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Eye On Boise

Female 4-star admiral to Idaho women: ‘Join the military, because we get equal pay’

Idaho women shouldn’t despair over their state’s poor rankings for representation of women in top leadership positions, or for women’s pay vs. men’s, Admiral Michelle Howard, vice-chief of operations for the U.S. Navy and a four-star admiral, said after wowing a big crowd at the Andrus Center Conference on Women and Leadership today. “They will make the change,” Howard predicted. Just last week, Idaho was ranked 45th for women’s pay compared to men, with Idaho women earning 73.5 percent of what their male counterparts earn. Howard, who infused her talk at the conference with humor, had a response to that, too: “Join the military – because we get equal pay.”

Howard, the second-highest official in the U.S. Navy, both the first woman and the first African-American to achieve her four-star rank, and the first African American woman to command a Navy ship – she took command in 1999 – said of all the important things on her plate, talking to women about leadership ranks as “extremely important.” While in Idaho, she’ll also visit the Wyakin Warrior Foundation’s center for injured veterans, and will join Gov. Butch Otter at the state’s official Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony.

Howard was in the Pentagon during the Sept. 11 attacks. “We were on the far side of the building from where the plane hit,” she said. She and other top officials of the joint chiefs were meeting, and watched the New York attacks on television. After the second plane hit, “We really went into overdrive,” she said, clear that “this is not an accident, this is deliberate,” and beginning to organize and mobilize top military resources. “We were getting ready to finish up that meeting when we felt a shudder,” she recalled. Another officer said, “I don’t think that was yellow gear,” referring to the big trucks that rumble in and out of the Pentagon complex. “Pretty quickly we realized we had been hit. We started to lock up all our classified materials, and then the order came to evacuate.”

She and other top brass grabbed bottles of water and headed outside; the Pentagon does so many fire drills that things ran very smoothly, she said. Then someone suggested that the hit might have been the first of many attacks, and everyone began moving down by the river, away from the building. “We could see the smoke,” she said. “I was frustrated and angry. I had trained my whole life, by golly, if I was ever attacked … we’re going to shoot back.” But the 8,000 people evacuated couldn’t all rush over and help; most had to evacuate and go home. “That’s not what I trained for,” she said.

Among her biggest frustrations: Trying to get word to her husband, Wayne, that she was OK. A hunting guide, he was off in the wilds in Wyoming. “He doesn’t even know this is happening,” she said. He ended up getting word the next morning – both that the Pentagon had been attacked, and that his wife was OK.

‘Super supers’ offer Idaho advice on improving schools, with Ybarra, Jones in audience

Both candidates for Idaho’s schools chief job, Republican Sherri Ybarra and Democrat Jana Jones, were in the audience last night as two nationally known school superintendents spoke in Boise on improving schools, reports Idaho Education News. The “Super Supers” presentation featured former Massachusetts schools chief David Driscoll and former Florida schools chief Eric Smith; former Maryland schools chief Nancy Grasmick also had been scheduled to attend, but canceled because of an injury.

The two, whose talk was sponsored by the Albertson Foundation, said Idaho needs to ensure equality for all kids, stabilize school funding and master teacher evaluations, reports Idaho EdNews reporter Jennifer Swindell; her full report is online here. Both were excited about new Common Core standards and assessments. “You will see for the first time in history, millions and millions being tested on the same level,” Driscoll said. “We will have strong standards and strong assessments and finally we’ll know what we need to work on.” Added Smith, “We’ve got to stay with it.”

Full slate of debates in Idaho races to ‘fill in the picture’ for voters

A full slate of political debates stretches before Idaho voters, who are mulling decisions on every statewide office in November; you can read my full story here at The “Idaho Debates,” a tradition in the state of more than three decades’ standing, will feature seven debates broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television, co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho. In addition, other groups also are sponsoring candidate forums and debates – including a local debate in Coeur d’Alene in the governor’s race that’s free and open to the public.

“I’m just delighted to see there’s that much activity, and there are a lot of very interesting races, so I hope the public tunes in or follows these debates and forums closely,” said longtime Idaho political observer Jim Weatherby, a professor emeritus at Boise State University. “There’s a lot at stake.”

Weatherby said debates are particularly important for voters who may be exposed to selective messages from candidates through advertising or other means. “It helps fill in the picture as to who these people really are, rather than hiding behind their campaign ads or the websites or brochures that are carefully prepared,” he said. In addition to putting candidates on the spot about their positions on issues and showing them head-to-head with their opponents, he said, debates show “how effectively they can respond to criticism.”

Nels Mitchell, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, decried GOP incumbent Jim Risch’s decision to participate in only one debate, turning down invitations from the Idaho Debates, the City Club of Boise and more. Click below for Mitchell’s full statement.

McGee returns to public role two years after scandals

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: CALDWELL, Idaho (AP) — A former Idaho lawmaker is returning to the public eye after two highly publicized political scandals two years ago caused him to resign. The Idaho Press-Tribune ( ) reports that former GOP state Sen. John McGee is now serving as chairman of the Downtown Caldwell Organization in southwestern Idaho. The group focuses on revitalizing downtown Caldwell to attract more businesses. McGree quit the legislature amid sexual harassment allegations in 2012, preceded by a drunken driving arrest on Father's Day a year before. McGee stepped down before the Idaho Senate ethics committee could conduct an investigation on what happened. He spent 39 days in jail. After a two year respite, McGee says his local community has been supportive as he returns to a public role again.

Both Ybarra, Jones question Luna’s big bonuses to top staffers

Both candidates for state superintendent of schools are questioning outgoing Supt. Tom Luna’s decision to award $151,000 in “retention bonuses” to senior managers — including four managers who have since left the state’s payroll, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. Nearly one-fifth of Luna’s bonuses went to staffers who’ve now left. GOP candidate Sherri Ybarra said the move was “not good public policy,” and Democratic candidate Jana Jones said the magnitude of the bonuses seemed out of line with the salary incentives available to teachers. You can read Richert’s full report online here.

House GOP - including Simpson and Labrador - votes to condemn Obama for Bergdahl swap

The Republican-controlled U.S. House voted today to condemn President Barack Obama for failing to give 30 days notice to Congress about the exchange in May of American prisoner Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the AP reports. Idaho Congressmen Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador both joined with the majority in the 249-163 vote, though Bergdahl, who was held prisoner by the Taliban for five years, is from Hailey, Idaho.

No Republicans voted no, according to congressional voting records, though five missed the vote; Democrats split with 22 in favor and 163 against, with 14 not voting. The vote came at a crucial moment for the administration as it sought to rally international and congressional support for steps to combat the rising threat of Islamic state militants in Iraq and Syria; click below for a full report from AP reporter Donna Cassata in Washington, D.C.

Salman Rushdie to speak in Boise next month

Author Salman Rushdie will give a free lecture at Boise State University’s Morrison Center in November, as part of BSU’s Honors College Distinguished Lecture Series. Rushdie, who was the target of international death threats over his novel “The Satanic Verses” in 1989, is a prize-winning novelist and essayist who was knighted by the Queen of England. His Boise lecture, at 7 p.m. on Nov. 20, will be on “Literature and Politics in the Modern World.” Click below for BSU’s full announcement.

Big-name women - including four-star admiral - head to Boise for Andrus Center conference

A four-star admiral who is the second-highest official in the U.S. Navy – and also is both the first woman and the first African-American to achieve that four-star rank – is among the headliners at the Andrus Conference on Women and Leadership, which kicks off tomorrow at Boise State University. Adm. Michelle Howard, vice chief of Naval operations, will give the luncheon keynote speech at the conference, which starts at noon in the Jordan Ballroom.

Conference organizers said “a bit of finesse” was required to accomplish the admiral’s visit, as either the chief or vice chief must be present in Washington, D.C. at all times; and the visit includes the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The conference runs through Friday at noon, and also will feature astronauts Ellen Ochoa and Barbara Morgan; 124th Fighter Wing Col. Sherrie McCandless; U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner Victoria Lipnic; retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who also addressed the first such conference last year; and Academy Award-winning producer Freida Mock, who will air her film about Anita Hill, “Anita: Speaking Truth to Power,” at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. An array of other female business, political, arts and academic leaders also are scheduled to speak, including Carla Harris, managing partner and vice chair of Morgan Stanley; author Judith Freeman; and Bonnie McElveen Hunter, former U.S. ambassador to Finland and current chair of the American Red Cross. The full agenda is online here.

The conference’s theme this year is “What is Success?” It’s a project of the Andrus Center for Public Policy, which is affiliated with the Boise State University College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs. “It’s a conversation among women on what is success and how to achieve it,” said David Adler, Andrus Center director. Between 800 and 1,000 people are expected to attend. “It’s a wide audience,” Adler said. “It includes university students, working women, people in the corporate world. … Women dominate the audience, but it’s not just for women.”

He quoted Warren Buffet, saying that the nation’s done pretty well using only 50 percent of its population in leadership – and much more could be accomplished if the other 50 percent also were tapped. Women are under-represented in top leadership roles in Idaho, Adler said, from political office to the corporate world. “We lag behind when it comes to women holding key positions in leadership,” he said. “We can do something about it.” There’s more info on the conference here.

‘Idaho Debates’ announce fall line-up

The Idaho Debates, a tradition of more than three decades in Idaho, has announced its fall line-up of political debates in advance of the November general election, including debates in an array of the state’s top races. The debates, broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television, are co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho. Here’s the schedule:

Oct. 7, 7 p.m.: Idaho Secretary of State debate, featuring Republican Lawerence Denney and Democrat Holli Woodings

Oct. 9, 7 p.m.: 1st Congressional District debate, featuring GOP Rep. Raul Labrador and Democratic challenger Shirley Ringo

Oct. 9, 8:30 p.m.: Idaho state treasurer debate, featuring GOP Treasurer Ron Crane and Democratic challenger Deborah Silver

Oct. 21, 7 p.m.: Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction debate, featuring GOP candidate Sherri Ybarra and Democratic candidate Jana Jones

Oct. 26, 7 p.m.: 2nd Congressional District debate, featuring GOP Rep. Mike Simpson and Democratic challenger Richard Stallings

Oct. 30, 7 p.m.: Idaho governor debate, featuring GOP Gov. Butch Otter, Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff, and Libertarian candidate John Bujak

Oct. 30, 8:30 p.m.: Idaho lieutenant governor debate, featuring GOP Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Democratic challenger Bert Marley

A debate in the U.S. Senate race had been scheduled for Oct. 12, but was canceled after GOP Sen. Jim Risch declined to participate. Risch’s campaign manager, Melinda Smyser, said in a letter to Idaho Debates organizers, “It has been the senator’s custom to do one debate with his opponent,” and Risch already has agreed to debate Democratic challenger Nels Mitchell on Boise TV station KTVB. The station will provide the debate for re-broadcast by stations elsewhere in the state.

Full disclosure here: As president of the Idaho Press Club, I volunteer on the committee that helps plan and organize the Idaho Debates, which are moderated by Idaho Public Television and feature reporter panelists who are members of the Press Club. The debates are always lively and of interest, and we’re looking forward to them.

August state tax revenues beat forecasts

Idaho’s General Fund revenue report for August is in, and state tax revenues topped forecasts by $6.2 million. That brings fiscal year-to-date collections to $462.9 million, $2.9 million ahead of forecasts and 6 percent higher than state tax revenues last year at the same point. Individual income taxes, sales taxes and corporate income taxes all were ahead of forecasts; you can see the full report here from the state Division of Financial Management.

‘Super supers’ to speak in Idaho tonight on improving schools

Three of the nation’s top school superintendents will speak in Boise this evening as part of a panel discussion sponsored by the Albertson Foundation and broadcast live online. The event is dubbed “Super Supers: An evening with the nation’s best school leaders,” and will feature former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education David Driscoll, former Maryland state schools superintendent Nancy Grasmick, and former Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith. It starts at 7 p.m. at the Linen Building, and is free, though seating will be limited.

Roger Quarles, Albertson Foundation executive director, said, “If ever there was a time for Idaho to stop and learn from our country’s best education leaders, this is it.” Idaho’s school system has been hit hard by budget cuts in recent years; it’s also in a time of transition, with current state Superintendent Tom Luna stepping down at the end of the year, and two candidates, Democrat Jana Jones and Republican Sherri Ybarra, vying to replace him.

Driscoll, Grasmick and Smith all transformed their school systems into some of the highest-performing in the country, Quarles said. The event is part of the Albertson Foundation-sponsored “ED Sessions” series. It will be broadcast online at, and online viewers can participate in the discussion via Twitter and Facebook.

Reactions to today’s 9th Circuit arguments…

Here's a link to my full story at on today's arguments over Idaho's invalidated same-sex marriage ban at the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. After today’s arguments, attorney Deborah Ferguson, who made the arguments on behalf of four Idaho couples who challenged the ban, issued this statement:

Today’s arguments reflected the Ninth Circuit panel’s thorough preparation and careful attention to the serious constitutional issues raised by Idaho’s discriminatory marriage laws. In the past few months, three other federal appeals courts have ruled that laws that deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry deprive their families of equal dignity in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. We hope the Ninth Circuit will reach the same conclusion and strike down these unjust laws.”

Sue Latta, the lead plaintiff in the case, said, “Traci and I were thrilled to be able to watch our case being argued in one of our country’s most important courts. The judges clearly have studied the case very carefully, and we are hopeful the court will rule soon that the state must treat our family with the same respect as it treats other families.”

Jon Hanian, spokesman for Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, said, “We’re not going to have any comment beyond what was said in court.”

Deputy Idaho Attorney General Scott Zanzig said, “We’re glad to have the case submitted, and we’re appreciative of the fact that the 9th Circuit is going to consider our appeal. I think it’s always difficult to tell just from being at the arguments how things are going to go. … We’re looking forward to a decision.”

Asked why the state opted to yield all its time for arguments to Gov. Butch Otter’s private attorney, Monte Neil Stewart, rather than split the time between Otter’s and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s attorneys – including Zanzig, who was present at the counsel table for the arguments – Zanzig said he couldn’t go into detail on that point. “In the 9th Circuit, you get a very short time to argue, and breaking it up can be difficult on anyone being effective,” he said. “But in terms of why that choice was made … I can’t comment on pending cases.”

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia who’s been tracking same-sex marriage cases around the country, said the arguments didn’t go well for the state. “I’m glad I wasn’t trying to make those arguments,” he said. “It’s tough when it’s that difficult an argument to make. I just don’t think that those judges were going to be persuaded, and I don’t think they were.”

The state’s arguments focused on how it believed the ban was better for Idaho children in the long run; when pressed by the judges, attorney Monte Stewart suggested that legalizing same-sex marriage would be worse for Idaho kids than the proliferation of divorce that followed no-fault divorce laws. Said Tobias, “That’s not a winning argument, I don’t think.”

Stewart, same lawyer who argued for Idaho, now arguing in favor of Nevada ban…

Monte Neil Stewart, the same attorney who argued Idaho’s case for its same-sex marriage ban at the 9th Circuit, is now defending Nevada’s ban as an intervenor on behalf of the “Coalition for the Protection of Marriage.” At one point in his arguments, he slipped and said “Idaho” instead of Nevada; Judge Stephen Reinhardt corrected him. Amid laughter, Stewart said, “I’m a fourth-generation Nevadan, I’m going to switch gears here.”

A few minutes later, he did it again. Judge Ronald Gould said, “Counsel when you say Idaho, do you mean Nevada?” Amid a quick murmur of laughter again, Stewart said, “This is a lesson to all counsel not to do back-to-back arguments.”

9th Circuit arguments on Idaho marriage law wrap up with reference to future Supreme Court decision…

As the arguments in the 9th Circuit today on Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban wrapped up, Idaho attorney Monte Stewart made a reference to a position taken by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Judge Stephen Reinhardt interrupted him, saying, “I think you’re going to have an opportunity to find out what Justice Kennedy thinks.” That drew laughter – the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up the same-sex marriage issue, likely in other states’ cases, in the coming year.

Reinhardt announced, “This argument will be submitted.”

Of crystal balls and messages…

Monte Stewart, now up for his final five minutes of argument, told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that if it’s a question of who has the best crystal ball, Idaho’s crystal ball is even better than the court’s – because it reflects “its collective wisdom” as expressed through the Democratic process, the voters’ approval of a constitutional amendment passed by two-thirds of the state Legislature.

“This is a contest between two different messages,” Stewart told the court. “The message of man-woman marriage is men, you’re valuable and important in the upbringing of the children you bring into this world. Women, you’re valuable and important in the upbringing of the children you bring into this world. Genderless marriage does not send that message. Indeed, it undermines it.”

9th Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon asked Stewart to compare his reference to Idaho’s “crystal ball” in knowing what its people support, through their vote for the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, to the Loving vs. Virginia case, in which the court overruled bans on interracial marriage. “There were competing crystal balls” in Loving, Berzon said.

Stewart objected. “I suggest there were no crystal balls, because the state never advanced a legitimate interest,” he said. Berzon responded, “It’s one that doesn’t sound very legitimate to us now, but they thought there were legitimate interests.” People objected to mixing of races and thought it would harm society, she noted. Stewart said he hoped she wasn’t comparing that to Idaho’s interest in “preventing fatherlessness and motherlessness.”

Ferguson: ‘You’re imposing a very great harm, for no benefit’

Judge Stephen Reinhardt asked Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson if she thought marriage laws have any effect on “bonding between a mother and a father and a child, and that structure being a better structure for society?” He was referring to earlier arguments from attorney Monte Stewart on behalf the state of Idaho. “I don’t think it has any effect on that,” Ferguson responded.

“I don’t see the marriage of opposite sex and same-sex couples as these different regimes that are being portrayed by the state. My clients are looking for the opportunity to participate in traditional marriage, to marry and have that very intimate adult bond and protect their children in that fashion. And I don’t think that opposite-sex couples are looking to see what same-sex couples are doing, and saying that somehow if same-sex couples are allowed to celebrate and have those very personal bonds, that it’s going to serve as a disincentive for them to marry or to have children or to stay together with their children. … You’re imposing a very great harm, for no benefit.”

Ferguson: Discrimination that ‘stretches beyond the grave’

Deborah Ferguson, attorney for four Idaho couples who successfully sued to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, said the harms the ban imposes on her clients and those like them are many. “The law imposes a cradle-to-grave discrimination on same-sex couples in Idaho. It pushes them outside,” she said. “Children of gay and lesbian parents in Idaho, unless they have second-parent adoption … don’t have two legal parents to protect them.”

That does send a message in Idaho, Ferguson said, echoing an earlier argument from opposing attorney Monte Stewart about how Idaho's marriage laws send a message. “It tells those children that their parents’ marriages are not worthy of … respect,” she said, “a very harsh message.” She added, “It stretches beyond the grave,” noting that the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery refuses to bury the remains of veterans who are same-sex spouses together.

Judge: Do you care basis as long as you win? Answer: No

Judge Stephen Reinhardt asked attorney Deborah Ferguson, “Do you really care if we decide on fundamental right or equal protection as long as you win?” Amid laughter, she responded, “No.”

“I think the due process and the equal protection arguments are both very important,” Ferguson said, “and they’re very related. I think the Idaho case in front of the court presents both of them squarely to the court, so we would like to see the court decide it on both of those bases.”

Ferguson: Idaho has ‘most sweeping ban’ on same-sex marriage in 9th Circuit

Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson is now arguing the case for the four lesbian couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage. Idaho has “the most sweeping” such ban in the 9th Circuit, she said. “It bars the possibility of any form of relationship recognition for its same-sex couples, relegating tem to a permanent second-class status,” she told the court.

Rejecting the state’s arguments that the ban is better for children, Ferguson said, “There is no logical nexus here. Allowing same same-sex couples to marry will benefit them and those children.”

Judge Marsha Berzon quickly interrupted her to quiz her about the appropriate level of scrutiny under which the court should consider the case. “I think that the law is unconstitutional on all three bases,” Ferguson said.

Stewart: Same-sex marriage would be worse for Idaho kids than divorce

After Idaho attorney Monte Stewart argued that legalizing same-sex marriage would send a message to society that promotes fatherlessness and motherlessness for Idaho children, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals asked him, “Does Idaho prohibit divorce because it sends a bad message to people? … Doesn’t that do more damage to the ideal that you profess Idaho should be telling people, that they ought to be home with the mother and the father and the child?”

Stewart said no-fault divorce and the expansion of divorce has been bad for children in Idaho. “Pulling the man-woman meaning out of marriage and going with genderless marriage will be the coup de grace,” he said. “We think the effects will be much worse.”

Judge Marsha Berzon asked Stewart, “Is the assumption of your argument that children who are raised in a stable same-sex relationship from birth … (are worse off) than children who are raised in the 30 percent of the houses in Idaho in which by the age of six they are not withtheir biological parents?”

Stewart responded, “Everybody who loves children, and that includes Idaho … hopes sincerely, genuinely, that the conclusions of the no-differences study are valid. Because if they’re valid, then those children are going to be better off.” But Idaho, he said, is “skeptical.” “Idaho has concluded that the price is too high for switching to a radically different meaning at the core of marriage, one that Idaho … believes is going to result … in a higher level of fatherlessness,” he said.

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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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