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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

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

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

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

Internal divisions within Idaho GOP on display, as Senate panel endorses bill for costly new presidential primary

Internal divisions within the Idaho Republican Party were on display at a Senate committee hearing this morning, as Republican Party officials spoke both for and against legislation to allow for an early presidential primary in the state, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $2 million. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said primaries are intended to “kind of take it out of the smoky back rooms of the political bosses” and “allow more participation.” He sponsored SB 1066, to allow the new presidential primary on the second Tuesday in March, and said it matches an Idaho Republican Party resolution.

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, said he was speaking not as a state representative but as a Republican Party official, a current Idaho GOP central committee member and the past rules committee chairman. “Nominating presidential candidates is a party function,” Nate told the Senate State Affairs Committee. “The Idaho taxpayer should not be forced to pay for Democratic, Republican or other party’s nominations. … With current budget priorities like education and transportation in question in Idaho, we should not be spending another nickel and certainly not another $2 million to help political parties do their work.”

Nate said the Idaho GOP in January approved an absentee voting process for its presidential selection caucuses that he said would address concerns about some members, from military members to the elderly, not being able to participate.

Tyler Hurst, chairman of the Idaho Young Republicans, spoke in favor of the bill, saying it would bring more participation. “This is a bill that needs to take place so that all people have a right to vote … and so that we bring more notoriety to the Idaho Republican elections,” he told the committee.

Winder said the resolutions committee of the Idaho GOP unanimously supported the call for the early primary. Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “The discussion we had today mostly spoke about one party. And I really think that $2 million from the general fund for a political practice is inappropriate, and I won’t be supporting this bill.”

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, also spoke out against the bill, saying, “It just seems totally inconsistent to me that this party has gone from allowing a lot of people to participate in the process to reducing that number.” He said 80 percent fewer people participated in the Idaho GOP’s presidential caucus in 2012 than did in previous open party primaries, and he said he opposed spending the money the bill would require. Addressing Boise High School students in the audience, Siddoway said, “We could get you better teachers if we had $2 million more a year to put in that budget than what we’re about to do here. Think about that.”

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, spoke out in favor of the bill. He said he disagreed with the Idaho GOP’s decision to close its primary elections to anyone other than registered Republicans. He also said he was uncomfortable with the 2012 caucus, because many couldn’t attend, or had to leave early. “I respect the party’s right to make that decision no matter whether I agree with it or not,” he said. “But in this moment, I want to … provide an opportunity for every party to accept the invitation to make their process, even in a closed political voting process, as open to all who are willing to live by those rules as possible. I think SB 1066 is the closest I’ve seen so far.”

The State Affairs Committee than approved the bill on a divided voice vote, sending it to the full Senate with a recommendation that it pass.

Kootenai GOP rejects resolution declaring Idaho a ‘Christian state’

The Kootenai County Republican County Republican Central Committee last night rejected a resolution to declare Idaho a "Christian state" – a proposed resolution that had drawn national ridicule, including comparisons to ISIS. The S-R’s D.F. Oliveria reports in his “Huckleberries Online” blog that the resolution offered by Precinct Committeeman Hans Neumann was opposed by more than two-thirds of the Central Committee. Precinct Committeeman Bjorn Handeen offered a motion not to consider the resolution at all, and it carried overwhelmingly. The meeting attracted a standing-room-only crowd.

Dems invite immediate applications for Werk’s vacated Senate seat

The Idaho Democratic Party’s Legislative District 17 central committee is inviting immediate applications for the Idaho Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, who was appointed to the Idaho State Tax Commission today by Gov. Butch Otter, and resigned his Senate seat to take the new full-time position. “Applicants must reside in Legislative District 17, be a member of the Idaho Democratic Party, and have a demonstrated interest in and strong commitment to public service,” the party said in an announcement. There’s more information here.

A committee consisting of party precinct captains from the legislative district will review applications and forward three nominees to Otter.

Meanwhile, Werk’s colleagues in the Senate minority caucus lauded his service today as he departs. "Elliot's experience and passion will leave a void in our caucus but we wish him all the happiness in the world and applaud his ongoing service to the citizens of Idaho," said Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum.

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Cherie Buckner-Webb said, "Working with Elliot has been a remarkable experience. He is a driven legislator and public servant who navigates the political landscape at warp speed with an acerbic wit and a wealth of knowledge.  He possesses a laser-like ability to cut to the core of the issue while taking into consideration a diversity of stakeholder views and desired outcomes. While Elliot will be sorely missed, we will work to provide a seamless transition as we await the appointment of a senator to join the minority caucus."

Risch gets energy subcommittee chairmanship

 Idaho Sen. Jim Risch announced today that he’s been named chairman of the energy subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources; Risch previously was the ranking Republican on the subcommittee. Risch said he’s “honored.”

“My appointment to this subcommittee is important to Idaho as the home of the Idaho National Laboratory,” Risch said in a statement. “With INL's research in the areas of energy, security and the environment, it is well positioned to continue its important role in our nation's energy security. Additionally, a strong economy and quality of life are directly linked to energy, and our obligation is to see that the American people get the best of both.” 

The subcommittee has oversight of national laboratories; energy research and development; federal energy conservation programs; climate change; petroleum reserves; oil, gas and coal production and distribution; and more.

Gay marriage case could cost Idaho another $300,000

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The legal team that successfully fought to overturn Idaho's ban on gay marriage has filed paperwork seeking an additional $300,000 in court costs. Boise attorney and lead counsel Deborah Ferguson filed the three-page motion Thursday in federal court to cover legal expenses since late May. A federal judge late last year awarded Ferguson and her team $400,000 for work through May. Gay marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15 after the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge's ruling made in May declaring Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's in December filed separate petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court to continue fighting against gay marriage.

Labrador statement welcomes Obama to state, says he ‘could benefit from listening to Idahoans’

Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador has issued a statement welcoming President Obama to Boise, saying he thinks the president “could benefit from listening to Idahoans.” Here’s his full statement:

“I welcome President Obama to our great state today. I wish him well as he speaks this afternoon at Boise State University, where his 2008 campaign rally was a memorable event for Idaho Democrats. After last night’s State of the Union, I think the president could benefit from listening to Idahoans. He would do well to reflect on how the venue where he speaks today, the Caven-Williams Sports Complex, was built.  He could reflect on the journey of two Idaho families, and many others, who worked hard, played by the rules, became successful and generously shared their success with our community. Idaho families work hard and value individual responsibility. Idaho businesses are built on innovation and self-reliance. Idaho governments balance their budgets. During his short visit, I hope the president absorbs some Idaho common sense.”

Labrador sent out a tweet at 11:54 a.m. today saying, “Welcome to Idaho @BarackObama, home of hard work, self-reliance and balanced budgets”

While Idaho’s case waits in line, U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take up 6th Circuit gay marriage case

The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to take up the same-sex marriage issue in a series of cases from the 6th Circuit, opening the door to possible settlement of the issue for all 50 states. You can read the high court’s order here. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden are appealing Idaho’s gay marriage case to the U.S. Supreme Court as well, but they just filed their petitions two weeks ago; that means the Idaho case isn’t yet up for consideration by the high court, which still needs additional briefing before it could consider Idaho’s petition.

Otter filed a "friend of the court" brief in the 6th Circuit case asking the court wait to take that case up until it can consider Idaho’s case along with it. On Thursday, his office attorney, Tom Perry, said if the high court just takes up the 6th Circuit case, Idaho likely will be filing friend-of-the-court arguments in that case. And the high court could decide the matter for all circuits after hearing the 6th Circuit case.

Todd Dvorak, spokesman for Wasden, said, “They haven’t taken up our case yet, and there’s no guarantee that they will.” But Wasden said today’s high court ruling is the beginning of the court making a final decision on the marriage question.

Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the four Idaho couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on gay marriage, said her side “will urge the court to decline review” and let their win become final. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals already has rejected the state’s appeal.  “Our case will go forward and will be considered by the Court at a later conference, probably in February,” Ferguson said.

The high court, when it considers Idaho’s petition, will have the option of taking the case and hearing arguments; declining the case and letting the 9th Circuit’s decision stand; or holding the case until the other cases are decided. You can read a full report here at spokesman.com.

Wasden: ‘My office is equipped to handle these cases’

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has issued this statement on his vote against paying $55,000 of Gov. Butch Otter's legal fees for private attorneys he brought in to help with same-sex marriage appeals:

"My view on the use of outside counsel is no secret. I've maintained a long, consistent and principled position that hiring outside attorneys and paying the high price for that work is unnecessary. I took an oath to defend the Idaho Constitution. That's my job and exactly what I've been doing on this case from the beginning. My office is equipped to handle these cases, and even now I have two staff attorneys in Washington, D.C., preparing to argue an important Department of Health and Welfare case before the U.S. Supreme Court next week."

Council approves $457K in taxpayer funds for gay marriage case legal fees, costs

The Constitutional Defense Council has voted unanimously to pay the court-ordered $401,663 in attorney fees and costs to the winning side in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case, and 3-1 to pay $55,000 for costs for outside counsel hired by Gov. Butch Otter in his appeals of that case to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who joined in the appeals, voted no, but hired no outside counsel, using state attorneys. Asked why he voted against paying the governor’s outside legal bills, Wasden said, “I didn’t think it was appropriate.”

Otter had said earlier that those costs were being covered from within his office; today’s vote means $55,000 of those costs, for fees to outside attorneys and for court-required printing fees, will come from the state’s Constitutional Defense Fund instead. Otter’s in-office counsel, Tom Perry, said total costs for the governor’s office are now up to around $150,000.

After the meeting, Otter said, “My understanding is the attorney general didn’t think we needed outside counsel, but we need outside counsel all the time. If it’s needed, it’s needed.”

House Speaker Scott Bedke, who voted in favor of both motions, said, “I think it’s appropriate at times.”

Perry said more costs are anticipated as the case continues; Otter is pressing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and also has filed an “amicus” or friend-of-the-court brief, in the 6th Circuit’s U.S. Supreme Court same-sex marriage appeal.

Constitutional Defense Council special meeting set for Thursday morning

Idaho’s Constitutional Defense Council, which consists of the governor, the attorney general, the speaker of the House and the president pro-tem of the Senate, will hold a special meeting Thursday at 8:30 a.m. in the Borah Post Office building’s 2nd floor courtroom, to consider payment of a $401,663 court order to cover attorney fees and costs for the winning side in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case, which the state lost in U.S. District Court last May. Idaho has since appealed unsuccessfully to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and is currently pressing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15.

The council oversees the Constitutional Defense Fund, which currently has a balance of nearly $1.7 million after lawmakers agreed to transfer another $1 million into it last year from the state’s general fund. The defense fund, by law, can be spent  “to examine and challenge, by legal action or legislation, federal mandates, court rulings, and authority of the federal government, or any activity that threatens the sovereignty and authority of the state and the well-being of its citizens.” The fund has “historically been used to pay legal settlements, primarily attorney fees, that have been awarded through the courts,” according to state budget documents. 

According to state law, any one of the four members of the council can call a meeting, and its decisions are by majority vote. Interest on the $401,663 judgment started accruing on Dec. 19, so the longer the state waits, the more it’ll cost. Yesterday, the state Board of Examiners approved the claim and referred it to the council for consideration of payment.

Board of Examiners approves claim for marriage-case attorney fees

Idaho’s state Board of Examiners, which consists of the governor, the secretary of state, the attorney general and the state controller, has voted unanimously to approve the claim for $401,663 in attorney fees and costs in the state’s same-sex marriage litigation that a federal judge has order the state to pay the winning side in the case. Four Idaho couples sued, challenging Idaho’s ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional; they won their case in federal court last May. The state appealed unsuccessfully to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and is now pressing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court; same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15.

The order for attorney fees and costs is just for the portion of the case in U.S. District Court in Idaho, not for the appeals. Board of Examiners members asked no questions about the matter at their meeting this morning, and approved the payment without comment. A memo from the state Division of Financial Management asked the board to approve the claim and refer it to the Constitutional Defense Council for consideration of payment. That council consists of the governor, the attorney general, the speaker of the House and the president pro-tem of the Senate.

The council can convene on the call of any member and can make payments from the state’s Constitutional Defense Fund by majority vote. That fund currently has a balance of nearly $1.7 million, after lawmakers agreed to transfer another $1 million into it last year from the state’s general fund. Gov. Butch Otter, asked by reporters yesterday whether he thought more money needed to be deposited into the fund as he continues his court fight against same-sex marriage, said no. “I believe … that there is plenty of money in the constitutional defense fund,” Otter said.

9th Circuit rejects Otter’s request to revisit gay marriage decision

In a somewhat anticlimactic ruling, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday rejected motions for an en banc review – a reconsideration by a larger, 11-judge panel – of the October ruling overturning bans on same-sex marriage in Idaho and Nevada. Idaho already had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying the motion for reconsideration apparently wasn’t going to be granted; Idaho Gov. Butch Otter had requested it Oct. 21, but more than two months went by without any action.

Friday’s order said only, “The panel has voted to deny the petitions for rehearing en banc. The full court was advised of the petitions for rehearing en banc. A judge requested a vote on whether to rehear the matter en banc. The matter failed to receive a majority of the votes of the non-recused active judges in favor of en banc reconsideration. The petitions for rehearing en banc are denied.”

9th Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain of Portland, joined by Judges Johnnie B. Rawlinson of Las Vegas and Carlos Bea of San Francisco, penned a dissent, saying the en banc review should have been granted, noting that the 6th Circuit recently ruled against same-sex marriage.

“Thoughtful, dedicated jurists who strive to reach the correct outcome—including my colleagues on the panel here—have considered this issue and arrived at contrary results,” O’Scannlain wrote. “This makes clear that—regardless of one’s opinion on the merits of the politically charged and controversial issues raised by these cases—we are presented with a ‘question of exceptional importance’ that should have been reviewed by an en banc panel.” He further argued that a 1972 one-sentence ruling in a Minnesota case, Baker v. Nelson, still should be considered precedent on the marriage question; it found no federal question to be decided in a case where two men sued for the right to marry.

You can read the order and dissent here; the dissent also argued that states should be able to decide the marriage issue for themselves. The 9th Circuit has 29 judgeships; it’s so large that in the 9th Circuit, an en banc review involves an 11-judge panel, rather than convening the entire court, as in other circuits.

‘Idaho Reports’ kicks off season tonight

“Idaho Reports” kicks off for the season at 8 tonight on Idaho Public Television, and this week includes an extensive interview with Gov. Butch Otter and a look back at his entire career. The program also reports on events in the run-up to the start of the legislative session on Monday, and I join Jim Weatherby and co-hosts Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz to discuss them. The hour-long show airs at 8 p.m. tonight; after it airs, you can watch it here online any time.

Of Bibles, politics and family heritage…

Lewiston Tribune reporter Bill Spence turned up this interesting anecdote in his feature story today on the Bibles that Idaho’s top state elected officials use to take their oaths of office, including cherished family heirlooms: Gov. Butch Otter used his late father’s Bible, which he also used to take his first oath as lieutenant governor in 1987. “I got it when he died,” Otter told Spence, who also reported that the father and son didn’t particularly agree when it came to politics. “His dad actually ran for the Legislature as a Democrat from Washington County in 1974, at the same time Otter was running as a Republican from Canyon County,” Spence reported.

“We separated on what government should and shouldn’t be,” Otter told Spence. “When I ran against Marjorie Ruth Moon for lieutenant governor in 1986, she'd stay with my folks when she was in Weiser. Frank Church, Cecil Andrus, they stayed with them as well. Of course, I was welcomed there, too." Otter described his father as "a sincere, Roosevelt Democrat."

The note cards his father used to introduce him at his 1987 oath are still tucked into the Bible, Spence reports. The book has also been signed by the various judges who administered the oath. Spence’s report is online here, though a subscription is needed to access the full article.

Crapo named chief deputy Senate majority whip

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo has been named chief deputy majority whip in the Senate for its upcoming session, a position similar to one he held in the last Congress, except that this time, his Republican Party is in the majority. Crapo said in a statement that he welcomes the chance to take the leadership role in the majority, which involves wrangling votes on legislation and serving as a liaison between leadership and rank-and-file members. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is majority whip, said, “I’m grateful to have a strong team of friends and colleagues working with me as Republicans get the Senate back to work and address the top priorities of the American people.” You can read Crapo’s full announcement here.

Ninety-three of Idaho’s 115 school districts now have supplemental levies, up from 91 a year ago

Ninety-three of Idaho's 115 school districts are now collecting supplemental levies – voter-approved property tax increases designed to supplement thin school budgets – up from 91 districts a year ago, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. It’s a trend that’s been growing since Idaho’s state funding for schools was cut during the economic downturn. Richert reports that during Gov. Butch Otter’s eight years in office thus far, Idahoans have approved more than $1 billion in property taxes to backfill school district budgets; this year’s total dollar amount fell slightly, even as more districts passed levies. Richert’s full report is online here.

Otter files appeal to U.S. Supreme Court in gay marriage case

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has filed a petition appealing the legalization of same-sex marriage in Idaho to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying the state’s case is the “ideal vehicle” to resolve the issue for the nation; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. “The time has come for this court to resolve a question of critical importance to the states, their citizens and especially their children: Whether the federal Constitution prohibits a state from maintaining the traditional understanding and definition of marriage as between a man and a woman,” Otter’s Washington, D.C. attorney, Gene Schaerr, wrote in the 41-page petition.

Otter argues that the high court should take up Idaho’s appeal either in addition to or instead of a 6th Circuit case already pending before the court with a similar petition. “It is important that at least one of the cases this court considers on the merits be a case in which the traditional definition of marriage has been defended with the most robust defense available,” Schaerr wrote. “This is that case.”

Same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15, after the state lost its appeal in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Four lesbian couples – two who wanted to marry, and two who wanted their home state to recognize their legal out-of-state marriages – sued in federal court, and won their case last May. Their attorney, Deborah Ferguson, already has pledged to defend the decision. “The 9th Circuit decided it correctly, and we will vigorously defend the decision,” she said today.

Inaugural festivities set, public invited to Inaugural Ball

The inauguration ceremony for Idaho’s top elected officials is set for next Friday, Jan. 9, starting at noon at the state Capitol. Officials to be sworn in on the Capitol steps are the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state controller, attorney general and superintendent of public instruction. Then, on Saturday night, Jan. 10, the public is invited to the Inaugural Ball, a nonpartisan tradition in Idaho since 1913.

Held in the rotunda of the Capitol, the Inaugural Ball cost $25 a person; it’s not a fundraiser for anything, as it’s financed entirely by ticket sales. This is separate from the political fundraisers that generally are held at other locations the same day. Tickets to the Inaugural Ball are available online here; they’ll also be sold in the garden level of the Capitol all next week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Idaho National Guard’s 25th Army Band will play, and doors will open at 7 p.m. The traditional Grand Procession of elected officials and distinguished guests will begin at 8. At the first ball in Idaho’s newly built Capitol in 1918, a newspaper report at the time described how the procession “wound up and over the spacious staircases … like a many-colored serpent of various hues.” Col. Tim Marsano of the Idaho National Guard, which coordinates the ball, said in a news release, “It is much the same today as it was then.”

The state will open up its Capitol Mall parking lots and garages for free parking for ball attendees, including the new garage at 7th and Washington streets.

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.