Posts tagged: 2014 Idaho election
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how charges flew – then fizzled – over the weekend as the Idaho Republican Party claimed that the Idaho Democratic Party and Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff were doing something “shady” involving passing money back and forth that might violate campaign finance laws. The Democrats responded that Balukoff had contracted out his campaign payroll services to the state party, and it was all reported, legal and on the up-and-up.
On Monday morning, the Idaho Secretary of State’s office looked into it and found no violation at all, instead concluding it's just “that time of year.” The state GOP now says it won’t pursue any complaint. Dean Ferguson, executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, said, “I’m guessing they feel a little silly about it.”
Balukoff, a CPA and millionaire Boise businessman, is challenging Idaho GOP Gov. Butch Otter as he seeks a third term. The race also includes Libertarian candidate John Bujak, Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey, and two independent candidates, Jill Humble and “Pro-Life,” who legally changed his name from Marvin Richardson.
The Idaho Republican Party now says it won’t pursue any campaign finance complaint against A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor, or the Idaho Democratic Party over a payroll services contract. “If they can satisfy the Secretary of State and make that clear to them that everything is fine and dandy, then that’s good, and that’s ultimately what the purpose of our press release was about,” said Dave Johnston, Idaho GOP executive director. “We had received this complaint from several concerned people who brought this to our attention.”
He said the questions focused on the post-primary election campaign finance reports filed both by the Idaho Democratic Party and by Balukoff’s campaign, in which payments were shown but the GOP thought it wasn’t clear “what is what, and if it’s a donation or whether it’s a service that is being rendered.” He added, “If the Secretary of State is satisfied, we’re not going to go forward with it.”
Idaho Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst says there’s no campaign finance violation in the way Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff has set up his payroll services contract with the Idaho Democratic Party. “We talked to the Democratic Party,” Hurst told Eye on Boise this morning. “The way it’s working is Mr. Balukoff’s campaign actually prepays for the services. So he’s always ahead. There’s no violation of limits.”
Balukoff provides the money up-front, and then the party disburses it for his payroll. “It’s part of the contract that he has with the party,” Hurst said. “I don’t see a violation there.” He added, “It’s just that time of year.”
The Idaho Republican Party charged in a press release sent out late Friday night that Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff may be violating campaign finance laws by the way he handles his campaign payroll. The Idaho Democratic Party responded on Saturday with its own press release, saying the party has a contract with Balukoff’s campaign to manage payroll services and there’s nothing in the deal that violates campaign finance laws. “IDP’s contract has been carefully vetted by CPAs as well as compliance experts. We are fully confident in its legality,” party spokesman Dean Ferguson said in his release.
The GOP release suggests that “Balukoff isn’t paying for his staff,” and instead they are being paid by the party while Balukoff donates funds to the party to cover the costs. Jason Risch, attorney for the Idaho GOP, termed this an “abnormal shuffling of funds” and said he thought it could mean the Democratic Party was exceeding the $10,000 limit on contributions to a candidate, “including in-kind contributions such as paying for a candidate’s staff.”
“The purpose of campaign finance disclosure law is to bring greater transparency in campaign finances so Idahoans may see what candidates and political organizations are doing,” GOP executive director Dave Johnston said in the release. “Engaging in confusing money shuffling schemes that appears to violate campaign finance law also violates the spirit of the law – which is to provide greater transparency.”
Ferguson maintained the payroll contract actually provides greater transparency, is fully reported, and that Republican candidates also have contracted out payroll services for their campaigns.
Both sides also took the opportunity to fire a few shots at each other. The Democrats’ release said, “The statement from the IRP seems to be part of an orchestrated smear campaign launched by Republican career politicians, and their lobbyist infrastructure, because they cannot defend Idaho’s rank as last in income, last in education investment, and 2nd in minimum wage jobs.”
The GOP release said, “Balukoff, being a certified public accountant, should know better. However, he is the same candidate who presided over a school board election in Boise that was riddled with shady practices. Finding shady schemes in his finances reports is not a surprise.”
An Idaho Statesman story over the weekend explored how “Otter fatigue” – a phrase I’ve been hearing increasingly this year from those who watch Idaho politics – could give Democrat A.J. Balukoff a lift in his challenge to two-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter. The story, by reporter Rocky Barker, is online here. “Some Idahoans’ disappointment with Otter, a divided GOP and a spirited campaign by Libertarian John Bujak give the Boise businessman a chance to pull off an upset,” Barker reports.
Early polls still show Otter with a big lead, Barker notes. A poll released Saturday by YouGov, the New York Times and CBS News showed Otter with 51 percent, Balukoff with 33 percent, 13 percent undecided and 3 percent saying “other.” That poll, with a sample size of 844, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
But another look at Idaho’s electorate – though two years old, a much larger one – showed roughly 400,000 Idaho voters rejecting the “Students Come First” education reforms that Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna had pushed through and voters overturned in 2012. Balukoff was a prominent backer of the referendum that overturned the laws. In the last general election for governor in 2010, Otter’s margin of victory in his big win over Democratic challenger Keith Allred was 118,803 votes.
Jerry Brady, the Democratic candidate who lost by just 40,000 votes to Otter in 2006, told Barker, “If all those who voted against the Luna laws vote for A.J., he would win.”
Idaho Treasurer Ron Crane will participate in his first series of political debates since he was elected 16 years ago, reports AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi, as Crane faces Democratic challenger Deborah Silver in November. He was unopposed in the last election in 2010. Longtime Idaho political observer Jim Weatherby told AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi it's not unusual for incumbents to shy away from sharing the same stage as their opponents, but Crane is unusual for going nearly four terms without participating in either a local or televised debate. Crane's campaign says he didn't duck debates; he just lacked opponents, or lacked opponents who met debate criteria over the years.
Kruesi reports that the state treasurer's position has received more attention since a legislative audit was released in January finding that Crane's office conducted inappropriate money transfers that cost taxpayers millions of dollars beginning in 2008. Crane has repeatedly disputed the audit's findings, but Silver, a longtime CPA from Twin Falls, argues her opponent refuses to comply with all the auditor's recommendations. “I'm looking forward to the debates,” Silver said. “I'm very open to talking about this.”
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 spokesman.com. 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.
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.
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.
A disillusioned former Republican with an unusual story could throw a big wrench into the Idaho governor’s race this year. If Libertarian candidate John Bujak succeeds in his bid to appeal to disaffected Republicans who voted against Gov. Butch Otter in the GOP primary, he still might not win – but he could pull enough votes from Otter to swing the race to Democrat A.J. Balukoff. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Bujak, the former GOP Canyon County prosecutor, has mostly made headlines in recent years for his legal troubles: He represented himself in five criminal trials in the past three years, and was acquitted in every one. He’s says he’s getting traction now with tea party supporters and those who backed Russ Fulcher over Otter in the primary, among others. “Once people understood a little bit more about what happened to me, they started viewing me less like a slick attorney that maybe got away with something, and more like a champion for the people,” he said.
Bujak has a law degree from Gonzaga, he’s a Navy veteran, and he’s been a deputy attorney general for the state Human Rights Commission and a lawyer in private practice. He’s come out swinging in the race, and says he’s in it to win. Here’s his take on how the race will go:
“Butch is going to hide under his desk until the 11th hour and not engage any more than he has to, and trust that because he has the ‘R’ by his name the zombies are going to come out and elect him. Balukoff’s going to fight like crazy to try to look conservative enough even though he’s on the ‘D’ side, and to try to present some kind of viable alternative. And then there’s me who is running around talking to the grass roots folks who used to be Fulcher supporters, and hearing them say, ‘Y’know, we don’t want to vote for Butch, we won’t vote for a Democrat, but we need some kind of other alternative.’ … I think we’re going to surprise a lot of folks.”
Here’s the latest on the website-plagiarism dustup in the Idaho state superintendent of schools’ race: Republican candidate Sherri Ybarra has removed both paragraphs from her campaign website that matched wording posted months earlier on Democratic rival Jana Jones’ campaign website. Now, the “Join Team Ybarra” page on Ybarra’s site has very little wording at all. However, the first two sentences of the disputed paragraph remain on the main page of Ybarra’s website.
Jones has issued a statement in response to Ybarra’s statement this afternoon that she takes responsibility for the website duplication. Jones’ statement:
“I appreciate my opponent taking responsibility for plagiarizing content from my website, but the fact that it happened at all is troubling. Integrity matters in this office, and so does attention to detail. Idahoans have had enough of a superintendent who is not open, transparent, and accountable, and my opponent seems to be cut from the same cloth. I will be a superintendent who will provide leadership Idahoans can trust.”
Meanwhile, Idaho Republican Party Chairman Steve Yates told the Associated Press the situation is “unfortunate,” but said he doubted it would cause much harm to Ybarra’s campaign. “This is plain, vanilla prose,” Yates said. “It is still unclear what, if any, real damage was done.”
Jones and Ybarra are facing off to be the state’s next superintendent of public instruction, as current GOP Supt. Tom Luna steps down after two terms; you can read the full story here at spokesman.com.
Sherri Ybarra, GOP candidate for Idaho state superintendent of schools, has now issued a statement about her campaign website’s apparent copying of Democratic rival Jana Jones’ campaign website, but hasn’t addressed whether she’ll change her site; the duplication was reported today by Idaho Education News. Here is Ybarra's statement:
“I was surprised to learn of the similarity in language on the websites on the contact pages. The contact copy page was posted 6 months ago for the primary election in March. I sent my web managers copy regarding issues and positioning statements. They wrote other copy points on the contact page; however, I take responsibility for final copy content. My focus is, and will continue to be, how we best provide a strong future for Idaho's children. That future begins with the very best education and preparation we can offer them. As an educator working every day within Idaho's system, I have the experience and ideas to bring meaningful reforms and work closely with members of the Idaho Legislature and stakeholders to move Idaho education forward.”
Idaho Education News reports today that GOP candidate for state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra apparently copied entire sections of her campaign website from Democratic rival Jana Jones, whose campaign website was posted months before Ybarra entered the race. Jones told Idaho EdNews she was “shocked” at the duplications after the news outlet brought them to her attention; Ybarra could not immediately be reached for comment.
EdNews reporter Clark Corbin reported that under the prominent “Join Team Jana” and “Join Team Ybarra” sections of their respective websites, both candidates posted a nearly identical 46-word paragraph about working together to improve education. The identical wording: “It’s going to take a lot of hard work to have the kind of education system we want for Idaho’s kids. … Parents, students, educators, business leaders, elected officials, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, working together to make it happen.”
A solicitation for comments on the two sites also is nearly identical. Jones’ site says, “Use the optional message box to share your thoughts and ideas with her regarding education in Idaho.” Ybarra’s site says, “Use the optional message box to share your thoughts and ideas with us regarding education in Idaho.” EdNews also pointed out similarities in capitalization, placement of exclamation points and more on the two sites.
Jones told Corbin she wrote the passages with her campaign spokesman, Robert Allen, before launching her website Jan. 6. Asked about the duplications, she said, “I wasn’t aware of that, and that’s unbelievable.” It was the second time Ybarra has made news for issues with her campaign website; earlier, she listed former GOP primary rival Randy Jensen as a member of her campaign team, though he said he wasn’t endorsing either candidate in the race. After news reports about that, Ybarra removed Jensen’s name from the site. Corbin’s full report is online here.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s new campaign commercial claims the state’s economy is “on a roll” thanks to his leadership, citing several selected measures. But overall, Idaho’s economy, while growing, has been much slower to recover than most states from the big recession that hit just after Otter took office in 2006.
Idaho saw the third-biggest drop in employment from 2007 to 2014, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ “Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis” report, a key measure of economic health. Its per-capita personal income ranked next-to-last in 2013, ahead of only Mississippi. Idaho’s unemployment rate in July was 4.8 percent, ranking 13th among states, but unlike Pew's employment figures, that doesn't take into account those who have given up looking for jobs.
Kaycee Emery, Otter campaign spokeswoman, said, “What we’re hearing is there’s a lot of people very positive about where our economy is and where it’s going because the governor has made so many tough decisions.” She said, “The focus of the ad is just to remind people that compared to the rest of the nation, Idaho is on top.”
Jasper LiCalzi, professor of political economy at the College of Idaho, said, “You can find numbers that’ll tell you almost anything. … Is it a flat-out lie, completely wrong? Probably not, but it’s weak information.” You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com, plus see the ad.
Gov. Butch Otter has announced that he’ll participate in four debates with his general election opponents, including the “Idaho Debates” on Oct. 30 to be broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television, co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club. Otter also will participate in a KTVB NewsChannel 7 debate on Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. in Boise; a City Club of Idaho Falls debate at noon on Oct. 9 in Idaho Falls, to be rebroadcast later on KISU; and a Coeur Group debate Oct 3 in Coeur d’Alene, for which the time and location have not yet been announced.
“I look forward to participating in the debate process and discussing my plans to keep moving Idaho forward,” Otter said in his announcement. “I know that voters have questions, and I look forward to answering those.”
The harshest political ad on the air in Idaho’s governor’s race goes after Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff, branding him a “liberal” and attempting to tie him to President Barack Obama. Balukoff, a Boise businessman and longtime chairman of the Boise School Board, says the ad is full of “lies and distortions,” particularly for tying him to Obama – when he was a supporter of Mitt Romney for president.
The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a business lobbying group, put out the ad as part of its independent campaign against Balukoff. The group maintains each of its claims is backed up by a citation to a news article or other source. “It’s a critical part of our mission to inform voters about the true positions of someone running for our highest office,” Alex LaBeau, IACI president, said in a statement. The ad is part of a multi-pronged campaign the group is running that also includes a website, LiberalAJ.com, and mailers.
Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics, said, “Is it over the top? Sure. But a lot of negative advertising is. Are there exaggerations? Yes. I mean, it’s a real stretch to tie a school board president to the president of the United States.” Weatherby said “liberal” is a political “dirty word” in Idaho - and that's why it's used. You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com. Tomorrow, I'll examine Gov. Butch Otter's new campaign commercial, which began airing today in southern and eastern Idaho but hasn't yet started up north.
John Bujak, Libertarian candidate for governor of Idaho, has posted his own anti-Butch Otter website entitled www.liberalotter.com – echoing the attack website www.liberalAJ.com put up earlier by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry to go after Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff, as part of the business lobbying group’s independent campaign against Balukoff. Both sites accuse their targeted candidates of being liberals.
Bujak’s site is headed, “Otter: TOO LIBERAL for IDAHO,” and faults the second-term GOP governor on everything from supporting Common Core to being a “Good Old Boy.” An item at the top of the page features Otter’s face morphing into Balukoff’s and back again, repeatedly, under the heading, “Otter & AJ: Both Too Liberal For Idaho.”
“Idaho can’t afford four more years of liberal leadership,” the site concludes, above a link that says, “Don’t like Otter? Want a conservative alternative? CLICK HERE.” The link takes people to Bujak’s campaign website. “I looked at the LiberalAJ website put up by IACI,” Bujak said. “It seemed to be a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black, since Butch isn’t really that much off the mark when you compare their positions on the main issues, so it seemed like the right thing to do.”
In addition to Otter, Balukoff and Bujak, the ballot for governor this year also includes Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey and independents Jill Humble and “Pro-Life,” who formerly was known as Marvin Richardson. Otter is seeking a third term.
Two write-in candidates also have filed to run for governor, both little-known independents from southwestern Idaho: Larry Allen White of Nampa and Kurt M. Wertzbaugher of Payette.
Idaho's red state roots haven't faded, the AP reports, but political infighting inside its Republican Party has left many feeling disenfranchised with the so-called traditional GOP candidates who will appear on this year's election ballot. Tea party voters, who showed to be a powerful voting bloc in the May GOP primary election, are threatening to stay home or vote for a Democratic candidate rather than vote for the Republican, writes AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi, meaning GOP Gov. Butch Otter, who is seeking a third term, could face a tighter race against Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff. Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said of Otter, “Voters are still very upset at the governor for abandoning previously articulated principles. They are very much in the mood to punish him in this election.” Click below for Kruesi's full report.
The newest TV ad to surface in Idaho’s gubernatorial campaign this year is a second one from Democrat A.J. Balukoff, themed around the historic Oregon Trail wagon runs south of Boise. “It’s another good introduction piece, but it doesn’t seem to be much different from the first one,” said Jim Weatherby, professor emeritus of public policy at Boise State University. “He needs to get his name out there and continue to introduce himself, but I think we need to pretty soon hear some more from him in terms of what a Balukoff Administration would look like and how different it might be from an Otter Administration.”
The only promise Balukoff makes in the ad is a general one, to “make quality schools and good jobs a priority.” Otter has been preparing a campaign commercial, though it’s not yet aired. You can see the ad and read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com.
The two major-party candidates for governor are offering “two divergent views on education” this week, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, with GOP Gov. Butch Otter sending a guest opinion to Idaho newspapers saying Idaho is on a continuing “journey to education excellence,” and Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff sending out a fundraising email calling Idaho’s bottom-ranked per-pupil spending “downright shameful.” Both candidates used a back-to-school theme.
Otter writes, “As Idaho students head back to school, I’m reminded of how far we’ve come toward improving education in Idaho – and how far we still need to go. It’s been an interesting and instructive journey, and one that reinforces my belief that how we get where we’re going is just as important as the destination. Almost two years ago I called on education stakeholders to join policymakers in charting a bold new course for Idaho's schools. In response, the State Board of Education assembled a diverse group of working educators, business leaders, legislators and other experts. The product of their work was a slate of 20 visionary recommendations that now serve as our path forward on improving education.” He says as part of that, he’s “committed to replenish classroom dollars” after budget cuts.
Balukoff writes, “Kids all over Idaho are returning to school. Some of them will get five-day school weeks, others will get just four. Some will have pay-to-pay athletics, some will have music and art while others won’t, and many classrooms will be overcrowded. The Idaho Constitution requires a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools. Education in Idaho is anything but uniform. The only way to change that is by voting out the top decision-makers. Not only is our dead last standing in the country for investment in education unacceptable, it’s downright shameful.”
You can Richert’s full report here.