Here's my full column from Sunday's Spokesman-Review:
By Betsy Z. Russell
BOISE – Former state Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, a physician and outspoken advocate of improving health care in Idaho, says after much consideration, he’s decided against running for governor next year – at least for now.
“I have no plans to at this time,” Schmidt told Eye on Boise. “Honestly, I did look at it pretty hard. But you’ve got to build a team that it looks like will be a good team and work together and be fun to play on as a team. That’s what I spent the summer looking at. And I came away deciding that, at this point, it just isn’t something I can put my energy into at this time.”
He added, “You can hear my equivocation. I’d still love to.”
Schmidt made waves by giving up his own state-funded health insurance as a state senator, in protest over the Legislature’s inaction on providing health coverage options to the 78,000 Idahoans who fall into the state’s health coverage gap – they make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for subsidized insurance through the state insurance exchange.
A.J. Balukoff, the Boise businessman and longtime school board member who unsuccessfully challenged GOP Gov. Butch Otter in 2014, filed preliminary paperwork last week to make another run for governor in 2018. Balukoff, the first big-name Democrat to enter the race, said he planned to launch his campaign after the December holidays.
Asked if he’d support Balukoff, Schmidt said, “If there’s not a better candidate, you bet I’ll support him. And I have to tell you, honestly, there’s probably Republican candidates I could support also, but there’s some I couldn’t. I try not to decide based on party. I decide based on what they’re saying and also the team they’ve got, and also what I know about how they’ve done things.”
Schmidt said he’s glad two young activists approached him to help draft a 2018 ballot initiative to expand Medicaid in Idaho. “I keep talking with them and encouraging them,” he said. “I love seeing young people engaged, and to me, this makes a lot of sense for Idaho. And I don’t see it as in conflict with the proposed plan by Cameron and Armstrong.”
He was referring to Idaho Department of Insurance Director Dean Cameron and former state Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong, who are proposing a plan for Idaho to seek federal waivers to allow it to cover certain Idahoans who have serious, chronic illnesses through Medicaid, thereby reducing Idaho’s coverage gap and also lowering premium costs for those buying insurance through the exchange, by removing those costly patients from that pool.
“I’m glad they’re doing something,” Schmidt said. “And honestly, if there is legislative and budgetary commitment to it, I can support it.”
Possible open-meeting law violations by a Boise agency are in the news, as BoiseDev.com reported last week that a citizens group that opposes construction of a publicly funded downtown sports stadium has filed a complaint with the Ada County prosecutor, and the Idaho Statesman then reported that the complaint has been referred to the Ada County sheriff for investigation.
Pat Rice, executive director of the Greater Boise Auditorium District, told both news outlets that he believed the district complied with the open-meeting law. The complaint focuses on a series of emails in which Rice arranged for stadium developer Chris Schoen to meet, in turn, with two GBAD board members at a time in 2014, to avoid having the developer meet with a quorum of the board.
“Since I have 5 board members and a quorum requires a public meeting, I’d recommend an hour each in groups of 2+1,” Rice wrote to Schoen in September 2014, in a message that was copied to the city redevelopment agency, the Boise mayor’s office and others. In a follow-up message, Rice reiterated, “I can’t have more than two at a time otherwise it is a quorum.”
As the president of the Idaho Press Club and IDOG, Idahoans for Openness in Government, I was quoted in both articles, in part because IDOG leads open-government seminars with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, and has since 2004, around the state, aimed at educating Idahoans about compliance with the Idaho Open Meeting Law and the Idaho Public Records Law. The emails immediately suggested to me that GBAD was trying to hold what’s sometimes called a “serial meeting” – a meeting where someone meets with small numbers of board members in turn, rather than a full quorum, in an attempt to avoid triggering the requirement under the law for an open public meeting. That, as we’ve detailed again and again at IDOG seminars, would violate the Open Meeting Law.
Rice told the Statesman that he believed he was avoiding violating the law by scheduling the sub-quorum meetings, and said, “It was purely meet and greet. There was no district business discussed.” But board members told the newspaper they recalled discussing stadium projects Schoen had worked on elsewhere and his interest in building a stadium for the minor-league Boise Hawks baseball team.
Under the Idaho Open Meeting Law, the key is whether a quorum of the governing body – whether all together at once, by serial contact, or even through a series of emails – deliberates on the public’s business. That’s when the Open Meeting Law applies.
The law says, “ ‘Deliberation’ means the receipt or exchange of information or opinion relating to a decision, but shall not include informal or impromptu discussions of a general nature which do not specifically relate to a matter then pending before the public agency for decision.”
If GBAD wants to justify the two-by-two meetings as “informal or impromptu discussions of a general nature which do not specifically relate to a matter” before the agency, there are two problems: The developer apparently talked with board members about a project he was interested in proposing to them; and the carefully arranged meetings were hardly “informal or impromptu discussions.”
Here’s an example that’s often used at our IDOG seminars: If all three members of a county commission go to lunch together and talk about their grandkids, they’re a quorum, but they’re not meeting. But if they talk about county business, they’re violating the open meeting law – unless they’ve provided notice and invited the public along to listen in on the luncheon discussion.