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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Boulder-White Clouds bill draws support at Senate hearing

At a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing today on wilderness legislation for the Boulder-White Clouds and Jerry Peak mountains, Rick Johnson of the Idaho Conservation spoke in favor of the bill on behalf of a coalition of 26 groups, reports Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman, from the Idaho Conservation League he heads to the Idaho Cattle Association, the Idaho Farm Bureau and the Idaho Water Users Association. “There has never been such broad consensus around legislation for the Boulder-White Clouds,” Johnson told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining.

Barker’s full report is online here. The ICL reported on Twitter that Idaho Sen. Jim Risch called the legislation a “great compromise” and praised Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson for crafting it. In a news release on the hearing, Risch called the area “one of the most remarkable places in the world,” and said, “You could travel all over the world but you would always remember your trip to the Boulder-White Clouds. It is truly unique.”

‘A blemish on the Otter Administration, regardless of legal technicalities’

Longtime Idaho political observer Jim Weatherby had this reaction to today’s announcement by federal prosecutors that they won’t file criminal charges in the CCA contract scandal: “If not criminal negligence, then at least gross mismanagement was on display in the CCA case. This will be a blemish on the Otter record regardless of legal technicalities.” Weatherby said he hopes a newly named interim legislative committee on state purchasing procedures “can learn lessons from the CCA and IEN (Idaho Education Network) cases,” adding, “The credibility of state government is at stake.”

You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Federal prosecutors: No criminal charges in CCA investigation

After an extensive, 15-month investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, federal prosecutors today declined to file any federal criminal charges of fraud or public corruption in connection with Idaho’s canceled private prison contract with Corrections Corporation of America. The main reason: Though CCA submitted falsified staffing records for thousands of hours of guard duty they didn’t staff at Idaho’s largest prison, investigators found that the falsified records weren’t used to defraud the state out of payments – because the state was paid based on the number of inmates, not the number of guard staff hours. The contract allowed the state to receive damages for that type of contract violation.

“No evidence showed that the false entries were made by the low-level employees with the intent to defraud the state of Idaho of money or property, as is required under the federal criminal fraud statutes,” said U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson. “In addition, no evidence obtained during the FBI investigation showed that state employees at the Idaho State Police, the Idaho Department of Correction or the governor’s office sought to delay, hinder or corruptly influence a state criminal investigation, as is required under the federal public corruption statutes. Rather, the evidence shows a series of miscommunications and uncorrected assumptions that led to incorrect reports in the media and incorrect statements in related civil federal court proceedings that the Idaho State Police were conducting a criminal investigation, when in fact they were not.”

Federal investigators interviewed about 20 state or CCA employees in their probe, and went through voluminous documents obtained from the ISP, the Idaho Department of Correction, the governor’s office, other state agencies, CCA and the courts. The investigation included FBI agents and specialists in Boise, Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C.

Olson said an Idaho Department of Correction employee falsely testified in federal court that the Idaho State Police was conducting a criminal investigation into the matter, when it was not. But that wasn’t perjury, she said, because due to miscommunications among state agencies, the employee believed that was the case, and the Idaho State Police never corrected it. Only after months of references to the non-existent ISP investigation, including refusals of public records requests because of supposed an ongoing investigation, did the state finally acknowledge ISP had never launched a criminal investigation. It finally did so in February of 2014, but a month later, the FBI stepped in and took over.

The state also agreed to a $1 million civil settlement in February of 2014 over the understaffing and contract-compliance issues, before Gov. Butch Otter asked ISP to launch a criminal investigation. Asked if that chain of events – settling before investigating – was found to be improper, Olson said, “We looked at whether there were violations. There were a number of other actions or matters that may be of concern to the state agencies or to the voters or whatever.” But, she said, “There is insufficient evidence to prove any criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Ex-Muslim pastor stokes fear and controversy in Idaho

After listening to Shahram Hadian speak for over an hour about Islam as a rising menace in America, Alton Howell stepped outside the log-built community hall in Sandpoint and quickly called a colleague, writes S-R reporter Scott Maben. “It scared the living daylights out of me,” the Careywood farmer spoke into his phone.

Howell, a leader in the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, said in an interview that he worries young people are being “indoctrinated” to Islam and that followers already have a foothold in parts of the Northwest. “I think that we better pay attention,” he said. “The city of Seattle, that part of Washington, is just shotgun full of Muslims.”

If alarm and fear are the reactions Hadian strives to produce in his audiences, the Spokane-area Christian pastor is having some success. And not just with community groups like last month’s Sandpoint meeting hosted by a group of Republican women. Hadian, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity, also outlined his anti-Islam views for a group of conservative legislators in Boise earlier this year, taking the opportunity to voice his concerns about a Senate bill to keep Idaho in compliance with the federal child support program. A House committee tabled that legislation in the waning hours of the legislative session, thrusting the state into national headlines and leading the governor to call lawmakers back into session Monday to deflect a looming crisis in child support payments. You can read Maben’s full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

Labrador, Simpson split on USA Freedom Act, which extends, revises Patriot Act

The U.S. House has passed HR 2048, the USA Freedom Act, on a 338-88 vote, with Idaho’s members splitting – 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson voted with the majority in favor, and 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador voted in the minority against the bill. The measure, which extends many parts of the 2001 USA Patriot Act, also ends the mass collection of Americans’ phone data, which backers touted as its biggest selling point. But Labrador said it didn’t go far enough, particularly after a 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling last week ruled the mass collection illegal.

“While supporters of HR 2048 claimed that it made necessary reforms to protect privacy and security, the changes did not sufficiently protect Americans’ civil liberties,” Labrador said in a statement. “I offered amendments to strengthen civil liberties protections in the Judiciary Committee, but they were rejected. Later, the Rules Committee refused to consider these amendments on the House floor. Ultimately, I could not support the bill in its current form. Now, I urge my colleagues in the Senate to continue fighting for privacy rights and national security when they take up the bill in the coming days.”

The bill faces an uncertain fate in the Senate; a version of it passed the House last year, but was rejected by the Senate. The National Security Agency’s authority to obtain phone metadata, which was granted by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, expires with the rest of the act on June 1 if Congress doesn’t extend it. HR 2048 specifies that telephone companies would keep the data, rather than turning it over, unless they receive a court order naming a specific person or account. It also lifts some of the secrecy around NSA requests. The Patriot Act was last renewed in 2011, when President Barack Obama signed the extension bill just before the act was to expire at midnight.

Marco Rubio to address Idaho GOP in Idaho Falls in June

The Idaho Republican Party doesn’t have a statement about the upcoming special session; party executive director David Johnston said the party has no comment. But they do have other news: Marco Rubio will be the keynote speaker at the party’s summer central committee meeting in Idaho Falls, which is June 5. Johnston said the Rubio appearance is “three firsts”: It’s the first time a presidential candidate has come to speak at the Idaho GOP’s summer meeting; it’s the first public appearance by a presidential candidate in Idaho this election cycle; and it’s the earliest in the campaign cycle that a GOP presidential candidate has visited the state.

Idaho GOP Chairman Stephen Yates said, “He will be a compelling speaker whose message fits well with the theme of our meeting, which is faith and family. We are honored to have Sen. Rubio visit Idaho and share his vision with us.”

Rubio actually came through Idaho in April, too, with private stops in Idaho Falls and Boise, but no public appearances. “Technically, he wasn’t a declared candidate at that point,” Johnston said.

The summer central committee meeting will be held at the Shilo Inn in Idaho Falls June 5-6; ticket information and details are on the Idaho GOP website here.

Crapo announces he’ll run for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate

Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo announced today that he’ll run for re-election in 2016, seeking a fourth six-year term in the Senate. Crapo named Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Jim Risch and Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador as his campaign co-chairs. In a statement from Washington, D.C., Crapo said, “It’s an honor to have the support of these tremendous Idaho leaders who I have worked closely with over the years as we have served the people of Idaho and together fought for conservative values and policies.”

There had been some speculation that Crapo might not run again, after his DUI arrest in December of 2012, to which he pleaded guilty and apologized. Crapo had long been known as a teetotaler due to his strict Mormon faith; the arrest shocked his supporters. He told police he had consumed several shots of vodka before going for a drive; he later told reporters he had been drinking vodka with tonic water at his apartment, then went for a drive to “try to wind down.” He was arrested after making a U-turn at a red light; he registered a 0.11 blood-alcohol level at the scene and a higher 0.14 level in a test taken later at the jail. He was sentenced to a $250 fine, a suspended 180-day jail sentence, an alcohol awareness program and a one-year license suspension.

Crapo, 63, also is a survivor of prostate cancer, for which he’s been treated twice during his Senate career. A Harvard-educated lawyer, Brigham Young University graduate and Idaho Falls native, he served eight years in the state Senate, including serving as Senate president pro-tem, and three terms in Congress before winning his first U.S. Senate term in 1998.

In a rarity, Crapo was unopposed but for a write-in candidate when he won his second term in 2004; he won his third term in 2010 with 71.2 percent of the vote. Crapo has a campaign website up here, but doesn't yet have a campaign office. According to Federal Election Commission records, Crapo had $3.7 million in cash in his campaign warchest as of March 31. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Catching up…

I’m back after a restful week visiting with family, and catching up on some of the news I missed, including:

REVENUE: State tax revenues for April, the biggest month of the year, came in close to forecasts, at $482.4 million, $3.4 million, or 0.7 percent, above the predicted amount. That puts fiscal year-to-date state general fund receipts 3.7 percent ahead of the forecast - $91.8 million ahead. You can read the full General Fund Revenue Report here from the governor’s Division of Financial Management.

WATER: The Twin Falls Times-News reported Friday that Idaho groundwater users have agreed to cut more than 10 percent of their water claims in a monumental deal designed to stave off crippling water shutoffs along the southern half of the state. The parties came to an agreement on Thursday without requiring the state to intervene; you can read a full report here from the Times-News and the AP.

OFFICER KILLED: Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Greg Moore died Tuesday evening after he was shot early that morning while on patrol in a residential neighborhood; he had stopped to check on a man walking down a dark street, and the man pulled out a handgun and shot Moore, then stole his patrol car and fled. Thousands turned out for Moore’s funeral Saturday at Lake City High School. Jonathan Renfro, 26, has confessed to the crime and faces charges of first-degree murder.

TAX INCENTIVE: The Idaho Statesman reported on Tuesday that that United Airlines is outsourcing about 50 Boise operations and customer-service jobs to SkyWest Airlines at significantly lower wages, six months after SkyWest became the first business to win a new Idaho tax incentive worth $1.3 million by promising to bring 50 new high-paying jobs to Boise. Skywest told the Statesman it was unaware of United’s future plans when it applied for the tax incentive; Idaho Department of Commerce spokeswoman Megan Ronk said in the department’s view, the projects are unrelated. After SkyWest won the contract, employees said about 50 United workers were forced to choose between leaving or transferring to another city, or taking $9-per-hour jobs with few or no benefits. United will no longer have operations employees in Boise. There’s a full report here.

IDAHO REPORTS: Friday’s “Idaho Reports” program examined prospects for preschool in Idaho, education funding and whether the state’s current funding system is constitutional, and more; co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz also talked with state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra about funding, and with Gov. Butch Otter about trade missions. Otter’s currently leading a trade mission to Peru and Mexico; you can watch the show here.

TRANSPORTATION DECISIONS: AP reporter Ryan Struyk examined the choices facing the Idaho Transportation Board on where to spend money from this year’s increase in funding for road and bridge maintenance. State Transportation Director Brian Ness said the $95 million infusion toward Idaho’s $262 million annual maintenance shortfall should “slow the rate of decline.” You can read the full story here.

RISCH RESOLUTION: The U.S. Senate on Monday unanimously passed a resolution proposed by Idaho Sen. Jim Risch calling on Iranian officials to immediately release three Americans held in Iran and help locate a fourth. It calls for Iran to free Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian and cooperate with the U.S. government to locate and return former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who is believed to be missing in Iran. Risch argued that the four should have been released before the U.S. started negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran. "Iran thinks it elevates its position in the world because it does these kind of things. It does not," he said. There’s a full report here.

Former Sen. Craig receives warning from FEC

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Federal election regulators have sent former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig a warning letter that he failed to submit financial disclosure documents. The Federal Election Commission says Craig failed to report his April quarterly finances. Craig told The Associated Press that he submitted the report Monday. The Idaho Republican says he has continued to file quarterly reports — despite leaving office in 2009 — because of his legal battles over his use of campaign funds. Most recently, a federal judge ordered him to pay nearly $242,000 to the U.S. Treasury for improperly using campaign funds to cover legal expenses involving a 2007 airport bathroom sex sting. Craig was arrested after being accused of soliciting sex in a men's bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by an undercover officer.

Idaho senators’ secret selection process for new federal judge raises questions, no women interviewed

Idaho is the only state in the 9th Circuit that’s never had a woman U.S. district judge, and members of Idaho’s legal community say a secretive selection process that Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have launched to find a replacement for U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge appears to be ignoring female candidates. “We are extremely concerned,” said Peg Dougherty, co-chair of the Judicial Recruitment Committee for Idaho Women Lawyers. Multiple sources say the two senators have interviewed just four candidates – all males. Lodge announced last September that he will take senior status on July 3.

“Are the senators even aware that Idaho is the only state without a woman on the federal court bench at the district level?” Dougherty asked. “If they are aware, do they care?” Neither Crapo nor Risch would comment. “The judgeship application process is entirely confidential and remains ongoing,” said Risch’s press secretary, Suzanne Wrasse. “The senators are working through their confidential process,” said Crapo’s press secretary, Lindsay Nothern. “That’s all I have.”

At least five prominent female Idaho attorneys, including at least one sitting judge and two high-ranking prosecutors, have applied for the position, but not been interviewed, or even heard back from the senators for months. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho’s history of religious fear goes back decades

Fear and discrimination against different religious groups has a long history in Idaho, reports Ryan Struyk of the Associated Press, from hostility toward Mormon settlers dating back to the first days of Idaho Territory in the late 1800s, to resistance to Catholic immigrants, including Basques, in the 1920s. Most recently, three Idaho senators boycotted a Hindu prayer that was offered to open a Senate session this year, and Republicans in various parts of the state are fanning fears of the state’s Muslim population. You can read Struyk’s full report here.

Two different views of Islam in Idaho…

More than 100 people gathered at the Sandpoint Community Hall this morning to hear anti-Islam speaker Shahram Hadian speak, reports Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public Television; Hadian, a Christian pastor from Chattaroy, Wash. and former Muslim, downplayed his role in helping kill child support enforcement legislation in Idaho and instead focused on his criticisms of Islam, which he claimed is a “a culture of death” that, among other things, he said requires submission and teaches its followers that martyrdom is the only way to salvation. He also had plenty of scorn to heap on the news media.

Outside, a group of protesters held signs with slogans including “Stand up for Tolerance and Child Welfare,” “I choose children over fear” and “Idaho’s kids need food, not ideology.” You can read Davlin’s full post here.

Meanwhile, more than 400 miles to the south, I attended a much different event this evening: A “peace feast” at a Boise restaurant at which an equal number of Idaho Muslims and non-Muslims shared dinner and a low-key presentation about Islam. Laura Armstrong, a member of the pastoral staff at a local Christian church, Cole Community Church, praised the “building of bridges and understanding.” At this gathering, too, concerns were raised about the news media and its coverage of Islam.

John Landis, a financial executive who converted to Islam three years ago, shared some information about Boise’s Islamic community. “It’s very ethnically diverse, it’s culturally diverse,” he said. “We are the melting pot of the melting pot.” The community includes people from India, Bosnia, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Syria, the United States and elsewhere.

Zawar Qazi, president of the Islamic Center of Boise, said the center is Sunni in practice but welcomes all Muslims to pray together. The area also has a couple of Shia mosques, he said. An engineer at Micron who’s originally from Pakistan, Qazi said he’s never been harassed over his religion in Idaho. Others at the dinner were business owners, students, IT people, marketers, homemakers. They were Muslim, Christian, Jewish and otherwise.

Landis presented a brief slide show about Islam, stressing its reverence for the sanctity of life, and prohibitions on violence other than in self defense. A diner in the restaurant, who wasn’t part of the gathering, asked the first question when Landis opened it up for Q-and-A, vociferously citing ISIS and its atrocities. “They are not Muslims – they are criminals,” responded a member of the group. “They call themselves Muslims.”

Later, as the dinner wrapped up, Nick Armstrong, who had collected everyone’s individual payments for dinner at the start, had an announcement: Three Saudi Arabian students who had been quietly dining in the back of the restaurant during the presentation had pulled him aside as they left, and told him how impressed they were that the group, Muslims and non-Muslims, was learning together. One of the young men insisted on paying for everyone’s meal – 20 people. So Armstrong passed back out everyone’s payments.    

Crapo, Risch join 92-8 vote in Senate to pass same Secure Rural Schools bill that divided Simpson and Labrador

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch both joined the majority in a 92-8 vote in the Senate last night to pass H.R. 2, legislation to permanently take care of the “doc fix” Congress has annually been passing on Medicare reimbursement rates, and also provide a two-year extension to the Secure Rural Schools program, which provides millions in payments to rural, timber-dependent Idaho counties for roads and schools. It’s the same bill that earlier overwhelmingly passed the House, but kicked off an open war of words between Idaho 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson, who proudly supported the bill and joined the majority, and Idaho 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador, who voted “no” and blasted Simpson not only for supporting the bill, but also for everything from his integrity to his personal habits.

Labrador maintained he supported the SRS extension and it would have passed as a stand-alone bill, but opposed the “doc fix” legislation as too costly.

Here’s what Crapo and Risch said about the bill in a joint statement:

“For decades, Congress has struggled over two competing issues that are part of this legislation: repealing the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula, and meaningfully and fully addressing our national debt.  The bill contains needed entitlement reforms and protections of our rural communities.  Conservatives have long lobbied for this much-needed entitlement reform.  But there is legitimate concern that the bill is not fully offset.    

 

“One of our overriding concerns has been that the bill was not fully paid for.  In the ensuing weeks since the House passed the legislation, commitments have been made regarding reductions in the upcoming Senate-House budget conference to reduce the budgeted spending to account for the need to fully offset this bill.  Although this does not adopt the necessary offsets immediately, it does establish in our federal budget the recognition that our work on this legislation is not done.  We must assure that this legislation does not add to our mounting national debt. 

 

“This bill contained needed adjustments and reforms to our Medicare system and protections for our rural communities in states with high federal property ownership.  We voted in favor of this bill tonight and give our commitment to work until the necessary spending offsets to be incorporated into our federal budget are realized so that Congress follows through on both:  entitlement reform and federal spending reduction.”

You can read their full news release here.

Brouhaha over killed child-support bill divides House Republicans

A brouhaha over the child support enforcement bill killed on the final day of the legislative session is dividing the House GOP. First, former Rep. Cindy Agidius sent out an article by Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, with the message: “Explanation of SB 1067 by Rep Lynn Luker. Please find attached an editorial by Representative Lynn Luker regarding the concerns surrounding SB1067.” Her email was signed, “Cindy Agidius, Communications Director, House Majority Caucus.” You can read Luker’s piece here.

Agidius’ email went to all members of the press covering this year’s legislative session, plus all 56 Republicans in the House, on Saturday evening. It didn’t take long for the reply-alls to start hitting from lawmakers.

At 1:26 p.m. on Sunday, Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, wrote, “Representative Luker does not speak for Idaho or me. Scuttling 1067 without debate was heavy-handed opportunistic theatrics at the expense of single-parents and children…the most vulnerable in our society. I do not support the erratic behavior that will lead to the dismantling of our child support system, nor the implication that this mockery of a legal analysis in any way represents our Republican caucus.”

Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa, responded at 2:22 p.m. “I for one don't know the specifics of this legislation. I can’t speak to the merits of these arguments however I will not allow Mr. Luker to be perceived as speaking for me or the caucus. Because this was distributed to the press as a response to the action of holding this bill it is imperative that the press know that this is a limb that Rep. Luker is out on by himself at this time. Rep. Luker may be right, he may be wrong but on an issue that affects so many and so drastically he does not speak for me especially at this time.”

Luker was one of nine members of the House Judiciary Committee who voted, in a 9-8 vote, to table SB 1067, the child support enforcement bill that had earlier passed the Senate unanimously, after Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll and members of the John Birch Society raised fears that it would subject Idahoans to Sharia and foreign laws, by acceding to a 2007 international treaty. The bill was killed despite warnings from the state Department of Health & Welfare that it’s a requirement to conform with federal regulations, and without it, Idaho will lose access to the federal child support enforcement system, endangering its system for enforcing $200 million a year in child-support payments to Idaho children, plus lose up to $46 million in federal funds and have to lay off 100 state employees.

At 3:03 p.m. Sunday, Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, weighed in with this: “I certainly hope this was not represented as a Majority Caucus response. If it was, it should be immediately withdrawn. Rep Luker is entitled to his opinion, legal and personal. It is not my opinion, and I do not want to be associated in any way with it. By the way, can anyone explain why we still have a caucus media director? The caucus has no way of meeting. There should be no information being presented to the public representing anything about the caucus.”

The next response, from Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, came at 3:11 p.m. With a winking smiley-face, he wrote, “Well if there is a conference committee please don't put me on it.”

At 6:16 p.m. on Sunday, Agidius sent this all-caps email to the press: “THE EDITORIAL SENT OUT WRITTEN BY LYNN LUKER IS HIS PERSONAL OPINION AND DOES NOT REPRESENT THE OPINION OF THE ENTIRE HOUSE GOP CAUCUS. THERE ARE ALWAYS TWO SIDES TO EVERY ISSUE AND IT IS MY UNDERSTANDING THAT THERE WILL BE AN EDITORIAL FROM THE OTHER SIDED TO SHARE TOMORROW. IF THERE HAS BEEN ANY CONFUSION AS TO WHOSE OPINION THIS EDITORIAL WAS, I OFFER MY SINCERE APPOLOGIES.”

Dems say they made a difference in this year’s session

House and Senate Democrats, in a news conference on Saturday, said they made big strides in this year’s legislative session, from pushing for investments in education to stopping moves to raises taxes for the middle-income, from passing an anti-bullying law to stopping an interstate compact on transfer of federal lands to states.

“Idaho Democratic lawmakers leave this Legislature energized and optimistic,” the Dems said in a statement. You can read their full statement here. They said they heard from Idahoans this year, including a note saying, “Thanks to the Mighty Minority.”

“Something powerful happened this year. The voice of Idahoans became stronger and Idaho Democrats listened and took their words to heart,” the lawmakers said. “As a result, we have been able to move the discussion and the majority party toward improving the lives of Idaho citizens.”

Idaho joins 15-state anti-gay marriage brief to U.S. Supreme Court

Idaho has signed on to a brief with 14 other states urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold bans on gay marriage and leave the matter to voters and lawmakers, the AP reports. The brief, filed today, argues that the court will do "incalculable damage to our civic life" if it decides that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry everywhere in the United States.

Plaintiffs from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee are asking the court to declare that the Constitution forbids states from denying same-sex couples the right to marry. The justices are scheduled to hear arguments on April 28; you can read a full report here from the Associated Press in Washington, D.C.

Labrador, Simpson clash, criticize each other

Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador is sharply criticizing fellow Idaho GOP Congressman Mike Simpson, after Simpson said a congressman would “have to look long and hard to find a reason to vote no” on legislation that passed the House late last week to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools program, which was tucked into a larger bill on Medicare payments. Simpson voted for the measure; timber-dependent Idaho counties receive millions under the SRS program. Labrador voted no.

“Mike Simpson has been part of the establishment in Washington D.C. for 12 years,” Labrador told Boise State Public Radio in an interview. “He loves to go out drinking and smoking with the Speaker [John Boehner]. He loves to have these relationships where it’s all about making false promises to his constituents and then going back there to Washington D.C. to compromise.”

You can read an Associated Press account of the clash between the two Idaho Republicans online here; and find the full Boise State Public Radio report online here, including audio from the interview. Labrador told the radio station SRS reauthorization would have passed on its own later. “There was never any danger of this legislation not passing,” he said.

"We're different kinds of politicians," Labrador said. "I will not lie to my constituents.” Simpson’s communications director, Nikki Wallace, told the radio station in a statement, “This isn't the first time Congressman Labrador has uttered this nonsense and I'm sure it won't be the last."

Minority leader asks for removal of GOP caucus staffer, says she’s been ‘hounding’ former opponent

House Minority Leader John Rusche of Lewiston has asked that Cindy Agidius be removed as communications director for the House Republican Caucus, reporter Bill Spence of the Lewiston Tribune reports, saying she's using the position to “hound” and “spy” on a Democratic caucus member. Rusche said Agidius has been taking photos and posting inappropriate online comments about Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, who defeated her in the general election last November; you can read Spence’s full report here at his “Political Theater” blog.

“I've spoken with (House Speaker Scott Bedke) twice about this,” Rusche told the Tribune. “I'm concerned that one of my caucus members is feeling harassed. I'm also concerned the majority caucus office is being used for political purposes.”

Bedke said he spoke with Agidius after Rusche contacted him and considers the issue closed, Spence reports. “I think (Agidius's online comment) was a one-time lapse,” he said. “She took it down immediately. She and I have talked; I've let her know there are certain lines I don't want crossed. She has a good feel for that now.”

Labrador votes against Secure Rural Schools funding

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador cast one of just 37 “no” votes in the House this week on a measure that included funding for reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools program, which provides millions to rural, timber-dependent Idaho counties for schools and roads. The bill passed, 392-37; Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson was among its backers. “This kind of bill represents exactly what the American people want to see out of their elected representatives,” Simpson said in a statement. “They want us to fix problems, not shout across the aisle and point fingers.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Amid email scandal, IACI re-evaluates its political hardball tactics

The Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, a big-bucks lobbying group that touts itself as the “voice of business” in Idaho, is re-evaluating, the Idaho Statesman reports, after a scandal over a profanity-laced email from its president bashing a Senate committee chair and threatening political retaliation against him - for backing teacher pay increases over IACI-backed business tax cuts - went public and prompted the IACI board to place President Alex LaBeau on leave. Statesman reporter Bill Dentzer writes that “IACI is the 800-pound gorilla of state special interests and its members are heavyweights themselves,” with its board a who’s-who of the state’s biggest corporate names: Simplot, Micron, Idaho Power, Melalueca, and more.

Since LaBeau took over in 2007, Dentzer writes, IACI has refocused on political hardball, leading to a 2011 Statesman headline, "Going for the throat: Alex LaBeau has honed the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry into a sharp-edged political knife." Since LaBeau took over, IACI has formed PACs aimed at defeating Democratic candidates for governor and even incumbent GOP lawmakers, drawing on far-off political consultants from Florida and New York. Dentzer’s full report is online here.