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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Silver calls on Crane to turn over investment review documents to state auditors

Deborah Silver, the Twin Falls accountant who’s challenging four-term state Treasurer Ron Crane, is calling on Crane to release a full review of questioned investment transactions to state auditors. “What else does he have to hide?” Silver asked. “Idaho taxpayers deserve the truth from their state treasurer.”

Crane maintains he’s released all the information he can, but Idaho’s state auditor’s office, in an audit report released at the end of June, said it still hadn’t received documentation showing that Crane’s office has reviewed all potentially problematic transactions, after news of one surfaced in which a state investment pool lost millions when Crane’s office reallocated assets between it and a local government investment pool.

“While documentation of two specific reallocations was provided during the audit, no additional evidence supporting a full review of all potentially inappropriate reallocations was provided,” the late-June audit report said. Laura Steffler, Crane’s chief deputy, wrote in the office’s official response submitted for that report that the office had reviewed all securities lending transactions for reallocation of assets between investment portfolios directed by the office since July 1, 2008, and had already provided all the documentation.

“Short of just saying we did it, I don’t know how else we can prove … that we did it,” said Ken Burgess, spokesman for Crane’s re-election campaign. He said Crane’s office offered the auditors access to the full documentation for every one of the tens of thousands of transactions completed under its securities lending agreement since 2008, and the auditors declined that offer. “They said we don’t want all this stuff – we just want you to somehow prove that you did a full review,” Burgess said. “How do you prove that, short of taking our word that we did it?”

Silver responded, “That makes absolutely no sense. There are statements, with the allocations going back and forth reconciling the balance. … In my view, either he really does not understand what the auditors want, or he’s deliberately dodging.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Task force: New tiered teacher certification system won’t work without more money for pay

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A state task force says reforming Idaho's teaching certification must be tied to increasing salaries in order to attract and retain quality teachers in public schools. The 15-member committee spent most of Monday discussing details of implementing a new teacher pay system commonly known as the career ladder. However, some members worry that state lawmakers will approve tougher certification requirements without providing funding for higher salaries. The committee is currently considering a seven-year transition to jump beginning teacher salaries from $31,750 to $40,000. State GOP Sen. Dean Mortimer of Idaho Falls says he would like the group to consider proposing a five year transition. State lawmakers will review the committee's recommendation when they convene in January for the 2015 Legislature.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

Charges fly, then fizzle in governor’s race

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how charges flew – then fizzled – over the weekend as the Idaho Republican Party claimed that the Idaho Democratic Party and Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff were doing something “shady” involving passing money back and forth that might violate campaign finance laws. The Democrats responded that Balukoff had contracted out his campaign payroll services to the state party, and it was all reported, legal and on the up-and-up.

On Monday morning, the Idaho Secretary of State’s office looked into it and found no violation at all, instead concluding it's just “that time of year.” The state GOP now says it won’t pursue any complaint. Dean Ferguson, executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, said, “I’m guessing they feel a little silly about it.”

Balukoff, a CPA and millionaire Boise businessman, is challenging Idaho GOP Gov. Butch Otter, a multimillionaire rancher, as he seeks a third term. The race also includes Libertarian candidate John Bujak, Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey, and two independent candidates, Jill Humble and “Pro-Life,” who legally changed his name from Marvin Richardson.

Idaho GOP backs off from complaint over Balukoff and Dems’ campaign finances

The Idaho Republican Party now says it won’t pursue any campaign finance complaint against A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor, or the Idaho Democratic Party over a payroll services contract. “If they can satisfy the Secretary of State and make that clear to them that everything is fine and dandy, then that’s good, and that’s ultimately what the purpose of our press release was about,” said Dave Johnston, Idaho GOP executive director. “We had received this complaint from several concerned people who brought this to our attention.”

He said the questions focused on the post-primary election campaign finance reports filed both by the Idaho Democratic Party and by Balukoff’s campaign, in which payments were shown but the GOP thought it wasn’t clear “what is what, and if it’s a donation or whether it’s a service that is being rendered.” He added, “If the Secretary of State is satisfied, we’re not going to go forward with it.”

Idaho Secretary of State says no violation in Balukoff payroll contract

Idaho Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst says there’s no campaign finance violation in the way Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff has set up his payroll services contract with the Idaho Democratic Party. “We talked to the Democratic Party,” Hurst told Eye on Boise this morning. “The way it’s working is Mr. Balukoff’s campaign actually prepays for the services. So he’s always ahead. There’s no violation of limits.”

Balukoff provides the money up-front, and then the party disburses it for his payroll. “It’s part of the contract that he has with the party,” Hurst said. “I don’t see a violation there.” He added, “It’s just that time of year.”

Of parties, payroll, and politics…

The Idaho Republican Party charged in a press release sent out late Friday night that Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff may be violating campaign finance laws by the way he handles his campaign payroll. The Idaho Democratic Party responded on Saturday with its own press release, saying the party has a contract with Balukoff’s campaign to manage payroll services and there’s nothing in the deal that violates campaign finance laws. “IDP’s contract has been carefully vetted by CPAs as well as compliance experts. We are fully confident in its legality,” party spokesman Dean Ferguson said in his release.

The GOP release suggests that “Balukoff isn’t paying for his staff,” and instead they are being paid by the party while Balukoff donates funds to the party to cover the costs. Jason Risch, attorney for the Idaho GOP, termed this an “abnormal shuffling of funds” and said he thought it could mean the Democratic Party was exceeding the $10,000 limit on contributions to a candidate, “including in-kind contributions such as paying for a candidate’s staff.”

“The purpose of campaign finance disclosure law is to bring greater transparency in campaign finances so Idahoans may see what candidates and political organizations are doing,” GOP executive director Dave Johnston said in the release. “Engaging in confusing money shuffling schemes that appears to violate campaign finance law also violates the spirit of the law – which is to provide greater transparency.”

Ferguson maintained the payroll contract actually provides greater transparency, is fully reported, and that Republican candidates also have contracted out payroll services for their campaigns.

Both sides also took the opportunity to fire a few shots at each other. The Democrats’ release said, “The statement from the IRP seems to be part of an orchestrated smear campaign launched by Republican career politicians, and their lobbyist infrastructure, because they cannot defend Idaho’s rank as last in income, last in education investment, and 2nd in minimum wage jobs.”

The GOP release said, “Balukoff, being a certified public accountant, should know better. However, he is the same candidate who presided over a school board election in Boise that was riddled with shady practices. Finding shady schemes in his finances reports is not a surprise.”

You can read the Dems’ full release here, and the GOP’s full release here. I’ve contacted both parties for more information this morning and haven’t heard back from either. And yes, ‘tis the season…

‘Otter fatigue’ a factor as two-term GOP governor seeks a third term

An Idaho Statesman story over the weekend explored how “Otter fatigue” – a phrase I’ve been hearing increasingly this year from those who watch Idaho politics – could give Democrat A.J. Balukoff a lift in his challenge to two-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter. The story, by reporter Rocky Barker, is online here. “Some Idahoans’ disappointment with Otter, a divided GOP and a spirited campaign by Libertarian John Bujak give the Boise businessman a chance to pull off an upset,” Barker reports.

Early polls still show Otter with a big lead, Barker notes. A poll released Saturday by YouGov, the New York Times and CBS News showed Otter with 51 percent, Balukoff with 33 percent, 13 percent undecided and 3 percent saying “other.” That poll, with a sample size of 844, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

But another look at Idaho’s electorate – though two years old, a much larger one – showed roughly 400,000 Idaho voters rejecting the “Students Come First” education reforms that Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna had pushed through and voters overturned in 2012. Balukoff was a prominent backer of the referendum that overturned the laws. In the last general election for governor in 2010, Otter’s margin of victory in his big win over Democratic challenger Keith Allred was 118,803 votes.

Jerry Brady, the Democratic candidate who lost by just 40,000 votes to Otter in 2006, told Barker, “If all those who voted against the Luna laws vote for A.J., he would win.”

Idaho taxpayer costs so far for same-sex marriage appeal: $71K

Idaho taxpayers’ costs so far for continuing to challenge the federal court decision overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage: $71,477. In response to a request under the Idaho Public Records Law, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office reported spending $2,569, for an appellate filing fee and for travel for two attorneys to the 9th Circuit arguments this week in San Francisco. Gov. Butch Otter’s office reported spending $68,899, including $66,920 for outside counsel.

Private attorney Monte Neil Stewart represented Otter both in the arguments in San Francisco, where he gave the state’s entire presentation of oral arguments; in the preparation of the briefs for that appeal; and in requesting an emergency stay of U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s decision overturning the ban while the state appealed. Stewart charged the state $250 an hour, with a maximum charge of $50,000 for preparing the briefs and $7,000 for making the arguments; both those maximums were met.

The figures don’t include salary costs for state employees who did the work as part of their existing jobs, including attorneys in the Attorney General’s and governor’s offices, who handled the initial case at the U.S. District Court in Boise. Cally Younger, attorney for Otter, said the money for the additional expenses there came from the governor’s office general fund.

Full slate of debates in Idaho races to ‘fill in the picture’ for voters

A full slate of political debates stretches before Idaho voters, who are mulling decisions on every statewide office in November; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. The “Idaho Debates,” a tradition in the state of more than three decades’ standing, will feature seven debates broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television, co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho. In addition, other groups also are sponsoring candidate forums and debates – including a local debate in Coeur d’Alene in the governor’s race that’s free and open to the public.

“I’m just delighted to see there’s that much activity, and there are a lot of very interesting races, so I hope the public tunes in or follows these debates and forums closely,” said longtime Idaho political observer Jim Weatherby, a professor emeritus at Boise State University. “There’s a lot at stake.”

Weatherby said debates are particularly important for voters who may be exposed to selective messages from candidates through advertising or other means. “It helps fill in the picture as to who these people really are, rather than hiding behind their campaign ads or the websites or brochures that are carefully prepared,” he said. In addition to putting candidates on the spot about their positions on issues and showing them head-to-head with their opponents, he said, debates show “how effectively they can respond to criticism.”

Nels Mitchell, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, decried GOP incumbent Jim Risch’s decision to participate in only one debate, turning down invitations from the Idaho Debates, the City Club of Boise and more. Click below for Mitchell’s full statement.

‘Idaho Debates’ announce fall line-up

The Idaho Debates, a tradition of more than three decades in Idaho, has announced its fall line-up of political debates in advance of the November general election, including debates in an array of the state’s top races. The debates, broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television, are co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho. Here’s the schedule:

Oct. 7, 7 p.m.: Idaho Secretary of State debate, featuring Republican Lawerence Denney and Democrat Holli Woodings

Oct. 9, 7 p.m.: 1st Congressional District debate, featuring GOP Rep. Raul Labrador and Democratic challenger Shirley Ringo

Oct. 9, 8:30 p.m.: Idaho state treasurer debate, featuring GOP Treasurer Ron Crane and Democratic challenger Deborah Silver

Oct. 21, 7 p.m.: Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction debate, featuring GOP candidate Sherri Ybarra and Democratic candidate Jana Jones

Oct. 26, 7 p.m.: 2nd Congressional District debate, featuring GOP Rep. Mike Simpson and Democratic challenger Richard Stallings

Oct. 30, 7 p.m.: Idaho governor debate, featuring GOP Gov. Butch Otter, Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff, and Libertarian candidate John Bujak

Oct. 30, 8:30 p.m.: Idaho lieutenant governor debate, featuring GOP Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Democratic challenger Bert Marley

A debate in the U.S. Senate race had been scheduled for Oct. 12, but was canceled after GOP Sen. Jim Risch declined to participate. Risch’s campaign manager, Melinda Smyser, said in a letter to Idaho Debates organizers, “It has been the senator’s custom to do one debate with his opponent,” and Risch already has agreed to debate Democratic challenger Nels Mitchell on Boise TV station KTVB. The station will provide the debate for re-broadcast by stations elsewhere in the state.

Full disclosure here: As president of the Idaho Press Club, I volunteer on the committee that helps plan and organize the Idaho Debates, which are moderated by Idaho Public Television and feature reporter panelists who are members of the Press Club. The debates are always lively and of interest, and we’re looking forward to them.

Reactions to today’s 9th Circuit arguments…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today's arguments over Idaho's invalidated same-sex marriage ban at the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. After today’s arguments, attorney Deborah Ferguson, who made the arguments on behalf of four Idaho couples who challenged the ban, issued this statement:

Today’s arguments reflected the Ninth Circuit panel’s thorough preparation and careful attention to the serious constitutional issues raised by Idaho’s discriminatory marriage laws. In the past few months, three other federal appeals courts have ruled that laws that deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry deprive their families of equal dignity in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. We hope the Ninth Circuit will reach the same conclusion and strike down these unjust laws.”

Sue Latta, the lead plaintiff in the case, said, “Traci and I were thrilled to be able to watch our case being argued in one of our country’s most important courts. The judges clearly have studied the case very carefully, and we are hopeful the court will rule soon that the state must treat our family with the same respect as it treats other families.”

Jon Hanian, spokesman for Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, said, “We’re not going to have any comment beyond what was said in court.”

Deputy Idaho Attorney General Scott Zanzig said, “We’re glad to have the case submitted, and we’re appreciative of the fact that the 9th Circuit is going to consider our appeal. I think it’s always difficult to tell just from being at the arguments how things are going to go. … We’re looking forward to a decision.”

Asked why the state opted to yield all its time for arguments to Gov. Butch Otter’s private attorney, Monte Neil Stewart, rather than split the time between Otter’s and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s attorneys – including Zanzig, who was present at the counsel table for the arguments – Zanzig said he couldn’t go into detail on that point. “In the 9th Circuit, you get a very short time to argue, and breaking it up can be difficult on anyone being effective,” he said. “But in terms of why that choice was made … I can’t comment on pending cases.”

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia who’s been tracking same-sex marriage cases around the country, said the arguments didn’t go well for the state. “I’m glad I wasn’t trying to make those arguments,” he said. “It’s tough when it’s that difficult an argument to make. I just don’t think that those judges were going to be persuaded, and I don’t think they were.”

The state’s arguments focused on how it believed the ban was better for Idaho children in the long run; when pressed by the judges, attorney Monte Stewart suggested that legalizing same-sex marriage would be worse for Idaho kids than the proliferation of divorce that followed no-fault divorce laws. Said Tobias, “That’s not a winning argument, I don’t think.”

9th Circuit arguments on Idaho marriage law wrap up with reference to future Supreme Court decision…

As the arguments in the 9th Circuit today on Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban wrapped up, Idaho attorney Monte Stewart made a reference to a position taken by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Judge Stephen Reinhardt interrupted him, saying, “I think you’re going to have an opportunity to find out what Justice Kennedy thinks.” That drew laughter – the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take up the same-sex marriage issue, likely in other states’ cases, in the coming year.

Reinhardt announced, “This argument will be submitted.”

Of crystal balls and messages…

Monte Stewart, now up for his final five minutes of argument, told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that if it’s a question of who has the best crystal ball, Idaho’s crystal ball is even better than the court’s – because it reflects “its collective wisdom” as expressed through the Democratic process, the voters’ approval of a constitutional amendment passed by two-thirds of the state Legislature.

“This is a contest between two different messages,” Stewart told the court. “The message of man-woman marriage is men, you’re valuable and important in the upbringing of the children you bring into this world. Women, you’re valuable and important in the upbringing of the children you bring into this world. Genderless marriage does not send that message. Indeed, it undermines it.”

9th Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon asked Stewart to compare his reference to Idaho’s “crystal ball” in knowing what its people support, through their vote for the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, to the Loving vs. Virginia case, in which the court overruled bans on interracial marriage. “There were competing crystal balls” in Loving, Berzon said.

Stewart objected. “I suggest there were no crystal balls, because the state never advanced a legitimate interest,” he said. Berzon responded, “It’s one that doesn’t sound very legitimate to us now, but they thought there were legitimate interests.” People objected to mixing of races and thought it would harm society, she noted. Stewart said he hoped she wasn’t comparing that to Idaho’s interest in “preventing fatherlessness and motherlessness.”

Ferguson: ‘You’re imposing a very great harm, for no benefit’

Judge Stephen Reinhardt asked Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson if she thought marriage laws have any effect on “bonding between a mother and a father and a child, and that structure being a better structure for society?” He was referring to earlier arguments from attorney Monte Stewart on behalf the state of Idaho. “I don’t think it has any effect on that,” Ferguson responded.

“I don’t see the marriage of opposite sex and same-sex couples as these different regimes that are being portrayed by the state. My clients are looking for the opportunity to participate in traditional marriage, to marry and have that very intimate adult bond and protect their children in that fashion. And I don’t think that opposite-sex couples are looking to see what same-sex couples are doing, and saying that somehow if same-sex couples are allowed to celebrate and have those very personal bonds, that it’s going to serve as a disincentive for them to marry or to have children or to stay together with their children. … You’re imposing a very great harm, for no benefit.”

Ferguson: Discrimination that ‘stretches beyond the grave’

Deborah Ferguson, attorney for four Idaho couples who successfully sued to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, said the harms the ban imposes on her clients and those like them are many. “The law imposes a cradle-to-grave discrimination on same-sex couples in Idaho. It pushes them outside,” she said. “Children of gay and lesbian parents in Idaho, unless they have second-parent adoption … don’t have two legal parents to protect them.”

That does send a message in Idaho, Ferguson said, echoing an earlier argument from opposing attorney Monte Stewart about how Idaho's marriage laws send a message. “It tells those children that their parents’ marriages are not worthy of … respect,” she said, “a very harsh message.” She added, “It stretches beyond the grave,” noting that the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery refuses to bury the remains of veterans who are same-sex spouses together.

Judge: Do you care basis as long as you win? Answer: No

Judge Stephen Reinhardt asked attorney Deborah Ferguson, “Do you really care if we decide on fundamental right or equal protection as long as you win?” Amid laughter, she responded, “No.”

“I think the due process and the equal protection arguments are both very important,” Ferguson said, “and they’re very related. I think the Idaho case in front of the court presents both of them squarely to the court, so we would like to see the court decide it on both of those bases.”

Ferguson: Idaho has ‘most sweeping ban’ on same-sex marriage in 9th Circuit

Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson is now arguing the case for the four lesbian couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage. Idaho has “the most sweeping” such ban in the 9th Circuit, she said. “It bars the possibility of any form of relationship recognition for its same-sex couples, relegating tem to a permanent second-class status,” she told the court.

Rejecting the state’s arguments that the ban is better for children, Ferguson said, “There is no logical nexus here. Allowing same same-sex couples to marry will benefit them and those children.”

Judge Marsha Berzon quickly interrupted her to quiz her about the appropriate level of scrutiny under which the court should consider the case. “I think that the law is unconstitutional on all three bases,” Ferguson said.

Stewart: Same-sex marriage would be worse for Idaho kids than divorce

After Idaho attorney Monte Stewart argued that legalizing same-sex marriage would send a message to society that promotes fatherlessness and motherlessness for Idaho children, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals asked him, “Does Idaho prohibit divorce because it sends a bad message to people? … Doesn’t that do more damage to the ideal that you profess Idaho should be telling people, that they ought to be home with the mother and the father and the child?”

Stewart said no-fault divorce and the expansion of divorce has been bad for children in Idaho. “Pulling the man-woman meaning out of marriage and going with genderless marriage will be the coup de grace,” he said. “We think the effects will be much worse.”

Judge Marsha Berzon asked Stewart, “Is the assumption of your argument that children who are raised in a stable same-sex relationship from birth … (are worse off) than children who are raised in the 30 percent of the houses in Idaho in which by the age of six they are not withtheir biological parents?”

Stewart responded, “Everybody who loves children, and that includes Idaho … hopes sincerely, genuinely, that the conclusions of the no-differences study are valid. Because if they’re valid, then those children are going to be better off.” But Idaho, he said, is “skeptical.” “Idaho has concluded that the price is too high for switching to a radically different meaning at the core of marriage, one that Idaho … believes is going to result … in a higher level of fatherlessness,” he said.

Judge Berzon: ‘This train has left the station’

9th Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon asked Idaho attorney Monte Stewart the percentage of children who grow up in what he describes as the ideal environment – being reared by their married, biological mother and father. Stewart said in Idaho, it’s 68 percent up until age 6, and 58 percent up to age 17. That’s among the highest rates in the country, he said.

“What strikes me is that this train has left the station,” Berzon said, “in the sense that the change has occurred in American marriages before all this. … When women were not able to own property and had to do everything their husbands said and so on, you had a different institution, but that was the core of the heterosexual marriage tradition to begin with. Once all of that changed, yes the number of people who had children in marriage went down considerably, and that may be a bad thing, but it did not have anything to do with this.”

Private lawyer Monte Stewart making Idaho’s arguments to the 9th Circuit

Monte Stewart, a private attorney representing Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, is going to give the state’s arguments, speaking both for Otter and for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Stewart told the 9th Circuit. He’ll take up the full 30 minutes allotted to the state’s side.

“Idaho has a good reason that satisfies any level of scrutiny for its decision to preserve man-woman marriage and therefore a necessity to not include same-sex couples in marriage,” Steward told the court. “The good reason is this: The man-woman meaning at the core of the marriage institution generates and sustains the child’s bonding right, which is a social expectation, a strong social message, a social promise and norm that to the greatest extent possible a child will know and be reared by her mother and father, the two people who brought her into this world and whose family and biological heritage are an important part of her very being.”

Judge Marsha Berzon interrupted Stewart. “Your burden here, though, is to demonstrate why allowing other relationships than the ones you regard as optimum interferes with the ones you regard as optimum,” she told him. “I accept that burden your honor, and here is the answer,” Stewart replied. But as soon as he began, and made reference to heterosexual men and women marrying, Berzon interrupted him again. “The heterosexual men and women aren’t going to enter into same-sex marriages, so what’s the issue?” she asked.

Stewart responded, in part, “Because the only way a same-sex couple can be married … is for the state to withdraw its support for the man-woman marriage institution … and implement something new and different, and that is genderless marriage.”