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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Ada County sets marriage license record: 45 today, all to same-sex couples

As of the close of business today at 5 p.m., Ada County had set a record for marriage license issuance, issuing 45 licenses, all of them to same-sex couples. That's according to Chief Deputy County Clerk Phil McGrane, who said, "This is the most licenses Ada County has issued in a single day."

Here, in this AP photo, Guy Wordelman, left, marries James Wordelman outside the courthouse this morning, with Pastor Renee McCall officiating.

9th Circuit issues published opinion on legal reasons for lifting of stay; that now can be cited in other cases

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a published opinion today, detailing its legal reasoning for lifting a stay and putting into effect its order legalizing same-sex marriage in Idaho. “We decline to deny the plaintiffs their constitutional rights any longer,” the unanimous three-judge panel of the court wrote in the nine-page opinion. They also went through the arguments Gov. Butch Otter offered in earlier legal filings opposing the lifting of the stay, and rejected all of them. “Governor Otter can no longer meet the test for the grant or continuation of a stay,” the court wrote.

It also noted that the full U.S. Supreme Court also ruled against Otter’s bid for a continued stay to prevent same-sex marriages from starting in Idaho. “Because the Supreme Court has thus rejected the argument that a stay was necessary … we decline to second-guess that decision,” the court wrote.  It noted that same-sex marriage is now legal 33 states plus the District of Columbia. “This figure includes Idaho and Alaska,” the court wrote.

The 9th Circuit judges also wrote that they nevertheless granted the state an additional opportunity to file an emergency stay request with the Supreme Court by making the lifting of the stay effective today, rather than yesterday, “even though we see no possible basis for a stay.” No additional stay was sought.

Todd Dvorak, spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said, “We’ll analyze it and use that as part of our decision-making process going forward.”

Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the four couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on gay marriage, said, “It makes public their reasoning for lifting the stay, and so that’s, I think, very helpful. I’m very glad they did that.” She noted that as a published opinion, the court’s opinion now can be cited in other cases. You can read it here.

Libertarian candidate for governor says if elected, he’d likely seek a 2nd term as a Republican

John Bujak, the Libertarian candidate for governor, told the Spokesman-Review’s editorial board today that if he’s elected and then runs for a second term, “I will likely run for a second term as a Republican, and I think it will heal the Republican Party.” Bujak said, “My whole life I’ve been a Republican. And I think if you were to ask me where are you on the scale, I’m a Liberty Caucus Republican, I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m running as a Libertarian this time, and I do believe in the platform of the Libertarian Party. I don’t go so far down the road that I think we need to demolish all regulation. I think there are limits that need to be imposed.”

Bujak was elected Canyon County prosecutor as a Republican, before he resigned amid legal issues and charges that led to multiple acquittals. He’s been campaigning against the “good old boy system” that he says he found infected Idaho Republican Party politics. “I understand that Republicans tend to come out and check the ‘R,’” Bujak said. “I’m going to ask them to vote on their principles, because without those principles, there can be no Republican Party in Idaho.”

Idaho same-sex couples rejoice as marriages begin

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the advent of same-sex marriage in Idaho this morning, which drew a crowd of couples and hundreds of their supporters to the Ada County Courthouse for marriage licenses. In just under half an hour, Ada County issued 19 licenses. Wedding ceremonies followed on the courthouse steps, complete with ministers, flowers, cake, and hundreds of well-wishers.

Minister: ‘By power vested by state of Idaho, I now pronounce you wife and wife’

Numerous wedding ceremonies were performed on the Ada County Courthouse steps this morning after same-sex couples received their long-awaited marriage licenses. At the close of one of them, as two men were being married by another minister nearby, Presbyterian minister Marci Glass said, "By the power vested in me by the state of Idaho, I now pronounce you wife and wife." The two brides hugged, and the crowd cheered.

A few blocks away at Boise City Hall, acting Mayor Maryanne Jordan officiated inside the council chambers in weddings including those for two of the couples who sued to overturn Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage. A big windstorm has now blown into Boise, pushing festivities inside. 

At least a dozen licenses issued in first 20 minutes in Ada County…

In the first 20 minutes that marriage licenses could be legally issued to same-sex couples in Ada County, county Clerk Chris Rich estimated that more than a dozen have been issued. "I would say we've done at least 12 to 15," he said. Things have gone smoothly thus far, Rich said. "We had a paper jam, and one machine was low on toner, even though we tested all the machines yesterday," he said ruefully, but that was quickly fixed. "Everybody knew they needed to have cash" for the $30 fee.

For now, Ada County's marriage license forms have been altered to offer applicants two choices: Bride and groom, as before, and "spouse and spouse." That may differ in other counties, Rich said. He said eventually there may be more options, such as bride and bride, groom and groom, or no specification.

Pictured above, Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer watch as their license is issued, the first one in Ada County. 

First Ada County licenses issued to two plaintiff couples from Idaho’s same-sex marriage case

There was a loud countdown and then a cheer from the crowd as the 10 o'clock hour arrived at the Ada County Courthouse this morning, where dozens of same-sex couples and hundreds of their supporters are gathered to celebrate the start of legal same-sex marriage in Idaho. Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer, shown above with son Bridger, and Amber and Rachael Beierlie, who were at the next station at the marriage license counter, were the first to receive licenses. They're among four Idaho couples who sued successfully to overturn Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage; the other two couples already were legally married in other states, and sought recognition of their marriages.

Deborah Ferguson, the women's attorney, said, "We're thrilled - the day has come, it's actually here." Both couples are headed over to Boise City Hall immediately after receiving their marriage licenses, she said, where they'll be married by Acting Mayor Maryanne Jordan. "There's been enough twists and turns here," Ferguson said. "They've waited a long time - they're ready."

Big crowd awaits marriage licenses at Ada County courthouse…

There's a big crowd both inside and outside the Ada County Courthouse this morning for the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, which starts at 10 a.m….

Guv debate closes with candidates mixing it up…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on tonight’s debate between GOP Gov. Butch Otter, Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff and Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey. After their closing statements at tonight’s KTVB debate in Nampa, there was a little extra time, so the candidates got in a few extra digs. Otter said of Balukoff, “If you went to his original website, it’s much, much different than his website today. In his website he says we need to have a statewide property tax so that we have a sustainable tax for our school system in our state, similar to Montana.” Balukoff interjected, “I have never said that, and in fact you should know, Governor,  that the Idaho Constitution prohibits a statewide property tax.”

Otter retorted, “It also defines marriage as between one man and one woman.” That prompted Pankey to blurt, “Do I need to separate the two of you?”

Perhaps the biggest news out of tonight’s debate: Otter pledging to continue fighting same-sex marriage, though he issued a statement earlier today saying, “We have done all we can through the courts for now to defend traditional marriage in Idaho.” Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage has been overturned in court and the state’s appeals have failed; same-sex couples can begin legally receiving marriage licenses in the state Wednesday morning.

Otter on running for 4th term: ‘If I did, I’d be running as a bachelor, my wife told me’

Panelist Jim Weatherby asked Gov. Butch Otter about the Idaho Statesman’s endorsement of Otter, which said that a third term for Otter would be his last. “Along with the endorsement, they got that right too,” Otter said, indicating he won’t run for a fourth term. “If I did, I’d be running as a bachelor, my wife told me.”

Three candidates for governor agree: Idaho schools are underfunded

Here are the three candidates’ answers when they were asked if Idaho’s schools are underfunded:

A.J. Balukoff: “It is underfunded.” He said the state is not meeting its constitutional mandate to provide for a "general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools."

Butch Otter: “I would say it could use some more funding, but I don’t think you can just throw money at a problem and expect to have the great results that A.J. is talking about.”

Steve Pankey: “Yes, they are underfunded.”

Otter then said the Boise schools - where Balukoff has been school board president for the past six years and on the board for 17 years - got a "special little deal" in 2006 to give them more funding. Balukoff denied it; he said as a charter school district, created 10 years before statehood, the Boise School District has additional taxing authority. "We’ve made good use of those additional funds," Balukoff said. "Our student achievement is the highest in the state. That’s because we have money to support the curriculum that we need."

Otter responded, “We can’t borrow money like they do in Washington, D.C. … If A.J.’s schools are doing so good, if he wants uniform schools across the state, then give some of that money you’re getting form the state to some of those rural districts that aren’t doing as good as you.”

Otter on same-sex marriage: ‘I don’t think it’s over with’

Asked about same-sex marriage, GOP Gov. Butch Otter, on tonight’s KTVB debate, said, “I don’t think it’s over with.” He said Louisiana’s case is still pending. “I’m not going to give up on it,” he said. “The voters passed that.”

Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey said, “Same-sex marriage yes, decadence no. … This is just about decency. Gov. Otter is frozen in time in 2006. Frankly, I think the people of Idaho have moved along.”

Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff said, “Governor, we have a pesky document called the United States Constitution. … This has never been about defending traditional marriage or defending the Idaho Constitution, it’s about obeying the United States Constitution, which holds supremacy over anything the voters vote for in this state or in any other. … When someone’s behavior offends our beliefs, we do not have the right to discriminate against them. … I think it was foolish to waste money to fight the United States Constitution.”

Candidates for governor on why to watch debate instead of prime-time entertainment…

“Back at Channel 7, our phones have been ringing off the hook,” moderator Dee Sarton told gubernatorial candidates Steve Pankey, A.J. Balukoff and Butch Otter tonight at the opening of KTVB’s gubernatorial debate. “Folks are a little disappointed … their favorite programming in prime time was not on.” She urged the candidates, in their opening comments, to “address the folks … why they should listen to you instead of turning over to prime time TV.”

None took the bait. Pankey closed his statement with this: “May God richly bless channel 7 and may God richly bless the state of Idaho.”

Balukoff cited statistics about Idaho’s schools and economy suffering. “Friends, we can do better,” he said. “I will create an economy where people can afford to support a family. We simply must change and we must do it now. That is why I am running for governor.”

Otter opened with this: “Dee, you promised us no commercials – I just heard a pretty good commercial there.” He urged viewers to “go beyond what you hear tonight and research each of these candidates.” He said he led the state through a tough recession. “We have had a tough time, but we came through it because we worked together,” Otter said.

Then, at the end of his response to the next question – about why people should vote this time around – Balukoff added this comment: “I think you can record and watch ‘The Voice’ later.”

Pankey then took it one step further.  “’The Voice’ may be fun and games and it may be great and it may be really entertaining, however your responsibility is to become an informed voter. John Wayne said life is tough and it’s even tougher if you’re stupid. And you need to be an informed voter, that’s all there is to it.”

Ybarra has skipped 15 of the last 17 state elections, including every general election since she moved to Idaho

Sherri Ybarra, the Republican candidate for state superintendent of schools, has skipped at least 15 of the last 17 state elections, Idaho Education News reports, and hasn’t voted in a November general election since she moved to Mountain Home in 1996. “We have all missed an election or two in our lifetime, and I am not exempt from that,” Ybarra said during a Sept. 26 City Club of Boise candidate forum, responding to questions about why she didn’t vote in the 2012 general election, when the controversial “Students Come First” school reform laws championed by current Superintendent Tom Luna were on the ballot; voters repealed the laws.

But when Idaho EdNews checked further, it found that Ybarra registered to vote on June 16, 2010, but did not vote in that year’s general election, nor in any other general election in Idaho since 1996. Elmore County records did show she voted in GOP primary elections in May 2012 and May 2014, in a city election in 2011 and in a Mountain Home School District levy election earlier this year.

Jana Jones, the Democratic candidate for superintendent, has voted in every general election since 2002, when Bonneville County officials first started tracking voting histories, EdNews reporter Clark Corbin found. Jones also voted in state primary elections in 2006, 2010 and 2014; you can read Corbin's full report here.

AdWatch: RGA again goes after Idaho guv hopeful Balukoff

The Republican Governors Association launched a new anti-A.J. Balukoff TV ad in Idaho today, this one using a video clip from the governors’ debate in Coeur d'Alene debate where Balukoff momentarily lost his place in his opening remarks. The ad suggests Balukoff “needs a script,” and repeats several claims from an earlier RGA ad attempting to tie Balukoff, a Democrat, to President Barack Obama, while adding several new ones as well. Balukoff actually voted for Mitt Romney in the last presidential election.

“Tying Balukoff again to Obama and to gun control could be hurtful,” said Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor at Boise State University and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. “Those are two hot-button issues. But as to losing his place in his presentation, that’s pretty shallow stuff.”

The video clip is from Balukoff’s two-minute opening remarks at the Coeur Group’s Oct. 3 debate at the Coeur d’Alene Library. Otter visibly read from prepared remarks during his opening comments, while Balukoff largely spoke without looking at his text – except when he lost his place.

“It’s a rather cheap shot,” said Mike Lanza, spokesman for Balukoff’s campaign. He called the commercial “just a rehash of the same distortions and misrepresentations of A.J.’s positions that we’ve … seen from supporters of Gov. Otter.”

Weatherby said, “In comparative ads, or attack ads, you’re less concerned about what is completely true, and more concerned about what works. And negative ads, people hate, but often are influenced by.” He added, “The difference between the Otter and the Balukoff campaigns is the Otter campaign either has or is benefiting from attack ads, and Balukoff is not using them.”  You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com.

Otter: ‘We have done all we can through the courts for now to defend traditional marriage in Idaho’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter just issued this statement:

“The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has issued its mandate for enforcement of decisions overturning the Idaho Constitution’s prohibition on same-sex marriage effective at 10 a.m. MDT, 9 a.m. PDT on Wednesday, October 15. I continue to believe that the federal courts are mistaken in abandoning the sanctity of traditional marriage and in undermining the will of Idaho voters and each state’s right to define marriage. But we are civil society that respects the rule of law. We have done all we can through the courts for now to defend traditional marriage in Idaho.”

Asked if that final comment means Otter is dropping his appeals in Idaho’s court fight to defend its ban on same-sex marriage, Mark Warbis, Otter’s communications director, said, “It says exactly what we wanted to say, exactly what it does say.” Asked if Otter has filed any further motions or appeals in the case today, Warbis said no, but wouldn’t comment on whether Otter might file anything further after today. "It says 'for now,'" he said.

Todd Dvorak, spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said, “We are keeping our legal options open,” but he said, “We don’t have anything planned today or tomorrow.”

Woodings calls on Denney to give up state retirement pension; no response yet from Denney

Idaho Secretary of State candidate Holli Woodings is calling on her GOP opponent, former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, to give up his state pension, in light of his comments at a live debate last week that he doesn’t believe elected officials should be on the state pension system. “If we want a fair and honest person as our next secretary of state, that person should be willing to live under the same rules he or she wants everybody else to live under,” Woodings declared.

Denney didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Woodings’ challenge, which she made in a news release distributed to news media statewide. During last week’s debate, he repeatedly called for removing all elected officials from the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho. But he also suggested they should get some other type of retirement compensation to offset that. “I think that if you remove the retirement portion totally from all legislators, if you remove that retirement portion from all elected officials and give them the compensation so that they could put it in their own 401K or whatever, I think we could do that and do it very painlessly,” he said.

Under a special provision, longtime Idaho lawmakers who take high-paying state jobs at the end of their careers qualify for full retirement pensions as if they’d been full-time state employees all those years. When legislation was proposed in 2012 to do away with that perk for lawmakers, Denney, then speaker of the House, killed the bill. Under the provision, his state pension would jump from roughly $500 a month to roughly $3,600 a month for life if he wins the election and serves one four-year term as secretary of state. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Former Otter lawyer charges bias in 9th Circuit’s three-judge panel selection

Monte Neil Stewart, the attorney who represented both Idaho and Nevada in oral arguments at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in same-sex marriage cases, today leveled a highly unusual charge at the 9th Circuit: That the three-judge panel selected to hear Idaho’s and Nevada’s cases wasn’t selected through a “neutral” process, and instead was purposely stacked with judges favorable to same-sex marriage in order to achieve an outcome favorable to the plaintiffs.

“We bring the issue of bias in the selection process to the Circuit’s attention with respect and with a keen awareness that questioning the neutrality of the panel’s selection could hardly be more serious,” Stewart wrote in legal filings today with the 9th Circuit, requesting a full en banc review of Nevada’s case. “But the sensitivity of raising uncomfortable questions for this Circuit must be balanced against the interests of ordinary Nevadans, who deserve a fair hearing before a novel interpretation of constitutional law deprives them of the right to control the meaning of marriage within their State.”

Stewart contended that a statistical analysis he had completed by an expert statistician shows it’s highly unlikely that 9th Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Marsha Berzon would be selected to hear Nevada’s case, after also sitting on, in Reinhardt’s case, four other cases in the past five years dealing with gay rights, and in Berzon’s, five other cases. “Sophisticated statistical analysis validates the reasonable person’s sense that something is amiss,” Stewart wrote. “Judges Reinhardt and Berzon are publicly perceived to be favorably disposed to arguments for expanding the rights of gay men and lesbians, more so than all or nearly all other judges in this Circuit. That perception gives rise to an appearance of an uneven playing field.”

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Va., who has closely followed same-sex marriage cases, said an biased selection process is “virtually unheard of” in federal appeals courts. “The three-judge panels are randomly drawn,” Tobias said. “It is virtually unheard of that the people in charge of the process would game the system. My whole sense of the federal appeals courts is that the judges are too professional to allow that to happen.”

You can read Stewart’s full petition for rehearing here. Stewart was Gov. Butch Otter’s private attorney for Idaho’s unsuccessful appeal to the 9th Circuit, after a U.S. magistrate judge overturned Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage in May as unconstitutional. In his latest legal filings, Otter has replaced Stewart with Washington, D.C. attorney Gene Schaerr.

Of ‘fly-by-night payday loan’ operators, voter turnout, and vested rights…

The legal arguments that Gov. Butch Otter submitted to the 9th Circuit today in his unsuccessful bid to continue a stay on same-sex marriage in Idaho included some unusual ones, including his contention that if the 9th Circuit were to lift the stay, it would “improperly treat the sovereign State of Idaho as an ordinary litigant, entitled to no more respect than a fly-by-night payday loan business or massage parlor.” Asked about that, Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the plaintiffs in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case, said, “It’s rare to see language like that. … I thought it was inappropriate. Truly, I thought it was bizarre.” She added, “I don’t think it added anything to their brief or their argument, and clearly, the court wasn’t swayed by it.”

Otter’s new legal arguments today also included a contention that allowing gay marriage to start in Idaho would dissuade people from voting in the upcoming election. “If laws passed by state legislatures can be overturned without the state having an opportunity for full appellate review before the law loses its force, why should ordinary citizens bother to vote for state office-holders?” Otter’s filing asked. Ferguson called that argument “completely without merit” and “a desperate sort of argument.”

Otter also contended today that if the 9th Circuit doesn’t prevent Idaho same-sex couples from getting legal marriage licenses, the case will essentially be over – once some have wed, they’ll have a “vested right” to having the state continue to recognize their marriages. “If the state ultimately prevails, the couples so married will undoubtedly claim – as they did in Utah – that they now have a ‘vested right’ to the marital status they achieved as a result of this court’s decision,” wrote Gene Schaerr, attorney for Otter. “And the only legal authority on this question indicates that those couples will be correct.”

Said Ferguson: “I think he’s right.” You can read my full, updated story online here.

9th Circuit lifts stay, effective Wed. morning

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just issued an order lifting the stay that blocked same-sex marriage from starting in Idaho - effective Wednesday morning. That's 9 a.m. Wednesday, the order says; so that would be 10 a.m. Boise time. 

The plaintiffs hadn't yet filed their reply to today's filings from Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the plaintiffs, said, "I guess they kind of knew what we were going to say. So that's just fantastic."

You can see the 9th Circuit's order here.