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Posts tagged: A.J. Balukoff

Balukoff concedes to Otter in gov’s race

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor, has conceded the election to GOP Gov. Butch Otter; Balukoff said he offered Otter his congratulations in a late-night phone call. “Being governor is often a thankless job, and I commend Gov. Otter for his public service,” Balukoff said in a statement.

“I urge the members of my party and all Idahoans to come together, through our common values, to pursue our shared goals, so that we may rise to the challenges before us,” he said. “We ran a good race and we brought attention to some very important issues. And in the end, as a nation of free elections, we accept the decision of voters.”

Balukoff said over the past year, he's worked successfully to change “the tone of the conversation about education in Idaho. That's a victory—and it's a victory most of all for Idaho's children. But we have more work to do to make the people we elect to the Statehouse accountable to delivering on their promises and their obligation to put our schools and our kids first.” Click below for his full statement.

Republican Governors Association spent $1.2M on anti-Balukoff ads

The Republican Governors Association spent $1.2 million on an advertising campaign aimed at tying Democratic candidate for Idaho governor A.J. Balukoff, a Mitt Romney supporter, to President Barack Obama. “The Republican Governors Association was a key investor in Governor Otter’s re-election victory, spending $1.2 million on paid media,” the group said in a news release tonight. “The RGA ran three television ads in Idaho during the election, detailing Democrat A.J. Balukoff’s liberal record and his support for President Obama’s failed agenda.”

RGA Chairman Chris Christie said, “Governor Otter’s leadership in Idaho will continue to be a source of great strength for the state, and the Republican Governors Association is proud to congratulate him on his re-election.”

Otter thanks supporters, pledges to keep fighting same-sex marriage

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter told the crowd at the Republican Party election night watch party that he was reluctant to give a victory speech because he hadn’t yet received a concession call from losing candidates A.J. Balukoff and John Bujak, but he wanted to take the opportunity to thank his supporters. Otter also spoke out strongly and at length on his continuing opposition to same-sex marriage.

 “I believe our values are strong in Idaho, I believe we’re the last … right now in the United States to stand up for what we believe is traditional marriage. And I’m going to continue that fight as long as I possibly can,” Otter declared to cheers and applause.

“I don’t believe there’s anybody in the state of Idaho that is purposely discriminatory,” Otter said. “But there are values that we believe in. And we can accommodate those other things but we can’t give up on our values. We voted in 2006 to say that a marriage is between one man and one woman, in the state of Idaho. Now if they want to change the other 49 states, go ahead, that’s not going to bother me, but why should we change? Why should we leave our values? Why should we leave our moral principles because everybody else is? That isn’t what the founders want, that isn’t what our creator wanted … so we’re staying there.”

Otter also thanked state GOP Chairman Steve Yates. “Steve, you brought the party back together,” he said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com on tonight's results in Idaho races.

Balukoff: ‘We’ve been able to change the conversation’

Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff, while not ready to concede the race, said whether or not he wins, “It was worth it – we’ve been able to change the conversation. We’ve raised education to a good level of discussion. I feel great about what we’ve been able to accomplish so far.”

Here, Balukoff greets supporters at the Idaho Democratic Party election-night watch party at the Grove Hotel.

Watch the full governor’s debate…

The full, 90-minute debate between Idaho GOP Gov. Butch Otter, Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff and Libertarian challenger John Bujak can be viewed online here. It was a lively and often heated debate that saw the candidates clash on an array of issues as Tuesday's election approaches. The debate, which was broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television, is part of the “Idaho Debates,” co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho. It was the final debate in the race before the election.

Balukoff: Analysis of Otter’s schedule shows he’s a ‘part-time governor’

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, has analyzed a year’s worth of incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s detailed calendars, and concluded that Otter is a “part-time governor,” working only 27 hours a week in 2013, or 32.8 if receptions and travel time are added in. “Gov. Otter treats his job like he’s in semi-retirement,” Balukoff said in a statement today. “Many Idahoans are working 50 or 60 or more hours a week in two or three jobs and still barely scraping by. Idaho needs and deserves a governor who’s on the job more than part-time.”

In January of 2011, then-Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey did a similar analysis, comparing Otter’s schedule for 2011 to 2009, before he was re-elected for his second term. He found that in 2011, Otter largely took Mondays off; took 41 personal days, a 28 percent increase over two years earlier; and his official appointments were down 21 percent and unofficial appointments down 64 percent.

Otter had no comment on the report then; in a statement today, his campaign said, “Being governor is not a typical 8 to 5 occupation. Gov. Otter is governor 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Mr Balukoff probably doesn't realize that the job of governor is a 24-hour calling.” You can see Balukoff’s full analysis here, and his full statement here; click below for the Otter campaign's full statement.

Idaho guv debate most heated yet

Idaho's final gubernatorial debate showcased the most heated exchanges yet between the candidates seeking the seat, the AP reports. GOP Gov. Butch Otter faced off against Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff and Libertarian candidate John Bujak. The three agreed on little, writes AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi, and often interrupted the moderator and debate panel to respond to zingers thrown out by their opponents, while discussing education, the economy and same-sex marriage. Click below for the AP's full report.

Also, the Twin Falls Times-News has a full report here on the debate, headlined, “Otter on defensive on CCA in last debate.” Reporter Nathan Brown writes that both Balukoff and Bujak slammed Otter's handling of the private prison matter, including a $1 million settlement with Corrections Corp. of America releasing the company from civil liability for understaffing the state's largest prison and overbilling the state, and his handling of the state's current troubled contract for the Idaho Education Network, a broadband network linking the state's high schools. Otter said he doesn't know if the CCA settlement was fair. “I'll know when the FBI is done investigating,” he said.

A night of lively political debates in Idaho…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on tonight’s lieutenant governor debate, the only debate in the race between GOP Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Democratic challenger Bert Marley. In the polite but pointed televised debate, Little and Marley outlined sharply differing views of how Idaho’s faring as it works to recover from a big economic downturn.

The lieutenant governor debate, which ran 30 minutes, followed a heated debate in the governor’s race, in which GOP incumbent Butch Otter, Libertarian John Bujak and Democrat A.J. Balukoff clashed on everything from Idaho’s private prison debacle to education to jobs. Among the interesting moments: Otter referred at one point to his opponents by a combined name: “Balujak.” After Bujak was asked about his legal woes in Canyon County – which resulted in multiple acquittals – he said, “I’m surprised that I get the questions about scandal, with Gov. Otter standing next to me.” Balukoff called for scrapping the troubled contract for the Idaho Education Network: “Undo that contract, rebid it,” he said.

Otter said Idaho’s never been able to meet its constitutional mandate to adequately fund schools because of the state’s rural nature, and only now with initiatives like the IEN is it beginning to bring more uniformity to education. Balukoff and Bujak both disagreed; Balukoff said Idaho did a pretty good job funding school operations before the 2006 law that shifted funding from property taxes to the sales tax.

Otter said he’d sign a bill to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act, if lawmakers send it to his desk, but said he’s “not ready to surrender” on same-sex marriage. Bujak said, “At this point the ship has sailed. … You’re just throwing good money after bad.”  Balukoff asked, “Friends, is our state better off under Gov. Otter? The answer is no.”

Meanwhile, the two candidates for state superintendent of schools, Republican Sherri Ybarra and Democrat Jana Jones, met for their final debate – this one organized and run by high school students in Idaho Falls. Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin has a full report here.

 

AdWatch: Hockey ad seeks to balance barrage of negative ads in gov’s race

There’s more skating and hockey-playing than political images in the latest ad in Idaho’s governor’s race, as Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff dons an Idaho Steelheads hockey uniform for his final campaign commercial of the race. “In politics, taking shots at your opponent is just business as usual for some,” Balukoff says in the ad, “but skating around Idaho’s problems with cheap shots won’t get results. … It’s time Idaho families get a fair shot.”

The commercial takes aim at negative ads that have been airing in the race, both from outside groups backing GOP Gov. Butch Otter and from Otter’s campaign, whose latest ad accuses Balukoff of “falsely smearing” Otter over a private prison scandal. It comes as an array of messages from various groups is airing in Idaho, as the race comes down to the wire ahead of Tuesday’s election.

“I think it’s a clever ad, and it addresses the negative advertising that he’s been a recipient of,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and longtime observer of Idaho politics. “It might attract some voters who have tuned out to all the negative ads that are so prominently displayed right now.” You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com, including a look at controversial radio ads airing in eastern Idaho that claim to be from Balukoff’s campaign, but actually are from an Otter supporter.

Balukoff’s past campaign contributions went to both R’s and D’s - including one to Otter in ‘04

Here’s an interesting tidbit: After reading in the Twin Falls Times-News today that A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, donated to Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns both in 2007 and in 2012, I searched FEC records for Balukoff’s donations in federal races. Both those donations showed up, $2,300 in 2007 and $2,500 in 2012. So did several others – donations both to Republicans and Democrats over the years. In federal campaigns, Balukoff has donated to Democrats Shirley Ringo, Nels Mitchell and Walt Minnick; and to Republicans Larry Craig (2001), Mike Simpson (1998), Mark Stubbs (1998).

And, perhaps most interesting of all was this donation: In 2004, Balukoff donated $250 to a GOP candidate for Congress – Butch Otter. Mike Lanza, Balukoff’s campaign spokesman, said, “He once believed that Butch Otter would deliver on his promises. He no longer believes that.”

RGA video sparks clash between Balukoff, Otter over 2008 presidential vote

The Republican Governors Association has been touting a video of Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho A.J. Balukoff being asked by a cameraman who he voted for in the 2008 presidential race, a question Balukoff doesn’t answer, saying instead, “I’ll have to see if I can remember.” Today, the Twin Falls Times-News reports that Balukoff’s campaign says he voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and then for Mitt Romney in 2012. Reporter Nathan Brown writes that Balukoff said he considered voting for John McCain in 2008, but decided against it when he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. “As he’s said before, he doesn’t just vote the party line,” campaign spokesman Mike Lanza told the Times-News. “He tries to check individuals and their experience, and what their ideas are and what they represent.”

Balukoff contributed to Romney’s campaigns in both 2007 and 2012.

Lanza said the video was shot by a cameraman who followed Balukoff around the state for a month, and initially declined to say for whom he was filming, but later acknowledged it was for the RGA. The RGA is the biggest outside spender in Idaho’s governor’s race this year, Brown reports, having spent $700,000 on an independent campaign against Balukoff that’s included three TV commercials. The ads seek to tie Balukoff to Obama. The Times-News’ full report is online here.

Lanza told the Times-News, “Gov. Otter’s allies in Washington, D.C. are pulling out all the stops to try to distort A.J.’s positions and record. They’re doing this in order to avoid a conversation about Gov. Otter’s terrible record on education and jobs in his eight years as governor, not to mention that his insider deals for campaign supporters have now cost Idaho taxpayers millions of dollars, with the tab still growing.”

Otter’s campaign, in a news release sent out yesterday with the RGA video, said, “While voters want straight talk, Balukoff continues to avoid concrete facts, even when it comes to simple questions about his voting record. While he can’t recall who he voted for, it is apparent that Balukoff supports a liberal agenda including higher taxes, Obamacare, and the re-introduction of wolves. Balukoff’s stance on issues is a far cry from values important to Idahoans.”

The election is on Tuesday.

AdWatch: New version of RGA anti-Balukoff ad drops debate video clip

The Republican Governors Association launched a new ad targeting A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, today, but it’s virtually identical to the group’s earlier anti-Balukoff ads. The main difference between the latest version and the previous one is that it’s dropped a video clip of Balukoff briefly losing his place during his opening remarks at a gubernatorial debate in Coeur d’Alene, which the ad used to suggest Balukoff “needs a script.”

At that debate, GOP Gov. Butch Otter visibly read from prepared remarks during his 2-minute opening comments, while Balukoff spoke largely without looking at his text – except when he lost his place.

The claims in the ad are identical to the RGA’s previous ad, attempting to tie Balukoff – a Mitt Romney supporter – to President Barack Obama, and suggesting he’d raise taxes and restrict gun rights. You can see my fact-check of the claims in my two previous AdWatch stories here and here.

One other small change in the latest RGA ad: A citation to an April editorial from the Idaho State Journal that misstated Balukoff’s position on property taxes has been dropped, in favor of a citation to a 2006 Idaho Statesman article about a voter initiative that sought to raise Idaho’s sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent to increase school funding. The initiative failed, after the Legislature and then-Gov. Jim Risch raised the tax to 6 percent to reduce property taxes three months before the election on the initiative. You can see the ad online here.

AdWatch: Otter hits back at Balukoff, defends handling of prison scandal

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has launched a new TV ad striking back at Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff, and defending Otter’s handling of a prison scandal. It’s the first time that Otter’s campaign has directly mentioned Balukoff in one of its ads, though two outside groups have been running ads attacking Balukoff and trying to tie him to President Barack Obama.

“This may be as good of evidence as we have that this may be a closer race than at least one or two polls have indicated recently,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. He noted that Otter’s name recognition in the state, as a two-term governor, is close to 100 percent, while Balukoff came into the race virtually unknown outside the Boise area. That would normally prompt a well-known incumbent to avoid giving a little-known challenger any free publicity.

Balukoff, a Boise businessman, is the longtime chairman of the Boise school board; Otter served three terms in Congress and 14 years as lieutenant governor before becoming governor.

Otter’s ad is a direct response to a new commercial Balukoff launched last weekend criticizing Otter’s handling of the state’s troubled contract with private prison firm Corrections Corporation of America; both ads are running statewide, including in the Spokane broadcast TV market. CCA, which until July 1 was being paid $29 million a year to operate the state’s largest prison, was at the center of multiple lawsuits, reports of violence so intense that the prison was dubbed “Gladiator School,” and evidence that CCA had fraudulently overbilled the state for thousands of hours of guard duty that were never worked. In early February, the state dropped all claims against CCA in the staffing dispute in exchange for a $1 million payment.

Weatherby said, “I think the question a lot of viewers might have is: What was dishonest in the Balukoff ad? What are they specifically objecting to? And it’s not clear in this ad.” Balukoff’s ad called the settlement with CCA a “sweetheart deal.” Otter's ad doesn't mention the settlement. You can read my full AdWatch story here, along with links to both ads.

Otter met with CCA officials about understaffing issue in 2013, before recusing himself

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who said in two recent debates against challenger A.J. Balukoff that he “recused” himself from settlement talks with the Corrections Corporation of America over understaffing and falsified staffing records at an Idaho state prison because he’d received campaign contributions from the firm - $20,000 since 2003 – participated in meetings with CCA about the issue as recently as 2013, the Idaho Statesman reports today. Reporter Rocky Barker and Cynthia Sewell report that Otter’s former chief of staff, Jason Kreizenbeck, now a lobbyist for CCA, brought the company’s CEO, Damon Hininger, and other CCA executives to Otter’s office on May 28, 2013 to discuss the company’s state contract and the staffing issue.

Mark Warbis, Otter’s communications director, said CCA officials asked for the meeting to apologize for the understaffing and fraudulent billing that later led to a $1 million settlement with the state, and to ask about extending their contract to run Idaho’s largest state prison. “The governor responded that our intention instead was to consider putting the contract out to bid,” Warbis told the Statesman. The newspaper’s full report is online here.

Warbis told the Statesman that Otter recused himself from settlement talks when formal talks started in 2014. CCA had offered to settle the matter with the state for $170,000 prior to the May 2013 meeting, Warbis said. During the meeting, he said, “CCA might have mentioned that offer, but there was no additional discussion of it.”

Last night, Otter’s campaign launched a new TV ad responding to an ad from Balukoff critical of Otter’s handling of the CCA issue; I’ll have a full AdWatch story later today examining Otter’s new ad.

Balukoff explains the bow ties…

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, stopped in at the paper's Coeur d'Alene office for a quick Q-and-A with D.F. Oliveria, who writes the S-R’s Huckleberries Online blog. Among the questions he fielded: “What’s with the bow tie?”

“I like bow ties,” Balukoff said. “They’re more festive. I know how to tie them. And I don’t have to worry about the tie getting in my soup.” You can see Oliveria’s full “five questions” interview here; it appears he actually asked eight questions, some more serious than others.

Last-minute campaign money flying

It’s that time, the period shortly before the election when things happen quickly. Campaign contributions or independent expenditures of $1,000 or more now have to be disclosed within 48 hours. There are three independent expenditure notices thus far: The “American Comeback Committee Idaho PAC,” which is affiliated with the Republican Governors Association, has reported spending $33,645 on Monday for literature/printing in support of Butch Otter and against A.J. Balukoff, all paid to Paces Direct LLC in Atlanta, Ga.; the RGA already has run two TV ads in Idaho attacking Balukoff.

And the Idaho Republican Party has reported a $24,871 independent expenditure for broadcast advertising in support of Butch Otter, through a payment to Strategic Media Services Inc. of Arlington, Va. Party Executive Director Dave Johnston said that’s for a new radio ad the party is launching touting Otter, to run in selected markets around the state. “We put together a radio ad that talks about pro things about our governor, so that’s hitting the airwaves,” he said. There may or may not be more to come. “We’ll see,” Johnston said. “We’re adjusting on the fly … as the campaign cycle gets closer and closer. … So it depends on how the remaining week goes.”

The third independent expenditure report, from “Idahoans for a Strong Economy” and benefiting candidates Talkington, Burgoyne, Kloc, McCrostie and Wood, reports $1,870 spent for a mailing.

Meanwhile, as of mid-afternoon today, Otter has filed 48-hour reports showing eight contributions totaling $27,000, including $5,000 each from the Idaho Republican Party, Babcock & Wilcox Co. of Lynchburg, Va., Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers of Washington., D.C., and Val Holms of Helena, Mont. Balukoff has filed 48-hour reports showing four new $1,000 donations, plus another $100,000 of his own money that he’s kicked into his campaign.

Lawerence Denney, the GOP candidate for Idaho Secretary of State, reported two $5,000 contributions, one from the Idaho Republican Party and one from Richard Larsen of Rexburg. And Jana Jones, the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of schools, reported a $1,000 contribution yesterday from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, while GOP rival Sherri Ybarra received $5,000 yesterday from the Idaho Republican Party. Also, state Treasurer Ron Crane reported a $5,000 donation from Richard Larsen Farms in Rexburg. You can see the statewide candidates’ filings here, and the independent expenditure reports here.

AdWatch: Gloves come off in guv’s race, with ad rapping Otter over prison scandal

The gloves have come off in Idaho’s governor’s race, with Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff launching a hard-hitting new ad faulting GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s handling of a scandal involving the state’s largest prison. You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com; and watch the commercial here; it’s running statewide, including in the Spokane broadcast TV market.

Idaho took over operation of the Idaho Correctional Center this year from private operator Corrections Corporation of America, after multiple lawsuits, reports of violence so intense that the prison was dubbed “Gladiator School,” and evidence that CCA had fraudulently overbilled the state for thousands of hours of guard duty that never were worked.

Otter, an advocate of privatization, made the announcement reluctantly on Jan. 3; on Feb. 4, he announced a settlement in which the state dropped all claims against CCA in the staffing dispute in exchange for a $1 million payment. At the time, the state had been saying for a year that the Idaho State Police was conducting a criminal investigation, but it turned out no investigation ever had been launched. Otter said then that the ISP had determined none was needed; two weeks later, after meeting with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Otter reversed his stance and called for a criminal investigation by ISP. In March, the FBI stepped in.

“It fails the smell test badly,” Balukoff said, “and we have to wonder what more will come out when the FBI wraps up its ongoing investigation of this debacle.”

The ad includes actual footage of inmate violence at the prison, notes that CCA is a  major campaign contributor to Otter – the firm has donated $20,000 to his campaigns since 2003 – and calls the settlement a “sweetheart deal.” Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics, said the ad – the first time Balukoff’s gone negative – could be a “turning point” in the governor’s race.

Latest poll shows governor’s race closer than earlier polls suggested…

There’s little public polling in Idaho. So far, the few publicly released polls have shown GOP Gov. Butch Otter far ahead of Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff, like the CBS News/NYT/YouGov national online poll, which had Otter leading Balukoff 57 percent to 33 percent in its latest round, which ended Oct. 1. Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker writes today that the Republican Governors Association’s decision to invest in a six-figure ad buy for attack ads against Balukoff suggests private polls were showing otherwise. “Now a new poll by a Democratic polling group released this week shows the closer race that the RGA actions suggested,” Barker writes; you can read his full post here.

The poll by PPP Polling, a North Carolina pollster with mainly Democratic clients including the Democratic Governors Association, shows Otter with 39 percent to Balukoff’s 35 percent. It was PPP’s first Idaho poll, and included a full range of questions, from the governor’s race to Broncos-or-Vandals question – the poll came out 49 percent Broncos, 19 percent Vandals, and 12 percent ISU Bengals. The full poll is online here.

GOP school superintendent in Balukoff ad has GOP voting record in Oregon, but hasn’t yet voted in Idaho

An Idaho school superintendent who is featured in an A.J. Balukoff ad saying he’s a lifelong Republican but will vote for Democrat Balukoff in this year’s gubernatorial election hasn’t voted in an Idaho election before, the AP reports, but voted Republican for many years in Oregon before moving to Idaho in 2010. Rob Waite told the AP that he didn't register to vote in Idaho when he moved first moved to the state because he still hadn't sold his house in Oregon.

“I didn't think it was fair to register to vote when I still had a dual residency,” he said. “Did it take me longer to register to vote than I probably should have? Yeah. But it's not until recently I was able to sell my house in Oregon.” In the campaign ad, Waite says he’s planning to cross party lines and vote for Balukoff because of his concern over cuts to schools under GOP Gov. Butch Otter.

Mike Lanza, spokesman for Balukoff’s campaign, said the campaign was aware of Waite's voting history. “I don't think it's misleading,” Lanza said. “Here is an educator who is a Republican who is saying the state is going in the wrong direction. This is a genuine person with genuine beliefs.”

AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi reports that Oregon voting records show Waite registered as a Republican in 1998 and voted in 16 of the past 20 elections there.

Balukoff calls on Otter to release all documents on CCA settlement

A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor, is calling on GOP Gov. Butch Otter to immediately release all public records and communications related to the Corrections Corp. of America, after today’s Idaho Statesman reported that Otter’s top staffers were involved in negotiating a $1 million settlement with the firm, a major donor to Otter’s campaigns and the former private operator of Idaho’s largest state prison. “This news story shows that Gov. Otter’s claim that he had no involvement in the CCA settlement was a bald-faced lie,” Balukoff said in a news release; you can read his full release here.

“Gov. Otter has bungled this debacle badly, and now there’s very good reason to suspect criminal wrongdoing at some level in state government,” Balukoff said. “If Gov. Otter wants voters to believe that he deserves a third term in office, he has a responsibility to show voters just exactly what has been going on in this affair.”

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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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