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Eye On Boise

Archive for June 2014

Ringo: Hobby Lobby ruling ‘extremely disturbing,’ saw no corporations at church on Sunday

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who is running against 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador, had this statement today on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, which Labrador praised:

“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby is extremely disturbing.  The message to women from the majority on the court is that their boss can have a say in their personal family planning decisions.  Today’s decision allows corporations to deny contraception coverage to female employees because of the corporation’s religious objections.  I saw many people from my community in church last Sunday, but I didn’t see a corporation there.

The administration and Congress need to fix this. We know Congressman Labrador won’t be part of the solution, but I'm confident that enough members of Congress care about women's rights to do what the majority of Americans want and protect contraception coverage.”

Peterson says ‘one phone call’ from Otter and he’ll agree to new GOP central committee meeting date

Embattled Idaho Republican Party Chairman Barry Peterson is calling for both sides in the rift in the party to agree on a single date for a Central Committee meeting - currently, Peterson's called a meeting for Aug. 9, while others who contend he's no longer chairman have called the meeting for Aug. 2. “I scheduled the August 9 date because August 2 interfered with a 40-year tradition in my family,” Peterson said in a news release. “However, a single meeting set for a mutually-agreeable date can be planned for July or August.”

Peterson said he was calling on GOP Gov. Butch Otter to “use his leadership position to insist that one meeting be held for the purposes of reuniting the party.” Click below for Peterson's full news release, in which he said, “I believe we can all meet on a single date, settle all leadership issues, conduct our business and then move forward a stronger, united Republican Party. I believe that one phone call from Gov. Otter is all it would take to end the current division.”

Labrador: Hobby Lobby ruling ‘tremendous victory for religious freedom’

1st District Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador is calling the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision today a “tremendous victory for religious freedom in America.” In a statement, Labrador, a Republican who's seeking a third term, said, “No American should be forced to choose between following their faith and submitting to unlawful and unnecessary government mandates.  The HHS mandate, by violating freedom of conscience, needed to be overturned and repudiated.  The Supreme Court’s decision breathes new life into one of our most important freedoms and eliminates one of the most destructive aspects of Obamacare.”

Luna aide heads to South Dakota legislature, will earn more than state’s guv

Jason Hancock, a top aide to Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, is headed to South Dakota, where he’ll start Aug. 5 as the director of that state’s legislative research council. Hancock worked closely with Luna on his signature “Students Come First” package of school reform laws, which voters rejected in 2012; prior to joining Luna’s staff, he worked as a budget and policy analyst for the Idaho Legislature. The Associated Press in Pierre, S.D. reports that Hancock will make $125,000 a year in his new job – more than the state’s governor, who makes $104,002. The South Dakota Legislature’s executive board told the AP it raised the salary for the position to draw a strong candidate and strengthen the legislative branch. Hancock holds a master’s degree in public administration from BSU and a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of the Pacific.

Otter lauds Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today lauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the court held that family-owned corporations with religious objections can’t be forced to pay for insurance coverage for contraception for their employees. Otter noted that Idaho was among 20 states joining in an amicus brief in support of the arguments from Hobby Lobby and another business, Conestoga Wood Specialties.Here is Otter’s statement:

“As governor of one of the states weighing in on this case, I’m encouraged to see religious liberty trumping Obamacare’s headlong rush to impose a contraceptive mandate on the American people. Today’s ruling confirms once again that President Obama’s policies – when left unchecked – are eroding our constitutional rights. I remain committed to challenging that misguided course at every opportunity, and I’m grateful to courageous individuals and employers willing to stand up and be counted.”

Idaho faces lawsuit over inadvertent lynx trapping by recreational trappers

Five environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Idaho today, charging that the state is violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing recreational trapping that inadvertently ensnares federally protected Canada lynx, the AP reports. In the last two years in Idaho, three lynx have been caught in traps intended for bobcats. One was killed after the trapper mistook it for a bobcat, and the two others were released. The groups want limits on Idaho trapping to protect the threatened big cat; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rachel LaCorte.

Luna announces tech grants to 15 schools, says statewide effort still needed on school tech

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna today announced the 15 schools throughout the state that will receive a share of $3 million in technology grants for pilot projects next year, but noted that 99 schools applied for the grants, and if they’d all gotten what they sought, the total would have been more than $26 million; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.  “I think the answer has to be a statewide effort, and I think you have to tap into the economy of scale in order to make this available for all,” Luna said. “I think what we’ve demonstrated through the pilots is that there is a demand for one-to-one environments … in the classroom.”

Many, but not all, of the successful grant applicants plan to use the money to provide every student with a high-tech device, whether it’s a Chromebook, an iPad, a laptop computer or a combination of school-provided and bring-your-own devices. Luna’s signature “Students Come First” plan, which voters rejected in 2012, sought in part to provide every high school teacher and student in the state with a laptop computer.

Luna noted that the technology already has changed significantly since he made his proposal. “I still believe that there has to be a statewide solution, or we just create winners and losers,” he said. But he said that could take a variety of forms, from providing more per-student funding to school districts for technology to offering several state-level contracts that districts could access at their option to take advantage of economies of scale. “This demand is not going to go away, whether I’m here or anyone else is here,” said Luna, who is leaving office when his second term ends at the end of the year.

A roomful of excited school officials from throughout the state was at the State Department of Education offices today to receive the grant awards. They range from a high of $516,619 for South Middle School in Nampa, which will use the money to purchase computers, Apple TVs, projectors, I-Pads for every teacher, video technology for classrooms, and to open school two to three nights a week to allow parents and students at the large, largely low-income school to come in and work online with a teacher’s help; to a low of $14,825, for Meridian Technical Charter High School, to offer 25 students with difficulties associated with the autism spectrum access to brain games on iPads designed to enhance their learning.

Kathy Baker, principal of Ponderosa Elementary School in Post Falls, said her school will use its $250,000 grant to “gamefy” learning by allowing students to work individually and earn digital badges when they move up to higher levels; the gaming will revolve around the Idaho Core Standards and include reading, writing and math, with options both for those who struggle and for advanced learners. The project includes Chromebooks and accessories. “We’re just thrilled to pieces,” Baker said. “We know that we have to do something different for kids.”

Forrest M. Bird Charter School in Sandpoint is getting $317,516, and will provide a laptop computer for every student and teacher, grades 6-12, iPads for special education classes, projection presentation systems and training. Mary Jensen, education leader at the school, said, “We’re just really excited for being able to innovate in our classrooms through the use of technology.”

Cascade Junior-Senior High School will use its $38,094 grant to integrate school-provided Chromebooks with students’ bring-your-own devices to bridge the “digital divide” between its lower and higher income students. Fruitland Elementary School will expand a pilot project that used iPads in second-grade classrooms school-wide, with its $345,230 grant. Lapwai Middle-High School’s $32,986 grant will provide a high-tech projection system in every classroom to turn regular white boards into interactive learning surfaces. Mullan Trail Elementary’s $204,465 grant will install and enhance WiFi and network infrastructure, purchase Chromebooks, tablets, management systems and accessories, to turn the elementary school into a “Google School,” where allow students and teachers can use apps to interact as they work on documents. Click below for a full list of the grant recipients.

Longtime Idaho state courts director to leave for national position

Patti Tobias, administrative director of Idaho court for the past two decades, will be leaving in the fall for a new position with the National Center for State Courts in Denver. “It’s pretty exciting, although it’s really emotional to leave,” Tobias said. “They’re going to post the (Idaho) position and begin recruitment this week.”

Tobias will be with the state center’s court consulting division. “I’ll be able to work with all of the state courts across the nation,” she said, on everything from technological innovation to new problem-solving courts and other court improvement efforts.

Tobias has presided over a time of big changes in Idaho’s court system, including a technology upgrade now under way to eventually bring all state court filings and documents online and make them more widely accessible. “The Idaho courts are recognized nationwide for their innovation, for their service, for their leadership,” Tobias said, noting particular national attention has focused on Idaho’s problem-solving courts including mental health and domestic violence courts.

Tobias, who holds a master’s degree in judicial administration from the University of Denver College of Law, came to Idaho more than 20 years ago as a result of the Idaho courts’ national recruitment for her position; previously, she’d worked for 14 years in state and trial courts in Missouri. She’ll leave her Idaho position in late August to start her new job.

Catching up on the news…

Catching up on some of the news I missed while off last week, it’s striking how the big political story in Idaho – rift and strife within the state’s supermajority Republican Party – remains the same. Over the course of the week, two dueling dates were set for a party Central Committee meeting: Aug. 2, set as a result of a petition from county party committees, and Aug. 9, set by embattled party Chairman Barry Peterson, who maintains he’s still the chairman despite the lack of an election of officers at the party’s failed state convention in Moscow in mid-June. The central committee meeting – one of them, anyway – ostensibly would decide where the party goes from here.

Mary Tipps Smith, the sole remaining paid staffer at the troubled party’s central office, resigned mid-week as finance director, asking people on Facebook to “pray for the Party during a difficult time.” This was the week after the departure of executive director Trevor Thorpe, whom Peterson said had left to pursue a master’s degree; at that point, Peterson also changed the locks at the party offices.

The day after Tipps Smith’s depature, Peterson hired Judy Gowen, former political director for Sen. Russ Fulcher’s unsuccessful primary challenge to GOP Gov. Butch Otter, as the party’s new executive director. Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey has the rundown at his blog here, at which he also reports that Peterson told KIDO radio’s Kevin Miller on Friday that Otter was angry “because the party would not bend over” to his wishes on a state health insurance exchange.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Transportation Department announced last Monday that every rural stretch of interstate freeway in southern Idaho that’s now 75 mph would rise to 80 mph on July 1, as soon as it could get the new speed-limit signs posted, causing consternation for AAA, which had raised safety concerns about the new law that passed this year – and been assured that only after extensive and specific traffic and safety studies would any particular stretch of freeway see the higher speed limit. On Friday, ITD back-pedaled, announcing that the speed limit increase would be delayed to allow the department to “review input expressed since the announcement.” Now, the ITD board will review the traffic and safety analyses at its July 11 meeting in Coeur d’Alene.

Gov. Butch Otter announced reforms to the state’s Workforce Development Training program, initiated by his new state Labor director, Ken Edmunds; they include higher standards for companies to qualify for aid under the program, aimed at avoiding repeats of instances where companies have gotten lots of money for specific job training for workers, then later failed and laid off those same workers.

With Coeur d’Alene, Boise and Idaho Falls all in competition to get the first mental health crisis center in the state – since the Legislature this year chose to fund only one instead of all three – the announcement came that Idaho Falls would get the center.

And U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill tossed out the state’s lawsuit against the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for opening a poker room at its Coeur d’Alene Casino, calling it premature; the tribe and the state have a gaming compact that calls for arbitration of disputes before any lawsuits can be filed. The tribe argued that the Texas Hold ‘Em tournament play it was offering was legal in Idaho; the state maintained it wasn’t. Rather than enter a 60-day arbitration period, the state filed suit. “The state jumped the gun and violated the provisions of our agreement when it raced to the courthouse with this unnecessary lawsuit,” tribal attorney Eric Van Orden said in a statement; you can read a full report here from S-R reporter Becky Kramer.

This year’s final episode of “Idaho Reports” aired Friday on Idaho Public TV, with analysis of both the comparatively smooth Idaho Democratic Party convention in Moscow and the earlier GOP fiasco and a look ahead to new laws taking effect this week and the election season ahead; you can watch online here.

Off for the week…

I’m off for the next week; I may post a vacation photo in this space later in the week, but other than that, I’m off the grid. Let me know what I miss, and I’ll see you back here next Monday…

Update: Was under the weather the first few days of my vacation (which was disappointing!), but today I finally got out on the water in the Columbia River Gorge, which was beautiful. That’s me in the picture, sailing near The Dalles, Ore.

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby, Kimberlee Kruesi and co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz to discuss the tumultuous GOP state convention and its fallout for Idaho politics, as state Democrats kick off their own convention in Moscow today. The show also includes a discussion with two GOP legislative leaders, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder and House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, about the party politics blowup, and more. It airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.

Dems kick off state convention with optimism, ready jabs at Republicans

Idaho Democrats kicked off their two-day state convention in Moscow today with optimism, a two-page draft of a platform, and a ready supply of jabs at Republicans, Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert reports. Richert is reporting on the convention live this weekend at idahoednews.org.

Today, he reports that the Dems are gathering at a convention center just a short walk from the Kibbie Dome, where the state GOP convention degenerated into chaos six days earlier. Democratic leaders couldn’t resist crowing a bit after they seated all their convention delegates with a single unanimous vote – the very issue that bogged down the GOP confab, as the credentials of various delegations were challenged. “We’ve already accomplished what no one else could,” state Democratic Chairman Larry Kenck said. “Congratulations.” Richert’s full report is online here.

Lawsuit challenges state-owned Priest Lake cabin site values

Seventy-six cabin owners on Priest Lake who rent the land under their cabins from the state of Idaho have filed a lawsuit, charging that the state is claiming ownership of improvements including access roads, utility lines and more that the renters actually installed with their own money. As a result, the latest appraisals for the state-owned cabin sites – which will be used both as minimum bids for possible public auctions and as the basis for future rents for continuing leases – have ballooned by up to 80 percent, they charge, pushing them out of many lessees’ price range.

“The appraisals are objectively wrong,” the cabin owners argue in court documents; they’re seeking an injunction to stop the state from using the new appraised values, and return to last year’s values plus a 1.6 percent inflationary increase. But the state says that would mean a loss to the state’s endowment, which benefits public schools, of nearly $2 million next year. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Jones has 70-to-1 fundraising advantage over Ybarra coming out of primary

Unopposed in the Democratic primary, state superintendent candidate Jana Jones enters the general election campaign with a 70-to-1 advantage in cash on hand, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. While fundraising in the superintendent’s race has been relatively modest on both sides, Jones has more than $20,000 in her campaign account, Richert reports, according to campaign finance reports filed this week. Ybarra, the Republicans’ surprise nominee for state superintendent, enters the general election season with less than $300 on hand.

This week was the deadline for all statewide candidates to file post-primary finance reports. These reports outline fundraising activity during the final runup to the May 20 primaries and in the aftermath of the elections. Jones raised more than $7,800 in the filing period. Ybarra raised only $300 — and $250 came from a single donation, from Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Wendy Horman, a House Education Committee member.

Richert also reports that Gov. Butch Otter has more than $450,000 on hand coming out of the primary; Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff has less than $40,000. In the race for Secretary of State, Democrat Holli Woodings has $22,000 in her campaign warchest, while Republican Lawerence Denney has barely $3,000. You can read Richert’s full report here, including notable givers in some of these races.

Loebs: State GOP chairman’s term ends next Tuesday

Grant Loebs, the chairman of the Idaho GOP’s legislative District 24 and a member of the state Central Committee – and also the Twin Falls county prosecutor – says in his view, state GOP Chairman Barry Peterson’s term ends on June 24, which is next Tuesday. “The chairman is elected for a two-year term,” Loebs said, and Peterson was elected at the party’s 2012 convention in Twin Falls on June 23. The chairman’s term is described in two ways in the party rules, Loebs said, both as a two-year term, and one that ends when the next chairman is elected and takes office immediately at the state convention, which could be slightly less than two years. “So one way or the other, he’s out on the 24th at the very latest,” he said.

Loebs said he viewed last night’s rules committee meeting, which Peterson convened, as without any effect. “A committee which was improperly constituted was called upon to answer questions they have no prerogative to answer and to make pronouncements that they have no power to make,” Loebs said. “This committee was treated as some kind of a supreme court, when in fact its only job is to advise and recommend things to the state Central Committee.”

Said Loebs, “It’s kind of a tin-horn dictator type coup. And the question is what do you do when somebody stages a coup and has the office and changes the locks and has their hands on the bank account and the computer systems, how do you get them out of there? In this country, we don’t do it through violence, so we have to work through all the processes that are available to us.”

“In my view,” he said, “on the 24th, things will be even more clear, and on that day, Mike Mathews, first vice chairman, will be the highest-ranking Republican Party official in Idaho, and it will be incumbent upon him to find a way to select a new chairman, and the rules are quite clear on how that is done.” Loebs said the first vice chairman in that situation can call a Central Committee meeting to fill the vacancy.

Locks changed at state GOP office, executive director no longer on staff

Embattled former Idaho Republican Party Chairman Barry Peterson, who maintains he’s still the party chairman, confirmed this morning that he’s changed the locks at the state party offices and that party executive director Trevor Thorpe is no longer with the party, leaving just finance chief and office staffer Mary Tipps, who started a month ago, on the state party’s paid staff. “The staff is composed of two, and three or four volunteers,” Peterson said. “And Trevor is going to pursue his master’s degree. Two weeks ago or maybe even three weeks ago, he told me that within a week or so of the convention, he wanted to head out for his master’s degree, so that did happen.”

Peterson said he had the office locks changed “for security reasons.” He said over the years, through many changes, it had become unclear where all the keys to the offices were, so he decided “that it would be just as well to have things be where we knew where all the keys were. So we did that, just for security purposes.”

Peterson said he believes the party’s rules committee that met Thursday night and voted to keep him and other officers in place for two more years was “properly noticed” and constituted. As for the executive committee that met a day earlier and reached the opposite conclusion, holding that party offices were vacant, voting to reappoint several others but not the chairman and deferring to the Central Committee to handle the chairmanship selection, Peterson said, “I didn’t have a hand in it. I know what the rules talk about relative to the executive committee.”

Peterson said he and Tipps are “working hard to try to meet the responsibilities of the office,” including paperwork involving elected party positions for each county and district and contact information for them. “It’s a heck of a workload and we’ve been distracted from being able to get all that done, so we’re just trying to get it done,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of work to do.”

Dem candidates to lead raise-minimum-wage tour

Democratic candidates for office in Idaho, led by 2nd District congressional candidate Richard Stallings, Nels Mitchell, who’s running against GOP Sen. Jim Risch, and Bert Marley, who’s challenging Lt. Gov. Brad Little, will tour the southern half of the state next Tuesday in support of the Raise the Minimum Wage Campaign, with rallies in Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls and Boise. Stallings’ campaign announced that the plan is to “draw a spotlight on the situation 29,000 Idahoans live with on a daily basis trying to live on $7.25 an hour.” There’s more info here.

Idaho jobless rate falls below 5%

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell below 5 percent in May for the first time in nearly six years, the Idaho Department of Labor reports. More than 15,000 more Idahoans were working in May than in May of 2013, with the jobless rate at 4.9 percent. Ada County’s rate in May as 4.2 percent; Canyon, 5.6; Kootenai, 5.1; and Bonneville 4.1 percent. You can read Labor’s full announcement here.

Chaos continues at Idaho GOP, as Dems kick off state convention, promise business, fun

The chaos continues at the Idaho Republican Party, after dueling purported party committee meetings on consecutive days reached wildly different conclusions about who’s in charge. This all arises from the failed Idaho GOP state convention last weekend in Moscow, which adjourned without doing any of its business – electing officers, adopting a party platform or passing resolutions – after days of fighting over attempts to eject various groups of delegates amid an intra-party rift.

On Wednesday, a party executive committee meeting was called “to address the vacancies in the various party offices.” Idaho GOP general counsel Jason Risch reported that party rules don’t allow the executive committee to choose a chairman – that has to go to the full Central Committee – but the panel voted to retain four of its current officers: First Vice Chairman Mike Matthews, 2nd Vice Chairman Todd Hatfield; Treasurer Chris Harriman and Secretary Marla Lawson. Risch wrote in an email after the meeting, “This is a big step forward in unifying the party,” saying the four represent both of its wings, the tea party and establishment sides.

Then, on Thursday night, Barry Peterson, who was party chairman until the convention and maintains he still is, called a meeting of the party’s Rules Committee, with two members representing each region, and after spirited arguments, a majority of that group declared the previous day’s meeting invalid and ruled that Peterson’s still in charge, and all officers and policies will remain as-is for the next two years as declared by convention Chairman Raul Labrador shortly before the convention voted to adjourn last Saturday.

Risch didn’t attend the Thursday meeting, writing in a letter to Peterson, “My attendance alone would serve to undermine my legal opinion and validate your status.” Risch told Peterson, “If it is your desire to once again become the chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, there is absolutely nothing to stop you from running for that position at the upcoming state Central Committee meeting.”

At the rules committee meeting – which Risch said wasn’t a valid meeting of the rules committee nor valid members – the North Idaho regional representatives were tax-protesting former state Rep. Phil Hart and unsuccessful legislative candidate Danielle Ahrens. Hart wrote on Facebook, “There are some in the Republican Party who want to negate all the work of the Convention and throw out any of the work that was done and have all business ultimately handled by the State Central Committee. Others want to accept what business was completed by the Convention and get on with the work of the Party. The latter group believes that Congressman Labrador correctly advised the delegates of the Convention that any unfinished business would be just that, unfinished business; and that if there were not new party officers elected by the 2014 Convention, then the officers elected in 2012 would serve another 2 years until the 2016 Convention.” That side prevailed, he wrote. “I was honored to serve.”

Meanwhile, former state party Chairman Trent Clark wrote on Facebook, “Tonight I watched as a dozen political activists threw all principle and integrity away in a desperate effort to retain their grasp on power. So-called defenders of ‘limited government’ just voted to empower their political bosses with tyrannical authority. … It saddening to see how quickly principle is tossed aside when the power-hungry think their opportunity to exercise dominion over others might be slipping away.”

With the GOP in disarray, the Idaho Democratic Party is holding its own state party convention in Moscow this weekend. The schedule includes platform hearings, panel discussions and a street party today; and on Saturday candidate speeches, a grassroots organizing training session, a Central Committee meeting, and a 7 p.m. “Victory Feast” featuring former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, among other events. Democratic Party Chairman Larry Kenck said in a statement, “Idaho Democrats have our priorities straight because we listen to the families and business leaders in our communities. … Whatever happens at our convention, I am confident that we will leave town after successfully conducting the business that we have come to conduct. And, we will have a great time while we are doing it!”

Labrador says he had ‘an amazing time’ running for House majority leader

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador issued this statement after using the race for U.S. House majority leader to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif: “I want to congratulate Kevin on his election as Majority Leader and I wish him the best.  I had an amazing time running for this position.  It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in Congress.  I really enjoyed talking with my colleagues one-on-one about the future of our conference and the direction of our party.  Everyone I spoke to, whether they voted for Kevin or me, agrees that we can do better.  The process needs to be improved, the committees need to work their will, and our members need to feel more relevant.  We have a terrific conference – filled with talented, impressive leaders – and I deeply believe that the dialogue we’ve sparked over the past week will lead to a stronger, more successful future for House Republicans and America.”

Labrador falls short in U.S. House leadership bid

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador lost to Kevin McCarthy in the race to be the next U.S. House majority leader today; a USA Today story posted on KTVB-TV’s website here terms Labrador’s effort just “token” opposition to McCarthy, R-California; click below for a full report from the Associated Press in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Labrador’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, issued this statement:

“That’s the second time in a week that a room full of Republicans has refused to pretend that Raúl Labrador’s ready to lead,” Ringo said. “If Congressman Labrador can’t work with people who sometimes disagree with him, we can’t expect him to get anything done. Today’s vote showed that his House colleagues understand that, too.” 

Republican rift escalates as panel elects officers, Peterson refuses to recognize vote

The row between Barry Peterson — who insists he remains Idaho Republican Party chairman over the objections of Gov. Butch Otter and the Republican National Committee — and others in the party escalated Wednesday night when the party's Executive Committee elected interim officers, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports.

Peterson said early Thursday that he was unaware of the meeting, Popkey writes, which was described in an Wednesday night email by GOP general counsel Jason Risch, who has opined that the chairmanship has been vacant since the state convention adjourned Saturday without electing officers.

“I was in the office all day yesterday and nobody came to the office and said a word to me about the meeting,” Peterson said, adding that he did speak with Risch about a Thursday night Rules Committee meeting. Risch, however, said Peterson was informed. “Barry was absolutely invited to the meeting, he was on all the email notices, in fact I personally talked to him yesterday afternoon about it,” Risch told the Statesman Thursday.

Risch's Wednesday email says eight of the 12 Executive Committee members met and voted to retain four officers but not a chairman: First Vice Chairman Mike Mathews, Second Vice Chairman Todd Hatfield, Treasurer Chris Harriman and Secretary Marla Lawson. The four represent both the party's tea party and establishment wings. “The appointment of these individuals allows the day to day operations of the Idaho Republican Party to continue including the filing of the election (finance) reports,” Risch wrote. Popkey’s full post is online here.

State Board of Ed updates safety policies to reflect new guns-on-campus law

Idaho’s State Board of Education, meeting in Idaho Falls yesterday, today approved an amendment to its policy on campus safety for the state’s four-year colleges and universities to comply with the new law passed this year authorizing those with enhanced concealed carry permits to carry guns on public campuses. “The updated policy makes it clear that firearms are allowed on campus only as described in section 18-3309(2), Idaho Code, or as allowed by the institution as part of an event or program approved by the institution president,” the state board said in a news release; you can see the full policy here.

State board President Emma Atchley said, “Our public universities and college are extraordinarily safe environments, and the Board is committed to ensuring that remains the case. The institutions will continue to work with security experts and local law enforcement to develop comprehensive plans to ensure the safety of students and others who use and visit our public college and university campuses.”

Each school is updating its security plan, and the college presidents will report to the board on their plans at its August meeting in Pocatello.

Idaho GOP: Rules committee meeting tonight is open to public, ‘in the interest of transparency’

The Idaho GOP has just sent out this statement regarding its rules committee meeting tonight: “The Idaho Republican Party will hold a Special Standing Rules Committee meeting this evening, Thursday, June 19, at 7:00 p.m. at the Idaho Capitol Building in room EW42, to address the status of the Party's elected officers. No comments or questions will be allowed from guests or the media during the meeting, however in the interest of transparency, the meeting will be open to any persons interested in listening to the proceedings. All parties must enter and exit the Capitol Building through the 6th Street doors.” 

Lawmakers wary of prospects for Medicaid redesign

State lawmakers may not consider Medicaid redesign options even if they save lives and money, lawmakers on a state Medicaid redesign work group said Wednesday, because the idea of Medicaid expansion is politically “toxic,” the AP reports. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

New state endowment approved to fund Silver Valley mine-waste water treatment plant

Idaho’s state endowment fund has been showing strong returns, so state officials had no qualms this week about designating the endowment fund’s board to also oversee a new, $50 million permanent endowment, this one to permanently cover all costs of operating a water treatment plant to help clean up mining contamination in the Silver Valley.

The $50 million comes from Hecla Mining Corp. as part of a settlement of a giant Superfund lawsuit covering multiple companies and a wide swath of the Coeur d’Alene Basin where a century of mining spread contaminants harmful to people, fish, birds and more. A 2011 consent decree covering Hecla’s portion of the settlement required the company to deposit $66 million with the federal court; an amendment to that decree is expected by the end of this month to release the funds for cleanup activities.

Under the plan, the federal Environmental Protection Agency will use $15 million of the funds to expand an existing water treatment plant in Kellogg and operate the plant for the next five to 10 years, until those funds are spent. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality will then take over, and it’s responsible for using the investment earnings from the remaining $50 million to operate the plant in perpetuity.

Idaho’s five top state elected officials, sitting this week as the state Board of Land Commissioners, approved setting up the new endowment and having the Endowment Fund Investment Board oversee its investment. That’s the group that now oversees the investment of the state’s $1.7 billion permanent endowment, whose earnings largely benefit the state’s schools.

So far this year, Idaho’s endowment fund has gained 17.5 percent from investment earnings. “We’re looking to come in with a strong result for the fiscal year which ends June 30,” investment manager Larry Johnson told the Land Board. The endowment’s earnings have been strong enough that it’s built up five years of reserves, so for the first time in several years, the annual distribution to Idaho’s public schools next year is expected to rise slightly, from $31.3 million to $31.5 million. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Latest federal plan for Columbia salmon challenged

Conservation groups and salmon advocates have challenged the Obama administration's latest plan for making Columbia Basin dams safe for salmon, the AP reports. The challenge was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service, which oversees salmon protection, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operate the dams. It was the seventh challenge since the lawsuit was originally filed in 2001; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jeff Barnard in Portland.

Dairymen’s bid to join Idaho ag-gag lawsuit denied

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has denied a request by the Idaho Dairymen's Association to join Idaho in defending the recently passed law criminalizing surreptitious recording at agriculture facilities. The Times-News reports (http://bit.ly/1lDTAxw) that U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill shot down the request Monday. Winmill said in his ruling that the state can represent the dairymen's interests without the group getting involved. Animal rights, civil liberties and environmental groups are suing the state to overturn the so-called “ag-gag” law. The law, which lawmakers passed in February, was backed by Idaho's $2.5 billion annual dairy industry. Winmill allowed the dairymen's group to file a brief supporting the state. Those is in favor of the law argue that it protects private property rights. Opponents counter the law infringes on free speech rights.

Troupis’ legal opinion: ‘No vacancy exists,’ Peterson still state GOP chairman

Attorney Christ Troupis has completed his legal analysis, and has concluded – counter to the opinion of attorney Jason Risch – that former GOP Chairman Barry Peterson and other party officers remain in office now, after the failed state party convention last weekend ended without a vote on new officers. “No vacancy exists in the position of Idaho Republican Party chairman or other party officers at this time,” Troupis writes. “Accordingly, Barry Peterson, having been duly elected, remains as chairman and the other party officers also remain in office.” You can read Troupis’ full analysis here.

Not only is that not the conclusion that Risch reached in his legal analysis for the party, it’s also counter to the conclusion of John R. Phillippe Jr., chief counsel for the Republican National Committee, who wrote to national GOP Chairman Rance Priebus “to advise you that in my opinion there is a vacancy in Idaho’s RNC delegation because the state party chairman position is vacant.” KTVB reporter Jamie Grey has posted Phillippe’s letter at the end of her report here at the KTVB website.

Labrador makes majority leader pitch to GOP colleagues

Idaho 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador made his pitch to fellow House Republicans today in his bid for House majority leader. “Remember, we regained control of the House in 2010 because Americans believed that Washington was not listening,” Labrador said. “If you vote for the status quo tomorrow, you will prove that we are still not listening.  We will break our pledge, and with that we may lose the ability to regain control of the Senate and eventually win the Presidency.” You can read his full remarks here; he’s considered an underdog in his bid for the majority leader post against California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the current majority whip. The position is opening because of Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat in the Virginia GOP primary by an underfunded tea party challenger; the vote is scheduled for Thursday.

June rain, mountain snow promise to delay, shorten upcoming wildfire season

The rain that’s falling this morning in Boise – and the unseasonable June snow in the mountains – is actually very, very good news for Idaho’s upcoming fire season, according to a briefing the state Land Board received yesterday. “You shorten the window that’s available for your fire season,” Jeremy Sullens, wildland fire analyst for the National Interagency Fire Center, told the board. “So precipitation events in June … are a significant factor in decreasing the fire season.” Other good news: Cool temperatures have kept much of the state’s snowpack in place, and it’s “coming off the landscape more slowly … in large portions of Idaho. That’s going to provide a lot of moisture for fuels to take up. … Snowpack across the state looks very good at this point.” That combination means longer waits before higher-elevation timber wildfires can break out between now and the advent of wet weather in the fall, Sullens said, and is good news all around.

Plenty of precipitation earlier wasn’t necessarily as promising, because when it occurs during the seasonal “green-up,” it can spur more growth of grasses and other material that can later dry out and serve as fuels for wildfires. Forecasts call for Idaho to see slightly above-normal temperatures along with above-normal precipitation as it moves into summer, Sullens said. “So really, Idaho’s not looking too bad from a forecast perspective.” There are two exceptions, he noted: Areas with sage grouse habitat in southwestern Idaho, and areas in eastern Idaho that saw heavy fire activity last year, including the Hailey area. Those two spots are seeing more drought-like conditions than the rest of the state. Sullens said a “finger of drought runs up through there,” tied to the dryness that’s been experienced across Nevada and Utah.

Meanwhile, 250 ranchers across the state are now trained to help fight fires, as a result of the formation of five Rangland Fire Protective Associations. The ranchers get training and help with equipment to enable them to quickly jump on wildfires that start near them, before state or federal firefighters can get to the scene.

Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the state Land Board, said at a recent Western Governors Association meeting he attended, other western governors expressed interest in the idea and want to emulate Idaho’s move.

BSU refusing to disclose details of stadium naming rights deal, citing ‘trade secrets’

Boise State University is refusing to disclose details of the multimillion-dollar naming rights deal in which Bronco Stadium is being renamed Albertsons Stadium – even to the State Board of Education, the Idaho Statesman reports. The $12.5 million, 15-year deal was the subject of a public records request from the Statesman, but when the university provided documents about the deal, it blacked out all dollar figures, claiming those details are “trade secrets.” The state board meets tomorrow in Idaho Falls, and the deal is on its agenda; Statesman sports writer Chadd Cripe reports that the state board staff, in its memo to the board, wrote, “The net revenue to be paid to BSU under this Agreement (in concert with the Learfield agreement) remains uncertain to staff. This issue along with additional questions about the Agreement remain to be addressed at the Board meeting. Staff reserves judgment pending resolution of these matters.” Cripe’s full report is online here.

A follow-up: Today Cripe, at @IDS_BroncoBeat, sent out this tweet: “Boise State President Bob Kustra left me a voice mail this morning. He was upset stadium docs were redacted, said info will be released”

Idaho justices order hospital to pay $52M in lawsuit

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Supreme Court upheld a lower court's decision Tuesday ordering a Boise hospital to pay more than $52 million for violating a contract it had with an MRI company. The decision is the latest development in St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center's lawsuit, involving one of the largest awards to come out of Idaho district courts.

The hospital had appealed the multimillion-dollar verdict returned in 2011. MRI Associates, which operates MRI Center of Idaho and MRI Mobile, first partnered with St. Alphonsus in 1985 in an attempt to make magnetic resonance imaging and other diagnostic tests more accessible. The partnership was supposed to last until 2015, but the hospital created its own outpatient MRI facility in 1998. Six years later, the hospital announced it was dissolving the partnership with MRI Associates to use its own facility. “In this case, the wrongful conduct was in the nature of usurping a partnership opportunity to open a facility in Meridian, which then competed against MRI Mobile,” the justices wrote in the ruling.

Eventually, both sides filed suit. A jury awarded MRI Associates more than $63.5 million in 2007, saying it lost potential profits because of the breach in the contract. A judge later reduced the award to $36 million. Two years later, the Idaho Supreme Court sent the case back for a retrial, where a new jury awarded MRI Associates more than $52 million. “This case involved many years of litigation, including a prior favorable ruling by the Idaho Supreme Court,” hospital spokesman Josh Schlaich said in a prepared statement. “We respect the work of the court, but are disappointed with this ruling.” Meanwhile, the law firm representing MRI Associates released a statement praising the court's decision, touting it as a win in a “David-versus-Goliath legal battle” that pitted a small business against a multimillion-dollar medical center.

National settlement will bring relief to 220 Idahoans who lost homes to foreclosure

Idaho has joined 48 states and the federal government in a settlement with SunTrust Mortgage over home loan and foreclosure abuses; under the settlement, the company will make direct payments to 220 Idaho borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure between 2008 and 2013. Click below for the full announcement from Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

Idaho GOP politics hit ‘abnormal times’

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the latest on the spectacular blowup in the state’s majority Republican Party that led to a failed state party convention over the weekend, and now is generating plenty of recriminations and finger-pointing. It ranges from a late-night deal offered to Gov. Butch Otter after midnight at his Moscow hotel room and rejected, to questions over whether the party has a chairman now or not and how it can proceed forward.

Peterson avers he’s still GOP chairman, asks for new legal opinion from Christ Troupis

Barry Peterson says he disagrees with the legal opinion offered to the Idaho GOP by attorney Jason Risch, and believes he’s still the party chairman – and he’s requested another legal opinion from attorney Christ Troupis on the matter. “I’m adopting the position that was tendered at the convention when the motion for adjournment was made,” Peterson told Eye on Boise this afternoon. The convention chairman, 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, conferred with his parliamentarians and announced that the result of voting for adjournment would be that “the party officers and the party position as to the platform etc. would be as they were constituted,” Peterson said. “Overwhelmingly, the vote was carried.”

Peterson said Troupis’ legal opinion, like Risch’s, will be done for the party without charge. “It’s my personal opinion that the position taken by the party when they cast their vote should be the position of the party,” Peterson said. “Everybody got to vote on it there at the convention. We’ll see what happens.”

Peterson said he’s called a meeting of the central committee’s rules committee for this Thursday at 7 p.m. in Boise, to review the two legal opinions and discuss what to do next. “They’ll be working on the problem, trying to find a resolve that seems appropriate and in harmony with the rules,” he said.

The party also has received a formal petition calling for an emergency meeting of the central committee, which Risch’s legal analysis noted is the body charged with filling vacancies in officer positions. “The process for that is … I get 10 days to schedule the meeting, and have to schedule the meeting within 30 days of that 10 days – our rules allow for that,” Peterson said. He said one touchy question is where he calls for the meeting to take place. “No matter where I call that meeting, I’m going to get spears in both sides of me,” he said, because members have to participate in person, and the location could benefit those on one side or the other if it’s easier for them to get there. “I just, I want to do the right thing for the right reason,” Peterson said. “And I don’t know what will happen.”

He also said he thought the convention’s spectacular breakdown on Saturday – the only votes taken were on refusing to seat various delegates, and none of the scheduled business was taken up, from the chairmanship to the platform – was planned in advance. “By design, they intended from the very beginning by parliamentary procedure to get the whole convention to go for four hours without taking a vote, and they were successful in that,” Peterson said. He said he couldn’t say who “they” were. “I do not know who put the plan together,” he said. “But I have no doubt that that’s what happened.”

Experts: GOP drama could repel voters

Days after Idaho Republicans walked away angry and defeated from the conclusion of the GOP convention, some are saying the event may have damaged the GOP's efforts to win elections and attract voters, reports Kimberlee Kruesi of the Associated Press. Idaho's Republican convention ended Saturday after failing to elect a new state party chairman or amend its party platform. It's the first time party delegates failed to accomplish anything in nearly 60 years; click below for her full report.

Otter says he rejected deal to seat delegates in exchange for his endorsing Fulcher for chairman

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he was contacted in his hotel room in Moscow after midnight Thursday night about a deal to resolve the split over the GOP party chairmanship at the tumultuous state party convention that concluded Saturday. “The agreement that they’d cooked up was if I would agree to endorse Russ Fulcher for chairman, then they would seat the delegates,” Otter told Eye on Boise today. “I said, ‘Well, wait a minute – you’re making me a majority of one on credentials? They’re either delegates or they’re not delegates.’”

The governor said, “I made about five phone calls back.” Otter said he spoke with Mike Moyle, Bart Davis, Scott Bedke and Doug Sayer. He said he concluded, “I couldn’t tell those delegates who to vote for, and I couldn’t bargain away that democratic process that we were trying to provide for with the selection of delegates.”

Otter added, “There were all kinds of things going around, but the only deal they asked me about was the one I just described. … I responded back to everybody that called me, and said I had a real problem with being a majority of one on the credentials committee.” If the delegate selection was improper as some charged, he said, “How can you make it legitimate just by making a deal?”

As to what should happen next, Otter said, “I think we ought to follow the rules. My understanding is the rules say the chairman of the party is elected for a two-year period from one convention to the next. That’s a term limit.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna added, “Yeah, we don’t have a chairman right now.” He said the party also lacks a first and second vice chair now. “What we have is a national committeeman and national committeewoman,” Luna said. “They’re elected to four-year terms. But we do have a central committee.” Said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, “Right now, it’s in the central committee.”

When Ysursa noted that central committee in normal times wouldn’t meet again until January, Otter said, “Well, this is abnormal times.”  Otter said even if the election of the chairman goes to the central committee, “That’s a lot closer to the grass roots with the precinct people and the delegates deciding that, than they are if the governor hand-picks.”

Meanwhile, the party requested a legal opinion from attorney Jason Risch about the status of its chairman after the failed convention, which bogged down over the question of seating delegates and never did any business, including electing a chairman, passing resolutions or adopting a platform.

Risch’s analysis concluded, “After considerable research and based upon the applicable facts, it is my legal opinion that there is no provision for automatically extending the terms of the officers of the Idaho Republican Party.” So the chairman, vice-chairs, secretary and treasurer positions for the party are now vacant, he found. “The rules provide that the state central committee has the authority to fill vacancies occurring in these offices.” You can read the full analysis here.

 

Labrador seeks House Republicans’ backing for leadership, calls for uniting party

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador today sent a letter to House Republicans, urging them to support his bid for Majority Leader after Eric Cantor’s defeat in the Virginia GOP primary, instead of the leading candidate, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. “Promoting, by acclamation, a member of the very Washington leadership that has failed to bridge the divide with Republicans outside Washington struck me as exactly the wrong response,” Labrador told his colleagues. “And so, I have decided to stand for Majority Leader – running not against anyone, but for everyone. The simple fact is, Republicans will never again unite the country until we first unite our Party.” You can read his full letter here.

Charter schools get first state payments for buildings, online academy gets the most

Controversial legislation that passed last year gives state funding through a formula to charter schools for their building and facility needs; the first payments have now gone out, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, and they exceeded estimates at $2.03 million, compared to the estimated $1.4 million. The biggest payment of the batch went to the Idaho Virtual Academy, which has its students learn at home rather than in classrooms; it got $132,330. The new law gives charter schools a per-student amount through a formula based on how much traditional schools raise for buildings through local voter-approved bonds and facility levies. Richert’s full report is online here.

State GOP convention: ‘Victory for taxpayers,’ ‘Moscow mess’ or ‘laughing stock’?

State Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, is praising the tumultuous GOP state convention in Moscow over the weekend as a “victory for taxpayers.” Meanwhile, as GOP leaders and activists from the various factions struggle with the fallout of a convention that failed to elect a new chairman, adopt a platform, or pass any resolution or rules changes, former state senate Majority Leader Rod Beck, R-Boise, said, “I’m calling it the ‘Moscow mess.’” Beck said, “None of this has been a clean way to do things.”

Barbieri, in a blog post this morning, said, “Taxpayers should be rejoicing that finally top down policy is no longer the norm in the Idaho Republican Party.” He said he viewed the Ada County delegate selection for the convention as “knowingly in gross disregard of the Party Rules.”

“THIS TIME, there were appropriate ramifications,” Barbieri wrote. “Rather than suffer through a protracted and torturous parliamentary struggle, the convention, again by majority vote, adjourned at the time set in the published agenda. The officers stay the same. The policy stays the same. There is still hope for Idaho taxpayers tired of the 'central control' advocated by the centrist Republicans.”

Another view was offered by frustrated Valley County GOP delegate Robert Lyons, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports, who sent an email to fellow delegates calling for a mail-in vote for party chairman. “All of us went to Moscow to get some work done and have our votes count,” he wrote in his email. “The leadership should be absolutely ashamed and adjust the rules for this never to happen again. Nothing was accomplished but to be the laughing stock of Idaho.” Popkey’s full post is online here.

Boone named AP chief for Idaho

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Rebecca Boone, a newsperson for The Associated Press in Boise, has been promoted to supervisory correspondent for Idaho. The appointment was announced Monday by Traci Carl, AP's West regional manager overseeing news for 13 states, including Idaho. Boone, 38, joined AP in 2002 in Boise. She previously worked at the Lewiston Tribune and graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in journalism.

Earlier this year, Boone won a national Sigma Delta Chi award for excellence in public service journalism for a series of stories covering understaffing at Idaho's largest prison. Boone's investigation revealed that private prison company Corrections Corporation of America falsified staffing records in violation of the company's $29-million-a-year state contract. She also examined how the state missed warning signs of problems at the prison, despite increased oversight of CCA's operations. The fallout from the investigation prompted Idaho to end its contract with CCA and take control of the prison, and the FBI to launch an investigation into whether CCA committed fraud.

“Becky is a talented, determined reporter whose ultimate goal is to give AP members and the public the best information possible,” Carl said. “Her award-winning work on the private prison system helped shape public policy, and we are confident she will continue to do trail-blazing work as the news leader for Idaho.”

GOP Chairman Peterson: ‘Politics can be very rough and tumble’

Idaho Republican Party Chairman Barry Peterson said this morning that it’s still unclear what will happen next after the weekend’s failed GOP state convention, in which no new chairman, platform, rules changes or resolutions were voted on. “Things are in the mix, trying to sort all that out,” Peterson said. “But I do know when when they called for the adjournment, Raul announced at the podium before taking the vote that in adjourning, the officers and the positions and the platform and all that would remain as they were.”

There were questions, though as to whether positions with term limits would need to be decided by the party central committee.  “I don’t know the actual outcome of anything,” Peterson said. “Work is being done trying to sort it all. … It’s being worked on.”

Peterson said, “I want to take my hat off to Raul Labrador, because he worked so very hard. And he was behind the scenes working diligently to try to find a way to bring peace to the event, and to the selection of the chairman. He just spent hours. I know at least two nights he was up ‘til midnight working on it. And my hat’s off to him for the incredible amount of work he tried to put together in bringing peace to the overall thing.”

Asked how he feels about how the convention went, Peterson said, “Well, it appears to me that politics can be very rough and tumble.” He said, “What I personally would hope is that there might be a peaceful resolve come to people’s minds, which seems to be impossible, and that they would be happy to live within the rules of the party and do the best work that we can all do unitedly within the rules of the party.”

Idaho taking over water pollution permitting from feds

Despite Idaho’s vaunted distaste for the federal government, it’s one of just four states where getting a permit for dumping pollutants into waterways requires dealing with the federal Environmental Protection Agency instead of the state. That’s changing under a law that quietly cleared the Idaho Legislature without a single opposing vote this year. But the change means Idaho will have to add an estimated 25 employees over the next eight years at the state Department of Environmental Quality – in a GOP-dominated state where lawmakers also spend lots of time about talking about shrinking government.

“I have to suck it up and say yes, it’s worth it,” said former Idaho Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, who pushed persistently for the move during his three terms in the Senate; he’s also a former Post Falls mayor and city administrator. “I think it really does make more sense than letting the feds do it for us. It’s a better way to control our own destiny.” The only other states that currently have the EPA running their wastewater permitting programs are Massachusetts, New Mexico and New Hampshire; you can read my full Sunday story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho GOP convention fiasco leaves state’s majority party in disarray

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how Idaho’s state Republican Party convention degenerated into a fiasco today after attempts to disqualify a slew of the delegates attending appeared to be succeeding – and the convention ended up adjourning without electing a chairman, setting a platform or doing any of it scheduled business. Far from uniting the deeply divided party, the gathering in Moscow degenerated into dysfunction - though the GOP is the party that holds every statewide office in Idaho, every seat in the congressional delegation and more than 80 percent of the seats in the state Legislature.

It also proved not to be the finest hour for convention chair and 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador, whom many looked to as the healer for the fractured party just a day after he announced that he's running for Majority Leader of the U.S. House; instead, he ended the convention facing jeers and walkouts from his own party members. 

State Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said, “It’s a real shame that a convention comes to that stage, where there really wasn’t any real floor leadership, there wasn’t any fairness in the process, either in the credentials committee or on the floor. It was all pre-determined. It’s kind of ‘who’s going to have the power,’ rather than working together.”

Idaho EdNews reporter Clark Corbin also has a full report here on the convention fiasco, in which a frustrated House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, says, “Is it a mess? Yes. That's my quote,” and Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, calls it “a sad day for the Republican party.” 

‘This does not strengthen his credentials for a national leadership position’

Idaho’s just-concluded state GOP convention was seen as something of a test of leadership for 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, who chaired the convention and just a day earlier had announced his run for U.S. House majority leader. But Labrador failed to bring the deeply divided party together, resulting in an unprecedented failed convention that didn’t vote on a platform or new chairman, and simply left  town and adjourned in disgust.

“It’s hard to blame all this on Raul Labrador, but on the other hand, this does not strengthen his credentials for a national leadership position, either,” said BSU professor emeritus Jim Weatherby, a longtime observer of Idaho politics. Weatherby said the only comparable event he can think of was Nevada’s GOP convention fiasco in 2008, which was canceled before delegates to the national convention had been selected. “And again, Ron Paul forces or libertarian forces were involved in that fiasco as well,” Weatherby said.

“I think it has to have some impact” on the November election, he said. “It does further emphasize the point that a lot of people have always made, that Idaho is a three- or four-party state, not a one-party state, and two or three of those parties call themselves Republican.”

Labrador: ‘For three weeks I’ve tried to broker a deal’

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador, chairman of the state GOP convention that failed spectacularly today to unite the party and instead broke up in total discord, told Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports, “For three weeks I’ve tried to broker a deal to prevent what happened today.“ But he failed.

Labrador said he worked with all three people who were running for party chairman, and he worked with people from both factions within the Idaho Republican Party, the libertarian/tea party faction, with which he’s most closely identified, and the more establishment faction that’s identified with GOP Gov. Butch Otter. Labrador told Davlin that at this point, he can’t think of anything he would have done differently, and he believes people just need to walk away and cool down.

Reported Davlin, “Both sides were just so fed up – they were done.” She noted, “Yesterday it was more angry, today it was frustrated and fed-up and incredulous. There was a difference. … They had been through hours of parliamentary procedures and confusion over rules and all of these things, and they still weren’t getting anywhere.” She added, “I heard people on both sides say that this is the last time they’re going to come to a state convention.”

Idaho GOP in disarray, convention adjourns without any new chairman or platform

Incredibly, Idaho's state Republican Party convention has just adjourned without taking any action on a platform, a new chairman, or anything else, after two and a half days of meetings, tense debates over rules, and divided but successful votes to disqualify a fifth of the delegates present based on disputes between the libertarian/tea party wing of the and the establishment wing. Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, made the motion to adjourn. Convention Chairman Raul Labrador called for adjournment, which was challenged, but the challenge was voted down. So now the convention is over.

Labrador called for an immediate GOP Central Committee meeting; the central committee is gathering now. Far from uniting the party, the gathering in Moscow has become the site of the party's implosion into total dysfunction - though it's the party that holds every statewide office in Idaho, every seat in the congressional delegation and more than 80 percent of the seats in the state Legislature. It also proved not to be the finest hour for Labrador, who many looked to as the healer for the fractured party just a day after he announced that he's running for Majority Leader of the U.S. House; instead, he ended the convention facing jeers and walkouts from his own party members. 

Labrador announced that officers and platform planks all will remain as they are now - meaning the Idaho GOP platform will continue to call for doing away with direct election of U.S. senators, the one big plank the platform committee had voted yesterday to dump.

Idaho GOP convention degenerating into ‘fiasco’

After hours of lots of dissension and contention, the Idaho Republican Party convention has broken down, after divided votes to refuse to seat the delegations from three counties, Ada, Bannock and Power. Now, there’s a push to adjourn the convention – without doing the business it came to town to do, adopting a platform, electing a chairman, passing resolutions and so forth. Officials are puzzling over rules; Lt. Gov. Brad Little said the party is mandated to hold a convention, not to elect a chairman. If the chairman’s term expires, the central committee could fill the position.

Rep. Paul Romrell told Idaho EdNews reporter Clark Corbin, “This is a fiasco.”

Groans, cheers, parliamentary maneuvers and delays…

Groans, cheers, parliamentary maneuvers and delays are about all that’s come out of the Idaho GOP state convention so far this morning, where it took an hour and a half just to go through the opening roll call. Various procedural disputes are hanging up the process of getting to the reports of the convention’s four committees and the question of whether delegates and committee assignments are valid. At one point, the AP reports, convention Chairman Raul Labrador implored the delegates, “We’re going to be here all day if we do this.”

Proposed resolutions go to full GOP convention today…

This morning, the Idaho GOP convention will vote on the recommendations from its four committees: Resolutions, Credentials, Platform and Rules. Then, this afternoon, delegates will elect the next party chairman. In the photo above, from Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports, the roll of delegates is being called. Lewiston Tribune reporter Bill Spence reports that in a three-hour meeting yesterday, the resolutions committee approved 10 resolutions – including one that wasn’t in its packet of proposed resolutions – and rejected or tabled six.

The surprise resolution was one calling for repeal of the state health insurance exchange; Spence reports in today’s Tribune that delegates approved it almost unanimously without even reading it. The others approved include opposition to Medicaid expansion; an anti-tax measure that includes opposing tax or fee increases to pay for transportation improvements; opposition to Common Core standards and support for more parent input in education; and a measure promoting Bible study in public schools. The resolutions committee removed a clause from that measure calling for a Constitutional amendment requiring Bible study, Spence reports, instead leaving the issue up to local school districts. During the discussion, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna said, “Everyone wants local control until their district doesn’t do what they want, then they want the state to mandate it.”

Among the resolutions rejected by the committee was one from Sen. Patti Anne Lodge’s primary opponent calling for her to be ejected from the Senate over a residency question.

Labrador makes first bid for GOP peace: Names two parliamentarians, Rasor and Davis

As the Idaho Republican Party state convention gets under way this morning, Congressman Raul Labrador, the convention chairman, acknowledged the conflict that’s been roiling the state party confab. As a gesture he said would ensure fairness, he named two, rather than one, parliamentarians to ensure fairness in disputes over rules: Former Bonner County Commissioner Cornel Rasor, and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls.

Just yesterday, Labrador told reporters rather emphatically that Davis was not his choice for parliamentarian; the post matters because fights over rules are have been at the heart of disputes in the Moscow convention, including over seating three counties’ entire delegations. Rasor comes from the libertarian/tea party wing of the party; Davis from the more establishment Republican side. Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports reports that Labrador told delegates he has a lot of respect for both of them.

Paul urges unity among Idaho Republicans

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a 2016 GOP presidential prospect, spoke in front of hundreds of Idaho Republicans Friday and urged them to put differences aside as they head into November. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

Labrador steps into the political spotlight, both nationally and in Idaho…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Raul Labrador becoming a candidate today for majority leader of the U.S. House. Meanwhile, in Idaho, Labrador is chairing the state GOP convention this weekend, where a deep split between establishment Republicans and the tea party wing has resulted in nasty rules fights; on Friday afternoon, the party’s credentials committee voted to bar the entire delegations from Ada, Bannock and Power counties – which would remove more than a sixth of the delegates from voting on the party platform and state chairman.

Some in the party are calling on Labrador to be the healer and find a way to unite the party’s two wings, though he’s closely allied with the tea party wing. The full convention, under Labrador’s leadership, could accept or reject the committee’s ruling.

Party unity pleas muffled by name-calling, accusations…

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi on today's doings at the the Idaho state Republican Party convention, where she reports that pleas for unity in the party were muffled by the sounds of name-calling and pointed accusations from party leaders, while on a day that was supposed to be dedicated to amending platform planks and rule recommendations, the often-overlooked credentials committee spent hours throwing out more than 20 percent of the state's delegation assignments.

Idaho GOP moves toward dropping call for repeal of 17th Amendment

It was a bit lost in the hubbub over rules and credentials fights, but the platform committee at the Idaho Republican Party convention in Moscow today voted to remove one of the most controversial planks in the party’s platform: The one calling for repeal of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would have the effect of doing away with direct election of U.S. senators and instead letting state legislatures choose senators. “I was the one who made the motion,” said Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, a delegate from Canyon County. “It passed the committee. Now it will go to the general assembly for a full vote.” That’ll happen on Saturday.

Dan Cravens of Bingham County proposed the change, saying under the current platform, the Idaho GOP is advocating removing Idaho voters’ ability to re-elect GOP Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch. “The adoption of the language advocating the repeal of the 17th Amendment has placed a burden on Republican candidates throughout Idaho,” Cravens wrote in his proposal. “Candidates that agree to accept the tenets of the Idaho Republican Platform are forced to accept and defend the notion that the voters of Idaho, or any other state, should not have the right to elect their U.S. Senators.”

Hixon said, “Idahoans want their voices to be heard. … I can’t imagine taking the voting power away from all 1.6 million people in Idaho and giving it to just 105 people in the Idaho Legislature to elect our United States senators.”

From Common Core opposition to ‘non-denominational Christian Bibles,’ GOP confab takes up ed issues

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin has a report here on education issues that came up today at the state’s Republican Party convention, from a resolution against Common Core standards for student achievement that was strongly opposed by GOP state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, to one that backers said would require “non-denominational Christian Bibles,” be placed in all classrooms for student use. Both won the support of the party’s resolutions committee and will go to the full convention for a vote tomorrow.

Tonight’s Idaho Reports looks at Labrador leadership run, GOP convention doings, more…

As you might expect, we’ve got lots and lots to talk about on tonight’s “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public Television. I join Jim Weatherby, Dan Popkey and co-host Aaron Kunz to discuss Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador’s run for House majority leader, the happenings at the state Republican Party convention thus far and more, and co-host Melissa Davlin reports in from the convention in Moscow. The show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.

From tin foil hats to leadership, Twitterverse weighs in on GOP convention doings…

Among the interesting tweets this afternoon from the Idaho Republican Party convention (#idgop) after the Credentials Committee voted not to seat the entire Ada County delegation:

Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin (@clarkcorbin) tweeted, “Ada delegate Ken Burgess says Peterson “clearly, clearly stacked” committees to give “tin foil hat caucus” majority control of convention”

From AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi (@kkruesi), “Lots of anger over the credentials committee. One delegate went so far to say that ‘even Hitler had more subtlety than this.’”

From Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public TV’s “Idaho Reports” (@davlinnews), “Convention treasurer @jareddlarsen: If #idgop has to refund $75 for each Ada delegate & alt, would cost abt $15,000; ‘a devastating blow.’”

Teton County delegate Billie Siddoway (@Billie_Siddoway) tweeted, “Opportunity for Rep. Labrador to show leadership by bringing his supporters together to reject the credential cmte report.”

Ringo dings Labrador for ‘hobby of partisan in-fighting’

First District Congressman Raul Labrador’s Democratic opponent, state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, had strong words today about Labrador’s announcement that he’ll run for U.S. House majority leader. “I have to admire Congressman Labrador’s consistency,” Ringo said. “First, he tried to divide Idaho Republicans by backing Russ Fulcher against Gov. Otter and opposing Mike Simpson in his primary. Now he’s trying to divide his party in Washington by running for a post he has no chance of winning and no business holding.”

Labrador actually was neutral in the 2nd District congressional primary race, declining to endorse either candidate, but he made a high-profile endorsement of Fulcher over Otter and campaigned with Fulcher in the final stretch before the election.

Ringo said, “We need a representative who understands the virtue of cooperation, and who would rather get a job done than throw up roadblocks. Far be it from me to complain when Washington, D.C. Republicans want to fight each other, but Idaho needs Congress to get back to work, and Congressman Labrador’s hobby of partisan in-fighting is really getting in the way.”

Idaho GOP credentials committee votes to bar entire Ada County delegation

The credentials committee at the Idaho Republican Party state convention has voted overwhelmingly not to seat the Ada County delegation, including alternates, according to Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports, who’s there reporting. The vote followed a long debate that started this morning, broke for lunch, and started back up again this afternoon; there’s been lots of tense arguing and feelings are running high. The decision disqualifies a sixth of the delegates at the convention. The same committee earlier voted to dump the delegations from Bannock and Power counties, as well.

State Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, tried to negotiate a compromise on the Ada County delegation, to seat all but seven of the members and designate a mixed group of alternates, and he’d gotten buy-in from both sides, but the credentials committee rejected it. Among those arguing against seating the Ada delegates was unsuccessful GOP 2nd District congressional candidate Bryan Smith, who sharply questioned Ada County GOP Chairman Fred Tilman about the issue.

Bergdahl stable, ‘looked good’ after arrival in Texas

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl “looked good” after arriving back in the United States and is working daily with health professionals after being held by the Taliban for five years in Afghanistan, military officials said Friday. Bergdahl's family has not joined him since he arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston after midnight Friday, and Army officials would not say when relatives might show up. Maj. Gen. Joseph P. DiSalvo said during a news conference Friday that Bergdahl was in stable condition, “looked good” and showed “good comportment” after being transported to Texas from an Army medical facility in Germany. “The reintegration of Sgt. Bergdahl is comprehensive. There is no set timeline,” said DiSalvo, who will be in charge of that process.

Varying turnout meant some legislative incumbents were defeated by tiny slices of electorate…

Widely varying turnout around the state meant that of the six legislative incumbents defeated in the May 20 primary, two were turned out of office by just tiny slices of the electorates in their districts. The lowest-turnout races that dumped incumbents were the defeat of longtime Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the Senate Education Committee chairman, by activist Mary Souza – in which just 3,440 people cast ballots, 15 percent of registered voters; and the defeat of freshman Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, by Eric Redman, in which 4,736 people voted, 18.5 percent of the registered voters in the district.

Goedde’s districts has 22,545 registered voters; Morse’s has 25,604.

GOP primary voters also ousted longtime Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover; Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth; longtime Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis; and freshman Rep. Doug Hancey, R-Rexburg. But those races saw considerably higher turnout. Hancey’s race had close to the state average turnout in the race, at 25 percent of registered voters. Barrett’s had 32 percent – 8,356 total ballots cast – in her defeat by rancher Merrill Beyeler; and Pearce’s saw 31.5 percent turnout in his defeat by Abby Lee. BSU professor emeritus Jim Weatherby said both Beyeler and Lee ran strong campaigns in their districts.

In Eskridge’s race, there was 29 percent turnout and a total of 7,166 ballots cast as voters chose tea party challenger Sage Dixon to replace the longtime lawmaker and joint budget committee member. Eskridge noted two factors: Tea party opponents had been organizing and campaigning against the incumbents in his district for months; and the ballot included two hotly contested local levies, one for West Bonner schools that passed by 22 votes, and one to expand the Bonners Ferry library, which failed. “I think a lot of the people that came out in opposition to the levy voted against us,” he said.

Incumbent Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, won her primary by a 487-vote margin; retiring Rep. Eric Anderson’s race saw a tea party candidate, Heather Scott, victorious in the GOP primary over Stephen Snedden, who’d been endorsed by Gov. Butch Otter. Eskridge said while opponents were highly motivated, he also heard from some of his supporters that they weren’t willing to vote in the primary because they didn’t like being forced to publicly register their party affiliation under the GOP’s closed primary rule. “One said, ‘I refused to sign my name as a Republican, even though that’s what I am,’” he said.

Labrador’s choice for convention parliamentarian: Cornel Rasor

1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, who is headed to Moscow now to chair the state GOP convention, said he's made his choice for parliamentarian at the convention: Cornel Rasor. The position is key because the parliamentarian helps decide disputes over rules, and there are plenty this year, including the pending challenge to seating the entire Ada County delegation. Rasor, like Labrador, sides with the party's tea party wing.

Rep. Labrador announces he’s running for U.S. House Majority Leader

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador is running for Majority Leader in Congress, he announced to reporters in Boise today, after the defeat of GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary election. “I’m in it to win it,” Labrador said. “I didn’t get into it to send a message.”

Labrador said he’s spent the last three days trying to convince two other members of Congress to make the run, but when they wouldn’t, he decided to do it. “The reality is that there is a large segment of our conference that wants change,” he said. “What we need is somebody that can … grow the Republican Party, can get people to actually want to be Republicans again.”

Labrador spoke briefly with reporters in Boise as he and Sen. Rand Paul stopped off on their way to the Idaho GOP convention in Moscow, where Paul will give the keynote address tonight. Asked if he thought Labrador had a chance at winning the majority leader post, Paul said, “There really is a question what is the message that’s sent when the voters replace someone in leadership. They want someone different. I think Raul brings that.”

‘Free Speech Area’ outside Idaho GOP convention in Moscow…

Idaho GOP convention delegate Geoff Schroeder from Elmore County snapped this photo outside the convention at the Kibbie Dome around 7:30 this morning; the signs say, “Free Speech Area.” Schroeder said he “found it telling given the threatened silencing of the entire Ada County delegation.” The delegation’s credentials are being challenged based on objections to the selection process; if successful, the move could disqualify a sixth of the delegates at the convention.  

Committee meetings kick off at GOP confab amid noise, confusion

There are more spectators than committee members at the Credentials Committee meeting this morning at the GOP convention in Moscow in the Kibbie Dome, reports Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports. In the cavernous stadium, “Everyone is having trouble hearing, and there has been some confusion,” she reports.

The panel has started with challenges to individual delegates, before taking up the big challenge to the entire Ada County delegation to the convention. . One of the alternates from Legislative District 1 was challenged because he didn't turn 18 until June 5, and he was nominated for an alternate in late May, Davlin reports; another was challenged because she had registered as unaffiliated instead of Republican in the primary. The committee voted to disqualify both of them.

Four committees are meeting at the convention this morning; in addition to the credentials committee, there are the committees on resolutions, platform and rules. Proposed changes include everything from altering the current closed primary, to dumping a platform plank advocating repeal of direct election of U.S. senators, to calling for mandatory Bible study in public schools.

Huckabee opens GOP gathering

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee kicked off Idaho's GOP convention tonight, with a talk to hundreds of state delegates charged with selecting a new state chairman and amending the party platform. Huckabee, who is also a former 2008 presidential candidate, received a warm welcome from the GOP delegates attending the event while speaking on limiting the federal government and strengthening states' rights; click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

Victor becomes 8th Idaho city to ban discrimination against gays

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: VICTOR, Idaho (AP) — A small eastern Idaho town near the border with Wyoming has passed an ordinance banning discrimination against a person because of sexual orientation or gender identity. Boise State Public Radio reports in a story on Thursday that Victor passed the law that offers employment, housing and public accommodation protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Mayor Zach Smith says the city council unanimously approved the measure. About 2,000 people live in Victor, many making a living by working in nearby Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Smith says the ordinance takes effect Monday. Victor becomes the eighth Idaho city to approve a non-discrimination ordinance.

You can see Boise State Public Radio’s full report here.

More convention news: Labrador chairing, rift evident, 14 resolutions pending…

Here are a few more tidbits from the state GOP convention in Moscow, courtesy of Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports; the convention is kicking off today:

* Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson announced that he’s asked 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador to serve as chairman of the convention, and Labrador’s agreed. Meanwhile, Labrador’s a subject of swirling speculation in Washington, D.C. as to whether he’ll run for a House leadership position in the wake of the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a GOP primary this week.

* Julie Chadderdon, president of the Idaho Federation of Republican Woman, reported to the party executive committee that participation in the IFRW has tripled, largely because of the rift in the Republican party.

* Fourteen proposed resolutions are up for consideration at this year’s convention, ranging from one calling for a constitutional amendment to declare that “every child has a right to a female mother and a male father,” proposed by Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll; to one from Sen. Steven Thayn calling for a new process so “parents can give input on curriculum decisions and/or choose curriculum that each parent thinks is appropriate for their own child;” one from Ryan Davidson calling for an investigation into “the role that lobbyists and state officials have played in the 2014 precinct committeeman elections and delegate selection process;” and one from Mary Adler of legislative District 7 calling for mandatory Bible study in Idaho’s public school literature and history classes. You can see all the proposed resolutions here.

Political fireworks already going off as Idaho GOP gathers in Moscow

Up at the Idaho Republican Party convention in Moscow, today’s schedule includes the party’s executive committee meeting, ahead of the big convention activities that run from tonight through Saturday. Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports is there, and reports that there already are plenty of fireworks – including over the status of the Region 4 chairman (outgoing chairman is Rod Beck), the notice for the region’s reorganization meeting on Friday, committee assignments and more. There was a protest over the seating of Beck, rather than new Region 4 Chairman Dawn Hatch; Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson said he wouldn’t allow a vote on the issue.

“A handful of people in the audience walked out in frustration and discussed Peterson's decision in the hallway,” Davlin reports. “One Elmore County Republican said this is common during meetings under Peterson.”

Issues also were raised over committee appointments, and not just those from Ada County (to which Peterson assigned just four committee posts, instead of the more than 30 it was due; he said the newly elected county chairman didn’t send him the list in time). National Committeewoman Cindy Siddoway said some delegations didn't get any committee assignments. Idaho Federation of Republican Women President Julie Chadderdon questioned how Peterson could have assigned even the four to Ada delegates if he didn’t get a list of the county’s delegates.

“That's an interesting observation, but there's more than one viewpoint on it,” Peterson said. Despite missing lists, Peterson said it was still his job to assign committees. “The burden is mine to fill that up, which I did,” he said.

Petition to disqualify Ada GOP delegation has 70 names on it, including Moyle, Fulcher…

GOP activist Rod Beck has 70 names on his petition to deny credentials to Ada County’s delegation to the Idaho Republican Party convention, which runs through Saturday. Among them: House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star; Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, and his wife Kara; House Majority Caucus Chairman John VanderWoude, R-Nampa, and his wife Judy; and Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, and his wife GayAnn; along with just-deposed former county Chairman Greg Ferch.

Beck said all are Ada County Republicans who had no opportunity to become delegates, and who believe the delegate selection process the county party central committee used violated Idaho GOP rules.

Asked if he was concerned that his home county, which is entitled to a sixth of the delegates at the GOP state convention in Moscow, could be left without representation there, Beck said, “Why would I have concern about that? The Ada County delegation was delegated by mob rule, as opposed to adherence to the rules of the party. The Ada County delegation, had they used the rules of the party, would have a different look to it.”

During the county central committee’s reorganization meeting May 29, new county party Chairman Fred Tilman put forth a list of delegates that was approved in a single vote; it includes a slew of supporters of GOP Gov. Butch Otter. In his petition, Beck writes, “The facts are undisputed that this rogue process denied individuals the opportunity to become delegates at the Idaho Republican State Convention. The rogue process ensured that only those on the secret list could be delegates.” He called for the Ada delegation to be excluded, “especially if we are to be a party of rules rather than a party of mob rule.”

The party’s credential committee starts meeting at 8:30 a.m. Friday in Moscow; also at that time, the committees on resolutions, platforms and rules start meeting. Beck said he’s fighting a bid from Otter allies for “purification” of the party. You can read the full petition and exhibits here.

Bergdahl to arrive in Texas on Friday

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is scheduled to arrive in Texas on Friday, the AP reports; the Hailey native has been recuperating at a military hospital in Germany since his rescue after five years of Taliban captivity. Click below for the latest report from the Associated Press.

First rabid bat of year bites eastern Idaho teen, who’s being treated

Idaho's first rabid bat of the year has been confirmed in eastern Idaho, and a teenager who found the injured bat in a local park and was bitten is being treated for rabies exposure, but is expected to be fine. “Rabies is a fatal viral illness without proper medical management. People should call their health care providers promptly if they have been bitten or scratched by a bat,” said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, deputy state epidemiologist. “Medical therapy administered to people after an animal bite or other exposure is extremely effective in preventing rabies. It is extremely important for people to avoid all bats and other wild animals, particularly if they appear sick or are acting aggressively or abnormally.” Idaho typically sees around 16 rabid bats a year; click below for tips from the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare to stay safe.

Idaho’s economic activity surged in 2013, according to latest fed estimates

Idaho’s gross state product showed the third highest percentage increase in the nation in 2013, up 6.9 percent from the year before, the Idaho Department of Labor reports. The figure rose on the strength of a surge in health care, finance, construction and natural resource economic activity in 2013, according to Labor spokesman and analyst Bob Fick. The estimate of Idaho’s gross state product – the value of all goods and services produced in the state – rose to $62.25 billion in 2013, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. In inflation-adjusted figures, it rose just over 4 percent, the fifth highest increase nationally, to more than $57 billion, while the comparable national increase was just 1.8 percent. See Labor’s full announcement here, including breakdowns by industry and comparisons to all states.

Rendell to keynote Idaho Dems’ state convention next weekend

Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania and mayor of Philadelphia, former Democratic National Committee chairman and a revered figure in Pennsylvania and in Democratic politics, will give the keynote address at the Idaho Democratic Party’s convention next weekend in Moscow. The Dems will kick off their convention June 20; Rendell will speak at the “Victory Feast” banquet on the evening of the 21st. There’s more info here.

Meanwhile, Republicans are gathering for their state convention – also in Moscow – starting today; this evening’s kickoff event is a dinner speech from Mike Huckabee, with Sen. Rand Paul to give the keynote speech Friday night.

Fulcher sees only slim prospects for unity in Idaho GOP

As Idaho Republicans head to Moscow for the state party convention in hopes of unifying a deeply divided party, state Sen. Russ Fulcher, who unsuccessfully challenged Gov. Butch Otter in the GOP primary, isn’t too optimistic about unity. “We are very, very split as a party,” he said. Right after the election, Fulcher said people began urging him to consider running for party chairman to try to heal the rift. “So I called the governor,” he said, and discussed the idea. Fulcher said he told Otter, “My inclination is not to, unless you say, ‘Hey, look, as a move towards party unity or whatever, I think Fulcher should do this and I would support him there.’”

Otter declined, Fulcher said, instead saying he’d decided not to endorse anyone in advance of the convention, and telling Fulcher, “’If you run and get elected, certainly I’ll support you.’ I said, ‘That’s fine,’” Fulcher said, “but frankly I think that kind of defeats the whole purpose of a unity argument up-front, if you don’t go into that with kind of a consensus deal. … There just wasn’t a desire to try to connect on that front.”

Then came the Ada County delegate selection, Fulcher said, “that turned into a very adversarial thing. … It was anything but unifying.” He said, “Early on, it doesn’t appear to me like there’s at least a strong desire by many to reach out and unify. … I still think we have the potential of sparks flying in Moscow.”

Asked if he’s still considering a bid for party chairman, Fulcher said, “I guess you never say never, but I’m really not (running).” Fulcher said he can’t fault Otter for his position. “He’s had bad experiences with chairman elections in the Republican Party, and I certainly don’t blame him for being cautious,” he said.

Fulcher said when it comes to the apparent three-way race for party chairman between current Chairman Barry Peterson and challengers Doug Sayer and Mike Duff, “I’m not going to go against Barry, if he stays there. In my view, he’s been a fair chairman.” But, he said, “Either … people really do coalesce and come around a leader and gain positive steps, or we’re going to leave just as fractured as we went in, with someone getting 51 percent. And that’s kind of my fear, actually is the latter. I hope that doesn’t happen. But it could.”

Boise, Idaho Falls and CdA vie for $1.5M mental health crisis center

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare says a decision about where to build a $1.5 million state-funded behavioral-health crisis center will likely be within a week. Spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr tells the Post Register (http://www.postregister.com) that a committee is reviewing proposals from three cities. Idaho Falls in eastern Idaho, Boise in southwestern Idaho, and Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho are vying for the center that would serve as a safety net to treat at-risk mentally ill people whose symptoms often land them in hospitals or jail. Health and Welfare requested from state lawmakers $600,000 in startup money and $4.56 million to operate three crisis centers. Lawmakers earlier this year approved the $600,000 grant, but they reduced operations funding to $1.52 million, enough for only one crisis center.

UI law school’s Boise expansion wins ABA approval, opens in August

The University of Idaho's Boise law school expansion, which will add second-year law students to the existing third-year law program in Boise, has won the approval of the American Bar Association and will offer its first classes in August, the U of I has announced. The Legislature and the State Board of Education previously approved the expansion, and the Legislature allocated the funding for the coming year. Twenty to 30 second-year students are expected to enroll in August, a number that's expected to grow in the future; click below for the UI's full announcement.

Bergdahl’s posts, writings show frustration, struggle

In Facebook posts written before he vanished from his military base in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl spoke of his frustration with the world and his desire to change the status quo, the AP reports. In his personal writings, he seemed to focus his frustrations on himself and his struggle to maintain his mental stability. Together, the writings paint a portrait of a young man who was dealing with two conflicts — one fought with bullets and bombs outside his compound, the other fought within himself; click below for a full report from AP reporters Rebecca Boone and Martha Mendoza.

Ada GOP snubbed on committee assignments for state convention

Ada County’s delegation to the Idaho GOP convention that starts Thursday has been snubbed on committee assignments, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports, with the county given just four committee slots instead of the 33 to which it was entitled. Popkey reports that GOP Chairman Barry Peterson made the move, saying new Ada County Chairman Fred Tilman didn’t get the list to him in time, a contention Tilman disputes.

The four committees – on credentials, platform, resolutions and rules – appear to be heavily dominated by the more conservative wing of the party that backs Peterson, who’s facing at least a three-way fight in his bid for another term as chairman. The rules committee, which will hear a challenge brought by Rod Beck to seating the Ada County delegation at all, is chaired by Judy Boyle and Chuck Reitz, a former Constitution Party member from North Idaho. The platform committee is co-chaired by Bob Nonini and Viki Purdy, with Cathyanne Nonini as secretary. The resolutions committee is co-chaired by Sheryl Nuxoll and Vito Barbieri, with Ronalee Linsenman as secretary. The rules committee is co-chaired by Steve Vick and Ron Nate; its members include tax-protesting former state Rep. Phil Hart, who was recently re-elected as a legislative district chairman for the party.

Popkey’s full report is online here, including the complete list of all four committees. Peterson told Popkey, “It’s a rough-and-tumble business. If they’re going to play, the rules apply to everybody. I don’t have to hold their hand.”

Commissioner in Hailey: Go away and leave Bergdahls alone

HAILEY, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho county commissioner held a press conference in the hometown of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on Wednesday to tell reporters and outsiders to leave the town and the Bergdahl family alone. The Times-News (http://bit.ly/1l20PVJ ) reported that Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said people should stop attacking Bergdahl, his family and the people of Hailey for standing by the former prisoner of war. “We only have wanted to support his family and to see Bowe returned safely to U.S. soil,” Schoen said. He said people in Hailey are sick of the attention and they're tired of being stopped by reporters asking questions. “They've been answering questions politely and honestly, and hoping for the sake of the family that you all go away,” Schoen said.

The commissioner also cautioned people from rushing to judgment about whether Bergdahl should face military charges over allegations that he abandoned his post. “Be patient and allow the military justice process to work,” he said. Bergdahl was freed more than a week ago. Since his release, some have criticized the Obama administration for the deal in which five Taliban prisoners were swapped for his release. Some of Bergdahl's former colleagues have accused him of deserting his post before his capture. Hailey canceled a homecoming celebration planned for June 28 due to security concerns. The Bergdahl family and several other community members have been receiving threats, Schoen said.

Federal judge bars Idaho from removing Occupy Boise tents in the future

A federal judge today issued an order barring the state of Idaho from removing Occupy Boise tents placed on state property as part of political protests. The court had already found unconstitutional seven rules that the Legislature passed to restrict such protests; the Legislature then revoked the rules this past winter. Now that those rules are revoked, that portion of the lawsuit is moot, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled. But the Occupy group also asked for a ruling declaring that aside from the rules, the state can’t enforce laws it passed restricting protests in ways that violate Occupy Boise’s First Amendment rights.

Winmill noted that as soon as Gov. Butch Otter signed the measures into law in 2012, he issued a directive to evict the Occupy tents from state property across from the state Capitol, and the Idaho State Police, following the governor’s directive, developed a detailed plan called “Operation De-Occupy Boise” to remove the items. “This policy targets political speech for suppression, and Occupy is entitled to a declaration that it violates the group’s First Amendment rights,” Winmill wrote.

Winmill ruled earlier that the state can constitutionally ban overnight sleeping and camping – but that restricting political protests, including 24-hour ones, violates the Constitution. “Going forward, the state has a great deal of discretion in enforcing the statutes,” the judge wrote. “Given the state’s history of targeting Occupy … there is a real threat that the state could use that discretion to undermine Occupy’s protests.” So he specifically ordered the state to enforce those laws in the future only in ways that are consistent with the court’s ruling on free speech rights. You can read the judge’s full ruling here.

Richard Eppink, legal director of the ACLU of Idaho and attorney for Occupy Boise, said, “This has been a long and costly battle over liberties that the state should treasure, not suppress. Let’s hope this permanent injunction gets our elected leaders to stop and think, and to start welcoming dissent, rather than trying to squelch it.” You can read the ACLU’s full statement here.

Denney responds to Woodings’ criticisms: ‘An insult to the people of Idaho’

Rep. Lawerence Denney, the Republican candidate for Idaho Secretary of State, sent out a guest opinion today responding to last week’s article from Democratic opponent Holli Woodings ripping Denney for hiring a private attorney with public funds to represent the Legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Committee. Denney calls Wooding’s piece “an insult to the people of Idaho,” and charges that she had her facts wrong.

“My opponent’s statement makes several false claims,” Denney writes. “Chief among them is the charge that I bypassed committee members by hiring private counsel to determine how Idaho could best seek to recover its public lands from the Federal Government. That assertion is patently false and my opponent knows it.” Denney said the decision was made by himself and his co-chairman, Sen. Chuck Winder, along with the speaker of the House and the president pro-tem of the Senate, and that’s what legislative rules required.

He also notes that he wasn’t a party to the lawsuit to close Idaho’s GOP primary; defends his unsuccessful lawsuit to jettison his chosen member on Idaho’s citizen redistricting committee; says “many legal scholars” support pursuing transfer of federal public lands to states; and defends taxpayers’ payment of $100,000 for legal fees to attorney Christ Troupis for the closed-primary lawsuit. “This Democrat does not denigrate the fee claims of the attorneys for the gay marriage proponents against the State, even though the case never even went to trial and their fees are almost $500,000,” Denney writes. “It seems that this Democrat is only critical of Republicans defending their Constitutional rights. Unlike my opponent, I believe that everyone’s constitutional rights are entitled to a proper defense.” Click below for Denney’s full statement.

Rafter dies after boat flips on Salmon River

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: RIGGINS, Idaho (AP) — Three of four rafters flipped into the Salmon River at Lake Creek Rapids made it back to the boat but a fourth rafter swept downstream died. The Idaho County Sheriff's Office says boaters on Tuesday pulled the man from the water just before noon about a mile downstream from the rapids and began CPR. Emergency responders continued CPR while transporting him to a medical helicopter in Riggins, but he was pronounced dead then they arrived. Authorities say the man wasn't wearing a life vest and was on a private rafting trip. His name hasn't been released.

Snake River Alliance head Liz Woodruff to leave group

Snake River Alliance Executive Director Liz Woodruff is leaving the organization July 3 after six years with the group, and the Alliance is seeking a new leader. The Snake River Alliance describes itself as “Idaho’s nuclear watchdog and clean energy advocate.” Woodruff said she’s leaving “to pursue new opportunities and challenges in the non-profit sector in Idaho.” The Alliance’s full announcement is online here.

Common Core and the role of Bill Gates

The Washington Post has published an extensive story tracing the role of Bill Gates in the Common Core state standards for school student achievement; it’s online here, under the headline, “How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution.” The article, which calls the standards “one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history,” quotes Gates saying, “At the end of the day, I don’t think wanting education to be better is a right-wing or left-wing thing.”

Though the standards have recently drawn opposition from tea party groups, the article notes they initially had wide support from across the political spectrum. “The math standards require students to learn multiple ways to solve problems and explain how they got their answers, while the English standards emphasize nonfiction and expect students to use evidence to back up oral and written arguments,” the Post reports. “The standards are not a curriculum but skills that students should acquire at each grade. How they are taught and materials used are decisions left to states and school districts.”

Hagel defends secrecy of Bergdahl rescue

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress today that officials of Qatar negotiating the release of captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl told the U.S. that “time was not on our side” and a leak about the exchange would sabotage the deal, the AP reports. Hagel testified at a House Armed Services Committee hearing that the decision to transfer five Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees into Qatar's hands in exchange for Bergdahl was a tough call for President Barack Obama. He called the five “enemy belligerents” who had not been implicated in any attacks against the U.S.; click below for a full report from the Associated Press. The hearing is still going; you can watch live here.

Hagel said, “He was a member of our armed forces and we went and we got him back after five years. I think that’s pretty significant.”

Ruckus along the river revolves around rattled young moose

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State wildlife officials say Tuesday afternoon they have tranquilized a moose on the east side of Boise and are moving it to a remote area. Idaho Department of Fish and Game spokesman Mike Keckler says the 400-pound yearling has been living on the east side of the city but has recently started moving toward downtown. Keckler says it was a dangerous situation because moose are large animals and that area of the city has a popular path on both sides of the river that draws walkers, runners and bikers. He says officials had to remove a moose from the east side of Boise last year but it's not clear if it's the same moose. State Conservation Officer Bill London said it was doubtful the moose would return to the city.

Today’s moose apprehension was quite the event, after the female moose became agitated and escaped police, firefighters and biologists for more than an hour, KTVB reporter Katie Terhune reports.

The animal swam in the Boise River, roamed the banks, grazed on green lawns and prompted a Greenbelt closure and even the evacuation of several nearby businesses; see Terhune's full report here. People with offices in the area were treated to quite a show, and the moose chase and takedown generated a big buzz on social media.

State GOP gears up for convention, website crashes…

As Idaho Republicans gear up for their state party convention in Moscow later this week, the state party’s website has crashed; it’s been down all day. “We’re working on it, trying to fix it,” said state party intern Hunter Jungeneerg. “The registration is already closed for the convention this week, so it’s not going to affect that at all.” Though online registration is closed, people can still register at the door for Thursday night’s dinner featuring Mike Huckabee, Friday night’s keynote address from Sen. Rand Paul, and other convention activities, Jungeneerg said.

The website wasn’t hacked, he said. “They’re thinking that when they went to shut down registration, they shut down the whole website.” The convention runs through Saturday in the Kibbie Dome in Moscow; it’s ground zero for the fight between two deeply divided wings in Idaho’s Republican Party, with establishment Republicans working to take the party machinery back from a tea party wing that’s been ascendant since 2008. Committees on everything from credentials to resolutions will start meeting on Friday, with the big decisions Saturday including the party platform and who should be the next party chairman.

Idaho GOP activist and former Senate majority leader Rod Beck said he’ll be attending the convention, but for the first time ever won’t be a delegate. That’s because of something of a coup in the Ada County delegation, over which Beck and supporters are planning a formal challenge on Friday, urging the credentials committee not to seat the county’s delegates. “I’m still region chairman until June 13th – that’s when our reorganization is up there,” Beck said. “And I’ve let it be known that I’m not interested in another term, so there will be a new region chairman for Region 4.” Asked why, he said, “I’m a practical person.”

Beck said, “Unless the credentials committee decides to remedy the wrongs of the Ada County Central Committee … I’ll just be an observer, I suppose. I’ll talk to people and stuff, I’ll attend the social functions.” Click below for a convention preview from Associated Press reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

Labrador: ‘Leave the Bergdahl family alone’

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador was asked about the prisoner swap that freed Idaho Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl during his monthly “Conversations with Conservatives” session with reporters and the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. this morning, and about comments from Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe that the focus should be on who is released from Guantanamo.

Labrador responded, “Sgt. Bergdahl and his family, they’re from my state, and I know the family pretty well, and I have been very careful in my statements to the media about this because I don’t think we should criticize the sergeant right now. We don’t know all the details of why he left, whether he left voluntarily, and I think we should be very careful as members of Congress to not escalate the rhetoric that leads to Americans trying to decide what happened in this case. I actually agree completely with Sen. Inhofe that we should concentrate on the exchange, whether that exchange should have been done or not, and to leave the Bergdahl family alone.”

He added, “As we wind down, we have to decide what we’re going to do with the detainees in Guantanamo. Some of them are going to be prosecuted, if they have committed prosecutable acts. Some of them are being detained under different classifications, and some of them are going to have to be released if we don’t have any actionable intelligence on them. The question really is should these five have been released at this time, and I think that’s … what I think most people object to. But there’s no question that if we’re going to wind down the war and we’re going to end the war in Afghanistan, that some of these people are going to have to be released, and I think we all need to understand that.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho school spending cuts through recession were deepest in the nation

Idaho led the nation for cuts in per-student public school spending through the recession, according to an analysis by ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight blog, spending 12.3 percent less per student in the 2011-12 school year than in 2008-09. That’s using inflation-adjusted figures. New Mexico came in second with an 11.9 percent cut, and just four other states, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and California, had cuts of more than 10 percent. Thirteen states actually increased per-student spending during that time period, led by North Dakota with a 7.7 percent increase and New Hampshire with 6 percent. Washington showed a decrease of 5.7 percent; Utah had a cut of 8.9 percent; Oregon was down 9.7 percent; and Montana saw a 2.7 percent cut.

Ben Casselman, chief economics writer for FiveThirtyEight, a data journalism site, analyzed the figures and found that overall, the states that already spent less per student, like Idaho and Utah, made the biggest cuts. You can see his full post here.

Sayer touts endorsements from Moyle, Siddoway in race for GOP chairman

Here’s how much the race for Idaho GOP chair is heating up as next weekend’s Idaho Republican Party convention in Moscow approaches: Today one of the candidates, Doug Sayer of Blackfoot, sent out a press release touting his candidacy and reporting endorsements from House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, and Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton. Sayer is the founder of Premier Technology in Blackfoot and the brother of state Commerce Director Jeff Sayer; the 51-year-old said, “It is time we unite our party and move forward. We need a chairman who will share his opinions less and focus on smart management, strategy and raising money in order to elect Republicans in November.”

Also seeking the post are current state GOP Chairman Barry Peterson of Mountain Home, and conservative activist Mike Duff, who managed the late Helen Chenoweth’s successful campaign for Congress.

Sayer’s announcement includes this quote from Moyle: “Doug Sayer is a candidate all Republicans will be able to support as party chairman. I know he is a solid conservative who is dedicated to providing the leadership our party requires now more than ever if we are to be successful in November.”

School districts weigh options for high school WiFi networks

School districts across Idaho are weighing whether they want to continue with or sign on to a statewide contract for WiFi at every high school in the state, or set up their own WiFi networks with state funding that lawmakers approved this year. “We were not real happy that we had entered into a multi-year contract with one-time money, so we wanted to give the districts an opportunity to really choose,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, following a JFAC discussion today. “It’ll be interesting to see how they choose.” Last year, lawmakers allocated funding to start paying for high school WiFi; state schools Superintendent Tom Luna relied on that to sign a five- to 15-year contract with Education Networks of America to put WiFi in at every high school in the state. This year, JFAC gave school districts the option of joining that contract or getting funding for their own networks. 

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee heard from tech officials from two school districts – Bonneville and Boise – both of whom said they’re weighing their options. Scott Woolstenhulme of the Bonneville School District said it would cost his school district about $180,000 to replace what it’s getting from the state contract with Education Networks of America, and the district would qualify for about $65,000 a year in state funding. The advantage, he said, is that in three years, that could all be replaced and the district could start adding WiFi networks at its middle and elementary schools, where it has none.

David Roberts of the Boise School District said it’d cost his district about $345,000 to replace the contracted WiFi. “We could get about half of that if we opted out,” he said. Joyce Popp, chief information officer for the State Department of Education, said the department is working to get information to all school districts about the choices available to them. “We let people know that they had choices,” she said.

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said, “It’s a fascinating policy question that needs a lot of attention. I’m very appreciative of how we’re getting feedback from the districts.” Cameron said he’s been hearing that some districts think the state contract may have more stable funding than the direct funding to districts who don’t take part in the contract, but that’s not the case. “I believe they’re both on equal footing,” he said.

Still no answer on missing e-rate funds for Idaho Education Network, but some contacts made

Idaho still has no answer on more than $14 million in missing federal e-rate funding for the broadband network that links all the state’s high schools, but officials say they’re at least in contact with federal officials now. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee today that he brought the issue up with the chairman of the FCC when the two spoke at the same conference a couple of months ago; in a phone call an hour later, “He said he had directed USAC to engage with us, and they did,” Luna said. “It definitely got the attention of USAC.”

That’s the agency that administers the federal e-rate funds, which come from telephone fees and were supposed to pay for three-quarters of the cost of the Idaho Education Network; it’s called the Universal Service Administrative Company. Last year, lawmakers learned to their surprise that the federal money had stopped flowing due to concerns about a lawsuit challenging the award of the contract for the IEN to Education Networks of America and Qwest; that stuck the state with the full tab, at least for now.

Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the lawmakers, who were gathered at Boise High School as part of a three-day interim meeting, that the Attorney General’s office has had a conference call and sent some letters. “They seem somewhat receptive, but they’re also skeptical,” he said. “We’ve got someone that we can talk to, at this point.” Kane said the state’s trying to impress upon the federal agency the point that the services are being provided – funds haven’t been hijacked to buy someone a yacht or anything. It’s just that there’s a dispute between parties who wanted to be the ones to provide the service to schools. “Generally, they’re looking for some sort of fraudulent conduct,” he said.

Teresa Luna, director of the state Department of Administration, said the lawsuit, filed by unsuccessful bidder Syringa Networks, is continuing; a hearing on several motions in the case was held May 6, and a ruling on those is expected in a couple of weeks. “I don’t expect that we’ll hear from USAC before … mid-August,” she said. “It is still our first priority.”

JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said after the briefing, “In some ways it’s heartening. I’m a little disappointed we haven’t made more headway with the lawsuit, but it sounds to me like the appropriate contacts have been made with USAC so we can at least make our case.” Lawmakers have agreed to cover the missing federal funds only through February; if the issue isn’t resolved by then, they’d have to ante up millions more or see the broadband network connecting the state’s high schools go dark.

New law center taking shape in old Ada Courthouse, former temporary capitol

Construction is underway at the future Idaho Law & Justice Learning Center, formerly the Capitol Annex, and formerly the old Ada County Courthouse across the street from the state Capitol. Through a collaboration between the Legislature, the state judiciary, and the University of Idaho, the building is being transformed into the future home of the state law library, the Boise branch of the University of Idaho College of Law, and an array of civic education and outreach efforts that will include displays and tours for school groups and the public.

Members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee joined university and Idaho Supreme Court officials for a tour of the project today; there’s lots of work being done in the building as offices are framed, plumbing and electrical systems modernized and more. Plywood sheathing blocks off and protects the building’s original architectural features, which will keep their original look. The large former courtrooms that served as the Idaho House and Senate chambers for two years while the state Capitol was being renovated will stay largely as-is, becoming large classrooms for the law school. The second floor of the building will become the law library and will be open to the public. The building also will have study spaces for law students, offices and more.

Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick told the group that the idea for the center was outlined by then-Chief Justice Gerald Schroeder in his State of the Judiciary message to the Legislature in 2007. In 2008 and 2009, the building was temporarily transformed into the Capitol Annex; now, it’s getting remade again. UI President Chuck Staben said, “This is a real collaboration, and it’s very consistent with the U of I’s mission.”

The Legislature allocated $6 million for infrastructure for the building in five phases, to keep the structure usable for any use; the University of Idaho has raised $1.66 million, all from private funds, for the tenant-specific improvements, including a $1 million gift from the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation.

JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “I was impressed that they had the vision to do that with it.” She noted that when the state first acquired the building, when Ada County moved out to its newly built courthouse, the thinking was just that the site was within the Capitol Mall and perhaps would be used for parking or other uses. But concerns over the idea of demolishing the historic 1930s art-deco building led to other ideas. “We found it’s a perfect fit for higher education to bring it to Boise,” Bell said. “So it was there, and I’ll be happy when it starts producing.”

The building has been vacant since it served as a temporary Statehouse, but the plans call for it to open as the new Idaho Law & Justice Learning Center in the fall of 2015. Bell said she’d long thought it was “the ugliest building in the mall,” but said after the tour, “It’s amazing what they can do with good bones.”

Six years after recession hit, Idaho’s state budget still below ‘09 level

The Legislature’s joint budget committee is starting a three-day interim meeting in Boise today that will include tours and presentations along with discussion of state revenues and where the state budget stands. Comparing the budget that the Legislature set for fiscal year 2009 to the budget for the year that begins July 1, fiscal year 2015, the impact of the big recession is clear: The total state budget is still $23.2 million less than it was; that's 0.8 percent less. That’s despite big increases in student numbers, Medicaid caseloads, population and more.

Education funding overall has dropped 5.3 percent since 2009, including a 3.1 percent drop in funding for public schools; funding for natural resources programs is down 35.2 percent; and funding for economic development is 16.1 percent lower. Health and Human Services spending is up 10 percent from the 2009 level, public safety is up 13.1 percent, and general government spending is up 3.1 percent, including costs for the Idaho Education Network through the state Department of Administration.

Reports: Bergdahl was tortured by Taliban captors

U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl tortured, beaten and held in a cage by his Taliban captors in Afghanistan after he tried to escape, the AP reports; the news surfaced Sunday, based on statements the soldier made to those treating him at an American military hospital in Germany. Meanwhile, authorities are investigating threats made against Bergdahl's family in Idaho; click below for a full report from the Associated Press.

Three vie for state GOP chairmanship

Idaho's contentious primary election last month left GOP leaders calling for unity in the state's largest political party, but the AP reports that just who should lead that effort will likely be determined by a three-way race for the party's chairmanship. Hundreds of Idaho Republican delegates will flock to Moscow, Idaho, and elect a chairman on June 14 at the GOP convention. Numerous names have been thrown out as possible candidates, including outgoing state schools superintendent Tom Luna and failed gubernatorial GOP candidate Russ Fulcher, but three names have emerged as top challengers: Current party chairman Barry Peterson, who has held the seat since 2012; Blackfoot sheep-breeder Mike Duff; and Premier Technology President Doug Sayer. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

This week on Idaho Reports…

Tonight’s “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public TV examines recent political developments, from the Boulder-White Clouds to the impact of the primary election results. I join Jim Weatherby, Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, and co-host Melissa Davlin for a discussion of impacts on education, including on the Senate Education Committee – where both serve – whose longtime chairman, Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, was defeated. The show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.

May state tax revenues beat forecast

May state tax revenues came in 1.6 percent above forecasts, leaving the state pretty much at the forecast year-to-date; you can see the state Division of Financial Management’s General Fund Revenue Report here. Meanwhile, the Legislature’s monthly Budget & Revenue Monitor shows that the $2.7 million in extra revenues in May puts the state on track for an expected ending cash balance at the end of the fiscal year, July 1, of $26 million, even after $34.5 million is transferred into reserve funds.

Milstead chosen as new legislative services director

Eric Milstead, who’s been a non-partisan staffer for the Idaho Legislature for the past 17 years, today was named the next director of legislative services; he’ll take over at the end of September when longtime director Jeff Youtz retires. Milstead was selected by a unanimous vote of the Legislative Council, after the bipartisan panel of lawmakers that oversees legislative business outside of sessions interviewed four finalists; the others were Ross Borden, Dwight Johnson and Ken Roberts.

“I am quite honored and humbled,” Milstead said. He’s an Idaho native who holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Oklahoma State University and a law degree from the University of Kansas; he practiced law for a while and clerked for a court of appeals, then saw a job opening working in budget and policy for the Kansas Legislature. “It sounded intriguing – I jumped at it,” Milstead said. After four years in that position, “We kind of wanted to get back to Idaho,” he said. So he joined the Idaho Legislature as a performance evaluator at the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations. In 2001, he switched to the office of budget and policy, where he worked as a budget analyst, until 2007, when he shifted to research and legislation, taking a position as a research analyst and bill drafter.

Milstead is married with two children; the youngest just graduated from high school, and the oldest is in the Navy.

Four finalists being interviewed to be next legislative services chief

Four finalists are being interviewed today to be the state’s next director of legislative services, after current longtime director Jeff Youtz retires Sept. 30. More than 30 people applied for the position; the four finalists who will be interviewed by the Legislative Council today are Eric Milstead, Ross Borden, Dwight Johnson and Ken Roberts. The interviews will take place in a closed-door executive session of the council; then, this afternoon, the council will convene in public again and vote on the appointment.

“We had a lot of great applicants,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke. A selection committee consisting of the speaker, the Senate president pro-tem, and both the House and Senate minority leaders winnowed the group down to the four finalists. The new director will take over Oct. 1.

The council met this morning to go over reviews of various details of this year’s legislative session, wording for ballot statements on a constitutional amendment regarding administrative rules, and interim committee appointments; it consists of lawmakers from both parties and is chaired by the speaker and pro-tem.

Idaho senators torn over deal that brought long-sought release of Idaho soldier

Idaho senators who have pushed for years for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from captivity in Afghanistan are now in the odd position of both objecting to the deal that bought Bergdahl’s freedom, and joyfully welcoming his return. “He needed to be released, but not at this price,” Sen. Jim Risch said Thursday, aiming sharp criticism at the Obama Administration over the release of five high-ranking Taliban officials held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in exchange for Bergdahl. “The price that was paid was too high. Those five people are people that have a lot of blood on their hands.”

Sen. Mike Crapo told Eye on Boise, “I have problems with this specific trade. But I’m not about to say that I’m still not very glad that we have been able to recover Bowe.”

As the political rhetoric has escalated in Washington, D.C., congressional Republicans have faulted the administration for failing to inform Congress of the swap 30 days in advance, as required by law; for releasing the Guantanamo prisoners; and for statements supportive of Bergdahl amid questions about how he fell into his captors’ hands and whether he deserted his Army post.

“Unlike Benghazi, I’m not so sure this one’s going to go away on them,” Risch said. “It’s caught the attention of the American people, it’s caught the attention of the media, and they’re not letting go.” Both Risch and Crapo have been relentless for the past five years in pushing the administration to secure Bergdahl’s release; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Woodings rips Denney over hiring of private attorney for public lands transfer panel

Rep. Holli Woodings, D-Boise, is ripping her GOP opponent in the Secretary of State's race, Lawerence Denney, for hiring a private attorney with public funds to represent the Legislature's Federal Lands Interim Committee, after he and co-chair Sen. Chuck Winder didn't like the legal advice they got from the Idaho Attorney General's office on the chances for getting federal public lands transferred to the state. “Without consulting other committee members, Winder and Denney hired a private attorney who will be paid $41,000 in taxpayer dollars,” Woodings writes. “The other committee members learned of this decision only after Sen. Winder disclosed the hiring to Montana legislators.” That disclosure is detailed in an AP story here.

“Lawerence Denney has a history of spending public dollars on private lawyers when hes looking for a specific outcome,” Woodings writes. “Now, with the federal lands committee, we again have Denney using taxpayer dollars to shop around for an attorney who will give him the opinion he wants.” Denney, R-Midvale, is the former speaker of the House; he was deposed as speaker in 2012, and became chairman of the House Resources Committee and co-chair of the land transfer panel. Click below for Woodings' full statement, sent to Idaho news media today; Denney hasn't yet responded to calls seeking his response.

 

Program aims to inspire college women to enter politics, leadership

Twenty women college students from across Idaho are gathered at Boise State University this week for a week-long residential program designed to educate women about politics and leadership. The program, dubbed NEW Leadership, was created by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in 1991; it’s the first time it’s come to Idaho.

So far, the students have heard from women legislators, mayors, business leaders and more, and participated in sessions on everything from effective communications and presentations to social media, interviewing, networking, and strategy building. Tomorrow, they’ll hold a mock legislative session at the state Capitol, meet the governor and other state officials, and hear from a panel of women lobbyists.

Idaho is the 27th state to join the project, which is aimed at addressing the under-representation of women in American politics. Three “faculty in residence” are spending the week with the students: Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise; Montana State Rep. Ellie Boldman-Hill; and China Gum, who served as Sen. Russ Fulcher’s campaign manager for his gubernatorial campaign and has been prominently involved in GOP political campaigns in Idaho. Melissa Wintrow, a BSU prof and one of the conference organizers as well as a newly nominated Democratic candidate for the state House, said, “In the true spirit of women's work in politics, this conference has been a collaborative effort and the product has been powerful.” There’s more info here.

Hailey’s ‘Bowe is Back’ celebration canceled amid mounting debate

The “Bowe is Back” celebration scheduled in Hailey for June 28 has been canceled, after organizers reported that they were getting signs that a huge influx of people either supporting or opposing the event would swamp the town, as national debate builds about the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after five years of captivity in exchange for the release of five Taliban officials held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. “In the interest of public safety, the event will be canceled,” organizers said a new release; the Idaho Statesman has the full release posted online here. “Hailey, a town of 8,000, does not have the infrastructure to support an event of the size this could become.”

Meanwhile, the Taliban released a video today of Bergdahl’s handover to Americans; some Wood River Valley businesses reported cancellations from prospective visitors angry over the move; U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Bergdahl’s parents today and wished them well in a 10-minute conversation; and debate raged in Congress over the trade; click below for the latest report from the Associated Press.

Final, official numbers confirm election-night tallies

The final numbers are in on Idaho’s May 20 primary election, and they’re virtually unchanged from the unofficial election-night totals. Results certified today by the state Board of Canvassers, which includes Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, center; state Controller Brandon Woolf, left; and state Treasurer Ron Crane, right; show just a 28-vote difference in the total number of votes cast for governor, coming in at 180,948, down just a hair from the election-night total of 180,976. No results changed.

Ysursa said he can remember when there were much bigger swings when the final, official numbers were tallied. Three decades ago, he had to call a legislative candidate to let him know that one county’s results had shifted by 500 votes because of a hand-written 3 that looked like an 8, moving that candidate from winner to loser.

“Like everything else, election-night reporting has become more accurate, more sophisticated,” Ysursa said. “That’s the way we want it. It makes the canvass pretty anti-climactic.” He added, “I commend the county clerks for their diligence. They do a pretty good job.”

One big source of swings long in the past was manual entry of the tallies of paper ballots. “It was just call in and write down,” Ysursa said. Now, most voting systems are automated, though 14 of Idaho’s 44 counties, among the smallest ones, still use paper ballots.

The final, official results show turnout statewide was just 26.12 percent of registered voters, falling slightly below Ysursa’s prediction of 27 percent. “I wish we could get some turnout figures in the 30s and 40s,” he said. The total number of people voting in the election overall was 196,982. “In 1972, we had a primary that turned out 205,000 voters,” Ysursa said.

 “Primaries are very, very important and we need to get more turnout in them,” he said. “All elections are important, but people need to understand the importance of these primaries.”

More than 4,000 uncashed state tax refund checks about to expire

More than 4,000 uncashed state tax refund checks are about to expire on June 27, the state Tax Commission warns, and it's urging the taxpayers involved get on it. After the expiration date, the refunds - which total more than $1 million - will become unclaimed property; at that point, the owners would have to file a claims request through the state Treasurer's Office to get the money.

The checks in question were issued from July 2012 to June of 2013. The Tax Commission says it's sent letters out to the taxpayers who got the checks; some will need to be reissued if they're more than a year old. Those who've lost their checks can request a replacement. Click below for the commission's full announcement.

Crews battling central Idaho wildfire

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: STANLEY, Idaho (AP) — Ground and air crews are battling a 60-acre wildfire burning through sagebrush about 10 miles south of Stanley in central Idaho. U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Julie Thomas says the goal on Wednesday is to put out the Gold fire before it has a chance to spread. She says the fire grew to 60 acres in a matter of hours after starting Tuesday afternoon and is being fought by two hotshot crews, two helicopters and five engine crews. She says an air tanker made a retardant drop Tuesday and could be called in again if needed. Thomas says fire officials want to get the fire put out because the area is heavily traveled by tourists starting this time of year. The cause of the fire is being investigated.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Keith Ridler.

Three Idaho firefighters honored for heroics

Three Idaho firefighters will be awarded the Idaho Medal of Honor on Saturday for heroics including swimming into Lake Pend Oreille and repeatedly diving down, with no equipment, to rescue a trapped car accident victim. The three being honored are Capt. Stuart Eigler, a volunteer with the Sam Owen Fire District  who made the lake rescue last Aug. 11; Capt. Jeff Piazza of the Clark Fork Fire Rescue Department, who crawled under a burning mobile homes and rescued two severely burned dogs moments before the floor collapsed; and firefighter John Ryan O’Hearn of the Pocatello Fire Department, who rescued a man in a wheelchair from a burning home.

“The Idaho Medal of Honor is the highest honor for recognizing the extraordinary bravery exhibited by law enforcement, firefighters and EMS providers,” said Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who chairs the state Medal of Honor Commission. “It was clearly the view of the commission that each of these firefighting professionals went above and beyond the call of duty when they acted in the service of others.”

The medal was created by the state Legislature in 2004; this year’s recipients will receive their medals at a 7 p.m. ceremony Saturday at the Idaho Fallen Firefighter Memorial Park in Boise. The medal’s first recipient was the late Idaho State Police Trooper Linda Huff, who died in a shootout at the ISP district headquarters in Coeur d’Alene in which she wounded the shooter after she’d been shot multiple times. There’s more info here.

Federal judge in Idaho criticizes NSA cell phone data surveillance

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Coeur d’Alene woman against President Barack Obama over NSA collection of cell phone information, while raising questions about the practice.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill, in his eight-page decision issued today, found that under current U.S. Supreme Court precedents, the NSA’s collection of cell-phone data doesn’t violate the 4th Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches. However, he also noted that another case in Washington, D.C. found otherwise, and it may yet make its way to the higher court; that ruling was stayed pending appeal. That decision “should serve as a template for a Supreme Court opinion,” Winmill wrote; you can read my full story here, and Winmill’s decision here.

Judge hears arguments in tribal poker case

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill heard from both the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the state of Idaho today in the state’s bid to shut down the tribe’s poker room at its Worley casino, but issued no immediate ruling. The federal judge is considering motions from the state for a temporary restraining order to halt the poker play and for injunctive action to block it in the future; and from the tribe to dismiss the state’s lawsuit.

The state contends that all poker is banned in Idaho, both in the Constitution and by state law. But the tribe argues that the type of poker it’s offering – Texas Hold ‘Em tournament play – falls under a legal definition for games of skill, not illegal gambling. That would mean if anyone else in the state is authorized to offer it, the tribe could too, under its gaming compact with the state. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com; the poker room at the Coeur d’Alene Casino opened May 2, and tribal officials said it’s proven popular.

National debate builds in wake of Bowe Bergdahl’s release…

As the national debate builds in the wake of the rescue of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from five years of captivity in Afghanistan, the New York Times today examines accounts from fellow soldiers in the region of Bergdahl’s disappearance and the aftermath in a report here, and the AP has a report here on the picture painted by friends in Hailey of the young man who joined the Army in 2008. Also, a Rolling Stone profile of Bergdahl and the situation swirling around him, first published in 2012, is getting increased attention; it’s online here.

Board of Ed approves 5% raises for two university presidents

Idaho’s State Board of Education voted unanimously today to give 5 percent pay raises to the presidents of Boise State University and Idaho State University, a 3 percent raise for the head of Lewis-Clark State College, and a 7.2 percent raise for the executive director of the office of the state board. The raises followed performance reviews for each of the top positions; the University of Idaho wasn’t included because new UI President Chuck Staben just started work on March 1.

With the raises – all effective June 8 – BSU President Bob Kustra’s salary will rise to $371,104; ISU President Arthur Vailas’ to $357,029; LCSC President Tony Fernandez’ to $176,011; and state board executive director Mike Rush’s to $129,938. The proposed raise for Rush is still subject to review by Gov. Butch Otter.

New EPA rule would require Idaho power plants to cut carbon emissions by a third over 15 years

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Obama Administration announced Monday that Idaho will have to cut its carbon pollutants by a third over the next 15 years. The new standard is part of national initiative aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants as high as 40 percent in some states from their 2005 level. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Idaho's power sector emitted 1 million metric tons of carbon in 2012 and produced 4 million megawatt hours of energy. This means that the state's emission rate was about 340 pounds per megawatt hours. The EPA proposed that Idaho reduce its rate to 228 pounds per megawatt hours. Idaho has no coal plants but consumes coal-produced energy from nearby states. According to the EPA, most of Idaho's energy comes from renewable sources.

Peregrine falcon chicks explore ledge outside their downtown nesting box, as they prep to learn to fly

A peek at the Falconcam just now showed all three Peregrine falcon chicks out of their nesting box, exploring the concrete ledge outside. According to the Peregrine Fund, this is natural behavior as the chicks prepare to learn how to fly. “Like toddlers learning to walk they must test their limits,” the fund reports. The ledge outside the nesting box, which is atop the 14th floor of One Capitol Center in downtown Boise, extends the length of the building and is about 40 inches wide, providing lot of room for the chicks to practice flapping their wings and taking short practice hops.

The three chicks are a couple of weeks away from fledging, or taking their first flights. You can watch live here.

Otter wants full-court review of decision overturning Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is asking the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to send Idaho’s same-sex marriage case directly to a full, 11-judge panel of the court, rather than the usual three-judge panel. The request for an initial “en banc” hearing is highly unusual. Typically, a three-judge panel hears appeals, and parties can then request a re-hearing by the larger panel, though that step isn’t required – and they can also appeal a three-judge panel’s ruling directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In most circuits, an en banc hearing means all 15 of the circuit’s judges hear the case, rather than just a three-judge panel. But because the 9th Circuit is so large – it has 29 active judges – an en banc hearing means an 11-judge panel, consisting of the chief judge and 10 others selected by random draw.

Otter argued in his motion that the larger panel would give the court’s decision greater “perception of legitimacy,” saying, “A decision by an 11-judge panel stands far higher and stronger than does a decision by a three-judge panel, just as a decision by a three-judge panel stands far higher and stronger than does a decision by a single judge.”

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said the move wouldn’t necessarily fast-track the case. “Even if it’s granted, I don’t know how much faster it’s going to be,” he said. “It might even slow it down.” That’s because it could take longer to convene the larger panel, and for all 11 judges to decide on how to rule in their decision. “You’ve got 11 of them you’ve got to convince.” The 9th Circuit has set the appeal hearing in the case for the second week of September; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho relaxes software taxes

A two-year effort to try to make sure Idaho doesn’t discourage high-tech businesses through its sales tax laws has now swung the state to the opposite extreme, with multimillion-dollar software package installations set to switch from taxable to tax-free on July 1.

It all stemmed from efforts by the Idaho Technology Council and businesses to get lawmakers to remove sales taxes from “cloud” services – where people remotely use software that’s located far away, without ever actually purchasing the software and installing it on their own computers. Legislation that passed and was signed into law in 2013 granted a sales tax exemption for those uses of software over the internet cloud, after Idaho tech businesses told lawmakers that without an exemption, some likely would leave Idaho.

That new law didn’t exempt the three other ways of delivering software that people or businesses buy: Buying a disk at an office supply store; downloading software online; or installations of major enterprise software systems at businesses that are done through the “load and leave” method, where the vendor comes to the business and installs the software, then leaves it.

This year, the Technology Council came back to the Legislature and said the first “cloud” exemption wasn’t working, and the state Tax Commission’s interpretation of it was too narrow. The council, joined by some of the state’s largest businesses, pushed legislation to exempt both downloaded and “load-and-leave” software sales, too. Though the discussion was all about accessing the cloud and the new high-tech options available to businesses, the state stands to lose as much as $40 million a year in sales taxes in the future – much of that from very large software system upgrades at big businesses.

Backers of the bill have touted it as clarifying the definition of “remotely accessed computer software” and treating cloud-based services like other tax-exempt services, from health care to haircuts. But the biggest beneficiaries may be banks, hospitals, and other large businesses when they upgrade their internal software systems, regardless of whether there’s any remote access involved. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho Tax Commission Chairman Rich Jackson said Idaho typically doesn’t apply its sales tax to services. But since 1986, when the state first examined the issue, Idaho has defined software as “tangible personal property,” which is subject to sales taxes. “We started saying, ‘This looks like, smells like tangible personal property, so we’re going to tax it as such,” he said.

Idaho’s new law makes the leap to declaring that software isn’t tangible personal property at all, unless it’s on a physical item like a disk. Now, the Tax Commission is in the midst of a series of negotiated rule-making sessions with industry representatives to figure out how to implement the new law.

The Technology Council insisted to lawmakers that it was talking about services that never should have been taxable, so the fiscal impact on the state would be negligible. Mike Chakarun, tax policy manager for the commission, said, “I don’t know if they fully understood the types of transactions that we see that were held taxable previously.”

The new bill, HB 598, excludes entertainment items, like e-books or video games, from the tax exemption. But it also adds the two other delivery categories to the exemption, giving Idaho one of the nation’s broadest tax exemptions for software sales; only six other states go as far. As of July 1, when the law takes effect, the only software sales that will be taxable in Idaho will be those where the purchaser buys the software on a physical storage item, like a TurboTax disk. The same TurboTax program downloaded online will be tax-free.

Idaho’s federal lands panel hires private attorney

A legislative interim committee investigating prospects for state takeover of federal public lands has spent more than $40,000 on a private attorney, the AP reports, tapping into a new legislative legal defense fund. “We've hired legal counsel from outside of state government primarily because we didn't feel as the Legislature that we were getting the help that we needed from the attorney general's office, once they determined the legal prospects of the case against the federal government on this didn't have much merit,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise. “They didn't give us a whole lot of imagination or creativity on what the political solutions might be. So we've gone to an expert attorney … to use his background and expertise to help us with this process.”

Committee member and Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she was disappointed the panel was not informed that private attorney William Myers was being considered before his hiring. “I think it was done rather hasty without letting the rest of the committee know,” she told the Associated Press. “But they're using taxpayer money. I would have preferred for them to be more transparent.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

Bowe Bergdahl’s mom: ‘5 years is a seemingly endless long time, but you’ve made it - you’re free’

Jani and Bob Bergdahl, the parents of newly freed captive U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, spoke at a news conference at Gowen Field in Boise today, addressing comments directly to their son, who is recovering at a military hospital in Germany, the AP reports. “You are from a strong tribe, you are even stronger now,” Jani Bergdahl said. “Five years is a seemingly endless long time, but you've made it. … You are free. Freedom is yours. I will see you soon, my beloved son.” The Idaho Statesman has posted the full video of the press conference here on YouTube. “Bowe, you were not left behind,” Bob Bergdahl said. “I told you you wouldn’t be left behind.” Addressing the crowd and the cameras, he said, “You as the American people should know that should this ever happen to you, you will see parts of your government that you never knew were there, and you’ll be so thankful.”

U.S. officials said Sunday that Bergdahl's health and safety appeared in jeopardy, prompting rapid action to secure his release in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. Republicans in Congress said the deal could place U.S. troops in danger, especially if the freed detainees return to the fight — one called it “shocking.” Arizona Sen. John McCain said of the five detainees, “These are the hardest of the hard core.”

Republicans also said the deal violated requirements that Congress be given 30 days' notice before any exchange of captives at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. But national security adviser Susan Rice said “an urgent and an acute situation,” which she did not specify, did not allow that time. “We did not have 30 days to wait,” she said. “And had we waited and lost him, I don't think anybody would have forgiven the United States government.”

Meanwhile, residents of Hailey prepared to welcome home Bergdahl, 28; he was the only American prisoner of war still held by insurgents in the Afghanistan war, and had been held captive for five years. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press, including reporting from Boise, Hailey, Washington, D.C., and Afghanistan.

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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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