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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Balukoff hits airwaves with first campaign ad of Idaho guv’s race

The first campaign commercial of Idaho’s governor’s race is out, and it’s from GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s Democratic challenger, millionaire businessman A.J. Balukoff. “Tired of business as usual in Boise? Then take a look at A.J. Balukoff, a successful businessman who’s created jobs by bringing people together to get things done,” the ad begins.

“It’s a good positive ad introducing himself to the people of Idaho, in terms of his background and that he’ll run on a change platform,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University emeritus professor and longtime observer of Idaho politics. “We don’t know exactly what he will do, but he needs to introduce himself. He’s not well-known outside the Boise valley.” You can read my full ad-watch story here at spokesman.com, and watch the commercial here.

Reaction to GOP ruling: ‘He changed the locks, discarded documents, and fired staff’

In more of the reaction to yesterday’s court ruling on leadership of the Idaho Republican Party, the two party officials whom Barry Peterson unsuccessfully sued, Mike Mathews and Cindy Siddoway, have issued a statement on the results. “I am happy that the August 2nd meeting called by the grassroots of the party will go forward.  I look forward to holding elections to end any confusion in party leadership,” Mathews said. He was the party’s first vice-chairman, but according to the judge’s ruling, there are now no state officers, though the locally chosen central committee members remain in place.

Siddoway, the party’s national committeewoman, serves a four-year term rather than a two-year one like the officers, so she’s still in office as a state party official. She, national committeeman Damond Watkins, and whomever is elected chairman at the Aug. 2 meeting will attend an upcoming Republican National Committee meeting as Idaho’s representatives. “I am pleased to see that Idaho will have full representation at the upcoming RNC meeting in Chicago,” Siddoway said. “It is now critically important that all the loyal party members come to Boise to cast their vote for officers.”

Mathews and Siddoway said in their statement: “Since the GOP convention adjourned in June, Peterson has attempted to hold on to the chairmanship.  He changed locks on the office, discarded documents, and fired staff.  Even when the National Republican Committee said that it would not recognize Peterson as Idaho’s chairman, he persisted.” Click below for their full statement. 

Jason Risch, counsel to the Idaho Republican Party, shown above leaving the Twin Falls county courthouse with attorney Timothy Hopkins, who represented Mathews and Siddoway in court yesterday, said, “I appreciate the judge’s thoughtful consideration of this issue. It was very clear that he had done his homework and read the rules and come to an appropriate decision.”

Troupis: Party needs to unify

Christ Troupis, attorney for Barry Peterson in his unsuccessful lawsuit to remain Idaho Republican Party chairman, said Peterson pursued it in order to address concerns from some in the party that party rules weren’t being followed.  “We don’t want to preserve a conflict,” he said, noting that no appeals were contemplated. Troupis, who unsuccessfully challenged GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in the primary this year, said the party needs to unify.

Peterson accepts ruling, says he won’t run again on Aug. 2

Barry Peterson had this to say after 5th District Judge Randy Stoker ruled he’s no longer chairman of the Idaho Republican Party: “The judge made a ruling, and I’m comfortable with what the judge did.” As for what the party does next, he said, “I’m not the chairman, so it’s not up to me.” Peterson said he won’t appeal and never intended to.

He also said he won’t run for state party chairman on Aug. 2, when the state party Central Committee chooses the new leaders. He said he’s heard of three candidates: Steve Yates, Doug Pickett and Mike Duff. “I’m happy for all of them,” he said.

Christ Troupis, Peterson’s attorney, said Peterson met with Gov. Butch Otter yesterday and offered to resign as party chairman, “And the governor said you can’t resign because you’re no longer chairman,” Troupis said. “Barry wanted the process for the integrity of the party.”

Peterson declined to discuss his meeting with Otter. “We visited on Saturday, on Sunday, and on Monday,” he said. “On each day, I got a different reflection of the governor. … It was clear to me that the lobbyists and his staff had significant influence on his position.”

Judge: Peterson is no longer Idaho GOP chairman

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker today rejected a bid from embattled former Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson to hold onto the chairmanship by blocking a scheduled Aug. 2 state central committee meeting to choose new leaders. “His term has expired,” Stoker told the court.

The judge’s ruling came after extensive arguments that lasted for more than two hours in court this morning in Twin Falls. “This is not a question of this court taking any position with regard to what the Republican Party should do in this state,” Stoker said. “I have no dog in this fight, so to speak.”

The Aug. 2 party central committee to choose new leaders will go forward, the judge ruled. “It is your business what you do there,” he told the party members from both sides. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Some of the back-and-forth in court: ‘The party is in trouble’

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled GOP Chairman Barry Peterson and six supporters, told the court this morning, “We believe the chairman was re-elected at the convention by the delegates.” Judge Randy Stoker asked him, “Let’s go back to what happened at the convention. You agree, it’s undisputed, that the parliamentarian of the Republican Party has publicly said, ‘I made a mistake.’” Parliamentarian Cornel Rasor said after the convention that he erred in advising that adjourning the convention would have the effect of extending current officers’ terms for another two years. “Why is that not the end of this dispute?” the judge asked Troupis. “Isn’t that a political determination?”

“I agree,” Troupis said. “All of those were political actions. The delegates acted in reliance upon the statement, if you adjourn like this, these officers remain in place. The subsequent statement ‘I made a mistake’? Well, there’s a lot of politicians who make those kinds of statements. … Maybe he didn’t make a mistake. … I happen to disagree with him.” Troupis said, “What he said that was relied upon by the convention delegates at the convention, he can’t recant after the convention and say, ‘Oops, my foul.’ The point is the vote was taken based upon what he said.” He added, “I wish the parliamentarian had been more careful at the time, but the fact that he wasn’t doesn’t un-ring the bell.”

That prompted this question from the judge: “I know what your clients think they voted on. … What did the other 521 people think? How am I supposed to know?” Troupis responded, “You can’t.” When the judge suggested the only way to know was to call in all 521 to testify, Troupis said he didn’t think that was necessary. “They were told this is the effect of your vote, and they voted in accord with that,” he said.

Troupis said, “There’s an entire side of the party that is very disgruntled and upset right now and the party is in trouble.” To that, the judge said, “That may be, but that’s not something that I can fix, is it.”

Judge denies motion to dismiss, will hear full Idaho GOP case this morning on merits…

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker has denied the motion to dismiss Barry Peterson’s lawsuit over chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, saying he’ll instead move to hear the full merits of the case this morning, after a 10-minute break. The judge said he believes state statute cites party rules, so they can be enforced by the court. “I think that this case involves both political questions and questions of whether there has been a statutory and therefore a rule violation,” Stoker said. “It’s a mixed issue.” A 1908 Idaho Supreme Court case involving a fight between competing delegations in the Idaho Democratic Party set the precedent on that, he said.

“The court has no stake in who is elected chairman or vice chairman or secretary or treasurer of this party or any other party,” Stoker said. “The issue that I have is are you following the rules, it’s just that simple.” He said his decision to deny the motion to dismiss shouldn’t be taken as a sign he’s leaning either way on the case as a whole. Peterson is seeking an injunction to block the Idaho Republican Party from holding an Aug. 2 state central committee meeting to select new leaders.

Role of First Amendment in Idaho Republican Party case…

Christ Troupis, attorney for Barry Peterson, argued that the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees are implicated in the Idaho Republican Party lawsuit Peterson’s brought in an attempt to keep the chairmanship. “All political activity is First Amendment protected,” Troupis told the court. “Any loss of First Amendment rights is an irreparable injury.”

Tim Hopkins, attorney for the two party officials Peterson sued, told the court, “My God, nobody’s short on freedom of speech in these instances. … I don’t think there’s been any limitation or restriction on anybody’s freedom to speak.” Hopkins said, “The efforts here to create  legal question out of what is clearly a political feud, if you will … It has no sound basis in law for the court’s consideration.”

Judge tells court he’ll decide Idaho GOP case today

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker told the court his morning that he will rule today in the Idaho Republican Party lawsuit, in which two wings of the party are fighting over the chairmanship. “‘This is a very unique proceeding,” Stoker said. “I’m going to give you a ruling at the end of the day.”

More than two dozen people are in the audience. The judge told the court he’s studied all the briefing and affidavits, pored over Idaho Republican Party rules and watched video of the state GOP convention and a rules committee meeting.

Among the arguments: Timothy Hopkins, attorney for party Vice Chairman Mike Mathews and National Committeewoman Cindy Siddoway, told the court: “There are winners and losers inevitably in a political setting like this one, but there is not irreparable injury.” Therefore, he argued, no injunction is warranted.

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled Chairman Barry Peterson, cited Bush vs. Gore and the Idaho closed GOP primary case. “The courts involve themselves in the affairs of political parties every day,” he said.

The audience is quiet and attentive. A sign in the corridor outside warns that a ringing cell phone in court can bring a $100 fine.

Embattled GOP chairman contends he’s facing ‘hostile takeover’ by ‘rogue members’

Lots of interesting stuff in the court filings in the Idaho Republican Party case, including a link to a YouTube video of the final four minutes of the Idaho GOP convention; you can watch it here. In it, convention Chairman Raul Labrador calls for adjourning the convention, and a motion is made to suspend the rules to allow the convention to continue past its scheduled ending point. Asked by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, what happens if the convention adjourns without any votes on leadership, Labrador confers with parliamentarian Cornel Rasor and then says, “Platform stays the same, the officers stay the same.” A voice vote is taken, with the “no” votes much louder, and Labrador says, “The nays have it and we are adjourned.”

However, Rasor later told the Lewiston Tribune he “inadvertently misread the rules.” “It was my fault, not Raul’s,” Rasor told Tribune reporter Bill Spence in a June 25 article that’s among the documents filed in court. State party rules specifically say there “shall be no automatic succession to the office of state chairman.”

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled Chairman Barry Peterson and six of his supporters, contends it doesn’t matter – the 527 delegates at the convention thought that was the result of adjourning. Any other interpretation, he wrote in court documents, “threaten(s) to nullify the votes of 527 convention delegates.”

Timothy Hopkins, attorney for party Vice Chairman Mike Mathews and National Committeewoman Cindy Siddoway, whom Peterson has sued in an attempt to halt an Aug. 2 party central committee meeting to choose new leaders, wrote, “No vote for chairman was held. No vote for any officer was held.”

“The entirety of plaintiff’s claim for relief is based on a significant mistake and misreading of the rules at the end of the convention,” Hopkins wrote. “No constitution or statute permits a group of individuals to conjure a right to use mistaken information in order to lay claim to party leadership positions.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Balukoff knocks Otter for destroying public records, also incorrectly says records law is in Constitution

A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor, is criticizing GOP Gov. Butch Otter for destroying 22 of the 37 applications for two recent openings on the state Board of Education, saying Otter isn’t following through with his pledge to emphasize openness in government, made when he appointed a state public records ombudsman in his office this spring. However, in his statement, he mixes up the Idaho Public Records Law and the state Constitution. “That was my error,” said Mike Lanza, communications director for Balukoff’s campaign; he said a corrected statement is in the works. “We’re talking about the law here,” Lanza said. (Update: A corrected statement was posted within an hour.)

Balukoff said, “Gov. Otter made a great show of this appointment, which followed a request from newspaper publishers for better government compliance with the freedom of information and public-records laws. The Otter administration’s handling of this episode raises two questions: How committed is the governor to obeying state open-records law? And why would his administration conceal from us some applicants for a high-profile state board?”

Balukoff also charged that Otter’s move violated the state Constitution, incorrectly attributing a passage from the Public Records Act to the Idaho Constitution. “The public has the constitutional right to know who’s seeking positions in government, and there was no legitimate reason to have destroyed those records,” he said.

Otter’s public records ombudsman, Cally Younger, told Idaho Education News that the applications were destroyed because they contained personal information; the news outlet had requested all the applications. But those that weren’t destroyed, and were released, also contained personal information such as driver’s license numbers; it was redacted, or blacked out, in the released versions.

Lanza said, “The language is pretty darn clear in that statute – it seems to be clear to us, anyway, as to what the government should be doing.” Balukoff’s full statement is online here.

Idaho state treasurer defends record, calls critical state audits ‘politically motivated’

In his 16 years as Idaho’s state treasurer, Ron Crane has built up the state’s credit rating, launched a popular college savings program and a free annual control-your-finances conference for women, and helped create a bond bank that lets local school bonds and other local-government debt take advantage of the state’s favorable interest rates, potentially saving property taxpayers millions. But he’s best known for a series of critical state audit findings over the past five years, the most recent suggesting that Crane made an inappropriate transfer between two funds that cost the state’s taxpayers more than $10 million.

Crane vigorously disputes the audit finding, contending his office did nothing wrong and made reasonable decisions based on what it knew at the time. “As to the charges of the audit, I maintain and will maintain that they were politically motivated,” Crane said in an interview. “We think there’s an excellent explanation for each one. When voters understand what the real explanation is, they will agree with our position.”

The audit findings have prompted a longtime Twin Falls CPA, Deborah Silver, to challenge Crane in this year’s general election. “I would absolutely follow the auditors’ suggestions, no argument, no excuses,” said Silver, a Democrat who taught accounting at the College of Southern Idaho for five years and has operated a CPA firm with her husband in Twin Falls for nearly three decades. “This is a job that I can do.”

The Spokesman-Review asked David Burgstahler, the Julius A. Roller Professor of Accounting at the University of Washington, to review the audit finding about the fund transfer and Crane’s detailed response. “I found the auditor’s conclusions pretty convincing,” Burgstahler said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Eight migrant kids from border surge have come to sponsors in Idaho; Otter not happy

Eight migrant children from Central America apprehended at the Mexican border already have been sent to Idaho, according to a U.S. Health & Human Services report quoted late yesterday by the Associated Press, though they’ve gone to sponsors, not to state custody; that means they’ve been taken in by relatives, family friends or foster parents.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who yesterday sent a letter to top federal officials declaring that the Gem State won’t take any of the unaccompanied minors who arrived illegally at the southern border as part of a surge of tens of thousands, wasn’t happy about the report. “Assuming this report is true, HHS has not provided any information  about this nor did it go through any of the established channels  to inform the Governor’s Office that this was happening,” Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, said in an email.

“We are working now to determine the veracity of this report. Should it prove to be true, it underscores the importance of the letter the governor released yesterday putting the federal government on notice, that Idaho will not be used as a staging area or a destination for the crisis the federal government has created. Just as troubling is the fact that they are ignoring states and the impacts associated with placing these undocumented migrants without the knowledge or consent of state governments.”

The report cited by the AP said 269 children from the border surge have come to Northwest states between Jan. 1 and July 7 of this year – 211 to sponsors in Washington, 50 to sponsors in Oregon and eight to sponsors in Idaho. The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement has the data posted here. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber released a statement saying his state welcomes the children and that the border surge was a reminder of Congress’ failure to enact immigration reform. “These children are fleeing their homelands because of overwhelming violence and economic hardship, and they do not deserve to become political fodder,” Kitzhaber said.

Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, said today, “There are more than 200 children who have been placed with sponsors in Washington state. These are children who have seen and experienced traumatic violence and disruption in their communities. The federal government has identified care givers, some of whom are family members, who have agreed to take these children in. This is clearly an improvement over holding children in detention facilities. Our state will provide the support and services they need as they await their court proceedings.”

Two new Idaho GOP chair hopefuls emerge in two days

Two new candidates for Idaho Republican Party chairman have emerged in the past two days: Cassia County Republican Chairman Douglas Pickett, and former Dick Cheney aide and three-year Idaho Falls resident Steve Yates. This comes as the party is headed to court in a lawsuit filed by its last elected chairman, Barry Peterson, who maintains he’s still in charge despite the failure of the June state party convention to elect anyone as state party chair; while other party leaders have scheduled a state Central Committee meeting for Aug. 2 to choose new leaders, Peterson’s called a competing meeting for Aug. 9.

He’s asking a judge to declare his meeting the legitimate one, though those endorsing the Aug. 2 meeting date so far have included Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Jim Risch, Congressman Mike Simpson, and the legal counsel for the Republican National Committee, who advised the RNC that the Aug. 2 meeting’s choice would be the legitimate chairman.

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports today that Pickett has been a party activist for 14 years, serving as a precinct committeeman, youth committeeman and state committeeman. In 2012, he ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, in the primary, garnering 44 percent of the vote; Popkey’s full report is online here.

Yates said he’s spent 24 years working public policy issues at the federal level and moved his family and business, D.C. International Advisory, to Idaho Falls in 2011; he’s a regular analyst on Fox News. Yates ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, in the May primary, losing narrowly with 48.9 percent of the vote.

Feds never asked Idaho to take captured immigrant kids; Otter was acting ‘pre-emptively’

Asked if Idaho has been contacted by federal officials about housing or staging unaccompanied minor immigrants captured at the southern border up north here in the Gem State, Gov. Butch Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, responded, “The short answer is no.”

“We have not received any information to suggest that undocumented UAM immigrants are headed this way nor have we heard that Idaho will be a destination,” Hanian said in an email. “However, the governor felt it was important to act preemptively on this issue in an effort to avoid the kind of chaos that the federal government has forced on a multitude of other states where illegal immigrants have been brought in without the knowledge or consent of those states.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com

Otter fires off letter to feds saying Idaho won’t take any immigrant kids captured at southern border

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today fired off a letter to three top federal officials declaring that he wants “to immediately eliminate the chance of the federal government using Idaho as a destination or a staging area for the influx of unaccompanied and illegal immigrants entering the United States through our southern border.” There was no indication that Idaho – which borders Canada, not Mexico – had been targeted for any such use; the governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about that.

Otter, in a letter he also copied to the four members of the state’s congressional delegation, wrote, “It should be understood that the State of Idaho and its subdivisions will not be actively involved in addressing the humanitarian crisis the federal government has created. Idaho will not open itself to the unwelcome challenges with which other states have struggled at the federal government’s hands.” You can read Otter’s full letter here.

Otter’s letter was addressed to U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Leon Rodriguez. 

Peterson says he’s filed lawsuit against GOP officials

Embattled state GOP Chairman Barry Peterson announced today that he and six backers have filed a lawsuit in state district court in Twin Falls County, challenging the state GOP central committee meeting that's been set for Aug. 2 by petition of several counties' delegations to pick new state party leaders. The lawsuit targets Mike Mathews and Cindy Siddoway, whom Peterson termed “the two party members who illegally issued a call for a special meeting of the State Central Committee while unilaterally declaring that all state party offices were vacant.”

“It is with great regret that we have had to take this legal action to enforce state party rules,” Peterson said in a statement. “Since June 12, 2014, much effort has been put forth to sit down with Gov. Otter to resolve this issue. With no response from the governor, this action is necessary to uphold the integrity of the party and the party Rules.” Click below for his full statement. Peterson called for a meeting of the same body on Aug. 9. While he maintains he's still the state party chairman, others say his term ended after two years when this year's state party convention ended in disarray, without any votes on leaders, resolutions or a party platform. Instead, factions within the party spent the entire convention fighting over whether or not to allow several counties' delegations to participate. The Idaho Statesman has posted Peterson's complaint here.

Balukoff offers 3-1 match for donors to his campaign against Otter

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, is matching contributions to his campaign by putting in $3 for every $1 donated this month, Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey reports today. Balukoff’s pledge is credible because the multimillionaire businessman can afford it – and he said when he announced his candidacy against two-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter that he was willing to dip into his own funds to help finance his campaign.

“I know that pay-to-pay politics will put my opponent at a financial advantage, but I was surprised to find out how slanted it is,” Popkey reported Balukoff said in a fundraising pitch sent out to supporters this week, headed, “Jump in July: TRIPLE MATCH!” Balukoff told Popkey, “I think it’s important that this race be competitive and that we talk about issues. People pay attention when they realize there’s a viable alternative to Gov. Otter.” Popkey’s full report is online here.

Idaho’s year-end budget surplus: $44.4M

Year-end state tax revenue figures announced yesterday showed that Idaho ended up with $7.2 million more than expected at the end of the fiscal year June 30, but the state actually has a significantly larger budget surplus than that. Here’s why: This year’s state budget didn’t call for spending all the tax revenue the state expected to collect. Instead, $36 million was transferred to various budget stabilization funds, and another $44.4 million was left unspent, creating a year-end balance or surplus.

The monthly Budget and Revenue Monitor from the Legislature’s budget staff lays out the figures; you can see it here. It shows the ending balance, or surplus, at the end of fiscal year 2014 at $44.4 million, $17.6 million higher than was anticipated at the close of this year’s legislative session.

Factors pushing the number higher, aside from the increased revenue collections, are year-end reversions of unspent money from various state agencies, including $6.4 million from the Catastrophic Health Care Program due to lower than anticipated costs; $5.9 million from other agencies; and $1.6 million in other year-end adjustments, all adding to the surplus. (If you’re doing the math, the Legislature’s budget figures already counted part of the $7.2 million based on revenue reports that came in before the Legislature adjourned; so by its calculation, the additional year-end boost from revenues was $3.6 million beyond expectations rather than $7.2 million.)

When lawmakers return to town in January, they’ll need to act on a series of deficiency warrants largely consisting of $17.5 million for firefighting costs; that would still leave more than $26 million from the surplus. An additional reversion from Medicaid also is expected to boost the total in August or September.

CdA had highest score for crisis center, but lost out due to local lawmakers’ opposition

Coeur d’Alene actually had the highest score in the competition for a state mental health crisis center by a slim margin, Coeur d’Alene Press reporter Taryn Thompson reports today, but lost out to Idaho Falls because North Idaho lawmakers didn’t support the project. North Idaho Reps. Kathy Sims, Vito Barbieri, and Ron Mendive and Sen. Bob Nonini all voted against SB 1352, which passed the House 28-6 and the Senate 53-14 and sought to establish three of the centers. JFAC approved funding for just one in the first year, putting three locations – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls and Boise – in competition for it.

Thompson reported that the Department of Health & Welfare scored the competing proposals, then worked with the governor’s office to make the final choice. “The fact that a majority of legislators in eastern Idaho wanted the project helped in the final decision,” Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, told the Press; he cited a “proven level of legislative support in eastern Idaho.”

You can read Thompson’s full report here; she obtained the scoring data through a public records request under the Idaho Public Records Act. Over the weekend, Thompson reported on the magnitude of the mental health crisis in North Idaho that had local officials hoping for funding for a 24-hour crisis center; see that report here. Letters in support of the Coeur d’Alene crisis center were signed by the county commissions and sheriffs of all five North Idaho Panhandle counties.

Barbieri told Thompson that law enforcement and others don’t need to “panic or specifically worry.” He said, “If it turns out that there's as dire a need here as opposed to somewhere else in the state, they'll get it. … Of course, with a bureaucrat, they all need it right away.”