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Eye On Boise

Posts tagged: Idaho politics

Otter aims for third term, challengers aim for change; link to election coverage

Here’s a link to my Sunday story on the governor’s race, which wraps up the series I’ve been doing over the past few months on Idaho’s top races in the November election. From the story: Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s cowboy charm has long appealed to Idaho voters, helping make him one of the state’s most-elected officials: a longtime lieutenant governor, three-term congressman and two-term governor. But has he earned the rare distinction of becoming only the second governor in Idaho history to be elected to a third consecutive term? An array of challengers, led by A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic nominee and longtime Boise School Board chairman, say no, arguing the state’s schools, economy and reputation have suffered on Otter’s watch. Otter says he wants a chance to finish leading the state out of the recession. “Now the economy’s getting much better, and it’s an opportunity for us to rebuild,” he said. 

Here are links to the earlier stories in the series: My Oct. 12 article on the Senate race here, in which Sen. Jim Risch is being challenged by Nels Mitchell; my Oct. 5 story on the 1st CD race here, in which second-term GOP Rep. Raul Labrador is being challenged by longtime state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow; my story on the Idaho Secretary of State race here, between Reps. Lawerence Denney and Holli Woodings; my story on the race for state superintendent of schools here, in which Republican Sherri Ybarra and Democrat Jana Jones are facing off; my story here on the wild card role the Libertarian candidate, John Bujak, could play in the governor’s race; and my story on the state treasurer’s race here, in which incumbent Ron Crane faces a challenge from Twin Falls CPA Deborah Silver.

You can also see our Idaho Voter Guide here, with a guide to candidates and races in federal, state, local and legislative races on the ballot in Kootenai County; and visit our Election Central here, for links to all our news coverage related to the election in Idaho and Washington.

What the CCA settlement actually said and didn’t say about civil, criminal liability…

After Gov. Butch Otter said in two recent debates against Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff that the $1 million settlement the state signed with Corrections Corp. of America over fraudulent billing and understaffing at the state’s largest prison can be “set aside and then we can go after CCA” if the FBI’s investigation turns up anything, I filed a public records request for the provision in the settlement agreement that says that. Here’s what I received: The 9-page Settlement Agreement and Release, which talks about how all claims, past or future, discovered or undiscovered, are settled by the $1 million payment; and a series of emails here.

In the emails, Otter aide Mark Warbis inquires of state Corrections Department officials about this very question. “David (Hensley, Otter’s chief of staff) has a question about the ‘Release and Discharge’ section at the bottom of Page 1,” Warbis writes. “Does this release and discharge apply only to civil claims, or could this potentially block the pursuit of criminal claims should they emerge?”

Mark Kubinski, lead deputy attorney general for the Idaho Department of Correction, responds, “The release section only applies to civil claims. The signatories are Division of Purchasing, IDOC and the Board, none of whom have any authority to waive any potential criminal charges. I’m comfortable with the language as drafted.”

If I'm interpreting this correctly - and please, all you lawyers out there, chime in if I'm not - that suggests that the state could in fact “go after” CCA criminally if the FBI investigation uncovers evidence of criminal wrongdoing, but the settlement agreement would not be “set aside” and the state could not seek any additional civil penalties or damages.

Partisan rhetoric reaches new pitch in Idaho County GOP ad

An ad paid for by the Idaho County Republicans now running in the Idaho County Free Press takes partisan rhetoric to a new level: It says, “Voting democrat will assure redistribution of your money, veterans and all military abandoned, unknown illnesses crossing our unsecured borders. Vote & Keep Our Religious Freedom.” The pitch is accompanied by a red, white and blue GOP elephant, and lists the names of local legislative and county GOP candidates Mark Frei, Skip Brandt, Paul Shepherd, Shannon McMillan, Kathy Ackerman, Sheryl Nuxoll and James Zehner.

College of Idaho political scientist Jasper LiCalzi said that type of rhetoric is unlikely to change people’s minds about their votes. “It’s pretty in-your-face, though,” he said.

Crane, Silver face off in debate over Idaho investments

Idaho state Treasurer Ron Crane’s Democratic challenger, Twin Falls CPA Deborah Silver, went on the attack in a televised debate between the two on Thursday night, charging that Crane should be fired as state treasurer for a fund transfer that auditors say cost state taxpayers at least $10 million. “In the business world, we know how this would end – the treasurer would be fired,” Silver declared. “The only way to fire this treasurer is with your vote. I am running to give Idaho taxpayers a choice for honest stewardship of their tax dollars.”

Crane protested that his office “vociferously disagreed with the findings of the legislative auditors,” and defended his actions in the transfer, which occurred after he said mortgage-backed securities the state had purchased in 2005, 2006 and 2007 were showing $70 million in losses as the housing market collapsed.

“I held those securities and rode out the storm, letting them come back in value toward par,” Crane said. “Last year, 2013, I had enough interest earnings and portfolio gains to wash out five of the seven securities and still show a profit of $122,000 for the general fund and $2 million for all the rest of the portfolios that I manage. I still have two of those securities in my portfolio. A year ago at this time, they were about $17.5 million underwater. Today, as of Friday, they are $9.6 million underwater. So they’re coming back, they’re moving in the right direction.”

Crane charged that legislative auditors wanted him to sell the securities at the time and realize the full $70 million in losses. But a critical state audit report didn’t suggest that; instead, it faulted him for transferring the securities from a local government investment pool to the investment fund for state money, shifting the losses to state taxpayers rather than local governments. You can read my full story here at

State treasurer candidates debate tonight on Idaho Public TV

Tonight on Idaho Public Television, state Treasurer Ron Crane and Democratic challenger Deborah Silver will debate at 8:30 as part of the “Idaho Debates,” co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho. After tonight’s debate, the series continues with the candidates for state superintendent of schools on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m., lieutenant governor Oct. 30 at 8:30 p.m., and candidates for governor facing off Oct. 30 at 7 p.m.

Otter statement on IEN: Syringa ‘has no legitimate claim for monetary damages’ from state

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, through his campaign, has released a lengthy statement on the legal dispute over the contract award for the Idaho Education Network, the statewide broadband network designed to link every high school; the state is embroiled in a lawsuit from Syringa Networks over the award of the $60 million contract to Qwest and Education Networks of America. The legal questions over the contract award prompted the federal government to stop paying its three-quarters share of the project in 2013, and lawmakers had to bail out the IEN with $11.4 million in extra state funds this year to offset the missing federal “e-rate” money; millions more may be requested when the Legislature convenes again in January.

In response to questions raised by Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff about news reports that the state was seeking a confidentiality agreement in its negotiations with Syringa, Otter's statement says, “Confidentiality agreements are common in mediations to ensure both parties negotiate in good faith. Syringa refused to sign a confidentiality agreement; nevertheless, the state proceeded with mediation. There are no 'secret' negotiations taking place.” Click below for Otter's full statement, which includes several references to court documents in the case. It also asserts that Syringa “has no legitimate claim for monetary damages” from the state. You can read the full Idaho Supreme Court decision here in the case, which remanded it back to the district court on a single question: whether the contract was awarded illegally.

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.”

Balukoff calls on Otter to ‘come clean’ about IEN contract; records show ENA gave more than $18K to Otter’s campaigns since 2006

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor, says GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s handling of a troubled $60 million broadband contract shows “incompetence,” and is calling on Otter to “come clean” on the deal, after reports today that state officials negotiating with Syringa Networks over the deal have been attempting to secure a secrecy agreement.

“Gov. Otter’s incompetence in his role as guardian of taxpayer dollars is shocking,” Balukoff said in a news release today. “But even worse, he has never explained to the people of Idaho how and why this contract was awarded to a campaign donor in violation of state law. Before asking voters to give him a third term in office, he needs to come clean on that. This case fails the smell test badly.”

The $60 million contract was awarded in 2009 to Qwest, now CenturyLink, and Education Networks of America, which new campaign finance reports show donated $5,000 to Otter’s campaign this year. But those weren’t the first ENA donations to Otter; records filed with the Idaho Secretary of State show ENA has donated $18,250 to Otter’s campaigns since 2006. That included $5,000 in October of 2006; $1,000 in 2009; $2,000 in 2010; $1,250 in 2012; and $4,000 in 2013. Add in the $5,000 that ENA donated on Sept. 26 of this year, and it comes to a total $18,250.

Otter’s campaign spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Balukoff’s full news release is online here; Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert, who scrutinized the most recent campaign finance reports filed last week and noted the September donation, has a full report here.

Ada County sets marriage license record: 45 today, all to same-sex couples

As of the close of business today at 5 p.m., Ada County had set a record for marriage license issuance, issuing 45 licenses, all of them to same-sex couples. That's according to Chief Deputy County Clerk Phil McGrane, who said, “This is the most licenses Ada County has issued in a single day.”

Here, in this AP photo, Guy Wordelman, left, marries James Wordelman outside the courthouse this morning, with Pastor Renee McCall officiating.

9th Circuit issues published opinion on legal reasons for lifting of stay; that now can be cited in other cases

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a published opinion today, detailing its legal reasoning for lifting a stay and putting into effect its order legalizing same-sex marriage in Idaho. “We decline to deny the plaintiffs their constitutional rights any longer,” the unanimous three-judge panel of the court wrote in the nine-page opinion. They also went through the arguments Gov. Butch Otter offered in earlier legal filings opposing the lifting of the stay, and rejected all of them. “Governor Otter can no longer meet the test for the grant or continuation of a stay,” the court wrote.

It also noted that the full U.S. Supreme Court also ruled against Otter’s bid for a continued stay to prevent same-sex marriages from starting in Idaho. “Because the Supreme Court has thus rejected the argument that a stay was necessary … we decline to second-guess that decision,” the court wrote.  It noted that same-sex marriage is now legal 33 states plus the District of Columbia. “This figure includes Idaho and Alaska,” the court wrote.

The 9th Circuit judges also wrote that they nevertheless granted the state an additional opportunity to file an emergency stay request with the Supreme Court by making the lifting of the stay effective today, rather than yesterday, “even though we see no possible basis for a stay.” No additional stay was sought.

Todd Dvorak, spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said, “We’ll analyze it and use that as part of our decision-making process going forward.”

Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the four couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on gay marriage, said, “It makes public their reasoning for lifting the stay, and so that’s, I think, very helpful. I’m very glad they did that.” She noted that as a published opinion, the court’s opinion now can be cited in other cases. You can read it here.

Libertarian candidate for governor says if elected, he’d likely seek a 2nd term as a Republican

John Bujak, the Libertarian candidate for governor, told the Spokesman-Review’s editorial board today that if he’s elected and then runs for a second term, “I will likely run for a second term as a Republican, and I think it will heal the Republican Party.” Bujak said, “My whole life I’ve been a Republican. And I think if you were to ask me where are you on the scale, I’m a Liberty Caucus Republican, I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m running as a Libertarian this time, and I do believe in the platform of the Libertarian Party. I don’t go so far down the road that I think we need to demolish all regulation. I think there are limits that need to be imposed.”

Bujak was elected Canyon County prosecutor as a Republican, before he resigned amid legal issues and charges that led to multiple acquittals. He’s been campaigning against the “good old boy system” that he says he found infected Idaho Republican Party politics. “I understand that Republicans tend to come out and check the ‘R,’” Bujak said. “I’m going to ask them to vote on their principles, because without those principles, there can be no Republican Party in Idaho.”

Idaho same-sex couples rejoice as marriages begin

Here’s a link to my full story at on the advent of same-sex marriage in Idaho this morning, which drew a crowd of couples and hundreds of their supporters to the Ada County Courthouse for marriage licenses. In just under half an hour, Ada County issued 19 licenses. Wedding ceremonies followed on the courthouse steps, complete with ministers, flowers, cake, and hundreds of well-wishers.

Minister: ‘By power vested by state of Idaho, I now pronounce you wife and wife’

Numerous wedding ceremonies were performed on the Ada County Courthouse steps this morning after same-sex couples received their long-awaited marriage licenses. At the close of one of them, as two men were being married by another minister nearby, Presbyterian minister Marci Glass said, “By the power vested in me by the state of Idaho, I now pronounce you wife and wife.” The two brides hugged, and the crowd cheered.

A few blocks away at Boise City Hall, acting Mayor Maryanne Jordan officiated inside the council chambers in weddings including those for two of the couples who sued to overturn Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage. A big windstorm has now blown into Boise, pushing festivities inside. 

At least a dozen licenses issued in first 20 minutes in Ada County…

In the first 20 minutes that marriage licenses could be legally issued to same-sex couples in Ada County, county Clerk Chris Rich estimated that more than a dozen have been issued. “I would say we've done at least 12 to 15,” he said. Things have gone smoothly thus far, Rich said. “We had a paper jam, and one machine was low on toner, even though we tested all the machines yesterday,” he said ruefully, but that was quickly fixed. “Everybody knew they needed to have cash” for the $30 fee.

For now, Ada County's marriage license forms have been altered to offer applicants two choices: Bride and groom, as before, and “spouse and spouse.” That may differ in other counties, Rich said. He said eventually there may be more options, such as bride and bride, groom and groom, or no specification.

Pictured above, Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer watch as their license is issued, the first one in Ada County. 

First Ada County licenses issued to two plaintiff couples from Idaho’s same-sex marriage case

There was a loud countdown and then a cheer from the crowd as the 10 o'clock hour arrived at the Ada County Courthouse this morning, where dozens of same-sex couples and hundreds of their supporters are gathered to celebrate the start of legal same-sex marriage in Idaho. Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer, shown above with son Bridger, and Amber and Rachael Beierlie, who were at the next station at the marriage license counter, were the first to receive licenses. They're among four Idaho couples who sued successfully to overturn Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage; the other two couples already were legally married in other states, and sought recognition of their marriages.

Deborah Ferguson, the women's attorney, said, “We're thrilled - the day has come, it's actually here.” Both couples are headed over to Boise City Hall immediately after receiving their marriage licenses, she said, where they'll be married by Acting Mayor Maryanne Jordan. “There's been enough twists and turns here,” Ferguson said. “They've waited a long time - they're ready.”

Big crowd awaits marriage licenses at Ada County courthouse…

There's a big crowd both inside and outside the Ada County Courthouse this morning for the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, which starts at 10 a.m….

Guv debate closes with candidates mixing it up…

Here’s a link to my full story at on tonight’s debate between GOP Gov. Butch Otter, Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff and Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey. After their closing statements at tonight’s KTVB debate in Nampa, there was a little extra time, so the candidates got in a few extra digs. Otter said of Balukoff, “If you went to his original website, it’s much, much different than his website today. In his website he says we need to have a statewide property tax so that we have a sustainable tax for our school system in our state, similar to Montana.” Balukoff interjected, “I have never said that, and in fact you should know, Governor,  that the Idaho Constitution prohibits a statewide property tax.”

Otter retorted, “It also defines marriage as between one man and one woman.” That prompted Pankey to blurt, “Do I need to separate the two of you?”

Perhaps the biggest news out of tonight’s debate: Otter pledging to continue fighting same-sex marriage, though he issued a statement earlier today saying, “We have done all we can through the courts for now to defend traditional marriage in Idaho.” Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage has been overturned in court and the state’s appeals have failed; same-sex couples can begin legally receiving marriage licenses in the state Wednesday morning.

Otter on running for 4th term: ‘If I did, I’d be running as a bachelor, my wife told me’

Panelist Jim Weatherby asked Gov. Butch Otter about the Idaho Statesman’s endorsement of Otter, which said that a third term for Otter would be his last. “Along with the endorsement, they got that right too,” Otter said, indicating he won’t run for a fourth term. “If I did, I’d be running as a bachelor, my wife told me.”

Three candidates for governor agree: Idaho schools are underfunded

Here are the three candidates’ answers when they were asked if Idaho’s schools are underfunded:

A.J. Balukoff: “It is underfunded.” He said the state is not meeting its constitutional mandate to provide for a “general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

Butch Otter: “I would say it could use some more funding, but I don’t think you can just throw money at a problem and expect to have the great results that A.J. is talking about.”

Steve Pankey: “Yes, they are underfunded.”

Otter then said the Boise schools - where Balukoff has been school board president for the past six years and on the board for 17 years - got a “special little deal” in 2006 to give them more funding. Balukoff denied it; he said as a charter school district, created 10 years before statehood, the Boise School District has additional taxing authority. “We’ve made good use of those additional funds,” Balukoff said. “Our student achievement is the highest in the state. That’s because we have money to support the curriculum that we need.”

Otter responded, “We can’t borrow money like they do in Washington, D.C. … If A.J.’s schools are doing so good, if he wants uniform schools across the state, then give some of that money you’re getting form the state to some of those rural districts that aren’t doing as good as you.”

Otter on same-sex marriage: ‘I don’t think it’s over with’

Asked about same-sex marriage, GOP Gov. Butch Otter, on tonight’s KTVB debate, said, “I don’t think it’s over with.” He said Louisiana’s case is still pending. “I’m not going to give up on it,” he said. “The voters passed that.”

Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey said, “Same-sex marriage yes, decadence no. … This is just about decency. Gov. Otter is frozen in time in 2006. Frankly, I think the people of Idaho have moved along.”

Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff said, “Governor, we have a pesky document called the United States Constitution. … This has never been about defending traditional marriage or defending the Idaho Constitution, it’s about obeying the United States Constitution, which holds supremacy over anything the voters vote for in this state or in any other. … When someone’s behavior offends our beliefs, we do not have the right to discriminate against them. … I think it was foolish to waste money to fight the United States Constitution.”

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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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