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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

About those 2010 proposals to eliminate Idaho’s state parks department…

Gov. Butch Otter is taking some issue with the sentence in my Sunday parks story that says that in 2010, he “proposed shutting down the parks department and eliminating funding.” Otter said in an interview that his move was designed to send a message – he wanted business plans from all state agencies, and parks was one of four that didn’t immediately produce one. However, Otter’s formal executive budget proposal submitted to the Legislature in 2010 for fiscal year 2011 called specifically for cutting general funds for the state Department of Parks & Recreation to zero, and “devolving” the department, handing over its functions to the departments of Lands and Fish & Game.

Here’s how the proposal read in that year’s legislative budget book: “Devolve IDPR. The Governor recommends transferring the Department of Parks and Recreation’s property and operation management functions to the Department of Lands and transferring the license and registration function to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.”

Here’s a link to Otter’s executive budget document from that year; it reflects the “agency consolidation” and the reduction of the budget for the Department of Parks & Recreation to zero. That didn’t happen, for a variety of reasons, some of which were explored in my story. That year, Otter also proposed selling the state Department of Parks & Recreation headquarters and surrounding property, anticipating making $5 million; here’s a link to that proposal in his executive budget, listed directly under the “ending balance” line in the middle of the first page. That, too, didn’t happen.

Otter told me, “I guess the value that came out of this is people had to make assessments on the value they were getting. The people said, ‘This is nice, but it’s a necessary part of the local economy.’” He added, “Parks is emblematic – a good example of what we learn about ourselves, how much value do we put on what function of government. We learned that lesson out of necessity.”

That same year, Otter recommended a four-year phase-out of state funding for the Idaho Human Rights Commission, proposing nearly a 25 percent cut in the commission’s funding in FY 2011. The commission ended up moving to the state Department of Labor, where its budget was transferred, taking a 7 percent cut in the process.

Otter said, “It was to encourage them to say, ‘You know, the governor is serious about this. He wants to know what we’re going to do to continue to exist with less state funds.”

Idaho state parks thrive, draw crowds despite budget cuts

Idaho’s state parks are thriving, just five years after Gov. Butch Otter proposed shutting down the parks department and eliminating funding. State funding for parks in Idaho is still less than half what it was in 2006, and that’s reflected in smaller staffs, a backlog of maintenance projects and reduced services during off-peak months. But all the parks have remained open, and they’re welcoming record numbers of visitors this summer for everything from camping to weddings to paddle-board rentals to disc golf.

“Everybody predicted we’d have to close down parks,” Otter told the Spokesman-Review in a recent interview. But he said all he really wanted back in 2010 was to “do more with less – and by golly, the Idaho folks did it.”

Budget cuts have forced states around the nation, including Washington, to consider closing state parks over the past decade, though few actually ended up taking that step. Three states are looking at that now, however, including Wisconsin and Louisiana. A proposal in Alabama would close any park that doesn’t cover 100 percent of its operating costs, according to Lewis Ledford, executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors.

Ledford said he believes that’s a shortsighted measure, as it overlooks the value parks generate for the economies of their surrounding communities. “If citizens have a chance to vote to support funds for their parks, it’s overwhelmingly being popularly endorsed,” he said. And people also are “voting with their attendance.” State park visits are soaring nationwide, with the latest estimate of annual state park visitors topping 730 million. You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review, including photos and a map of North Idaho park attractions. Last week, Idaho’s state parks system celebrated its 50th anniversary; then-Gov. Bob Smylie established the parks system in 1965.

Catching up on the week’s news…

There’s plenty of news to catch up on from the past week that I’ve been gone, starting with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states the Friday before last. Gay marriage already became legal in Idaho last October, but Gov. Butch Otter had been continuing to attempt to appeal the decision, both filing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and filing a brief supporting the states involved in the 6th Circuit case the Supreme Court agreed to rule on; he lost on both counts, with the Supreme Court’s ruling settling the question nationwide. A June 30 letter from the U.S. Supreme Court's clerk formally announced Idaho's appeal had been denied.

Otter called the decision “truly disappointing for states, including Idaho, where the people chose to define marriage for themselves as between one man and one woman.” Meanwhile, hundreds of gay rights supporters celebrated on the Idaho Capitol steps, and Rep. John McCrostie, D-Boise, currently Idaho’s only openly gay state lawmaker, said, “This is a great and historic time for the LGBT community both in Idaho and in America, but our joy is tempered knowing that, while we can be married on Saturday we can still be fired and evicted on Monday, until Idaho adds the words to our Human Rights Act. We celebrate this victory, and we continue to fight for equality with housing, employment and public accommodations.” Today, AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi reports that Idaho’s unenforceable ban on same-sex marriage remains in the Idaho Constitution, and prospects are uncertain on whether lawmakers will remove the now-moot wording, which would require both two-thirds support of the Legislature and a majority vote in a general election; you can read her full report here.

Several notable appointments happened in the past week, including Otter naming a new Idaho Court of Appeals judge and naming a replacement for longtime Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, now head of the state Department of Insurance. Third District Judge Molly Huskey was Otter’s pick for the Court of Appeals seat, where she’ll replace Judge Karen Lansing, who is retiring after 22 years. Huskey is the former state appellate public defender and holds a law degree from the University of Idaho. The appointment keeps a single female among the judges of Idaho’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court; Lansing had been the only one. For Cameron’s Senate seat, Otter gave the nod to Rupert city administrator Kelly Anthon, a 7th generation Idahoan who lives on a family farm near Declo.

On July 3, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, Idaho’s longest serving judge, took senior status; there’s been no word as yet on a possible replacement, as Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have been conducting an extended, secret screening process to suggest possible replacements to President Barack Obama.

Idaho’s gas tax went up 7 cents per gallon on July 1 with the start of the new fiscal year, as part of the transportation funding deal state lawmakers approved this year. Interestingly, when we drove back into Idaho from Oregon at the end of our vacation on the Fourth of July, gas at the first stop was still priced identically to its level over a week earlier.

Idaho Public Utilities Commissioner Mack Redford died last week; he’d served on the PUC since 2007. An attorney, Redford was the former general counsel for Morrison Knudsen International, served as legal counsel for the Channel Tunnel project connecting England and France, and was general counsel for Micron Construction.

Statewide student test scores aligned to the new Idaho Core Standards were released last week, and Idaho students did better than expected, Idaho Education News reported. EdNews reporter Kevin Richert has a full report here.

The annual Crime in Idaho statistical report came out and showed that Idaho’s crime rate dropped 2 percent from 2013 to 2014, while violent crimes dropped 1.6 percent. Idaho is ranked 43rd in the nation for its violent crime rate. Crimes against property were down 4.6 percent.

Idaho’s Hispanic population grew at its fastest rate in four years, according to a report from the Idaho Department of Labor, and made up 12 percent of the state’s population in mid-2014, up from 11.2 percent in 2010. The state’s Hispanic population grew 2.9 percent from mid-2013 to mid-2014, while the non-Hispanic white population grew 1.2 percent.

Boise brand marketing firm Oliver Russell amended its articles of incorporation to become the state’s first “benefit corporation,” a new class of corporation lawmakers created during this year’s legislative session. Benefit corporations, while still for-profit corporations, are required to consider not only their shareholders, but also benefits to the public, including workers, community and the environment.

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney sent out a press release warning of a scam targeting Idaho businesses, who are being told they need to purchase a “certificate of goodstanding” to be in compliance with state law. State law has no such requirement, Denney said; an organization calling itself “Division of Corporate Services, Business Compliance Division” has been perpetrating the scam.

And Idaho Sen. Jim Risch has quietly introduced legislation to define work slowdowns as an unfair labor practice, in response to the backlog of ships and containers along the West Coast during months-long contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and port operators. The Oregonian reports that Risch’s bill has no co-sponsors and no Oregon lawmakers are publicly supporting it; you can read their full report here.

Labrador ‘stunned,’ Crapo ‘disappointed’ by today’s Obamacare ruling

All four members of Idaho’s all-GOP congressional delegation have now issued statements on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in King v. Burwell, which upheld the tax credit subsidies for consumers who buy their health insurance on the federal insurance exchange in states that didn’t set up state exchanges; Idaho has a state exchange, so wasn’t affected by the case. Here are their statements:

1st District Rep. Raul Labrador:   

“I am stunned that the Supreme Court expanded the power of the executive branch to rewrite law it doesn’t like. Not only does this decision prop up a failed policy, it enshrines the principle that the president can trump Congress. One of my first votes as your congressman was to repeal this massive government takeover of our nation’s health care. The challenge now before Congress is to unequivocally repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered, market-based care. The president’s misguided policy has limited access and increased health care costs.  It’s our job to expand access to quality care and restore incentives for innovations that improve and save lives.”

Sen. Mike Crapo:

“Today’s ruling is disappointing and in no way validates the President’s health care law as some are claiming. The court did not rule on the merits of Obamacare, but, rather, on a one-sentence provision in a 2,700-page ill-advised law.  Obamacare is broken—plain and simple.  Millions of Americans, including thousands of Idahoans, have been pushed from their preferred health plans and doctors and continue to see their premiums rise.  In some cases, by as much as fifty percent in just two years—contrary to the President’s many oft-repeated promises.  Though this particular window of what many have viewed as an opportunity to swiftly replace the law with reforms may be closed, I will continue to work with my colleagues to push for nothing short of a full repeal of Obamacare.  Only when we address the real drivers of the cost of health care in this country and put in place market-oriented solutions, such as allowing states flexibility to regulate the insurance market and prioritizing the doctor-patient relationship over federal mandates, will Americans have access to the truly affordable, quality health care they want and deserve.”

2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson:

“While the Supreme Court made their ruling, it doesn’t change the fact that Obamacare is severely flawed. The House acted earlier this week to roll back two of the most onerous provisions of the Act. My colleagues and I will continue to look for ways to protect Americans from the harmful consequences and focus on finding patient driven solutions to healthcare.”

Sen. Jim Risch:

“I am disappointed but not particularly surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Because of the disaster that Obamacare has visited on most Americans, we have worked to try to repeal it and replace it with a system that is patient- and provider-driven, provides substantially more patient choice and is substantially less expensive than Obamacare. Since it is obvious that Obamacare is going to need at least substantial change, and more appropriately, full replacement, we will continue to pursue that over the next 574 days.”


Otter: ‘Our continued focus has got to be on education’

Gov. Butch Otter, in his annual address to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce today that’s billed as the “Governor’s Address to the Business Community,” had this message: “Our continued focus has got to be on education, because that’s our future, because that’s our economy.”

Otter said the reason that this year’s Legislature approved a 7.4 percent funding increase for public schools and a five-year career ladder teacher pay plan was because “we knew that there was a direct correlation between an educated workforce and the health of the economy.” He told the crowd of several hundred, “We know as business people that the next generation of your products, of your services, of your ability to manage your business, is sitting around in a classroom someplace today.”

Otter also praised the state’s new STEM Action Center, which will open July 1 as a division of his office, to coordinate STEM education and workforce needs. “That was the brainchild of Reed DeMordaunt, the House education chairman, and Sen. Bob Nonini from Coeur d’Alene,” Otter said. “They put that idea together with the help of many of you here including the Idaho technology center.” Science, technology, engineering and math are “what you are demanding,” Otter told the audience of business people. “That’s what the future workforce has got to be proficient in.” He said the new center will be “up and running by the first of July.”

He touted favorable economic news about Idaho from national magazines, and noted that state tax revenues have come in well above projects this year, meaning this year’s surplus-eliminator bill will put more money than expected into transportation projects and state savings accounts.

“We’re growing, and why shouldn’t we be?” Otter asked. “Those are pretty impressive figures, and they didn’t happen by accident.” He said Idaho’s created an attractive environment for business in part by lowering taxes over the last few years. 

Idaho university officials report program, staff cuts

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — All four of Idaho's four-year public universities and colleges have eliminated degree programs, dissolved academic departments or reduced staff over the past year as part of a statewide effort to cut costs and prioritize college programs. Boise State University restructured several of its academic departments, including its College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs, which is being replaced by a new School of Public Service. Meanwhile, the University of Idaho discontinued 19 degree options. This included bachelor degrees in American Studies, Art Education and Medical Technology. Lewis Clark State College consolidated a student testing center and Idaho State University eliminated eight degree programs. Idaho's State Board of Education first directed college officials to begin evaluating programs in 2013 after seeing a decrease in revenue from tuition and state funds. AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi has a full report here.

Documents suggest ISP misled officials about CCA investigation

There’s more on the Idaho State Police’s non-existent investigation into Corrections Corp. of America, with the Idaho Statesman reporting that records it obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law show the Idaho Board of Correction believed ISP had conducted a criminal investigation and found no violations, a belief that fed into its decision to sign a $1 million settlement with CCA over understaffing at Idaho’s largest prison, which at the time had earned the nickname "gladiator school" for its rampant violence. But a year after the investigation supposedly had been under way, ISP said it never launched a criminal investigation.

Statesman reporter Cynthia Sewell reports on numerous references to the supposed investigation over the year, including a letter from a deputy attorney general assigned to the Idaho Department of Correction urging ISP to turn over its investigation results to the county prosecutor. Then-state prisons chief Brent Reinke formally requested a criminal investigation by ISP in February of 2013. As IDOC officials believed the ISP investigation was under way, they held off on their own probe, and turned over documents to the ISP. Sewell’s full report is online here.

After ISP announced it had done no investigation in February of 2014 and Gov. Butch Otter defended the agency, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden urged Otter to order one, and after initial delay, he agreed. ISP then determined it had a conflict of interest and the investigation was taken over by the FBI. On May 20, U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson announced that the year-long federal investigation resulted in no federal criminal charges, but did uncover "miscommunications" and "uncorrected assumptions." "While these miscommunications ultimately gave rise to suspicion of an effort to delay, hinder or influence a state criminal investigation, such miscommunications, unsupported by any other evidence, do not rise to the level of criminal misconduct," Olson said. "There were a number of other actions or inactions that may be of concern to the state agencies, to the voters, to whatever."

State-paid lobbyists no longer report, Denney wants law changed so they’ll start again

State employees who lobby the Legislature or government officials as part of their jobs – like, for example, the lobbyists for the state’s universities – always used to register as lobbyists and disclose their spending. But Idaho Statesman reporter Bill Dentzer writes that after an Attorney General’s opinion found they didn’t need to, the university lobbyists and other state workers whose jobs entail lobbying stopped filing. BSU, ISU and the U of I all had registered lobbyists in 2011; none have had any since.

Now, Dentzer reports, new Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney wants to propose legislation to make them register and disclose again, along with all state employees whose jobs entail lobbying lawmakers or the executive branch. He also obtained a new Attorney General’s opinion stating that gifts to lawmakers or executive branch officials must be disclosed, even if they come from state employees in the course of doing their jobs.

Denney told the Statesman, “Any agency or any entity that actually spends money lobbying or entertaining legislators or executive officials, I think they should report the money that they spend. … The people have a right to know if a state agency is doing lobbying.”

Bruce Newcomb, director of government relations for BSU since 2007 and, like Denney, a former speaker of the House, said he doesn’t object to registering. “I did it for five years,” he told Dentzer. “What I object to is having all this inconsistency, of having one system and then changing it. If you’re going to be consistent, then all state agencies ought to report, and I agree with Lawerence in that regard.” Dentzer’s full report is online here.

Labrador raises doubts about support for Simpson’s bill

Simpson, testifying before Labrador arrived at the hearing, offered a long list of groups supporting his bill including the Sawtooth Society, the Custer County Commission, East Fork Ranchers, the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho Outfitters and Guides, the Idaho Conservation League and the Wilderness Society. Republican Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo both support Simpson’s bill. Barker’s full report is online here. Betsy Russell, EOB

Labrador raises doubts about support for Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds bill

1st District Congressman Raul Labrador raised doubts Tuesday about the support for a wilderness bill 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson has pushed for 15 years, reports Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman. The bill would designate 275,665 acres in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains and the Jerry Peak area of central Idaho as wilderness.

Labrador, questioning a Forest Service official Tuesday who was addressing the House Resources Committee’s public lands subcommittee, said motorized recreation users support the bill because they fear the alternative — a national monument designation by President Barack Obama. “The truth is, the public will is against this bill,” Labrador said.

Simpson, testifying before Labrador arrived at the hearing, offered a long list of groups supporting his bill including the Sawtooth Society, the Custer County Commission, East Fork Ranchers, the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho Outfitters and Guides, the Idaho Conservation League and the Wilderness Society. Republican Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo both support Simpson’s bill. Barker’s full report is online here.

Lots of Magic Valley Republicans vying for appointment to Cameron’s seat…

Longtime Sen. Dean Cameron’s departure from the Idaho Senate to become the new state insurance chief has prompted an array of Magic Valley Republicans to express interest in being appointed to Cameron’s seat, reports Nathan Brown of the Twin Falls Times-News. Among those expressing interest: Rupert City Administrator Kelly Anthon; Clay Handy, a former Cassia County commissioner and owner of a trucking company; John Stokes, who co-owns several grocery stores; Wayne Hurst, a farmer from Burley and former president of the National Association of Wheat Growers; Wayne Schenk, a farmer from Rupert; Bruce Burtenshaw, the former owner of Kodiak America; Harold Mohlman, of Rupert, who unsuccessfully challenged Cameron in 2010 in the primary; and Charlie Creason of Rupert, who was president and CEO of Project Mutual Telephone for 23 years.

Brown reports that Doug Pickett, a rancher and Cassia County GOP chairman who ran for the seat in 2012 and for the state Republican chairmanship last year, also is weighing whether to apply. The GOP committee for the legislative district is scheduled to meet Friday night to recommend three nominees for the post to Gov. Butch Otter; Brown’s full report is online here.

Idaho per-pupil spending, with inflation adjustment, still 18.6% below ‘06 level; also 50th in nation

Despite state lawmakers’ move this year to increase state funding for schools by 7.4 percent, school funding remains 6 percent below the 2006-07 level, the Idaho Statesman reports, when measured on a per-student basis, and 18.6 percent lower than 06-07 when inflation is taken into account. “It puts a huge perspective on why school districts in Idaho are struggling like they are,” West Ada School District Superintendent Linda Clark told Statesman reporter Bill Roberts.

Nancy Landon, administrator of budget and finance for the Boise School District, told the Statesman, “Nobody listens about inflation or consumer price index or anything like that. That is why you are seeing those huge increases in those supplemental levies. They had to go somewhere else to get the revenue.”

Roberts’ full report is online here. He reports that state general fund appropriations for K-12 public schools have been rising since 2012-13, but are still below pre-2009 levels when adjusted for inflation, and that’s before accounting for enrollment growth.

Meanwhile, the latest report from the U.S. Census on per-pupil spending by states, which came out June 2 and reflects 2013 data, showed Idaho ranked 50th – next-to-last among the 50 states plus the District of Columbia – for per-pupil spending on public elementary and secondary education, edged out only by 51st-place Utah. (It's on page 29 of the report, in the fifth column from the left.) The Census showed Idaho per-pupil spending for 2013 at $6,791 compared to Utah’s $6,555. Highest was New York at $19,818; the U.S. average was $10,700.

Sunday column: Sunshine law, falling marble, Idaho politics…

From proposed Sunshine Law changes from the Idaho GOP to falling marble in the Capitol and Idaho politics, here’s a link to my full Sunday column at spokesman.com. The Idaho GOP central committee’s newly passed resolution calling for loosening campaign finance reporting requirements under the state’s Sunshine Law was a dud with GOP Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, who said, “If they ask my advice, I would say leave it alone. I’d like to see more transparency. I’d like to know where all the money comes from.” Idaho’s Sunshine Law was enacted by a voter initiative in 1974; it passed with 77.6 percent of the vote.

Dems delay vote on new state party chair to Aug. 1

The Idaho Democratic Party has postponed the election of a new state party chair until Aug. 1; Vice Chair Jeanne Buell will remain acting chair in the meantime. Former Chairman Larry Kenck stepped down due to health reasons; thus far, three hopefuls, Dean Ferguson, Randy Humberto Johnson and John Looze, have put in their names to run. The party said the delay came for technical reasons, as while reviewing party rules, it discovered that it must set a series of in-person meetings to take the vote rather than hold the vote electronically; the schedule for those in-person meetings hasn’t yet been set.

Fulcher endorses Crapo for re-election

Former state Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who ran unsuccessfully against Gov. Butch Otter in the GOP primary last year as Otter sought his third term as governor, has endorsed GOP U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo for re-election. Fulcher said in a statement, “For America to survive and prosper, there must be leadership in Washington, D.C. to eliminate debt, thwart terrorism, advance the free market, protect the traditional American family, and establish energy independence through wise localized resource management. I support Sen. Mike Crapo because he is one leader that agrees, and he acts accordingly.”

Crapo, in a campaign news release, said, “I’m truly grateful for Russ’s support. Russ knows how critical it is that our national government recognize and follow the sound, time-tested conservative principles by which the people of Idaho expect to be governed.”

Fulcher mounted his challenge against Otter from the right, reaching out to tea party factions within the Idaho GOP. He drew 43.6 percent of the primary vote to Otter’s 51.4 percent, with two fringe candidates, Harley Brown and Walter Bayes, trailing with 3.3 and 1.8 percent respectively. Otter went on to win with 53.5 percent of the vote in the general election.

Denney on GOP resolution to relax Sunshine Law: ‘I’d say leave it alone’

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney is less than enthusiastic about the resolution passed by the Idaho Republican Party central committee at its meeting last weekend calling for relaxing financial disclosure requirements for political committees or PACs by exempting them from reporting or itemizing the sources of contributions of less than $200; the current reporting threshold is $50. Denney, who didn’t attend the meeting and first saw a copy of the resolution on Monday morning, said, “If they ask my advice, I would say leave it alone.” He said, “I’d like to see more transparency. I’d like to know where all the money comes from.”

The party’s resolution was a bit unclear, in making its case that Idaho’s Sunshine Law is out of date and the $50 threshold should be raised because the 1974 law is based on “figures generated over 30 years ago.” It refers to the Sunshine Law’s entire definitions section, which covers all entities required to report under the law; the $50 reporting threshold, which under the current law applies to donations to “a candidate or political committee;” and the “contents of reports” section of the law, which applies to candidates or political committees. The same $50 threshold applies to candidates’ campaigns and political committees or PACs, which may be groups backing candidates or measures, or political party committees engaged in campaigning. If the sections of state law the resolution cites were changed, it would affect not only party committees, but all PACs and all candidates' campaigns.

But the wording of the resolution appears to be expressing concerns about burdens being too great on “volunteer treasurers,” and makes reference to “counties, districts and regional committees,” suggesting it may be motivated by concern over political party committees. In addition to raising the reporting threshold for donations from $50 to $200, the resolution calls for raising the reporting threshold for expenditures from $25 to $100; and exempting party committees from falling under the reporting law at all if they raise less than $20,000 in a year; that figure currently is $5,000.

Denney said volunteer treasurers already have to keep track of all donations, no matter their size, in case, for example, someone gives $40 and then later gives the same amount several more times within the same year – thus exceeding reporting thresholds. So eliminating the reporting requirement wouldn’t save those treasurers any work, he said.

“As far as transparency, I don’t think it needs to be raised – I think $50 is OK,” Denney said. “I don’t think it’s that big a deal for people to report.”

New Idaho poll shows surprisingly strong support - 70% - for raising minimum wage to $10 an hour

The latest Idaho poll by Idaho Politics Weekly, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, shows a surprising 70 percent of Idahoans favor boosting the state’s minimum wage to $10 an hour. The reason this is surprising: Idaho’s elected state Legislature has never been enthusiastic about raising the minimum wage, and only grudgingly has agreed over the years to keep it at the same level as the federal minimum, which currently is $7.25 an hour. Idaho employees who receive tips can be paid less and make up part of their minimum through tips, as long as they’re paid at least $3.35 per hour in base wages and receive at least $30 a month in tips; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The poll, which queried 601 Idaho adults from May 20-28, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.98 percent. It found that overall, 70 percent of respondents favored raising the minimum to $10 an hour; 29 percent opposed such a move; and 1 percent didn’t know.

Among Republican respondents, 56 percent favored the increase, 43 percent opposed it, and 3 percent didn’t know. Among Democratic respondents, 90 percent were in favor, 3 percent against, and 1 percent undecided. Among those who said they’re independents, 74 percent were in favor, 26 percent against, and 1 percent undecided. Respondents who described themselves as “very conservative” were the only group opposing the hike, with 53 percent opposed, 45 percent in favor, and 2 percent undecided. You can read Idaho Politics Weekly’s full report here; the weekly newsletter is published under the auspices of Zions Bank, and includes regular Idaho polling by the Utah-based polling firm.

Idaho GOP backs contribution law changes, Bible in schools, investigating Forest Service

The Idaho GOP Central Committee, at its summer meeting today in Idaho Falls, approved three resolutions: One calling for relaxing the financial disclosure requirements for political committees or PACs by exempting them from reporting contributions of less than $200; one calling for use of the Bible in public schools in Idaho; and one calling for an investigation of the U.S. Forest Service for not giving more deference to local county commissioners in revising a management plan for the Panhandle National Forests in North Idaho.

Idaho Public TV reporter Melissa Davlin reports no other proposed resolutions passed. You can read the all the proposed resolutions here.  

Davlin reports that the tone of the gathering was considerably less contentious than last year’s Idaho GOP state convention, a debacle that ended with no decisions on a party platform, resolutions, rules or leaders. “Every Republican I spoke to noticed the change in tone,” she reports.

You can read more at Davlin’s Idaho Reports blog here. Plus, she and producer Seth Ogilvie report from the gathering and feature Brad Little, Jim Risch, Marco Rubio and Bryan Clark on their side project, the Point of Personal Privilege Podcast, also known as the ppppod, in this week's installment. You can listen here; it's entitled, “The Big Tent."

Davlin also reports that the nod for hosting the 2016 Idaho GOP convention went to Caldwell. And the Associated Press and Idaho Falls Post Register have a report here on Rubio's keynote speech to the GOP gathering on Friday night.

Idaho GOP to vote on resolution calling for relaxing PAC contribution reporting rules

The Idaho Republican Party’s central committee will vote Saturday on a resolution calling for relaxing Idaho’s requirements for disclosing contributions to political committees or PACs. Under current law, political committees with expenditures that exceed $5,000 must report individual annual contributions exceeding $50, and all individual expenditures exceeding $25, writes Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public TV. The GOP resolution calls for disclosure of only those contributions that exceed $200, making all contributions between $50 and $200 secret. It also would raise the level for reporting of expenditures to those of $100 or more.

Davlin reports that the proposed resolution cleared the GOP’s resolutions committee this afternoon with just one “no” vote; it’ll go to the full central committee tomorrow. The resolutions panel also defeated a call to open back up the GOP primary election on a 5-8 vote, though supporters cited low participation in closed Republican primaries. The committee also approved a resolution backing use of the Bible in schools as an instructional and reference text. You can read Davlin’s full post here.

Three vying for Idaho Dems state party chair

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Three candidates are tossing their hat in to be the new chair of Idaho's Democratic Party. The list of candidates who have declared as of Friday include party spokesman Dean Ferguson, retired Pocatello attorney John Looze and political consultant Randy Humberto Johnson. The position became open after Larry Kenck announced his resignation earlier this year because of health issues. Kenck had served as the state's party lead since 2013. Vice Chair Jeanne Buell will continue to serve as acting chair until the state central committee votes on a new leader on June 13. According to national Democratic Party rules, if the state party has a male chair, it must then have a female vice chair. The same would apply for a female chair, which would require a male vice chair.

The party reports that people can continue to declare candidacy up to the day of the vote, which will take place June 13, by a teleconference of the state central committee. Here’s some more info about the three candidates who have stepped forward thus far:

Ferguson, 46, is the communications director for the party, and a former political reporter from the Lewiston Tribune. He grew up on a northern Idaho horse ranch and is an avid outdoorsman.

Looze, 72, is a retired lawyer, an educator, and a Vietnam veteran from Pocatello. He has held leadership positions in civic organizations including the Rotary Club, Pocatello Chamber of Commerce, and youth soccer leagues.

Johnson, 36, is a veteran of the Idaho Army National Guard who served a tour of duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He owns a political consulting business with a focus on Latino get-out-the-vote campaigns both inside and outside Idaho. An outdoor enthusiast, he enjoys camping, hiking and hunting in Idaho's backcountry.