents of the laws, and focuses on what may be their toughest sell in the right-to-work state: Proposition 1, which restricts collective bargaining rights for teachers. The ad says the laws “ignore our teachers' concerns,” and “prohibit teachers from negotiating important things like overcrowded classrooms, supplies and student safety.”

The claim about negotiations is accurate. SB 1108, which Proposition 1 would uphold, changed state law so that teacher negotiations can only be on “matters related to compensation of professional employees.” Prior to the law, teacher contracts around the state routinely addressed other issues as well, from class size to bell schedules to furnace safety inspections.

“In Students Come First legislation, the teacher unions are targeted and their collective bargaining rights have been severely limited,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus of public policy. The ad tries to focus that issue to show “the net effect of this legislation is a negative effect on teachers and ultimately on students. … I think that's fairly effective,” he said.     However, he noted, “How much that will resonate with the Idaho public is yet to be seen, in a right-to-work state where unions are not that popular.” You can read my full story here at

Fish & Game Commission endorses right-to-hunt constitutional amendment

The Idaho Fish & Game Commission has come out in favor of HJR2aa, the constitutional amendment on the November ballot guaranteeing a right to hunt, fish and trap; you can read the commissioners' letter here. The constitutional amendment, which just needs a majority vote in November to pass, was the subject of much debate during the legislative session as its wording was refined, but the final version passed both houses with little opposition. You can read a backgrounder on the measure here in the Spokesman-Review's Election Center.

Little-noticed constitutional amendment clarifies probation management in Idaho

There's a little-noticed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot in Idaho regarding misdemeanor probation services. SJR 102 adds one word, “felony,” to the section in the Idaho Constitution on management of adult probation in the state, to reflect current practice and clarify that counties manage misdemeanor probation, while the state Corrections Department handles felony cases. Dan Chadwick, executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, says the change is needed: “Ballot measures don't have to be controversial to be important,” he said. Click below for a guest opinion he distributed to Idaho newspapers today urging support for the measure.

Walmart works with Idaho Dept. of Ag to start selling locally made “Idaho Cheese”

Though Idaho is the nation's third-largest producer of cheese, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture says Idahoans who want to join the “locavore” movement have often had trouble finding Idaho-made cheese to buy. The reason: Most Idaho cheese is sold to food companies that put their own brand on the package and distribute their products nationwide, with no mention of where the cheese originated. Now, however, retail giant Walmart is signing on with the department's “Idaho Preferred” program, selling Idaho-made cheese under an “Idaho Cheese” brand decorated with a blue image of the state's shape and the blue-and-gold Idaho Preferred logo.

“This project has been in the works for a long time,” said Leah Clark, manager of the Idaho Preferred program, who worked with Walmart on it. “They were very persistent in their efforts to encourage Idaho cheese companies to find a way to identify local cheese in their stores.”

The new Walmart Idaho brand cheese will be provided by Nelson-Ricks Creamery near Rexburg, which will produce some of the varieties in its own plant and buy others from other Idaho cheese producers, including Glanbia in Twin Falls. The varieties will include mild and medium cheddar, Monterey jack, Colby jack, pepper jack and mozzarella. The Idaho cheese goes on sale at southern Idaho stores this week, with plans to extend distribution to North Idaho stores later this fall.

Educational forum set on school reform laws and their impact

On Monday, Oct. 15th - that's a week from Monday - the League of Women Voters, Transform Idaho and the AAUW are sponsoring an educational panel discussion on Idaho's school reform referenda; the forum, which is free and open to the public, will be at Centennial High School from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. “The objective is to clarify the referendums and the impact of the resulting vote on Idaho's educational system,” the groups said in a news release announcing the event.

The panel will include Ken Burgess, partner at Veritas Advisors and campaign manager of the Yes4Idaho campaign, and Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff to Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, representing the “yes” side; and Mike Lanza, chair of the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, and Cindy Wilson, government teacher at Centennial High, representing the “no” side. Current perspective on how the laws are working in the Boise and Meridian school districts will be provided by Don Coberly, Boise schools superintendent; A.J. Balukoff, Boise school board president; Eric Exline, Meridian School District community relations director; and Anne Ritter, vice chair of the Meridian School Board.

Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor at BSU, will moderate. Those attending are encouraged to arrive by 6:15 p.m.; Centennial High School is located at Cloverdale and McMillan roads in Boise.

Rep. Nonini’s primary-season mischief an issue in his Senate bid

Fourth-term state Rep. Bob Nonini is running for the Senate, but his actions in the primary - pouring thousands into the campaigns of unsuccessful challengers to several sitting GOP lawmakers, including three senators - could make him an unpopular arrival there. “I'm getting back-door support from moderate Republicans,” said his Democratic challenger, Kristy Reed Johnson. “Mr. Nonini has left the center of the party.” Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, says, “I'm going to have some bridge-building to do, I'm sure. And I'm confident that I can do that.”

It's the hottest race in North Idaho's District 3, a heavily GOP legislative district that nevertheless has Democrats mounting challenges for all three seats. Johnson's husband, Ronald K. Johnson, is challenging Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls; while fourth-time Democratic candidate David Larsen is up against GOP primary winner Ron Mendive for Nonini's old House seat. But the action clearly revolves around Nonini, who affronted the very GOP caucus he hopes to join in the Senate with his controversial moves in the primary.

“Obviously, it's going to be somewhat awkward for him,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “I certainly don't condone what he did and I don't appreciate what he did. Sanctions, disciplinary action, those are all possibilities.” Hill added, “I've talked to Rep. Nonini, I went to his home and visited with him and his wife, and you know, we want to be able to help him to be successful as a state senator. But we have to look after the whole body, and make sure that we're successful for the people as a whole.” You can read my full story here from today's Spokesman-Review.

Hearing on gov’s mansion wraps up, comments still taken online

“I appreciate everyone that came and testified,” Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, said after a half-dozen people spoke. He suggested the Governor's Housing Committee schedule a meeting in the next 30 days or so and “absorb what we heard today and wee where we go.” Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, told the audience, “I'm glad you came and gave us a lot of good information to think about.” She added, “You can still comment on the website.” The state will continue to take comments on the fate of its governor's mansion at NOTE: If clicking on that link doesn't work with your email program, you can still email in your comments by copying and pasting the address into your email program, or typing it in; the address is good (I checked). Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Testimony: ‘Part of history,’ ‘Pretty grandiose for a governor’

Among those testifying on Idaho's governor's mansion:

Mike Kostanecki, pictured here, spoke in favor of keeping the Simplot home as Idaho's official governor's residence. “My main concern is, What are we going to do with Simplot Hill?” he asked. “It's a part of history. … That hill … stands for Idaho. … I think that reverting it or selling it would be an insult to J.R. and his family. He didn't give it to the state to make money, he gave it becuase he was proud of it and what it stands for. You can't have Idaho without that flag and the hill.” He added, “If you go up there in the winter, there's hundreds of kids up there in the snow. … For the life of me I can't believe we would let this symbol of Idaho go to some developer.”

John Hecht said, “I recommend disposal of the property. … I see no need for a governor's mansion.” He said most Idaho governors have been from within the region, and the monthly housing allowance Idaho governors were given when the state lacked an official residence was “quite generous and quite adequate.” Hecht noted that governors don't entertain seven days a week, and said there are plenty of other sites for such events in Boise.

John Gannon told the Governor's Housing Committee, “I think the 19th century governor's mansion concept just isn't working in the 21st century. And that's why for the last 25 years, we've had a governor's mansion program that is unsuccessful - it hasn't worked. We still don't really have a governor's mansion with a governor in it.” Gannon said no other public official is required to live with his or her family in a residence that's picked out, designed and furnished by others.

Ray Johnson said, “I had the opportunity of living on Irene Street when the old governor's mansion … was around the corner.” He said he liked that. “It was situated within a community in a residential area, and I enjoyed living in the area where the governor was, and I thought the house fit quite well. … That kind of fit the governor of the state of Idaho.” As for the Simplot house, however, he said, “I look at it as an excellent home for Mr. Simplot. I thought it represented his position well and his success in his business. … But I was never quite comfortable with it as the home for the governor.” Johnson said he'd favor selling the home or allowing it to revert to the Simplots, and going back to a housing allowance for Idaho's governors.

Barbara Kemp said, “I think it's inappropriate to continue funding this mansion on the hill.” She said it's too expensive. Plus, she said, “It seems pretty grandiose for a governor that you do want to feel like is part of the citizenry, is down here with us, is working on our problems.”

Spontaneous combustion likely cause of gun-room explosion at lawmaker’s home

Fire officials suspect a dangerous mixture of cleaning solvent, dirty rags and high explosives likely led to a destructive blast that sent the wife of a southern Idaho legislator to the hospital with second-degree burns, the Times-News and the AP report. Amy Wood, wife of state Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, was listed in good condition Tuesday in the University of Utah's Burn and Trauma Center after Saturday evening's explosion inside her husband's underground gun safe room. Click below for a full report.

Guv’s housing committee opens meeting, will take public testimony…

The Governor's Housing Committee has opened its two-hour hearing in the state Capitol, room WW55, on whether or not to keep the former Simplot home atop a green, grassy North Boise hilltop as the state's official governor's residence. There are about 25 people in the audience; the panel does plan to take public testimony during the meeting. First up is a review of the history of Idaho's governor's mansion or lack thereof, which is being delivered in a quiet, subdued voice by a staffer. “Does Idaho need a governor's residence? There are opinions in both directions,” he noted. Click below for a report on the issue from AP reporter John Miller.

Fiery debate on school reform laws today…

Here's how fiery the debate between state schools chief Tom Luna and Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, got at the City Club of Boise today: After the debate, Cronin accused Luna of grabbing his arm after his opening remarks and berating him. “He grabbed my arm rather forcefully and got in my face and said, 'That's the biggest bullshit I've ever heard,'” Cronin said. “I looked at the people at the lead table and I think they saw that I was visibly alarmed, shaken, but that's what he said. He grabbed my arm hard enough such that I spilled my water. … When he tried to touch me again, I told him not to touch me.”

Luna's spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said, “He never used that language. That's completely inaccurate.” The exchange wasn't picked up on the event's microphones, and Luna denied afterward that he'd become angry with Cronin at any point during the forum. “I think we both were passionate,” he said.

Luna said, “I was surprised he would use his 12 minutes of comments for personal attacks against me rather than talking about what is in the laws. After his remarks, I leaned over to him and said something to that effect.” You can read my full story here at

Of barns, carpenters and jackasses…

State schools Supt. Tom Luna made a comment shortly before the end of today's City Club of Boise forum on school reform, saying, “Any carpenter can build a barn, any jackass can kick it down.” Asked what he meant by that, Luna said afterward he was repeating a quote that he thought he'd heard attributed to Ronald Reagan; a similar comment is often attributed to Texas Congressman Sam Rayburn. “It's not original to me,” Luna said. “We've waited for almost two years for the opposition that originally called themselves 'reasonable reform' to bring forth reasonable reform, and they've brought nothing. All they've done is attack, attack, attack.”

Luna said he had expected that by now, “Idahoans would be having a debate” between his reform plan and an alternative one from opponents.

Rep. Brian Cronin, asked about Luna's comment, said, “The superintendent is building a rickety barn that is about to fall over anyway. We just need to give it a little nudge. It wasn't a barn that was worth building anyway.”

Debate wraps up with loud appaluse

The City Club of Boise forum has wrapped up with thunderous applause after an extremely lively debate between state schools Supt. Tom Luna and state Rep. Brian Cronin over the school reform laws, Props 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot.

Debate: What works, what doesn’t in schools…

Rep. Brian Cronin said national scientific studies have shown no link between merit pay for teachers and improved student achievement. State schools Supt. Tom Luna countered that it's working in New Plymouth. “If you really are interested in the truth, take a look at New Plymouth … they've been doing it for 10 years,” he said.

Asked why the campaign commercials against the reforms haven't focused as much on Prop. 1, the teacher contract bill, Cronin said he thinks it will be addressed. He said the measure removed teachers' ability to talk with districts about issues ranging from curriculum to scheduling as part of annual negotiations; Luna countered that they can still talk about those things in other settings.

Luna said when textbooks first were printed, no one said they were replacing teachers - they were a new tool. Cronin responded, “I don't know a single CEO, a single small business owner who has said you know what the problem is? The problem with kids these days is that they don't understand technology. … Technology's not the challenge.”

Cronin defends dual role as lawmaker, paid consultant

Rep. Brian Cronin was asked how he reconciles his role as a state legislator with his role as a paid consultant for the No on Props 1,2,3 campaign. “I reconcile it this way,” he told the City Club of Boise.  “This is very simple. I have not said a thing as part of this campaign, and yes I am a paid consultant, that I hadn't said previously as a member of the Legislature. And my consitituents are happy that I'm here. They're happy that I'm standing up and fighting these laws that I have been fighting from the very beginning.” He said his work for the campaign might actually hurt his consulting business, by alienating potential customers.

“It isn't necessarily a wise decision as a businessman, but I am that passionate about these issues,” Cronin said. “I wanted to work for this campaign, and yes I am going to fulfill my term in the legislature, because these are things I believe. … My constituents know that they want me representing them, and they want me representing them in this role.”

Technology and its role in schools…

Rep. Brian Cronin, at today's City Club of Boise forum on school reform, said, “Technology plays an important role as a tool, but it is not an end in itself, and it is being treated as such in this. … There is no evidence to suggest that this one-to-one laptop program produces sustainable student achievement.” He called it “a dangerous experiment.”

State schools Supt. Tom Luna responded, “The state of Maine has been doing this one-to-one ratio of students to laptops for 10 years and they start in the 7th grade.” He said, “Technology is not the silver bullet, or it would be the only thing you would find in Students Come First. … We changed the way we manage our labor at the local level, we changed the way we compensate teachers, we changed the way we offer education and educational opportunities.”

Luna: ‘They began to orchestrate against me’

State schools Supt. Tom Luna was asked about a deteriorating relationship between teachers and himself. “This divide is not between teachers and me,” he said. “It is between union leaders. … They spent $185,000 to unseat me, this is the union leaders. They have never dealt with me in good faith. From the day I was elected in 2006 they began to orchestrate and organize against me … (and) feed teachers misinformation.” Said Luna, “There is not a level of distrust between teachers and myself - it's the teachers union that has fostered this.”

Rep. Brian Cronin responded, “Folks, the teachers union is made up of teachers.” He said two-thirds of Idaho teachers belong to the teachers union. “They feel disrespected, they feel ignored.”

City Club debate: Timing of reform plan, alternative proposals…

The first question from the audience was for state schools Supt. Tom Luna, asking why he didn't unveil the reform plan until after he was re-elected in 2010. Luna's response: “I've ran on this platform three times and made it very, very clear about the changes,” he said. “I've tried to bring about the changes in previous legislation. We tried pay for performance before.” Luna said the ideas behind the reform plan have always been in his election promises.

The second question, for Rep. Brian Cronin, asked if voters reject Props 1, 2, and 3, what new legislation will be introduced. Cronin suggested re-examining middle schools, because “anyone who's been through middle school knows that it's a miserable experience,” more teacher mentoring, and higher-quality teacher prep programs. “There are any number of ideas that we could talk about,” he said. “The thing that's so troubling about all this is that we were never asked the question previously.”

Luna countered that opponents made no alternative proposals, making his plan the only one on the table.

Cronin on reforms: ‘It’s a bait-and-switch con’

Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, in his opening statement today, said the “Students Come First” school reform laws were not reforms. “They turned a temporary fiscal crisis into long-term permanent underfunding,” he said, charging that they were used by political leaders to justify under-funding schools. “The process by which this scheme was concocted violates every principle of good lawmaking,” Cronin said. “It excluded the experts.” As a result, he said, Idaho teacher morale dropped, and the number of Idaho teachers leaving the profession soared. “When teachers are demoralized and devalued, it's Idaho's children who pay the price … as we witness a mass exodus of some of our best and brightest teachers,” Cronin said.

“The so-called Students Come First was never about students,” Cronin declared. “The Luna laws were a fiscal crisis plan, not a reform plan.” He called the reforms a plan for “education on the cheap.”

He said, “Laws that mandate spending don't generate money. Taxes generate money. … The Luna laws created new spending but don't tell us where that money comes from. (Initally), in a rare moment of candor, we were told that that money would actually come from laying off teachers. … Now they just don't say it any more.” He said, “It is a shell game. It is a bait and switch con.”

Said Cronin, “Here's the net effect of the Luna laws. We will have fewer teachers, but more laptops.” Or, he said, districts that don't want to cut teachers will ask local voters for property tax override levies, as close to 80 percent of Idaho's school districts already have. Cronin called those locally approved new property tax levies “a 26 percent tax increase, just since the Luna laws were rolled out.” He said Idaho's electorate has been “voting with their feet and voting with their wallets” to say they want schools better funded.

Luna: Laws mean ‘every student has equal access,’ from anywhere in state

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is speaking first at today's City Club of Boise forum. “About 30 states have passed some form of education reform in the past two years,” Luna said. “Education reform in the state of Idaho is absolutely necessary, not because we have bad schools, in fact in the state of Idaho, we have good schools. … But in the world that we live in today, it isn't whether we have good schools, the question is, is good good enough?”

Luna said not enough Idaho high school students are furthering their education after high school, and those who do aren't succeeding. “It should be alarming and unacceptable to all,” he said. He said that's the focus of his “Students Come First” reforms. “As a result of Students Come First, we now have high academic standards in place,” he said. “We didn't have that before.”

He noted that while there's been lots of focus on the reform plans to add technology at high schools, the laws also included funding for technology boosts throughout the schooling system. Luna also pointed to the large number of school districts that applied to be among the first group to get laptop computers for their high school students. “They know that these devices are not replacing teachers, or 85 percent of them would not have volunteered to be first,” Luna said.

He also touted the laws' changes to teacher pay and contracts, including removing seniority from layoff decisions. “Eight in 10 teachers will receive a bonus this year. Why? Because they have worked together to improve a whole school with student achievement,” Luna said. He said once the laws are fully implemented, “Every high school in Idaho is a one-to-one learning environment. … Teachers and students will no longer have to wait their turn for the computer lab because every classroom is a computer lab.” He said the tech boosts will mean that “every student has equal access and opportunity no matter where they live in Idaho, and that just didn't exist before.”

He said, “We accomplished all this without raising anyone's taxes, at any level.”

Moderator: Civility urged, no cheers or boos

Moderator Jim Weatherby is welcoming the crowd to the City Club of Boise, but said that first, as a professor, he wanted to lecture the crowd: “One of City Club's highest values is promoting civility,” Weatherby declared. Therefore, he asked the crowd not to applaud, cheer, or express approval or disapproval. He noted that he'll be taking written questions from the audience to pose for the speakers as part of the program, Tom Luna and Brian Cronin.

Weatherby noted that Idaho has only had four other referenda on its ballot in its history; the school reform laws have prompted three referenda on the November ballot this year.

Sellout crowd for City Club forum today…

There's a sellout crowd at the City Club of Boise today for the forum on the “Students Come First” school reform laws, featuring state schools Supt. Tom Luna and state Rep. Brian Cronin. In addition to the lunch crowd of close to 400, the listening-only seats in back are full too; the crowd includes 85 students from local high schools.

Luna, Cronin to face off today at City Club of Boise over school reforms

Idaho state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and state Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, face off today at the City Club of Boise over the “Students Come First” school reform laws, which Luna wrote and of which Cronin is a leading opponent, along with serving as a consultant to the campaign against the laws. Idahoans will be asked in the November election whether they want to keep the laws or not; a yes vote on Propositions 1, 2 and 3 keeps the laws, a no vote repeals them. I'll be live-blogging the session today.

For a backgrounder on the issues from the Spokesman-Review Election Center, click here.

Idahoans get chance today to weigh in on governor’s mansion

Today is the day that Idahoans will get to weigh in on what to do with Idaho's official governor's mansion, the former J.R. Simplot home on a grassy hilltop in north Boise, topped by a giant American flag. The Governor's Housing Committee, chaired by Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, will meet in room WW55 of the state Capitol from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.; you can see the agenda here. There'll be a presentation about the history and operation of a governor's residence in Idaho, followed by public testimony. There's more info here.

No Idaho governor has ever lived in the Simplot home, which the billionaire donated to the state for an official governor's residence because Idaho had none. Current Gov. Butch Otter is Simplot's ex-son-in-law, and lives at his own ranch in Star. Upkeep costs for the mansion are running more than $177,000 a year, including maintaining the giant lawn that covers the grassy hilltop.

Idaho school fees, supply lists challenged as unconstitutional

An Idaho grandfather and former school district superintendent is suing the state of Idaho and all its school districts, charging that cash-strapped schools are violating the Idaho Constitution by increasingly charging fees for what are supposed to be “free, common schools.” Russ Joki's twin kindergartner granddaughters were each charged $45 to register for kindergarten this year, and his grandson, a high school junior, had to pay $85 in fees to enroll at Meridian High. But a 1970 Idaho Supreme Court decision specifically found educational fees for public schools unconstitutional in the state. “I don't think it passes the constitutional test at all,” Joki said, “and I think someone has to raise that question.”

His lawsuit was filed today in 4th District Court in Ada County; it seeks class-action status on behalf of all schoolchildren and parents in the state of Idaho. In addition to Joki, plaintiffs include his grandson, for whom he is legal guardian; his daughter and her twin 5-year-olds; and 15 other individuals from around the state, all grandparents of Idaho public school students.

In addition to charging fees, Joki's lawsuit targets Idaho schools' practice of distributing lists of specific school supplies for parents to purchase, from specific brands of colored pencils and crayons to reams of paper, boxes of tissue and dry-erase markers. “It's occurring statewide,” Joki said. “These supply lists are a substitute for essential educational materials that the district needs to provide. Instead, the burden has been placed on parents and patrons.” You can read my full story here at

Miners unearth ancient shark teeth in southeastern Idaho

Giant sharks once swam the seas that covered what's now eastern Idaho, and scientists have new proof: A spiral-shaped array of fossilized shark teeth was uncovered by a mining crew in a heap of deposits near Soda Springs. The teeth were identified as those of a prehistoric shark called Helicoprion that swam the area 250 to 270 million years ago, before the Bonneville Flood, the Idaho State Journal reports. Phosphate deposits in southeastern Idaho are believed to have preserved the pristine fossil specimen, which includes the lower jaw cartilage, teeth and rare impressions of skin. Click below for a full report from the AP and the State Journal.

Idaho scene featured on new ‘forever’ postage stamp

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The U.S. Postal Service has picked a photograph of an iconic Idaho scene to grace one of its new forever postage stamps. The aerial photograph shows three log rafts floating down an unidentified river on the way to a sawmill. The Idaho Statesman reports ( ) the image was taken by Tom Brakefield of Tennessee while flying in an ultra-light aircraft in 2005. The stamp is part of the new “Earthscapes” series, which explores some of the nation's most visually striking landscapes from the air. Others include Utah's Monument Valley, a network of highways that resemble a basket weave and icebergs bobbing in a lake. The new stamps will be available Oct. 1 in post offices nationwide.

Report shows where county’s money went in Dynamis debacle, raises questions about repayment

Remarkable revelations over the weekend on the stalled Dynamis trash-to-energy project in Ada County from Idaho Statesman investigative reporter Cynthia Sewell, including that the $2 million Ada County paid to the firm planning the project went in part to buy new Mac computers and software for the firm; to pay $350 an hour to the firm's staffers for engineering services, far above the going rate; to pay $71,605 to Boise consulting firm GSA Services for helping the developer win government contracts; and included a 10 percent markup for “overhead and profit” of $180,000.

The county expects to be repaid the money, but Sewell reports that a Maryland lender has filed claims on all of Dynamis' assets - putting it ahead of the county for payoff if Dynamis fails to perform. You can read Sewell's report here.

First two-party races in a decade in North Idaho’s District 2 put focus on what’s ‘reasonable’

The ballot looks very different in North Idaho's most-Republican legislative district this fall, now that tax-protesting four-term Rep. Phil Hart is out and an array of new candidates are jostling for attention. Democrats are challenging Republicans for all three of District 2's seats this fall - the first time a Democrat has appeared on the ballot there since 2002. The last time one won was in 1994.

Cheryl Stransky is among the new crop of candidates. A just-retired high school counselor who's been active in the community for 35 years, she has a quote from her opponent, first-term Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, emblazoned on her campaign website: “If I wanted a reasonable Republican, I'd vote for a Democrat.” “I feel like I am almost a polar opposite of my opponent,” said Stransky, who says the district's lawmakers have gone too far and crossed a “tipping point.” Says the Democratic challenger, “I sense that people are ready for a reasoned representative.”

Barbieri acknowledges he made the comment to a gathering of the United Conservatives of North Idaho last December. “It got a good laugh - it was a joke,” Barbieri said. But he said he stands by the sentiment. “The bottom line is … since I'm conservative, it's my position that compromise has gotten the United States in the situation that it's in,” Barbieri said. “To be reasonable is to compromise, and to compromise in these days with taxpayers overburdened like they are - it's time for someone to take a stand and not be making all these compromises.” You can read my full story here from today's Spokesman-Review.

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About this blog

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

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

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