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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Constitutional Defense Council votes to pay Navy vet’s legal fees in same-sex burial case

It took less than 5 minutes today for the state’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 – to vote unanimously to pay the state’s latest bill for attorney fees and costs for the other side in a court case the state lost. In this case, it was the case of Madelynn Lee Taylor, a Navy veteran who sued after the state Veterans Cemetery initially refused to allow her to be interred there with the ashes of her late wife, Jean Mixner, citing the state’s then-ban on same-sex marriage.

“This is a legitimate claim against the state,” Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said. “The court has found against the state. It’s a proper expense for the Constitutional Defenses Fund.”

“We went through a legal process, and our case didn’t have as much merit as theirs,” Gov. Butch Otter said after the short meeting. “So we lost the case and they were awarded costs and fees, so we have to pay ‘em.” Asked if this routine is getting familiar – Idaho has had a series of court losses in which it’s been ordered to pay the other sides costs and fees – Otter chuckled ruefully, and said, “We’ve got more of those coming.”

Still in the pipeline is the case that overturned Idaho’s “ag-gag” law, which criminalized surreptitious videotaping of agricultural operations; a federal court held that the law violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Also, Idaho lost a case in the Idaho Supreme Court over Otter’s belated veto of legislation to ban instant racing gambling machines; the court ordered the state to pay the other side’s attorney fees, but the state is now arguing the other side, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, missed a filing deadline so the state shouldn’t have to pay the $95,000 in question.

In the Taylor case, the Constitutional Defense Council today – with House Speaker Scott Bedke missing but all other members present – voted to pay $70,000 in attorney fees to Ferguson Durham of Boise and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, plus interest from the date of judgment at an annual rate of 0.33 percent.

Labrador, Simpson haven’t spoken since dust-up last spring

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson haven’t spoken to each other since the two openly clashed last spring, reports Bill Dentzer of the Idaho Statesman. Dentzer writes that the conflict between the two Idaho representatives showcases the split among Republicans in the House as they consider who should replace John Boehner as speaker; Dentzer’s full story is online here.

The spring clash, over Labrador’s vote against reauthorizing the Secure Rural Schools program as part of a larger bill on Medicare payments, included Simpson saying a congressman would “have to look long and hard to find a reason to vote no” on the bill, and Labrador responding in an interview with Boise State Public Radio that “Mike Simpson has been part of the establishment in Washington D.C. for 12 years,” and “He loves to go out drinking and smoking with the Speaker [John Boehner]. He loves to have these relationships where it’s all about making false promises to his constituents and then going back there to Washington D.C. to compromise.” He then dubbed Simpson a liar.

Simpson’s response to that at the time, through a spokesman: “This isn't the first time Congressman Labrador has uttered this nonsense and I'm sure it won't be the last."

Dentzer’s story includes Labrador’s account of his and four other Freedom Caucus members' meeting with Boehner the day before the speaker announced his resignation, and both congressmen’s takes on the why’s and what-next’s.

Malek navigates Republican politics, Kootenai County-style

Luke Malek is a young lawyer, a North Idaho resident since the second grade with deep ties in the community, and the son of two local physicians. A Republican, he worked for former Sen. Larry Craig and Sen. Mike Crapo, and was recruited by former Gov. Jim Risch to be the state’s first governor’s representative to North Idaho. He comes from a religious family; his brothers are Matthew, Marc and John.

Elected to the state Legislature in 2012, he quickly became a popular and well-respected lawmaker. But he barely squeaked through the GOP primary last year against an unknown newcomer. Welcome to GOP politics in heavily Republican, but still much-divided, Kootenai County.

A recent arrival from California who claimed to be the true conservative came within 180 votes of defeating Malek in the 2014 GOP primary. But just 3,322 people cast ballots in that primary race, in a legislative district with more than 44,000 residents and nearly 22,500 registered voters.

It was Idaho’s second closed Republican primary election for the Legislature, when only those who registered as Republicans could participate. Previously, Idahoans hadn’t had to register by party, and many take pleasure in calling themselves independents. The month of the primary election, nearly 14,000 of the district’s registered voters were registered as “unaffiliated” with any party – meaning they couldn’t vote in the GOP race. Only 6,407 had registered as Republicans, and nearly half of those didn't vote.

That leaves a small group making the call in the primary, with little competition in Idaho’s general elections. After winning the primary, Malek was unopposed in the November 2014 general election and received more than 8,700 votes. Currently, statewide, 49.5 percent of Idaho’s 736,212 registered voters are registered as unaffiliated with any party.

Jasper LiCalzi, a professor of political economy at the College of Idaho, said in heavily GOP-dominated Idaho – where every statewide elected office and 80 percent of the seats in the Legislature are held by Republicans – “the problem is not enough people who identify, really, by their voting record as Republicans register as Republicans.”

Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger, a lifelong Republican and former city councilman who backs Malek, called it “comical” that anyone would question Malek’s GOP pedigree. “He’s got a pretty long history of being a staunch Republican,” Wolfinger said. You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

‘Idaho Reports’ is back; season starts tonight at 8

“Idaho Reports” is back. The program on Idaho Public TV starts its season tonight; it’ll feature a report on Clean Water Act litigation, plus I’ll join Jim Weatherby, Ben Ysursa, and co-hosts Aaron Kunz and Melissa Davlin to discuss recent developments in Idaho, including the Idaho Supreme Court’s instant racing veto decision; open meeting questions; and tax reform. There’s also a “web extra” with the pundits panel continuing our discussion, from lawsuits to public defense reform.

The show airs at 8 tonight; after it airs, you can watch it here online any time. It also re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 Pacific.

Rubio campaign taps state Controller Woolf as Idaho chair; Kasich campaign taps Hagedorn

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio on Wednesday selected Idaho State Controller Brandon Woolf to serve as state chairman for the campaign. Woolf says the Florida senator has a conservative vision that is needed in America and admires the Republican's leadership. Rubio is among more than a dozen Republicans seeking the party's nomination. The candidate made a campaign stop in Idaho earlier this year, and has been named a favorite of Idaho's mega-donor Frank VanderSloot. Idaho recently moved up its presidential primary election to March 8, with the hopes of making its 32 GOP delegates more relevant in the upcoming election.

Last week, the John Kasich presidential campaign named its Idaho campaign co-chairman: Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian. Hagedorn is a second-term state senator who served three terms in the House; he’s retired from the U.S. Navy. Kasich is the governor of Ohio.

Boehner announces resignation as speaker, a day after meeting with Labrador, other dissidents over gov’t shutdown

Big news from Washington, D.C. today, as House Speaker John Boehner announces he’ll both step down as speaker and resign from Congress at the end of October. A Boehner aide told NBC News that the speaker "believes putting members through prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution. He is proud of what this majority has accomplished, and his speakership, but for the good of the Republican Conference and the institution, he will resign the speakership and his seat in Congress, effective October 30.”

Boehner met with five members of the House Freedom Caucus, a conservative group, including Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador on Thursday afternoon, according to Politico, as the dissidents pushed for a government shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood. Politico reported last night, “Upon leaving the meeting, none of the dissidents would commit to trying to overthrow Boehner or comment directly on what was said during the session in the speaker's office. But the Freedom Caucus held two private meetings on Thursday, according to a source, and a number of members of the group are openly discussing the need to replace Boehner.”

Shortly after 10:30 a.m. today, Labrador issued this statement:

“Though I differed with Speaker Boehner on the pace of reform, I respect and admire him. He served Ohio and the House with distinction and grace. I wish him the very best. As for succession, today is not the day for such talk. But I am committed to supporting leaders who will keep our promise to the American people to fight for real change in Washington.”

Here is a statement from 2nd District Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, who has been an ally of Boehner:

“First, I cannot say strongly enough my gratitude for Speaker Boehner's leadership over the past five years.  Facing challenges that often seemed insurmountable, he has consistently acted with integrity and in the best interest of this nation.  I am confident that history will look kindly on John Boehner's speakership.

“Leadership on the national stage looks appealing to many, but those who step into his shoes do not have an enviable task ahead.  Good leadership requires wisdom, humility, a willingness to listen to those who might have a different perspective, and the courage to do the right thing. This is especially difficult when you are leading a fractious party and divided nation, but this is how Speaker Boehner led.  I wish my friend well as he finishes his work here and moves on.”

Idaho Reports host Melissa Davlin notes that that IR interviewed Labrador earlier this month in his Washington, D.C. office, and he dropped hints about trying to force out Boehner, whom he has both voted against and for as speaker. “I voted against him two years ago and I voted for him this time because he made me a promise that he was going to change,” Labrador told IR’s Aaron Kunz. “Well, that promise has not been kept.”

“I was giving him a chance, because we had a new House, a new Senate, we had the largest majorities we had ever had in a generation or more, and I thought that things would change now that we have a Senate majority,” Labrador said. “I think things are worse. What needs to change is either they change as a leadership team or we need to change the leadership team. And that’s what this month is really about, this next month of September.”

Davlin’s full blog post is online here, along with an excerpt from the Labrador interview; the full interview will be featured on the upcoming season of Idaho Reports, which starts airing Oct. 2.

Constitution Party hopes to entice its presidential hopefuls to campaign in Idaho

The Constitution Party of Idaho says it’s hoping to have multiple candidates competing in Idaho’s March presidential primary, and already has seen one of its party’s hopefuls, the Rev. Scott Copeland of Weatherford, Texas, come to Idaho to campaign, making a swing from Coeur d’Alene to Twin Falls in May. “Several other candidates have expressed interest,” said state party Chairman Floyd Whitley of Coeur d’Alene, though none of them have yet visited the Gem State to campaign.

Whitley said the Constitution Party has more than 2,000 registered voters in Idaho. The winner of its presidential primary will get all of Idaho’s delegates to the national Constitution Party convention in Salt Lake City in April of 2016. However, it’s the party’s state convention that certifies the national ticket to the Idaho Secretary of State for placement on the November 2016 ballot. That means the Constitution Party of Idaho “will not necessarily be bound to a presidential nominee of the national party, should that nominee elect NOT to participate in the March 8, 2016 Idaho Presidential Primary,” Whitley said.

If that’s not enough incentive to get the party’s presidential hopefuls to compete in Idaho, Whitley said the party also is hoping to organize a Constitution Party presidential debate in Boise in February of 2016. The deadline for candidates to file in Idaho is Dec. 9. If only one candidate files – and there’s a $1,000 filing fee – there won’t be a primary, and that candidate will be declared the party's primary winner.

In 2012, Constitution Party candidate Virgil H. Goode received 2,222 votes in Idaho, placing last among the six candidates on the ballot with 0.3 percent of the vote. Republican Mitt Romney was the Idaho winner, with 64.5 percent of the vote; Democratic President Barack Obama received 32.6 percent; Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson got 1.4 percent; and Goode and two independents each had less than 1 percent.

Of parties, delegate selection, and the March 8 primary…

When the Idaho Republican Party holds its presidential primary election on March 8, it’ll determine how the state’s 32 delegates to the Republican National Convention are apportioned, and it’s not as simple as just proportional or winner-take-all. That’s because national GOP rules require that if a state party does its selection process – whether by primary election, caucus or convention – between March 1 and March 15, its delegates must be apportioned proportionally based on the results, but with two optional exceptions, a “floor” and a “ceiling.”

The Idaho Republican Party has opted for both, and chosen a 20 percent floor and 50 percent-plus-one ceiling. That means any GOP presidential candidate who gets less than 20 percent of the vote in the primary won’t get any of Idaho’s delegates. And if one candidate gets 50 percent plus one or more – a majority – that candidate will get all of the state’s 32 delegates. If no candidate gets a majority, the delegates will be divided proportionally, based on the votes for all candidates who get 20 percent or more.

Dave Johnston, Idaho GOP executive director, said the party first went to a caucus selection system in order to move up the timing in the spring, so the outcome wouldn’t already be determined based on other states. Then, it became concerned that caucuses limited participation, so it pushed for the new March 8 primary. “I think this move to a presidential primary is a win-win-win,” Johnston said. “We’re being an active player in the presidential nomination process. … We’ve already had two candidates visit Idaho, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we have more.”

The March 8 primary is solely for presidential selection. At this point, two parties have notified the Idaho Secretary of State’s office that they plan to participate: The Idaho Republican Party, and the Constitution Party. Parties have until November to give that notification. Tim Hurst, chief deputy Secretary of State, noted that to appear on the presidential primary ballot, a party must have more than one candidate file; candidates have until Dec. 9 to file, and there’s a $1,000 filing fee. If just one Constitution Party candidate files, that party won’t be on the primary ballot and the candidate will be declared its nominee.

The Idaho Democratic Party will hold caucuses for its presidential selection. All other federal, state, and local primary election races will be part of Idaho’s regular primary election, which is scheduled for May 17, 2016.

New study finds big gender imbalance on Idaho boards, commissions

A new BSU study of state, county and city board appointments shows that only about a third of the appointees are women, while two-thirds are men. The study, which examined nearly 5,000 appointments in Idaho, was presented at last week’s Andrus Center for Public Policy Women and Leadership Conference.

“The pattern is consistent at the state, county and city levels,” the study found. “At the state level, 30.8 percent of appointees were women, compared to 69.2 percent for men.” At the county level, 34.4 percent of appointees were women, while 65.5 percent were men. At Idaho cities, 38.3 percent of appointments went to women, while men received 61.7 percent.

Further, the study found “evidence of gender sorting on board appointments.” That means that women were disproportionately appointed to boards with functions traditionally classified as “feminine,” including those related to children and family, education, health, arts and culture. Women received 51.1 percent of appointments to state boards with functions classified as feminine, but only 15.8 percent of appointments to boards with functions classified as masculine, including commerce, finance, economy, environment, energy, natural resources, science and technology.

BSU professors Jaclyn Kettler and Justin Vaughn conducted the research. They created a protocol for classification of the gendered nature of each drawn from existing scholarly studies of gender and bureaucracy. Boards were classified as masculine, feminine or neutral, with issues including housing, planning and regulation categorized as neutral. The two professors have published an article here in BSU’s Blue Review on their research and findings.

Idaho Dems release delegate selection plan for 2016 presidential race

The Idaho Democratic Party has released its delegate selection plan for the 2016 presidential election; Idaho Democrats will elect 384 delegates to their state convention at county caucuses around the state on March 22, based on their presidential preference, and then the state convention in June will elect 24 delegates to the national Democratic Party convention in Philadelphia. An array of complex rules governs the delegates, and presidential candidates have  approval over the national delegates who will head to Philadelphia pledged to support them; the delegates will be apportioned based on the results of the county caucuses, with a 15 percent threshold - candidates who get less than 15 percent support won't be assigned delegates.  Delegates must cover all their own costs to attend the conventions, and qualify for specific delegate categories. There’s more info here.

The Idaho Republican Party will skip caucuses this year, and instead apportion its presidential delegates based on a presidential primary election on March 8. 

Ybarra: ‘Failure is just a stepping stone on our path to success’

Idaho state schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra has sent a guest opinion out to Idaho newspapers warning that as the state moves toward “mastery based education,” one of the recommendations of Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force, education will become more personalized for Idaho students, but the process may be “messy and chaotic, and there will be failures and misfortunes that we will need to learn from, in order for our educational system to get better.”

“We have been so centered on ‘not failing’ that we haven’t been aiming for success!” Ybarra writes. She recalls that in her classroom, she used to have a poster on the wall saying, “This is a mistake-making place.” The idea was that success isn’t always immediate, and students need to develop strategies to work through mistakes and move beyond them. Writes Ybarra, “Failure is just a stepping stone on our path to success!” You can read her full guest opinion here.

GOP presidential candidates court Idaho’s mega-donor

Frank VanderSloot, eastern Idaho businessman and one of the GOP’s wealthiest donors, is being courted by GOP presidential candidates eager to benefit from VanderSloot’s fundraising reputation, which he brought to bear as a critical fundraiser for Mitt Romney in the last presidential race, the AP reports. "It was surely a lot easier four years ago," VanderSloot told The Associated Press. "There was a clear front runner to get behind. Romney was head and shoulders above the rest of the field … I surely have who I think will be the best president in my mind. But the question is, can they get elected? If they can't get elected, you're just wasting your time, aren't you?"

"You're looking at a major player in GOP politics. He has tremendous ability to exert influence," said David Adler, former director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. "He can lift someone from the middle of the pack and put them out in front."

VanderSloot told AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi that five candidates out of the crowded Republican field have caught his eye, including his favorites Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former H-P CEO Carly Fiorina. Also on his short list is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whom VanderSloot praised for being articulate and having the resources to raise campaign dollars. And while he believes the hype surrounding Donald Trump will eventually fade, VanderSloot said he likes the businessman's ability to resonate with the public by kicking political correctness to the wind. "(Trump) is such a breath of fresh air. But it's not about what he's done, what's his motive? He's always been it if for Trump and he will always be in it for Trump first," VanderSloot said.

Though VanderSloot hosted a regional GOP BBQ at his ranch last month that featured presidential hopeful Rand Paul, who was making his fourth stop in Idaho in a week, he said Paul’s not among his favorites. "If Paul wins the nomination, we'll see a Democrat in the White House," said VanderSloot. "He is far down on our list." You can read Kruesi’s full report here.

Group amends cigarette-tax hike initiative to add tobacco-cessation funding, in addition to tuition cut

Backers of an initiative to raise cigarette taxes while cutting Idaho state college and university tuition and fees have announced a change in their proposal: They’re lowering the tuition cut from 25 percent over two years to 22 percent, and devoting a portion of the funds that the higher cigarette tax would raise – roughly $6.5 million – to tobacco cessation programs.  That would more than double the state’s investment in tobacco cessation, said William Moran, a Boise political consultant who’s working on the initiative.

Moran said the group, dubbed StopTuitionHikes.com, heard from supporters that the measure needed to provide funds for tobacco cessation too, so it made the change. The measure would raise Idaho’s 57 cent per pack cigarette tax by $1.50; Idaho’s tax now is 43rd among states, which average $1.60 per pack. It’s also the lowest among surrounding states, with Washington at $3.025 per pack; Utah at $1.70; and Oregon at $1.31.

The group says that Idaho’s growing health care costs to deal with tobacco-related illnesses are cutting into funds available for higher education, forcing tuition increases. “Students are subsidizing Big Tobacco,” the group said in a statement. “Every year, higher education is first on the chopping block to accommodate increased medical spending made necessary by tobacco related illness.”

According to the state Board of Education, Idaho’s public college tuition and fees rose 80 percent from 2004 to 2013. Meanwhile, the share of the state budget going to colleges and universities has dropped from 13.5 percent in 1994 to 8.6 percent in 2015. Tuition and fees covered 7.2 percent of the cost of an Idaho public college education in 1980; it’s 47 percent today.

For the group’s initiative to qualify for the 2016 ballot, it must gather more than 47,000 Idaho voters’ signatures, including at least 6 percent of voters in each of 18 legislative districts. The 18-districts requirement passed in 2013; no initiatives have qualified for the ballot since.

The group is planning to start the process by filing the proposed initiative with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office by the end of this week; it had planned to file it today, but postponed that for a final review of the changes in its wording. The group still will hold a rally on the state Capitol steps from 5-6 p.m. today. Once the initiative is filed, it’ll be subject to a review by the Attorney General; then, the group would have until April 30 to gather the required signatures.

Review of 2014 Idaho campaign contributions shows Idaho Power, Melaleuca, Club for Growth at top

Idaho Power was the top corporate contributor to Idaho political campaigns in 2014, according to a review of campaign finance records in Idaho races from state Legislature up through Congress by Idaho Statesman reporter Bill Dentzer. Corporate campaign contributions for the year were dominated by interests in agriculture, energy and natural resources, and financial service-related companies including insurers and real estate, he found, with combined giving from those sectors accounting for more than one-third of all business giving.

Those sectors represented $3.4 million of the total $9.4 million donated by businesses and organized groups. Individuals gave $11.3 million, contributions under $50 added another $1.1 million, and the total came to $21.8 million. Of that, $7.2 million came from interests outside Idaho.

Dentzer reports that Idaho Power gave nearly $133,000 to candidates statewide, followed by Melaleuca, the Idaho Falls-based direct retail sales company, at just more than $111,000. Coming in third was the Club for Growth, the Washington, D.C.-based conservative policy group whose entire contribution of $109,000 went to one candidate, Bryan Smith, who lost in a Republican primary against U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson. Partisan giving by corporate interests ran nearly 12 to 1 in favor of Republican candidates and causes.

If it seems surprising that individual contributions were higher than corporate ones in total, there’s a reason: A.J. Balukoff. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate gave $3.6 million to his unsuccessful campaign in 2014. Dentzer’s full report is online here.

IFF files lawsuit against Boise schools, decries ‘greedy union bosses’

Wayne Hoffman, head of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, announced today that his group has filed a lawsuit against the Boise School District, raising constitutional questions about the district’s contract with its local teachers association because it allows paid leave for members who are delegates to attend Idaho Education Association conferences and covers $35,932 toward the salary and benefits of the association president, a teacher who takes leave to fulfill association duties.

“This lawsuit is intended to defend students and taxpayers from greedy union bosses who have figured out how to pull money and resources out of Idaho’s classrooms in order to feather their own nests,” Hoffman declared at a press conference he called on the Statehouse steps, which he touted in a media advisory as announcing a “new effort to ensure education dollars are appropriately spent in schools.” The complaint, filed Saturday in 4th District Court in Boise, is online here.

Boise School District spokesman Dan Hollar sent out this statement in response: “The Boise School District Administration and Board of Trustees do not comment about pending litigation. However, it’s important for people to remember that for the last 20 years Boise School District has benefited from a longstanding collaborative relationship with the Boise Education Association. This partnership continues to foster a culture of respect and teamwork in the district where our professional educators are valued for their work in ensuring our community’s students are provided every opportunity to succeed in college, career and citizenship. It is due to this positive ongoing working relationship that Boise School District is highly regarded in our state and nation as a high performing comprehensive public school system.”

Ybarra proposes 7.5 % increase for schools budget

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's public schools chief is seeking a 7.5 percent increase in education spending for 2016, revealing her own budget proposal for the first time since taking office. Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra released her plan Wednesday. In it, Idaho's public school funding would bump up nearly $110.4 million more than what lawmakers allocated this year. Ybarra raised eyebrows earlier this year while giving an unusually short budget presentation in front of lawmakers. At the time, Ybarra countered that she had been asked to defend a budget penned by her predecessor Tom Luna, but moving forward would be different because she would be in control of writing her own budget plan. The proposal now goes before Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, legislative leadership and other stakeholders for review.

Idaho Education News reporters Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin have a look at the new budget proposal here; they report that Ybarra wants to bring operational funds per classroom back up to 2009 levels of $25,696; allocate another $98.1 million to cover the next phase of Idaho's new phased-in teacher career ladder salary plan; add a new $5 million literacy proficiency program; and increase technology funding by $2 million. Ybarra told the EdNews reporters that the restoration of operational funds to school districts after Idaho went through deep budget cuts was a priority. “During my listening tour, and as I travel the state, that was the No. 1 concern,” she said. “Again, remember that was 2009 and this is 2015 and going into 2016, so it’s a step in the right direction.”

Labrador says after reviewing it, he’ll oppose Iran nuke deal

Idaho 1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador announced today that he’ll oppose the nuclear agreement that President Obama negotiated with Iran. In mid-July, when the deal first was announced, Idaho Sen. Jim Risch immediately came out against it, calling it “horribly flawed,” while Labrador, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson expressed deep skepticism, but said they’d scrutinize it. Meanwhile, 75 former members of Congress, including former Idaho Democratic Reps. Larry LaRocco, Walt Minnick and Richard Stallings, along with a handful of Republicans, have signed a letter backing the deal; you can read it here. Here’s Labrador’s full statement:

“I was initially skeptical of the nuclear talks because Iran has long proven unworthy of our trust. But I kept an open mind because diplomacy is an important tool to prevent global conflicts. Having carefully studied President Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran, I will vote against the agreement because it threatens our national security and clears the way for a rogue nation to secretly develop nuclear weapons. It would free about $120 billion in frozen assets that the Obama Administration admits could be used by the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism to finance more attacks on innocents.

 “The Administration’s interest in a foreign policy legacy has produced a misbegotten deal that escalates risk. The one-sided document is riddled with loopholes, including a 24-day delay before inspectors may access undeclared nuclear sites. The recent revelation of a secret side deal allowing Iran to conduct its own inspections of the military site at Parchin is proof that the U.S. is placing far too much trust in one of history’s most dubious and dangerous regimes.

 “The agreement fails to make the world safer. Instead, it gives Iran access to sophisticated nuclear technology that could allow advancement of a weapons program, lifts bans on Iran’s import and export of conventional weapons and development of ballistic missiles, and risks stimulating a Middle East arms race. It also lifts sanctions on Iranians responsible for killing Americans.

 “We must not invest our confidence in a country that continues to wrongfully imprison Americans, including Boise Pastor Saeed Abedini. Congress should reject this risky deal, continue sanctions, keep all our options on the table and encourage the President to resume negotiations on a stronger agreement.”

Rand Paul makes his pitch to Idaho, Idaho GOP hopes it’s first of many

With Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s GOP presidential campaign hitting Coeur d’Alene, Boise, Nampa and Idaho Falls this week, Idaho GOP Chairman Stephen Yates says Idaho Republicans are getting more chance now to view the candidates. “That’s absolutely welcome,” Yates said. “We think having an early primary helped get several of the campaigns to look again at Idaho, and we hope to welcome more candidates to come.”

The Idaho GOP this year moved to a March 8 early presidential primary, rather than its previous caucus system.

Paul’s “Stand With Rand” rallies reportedly drew 500 people in Coeur d’Alene; 300 in Boise; and several hundred in Nampa, where the room had originally only been set up with 122 chairs. The Idaho Press-Tribune reports that staffers rushed to set up more chairs when crowds began arriving, and opened up the temporary walls of the room in the Nampa Civic Center where the rally was set.

“Sen. Paul will have the distinction of being the first candidate in the 2016 cycle to really hit all three of the major regions of our state,” Yates said. “Four events in Idaho in 24 hours – that’s pretty good exposure for a presidential candidate to our state’s varied geographies and interests. Hopefully it sets the bar that other candidates will want to match.”

Paul’s dad, former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, came in third in Idaho’s GOP presidential caucuses in 2012, with Mitt Romney first and Rick Santorum narrowly edging Paul for second. In Idaho’s non-binding 2008 GOP presidential primary – the caucuses were binding - Ron Paul got 23.7 percent to John McCain’s 69.7 percent.

“I think Idaho is fertile ground for a Rand Paul candidacy,” Idaho 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador told reporters after Paul’s Boise rally, as he and Paul took questions from the media. “I think the people of Idaho are conservative, ‘libertarian-ish,’ as he considers himself.” Labrador, western states chairman for Paul’s campaign, is traveling through all five western states with Paul for his series of campaign rallies, which included Idaho, Washington, Alaska, Utah and Wyoming.

Paul, for his part, said his swing through western states including Idaho shows “we’re in it for the long distance,” saying, “We want to be able to compete in all 50 primaries.” He dismissed polls that show him in the low single digits among the 17 major GOP candidates for president, saying that two-thirds of voters haven’t decided. “They’re very soft polls, and they’re very movable,” Paul said, noting some that show him doing well head-to-head against Hillary Clinton in certain states.

“I think people are very independent-minded out here,” Paul said. “They came here to get away from big government, they came here for religious liberty, and that’s what I’m about.” He said he’s for “small government in Washington and a lot more local control.”

Labrador said, “The most electable is usually supposed to be the moderate.” But, he said of Paul, “He’s the most electable, he’s the one that can actually reach to new audiences in the Republican Party.”

Said Paul, “The thing is, I’m as fiscally conservative as they come. … I’m for lowering taxes, I’m for all the traditional things that conservative people are for. … But I’m also somebody who believes in the right to privacy, and I don’t believe that the NSA should be collecting all our phone records.” He said that stand appeals not only to “many of us conservatives,” but also to young college students who do everything on their cell phones, to people “who have a sense of justice” and more.

“That brings in new people,” he said. He also pointed to his foreign policy positions, which are skeptical of overseas intervention and war. “That foreign policy belief also attracts a lot of independents,” Paul said. “Some people say there’s a third of the public that is no longer Republican or Democrat. Many of those people I will appeal to. So I think I can appeal to traditional Republicans because I’m a rock-solid conservative, and I think also because I’m an independent on some of these liberty issues, it brings in new people and allows me to be an election-winnable candidate.”

Rand Paul: ‘We want a government that minds its own business’

Rand Paul told a crowd of just over 300 at Boise State University today that at a recent barbecue, the guy ahead of him was taking two plates of food, so he advised him he wasn’t going to live long eating like that. “He said well, my granddad lived to 105,” Paul said. Paul said he responded that he didn’t live to 105 eating like that. “He said, ‘No, he lived to be 105 by minding his own business.’”

Amid laughter, Paul said, “Sometimes I think we could sum up our political philosophy by saying we want a government that minds its own business.”

He said, “We want to be left alone, because we want to be more free. … But it also turns out there’s a great side benefit, prosperity.” Paul said, “I believe in your right to be left alone,” and he said that’s grounded in the U.S. Constitution.

Among his biggest applause lines came when he talked about the onerousness of the federal tax code, and said, “Let’s scrap the whole damn thing and start over.” People should be able to file their taxes on a simple card, he said. Companies would flock to the United States if the taxes and regulations were less onerous, he said.

Paul said what “President Obama is doing to this country” is “the collapse of the separation of powers.” He said, “It’s been going the wrong way.”

Said Paul, "What the Constitution is about is not binding you, it's about binding and restraining" the power of government. He added, amid light laughter, "This isn't about blather from some reality TV star. This is about the fight to retain the power in the people. … Whether you believe that Washington creates jobs, or that Boise creates jobs. … The question you have to have is do you want more money left in Boise, or do you want it sent to Washington?"

"I want to make government smaller," Paul declared. "Do you want your government to be smaller?" The audience responded with cheers and applause. 

Paul said any Republican will win Idaho. “That’s great, we love you,” he said. “But we’ve got to talk about how do we win Illinois.” Republican politicians, he said, have been saying “we need to dilute what we stand for … and if we were Democrat-lite we could win again. I say hogwash. That’s not what we need. What we need is to be boldly for what we are for.” He said, “I don’t want to be the party of the less bad. … I want to be the party that says we’re going to grow the economy gangbusters by cutting taxes dramatically , balancing the budget and making government smaller again.”

He spoke at length about foreign policy, saying, “Why don’t we start not giving any money or any arms to countries that hate us?” He said, “The great irony is that we’ll be back to fight against our own weapons,” and told the crowd, “If you want more war or if you want to be back in the Middle East, you’re looking at the wrong guy.” Paul said like Ronald Reagan, he believes in “peace through strength.”

He took several jabs at Donald Trump, saying Trump wanted a parking lot for his casino, so he got the government to condemn and take a woman’s house. “He’s a guy that has been on the wrong side of every issue” for the past 40 years, Paul said.

He also said Republicans are good at supporting the 2nd Amendment, but they need to support all the amendments. “You can be a minority because of the color of your skin or the shade of your ideology,” he said. “You can be a minority for a lot of different reasons.” The answer, he said, is “you separate that power. … You want to have the checks and balances.”

He said, “If we defend the 6th Amendment with the same passion that we defend the 2nd Amendment, you know what? We’re going to rock and roll to victory, and we’re going to be the dominant party. That’s the party that I want to be a part of.” The 6th Amendment deals with criminal prosecutions, guaranteeing the rights to a speedy, public and fair trial.

Labrador: Paul will be consistent, unlike others

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador told today’s “Stand With Rand” rally that many promising candidates have been elected to Congress. “The dirty little secret is when they got to Washington, D.C., they forgot the promises they made to their constituents,” he said. “Sadly, I saw that happen before my eyes within a day or two days of people being in Washington, D.C.”

He said Rand Paul, by contrast, is consistent.  “You know that he’ll be consistent, that he will be true to his word and that he will do everything that he’s saying that he’s going to do when he becomes the next president of the United States.”