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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Well-wishers honor Ysursa at Capitol ceremony

Close to 150 people gathered in the rotunda of the state Capitol today to offer their well-wishes to longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who is retiring after 12 years as Idaho’s elected secretary of state and 40 years in the office. Here, folks are lined up down the Capitol’s hallway for a chance to congratulate Ysursa. “He is one of the most outstanding public servants in Idaho’s history, in my opinion,” said former Gov. Phil Batt, who joined the crowd. “He not only did his job well, but he sets a good tone for the entire state.”

Gov. Butch Otter, who’s known Ysursa for 50 years, addressed the crowd, saying, “He’s done that office a tremendous amount of good in credibility and transparency.” Otter said both of Ysursa and his mentor and predecessor, the late Pete Cenarrusa, “Whenever I got an answer from Ben (or Pete) … I never went anyplace else. … We all need to strive for that kind of credibility and that kind of reputation. … His values are the core Idaho values.”

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones said, “I think he’s done a superb job.” State Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said, “Few people have had as much impact as Ben has in terms of how elections have occurred. That’s one of the very most fundamental rights … and Ben has been on the forefront of defending that for decades.”

Longtime Statehouse reporter Quane Kenyon, now retired, said, “Ben and Pete go together in my mind, because they were a tremendous amount of help to people who cover elections in this state. You never had any doubt that anything they told you would be true.”

Said Bruce Newcomb, former speaker of the Idaho House and now government relations chief for Boise State University, said, “It’s been really a pleasure to serve with somebody who’s so honorable and non-partisan, and upheld the integrity of the office that Pete Cenarrusa put together. … He set the mark high.”

Ysursa himself said, “It’s kind of bittersweet and kind of nostalgic.” He said, “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Pete Cenarrusa. They don’t come better than Pete and Freda.” Ysursa also invited folks to Leku Ona later in the day for drinks and reminiscences. “It’s been my honor and privilege to serve the people of the state of Idaho,” he said.

A large cake served to the well-wishers was emblazoned, “Thank you for 40 years of service, Congratulations Ben. Best wishes on your retirement,” with the three words of Ysursa’s longtime campaign slogan, “Fairness,” “Efficiency” and “Service,” flanking the frosted message.

Fund has more than enough to cover court-ordered legal fees in marriage case

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said today that he’ll confer with the other members of the state’s Constitutional Defense Council – the speaker of the House, president pro-tem of the Senate, and Attorney General – before calling a meeting of the council to pay a new $401,663 judgment for attorney fees in Idaho’s thus-far unsuccessful bid to defend its ban on same-sex marriage. But Otter said he’s glad the Legislature last year, at his urging, deposited another $1 million in the fund, giving it a balance that can easily cover the payment with plenty left over.

“I always anticipated that we would try to keep a million dollars in that fund, so it would suggest to those who want to bring a constitutional question to us that we’d be prepared at a moment’s notice to take it on,” Otter said today. In 2012, the balance in the fund was down to just a bit over $300,000; lawmakers that year put in another half-million. This year’s million-dollar addition brought the fund up to nearly $1.7 million, well in excess of the current bill, which started accruing interest on Friday.

Here are the past expenditures Idaho’s Constitutional Defense Council has made from the state’s Constitutional Defense Fund – all for attorney fees:

  • $190,547 to Elam & Burke in 1995-96 for attorney fees in case involving nuclear waste shipments to Idaho National Laboratory
  • $47,606 for attorney fees awarded in the Idaho Coalition United for Bears v. Cenarrussa case, regarding ballot initiatives, in 2004
  • $380,526 for attorney fees awarded to Planned Parenthood in 2006 for case involving anti-abortion legislation that was found unconstitutional
  • $66,000 for attorney fees awarded to Planned Parenthood in 2008 for another case involving anti-abortion legislation that was found unconstitutional
  • $75,000 for attorney fees awarded to the Pocatello Education Association in 2009 for a case involving unconstitutional legislation related to donations to unions
  • $54,350 for attorney fees awarded in Daien v. Ysursa in 2011, a case involving ballot access for independent presidential candidates

Lawmakers have deposited $2.5 million in the fund since its inception in 1995.

Ysursa: ‘It’s been a good run’

After 40 years in state government, Ben Ysursa has some strong opinions about how things ought to work in Idaho – and how, on occasion, they have. For example, when both of the state's political parties came together, working side by side, they successfully passed a ballot measure to create the College of Western Idaho, now the state's fastest-growing community college.

“It was just gratifying to see it,” Ysursa said. “We need to get a cause like that again, that we can all agree on and go forward with. … It was a good joint effort to see how things can work when politics is out of it, so to speak.”

Another example he points to is election-day voter registration. Idaho’s one of just eight states that allows voters to register at the polls on Election Day. The reason: When Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act in 1994, it required states to follow an array of new federal rules about voter registration, including keeping voters on the rolls for eight years even if they don’t vote.

“Idaho was going to have some real out-of-date lists and things of that nature,” Ysursa said. But Ysursa, an attorney and then chief deputy secretary of state, discovered that if Idaho enacted election-day registration, it’d be exempt from all the other rules.

“It was: Do we have a federal mandate, or do we want to run our own elections?” Ysursa recalled. Both parties liked the idea, he said. “Both Republicans and Democrats thought election-day registration was a good idea, was going to get more of their folks registered. Our office and the clerks saw it as a way of making Idaho run Idaho elections, and not have the federal intrusion.” You can read my full Sunday story here at spokesman.com on Ysursa’s reflections on his career, as he prepares to retire from office as the state’s longtime Secretary of State.

Ybarra names special ed chief: Boise district’s special ed supervisor

State schools Supt.-elect Sherri Ybarra has announced another of the key staffers she’ll bring on when she takes office in January, Idaho Education News reports: Charlotte Silva, whose 30-year career in education most recently includes serving as the Boise school district’s special education supervisor, will be Ybarra’s special education director. Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News reports that Ybarra said in a statement, “The hiring of Dr. Silva demonstrates the commitment this administration and I will make to all of Idaho students. Students who enter Idaho’s education system with special needs face unique and difficult challenges every day. I believe Dr. Silva is an education professional whose experience will make a considerable contribution for all our special needs students. We are excited to have her join the administration.” Corbin’s full report is online here.

Student journalist makes waves: Plagiarism with a purpose

A local high school newspaper included a plagiarized editorial in its latest issue – intentionally. Student writer Harmony Soto, after first contacting Boise Weekly writer George Prentice for permission, published his piece as her own – then acknowledged it in a biting editorial note, reports Melissa Davlin of Idaho Reports. “You may find parts of this article similar to previous articles written by George Prentice for the Boise Weekly,” Soto wrote. “We could apologize and say this is a mistake on part of the Borah Senator Staff, but if our new state superintendent was able to get away with it, is it even worth it?”

The student was commenting on a plagiarism scandal that arose during state schools Superintendent-elect Sherri Ybarra’s campaign, in which Ybarra acknowledged that campaign staffers copied some material on her campaign website from the campaign website of her Democratic opponent, Jana Jones. Prentice told Davlin, “I’m not certain how I feel about having my work plagiarized. On the other hand, I’m fascinated that it’s part of a bigger conversation about quite a bit of aggregating and borrowing and just flat-out stealing that is going on, that I can’t remember any time in my lifetime as much as I see now. If it is part of the bigger conversation, that’s not a bad conversation to have.”

Davlin’s full report is online here at her blog, “Idaho Reports in Blog Form.”

Why Labrador voted ‘present’

When the U.S. House voted 219-197 late last week to disapprove of President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador didn’t vote “yes.” He didn’t vote “no” either. Instead, Labrador voted “present,” mystifying the folks back home.

A request for comment to his office Friday yielded a referral today to this Roll Call article, which reports that three of Obama’s biggest GOP critics in the House – Labrador, Rep. Steve King of Iowa and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona – all voted “present,” because they were sending a message. The message: While liking the substance of the measure, they thought it was a sop to them, a move, Roll Call reported, “brought to the floor only to pacify lawmakers like themselves, who don’t want to vote to fund the government past Dec. 11, when current federal spending expires, unless it includes a policy rider explicitly defunding the immigration policy changes.”

“I believe in the principle; I also want to make sure this isn’t a cover,” Gosar told Roll Call. Labrador said, “The language is OK, but as a standalone bill, it was a meaningless action.”

North Idaho Panhandle bucks state trend with new crew of conservative GOP lawmakers

North Idaho has a new crew of conservative GOP legislators who took office this past week, even as the rest of the state resisted a push to oust lawmakers who favored a state health insurance exchange proposed by GOP Gov. Butch Otter. Of the 45 Republicans in both houses of the Idaho Legislature who voted in favor of the exchange in 2012, just four fell to challengers from the right in this year’s GOP primary – but three of the four were in North Idaho. Two longtime Idaho lawmakers were ousted – Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, by new Sen. Mary Souza, and Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, by new Rep. Sage Dixon; while freshman GOP Rep. Ed Morse fell to new Rep. Eric Redman.

Meanwhile, the retirements of two GOP lawmakers from North Idaho who had voted for the exchange prompted contested primary races, both won by the most conservative candidates – new Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls, who replaces former Rep. Frank Henderson of Post Falls; and new Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, a fisheries biologist who replaces former Rep. Eric Anderson of Priest Lake; she's pictured above. She handily defeated Republican Stephen Snedden in the primary, who had been endorsed by Gov. Butch Otter.

In my Sunday story here, I take a look at North Idaho’s new crew of lawmakers, and also run down some numbers, including these: 11 GOP exchange backers were challenged unsuccessfully in the primary. Seven of them, none from North Idaho, defeated their primary challengers with more than 60 percent of the vote. Of the four who had closer primary races, two were from North Idaho. There were 27 Republican lawmakers who voted for the exchange and then drew no challenge in this year’s GOP primary election; none of them were from North Idaho.

Lakey elected Senate GOP caucus chair in four-way contest

Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, has been elected Senate Majority Caucus Chairman, after a four-way contest in which he faced off with Sens. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise; Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian; and Jim Rice, R-Caldwell. The position opened with the retirement from the Senate of Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who left the Senate to run against Gov. Butch Otter in the GOP primary. That marks the final leadership election results for tonight; the remainder of the Senate majority leadership will remain as-is: Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg; Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls; and Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder all retained their seats.

Lakey said, “We did take a while, with four candidates.” Procedures call for continued voting until one got more than 50 percent. “I’m just humbled by the opportunity to serve,” Lakey said, “and grateful for the support. I’ll do my best.”

Crane, VanderWoude fight off challenges to keep House leadership posts

Idaho House Republicans have finally finished their leadership elections, and the outcome looks familiar: The same four leaders in office now will continue in the same posts. That means Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, successfully fought off a challenge from Rep. Rick Youngblood, also a Nampa Republican; and Majority Caucus Chairman John VanderWoude, R-Nampa, held off a challenge from Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, also won the support of their caucus to continue in their leadership posts.

First legislative leadership results are in: Dems retain same leaders in Senate, tap Erpelding for open position in House

The first leadership contest results are in tonight, from the Dems in both houses. The Senate results were no surprise: The same three leaders will continue in office, with Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, continuing as minority leader; Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, continuing as assistant minority leader; and Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, continuing as minority caucus chair.

In the House, Minority Caucus Chair Donna Pence, R-Gooding, held off a challenge from Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, to keep her leadership post. For assistant minority leader, a position vacated by former Rep. Grant Burgoyne’s election to the Senate, House Dems chose Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise.

Still to come tonight: House and Senate GOP.

Some contested leadership contests in store in both houses

Though no battles are expected for the top leadership posts in either house this year, there will be leadership contests when the House and Senate Republican and Democratic caucuses meet behind closed doors tomorrow night to elect their leaders for the upcoming Legislature. Just one majority leadership position is open in the Senate, with the retirement of Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher to challenge GOP Gov. Butch Otter in the primary, but four announced candidates are vying for the post: Sens. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa; Cliff Bayer, R-Boise; Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian; and Jim Rice, R-Caldwell. No leadership contests are anticipated among the Senate Democrats, where all three members of the minority leadership are returning.

In the House, there are two contested GOP leadership races at this point: House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, faces a challenge from Rep. Rick Youngblood, also of Nampa; and Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, is challenging Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude, R-Nampa. On the minority side, there’s one open leadership post, as former House Assistant Minority Leader Grant Burgoyne was elected to the Senate; Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, reportedly is seeking that post.

The Legislature will hold its organizational session on Thursday, starting at 9 a.m.; that’s when committee assignments and chairmanships will be hashed out.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Idaho’s governor in waiting

If newly re-elected 72-year-old Idaho Gov. Butch Otter didn't complete his full third term, Idaho's new governor would be Brad Little, the second-term lieutenant governor, rancher and former state senator who's been toiling full-time in the part-time, low-paid post since Otter appointed him to it in 2009.

Little's record seems decidedly more moderate than Otter's - he blocked Idaho's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage for two years before reluctantly supporting the final version in 2006. But Little, 60, is an Otter fan who says his differences with the governor are more style than substance. He also says he fully expects Otter to serve out his term, but is ready should he be asked to step up.

That call already has come on a short-term basis: Little has served as acting governor on 247 days since he took office on Jan. 6, 2009. You can read my full story here from today’s Spokesman-Review.

9th Circuit lets Otter file reply, but not 57-page amicus brief

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today granted Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s motion to submit additional arguments in the state’s same-sex marriage case, but rejected without comment his bid to submit a copy of a 57-page amicus brief from a Louisiana case that Otter argued presents “a gold mine of scholarship regarding the practical, real-world impact of redefining marriage.” Otter wants an en banc review, by an 11-judge panel, of the earlier 9th Circuit decision overturning Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, which was made by a three-judge panel. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Idaho since Oct. 15; you can read the court's latest order here.

Labrador suggests GOP should cut off all hearings on appointments in response to president’s immigration action

Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, in an interview airing now on NPR, says he thinks the president’s planned executive action on immigration is illegal, and while shying away from talk of impeachment, had these suggestions on how congressional Republicans might respond:

“Well one of the things, I think, is Mitch McConnell should say first thing tomorrow morning that he will not allow any appointments that this administration has made. So there will be no hearings on the new attorney general, there will be no hearing on judges, there will be no hearing on anything this president wants and that he needs. I think that would be one action that we can take immediately.”

“I think we can look at funding, different agencies, different things, we could look at that. We can do something procedural. We can ask the president to have a comment a period before something like this major change happens. I think we can do that through asking for an administrative procedures act, put that in some sort of funding bill. That would have nothing to do with funding, that wouldn't shut down the government.”

You can see, and hear, the full interview online here.

Idaho ranks middling for percent of legislative races contested in the general election

The National Institute on Money in Politics reports that 36 percent of state legislative races in this year’s general election, nationwide, were uncontested, up from an average of 31 percent from 2001 to 2012. And in some states, including Wyoming, a large majority of races went uncontested. The group examined the 46 states in which there were legislative elections this year; Idaho had the 25th-most contested races, putting us in the middle of the pack. Sixty percent of Idaho’s legislative races were contested in the general election this year, the group reported. That’s down a bit from Idaho’s average from 2001 to 2012 of 67 percent.

The states with the most contested races, Michigan and Hawaii, both came in at 100 percent, followed by California at 96 percent. The states with the fewest were Arkansas and Wyoming, both at 36 percent; South Carolina, 28 percent; and Georgia at just 20 percent. You can see the group’s full report here.

Otter files additional arguments to 9th Circuit in marriage case

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has filed a motion with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals asking that the state be allowed to file additional arguments in its motion for an en banc review, a reconsideration by an 11-judge panel of the earlier three-judge panel’s rejection of Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. “Since the Governor submitted his petition, the Sixth Circuit has issued an opinion counter to this Court’s ruling in the case, requiring a reply by the Governor regarding this new circuit split,” Otter’s attorneys wrote. They also cited an amicus brief filed in the Fifth Circuit same-sex marriage case in Louisiana, and submitted a copy, saying it has presented “a gold mine of scholarship regarding the practical, real-world impact of redefining marriage.”

“Plaintiffs … have no answer to Gov. Otter’s showing that by its ‘explicit terms’ Idaho’s marriage laws discriminate facially, not on the basis of sexual orientation, but on the basis of biological complementarity,” the lawyers wrote. “Removing the man-woman definition threatens serious harm to the institution of marriage, and, thus, to the children of heterosexual couples.” You can read Otter's brief here.

Change coming to committee chairmanships, some leadership posts in Legislature

When the Idaho Legislature convenes it organizational session on Dec. 4, six committee chairmanships and two leadership posts will be up for grabs, due to election outcomes, retirements and other moves. The chairmanships: Senate Education, Senate Resources, House Business, House Local Government, House Resources, and House Ways & Means. The leadership posts are Senate majority caucus chair and House assistant minority leader. You can read my full Sunday column here; it also includes a report on the recently filed arguments in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case, in which Gov. Butch Otter is seeking an en banc re-hearing from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals; and a state budget update.

Sen. Crapo selected once again to head the ‘Committee on Committees’

It’s the sixth time in 12 years that this has happened, but somehow it still sounds funny: Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo has been selected for the prestigious post of chairman of the Committee on Committees for the Senate Republicans. That’s the panel that’s in charge of committee assignments for the upcoming Congress; Crapo’s been selected for the once-every-two-years post five times before. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Mike is a trusted advisor and has the respect of his colleagues. He has a proven track record and the entire Republican conference is honored to have him once again leading our negotiations on committee assignments.”

Idaho officials heartened by 6th Circuit ruling against gay marriage, say they’ll press appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

Idaho officials say they have new hope that their state’s same-sex marriage case could be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, after Thursday’s 6th District ruling upholding bans on gay marriage in four states – the first federal appeals court to rule that way, after a string of rulings unanimously going the opposite direction. Those have included Idaho’s case; the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected Idaho’s appeal and overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage last month. Gay couples have been legally able to marry in the state since Oct. 15, and the state now recognizes marriages of same-sex couples that took place legally in other states.

Thursday’s ruling, which upheld same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, is “significant because it establishes a conflict among the circuits, and creates a situation in which the Supreme Court is likely going to have to resolve the issue,” said Todd Dvorak, spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “Because of that, we are moving forward with our plans to file a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court.” That’s the process for asking the high court to take up an appeal. Dvorak said the state has until Jan. 5 to file that petition.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who already has a petition pending with the 9th Circuit asking that court to reconsider its ruling, welcomed the 6th District ruling. “This decision reinforces many of the same points I have made in federal court here and in the 9th Circuit – that defining marriage is a states’ rights issue under the Tenth Amendment,” Otter said in a statement. Otter has continued to press the case, even forcefully speaking out against same-sex marriage in his election-night victory speech to GOP supporters late on Tuesday night. “I’m going to continue that fight as long as I possibly can,” he declared to cheers and applause.  You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and watch video of the governor’s election-night comments here.

The election that was…

On a special edition of “Idaho Reports” tonight on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby, Kevin Richert, Bill Manny, and co-host Melissa Davlin to discuss the results of Tuesday’s Idaho election, and their implications for Idaho politics and policy going forward. Tune in at 7 p.m. After the show airs, you can watch it here online any time.