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Eye On Boise

Archive for May 2014

Bowe Bergdahl released after five years of captivity in Afghanistan

Idaho Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been released after five years of captivity in Afghanistan, the AP reports, in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Officials said the exchange was not violent and the 28-year-old Bergdahl was in good condition and able to walk. “While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten,” President Barack Obama said in a statement from the White House Rose Garden, where he was joined by Bergdahl's parents (photo above). “The United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.”

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter had this statement: “Miss Lori and I couldn’t be happier. Bowe has been in all our prayers for years. So his release from Taliban captivity is cause to continue our prayers – now in gratitude for their fulfillment. We join all of Idaho and America in expressing our joy and welcoming this wonderful news. We look forward to Sgt. Bergdahl’s safe return to Idaho and his reunion with family, friends, and all those who have rallied around them. Today, Idaho gives thanks. Soon we all will celebrate Bowe’s freedom and homecoming.”

Click below for the full report from the Associated Press.

Key victories for GOP establishment in county party reorganizations

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Local Republican central committees reorganized their legislative and county leadership throughout Idaho this week resulting in several key victories for the GOP establishment. The new appointments will play a critical role in the upcoming GOP convention, which will take place in Moscow in mid-June. Leaders and delegates will vote on a party chairman and discuss possible changes to the party's platform and closed primary system. Idaho's GOP establishment took over key counties in the southern half of the state such as Elmore, Ada and Twin Falls. In the northern half, tea party leaders and delegates retained most of their roles, including in Kootenai County — the state's third most populated county.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

State reply to tribe: Golf tourneys ‘bear no resemblance to poker,’ and Texas Hold ‘Em illegal even if others in state play it

The state of Idaho has filed its reply as its lawsuit against the Coeur d’Alene Tribe over the new poker room at the tribe’s Worley casino heads to a court hearing next week. In the latest filing, the state argues that events like golf tournaments “bear no resemblance to poker where chance is an essentially element of the game.” The tribe is arguing that the type of poker it’s offering, Texas Hold ‘Em tournament play, qualifies as a contest of skill – like a golf tournament – bringing it under an exemption in Idaho’s anti-gambling laws. Even though Idaho bans poker, the tribe argues, that prohibition doesn't apply if the game in question is one of skill, not just luck.

In its reply, the state argues that “any variant of ‘poker’ is plausibly, indeed necessarily, encompassed.” It also argues that the binding arbitration clause of the state-tribal gaming compact doesn’t foreclose it from filing this lawsuit, and discounts the tribe’s contention that Texas Hold ‘Em is widely played in Idaho.  “The fact that the law is violated commonly … does not eliminate the illegality,” the state’s attorneys write. “Were the contrary true, speed limits would become legal fictions.” You can read the state reply here. U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill will hear arguments in the case Tuesday in Coeur d’Alene, on the state’s motion for a temporary restraining order to shut the poker room down.

Tonight’s Idaho Reports…

Tonight’s “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public TV examines the voter engagement and potential political influence of Idaho’s Hispanic population, the state’s largest minority. Also, I join Jim Weatherby, Rep. Mat Erpelding, and co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz to discuss politics, parties and more. 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.

U.S. Supreme Court ruling could affect case of Idaho death row inmate Gerald Pizzuto

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring states to look beyond intelligence scores in cases of mental disability to determine whether a death row inmate is eligible for execution could have ramifications for at least one Idaho prisoner, KTVB-TV reports. The justices ruled Tuesday that Florida and a handful of other states, including Idaho, cannot rely solely on an IQ score above 70 to bar an inmate from claiming mental disability. Gerald Pizzuto Jr. has been on Idaho's death row since 1986. He appealed, saying that his IQ was below 70, making it illegal for the state to execute him; Pizzuto's IQ was measured at 72 when he was 29. A score of 70 is widely accepted as a marker of mental disability, but medical professionals say people who score as high as 75 can be considered intellectually disabled because of the test's margin of error. “The ruling is of great constitutional and practical significance,” said Sacramento-based attorney Joan Fisher, Pizzuto's attorney.

KTVB reporter Jamie Grey has a full report here, and a follow-up here with comments from the Idaho Attorney General’s office.

Otter suggests he may not endorse in party chairman race after all

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is now suggesting he may not endorse any candidate in the race for the next state Republican Party chairman, changing his approach, reports the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey – and following advice last week from Congressman Raul Labrador.

“My advice to the governor is pretty simple,” Labrador told the Statesman said last week. “Work with the grassroots of the party to find an acceptable chairman for the party. So be part of the team, don't try to dictate to the party who his choice is going to be.” Otter has been battling with Labrador's wing of the party since it turned out his choice for chairman, Kirk Sullivan, in 2008 in favor of Norm Semanko.

Today, Otter told Popkey he’s spoken with “a lot” of candidates for the chairman position and that he’s “comfortable so far with everybody that’s called.” That doesn’t include current Chairman Barry Peterson, with whom Otter said he’s not talked. “If folks really want a grassroots candidate, those of us in leadership positions are going to have to abstain from anointing or endorsing anybody,” Otter told the Statesman. “All the folks' calls that I've taken, I've just said, 'Listen, go to the convention, talk to the folks before you get to the convention, see what your chances are.' ” Popkey’s full report is online here.

Mortimer eyes Senate Ed chairmanship after Goedde’s defeat in primary

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, is interested in taking over as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Idaho Education News reports today, now that longtime Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, has been defeated in the GOP primary. EdNews reporter Kevin Richert reports that Mortimer, who was unopposed in the primary and also faces no opponent in November, is already thinking about how he’d head the panel; you can read Richert’s full report here. Decisions on committee chairmanships and assignments won’t come ‘til the Legislature’s organizational session in December.

Former inmate who won CCA settlement over prison violence presumed drowned

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho sheriff's deputies say a man who won a settlement from Corrections Corporation of America after he sued over prison violence is missing and believed to have drowned. The Valley County Sheriff's Office says 51-year-old Marlin Riggs may have driven his Ford F-150 pickup off a rural road and into a creek near Yellowpine sometime last weekend. The submerged pickup was found Saturday morning, but no one was inside the vehicle. Lt. Dan Smith with the sheriff's office says Riggs is presumed drowned. Riggs was part of a group of inmates who sued the private prison company, contending the Idaho Correctional Center was so violent that it was nicknamed “Gladiator School.” Riggs sought $55 million from CCA. A settlement was reached, but the terms of the agreement were sealed.

Idaho GOP convention in June to feature Mike Huckabee as well as Rand Paul

The Idaho Republican Party has announced a second big-name speaker for its state convention in Moscow in June: Mike Huckabee. The former presidential candidate and former Arkansas governor will address the convention’s kickoff dinner on Thursday night, June 12; tickets are $50, or $200 including a VIP reception and photo-op. The convention also will feature Sen. Rand Paul as its keynote speaker during the Friday night banquet.

There’s more info here on the Huckabee event, sponsored by Latah County Republican Central Committee, and here on the Paul event and the rest of the convention activities.

Soon-to-be out-of-work Boise software engineers courted by dozens of firms

Here’s an example of how sought-after software engineers are in Boise: Several years after German software industry giant SAP bought out Sybase, another large firm with a Boise office, it's now decided to consolidate elsewhere and shut down the Boise location that employs 30 software engineers. Those workers won’t be out of a job ‘til the end of July, but last night, 23 other Treasure Valley tech firms came to a session organized by the Idaho Technology Council to pitch their current job openings to the soon-to-be-former SAP Sybase engineers.

“We added it up and there were 104 jobs that are available from those companies,” said Jay Larsen, technology council president. Each firm was given three minutes to give its pitch, and then they all mingled at an open house. “There’s just such a big demand for computer science software professionals,” Larsen said. Sybase, based in Dublin, Calif., acquired Boise-based Extended Systems in 2005, a firm that was launched by former Hewlett-Packard employees in 1984.  SAP bought Sybase in 2010 for $5.8 billion.

Otter-backed economic development project runs into objections from neighboring plant 500 yards away

A proposed $2 billion nitrogen fertilizer plant in American Falls that Gov. Butch Otter has touted as part of his economic development initiative has run into a snag – thanks to a neighboring business, a french fry plant that employs 600 people, and has filed an appeal of the fertilizer plant’s air quality permit, reports Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman. The new fertilizer plant would be 500 yards from the existing french fry plant, which has operated there for 50 years. The existing plant is raising concerns about the proposed fertilizer plant's effects on emergency preparedness, odor and water quality.

The natural gas-fired fertilizer plant would employ 170 people, Barker reports; his full report is online here. He reports that Otter has traveled around the world to help the New York company planning the fertilizer plant get investors for several years, including on his 2010 trade mission to China. The french fry plant is operated by Lamb Weston, a division of ag giant ConAgra.

Discrimination lawsuit filed after woman fired for DUI, when male supervisor kept job after his DUI

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — A southeast Idaho woman has filed a discrimination lawsuit against Bonneville County. The Post Register reports (http://www.postregister.com/node/55767) that Kendalee Rydalch filed the lawsuit May 20 and is seeking $1 million. The lawsuit says Rydalch was fired from her job as a juvenile probation officer with the county in February 2013. The lawsuit says the firing came six days after she was arrested and charged with driving under the influence. The lawsuit contends that a male supervisor in 2007 was found guilty of driving under the influence while on duty but kept his job. Bonneville County Commissioner Roger Christensen says the county hasn't yet seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

Otter seeks applicants for State Board of Education opening

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is calling for applications for an opening on the State Board of Education due to the retirement of longtime member Milford Terrell of Boise. Otter’s taking applications through Monday, June 16; Terrell, who is stepping down June 30, has until February of 2017 in his term, so that’s the term the appointee would serve.

Meanwhile, Otter still hasn’t made a decision on another opening on the state board, the one created when he named member Ken Edmunds the director of the state Department of Labor in November. Sixteen people applied for that opening, and the governor is deciding among four finalists, all of whom he’s interviewed. “The governor’s always said about these things, he doesn’t believe in rushing them,” said Otter spokesman Jon Hanian. “He’d much rather take his time and make sure he’s got the right pick than meeting some artificial self-imposed deadline. But given where we are, I don’t think it’s going to be very much longer” ‘til that appointee is named.

The State Board of Education is charged by the Idaho Constitution with overseeing both higher education and the state’s K-12 public schools. It has eight members, including the state superintendent of schools. The seven members appointed by the governor, who serve five-year terms, are required by law to be selected “solely upon consideration of the ability of such appointees efficiently to serve the interests of the people, and education, without reference to locality, occupation, party affiliation or religion.” To be eligible, an applicant must have been a resident of the state for at least three years.

Click below for Otter’s announcement, including application information.

Idaho gay marriage plaintiffs seek court costs

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Four couples who successfully sued Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter over the state's gay marriage ban are now asking to be reimbursed for nearly half a million dollars of attorney fees and other court costs. The group filed a motion in Boise's U.S. District Court on Tuesday asking that the state be ordered to pay more than $467,000 for the expenses associated with bringing the lawsuit. U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Dale overturned Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage earlier this month, saying the ban unconstitutionally denies gay and lesbian residents of their constitutional right to marry. Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden have appealed that ruling; the case is still pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In their court filings requesting the fees, attorneys for the four couples wrote, “This is a landmark decision that fully vindicated Plaintiffs’ critical constitutional rights, and it is in the vanguard of a wave of civil rights victories sweeping the country. Accordingly, Plaintiffs are entitled to fully recover the reasonable attorneys’ fees that have been requested.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

GOP candidate Chaney waffles on withdrawing

The GOP House candidate in Canyon County who withdrew prior to the election after his past legal and financial problems came to light – but too late to get his name off the ballot – now says he’s reconsidering his options after tallying more votes than two write-in candidates. Greg Chaney told the Idaho Statesman, “I'm looking at every possible angle at this point. I have reached out to the two write-in candidates and have let them know that I am still considering my options, and I have been in contact with party leadership.”

In April, Chaney said he was suspending his campaign and would “neither actively seek nor accept the Republican nomination.” Statesman reporter Cynthia Sewell has a full report here.

Ybarra: ‘I took a different approach’

Surprise GOP nominee for state schools chief Sherri Ybarra discussed her campaign with Idaho Education News, and said she plans to maintain the grassroots focus and independent approach that she said were key to her May 20 primary victory. “I took a different approach and I got a different result,” Ybarra told Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert. “I made it very clear that I was a different kind of campaigner. And I meant what I said.”

Richert reports that Ybarra has been working with Dan Goicoechea, state Controller Brandon Woolf’s chief deputy and one of Ybarra’s few campaign contributors during the primary; you can read Richert's full report here.

CdA Tribe’s response to state lawsuit: Legally, Texas Hold ‘Em poker is like golf

Texas Hold ‘Em poker is no different than golf under Idaho law, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe argues in its response to a lawsuit from the state – it’s a game of skill, in which players can pay fees to enter tournaments and win prizes for how well they do. “As the statute provides, even if the game of poker is prohibited, that prohibition does not apply if the game can be shown to be a ‘contest of skill,’” the tribe wrote in legal arguments submitted in court Friday; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The state of Idaho sued the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in federal court on May 2, after the tribe opened a poker room at its Coeur d’Alene Casino in Worley. The state argued that poker is flat illegal in Idaho, prohibited both by the state Constitution and law. But the tribe said the type of poker it’s offering – Texas Hold ‘Em tournament play – is legal, and is widely played in Idaho. That makes it a type of Class II gaming, not Class III, under federal law, the tribe argues, so if anyone else can offer it in the state, tribes legally can, too.

GOP unity short-lived, as Troupis withdraws endorsement of Wasden

Less than a week after the Idaho Republican Party gathered for a “unity” rally on the steps of the state Capitol, where vanquished challengers pledged to support the primary election victors and move forward as a united party, the proclaimed unity already is splintering. Christ Troupis said today that he’s withdrawing his endorsement of GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, to whom he lost the primary, 59 percent to 40 percent – an endorsement Troupis announced at the unity rally. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Troupis said he changed his mind about the endorsement after learning that Democratic nominee Bruce Bistline said he won’t actively campaign, because his differences with Wasden are “fairly nominal,” but that he would have actively campaigned if the GOP nominee had been Troupis, with whom he said his differences are “legion.”

Troupis said, “I’d really like some assurances from Mr. Wasden that he’s not in line with the Democratic candidate for Attorney General. If they’re on the same page, then I feel pretty stupid endorsing basically a Democrat.” He added, “Now, if Mr. Wasden does have differences, significant differences, and he can point those out to me, then I’d be happy to reconsider.” Troupis said, “I’m just wanting to be consistent philosophically with my positions. But as a practical matter, he’s not opposed, so he’s going to win. So everybody will probably just ignore it. It makes me feel better.”

Troupis said, “I don’t think the unity rally was any kind of a sham. We’re trying to support the party. I think I have a different vision for where the party ought to be.”

Falconcam update: Fuzzy chicks getting bigger very quickly

The three very fuzzy, white down-covered peregrine falcon chicks in a downtown Boise nesting box high atop an office tower are growing at a remarkable rate; you can see them here. The Peregrine Fund reports that the chicks typically weigh only an ounce and a half when they hatch, but by the time they fledge and fly out of their nests for the first time, they’ll be 18 inches tall and have a wingspan of more than 3 feet. At fledging, female peregrines typically weigh more than two pounds, and males a little under a pound and a half.

When they fly, peregrines can reach speeds of more than 200 mph as they dive for their prey in mid-air.

Republicans prepare to re-organize after contested precinct committee races

After contested precinct committee races across the state in last week’s primary election, the impact on the Idaho Republican Party will begin to become clear as county central committees hold their organizational meetings, most of them later this week, and then the state party convention comes up June 12-14 in Moscow.

For now, Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey dug into the Ada County GOP precinct results and has a report here; it includes these tidbits: GOP activist Rod Beck lost his precinct post by three votes to Lori Rouse, daughter of former Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise; Eva Gay Yost, aide to former Gov. Phil Batt, lost hers to KIDO radio personality “Tea Party Bob” Neugebauer; Gem State Tea Party founder Chad Inman defeated state Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna; and former Otter campaign chief and lawmaker Debbie Field easily kept her seat over a candidate who is in jail for sex crimes.

In other precinct races, the Mountain Home News reports that Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson held his precinct committee position against a challenge from former Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, 150-130, but for the most part, moderates took most of the contested positions.

Race for state schools chief shapes up with agreement on issues, gap in experience

The race for state superintendent of public schools - an open seat in November with the retirement of two-term Superintendent Tom Luna - is shaping up as a contest between minority party experience and majority party inexperience, writes AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi, after the surprise win of political newcomer Sherri Ybarra in the GOP primary. Ybarra will face Jana Jones in November, former chief deputy to then-Superintendent Marilyn Howard and the Democrat who came within two percentage points of defeating Luna in 2006. Both women support the 20 recommendations of the governor's task force on improving education, now in the first year of a five-year phase-in, which means the contest likely won't focus on competing visions of the overall direction for the state's schools. Click below for the full AP report.

F&G plan to poison 4,000 ravens put off ‘til next year

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — A plan by state wildlife biologists to kill 4,000 ravens in three Idaho areas this spring by feeding them poisoned chicken eggs has been scrapped due to federal environmental permitting delays. The Times-News reports (http://bit.ly/1nPPwh0) in a story on Monday that Idaho Fish and Game officials won't start the two-year program this spring aimed at boosting sage grouse numbers. State officials say U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services is the only entity in the state with permission to administer the poison. Jeff Gould of Fish and Game says the federal agency didn't get a supplemental environmental assessment completed on time to put out the poison. He says putting out poison during the summer isn't as effective because ravens aren't gathered in large numbers. He says poisoning now is planned to begin next spring.

Flags fly for Memorial Day…

Flags fly for Memorial Day in Boise, shown here at historic Morris Hill Cemetery.

The cemetery was busy today with families decorating their loved ones’ graves with flowers and small American flags.

Wildflowers bloom in Boise foothills…

Wildflowers blooming in the foothills add a touch of color as hikers and mountain bikers enjoy Boise’s backyard over the holiday weekend.

The weather was near-perfect – warm and breezy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Early in the morning at Lucky Peak…

It was early Friday morning at Lucky Peak reservoir when a half-dozen kitesailors and I, the lone windsurfer, kicked off the morning wind season up at the lake. The wind was light, but it was a beautiful morning, and great to get back on the water. Here, some of the kitesailors launch from Barclay Bay. 

The week that was…

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa joins the pundits on tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, to discuss the just-concluded primary election. In addition to Ysursa, I join Bill Manny and co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz to try to make sense of it all. 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.

Base jumper makes jump, but requires rescue because too drunk to walk away

Here’s a new item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Authorities in south-central Idaho say a 30-year-old South Carolina BASE jumper who successfully parachuted into the Snake River Canyon had to be rescued because he was too intoxicated to walk out on his own. The Twin Falls County Sheriff's Office says Walter Wooton of York County landed safely after the daylight leap Tuesday off Perrine Bridge into the 486-foot-deep canyon. Authorities tell The Times-News (http://bit.ly/1hcrtoB) they received a call at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday from a man saying he jumped with Wooten earlier but Wooten hadn't made it back to the canyon rim. A helicopter landed in the canyon and found an intoxicated Wooten. Rescuers with the Twin Falls Fire Department then walked in to help him Wooten out. Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls is a popular BASE jumping spot.

Colbert Report gives its take on Idaho’s gov debate, primary election

The Colbert Report, in its inimitable fashion, gave its full treatment last night to Idaho’s recent gubernatorial debate, also touching on Idaho geography, the outcome of the primary and more. You can watch it here.

Tea party groundswell sweeps away incumbents, as North Idaho bucks state trend

Even as a push from the right to take over the Idaho Republican Party was falling short at the state level, it was succeeding beyond expectations in North Idaho, where two longtime state lawmakers were unceremoniously dumped in Tuesday’s GOP primary. A third was turned out after just one term, and four arch-conservative incumbents whose challengers were endorsed by GOP Gov. Butch Otter cruised to victory in a low-turnout election that saw barely over one in five registered voters cast a ballot. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the Senate education chairman and seven-term senator who lost to city hall critic Mary Souza, said, “It was real apparent that there were two camps in Kootenai County, and both camps had candidates for most offices, and I guess the camp for the far right was better able to get its supporters to the polls.” Said Rep. Ed Morse, who lost to retired insurance agent Eric Redman, “There was pretty much a tea party groundswell up here in Kootenai County and in Bonner County.”

Results are complete: State controller Woolf edges challenger Hatfield

Finally, after a long night, Idaho's primary election results are complete. Nothing's changed with the final additions; the closest race, between state Controller Brandon Woolf and challenger Todd Hatfield, ended with Woolf winning 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent. That's a difference of 2,440 votes. You can see the full results here, including statewide races, judicial and legislative races. They're unofficial until the final canvass of the votes, but represent the complete results.

Dem candidate for Attorney General drops campaign plans, as Troupis endorses Wasden

Now that Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has handily defeated GOP primary challenger C.T. “Chris” Troupis, the Democratic candidate for Attorney General, Boise attorney Bruce Bistline, says he no longer plans to actively campaign for the post. “I filed on the last day,” Bistline told Eye on Boise today. “I detest the fact that that kind of a decision, between Troupis and Wasden, could be made during the Republican primary with no alternative for the voters who are not part of the closed Republican primary. And while I would probably never have bothered to run against Wasden, because my differences with him are fairly nominal, my differences with Troupis are legion. I saw no alternative but to file to provide a choice in the general election, in the event that Troupis won the primary.”

Bistline said he doesn’t plan to withdraw, but won’t actively campaign unless something dramatic happens. “If something happened ad Wasden was unable to run and they appointed Troupis to run in his place, I’d be right back in it again,” he said. “So I can’t rule out the possibility that circumstances would draw me back in, but the circumstances which drew me in in the first instance are resolved now.”

Troupis, for his part, today endorsed Wasden. At a Republican unity rally on the steps of the state Capitol, Troupis said, “I want to see him be the next attorney general. We need to have a Republican attorney general in the state of Idaho if we are to preserve our independence and sovereignty.”

Smallest spender finished first for Supt., one who dug deepest into own pocket finished last for Secty of State

How much difference does money make in an Idaho election? Judging by the two four-way races in yesterday’s GOP primary, not a heck of a lot. Sherri Ybarra, the candidate who won the four-way race for state superintendent of schools, raised and spent by far the least of the four GOP candidates, just $2,850. Second-place finisher Randy Jensen raised $7,124; third-place Andy Grover raised $41,854 including $5,000 from Melaleuca Inc. and $5,500 of his own money; and fourth-place finisher John Eynon raised $16,284. “Sherri spent about 3 cents per vote for her win last night,” current state Superitendent Tom Luna said at today’s GOP unity rally, “and I think some of us on the stand here wonder how that is possible and how we can duplicate that.”

In the Secretary of State’s race, it may appear at first glance that the GOP primary winner, Lawerence Denney, vastly outraised his rivals. But of the $164,071 Denney raised, a whole lot was from ticket sales for his “Duck Dynasty” fundraiser at the Idaho Center, on which he also spent well over $100,000, including $50,000 to William Morris Entertainment, $53,000 to the Idaho Center and $2,900 for custom duck calls. Asked if he made money on the event, Denney said, “We didn’t. We about broke even.”

He added, “We do think that it gave us a bump here in the Treasure Valley, because of all the advertising” for the reality TV stars’ appearance.

Among the other GOP rivals for Secretary of State, Phil McGrane raised $61,000 and came in second; Evan Frasure raised $20,752 and came in third; and Mitch Toryanski raised $47,514, including $32,000 of his own money, and finished fourth.

Denney said, “With four of us in the race, we were all short of money, and certainly a lot of money infused into one campaign may have made a difference in this campaign. Same thing with the superintendent’s race – if there’d been a lot of money, it may have been a different outcome.”

Voter turnout a dismal 25 percent of registered voters

Voter turnout in Idaho’s primary election yesterday was a dismal 25 percent, according to Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who had projected 27 percent turnout of registered voters. “I wish we could get more to turn out, more to participate,” Ysursa said.

Ysursa said he got to bed about 4 a.m. “We’re still counting ballots today,” he told the Idaho GOP’s unity rally on the Capitol steps. “Blaine County’s are being counted in Twin Falls as we speak. But as you probably know, the results … it’s pretty solid as to what happened here.”

Ysursa said, “Participation is the essence of democracy, and I salute everybody who put their hat in the ring.”

Fulcher talks golf, Otter hints Fulcher could be a prospect for party chairman…

Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who lost his challenge against a sitting governor of his own party in yesterday’s primary, drew a laugh when he asked the crowd at today’s traditional Republican Party “unity” rally on the state Capitol steps, “Anybody want to go golfing?” Fulcher said, “My life just got substantially more simple, and you know what, that’s a good thing for a while here.” He said, “It is fitting, it is proper and it is necessary for me to congratulate Gov. Butch Otter.”

Otter, who pulled Fulcher aside to talk before the rally started, suggested he has a role in mind for his former challenger. Asked if he’ll support state GOP Chairman Barry Peterson, who said yesterday he expects to seek another term as party chairman, Otter said, “It’s way too early to talk about that. I have been contacted by folks that suggested they’d be interested in it, probably five or six.” Plus, he said, “Some of these candidates that were not successful may be interested in running the party.” Otter noted that he expressed approval of Fulcher as a potential party chairman prospect before Peterson took over. “I want to talk to all the other candidates and see where they want to lead this party,” Otter said.

Otter on his election-night silence: ‘I just don’t like to jinx myself’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter had this explanation today for his failure to emerge from behind closed doors last night to address hundreds of supporters who awaited him at the GOP election-night watch party in a hotel ballroom: “I just don’t like to jinx myself.” Otter said it wasn’t clear that he’d won, in his challenge from Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher; Kootenai County results remained uncounted until well after 1 a.m., and Blaine County wasn’t counted until mid-day today. Some precincts still were out in other counties, including Bonneville, Otter said. 'I was concerned that it was close, and Russ is a good campaigner,” he said. “I had an awful lot of supporters come up to the room.”

Otter lost to Fulcher in nine of Idaho’s 44 counties – including three of the biggest: Kootenai, Canyon and Ada. In unofficial results, which still aren’t final, Otter had 51.3 percent of the vote to Fulcher’s 43.6 percent.

The second-term governor said he wasn’t surprised at the narrowness of his primary win, or at losing the three big counties. “No, I wasn’t, because Russ was very effective,” Otter said, “and working on those issues that, you know, there was some concern in the party for. Especially those issues like the insurance exchange, like Common Core. Those two, there was a very, very active group against those issues, and they have a pretty active base. And that base that they had was, if you just read down, was about 36 percent of the total vote. So that was pretty solid.”

Otter said he has no regrets about endorsing challengers to five GOP legislative incumbents, four of whom lost. Otter said he’ll still be able to get along with those incumbents, Sen. Bob Nonini and Reps. Kathy Sims, Vito Barbieri, and Ron Mendive. “I always have,” he said. The one challenger Otter endorsed who won in the primary was Abby Lee, who defeated Senate Resources Chairman Monty Pearce.

Election results wrapup…

This morning, 99 percent of the vote has been counted – 937 of 942 precincts. What’s missing: Blaine County, where a tabulator malfunction disrupted vote-counting, which will be completed by about noon today in Twin Falls, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.

Here’s a link to the results as they stand now. Top-of-ticket results haven’t changed; Gov. Butch Otter is still defeating challenger Russ Fulcher, and the tea party challengers to all top state GOP officials have fallen short, with Todd Hatfield’s challenge of state Controller Brandon Woolf coming closest, at 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent. Sherri Ybarra is winning the GOP race for state superintendent of schools, to face Jana Jones in November; and Lawrence Denney is leading the four-way GOP race for Idaho Secretary of State, to face Democrat Holli Woodings in November.

In judicial races, Supreme Court Justice Joel Horton easily turned back a challenge from Breck Seiniger; Rebecca Arnold and Sam Hoaglund were the top vote-getters in the four-way race to succeed District 4 Judge Mike Wetherell and will go to a runoff in November; 4th District Judge Richard Greenwood turned back a challenge from Les Bock; Bruce Pickett won a three-way race for a 7th District judgeship to succeed Jon Shindurling; and 2nd District Judge Jeff Brudie defeated challenger John Bradbury.

In legislative races, ultra-conservatives rolled in Kootenai County, with Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, losing big to challenger Eric Redman; Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene easily dispatching challenger Patrick Whalen; and Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, doing the same for challenger Terry Warner. Retired Los Angeles police officer Don Cheatham defeated two other candidates in the GOP primary for retiring Rep. Frank Henderson’s seat; Henderson had endorsed Greg Gfeller. And seventh-term Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, lost in the primary to conservative activist Mary Souza. No Democrat filed for the seat, so Souza will face Constitution Party candidate Ray Writz in November.

Kootenai County saw a low voter turnout of just 21.72 percent of registered voters; statewide voter turnout figures aren’t out yet.

Other legislative incumbents around the state who fell in the primary included seventh-term Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, who lost to GOP challenger Sage Dixon; Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, losing to Merrill Beyeler; Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, falling to challenger Abby Lee; and freshman Rep. Doug Hancey, R-Rexburg, losing to Ron Nate.

In Democratic races, John McCrostie defeated Jimmy Farris in District 16, Melissa Wintrow edged Troy Rohn in District 19, and Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, easily defeated challenger Carrie Semmelroth.

With 92% of vote counted, a shy Butch Otter appears to have won, but he’s mum

Well, 92 percent of the vote has been counted now – 871 of 942 precincts statewide. But Kootenai County races are still missing in action, with only 16 percent of the vote there counted, so those results are still up in the air for now; I’ll check back in the morning. Statewide, incumbent Gov. Butch Otter – who never emerged from behind closed doors to talk to the public at all tonight – leads GOP challenger Russ Fulcher, 52 percent to 43 percent. Harley Brown had 3.3 percent and Walt Bayes, 1.8 percent.

The slate of tea party challengers to sitting GOP state officials all were falling short. Two four-way races for open seats, however, were still up in the air. For state superintendent of schools, in the GOP primary, Sherri Ybarra led with 29.1 percent, followed by Randy Jensen, 24.6 percent; Andy Grover, 23.5 percent; and John Eynon, 22.8 percent. In the GOP primary for Secretary of State, Lawerence Denney led with 36.2 percent, followed by Phil McGrane, 27.8 percent; Evan Frasure, 19.7 percent; and Mitch Toryanski, 16.3 percent.

Legislative incumbents who appear to be losing in the primary include Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, who had 34.2 percent to challenger Merrill Beyeler’s 44.6 percent; and Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, who had 44.4 percent to GOP challenger Abby Lee’s 55.6 percent. Freshman Rep. Douglas Hancey was trailing challenger Ron Nate in District 34, 44.7 percent to 55.3 percent.

Prof: Simpson’s win tonight fits with Idaho history

Mike Simpson’s win over tea party primary challenger Bryan Smith tonight fits with Idaho history, according to Eric Ostermeier, professor at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and author of the “Smart Politics” blog. Here’s why: Since 1918, all but one Idaho congressman who’s run for re-election has won in the primary. The only exception was Orval Hansen in 1974, who was defeated by former Rep. George Hansen. Since then, Idaho has seen a solid streak of 34 straight U.S. House incumbents winning renomination in their primary elections.

Ostermeier notes that three other Idaho congressmen lost their party’s nominations prior to 1918; they were three-term Republican Burton French in 1908 (to Thomas Hamer), Thomas Hamer as a freshman in 1910 (to French), and freshman GOPer Robert McCracken in 1916 (with French and Addison Smith winning nominations to the state's two at-large seats). You can read Ostermeier’s full post here.

At state level, tea party challengers mostly fall short

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on tonight’s election results, though of course the counting continues. One thing that’s clear: In a primary election that highlighted a big rift in Idaho’s Republican Party, voters on Tuesday appeared to be backing two-term Gov. Butch Otter over a stiff challenge from tea party Republicans disillusioned with his leadership. Challengers who came from the right after an array of sitting GOP state officials appear to have mostly fallen short.

Incidentally, Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson told Eye on Boise tonight that he expects to run for another term as party chairman.

Results have been extremely slow coming in from North Idaho tonight, but a few races from around the state are becoming more clear now: In District 9, with 84 percent of the vote in, challenger Abby Lee led eight-term Sen. Monty Pearce, the Senate resources chairman, 55 percent to 45 percent. In District 15, with 80 percent of the vote counted, Sen. Fred Martin was holding off tea party challenger Diego Rodriguez, who campaigned against college and public schools, 59 percent to 41 percent. In District 1, Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, appears to be being edged out by GOP challenger Sage Dixon, though there are still more votes to be counted there.

Meanwhile, Pocatello voters rejected a move to repeal their anti-discrimination ordinance regarding sexual orientation.

The latest results…

Here's a link to the Idaho Secretary of State's list of the latest statewide results, which is being constantly updated. With 156 of 942 precincts reporting, incumbent Gov. Butch Otter leads challenger Russ Fulcher, 54.2 percent to 41.1 percent, with Harley Brown trailing with 2.9 percent and Walt Bayes with 1.7 percent.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little is far ahead of challenger Jim Chmelik; and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has a solid lead over challenger Chris Troupis.

Republicans watch results, AP calls Simpson winner over Smith

Republicans are gathered for their election-night watch party at the Riverside Hotel, where campaign signs for the candidates festoon the walls. Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson welcomed the crowd, saying, “Isn’t it exciting to be part of our party?” He drew cheers.

The cheers were a little more muted, though, when Peterson went on to stump for the “traditional family.” “The values that the Republican Party stands for are the values that will keep our nation great,” he said. “This nation was founded under the influence of divine inspiration. … It’s that divine intervention that makes our nation unique.” Saying the “traditional family” is the heart of that, Peterson said, “Maybe Idaho will be called upon to lead the world in this regard, especially this nation.”

Candidates and supporters mingled among the crowd, including some who are on opposite sides of various primary races. State Treasurer Ron Crane, who is unopposed in the primary – the only statewide GOP official to not draw a primary challenger – said, “This is great, this is just great.”

So far, though the results are only partially in, the Associated Press has called three top-of-ticket races: Sen. Jim Risch, over a little-known GOP challenger who didn’t campaign; 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, over four little-known primary challengers; and, most significantly, 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson over tea party challenger Bryan Smith. Smith mounted a well-funded campaign backed by national groups, but early results showed Simpson defeating him 63 percent to 37 percent. 

Dems buoyant at election night confab

Democrats are gathered at Papa Joe's in Boise tonight for their election-night watch party, which has more the feel of a crowded bar than an election event. The crowd is visiting happily, enjoying pizza and other food and drinks. Holli Woodings, the Democratic candidate for Idaho Secretary of State, arrived with a big smile; she's unopposed in today's primary.

The crowd broke into cheers when its candidate for governor, A.J. Balukoff, arrived at 8:30.  In early results, Balukoff is defeating his primary challenger, Terry Kerr of Idaho Falls, 72 percent to 28 percent. That's with 89 of 942 precincts reporting. A buoyant Balukoff said he thinks he could win against either of the leading Republican candidates, incumbent Butch Otter or primary challenger Russ Fulcher. “I think the state is ready for a change in direction, a change in leadership,” Balukoff said. The early results show Otter leading Fulcher 54.5 to 41.3.

Also present and celebrating was Nels Mitchell, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by GOP Sen. Jim Risch. Early results showed Mitchell with 73.1 of the vote over his Democratic primary challenger, Brooklyn, N.Y. attorney William Bryk, who had 26.9 percent.

 

9th Circuit grants stay in marriage case

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has stayed the federal court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Idaho while the decision is appealed to higher courts. You can read the 9th Circuit's four-page order here; and read my full story here at spokesman.com. While granting Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's motion for a stay - preventing the change from taking effect while the case wends its way up on appeal - the 9th Circuit panel also granted the request from the four couples who successfully sued, to “expedite” the case, speeding it up from the usual handling in the 9th Circuit.

That means the opening briefs are due July 19, the answering briefs by July 18, with final replies 14 days later; no extensions will be granted; and the 9th Circuit will hear the arguments in the appeal the week of Sept. 8 in San Francisco.

The three-judge panel cited the Utah case in which the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay putting the overturning of that state's same-sex marriage ban on hold pending appeal, the Herbert v. Kitchen case. However, one of the three judges, while concurring with the decision, wrote that if it weren't for that one stay ruling, he wouldn't have supported it. Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz wrote, “I find it difficult to conclude that the Idaho ban on same-sex marriage would survive interim Ninth Circuit review.”

Hurwitz noted that the Herbert ruling was just a “terse two-sentence order.” He wrote, “Although the Supreme Court's order in Herbert is not in the strictest sense precedential, it provides a clear message - the Court (without noted dissent) decided that district court injunctions against the application of laws forbidding same-sex unions should be stayed at the request of state authorities pending court of appeals review.”

Shannon Minter, one of the attorneys for the four Idaho couples who successfully sued to overturn the law, said, “We are very pleased that the court ordered expedited review and understood the critical importance and urgency of the issues in this case for Idaho's same-sex couples and their children. We look forward to defending Judge Dale's careful, thorough decision before the Ninth Circuit.”

Lori Watsen, who with her wife Sharene was among the couples bringing the case, said in a statement, “While Sharene and I are disappointed that the state won't have to respect our marriage right away, we're happy that the case is being fast-tracked. We look forward to the day our home state treats our marriage equally and we have the same legal protections as other married couples in Idaho.” 

Polls are open ‘til 8 tonight…

There's still plenty of time to get to the polls and vote in today's Idaho primary election. Later this evening, watch this space; I'll be posting news and results.

Forest Service bans exploding targets in Idaho, Montana, Dakotas, due to wildfire risk

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets in northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and portions of South Dakota due to wildfire and public safety concerns. Northern Region Forester Faye Krueger announced Tuesday the regional closure that immediately prohibits exploding targets on national forest lands. Some target shooters use the exploding targets because they contain chemical components that mix when struck by a bullet and create a fireball. The Forest Service says exploding targets the past two years have started at least 16 wildfires in western states that cost $33 million to fight. The order includes all 12 national forests and grasslands in the Northern Region. The fine for using the banned targets is up to $5,000 and six months in jail.

Vote today - fight the trend toward decreasing turnout in Idaho primary elections…

At my local polling place this morning, things seemed pretty slow. There were one or two other voters there when I arrived; none when I left. Poll workers said it’d been steady all morning, with a slow but near-constant trickle of voters showing up; there was no before-work rush. There certainly were no lines.

Voter turnout in Idaho’s primary elections has been declining for years, even as general-election turnout has remained relatively strong. Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is projecting a turnout of 27 percent today, which would be an improvement from the 24 percent of registered voters who cast ballots two years ago, but only back up to the 2010 level. In the 2012 general election, turnout was 74 percent of registered voters.

Ten years ago, in 2004, primary turnout was 26.8 percent, general election was 76.8 percent. In 1994, primary turnout was 33.3 percent, general was 67 percent.

“The numbers in terms of turnout are very discouraging,” said Boise State University professor emeritus Jim Weatherby. “When it comes to the general election, people in Idaho seem to think that’s the real election, and in many races it isn’t. In 1980, 34 years ago, there were 200,000 ballots cast (in the primary).” At that point, with Idaho’s lower population, that was a 41.34 percent turnout. “I think we’re hoping, 34 years later, that there will be 200,000 ballots cast or a few more,” Weatherby said, to make 27 percent. “It’s a sad commentary on our level of participation in primary elections, and they’ve been dropping over the years – when in many races this is the de facto election. That’s true in a one-party state.”

A ‘Moment of Zen’ for election day…

Oh, my. A snippet from last week’s Idaho gubernatorial debate made the “Moment of Zen” that closes out episodes of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show; it aired last night. I guess that’s our moment of Zen for Election Day today. You can watch here.

Judge orders Utah to recognizes gay marriages that took place before stay

A federal judge has ordered Utah officials to recognize more than 1,000 same-sex marriages that took place in the state before the U.S. Supreme Court issued an emergency stay, the AP reports. More than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples married in Utah after a federal judge overturned the state's same-sex marriage ban Dec. 20. Those weddings came to a halt Jan. 6 when the Supreme Court granted the stay. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball disagreed in his ruling today, saying Utah's decision to freeze all benefits put the couples in an unacceptable legal limbo regarding adoptions, child care and custody, medical decisions and inheritance, among other things. “These legal uncertainties and lost rights cause harm each day that the marriage is not recognized,” Kimball wrote.

He stayed his ruling for 21 days to allow the state an opportunity to appeal the ruling to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver; click below for a full report from AP reporter Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City.

Voters beware: Last-minute campaign messages are flying…

Beware the last-minute campaign message – that’s the lesson out of Kootenai County today, as Jeff Ward, head of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans, is calling for a criminal investigation into a group with a name very close to that of his group, which sent out a last-minute endorsement mailing with all the same graphics he used in a similar one in 2012, but backing candidates his group opposes. Among the candidates the new mailing endorses: One who’s running against Ward himself, in a three-way race for the legislative seat now held by retiring Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls.

The new group also calls itself “Kootenai County Reagan Republicans,” along with “Idaho Reagan Republicans, PAC,” and is the same group that’s quarreled with Ward’s group over the past two years over the use of the “Kootenai County Reagan Republicans” name, even, at one point, filing state business papers to use the name. Jeff Alltus, vice president of the new group, said, “Our idea is just you can only besmirch the name of Ronald Reagan enough. … The Reagan Republicans, the old ones, they just sold out.” He said his group decided several years ago to “just take it all over.”

However, from the perspective of the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, the new PAC appears to have properly filed its initial papers over the weekend, and if it discloses its donors and spending today, it likely will have complied with state disclosure rules. “We don’t regulate content,” said chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst. “All Idaho’s Sunshine Law requires is disclosure.”  You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see the two mailings – the 2012 Kootenai County Reagan Republicans endorsement mailing, and the new one that Ward calls “fraudulent” – online here.

Judge strikes down Oregon gay marriage ban

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge has struck down Oregon's same-sex marriage ban, saying it is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Michael McShane threw out the voter-approved ban Monday. State officials have said they'd be prepared to carry out same-sex marriages almost immediately, and couples lined up outside the county clerk's office in Portland in anticipation of the decision. Four gay and lesbian couples brought suit arguing Oregon's marriage laws unconstitutionally discriminate against same-sex couples and exclude them from a fundamental right. State officials refused to defend the ban, and McShane earlier denied a request by the National Organization for Marriage to intervene on behalf of its Oregon members. An appeals court Monday morning refused the group's request for an emergency stay of McShane's decision.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. Federal or state judges in Idaho, Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, Texas, Utah and Arkansas recently have found state same-sex marriage bans to be unconstitutional. Judges also have ordered Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Decision day is tomorrow - get out and vote…

Tomorrow is decision day in Idaho’s primary election – the one that it seemed hardly anyone was paying much attention to, until the eyes of the nation turned to some wacky antics by longshot candidates in last week’s gubernatorial debate. Now, more than half a million people have watched that debate online – and not just the highjinks, the whole thing, with an average viewing time of 48 minutes. In that race and others up and down the ticket, voters will make the call tomorrow. Polls open at 8 a.m.

Unfamiliar with the candidates? One resource is our Spokesman-Review Voter Guide to Idaho’s primary election, focusing on top-of-ticket races and North Idaho races. Other resources include full video of all nine of the “Idaho Debates” between the candidates in the state’s top contested primary races, available online here from Idaho Public Televison; the Idaho Statesman’s online voter guide here, which includes information on candidates in statewide and Treasure Valley legislative and local races; a guide from Idaho EdNews here; KBOI2 News' here; and KTVB's voter guide here. Voter information is available from the Idaho Secretary of State’s website here, including links to each county clerk for county-specific information. You can click here for links to all of our S-R reporting on this year’s primary election. Voting hours statewide are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time; counties also have the option of opening as early as 7 a.m.

Public records show how gov’s ombudsman order got scaled back at last minute

In a report based on information obtained under the Idaho Public Records Act, AP reporter Rebecca Boone has traced down how Gov. Butch Otter's plans for a new public records ombudsman were scaled back at the last minute - the night before they were announced - after the governor's office belatedly consulted with the Idaho Attorney General and learned of legal questions about its initial approach. Otter named Cally Younger, pictured above, as the new ombudsman on April 23.

Otter's chief of staff, David Hensley, emailed Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane the night before the announcement, along with others, asking about the proposal for the ombudsman to help people who have had public records requests denied, without their having to go to court. The current law says the only remedy for a person aggrieved by the denial of a record request is for that person to go to court.

Kane responded to Hensley's email by saying the draft appeared to create a separate remedy through the executive branch, the AP reports. Kane also noted a few places where it could complicate matters if a public records case goes to court, possibly opening the agencies or ombudsman up to a “bad faith” court claim from a disgruntled record-seeker. The issues could be avoided with a change to the state law, Kane said, adding the ombudsman as a middle or alternate step to the courts.

Just before midnight, Hensley sent a revised version to colleagues in the governor's office and to Jeremy Pisca, lobbyist for the Newspaper Association of Idaho. “I know it is short of where you and your clients wanted to be. I also know this is short notice. If you and your clients are willing to support this direction, I would commit to working with you on legislation for the next session to codify a review process for state agencies and local governments prior to and/or in lieu of litigation,” Hensley wrote. Click below for the AP's full report.

The week that was…

On tonight’s “Idaho Reports” program on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby, Kevin Richert, and co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz for a discussion of a wild week in Idaho politics. Yes, there’s some mention of that much-talked-about gubernatorial debate. 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. And if you want to see the GOP governor's debate, the full video is posted online here. Check it out - more than 350,000 people have. And they haven't been just watching snippets - the average watch time is 48 minutes.

AdWatch: Otter, Fulcher both launch new TV ads, Fulcher stretches claims

Both Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and his Republican challenger, state Sen. Russ Fulcher, have launched new TV commercials in the final days leading up to Tuesday’s election, but Fulcher’s contains two false claims and an exaggeration. Fulcher’s ad, titled “It’s Time,” recites a litany of criticisms of Otter’s record in two terms as governor, as various claims flash on the screen, including “105,000 Idahoans lost insurance” and “Government dependence up 82 percent.” Neither of those claims is true. It also exaggerates the number of years Otter’s held elective office, claiming 40 years rather than 32.

Otter’s ad, titled, “Two Choices, portrays his move to launch a state insurance exchange as an example of his fighting the federal government, while Fulcher seeks to tie Otter to Democratic President Barack Obama. Voters seeing both these ads will be left with a question, said BSU professor emeritus Jim Weatherby: “Who do you trust, who do you believe? Because they can’t both be accurate.” You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com.

Outside money floods Idaho races

Idaho Falls Post Register reporter Bryan Clark analyzed overall contributions to state candidates that have been entered into the state's campaign finance database so far this year, and found nearly $590,000 in out-of-state contributions, an amount that already exceeds out-of-state contributions at this time of year in any election cycle for the last two decades, with the exception of 2006. During the 2000 election cycle, 13.3 percent of those donations came from beyond the state, Clark reports. Click below for his full report.

Gay marriage backers rally with smiles, cake on courthouse steps

Close to 200 people gathered on the steps of the Ada County Courthouse today for what was originally planned as a celebration of the start of legal gay marriage in Idaho, but thanks to a 9th Circuit temporary stay, instead became a feel-good gathering supporting the progress toward that goal. Here, organizer Emily Walton cuts the donated wedding cake to feed the crowd; same-sex couples, supporters, friends and family members mixed happily, some saying the gathering felt more like a reunion.

“I think this is awesome,” said a smiling Sue Latta, the lead plaintiff in the successful lawsuit that overturned Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage. “This is not just for us, this is for everybody, young, old, gay, straight. Here’s what I believe: If we voted on it today, the constitutional amendment would not pass.” Periodically, cars passing by on busy Front Street honked their horns, prompting those along the sidewalk to wave and cheer.

Off to one side, four protesters stood quietly with signs saying, “My vote should count” and “I support you Gov. Otter and Attorney General Wasden, Idaho voted, our vote should stand.”

Walton said, “We’ve tried to avoid any really political rally stuff. We want people to be happy – this is still a great crowd.”

Of cowboys, curmudgeons, and national eyes on Idaho…

This Idaho Public TV photo, by Jim Hadley, shows my facial expression as one of the three reporters on the panel for this week’s Idaho gubernatorial debate. The antics of perennial candidates Harley Brown and Walter Bayes in the debate that otherwise was between two-term Gov. Butch Otter and GOP challenger and Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher attracted national attention and mirth.

I talked briefly with NBC News political director Chuck Todd on his “Daily Rundown” story this morning about Idaho politics as Tuesday’s primary election approaches, but didn’t get a chance to correct him on an incorrect assumption he’d made earlier in the program: That when Brown listed Idaho’s GOP candidates for governor during the debate as “a cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker, or a normal guy,” the incumbent governor must have been the “normal guy” in the list.

Actually, in Brown’s list, Otter was the “cowboy.” As we all know in Idaho, we have a rodeo-loving, calf-roping, horseback-riding cowboy governor. Fulcher was the “normal guy.” Todd’s show is online here.

Meanwhile, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey, my fellow panelist on the debate, reports today that a two-minute mashup of the debate that went viral on social media yesterday was put together by an editor at KTVB-TV, whose bosses asked him to take it down yesterday afternoon due to concerns over copyright issues. Idaho Public TV officials are meeting today to discuss copyright issues, but haven't raised any concerns. Popkey also provides a link to an interview Slate.com did with debate host Melissa Davlin, in which interviewer Mike Pesca praised Davlin as “heroic” for her handling of the debate.

Fulcher promises to spare state ‘public humiliation’ like last night’s gubernatorial debate

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, is decrying last night’s gubernatorial debate, saying incumbent Gov. Butch Otter’s insistence on including two marginal candidates created a “circus atmosphere.” “As a result, the ‘debate’ turned from a serious discussion regarding the position for Idaho’s chief executive, to a mockery of the Republican Party and of Idaho,” Fulcher said. “Clearly, the governor wanted to take time away from me and minimize exposure to his failed record as governor.”

Fulcher said, “When I am governor, I will not subject my party or my state to this type of public humiliation.” You can read his full statement here.

Where it stands: Idaho same-sex marriage ruling put on temporary hold by appeals court

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the delay in what otherwise was looking to be a historic moment tomorrow – the beginning of legal same-sex marriages in Idaho. Idaho’s gay marriage ban was overturned Tuesday when U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale ruled it unconstitutional. Dale said Idaho must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting Friday morning at 9, but the state filed emergency motions seeking a delay while it appealed the ruling.

On Thursday afternoon, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay, putting a hold on gay marriages in Idaho while it considers the state’s motions. The court didn’t signal how long it would take; for now, everything’s on hold. Deborah Ferguson, lead attorney for the four couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban, noted that the 9th Circuit hasn’t decided whether Dale’s order should be stayed while it’s appealed to higher courts. It’s just given itself more time to consider the motions for such a stay and the couples’ objections to it.

Otter endorses primary challengers to 5 legislative incumbents

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has endorsed candidates in 22 legislative primary races - including five challengers to current GOP incumbents, four of them from North Idaho. “I have an agreement with the majority leadership in both the House and the Senate,” Otter said. “I will stay out of those contested races where there’s an incumbent, with the exception that if that incumbent has endorsed my opponent, I am free.”

All five – Sens. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, and Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, and Kathy Sims and Ron Mendive, both R-Coeur d’Alene – have endorsed Meridian state Sen. Russ Fulcher in the Republican primary over Otter; some of them have held fundraisers or gatherings for Fulcher. “I think that frees me up,” Otter declared.

The endorsements in Idaho’s Tuesday primary election come as the state’s Republican Party is deeply split. An illustration: GOP 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador today endorsed all four of the North Idaho incumbents whose challengers Otter is backing. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Wasden files brief, says state would be harmed if marriage ruling wasn’t stayed, then was overturned on appeal

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has filed a response brief with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, pressing for his motion to stay the change in Idaho’s marriage laws until appeals have been completed. Wasden responds to arguments from lawyers for four same-sex couples who urged the 9th Circuit not to stay the ruling. U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale issued the ruling Tuesday, declaring Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional and ordering the state to permit same-sex marriages starting Friday at 9 a.m. The 9th Circuit has now issued a temporary stay, delaying that, while it considers motions from Wasden and Gov. Butch Otter to hold off on the change while the federal court decision is appealed.

Wasden argues that the U.S. Supreme Court’s order staying the effect of a decision overturning Utah’s same-sex marriage ban was “an unmistakable signal by the Supreme Court that lower federal courts should not disrupt the status quo through intrusive injunctive relief.” He also argues that there are ways the state could be harmed if there’s no stay, but the decision later is overturned on appeal, because the state would process everything from tax returns to worker’s compensation spousal benefits under the ruling, and then would have to figure out how to undo those things. All those take “significant public resources to administer,” he argued. You can read the 7-page brief here.

Lead plaintiff: ‘Burden is on the state to prove that our marriages are detrimental to anyone, and they can’t’

“As hard and as heart wrenching as this ‘temporary stay’ is for all those people who were planning to finally get married tomorrow, this may be the best thing that the court could have done,” Sue Latta, the lead plaintiff in Idaho’s same-sex marriage court case, told Eye on Boise this afternoon. “If they had had a knee-jerk reaction, we probably would have gotten a ‘stay pending appeal,’ which will take many months, but they didn't do that. They are going to take a hard look at all the new case law that has been generated … and whether it seems like the state will ultimately be successful, and I believe that they are going to deny the stay. In my heart I believe it because we are on the right side of this.”

Noted Latta, “The burden is on the state to prove that our marriages are detrimental to anyone, and they can't. We are going to win because all we are asking for is to be treated like everyone else, and that is not an unreasonable thing to ask for.”

Latta and her wife Traci Ehlers, of Boise, have been together for 10 years, and were legally married in California in 2008. They are one of four couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage; U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale ruled the ban unconstitutional on Tuesday. The state is appealing to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Idaho county clerks prepare for marriage law changes

The Idaho Association of Counties convened county clerks from across the state in a webinar this afternoon to go over procedures to comply with the federal court decision this week legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. Just before the session started, the news came that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had issued a temporary stay, delaying the change, which had been scheduled to take effect Friday morning at 9. “They were pretty well ready,” said Dan Chadwick, IAC executive director. “Now we’ve been given a little bit of breathing room and we can fine-tune it a little bit more.”

The main change needed is to forms for marriage licenses, which now identify “bride” and “groom.” “The question is do you use bride-bride, groom-groom, spouse, person – there are a number of different opinions out there, and all of them are correct,” Chadwick said. “Part of the discussion was to make sure that the marriage license itself ends up in a format that is a family keepsake, because it is.”

He said, “We have given ourselves a deadline of Tuesday of next week to finalize the forms, because we don’t know what the courts are going to do. What we want to do is be ready if the stay is lifted and the injunction goes into effect, and we’re pretty close.”

The county clerks conferred with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and representatives of the state’s bureau of vital statistics at the webinar, Chadwick said. “We had over 50 participants on the webinar. My guess is we had pretty close to every county participating.”

Said Chadwick, “If the injunction goes into effect, the counties are ready to perform their duty.”

Minister ‘sad’ at cancelling plans to perform free same-sex weddings at Kootenai courthouse tomorrow

North Idaho Unitarian Universalist Fellowship minister Tracy Springberry had planned to be at the Kootenai County Courthouse in the morning to perform same-sex marriages for free for anyone who wanted them, and was disappointed to hear this afternoon of the temporary stay from the 9th Circuit, delaying the change in Idaho’s marriage laws. “That makes me mad,” she said. “I was so hopeful that would not happen. … I guess we won’t do that.”

Springberry said Unitarian Universalists have been performing same-sex marriage ceremonies since the ‘70s. “We really believe, in my tradition, that people who are in committed, loving relationships need to have those recognized by their communities and their societies and have legal protections, and that everyone should be treated equally and respectfully,” she said. “The status of things in our country at this point sometimes means I cannot live out my faith – for me, it’s a very important religious issue.”

Springberry said she’d put the word out that she’d be at the courthouse, following the lead of other Unitarian Universalists in other states when their states legalized same-sex marriage. “I’m sad,” she said. “But I kind of feel like this is sort of the way this goes. It’ll be a bumpy ride. I think it’ll probably pass eventually.”

Wedding reception-style party still on at courthouse in the morning, despite stay…

A party at the Ada County courthouse featuring wedding cake for 300 is still on, says organizer Emily Walton, even though the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a temporary stay of the ruling overturning Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling otherwise would have taken effect at 9 a.m. on Friday.

“We knew all along a stay could be issued at any time,” Walton said. “I know it won’t be as fun at all, but I think it’s really good to get together and show support.” Now, instead of celebrating same-sex couples getting married, she said, “It’s about couples who can’t get married now.”

The cake has been ordered from – and largely donated by – Pastry Perfection, and will feature white frosting, rainbow sprinkles and rainbow ribbon, Walton said.  Flying M has donated coffee for the party. “We really wanted it to be just like a wedding reception,” she said. “I know eventually gay people in Idaho will be able to get married, just maybe not tomorrow.”

Otter says he ‘appreciates’ the 9th Circuit’s temporary stay on marriage ruling, avoids ‘chaos and confusion’

Gov. Butch Otter issued the following statement on the temporary stay issued this afternoon by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, blocking legal same-sex marriage from beginning tomorrow morning at 9:

“I appreciate the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stepping in to ensure Idaho will not have to endure the same kind of chaos and confusion that Utah faced after a similar lower-court decision. Today’s ruling stays the federal magistrate’s order and maintains the status of marriage as defined by the Idaho Constitution – between one man and one woman. Meanwhile, I am proceeding with an aggressive challenge in the appellate court. I’m hopeful for a better outcome, but in any event I am committed to defending our Constitution and the will of Idaho voters.” 

9th Circuit issues temporary stay, blocks same-sex marriages from starting tomorrow in Idaho

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just issued a stay, temporarily halting U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s order permitting same-sex marriage in Idaho from taking effect as scheduled Friday morning. The appeals court’s brief order says Dale’s decision “is temporarily stayed pending this court’s disposition of appellants’ emergency motions for a stay pending appeal.”

The court didn’t signal how long it would take to consider those motions. For now, everything’s on hold.

Labrador endorses Nonini, Otter endorses Whalen in same race

Idaho 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, who earlier this week made waves by endorsing Russ Fulcher for governor over two-term fellow Republican Gov. Butch Otter, announced today that he’s endorsing four North Idaho incumbents for re-election to the Idaho Legislature: Sen. Bob Nonini, and Reps. Vito Barbieri, Kathy Sims and Ron Mendive. Here’s the kicker: Otter has endorsed the challengers to all four: Post Falls businessman Patrick Whalen over Nonini, firefighter Fritz Wiedenhoff over Barbieri, former Kootenai County Commissioner Rick Currie over Kathy Sims, and longtime Post Falls city official Terry Werner over Mendive.

You can read Labrador’s full announcement here. Here’s Nonini’s statement on the endorsements:

“I am proud to have the strong endorsement of Congressman Raúl Labrador.  We worked together well in the Idaho House and support the SAME conservative principles shared by the vast majority of Idaho Republicans.

I have not supported Otter's 7+ years of failed leadership.  I was adamantly opposed to welcoming ObamaCare into Idaho and, alongside then State Representative Labrador, I helped defeat the Governor's attempt in the depth of our recession to raise the gas-tax on all Idahoans.  Idaho is no better off today than it was when he became governor.” 

Here is Otter’s endorsement statement for Whalen:

“Pat's vision for economic development and education demonstrate that he understands the issues important to northern Idaho. I appreciate Pat's philosophy of lower taxes, smaller government and better schools. Please join me in supporting Pat Whalen for the Idaho State Senate.”

Fulcher on attending debates and forums with just Bayes and Brown: ‘It’s awkward’

With all the attention today on the antics of little-known GOP primary candidates for governor Harley Brown and Walt Bayes in last night’s debate, imagine what it’s been like for state Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, appearing at forums with just those two – because Otter agreed to only one face-off, last night’s televised debate, and insisted that all four candidates be included. “I’ve gone to probably 11 candidate forums in the last 14 days all over the state, by myself I might add, or with Walt Bayes and Harley Brown,” Fulcher told Eye on Boise earlier this week. “Without Gov. Otter.”

Asked what it’s been like to appear with the other two candidates, Fulcher said, “It’s awkward, it’s awkward. It’s just, there’s a different motivation and I don’t completely relate to what their motives may or may not be, it’s not clear to me. So it’s hard. On a personal level, as far as I know, I like them personally. But it’s certainly difficult when you’re trying to do a debate or answer questions.”

Couples file opposition brief in 9th Circuit, urging no stay on marriage ruling

The four couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on gay marriage have filed a 23-page brief in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals objecting to the state’s motion for a stay that would block the decision from taking effect tomorrow morning. You can read their brief here.

While Gov. Butch Otter is arguing that a stay should be issued while the state appeals U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s ruling, pointing to stays issued in other same-sex marriage cases including one issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in a Utah case, the plaintiffs say the Utah case was the first one to come up after the Windsor decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. “The stay application had to be measured against a limited jurisprudence of a single case,” wrote Deborah Ferguson, lead attorney for the couples. Subsequent stays were issued citing that case, she wrote. “Since that decision, however, an unbroken wave of federal and state courts in every corner of the nation – including Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia – have come to the same conclusion: In the wake of Windsor, marriage equality is a constitutional imperative. Not a single court in the nation has found to the contrary.”

Ferguson argued that the state’s motions for an emergency stay, rather than deferring to the Utah decision, should be subject to a four-part test: 1, whether the state is likely to succeed on the merits; 2, whether the state would be “irreparably injured” if a stay isn’t issued; 3, whether issuing a stay would “substantially injure” same-sex couples; and 4, “where the public interest lies.”

She argued that the state’s motion for the stay fails all four points in the test. “Defendants are unable to articulate any concrete way in which permitting same-sex couples to marry or recognizing their existing marriages would be detrimental to the State or its residents, much less cause irreparable harm,” Ferguson wrote. “Moreover, the public is harmed when families and children are deprived of the benefits and stability that marriage provides.”

The plaintiffs asked that if the 9th Circuit does decide to issue a stay, it speed up its handling of the appeal from the usual timeframe, and hear arguments this summer.

Idaho GOP warns same-sex marriage will lead to ‘disintegration of our society,’ Ringo calls on Otter to accept ruling

Catching up on a couple of items from yesterday:

The Idaho Republican Party issued a statement decrying U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s ruling overturning Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage. In it, party Chairman Barry Peterson said, “The disintegration of marriage will lead to the disintegration of our society. Judge Dale is wrong. The State has a valid interest in promoting the optimal circumstance for every child - and that is being raised in a home with both a loving mother and father.” You can read the full statement here.

And longtime state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who is running for Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat, sent out a statement calling on Gov. Butch Otter to “immediately accept the federal court ruling” and allow Navy veteran Madelynn Lee Taylor to be buried with her late wife, Jean Mixner, at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery. “I know Gov. Otter is going to appeal this ruling – he has an election next week, after all – but I hope he’ll make a call to the cemetery’s administration and ask that they find a spot for Jean before he races to court,” Ringo said. “More importantly, I hope he’ll reconsider his position and embrace marriage equality here in Idaho.” You can read her full statement here.

Idaho Debates supercut: Gotta see it

It was inevitable: You can now watch on YouTube a two-minute “supercut” of last night's hour-long GOP gubernatorial debate on the “Idaho Debates,” featuring the wildest comments from candidates Harley Brown and Walt Bayes, along with glimpses of the facial expressions of Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Russ Fulcher, moderator Melissa Davlin and those of us on the reporter panel; see it here. It'll make you laugh out loud. (UPDATE: If you haven't seen this yet, I'm afraid it's too late; the owner took the video down this afternoon.)

Meanwhile, Mother Jones magazine has posted a report here on the Idaho debate, including a detailed description of Brown and the observation that Bayes “has a beard that extends halfway down his ribcage and resembles a 19th-century gold prospector.” Idaho Statesman columnist (and my fellow panelist on the debate) Dan Popkey has a commentary here, the L.A. Times has its take here, and the Oregonian's Jeff Mapes has his take here, about which he tweeted, “You think Portland's weird?”

Quite the debate for governor…

That was quite the debate on Idaho Public TV tonight, with some spirited back-and-forth between Gov. Butch Otter and primary challenger Russ Fulcher on the issues, and wacky weirdness from the two other candidates, Harley Brown and Walt Bayes.

Here are excerpts from each of their closing comments:

OTTER: “I’ve experienced a lot as your governor, and I’m putting all that I’ve experienced to work every day to improve on how I do my job of serving you. … I’m honored to have been through the refining fire with you, and I’m excited about continuing to face the challenges of today and tomorrow.”

FULCHER: “I ask you to ask yourself: Are you better off today than you were eight years ago? If you’re like most of us, the answer is no. It’s time to shake up the establishment.”

BROWN: “You have your choice, folks: A cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker, or (looking over toward Fulcher) a normal guy. Take your pick. … We’re leaving it up to you.”

BAYES: “Butch, I’d like to thank you for making it possible for me to be here tonight. He kinda insisted that me and this un-normal person (gesturing to Brown) could be here tonight.”

Click below for a report on the debate from the Associated Press. Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert has a report here; you can watch the debate online here. KTVB-TV's Jamie Grey reports here on how each candidate responded to the same-sex marriage ruling.

Wasden files second emergency motion to 9th Circuit, seeking delay in marriage case

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has now filed an emergency motion with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as well, seeking to delay the effective date of a federal judge’s order permitting same-sex marriage in Idaho starting Friday morning. Wasden argues that the couples who sued to overturn the ban would be the ones harmed if a stay isn’t granted, because they’d be allowed to marry, but then, if the ruling is subsequently overturned on appeal, their marriages could be legally undone. “None of the parties’ interests, nor those of non-party same-sex couples, are served by the manifold complications attendant to such ‘de-marriage,’ the Attorney General argues. “Absent a stay, marriages would be entered into under a cloud of potential impermanence that has quite significant practical consequences if the district court got it wrong.”

You can read the attorney general’s motion here.

Otter files stay request with 9th Circuit, says he’ll fight for ‘Idaho’s right to self-determination’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has filed a motion for an emergency stay with the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, asking that a federal judge’s order declaring same-sex marriage legal in Idaho not take effect Friday morning as scheduled. You can read Otter’s 25-page brief here. He also issued this statement:

“My first and highest responsibility is to defend the Idaho Constitution and the will of the people of Idaho as expressed at the ballot box. Idaho voters decided this issue in 2006 by defining ‘marriage’ in our Constitution as a union between a man and a woman. As Governor, it is my duty to aggressively support that decision throughout the legal process. We did that before Judge Dale with arguments that go to the heart of Idaho’s values and respect for the family unit as it’s been embraced by society for millennia. But we have seen enough federal judges around the country ignoring the expressed will of voters and the constitutionally protected sovereignty of states that we know this issue will be finally decided by the United States Supreme Court.  My job now is to ensure our state’s voice is heard loud and clear on appeal, and that Idaho’s right to self-determination is not further undermined.”

GOP rivals for Secretary of State blast perceived front-runner McGrane in debate

Among the four GOP candidates facing off for the chance to become Idaho’s next Secretary of State, the three with experience in elective office made it clear in a televised debate last night that they see the one who lacks that as the front-runner.

Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney and former state Sens. Evan Frasure and Mitch Toryanski heaped criticisms on chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, the youngest candidate in the race and the one who’s been endorsed by retiring Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and many of Idaho’s 44 county clerks. “I didn’t accept any endorsements from (county) clerks,” Frasure said. “I think it’s inappropriate. … They are the referees. They need to stay out of partisan elections, clerks do.” County clerks, who oversee elections in their counties, are partisan elected officials in Idaho.

Toryanski said, “Unfortunately, Mr. McGrane put them in a very bad position. He persuaded them to use their position and their title to support his campaign,” while also advocating that the Secretary of State be fair and non-partisan in handling elections. “Phil says one thing but when it benefits him, he does another, and that bothers me,” Toryanski said.

McGrane responded, “I’m honored to have the support of Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and the majority of the clerks throughout the state.” He said, “It’s because of the great people who oversee this system that we put so much faith in it.”

The debate, sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho and broadcast statwide on Idaho Public Television, was part of the “Idaho Debates” leading up to Tuesday’s primary election. During the hour-long debate, McGrane took heat from his rivals for everything from his concerns about the closed primary to whether it’s better to making voting easier. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see the full debate here at idahoptv.org.

Tonight is the final installment of the Idaho Debates: The sole debate in the GOP primary race for governor, with Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Russ Fulcher, Harley Brown and Walt Bayes all scheduled to appear.

Otter, Wasden file notices of appeal to 9th Circuit in marriage case, Otter brings in new lawyer

Both Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden have now filed notices of appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, to challenge U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s ruling overturning Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage. Those brief notices just say they’re appealing to the higher court.

The governor also is bringing in an additional attorney, Monte N. Stewart, the founding president of the Utah-based Marriage Law Foundation and former U.S. Attorney for Nevada; Stewart now is a Boise attorney. Stewart has worked to defend bans on same-sex marriage in at least eight states, including Utah, where he was co-chairman of the group that campaigned for the ballot measure imposing Utah’s now-challenged constitutional ban; several of his writings were cited in Otter’s arguments in the Idaho case.

Also in the past two hours, Dale has issued a judgment, formalizing her decision in the case – allowing legal same-sex marriages to begin Friday morning at 9 – and ordering the clerk of the court to close the case.

Todd Dvorak, spokesman for Wasden, said the Attorney General had been planning to file a motion for a stay of Dale’s order with the district court in Idaho, but said, “That was really short-circuited by the judge’s denial of the governor’s motion. And then she filed a judgment, essentially ending things there.”

Now, he said, Wasden plans to file his motion for a stay of Dale’s ruling with the 9th Circuit before the end of the day today.

Otter issued this statement:

“Judge Dale’s denial of the State’s request for a stay of her decision on same-sex marriage is regrettable in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to stay a similar case, but not surprising. We will appeal to the 9th Circuit Court.” 

Court rejects Otter’s motion for stay, marriage ruling stands

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale has denied Gov. Butch Otter’s motion for an emergency hearing on his bid to stay her decision overturning Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage – and she’s also denied the motion for a stay. “Having fully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequate presented in the Governor’s motion, the briefs on the merits, and the record,” she wrote in an order issued just now. “Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, this matter will be decided on the record without oral argument.”

She then proceeded to decide it. “This case involves serious legal questions, but as the Court’s May 13 Order makes clear, Governor Otter is not likely to succeed on the merits,” the judge wrote. “The State’s continued enforcement of its laws against same-sex marriage irreparably harms Plaintiffs and other same-sex couples.”

She found that the “public interest” doesn’t favor “preserving a status quo that deprives individuals of their constitutional rights.” So her ruling stands: Unless a higher court intervenes, same-sex marriage will become legal in Idaho on Friday morning.

Here is our coverage of Tuesday night's initial ruling by Dale.   

Idaho GOP Chair: County central committees entitled to donate to campaigns against GOP incumbents

Idaho Republican Party Chairman Barry Peterson says the Idaho and Clearwater County Republican Central Committees were well within their rights to donate thousands in local party funds to a PAC that’s mounting campaign attacks against GOP Gov. Butch Otter and GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “The state party is holding its neutral position on candidates in the primary,” Peterson said. “But every county, the rules do allow for counties to endorse candidates of their choosing. They put that in the rules, oh, a few years ago.”

He added, “It’d be inappropriate for the state party to tell the county party what they can or cannot do, when it’s clearly within the rules for the central committees to be able to endorse candidates if they want to.” You can read my full story here on the new PAC at spokesman.com.

Frequent candidate’s latest antics: Donating to opponent, decrying PAC mailing

Perennial candidate Harley Brown, who is running in the GOP primary for governor along with incumbent Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Russ Fulcher, and anti-abortion advocate Walt Bayes, inexplicably made a $20 donation to Otter’s campaign on May 2. Now, he’s sent an email to Attorney General Lawrence Wasden saying though he’d earlier endorsed Wasden’s primary opponent, he’s having second thoughts after receiving a mailing attacking Wasden.

Brown's email, obtained under the Idaho Public Records Act, is headed, “LOUSY LYING[ PAC POSTCARD.” In all caps, Brown wrote, “Although I have publicly endorsed your opponent, Troupis, today I received a postcard from the ‘Integrity in Government’ PAC full of deceitful lies about you which infuriated me. The lying bastards should all be flogged. I am severely tempted to vote for you now just to spite the lying S.O.B.’s and make their evil plan backfire on them.”

No hearing this morning; Wasden working on second motion for stay

It does not appear that the U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale plans to schedule a hearing by noon today, as requested by Gov. Butch Otter, on his motion to stay her decision overturning Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage. The court referred inquiries to its docket, which shows nothing scheduled. Standard practice in U.S. District Court is for any hearings to be noticed on the court docket, with time for the parties to get to court and be prepared.

The current status of the case, according to the court docket, is that the ban has been permanently enjoined as unconstitutional, with the injunction taking effect Friday at 9 a.m. Boise time.

Todd Dvorak, spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said, “We have not heard anything. We are in the process of filing a motion for a stay.” That’s like to be filed later today, he said. “We are not asking for an emergency hearing when we file our motion to stay,” Dvorak said. “We will be gently asking the judge to expedite the process if possible.”

Otter requests emergency hearing on stay in gay-marriage case by noon today; no response yet from court

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has requested an emergency hearing from the U.S. District Court by noon today on his motion for a stay in the decision overturning Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage, but that’s just two hours away and the court hasn’t responded. Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary said, “The injunction as we understand it would go into effect on Friday. And so we filed a motion for a stay until this question is decided by a higher court. We’re appealing, and so we believe that we want to avoid what Utah went through and the confusion and chaos that that created.”

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden also is working on a motion for a stay, though nothing’s been filed yet. Hanian said, “There are some other legal options and we’re looking at all of them. We’re hopeful we’ll hear something soon on our request for emergency hearing.”

The governor’s emergency request for hearing says if he doesn’t get a hearing or “some other appropriate relief” by noon today, “he will have no choice but to file a Notice of Appeal … and seek in unseemly haste a Ninth Circuit stay, and if necessary, a stay from Circuit Justice Kennedy.” You can read the governor’s latest filing here.

 

Voter Guide: Gov’s race, others face Idaho voters in Tuesday’s primary

Idaho’s 72-year-old millionaire rancher governor has built a long political career on disdain for the federal government and stirring talk of “freedom” and Idahoans being the “architects of our own destiny.” So Butch Otter, who successfully ran for Congress a decade and a half ago on a pledge to tell the feds to “butt out” of the state – and served three terms – seems a bit puzzled about his current GOP primary challenge, from a state Senate leader who maintains Otter’s not conservative enough.

“Did I ever believe in my life somebody would run at me from the right? No, I didn’t,” Otter said, as he paused from campaigning for a third term as governor, walking from door to door in a Meridian neighborhood, talking folks up and handing out brochures.

Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, is heading a slate of candidates challenging Idaho’s top GOP office-holders in the primary, saying they’re not true enough to the Idaho Republican Party’s platform, not sufficiently averse to Obamacare, and wrong not to dump Common Core standards for school kids and try to take title to federal public lands in the state.

Fulcher calls the Affordable Care Act “the greatest expansion of government in our lifetimes,” and faults Otter for pushing for a state-based health insurance exchange. And he says with a “broke” federal government, Idaho has the best shot it’s ever had at getting title to the more than 60 percent of the state that now consists of federal public lands, much of it grazing or forest land. You can read my full story here on the governor’s primary race – the only debate between Otter and Fulcher, also featuring candidates Harley Brown and Walt Bayes, is on Idaho Public TV tonight at 8.

And click here for our S-R voter guide, on contested races in Tuesday’s primary for statewide offices, North Idaho legislative races and local contests in Kootenai County.

New Idaho PAC targets Otter, Wasden

A new group calling itself the “Integrity in Government PAC” has raised more than $100,000 in the past week for campaign attacks on GOP Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden – even though it has ties to two county GOP central committees. The group sent out mailings sharply critical of both Otter and Wasden to every registered Republican in the state, and has a website up criticizing Otter and calling for his defeat; both he and Wasden face challenges in Idaho’s GOP primary on Tuesday.

Gary Moncrief, a Boise State University political scientist and an expert on campaign finance, said, “It is unusual, there’s no doubt about that. The party, state or local, usually stays out of primaries, and obviously that’s not the case.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Lee Ann Callear, the PAC’s chair, is an Idaho Republican Party executive committee member and Region 2 chair; she formed the PAC with three other central Idaho residents and Doyle Beck of Idaho Falls, who is the Bonneville County Republican Party chairman. “We’ve never done this before,” said Callear, of Ahsahka, saying she hopes to “counter some of the big money that is coming from the lobbyists.”

Otter’s raised $407K in the past five months for campaign; Fulcher, $106K

Today was the deadline for Idaho primary election candidates to file their campaign finance disclosure reports, the only chance voters get before the primary to see who's funding the various campaigns. The reports show that Gov. Butch Otter raised more than $407,500 in the past five months, nearly four times as much as GOP challenger Russ Fulcher, the AP reports. Click below for a roundup of the reports in statewide races. Also, Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert has an analysis of the reports here; it includes these tidbits: Gov. Butch Otter's contributions included $20 from primary challenger Harley Brown; and one of the biggest donors to Otter challenger Russ Fulcher is Syringa Networks, the company that lost out on the Idaho Education Network contract and sued.

Idaho becomes 11th state to see gay marriage ban overturned in federal court

Here's a link to my updated full story at spokesman.com on today's federal court ruling overturning Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage. Unless a higher court intervenes, same-sex couples in Idaho can legally marry starting Friday morning. Just a day earlier, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter had filed a pre-emptive motion asking U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale to stay her decision - blocking it from taking immediate effect - if she ruled against Idaho’s ban, to avoid the “chaos, confusion, conflict and uncertainty” that would ensue if same-sex couples in Idaho were allowed to marry, but then subsequent appeals halted such marriages. Dale declined.

Idaho now becomes the 11th state in which federal courts have overturned a state ban on same-sex marriage, all in the past half-year; plus, a state court invalidated Arkansas' ban last week, and state courts in New Jersey and New Mexico have overturned their states' bans. Deborah Ferguson, lead attorney for the Idaho couples who sued, said, “When we filed this case in November, there hadn't been a single federal decision issued.” Most of those cases are on appeal. “These cases are happening simultaneously around the country,” Ferguson said. With the state vowing to appeal, it’s possible that Idaho’s case could be the one that arrives first at the U.S. Supreme Court. Said Ferguson, “We will vigorously defend this judgment.”

What the judge said…

Here are some of U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s comments in her 57-page decision today overturning Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional:

“After careful consideration, the Court finds Idaho’s Marriage Laws unconstitutional. This conclusion reaffirms a longstanding maxim underlying our system of government—a state’s broad authority to regulate matters of state concern does not include the power to violate an individual’s protected constitutional rights. … Idaho’s Marriage Laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens the fundamental right to marry and relegate their families to a stigmatized, second-class status without sufficient reason for doing so. These laws do not withstand any applicable level of constitutional scrutiny.”

In her conclusion, the judge wrote:

“The Plaintiffs are entitled to extraordinary remedies because of their extraordinary injuries. Idaho’s Marriage Laws withhold from them a profound and personal choice, one that most can take for granted. By doing so, Idaho’s Marriage Laws deny same-sex couples the economic, practical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of marriage, relegating each couple to a stigmatized, second-class status. Plaintiffs suffer these injuries not because they are unqualified to marry, start a family, or grow old together, but because of who they are and whom they love.”

The judge dismissed the state’s main argument, writing,

“The Defendants offered no evidence that same-sex marriage would adversely affect opposite-sex marriages or the well-being of children. Without proof, the Defendants’ justifications echo the unsubstantiated fears that could not prop up the anti-miscegenation laws and rigid gender roles of days long past. Then as now, it is the duty of the courts to apply the law to the facts in evidence. Here, the facts are clear and the law teaches that marriage is a fundamental right of all citizens, which neither tradition nor the majority can deny.” 

Plaintiffs, attorneys in same-sex marriage case: ‘An enormously important decision’

Outside the federal courthouse in Boise this evening, attorneys and the four couples who sued successfully to overturn Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban were jubilant. Unless a higher court intervenes – the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court – same-sex couples in Idaho will be able to marry, starting Friday morning at 9. “If there’s no stay, we’re going to be first in line Friday morning,” said a tearful Shelia Robertson, who has been with partner Andrea Altmayer for 16 years; the two are raising a four-year-old son.

“My little boy can grow up in a family just like anybody else’s little boy, and know that his mothers are connected and protected,” she said. “Friday morning I’ll be at the courthouse requesting a license, and then we’ll file for a step-parent adoption.” Added Altmayer, “It means the world.”

Sue Latta, with wife Traci Ehlers – the two were legally married in California in 2008 – said, “We’re ecstatic – there couldn’t have been a better ruling. We had a valid legal argument.”

Deborah Ferguson, lead attorney in the case, said, “This is a historic day for Idaho and Idaho’s families. We are absolutely thrilled with this decision.” She complimented the four couples for their courage in coming forward to bring the case.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale, in her 57-page decision, found that Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage, enacted as a constitutional amendment by voters in 2006, violates the couples’ constitutional rights to equal protection and due process, and found that there’s a “fundamental right” to marry under the U.S. Constitution. The judge struck down Idaho’s law both under the “heightened scrutiny” called for in a January 9th Circuit decision, and under the lesser “rational basis” standard for which the state argued.

“It’s an enormously important decision,” Ferguson said.

 

Court overturns Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban

U.S. District Judge Candy Dale has ruled Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, overturning it. The court’s order takes effect at 9 a.m. on May 16; you can read the judge’s 57-page decision here. “The court’s ruling is a victory not only for the courageous couples who brought this case, but for everyone who cares about freedom and fairness,” said Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the four same-sex couples who sued.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who defended the ban, vowed to appeal. “In 2006, the people of Idaho exercised their fundamental right, reaffirming that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” Otter said. “Today’s decision, while disappointing, is a small setback in a long-term battle that will end at the U.S. Supreme Court.  I am firmly committed to upholding the will of the people and defending our Constitution.”

Otter wants immediate stay on same-sex marriage ruling, if it goes against state

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has filed a “contingent motion to stay pending appeal” in the same-sex marriage case in federal court, asking that if U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale overturns Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage, she immediately stay her ruling to allow for appeals, including to the U.S. Supreme Court. The governor contends that “chaos” and “confusion” would reign without a stay; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

“In the event of an adverse order, Gov. Otter will timely and duly appeal it to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,” the governor’s motion says, and if the 9th Circuit agrees with the lower court, to the U.S. Supreme Court. The motion also raises the possibility that Otter would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court even before the 9th Circuit had ruled.

Arguing for the stay, Otter’s attorney, Thomas Perry, wrote that without it, “There is likely to be a repetition in Idaho of the chaos, confusion, conflict, uncertainty and spawn of further litigation and administrative actions seen in Utah and, to a lesser extent, in Michigan.” Those are both states in which courts have struck down same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional, prompting gay couples to begin marrying; and then the court orders have been stayed pending appeal, halting the marriages. Click below for more on this.

 

A historical perspective on how Idaho became a one-party state…

Boise State Public Radio reporter Adam Cotterell has a fascinating look at Idaho political history today in his report, “Road to Red: How Idaho Became a One-Party State,” which also was the topic of a BSPR panel discussion last night featuring Idaho GOP Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, Democratic strategist Betty Richardson, and BSU professor emeritus Jim Weatherby. You can see Cotterell’s full report here. It traces how everything from national issues to in-migration to personalities helped bring Idaho to its current political state.

 

No comment from Otter camp as Labrador charges Otter has ‘failed to lead’

Gov. Butch Otter’s campaign had no comment on the announcement today from 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador that he’s endorsing Russ Fulcher, Otter’s GOP primary challenger. Here’s some more of what Labrador had to say: “Idaho’s business climate is not competitive with other states, our citizens are hurting and our state is more dependent on the federal government. I believe that Butch Otter has failed to lead.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Absentee voting deadlines coming up this week

Wednesday is the last day to submit an application for a mail-in absentee ballot for the May 20 primary election, Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa reminded voters today, and Friday is the last day for in-person absentee voting. Voters have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to request a mail-in absentee ballot from their local county clerk; those ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Ysursa is also reminding voters that their party affiliation determines which ballot they’ll be able to vote; only registered Republicans and unaffiliated voters who affiliate as Republicans at the polls (or when they request their absentee ballot) will be allowed to vote in the GOP primary. Anyone, regardless of their affiliation, is allowed to vote in the Democratic primary. All voters also will receive non-partisan ballots for judicial races, including a contested Idaho Supreme Court race. You can read Ysursa’s full announcement here.

Reagan, Elvis and Raul Labrador?

GOP candidate for governor Russ Fulcher called a press conference for this morning on short notice – sending the notice out late last night – promising a “big announcement.” Opening the conference, Fulcher joked, “I’m here to let you know that both Ronald Reagan and Elvis have decided to endorse my campaign.” Then he said, “Actually, I want to introduce you to someone that you already know and that has had a big impact on me, and that is our congressman, Raul Labrador.” Labrador then gave Fulcher his endorsement.

Labrador endorses Fulcher for governor, decries ‘good-old-boys network’

First District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador endorsed Russ Fulcher for governor today, over two-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter. “Butch Otter has done a lot of things to admire in office,” Labrador said at a Statehouse news conference with Fulcher. “But after 40 years in government, he has lost his way. … Idahoans are looking for leaders with political courage and fresh ideas. Russ Fulcher has both. … He will give our state a chance to fulfill its promise.”

Labrador, a tea party favorite who’s facing only token opposition in his primary-election bid to run for a third term in Congress, said he believes Idaho “should be the next Silicon Valley,” and said he thought Fulcher would steer the state to “high tech and high wages.” “I think what we need is a new vision for Idaho,” Labrador said. “We need strong leaders. We should not go with the good-old-boys network.”

Fulcher said, “This is not simple and this is not easy for Raul Labrador to do. I recognize that. There is a political cost any time you make a statement like that.” He lauded Labrador for standing on principle, and said, “That is the approach that I intend to follow as the governor of the state.”

Labrador had previous endorsed Lawerence Denney in the four-way GOP race for Idaho Secretary of State, and Todd Hatfield in his challenge to GOP state Controller Brandon Woolf. Denney, Hatfield and Fulcher are part of a slate of candidates opposing current Idaho GOP officials in the primary including Otter; Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who is being challenged by Jim Chmelik; and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who is being challenged by C.T. “Chris” Troupis.

Last-minute campaign cash flying in governor’s race

In this final period before the May 20 primary election, large donations – those of $1,000 or more – must be reported by Idaho candidates within 48 hours. So far, last-minute campaign cash has been flowing to Gov. Butch Otter and GOP challenger Russ Fulcher. Since last week, Otter has received eight of those donations and Fulcher has received five.

Here are Otter’s: $10,000 from Frank and Belinda VanderSloot; $10,000 from Allan P. Bloxsom III of Boerne, Texas; $5,000 each from JP Morgan Chase and CenturyLink Idaho PAC; $4,000 from Comcast Corp.; $2,500 from the NRA Political Victory Fund; and $1,000 each from the Idaho Cattle Association and Phoenix-based Apollo Group.

Fulcher has received $5,000 each from Jack Beverage and Kelly Beverage of Middleton and Ben Buckendorf of Boise; $2,000 from Rod Furniss of Rigby; and $1,000 from Ryan Moyle of Heyburn.

Simpson, Smith spar in TV debate

Congressman Mike Simpson and his GOP challenger Bryan Smith had a lively debate on Idaho Public TV tonight, as part of the “Idaho Debates,” sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho. “Our country has seriously gotten off on the wrong track,” declared Smith, a lawyer from Idaho Falls and a political newcomer who’s backed by the Club for Growth. “Sadly, career politicians in Washington like Congressman Simpson have become part of the problem. … I am a true conservative who is not afraid to stand up for us.”

Simpson said the people backing Smith are opposed to funding for the Idaho National Laboratory, one of the biggest employers in eastern Idaho. “They’re opposed to the ag bill, they’re opposed to everything,” he said. Simpson said it didn’t work to shut down the government in an effort to force the repeal of Obamacare. “We didn’t accomplish what we set out to accomplish,” he said. “Shutting down the government doesn’t work. What you’ve got to do is elect Republicans to the Senate so that we have somebody to work with, so that we can actually get this budget balanced again and get it on a path toward balance.”

Simpson said, “We might not like it but there are Democrats actually in Congress, and they control the Senate and they control the White House. If you’re going to get anything done, it’s going to be done by working together both within your party and across party lines.” Failing that, he said, “You’ll just be howling at the moon.”

Smith said, “Washington doesn’t have a tax problem, they have a spending problem. … We need to focus on cutting the budget,” saying he’d first go after “redundant spending” and that he’d cut the Department of Education, saying, “The word education does not appear in the Constitution.” You can watch the full debate online here.

Little, Chmelik see differing roles for lieutenant governor

In the “Idaho Debates” tonight on Idaho Public TV, Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik outlined a very different role for Idaho’s lieutenant governor that he said he wants to play if he succeeds in defeating GOP Lt. Gov. Brad Little in the May 20 primary election.

“I would like to use the position of lieutenant governor the same way I’ve used the county commissioner position,” he said – to travel around the state and nation urging support for transfer of federal public lands to states. “I believe you have a lot more pull as lieutenant governor than you do as a county commissioner,” Chmelik declared in the live debate, which was broadcast statewide.

Little, a rancher and four-term state senator who’s been the state’s lieutenant governor since 2009, said if re-elected, he’ll continue to focus on economic development. “We absolutely have to build the economy,” he said. “It’s being the facilitator, whether it’s with government or with business to foster those jobs and foster that growth, because we need that.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Rivals for Idaho Supreme Court face off in debate televised statewide

The very definition of fairness was hotly debated by two rivals for the Idaho Supreme Court tonight, as Justice Joel Horton and challenger Breck Seiniger faced off in a televised debate. Horton called Seiniger “a representative of special interests,” prompting Seiniger to retort, “I guess the special interests we’re talking about are the average, ordinary citizens like you people watching out there, who get hurt, who have a problem with the government, who have a property dispute – that’s who I represent.”

The taped debate, part of the “Idaho Debates” sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters, was broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television tonight. Idaho’s primary election is May 20. In addition to primary races for partisan offices, the election includes the final decision in the nonpartisan Supreme Court race. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

North Idaho Republicans splinter as legislative races loom

Republicans in North Idaho have been splintering into increasingly bitterly divided factions, and some say it’s reached the point of dysfunction – and the cracks have to close if the aim is to get anything done, like bring in more jobs or improve schools. “We need everybody to get together,” said Patrick Whalen, who is running against state Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, in the May 20 GOP primary. “I don’t think we can continually split the party and succeed.” Now, an influential local group that had great success in the last election has endorsed challengers to five GOP incumbents in the primary, including Whalen over Nonini, and all sides are readying for battle. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Three chicks have hatched in downtown Peregrine falcon nest

Three chicks have hatched in the Peregrine falcon nest that’s high atop One Capitol Center in downtown Boise; the fourth egg is not expected to hatch. The Peregrine Fund reports that the three chicks had emerged by Wednesday; the parents will eventually roll the fourth egg out of the “scrape” area and off to the side of the nest box.

Viewers on the “Falconcam” now can see the adults brooding and feeding the nestlings, which need their parents to keep them warm for about 10 days until they can regulate their own body temperatures. “The yolk inside the egg, which nourished the embryos during incubation, was absorbed into the body cavity of the chicks immediately prior to hatching,” the Peregrine Fund reports. “Although the yolk keeps the chicks well-nourished for a few days, their begging instinct kicks in right away. The adults feed the chicks bits of food by tearing off small chunks of meat and delicately placing them in the chicks’ beaks.” You can watch live here.

Wild tom turkey reported strutting around downtown Boise in search of mate

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State wildlife biologists aren't sure where a wild male turkey came from, but there's no denying it has decided to call downtown Boise home. Idaho Department of Fish and Game spokesman Steve Liebenthal says the agency has been getting reports this week about the bird that has been making appearances in various downtown locations. Liebenthal says it's turkey mating season so the turkey might have traveled to the frenetic downtown Boise area in search of a mate. Liebenthal says that might also explain why the bird tends to stare at its own reflection, possibly sizing up a perceived competitor. Jeff Plegge spotted the turkey and describes him as very photogenic with a tendency to pose. Wildlife officials say that if they capture him they'll move him to a more suitable location.

Veteran ISP trooper charged with theft, fraud; stockpiled stolen service ammunition in his barn

A 19-year veteran of the Idaho State Police has been suspended without pay after investigators allege he stockpiled more than 15,000 rounds of stolen service ammunition in a pole barn near his Athol home, amid other charges. Daniel Howard, 48, has been on leave from the ISP since December, when Kootenai County investigators told the ISP they were building a case of theft, fraud and forgery; Howard has been charged in both Kootenai and Bonner counties. You can read the full story here from S-R reporter Kip Hill.

GOP rivals for state schools chief differ on student testing

The four GOP candidates for Idaho state schools chief split over the new student testing program that the state is currently developing, with just one of the four – Melba school Superintendent Andy Grover - backing the state’s current approach. The four faced off as part of the “Idaho Debates,” sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters and broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television. The one who wins the GOP primary on May 20 will face Democrat Jana Jones in November; she’s unopposed in the primary. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

AdWatch: Otter touts brand in western-themed campaign commercial

Barely over a week out from the primary election, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has launched his first TV campaign commercial, showing him in a cowboy hat, riding a horse, and touting tax cuts and how he’s “fought EPA.” “I follow the Code of the West, stay true to your brand and your values,” Otter says in the ad, referring to a cowboy ethics code published in a 2004 book by Wall Street veteran James P. Owen entitled, “Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West.” The code has 10 points, including, “Live each day with courage,” “When you make a promise, keep it,” “Ride for the brand,” and “Remember that some things aren’t for sale.” You can read my full story here, including an examination of the claims in the ad.

Little endorses McGrane in Secretary of State race

Lt. Gov. Brad Little has endorsed Phil McGrane in the four-way Republican primary contest for Idaho Secretary of State, saying he “rarely, if ever” endorses candidates in the primary, “But the circumstances of this election are different.” In a statement, Little said, “ In a crowded field for the office of Secretary of State and limited access to resources for all of them, voters may not have the opportunity to learn enough about these candidates, and so my colleagues and I are stepping forward with our shared opinion.  The office of Secretary of State is a critical one.  We all agree the Secretary of State must be someone who is fair, evenhanded, strong of character, and who possesses the expertise necessary to serve in this office.  We believe the candidate best suited to this position is Phil McGrane.”

 McGrane faces former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, former Sen. Evan Frasure and former Sen. Mitch Toryanski in the May 20 GOP primary; the winner will face Democrat Holli Woodings in November. In addition to Little, McGrane announced endorsements today from nine GOP lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Denney, announced endorsements from 10 current North Idaho GOP lawmakers, led by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, and six former ones. Vick said in a statement, “I support Lawerence because of his integrity and his extensive knowledge of natural resource issues. These qualities will serve him well in his responsibilities in overseeing our elections and his responsibilities on the Land Board.”

The endorsement announcements are just the latest in the race; among notable ones announced earlier: Current Secretary of State Ben Ysursa endorsed McGrane; 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador endorsed Denney; Freda Cenarrusa, widow of former Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, endorsed Toryanski; and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis endorsed Frasure.

The Secretary of State is Idaho’s chief elections officer, and also oversees corporate filings, campaign finance and lobbying disclosures, registries including health care directives, wills and more, and serves on the Land Board, the Board of Examiners, and the Board of Canvassers.

Feds sue for-profit college over recruiting policies

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The federal government is suing a for-profit college chain in Idaho and Utah because prosecutors say the school illegally recruited students. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson announced the False Claims Act lawsuit against Stevens-Henager College Inc. and its owner, The Center for Excellence in Higher Education, on Thursday. The Department of Justice and Department of Education allege the college paid incentives to recruiters based on the number of students they enrolled. Federal law prohibits those sorts of recruitment payments in an effort to reduce student loan default rates and to prevent unqualified students from being enrolled. The federal agencies brought the case after two former employees filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the college. Stevens-Henager College CEO Eric Juhlin says the lawsuit is without merit and the school will vigorously defend itself.

April shortfall means amount left on table in next year’s state budget falls from $79.4M to $78.6M

The Budget & Policy Analysis division of the state’s Legislative Services office has come out with its monthly General Fund Budget Monitor, which looks at the latest state tax revenue receipts and shows how that compares to the amounts lawmakers have budgeted. With the April shortfall compared to projections, the monitor shows that the projected balance at the end of the current fiscal year on July 1 drops from $26.9  million to $26 million, and the projected year-end balance at the end of fiscal year 2015 – the amount left unspent in the budget approved by lawmakers and the governor – falls from $79.4 million to $78.6 million. That's aside from deposits into state rainy-day accounts. You can read the report here.

Census: Idaho has more farmland, but fewer farms

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — The amount of land in Idaho dedicated to farming is up to 11.7 million acres. The 2012 Census of Agriculture released last week and covering 2007 to 2012 says land in farms increased by more than 260,000 acres during that span. The Idaho Press-Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1gc3Snm) that's nearly as much Idaho land in farming as Idaho had in 2002. Across the state, 20 Idaho counties saw increases in farmland and 22 had decreases. Two counties didn't have information. In highly populated Ada County in southwest Idaho, farmland declined by 47,000 acres and there are 100 fewer farms. In nearby Canyon County, farmland acres increased 17 percent to more than 300,000, but there are 40 fewer farms. The number of farms in Idaho dropped by about 500 over the five-year span.

The Press-Tribune’s full report is online here. It reports that Canyon County saw a big jump in land used for farming from 2007 to 2012, a figure that previously had been dropping.

Why gov’s debate will have 30-second delay

Idaho Public Television political debates generally air live, but the upcoming governor’s debate on May 14 will have a 30-second delay. The reason: One of the four candidates, Harley Brown, is prone to profanity, and has been using language at candidate appearances that could get the public TV station fined by the FCC, regardless of who makes the on-air comment.

Brown is a perennial candidate who claims that he runs for office because God has called him to be the president of the United States; he’s run for everything from city council to Congress. This year, he’s added a “warning” on his campaign website saying, “The content of this website and especially the content of the page titled “Harleyism”, may be construed by those of a gentle nature, a sensitive disposition or the young, to be offensive, shocking or even obscene.” He’s also posted a pledge saying he “Declares WAR on political correctness!”

Brown is one of four candidates on the GOP primary ballot, along with anti-abortion advocate Walter Bayes, incumbent Gov. Butch Otter, and Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian.

April state tax revenues fall 4.1% below forecast, putting state about even for year

Idaho state tax revenues came in 4.1 percent below projections for April, the biggest month of the year; because they’d been running ahead prior to that, the result is that year-to-date state tax revenues are just 0.2 percent below forecasts, almost right on the mark. The April shortfall of $18.6 million was largely due to lower than expected individual income tax receipts, which were 7.1 percent below the forecast; corporate taxes also missed forecasts, falling 5.1 percent below expectations. Sales taxes slightly beat the forecast; you can read the full Idaho General Fund Revenue Report here.

Labrador introduces bill to let teens work in mechanized logging operations

Sixteen- and 17-year-olds should be able to work in mechanized logging operations under parental supervision, 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador says. He’s proposed legislation to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow that, saying, “While the agriculture industry enjoys regulatory exemptions that allow family members between the ages of 16 and 17 to work under their parents’ supervision, the logging industry doesn’t have that same right.” As a result, Labrador said, “Young men and women in families who own and operate timber harvesting companies are denied the opportunity to work and learn the family trade until they reach adulthood.” You can read Labrador’s full announcement here. He's calling his bill the “Future Logging Careers Act.”

Mountain caribou revised to threatened, rather than endangered

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The federal government has downgraded the protected status of the last remaining herd of mountain caribou in the Lower 48 from endangered to threatened. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the change on Wednesday, in response to petitions from Idaho's Bonner County and a snowmobile group. The northern Idaho caribou herd is thought to number only about 30 animals, but interacts with a much-larger herd in Canada. The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group seeking to protect the herd, said Wednesday's decision means the animals will continue to get the protection they need; the center issued a statement here saying the petition sought to remove all protection.

FBI agents used ‘reasonable force’ in shooting kidnapper, rescuing teen

Both the U.S. Attorney for Idaho and the Valley County prosecuting attorney announced today that their inquiries are complete, and no criminal charges are warranted in the shooting of kidnapper James DiMaggio last August by an FBI hostage rescue team at a remote Idaho campsite 40 miles from Cascade; the team rescued 16-year-old Hannah Anderson unharmed.

The agents were taken within hiking distance of the campsite by helicopter, and an FBI airplane remained overhead, tracking the incident with infrared video. “Some of the Hostage Rescue Team agents moved in when it was reported that DiMaggio was separated from the hostage,” according to a joint news release today from the U.S. Attorney and county prosecutor.  “When several agents got within approximately 100 yards of the subject, DiMaggio fired two rifle shots.  Two agents, who could see DiMaggio and were directly within his firing line, believed DiMaggio was shooting toward them.  The two agents returned fire, striking DiMaggio multiple times.  A third agent found and safely removed the hostage.”

Based on all the evidence, including DiMaggio’s autopsy, the post-rescue interview of the teen, and the video, which showed such detail as the heat from the shots fired as well as the interactions of all the individuals on the ground, authorities concluded that “the FBI Hostage Rescue Team agents used reasonable force in defending themselves and/or another as relating to the death of Mr. DiMaggio.” So no charges will be filed against the agents.

DiMaggio kidnapped Hannah after killing her mother and brother in California and fled with her to Idaho, prompting a manhunt. Area horseback riders who noticed the pair and thought they seemed out of place in the back-country notified authorities, leading to Hannah’s rescue.

Otter, Fulcher ponder the future of Idaho’s GOP

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter told Boise State Public Radio this week that the May 20 primary election for governor “is about the heart and soul of the Republican Party, as well as about what kind of a champion the Republican Party wants going into November.” Otter faces a GOP primary challenge from Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher; BSPR is airing extended interviews with both this week. You can listen to their Otter interview here, and their Fulcher interview here, both with host Scot Graf; each full interview runs close to 18 minutes.

Otter decried the split in Idaho’s Republican Party. “Those people that I only agree with 80 percent of the time are not my enemy,” he said. “I think the Republican Party in Idaho for the future needs to focus on our problems instead of those things that we disagree with all the time. There’s a lot of things that we agree on.”

Fulcher, who’s staked out a campaign appealing to tea party supporters, told BSPR, “There’s no question … there is a divide in our party and it’s splintered significantly. The general argument is should we be a bigger tent and really not take that much stock in adhering to what our platform philosophy is, or should we shrink that tent down and have kind of some truth in advertising.” He said, “I consider myself a mainstream candidate. … If you take a look at my positions, every single one is in line with the Republican Party platform in its entirety.”

First egg has hatched in downtown Peregrine falcon nest

The first of the four eggs in the downtown Peregrine falcon next hatched at 3 this afternoon, the Peregrine Fund reports, and the others are expected to follow soon after. As the first hatched, the second had already “pipped,” which is the first stage of the hatching process.

According to the Peregrine Fund, “The first egg was laid on March 26th and the fourth and final egg was laid on April 2nd when incubation began in full earnest. If all of the eggs were fertile they should hatch within the next day or so.” The nesting box is on a ledge high atop One Capitol Center downtown; you can watch live here on the Falconcam.

City Club forum draws some distinctions between state schools chief rivals

All four candidates for state superintendent of schools faced off at a City Club of Boise debate today; Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin has a full report here. The candidates answered questions submitted by an audience of 200 at the hour-long forum that drew some distinctions: Melba schools Superintendent Andy Grover was the only one of the four to say he backed the failed Propositions 1, 2 and 3 school reform measures; teacher John Eynon of Cottonwood was sharply critical of the governor’s school improvement task force recommendations, which the other candidates backed.

Idaho EdNews’ Kevin Richert also reports that Eynon spoke out against compulsory kindergarten and said he didn’t want 3- to 5-year-olds exposed to public schools. “We are not a socialist state, and our children are not wards of that state,” Eynon said; read Richert’s piece here.

The four are scheduled to debate on statewide television Thursday night as part of the “Idaho Debates.” That debate, co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho, will be broadcast on Idaho Public Television at 8 p.m.

Idaho argues same-sex marriage ban benefits children

Lawyers for the state of Idaho argued today that federal courts in 10 other states were wrong when they overturned state bans on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, and they urged a federal judge to uphold Idaho’s ban, saying it benefits the state’s children. “Idaho has sufficiently good reasons for maintaining the man-woman marriage institution,” Thomas Perry, attorney for Gov. Butch Otter, told the court. “When you look at benefits, what more compelling interest does the state of Idaho have than securing an ideal child-rearing environment for future generations?”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale questioned that argument, noting repeatedly that when couples get marriage licenses in Idaho, “They don’t have to submit anything to prove that they intend to have children.”

Deborah Ferguson, attorney for four same-sex Idaho couples, several of whom are raising children, who sued to overturn the ban, argued, “The state can’t select a preferred group of Idaho families for special preference and recognition. … The legal interest is for all of Idaho’s families, and all of Idaho’s children.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The judge took the arguments under advisement, and said she’ll rule “in the relatively near future,” adding, “It will be soon.” Whichever way the decision comes down, the losing side is expected to appeal it.

The courtroom was full for today’s arguments, with close to 60 people in the audience. Among them was Madelynn Lee Taylor, a U.S. Navy veteran who’s made headlines after the state refused to allow her same-sex partner, Jean Mixner, to be buried with her at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery. Shortly after the arguments ended, Taylor said, “I don’t know what to think right now, to tell you the truth. The kids that I’ve known that have grown up in gay families have turned out OK. … I just sent a package off to a young man who’s in Bosnia – his two mothers did a good job with him.”

Arguments set today in challenge of Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage

Both sides in the case in which Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage is being challenged in federal court have filed motions for summary judgment, and oral arguments are set for this morning in U.S. District Court in Idaho. Four same-sex Idaho couples, two of whom legally married in other states and two of whom unsuccessfully sought marriage licenses in Ada County, sued the state, saying the current ban violates their rights under the U.S. Constitution. Gov. Butch Otter, Ada County Clerk Chris Rich and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden are defending the state’s ban, which voters enacted in 2006. Also being challenged is the 1996 law that bans Idaho from recognizing legal same-sex marriages from other states.

Otter, in legal documents filed with the court, maintains that if Idaho had to recognize same-sex marriages, it would “abandon the man-woman definition of marriage” that “the State and its people believe best advances the interests of children.” The four couples who sued, all women, include several who are raising children. “Preventing same-sex couples from marrying,” they argue, “does nothing to advance these goals, but serves only to penalize and inflict gratuitous injury on same-sex couples and the children they are already raising.”

This is, of course, an extremely hot issue nationally. Since the U.S. Supreme Court last summer struck down the federal “Defense of Marriage Act,” or DOMA, saying it violated constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process, federal courts in 10 states have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. You can read the state’s brief here, and the plaintiffs’ brief here. After today’s arguments, federal Magistrate Judge Candy Dale likely will take the issue under advisement and rule in the coming weeks.

State controller, treasurer candidates face off in televised debates

Candidates in contested primary races for state controller and state treasurer debated Friday night on statewide TV; you can watch here. In the controller’s race, GOP incumbent Brandon Woolf faces a challenge from log home company owner Todd Hatfield. In the treasurer’s race, two Democrats, Deborah Silver, a CPA, and W. Lane Startin, a freelance writer and editor, are facing off in the primary; the victor will take on GOP incumbent Ron Crane in November. The Idaho Debates, co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho, continue this Thursday with the GOP candidates for state Superintendent of Schools.

Tribal officials say they first learned of state’s lawsuit against them from this blog

Coeur d’Alene Tribe officials said late this afternoon that the state never told them it was filing a lawsuit against the tribe, and they've not yet been served with the suit. “We found out from your blog,” tribal legislative liaison Helo Hancock said. “It’s frustrating to have to learn in that manner. This lawsuit is completely unnecessary.”

Tribal Chairman Chief Allan said, “We believe we are well within our right to offer poker. If the state has a problem with our legal analyses, they can invoke dispute resolution under our gaming compact – that’s why we have it – so we can negotiate our differences in a professional setting.” You can read my updated full story here at spokesman.com.

Hancock said, “We thought we were going to discuss this on a government-to-government basis as the compact contemplates, sit down. There’s obviously a legal disagreement here, and I think it’s something clearly reasonable minds could disagree on. We think the state statute has a clear exemption for contests of skill. And anybody who’s ever played poker knows that it’s not just a game of chance – people who are good at poker consistently win at poker. It’s kind of like golf. And certainly there are elements of chance in a lot of things, but this we believe is a contest of skills – courts around the country have been finding that.”

Hancock added, “We were in agreement to go through the dispute resolution process.” The tribe had just sent a letter to state Lottery Director Jeff Anderson today saying it would agree to an expedited process dispute-resolution process and binding arbitration, and proposing a meeting on May 9. Said Hancock, “It’s frustrating to see the state jump the gun on this.” The tribe issued a full statement on the lawsuit early this evening; you can read it here.

Tribe: State misunderstands its plans for limited poker tournament play

Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief Allan, in an April 28 letter to state Lottery Commission Director Jeff Anderson, said the state’s objections the tribe’s plans to offer poker games at its Coeur d’Alene Casino appear to stem from “a misunderstanding of both the games that the Tribe plans to offer and the Tribe’s federal rights under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”

Wrote Allan, “The Tribe’s Gaming Board has taken a very conservative approach and has authorized only a limited type of poker tournament.”

He noted, “There is no question that such tournaments are conducted at many locations throughout the State. … We believe that the State’s concerns will be resolved once it understands the limited nature of the poker tournaments to be offered by the Tribe and the legal authority for such tournaments.”

Plus, Allan added that the tribe would like to discuss with the Lottery Commission the implications of the passage of legislation this year authorizing betting on slot-machine-like “instant racing” machines at several locations in the state, including the Greyhound Park in Post Falls. Years ago, the tribe sought to operate a casino there, but backed off after then-Gov. Phil Batt objected. Allan wrote that this year’s legislation will “dramatically expand gaming in Idaho.”

State: Tribe’s ‘newly discovered’ idea that it can offer poker just about money

In its memorandum supporting its motion for a temporary restraining order to halt the Coeur d’Alene Casino’s new poker games, the state of Idaho argues that poker has never been allowed under its gaming compact with the tribe, and the tribe is now citing new interpretations of clauses having to do with games of skill and tournaments.

“The compact has existed for over 21 years, and yet the Tribe waited 20 years before ever suggesting that poker was a permissible form of gaming,” the state’s lawyers wrote. “This newly-discovered gaming entitlement has as its roots not a change in the law but the Tribe’s pursuit of revenue. Idaho does not begrudge the Tribe’s attempting to maximize the Casino’s economic benefit; it does object to any gaming activity that violates the Compact. … Parties to contracts ought honor their promises and adhere to the law.” You can read the state’s 18-page memorandum here.

The Coeur d’Alene Casino’s poker room is now open daily from 11 a.m. to close. “Our Poker Room is the newest addition to our world class gaming experience, located in the Red Tail Bar and Grill,” the Casino says on its website. “Come enjoy live action Poker with a wide betting range to suit your choice of game and experience.” Tribal officials were not immediately available for comment; it's not clear if they've been served with the lawsuit yet.

Idaho sues CdA Tribe in federal court over casino poker games

The state of Idaho has sued the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in U.S. District Court to block the tribe’s launch of poker games today at the Coeur d’Alene Casino. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Wasden filed the lawsuit, saying Idaho bans poker and the tribe’s move would violate its gaming compact with the state.

“Article III Section 20 of the Idaho Constitution is clear, and it’s my duty to enforce and defend the Constitution and the laws of Idaho,” Otter said. “Despite discussions with tribal leaders and our best efforts at avoiding this situation, we have no choice but to act. I will continue working with the Attorney General to uphold our laws and resolve this issue.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Testy Idaho Supreme Court race sparks ethics dispute

The contested race for a seat on the Idaho Supreme Court this year has turned testy, with challenger Breck Seiniger raising an ethical issue about second-term Justice Joel Horton regarding a 2008 case. The justice, who’s rarely made headlines in his many years on the bench and has bipartisan support for his re-election bid, dismisses it as nothing but a personal attack. But a national judicial ethics expert says it's a legitimate question and in his view, the judge should have disqualified himself in the case.

“I think it’s a fair point for an opponent in an election to call out,” said Charles Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University and an expert on judicial disqualification and ethics for judges. “Is the idea that one time, six years ago, he had a lapse – should that get him out of a job? No, by itself, no.” But it’s among the factors that voters should consider, he said.

The case involves a very influential big Idaho corporation, Simplot Corp., that was sued by a group of farmers it had wronged. Justice Horton wrote the court’s opinion in the case; while it was pending, he named Simplot’s associate general counsel as his campaign treasurer. Horton contends the unanimous decision in the case already had been reached and there was no conflict; Seiniger calls the move “completely inappropriate.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Ysursa receives Bar award for ‘impartial and fair handling of Idaho elections’

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has received the “Liberty Bell Award” from the Fourth District Bar Association, presented yesterday by Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick at a “Law Day” celebration. Ysursa was selected for exemplifying the national theme for Law Day this year of “American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters.” Burdick praised Ysursa for his “impartial and fair handling of Idaho elections.” Ysursa said the right to vote is under attack around the world, and he is proud that Idaho is one of the least restrictive states for voting, noting that Idahoans can register and vote on Election Day.

Ysursa is retiring this year after three terms as the state’s chief elections officer; prior to that, he served as chief deputy to then-Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa and has been with the office since 1974.

Wasden, Troupis face off in pointed debate on statewide TV

Challenger C.T. “Chris” Troupis came out swinging against Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden tonight as the two met in a televised debate, accusing the third-term official of being “weak” and having “lost his way.” “Perhaps decades ago, he had the right vision, but his weak actions show that he’s been caputured by the immense power of office,” Troupis declared. “Time and again he’s chosen to side with the government rather than the people.”

Wasden, like Troupis a Republican, countered, “It’s important to distinguish between rhetoric and reality. You need to have an Attorney General who will tell you what you need to know, rather than what you want to hear. The one who will tell you the whole story, not just the part that can be manipulated to one’s political advantage.”

Troupis pressed for repeal of Obamacare, taking over federal lands within Idaho, and limiting all of Idaho’s state endowment land investments to timber land. But Wasden said none of those are within the legal or constitutional power of Idaho’s Attorney General.

“This is in fact a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” Wasden said. “There are two factions, and to not recognize that is to not understand what is really going on here. There are some mainstream, rational folks, and there are some folks that are on the edge, and that’s just how it is. And so I do hope that the rational thought comes through. … That is the context in which this election is occurring.” Troupis countered, “I think I’m right in the mainstream.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Tonight’s debate was the first in a series of nine “Idaho Debates” leading up to the May 20 primary election; on Friday night, candidates for state controller will face off at 8 p.m., and for state treasurer at 8:30. The Idaho Debates are co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho.

Fulcher calls Otter’s new economic plan ‘more of the same’

Gov. Butch Otter’s GOP challenger, Sen. Russ Fulcher, offered a blistering response today to Otter’s announcement of a new economic plan dubbed “Accelerate Idaho,” to follow his “Project 60,” which was aimed at increasing the state’s GDP. Fulcher’s statement, headed, “Gov. Otter offers more of the same – which is not good enough,” says, “Other states have out-performed Idaho. … The governor’s answer was to send the department of commerce to the legislature to create a board that would essentially act as an ‘economic sweepstakes panel’ choosing winners and losers to receive tax incentives.”

Fulcher wrote, “ALL Idaho businesses need tax incentives, not just the ones chosen by government. That’s why I have been talking about a simplified tax plan for all businesses and individuals.” You can see his full statement here

As Attorney General candidates prepare to debate, Idaho GOP says it’s neutral, despite chairman’s comments

The Idaho Republican Party has issued the following statement:

“In response to an article that came out Thursday morning that quotes Chairman Barry Peterson as stating a personal affinity for a candidate in the Republican primary, the Idaho Republican Party reiterates that the State Central Committee of the Idaho GOP has not made any endorsements of primary candidates.

“The view that was expressed in that article was my own, and not that of the Idaho GOP,” said Chairman Peterson. “There is a hard fought primary taking place, and everyone is going to have to pick a candidate when they vote. But because of my role as chairman of the party, I should not have shared my personal opinion publicly. This in no way changes the neutral role or function of the Idaho GOP office and staff during the primary.”

The statement comes in response to an Idaho Statesman article by Dan Popkey today in which Popkey detailed a clash between Peterson and Gov. Butch Otter at a Lincoln Day banquet in Wallace on April 11; Otter confronted Peterson over news that the party chairman had threatened two precinct committee candidates for seeking the offices, including contacting their employers; Peterson denied it. That comes amid a fight over the low-level posts between dueling wings of the Idaho GOP, with mainstream Republicans seeking to take the party machinery back from tea party backers.

In the article, Peterson had this description of the encounter with Otter: “I don’t give any ground and he doesn’t, either. We’re just two old men that have no reason to back up.” Peterson also told Popkey that he’s backing GOP primary challenger C.T. “Chris” Troupis over GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “I can’t hide my affection for Chris Troupis,” Peterson said; Popkey’s full report is online here.

Tonight, Wasden and Troupis face off in a debate that's being broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television as part of the “Idaho Debates.” It's the first of nine set between now and the May 20 primary; the Idaho Debates are co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho. Tonight's debate starts at 8 p.m.

Initiatives on medical marijuana, minimum wage fall far short of mark, won’t be on ballot

Yesterday was the deadline to turn in signatures to qualify initiatives for the November ballot, and Boise State Public Radio reports that neither measure that was being circulated made the mark, or even came close. The backers of the initiative to legalize medical marijuana turned in only 559 signatures after a year of trying, BSPR reports, while those pushing for an increased minimum wage in Idaho had 8,301 qualified signatures at the deadline. Each needed 53,751 to qualify for the November ballot; you can read BSPR’s full report here.

Idaho’s higher ed cuts since recession rank sixth-deepest in nation

Idaho has cut its state funding for public colleges and universities by 36.8 percent since 2008, according to a new report from Idaho KidsCount and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than all but five other states. The report showed that, adjusted for inflation and in constant 2013 dollars, Idaho cut funding by 36.8 percent, a decrease of $3,857 per higher ed student. Meanwhile, average tuition at Idaho’s public four-year colleges increased 28.5 percent.

“Areas with highly educated residents tend to attract employers who pay competitive wages. That’s what Idaho needs,” said Lauren Necochea, director of Idaho KidsCount. “We should be looking for ways to make college more affordable for students and their families.”

Michael Mitchell, policy analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said, “More jobs in the future will require college-educated workers. For the sake of its economy and future workforce, Idaho should start reinvesting in its colleges and universities now.”

The group’s report found that the highest percentage drop in higher ed funding came in Arizona, followed by Louisiana, South Carolina, Oregon, Alabama and Idaho. The biggest drop measured by inflation-adjusted dollars per student came in Louisiana, followed by Hawaii, New Mexico, Alabama and Idaho. You can see the full report here.

‘Idaho Gives’ one-day donation drive on track to beat last year

“Idaho Gives,” a 24-hour statewide donation blitz for more than 650 participating Idaho nonprofits, is on track to exceed last year’s total, organizers report, with the mid-day mark today hitting $400,000 in donations. Last year, the first run for “Idaho Gives,” the event raised $578,000 for more than 500 charities. The nonprofits can win prizes and matching funds; many are holding special events today to rally support for the donation drive.

“The generosity of Idahoans thus far has been tremendous,” said Janice Fulkerson, executive director of the Idaho Nonprofit Center, which organized the event. The minimum donation is $10 and there is no maximum; they're being taken by credit or debit card. The Idaho Nonprofit Center will retain 2 percent of each donation to cover event costs, and the Razoo Foundation, through which the donations flow, will take 4.9 percent for bank fees and website costs. Participation is free for charities that are members of the Idaho Nonprofit Center; for non-member charities, there’s a $25 fee.

Events today range from receptions and parties at various charities to a food truck rally from 4-8 p.m. today at Bogus Basin offices, featuring beer from Highlands Hollow, donation stations, booths and more. To make a donation online, go to www.idahogives.org. The Idaho Nonprofit Center is an association of nonprofits in the states that provides services, training, technical assistance and other aid for Idaho nonprofits.

Otter says ‘Project 60’ goal met, launches ‘Accelerate Idaho’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has been pushing his “Project 60” – designed to raise Idaho’s gross domestic product from its $51.7 billion a year level when Otter took office in 2007 to at least $60 billion – for the past five years. Now, he says, that goal has been met and surpassed. “This last year, third quarter, we hit Project 60, a little bit ahead of where I thought we would be, but I’m very happy – we’re not going back,” Otter said today. Now, he said, he’s announcing “the next step,” a plan he dubbed “Accelerate Idaho.”

Instead of a numerical goal, Otter said the new push will be to “elevate the state’s foundation for growth,” from enhancing education to reducing regulation to addressing infrastructure. Otter said the success of this new venture will be measured both in GDP growth and in improving Idaho’s wages, which now rank near the bottom in the nation. Otter said he’d like to see “our individual income grow to at least on par with the national average,” and said, “I think it has to do with what’s our unemployment rate going to be then and what’s the average wage in the state of Idaho.”

State Commerce Director Jeff Sayer said “K-through-career” education is key to the plan. When he talks with businesses, he said, “The single biggest limiting factor in their ability to grow is they need skilled talent.” What’s needed, he said, is “creating those talent pipelines that Idaho industries need, and the essence of that … comes down to linking our higher education institutions with our industry needs in fixing that gap. … That is the single most important thing we need to do to move our economy forward, is fixing that gap. And the encouraging part in all of this is this is already happening. We have examples all around the state of universities and community colleges who have figured this out,” establishing education programs that address specific local industry needs.

Sayer said the idea of “Accelerate Idaho” is to speed up the pace of improvements already in the works; he also announced new “tools” the state will provide for businesses looking to expand or move to the state, including a “Governor’s Rapid Response Team” and a new web platform for site selectors. Click below for Otter’s full announcement.

“Almost five years ago, we established a specific benchmark for creating jobs and growing the state’s economy, and I’m thrilled that we’ve achieved that goal despite weathering some of the toughest economic times in memory,” the governor said. “Accelerate Idaho is our strategy for ensuring that Idaho is the right place for employers to expand or relocate. The goal is more career opportunities for Idahoans.”

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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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