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.