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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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey cornered a half-dozen people for video remembrances at former Idaho Gov. John V. Evans’ funeral last week, and came up with this interesting anecdote: When Evans, a Democrat, became governor in 1977, he wanted – and got – his own man as state party chairman. It’s a relevant tale as current Gov. Butch Otter has been bedeviled by the fight over the chairmanship of his party, the Republicans.
Popkey reports that Evans simply asked then-Democratic Party Chairman John Greenfield for his resignation. Greenfield told Popkey he replied, “Why should I do that?” The governor looked him in the eye and said, “Because I’m governor and you’re not.” Popkey reports that Greenfield mulled it over and consulted with his dad, also a former state party chairman, who advised him, “You’d better do that, kid. If you don’t do that and he loses the election, they’re never going to forgive you.” Popkey’s report is online here, along with six video remembrances. “It was just common sense,” Greenfield told Popkey. “That's what he wanted and he was governor and that was it.”
Otter has been feuding with a faction of his own party since it dislodged his choice for chairman, Kirk Sullivan, in 2008; now, depending on which side you believe, the party either has no chairman, or former Chairman Barry Peterson continues to hold the office because the party’s disastrous state convention failed to even hold votes on leaders, resolutions or a party platform. Party leaders aligned with Otter have called a state central committee meeting for Aug. 2 to fill the vacancy; Peterson has called a state central committee meeting for Aug. 9 for the same purpose. The Republican National Committee has blessed the Aug. 2 meeting and said its selection will be the officially recognized leader.
Hari Heath, a Benewah County delegate to the tumultuous Idaho State Republican Party convention in Moscow last month, opines in an op-ed piece today about the convention, which ended in disarray with no votes on leadership, resolution or a party platform: “These are the growing pains of a revitalized party worthy of the public’s participation.” Adds Heath, “The Otters, Clarks, Rischs and Loebs of the elite have lost the heart and soul of the Republican Party because corruption and cronyism is no longer assembled. The assembled body of the Republican people has spoken.” The full op-ed piece, published in the Idaho Statesman today, is online here.
Heath and his wife, owners of logging and archery businesses in Santa, filed an unsuccessful lawsuit in 1998 against the Idaho State Tax Commission after the Heaths failed to file or pay state income taxes in 1995 and 1996; they contended they lived in the “Republic of Idaho” and the Tax Commission had no authority over them. They lost; the state Court of Appeals rejected their appeal in 2000. Heath also went to court to mount a lengthy fight against charges of failure to purchase a driver’s license or register his car; a jury found him guilty and his appeals were unsuccessful. Heath's piece in the Statesman ran under the headline, “Integrity matters to Idaho Republicans, who stand firm.”
RNC counsel: Whoever is elected Idaho GOP chairman at Aug. 2 meeting will be ‘full voting member’ of RNC
John R. Phillippe Jr., chief counsel for the Republican National Committee, has sent a memo headed “Update on Idaho GOP Chairmanship Vacancy” to RNC Chairman Rance Priebus, saying the Idaho Republican Party’s central committee meeting on Aug. 2 will fill the vacancy for state party chairman, and will comply with party rules. Embattled state Chairman Barry Peterson has called a competing meeting for Aug. 9. “Mr. Peterson has no authority to call such a meeting since, as I advised earlier, he is no longer the state party chairman,” Phillippe wrote. “In any case, the meeting in Boise on August 2nd is the properly called meeting. If someone is elected chairman at the meeting, he or she will be eligible to attend the RNC Summer Meeting as a full voting member of the RNC.”
A week ago, Peterson sent out a press release calling on Idaho Gov. Butch Otter to select a single date and bring the party together, saying “one phone call” from the governor would straighten things out. Otter subsequently announced support for the Aug. 2 date, and Sen. Jim Risch and Congressman Mike Simpson chimed in with their support.
Click below for Phillippe’s full memo. The question over the party's leadership arose after the state party convention in Moscow last month ended in disarray, without any elections on leaders, resolutions or a party platform; instead, delegates spent the two days squabbling over whether to seat various counties' delegations, before giving up in disgust. Peterson maintained afterward that he was still chairman, but his opponents said his term ended after two years and the party was left with no chairman.
Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch and 2nd District GOP Congressman Mike Simpson have now chimed in with Gov. Butch Otter’s call for a state Republican Party central committee meeting on Aug. 2, one of two dueling dates that have been set for the party to figure out who’s in charge and what comes next.
Both Risch and Simpson said the party needs unity; in a joint statement from their re-election campaigns issued late Tuesday, Risch said party officials should “respect the date the Members have chosen and the selection of officers they make on that date,” and Simpson said, “Aug. 2nd has been selected and I encourage all members of the Republican State Central Committee to convene in Boise to scrutinize each candidate’s qualifications and duly elect state party leaders.” You can read their joint statement here.
On Monday, embattled GOP Chairman Barry Peterson called on Otter to lead the party to unity by selecting a single date; Peterson had set a central committee meeting for Aug. 9, while his opponents, including several party delegations who petitioned for the meeting, set it for Aug. 2. Peterson said he'd chosen the Aug. 9 date because the Aug. 2 date interfered with a 40-year tradition in his family, but that another mutually agreeable date could be set. Peterson had maintained he was still the party chairman after the state GOP convention last month ended in disarray with no elections on leaders, resolutions or a party platform, but others said his term ended in June and the party was without a state chairman.
Otter calls Peterson statement ‘a welcome sign, because they were all calling on me to stay out of it earlier’
Asked today about embattled GOP Chairman Barry Peterson’s announcement yesterday that “one phone call from Gov. Otter is all it would take to end the current division” in the party, calling on Otter to set a new date to replace two dueling dates now set for party central committee meetings to figure out who’s in charge and what comes next, Otter said, “Well, I’ve gotta get a hold of Barry and find out to whom I have to make that call.”
The GOP governor said, “I’ve made some promises to some folks that depending upon the outcome of the phone call, that I’m going to have to at least go back to those folks and make sure that they’ll release me of those agreements. And one is that I’d stay out of it, that I would not choose a candidate. They wanted a grass-roots candidate, I said that’s fine by me.”
Idaho’s state GOP convention ended in disarray last month without any votes on a new chairman, platform, or resolutions, as attendees battled over whether several counties’ delegations should be allowed to participate. Peterson maintains he’s still chairman, but others say his term has ended and the party has no chairman now.
Party rules say the state Central Committee can fill a vacancy, but two competing dates have been set for such a meeting - Aug. 2, set by opponents of Peterson, and Aug. 9, set by Peterson. “I’ll be more than happy to pick a date,” Otter said today, “but I want to know what the chances are of success. You know, if we can come together on the 2nd or the 9th or the 5th or whenever, I’m more than happy to do that. But like I said, I’ve gotta know who to call.” UPDATE: Later on Tuesday, Otter posted a statement on his campaign website saying, “I support the proposal for an August 2 meeting of the Central Committee to choose an Idaho Republican Chairman and put the confusion and uncertainty behind us.”
Asked about Peterson’s call yesterday for Otter to “use his leadership position to insist that one meeting be held for the purposes of reuniting the party,” the governor said, “Well, that’s a welcome sign, and I appreciate that, because they were all calling on me to stay out of it earlier.”
In addition to the official statement Gov. Butch Otter sent out yesterday lauding the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, Otter also sent out another rather different statement from his campaign – sharply attacking his Democratic opponent, A.J. Balukoff, and suggesting Balukoff “would happily go along with Obama’s attempts to repress religious freedom and individual rights.”
Today, Balukoff responded, saying, “By misrepresenting my views, Otter makes one point very clear: He knows he will lose if he tries to run on his own, terrible record.” Click below to read both the Otter campaign statement and Balukoff’s response.
Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who is running against 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador, had this statement today on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, which Labrador praised:
“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby is extremely disturbing. The message to women from the majority on the court is that their boss can have a say in their personal family planning decisions. Today’s decision allows corporations to deny contraception coverage to female employees because of the corporation’s religious objections. I saw many people from my community in church last Sunday, but I didn’t see a corporation there.
The administration and Congress need to fix this. We know Congressman Labrador won’t be part of the solution, but I'm confident that enough members of Congress care about women's rights to do what the majority of Americans want and protect contraception coverage.”
Embattled Idaho Republican Party Chairman Barry Peterson is calling for both sides in the rift in the party to agree on a single date for a Central Committee meeting - currently, Peterson's called a meeting for Aug. 9, while others who contend he's no longer chairman have called the meeting for Aug. 2. “I scheduled the August 9 date because August 2 interfered with a 40-year tradition in my family,” Peterson said in a news release. “However, a single meeting set for a mutually-agreeable date can be planned for July or August.”
Peterson said he was calling on GOP Gov. Butch Otter to “use his leadership position to insist that one meeting be held for the purposes of reuniting the party.” Click below for Peterson's full news release, in which he said, “I believe we can all meet on a single date, settle all leadership issues, conduct our business and then move forward a stronger, united Republican Party. I believe that one phone call from Gov. Otter is all it would take to end the current division.”
1st District Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador is calling the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision today a “tremendous victory for religious freedom in America.” In a statement, Labrador, a Republican who's seeking a third term, said, “No American should be forced to choose between following their faith and submitting to unlawful and unnecessary government mandates. The HHS mandate, by violating freedom of conscience, needed to be overturned and repudiated. The Supreme Court’s decision breathes new life into one of our most important freedoms and eliminates one of the most destructive aspects of Obamacare.”
Catching up on some of the news I missed while off last week, it’s striking how the big political story in Idaho – rift and strife within the state’s supermajority Republican Party – remains the same. Over the course of the week, two dueling dates were set for a party Central Committee meeting: Aug. 2, set as a result of a petition from county party committees, and Aug. 9, set by embattled party Chairman Barry Peterson, who maintains he’s still the chairman despite the lack of an election of officers at the party’s failed state convention in Moscow in mid-June. The central committee meeting – one of them, anyway – ostensibly would decide where the party goes from here.
Mary Tipps Smith, the sole remaining paid staffer at the troubled party’s central office, resigned mid-week as finance director, asking people on Facebook to “pray for the Party during a difficult time.” This was the week after the departure of executive director Trevor Thorpe, whom Peterson said had left to pursue a master’s degree; at that point, Peterson also changed the locks at the party offices.
The day after Tipps Smith’s depature, Peterson hired Judy Gowen, former political director for Sen. Russ Fulcher’s unsuccessful primary challenge to GOP Gov. Butch Otter, as the party’s new executive director. Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey has the rundown at his blog here, at which he also reports that Peterson told KIDO radio’s Kevin Miller on Friday that Otter was angry “because the party would not bend over” to his wishes on a state health insurance exchange.
Meanwhile, the Idaho Transportation Department announced last Monday that every rural stretch of interstate freeway in southern Idaho that’s now 75 mph would rise to 80 mph on July 1, as soon as it could get the new speed-limit signs posted, causing consternation for AAA, which had raised safety concerns about the new law that passed this year – and been assured that only after extensive and specific traffic and safety studies would any particular stretch of freeway see the higher speed limit. On Friday, ITD back-pedaled, announcing that the speed limit increase would be delayed to allow the department to “review input expressed since the announcement.” Now, the ITD board will review the traffic and safety analyses at its July 11 meeting in Coeur d’Alene.
Gov. Butch Otter announced reforms to the state’s Workforce Development Training program, initiated by his new state Labor director, Ken Edmunds; they include higher standards for companies to qualify for aid under the program, aimed at avoiding repeats of instances where companies have gotten lots of money for specific job training for workers, then later failed and laid off those same workers.
With Coeur d’Alene, Boise and Idaho Falls all in competition to get the first mental health crisis center in the state – since the Legislature this year chose to fund only one instead of all three – the announcement came that Idaho Falls would get the center.
And U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill tossed out the state’s lawsuit against the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for opening a poker room at its Coeur d’Alene Casino, calling it premature; the tribe and the state have a gaming compact that calls for arbitration of disputes before any lawsuits can be filed. The tribe argued that the Texas Hold ‘Em tournament play it was offering was legal in Idaho; the state maintained it wasn’t. Rather than enter a 60-day arbitration period, the state filed suit. “The state jumped the gun and violated the provisions of our agreement when it raced to the courthouse with this unnecessary lawsuit,” tribal attorney Eric Van Orden said in a statement; you can read a full report here from S-R reporter Becky Kramer.
This year’s final episode of “Idaho Reports” aired Friday on Idaho Public TV, with analysis of both the comparatively smooth Idaho Democratic Party convention in Moscow and the earlier GOP fiasco and a look ahead to new laws taking effect this week and the election season ahead; you can watch online here.
On tonight’s “Idaho Reports on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby, Kimberlee Kruesi and co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz to discuss the tumultuous GOP state convention and its fallout for Idaho politics, as state Democrats kick off their own convention in Moscow today. The show also includes a discussion with two GOP legislative leaders, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder and House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, about the party politics blowup, and more. It airs at 8 p.m. tonight; it re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific; and plays on Boise State Public Radio on Sunday at 7 p.m. After it airs, you can watch it here online any time.