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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

One state budget cut reversed just in time, thanks to Albertson Foundation grant

One state budget cut has just been reversed, and just in time: The Idaho Digitial Learning Academy has received a $100,000 grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation that’s allowing it to immediately lift unprecedented new enrollment caps on advanced courses offered online to Idaho high school students for the coming school year. The grant is part of the Albertson Foundation’s “Go On” campaign, which is aimed at raising Idaho’s dismally low rate of students going on to further education after high school; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

“This is a very trying time for educators in Idaho,” said Donna Hutchison, CEO at the IDLA. “IDLA strives to be part of the solution for districts struggling with budget cuts.” The academy, created by the Legislature in 2002, offers online courses at minimal cost to students around the state, including those whose local districts simply don’t offer the courses. The grant will immediately lift enrollment caps placed on Advanced Placement and dual credit classes ranging from calculus to psychology for the coming school year; the enrollment deadline for the 47 class offerings is Sept. 3. The grant also will provide some resources for students preparing for college entrance exams.

“Increasing access to educational opportunities such as AP and dual credit classes is essential for Idaho’s students,” said Albertson Foundation Executive Director Jamie MacMillan. “Idaho students rank in the bottom 10 states for students who go on and complete post-secondary training and education. Without access to advanced opportunities such as those IDLA provides, Idaho’s students are far less likely to complete the education necessary to help them - and the state - be as successful as possible.”

Labrador on ‘Young Guns’…

Yes, I know this news first broke on Friday, but I was on vacation then, so here’s a link to my full story on GOP congressional candidate Raul Labrador’s decision to join the NRCC’s “Young Guns” candidate recruitment program after all, a turnaround from his earlier position that he’d “opt out” of the program. Labrador said he received assurances that the NRCC wouldn’t “interfere with our campaign’s Idaho-focused strategy,” so he decided to join up despite rebuffing the NRCC for months.

Labrador’s initial concerns about the national GOP candidate program seem consistent with statements he’s made about other traditional GOP supporters, from deriding the Associated General Contractors as tax-raisers after they endorsed incumbent Walt Minnick to declaring that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which also endorsed Minnick, has a “big-government tilt.” “I think I’m critical of business as usual,” Labrador told Eye on Boise today. “I think if you talk to individuals throughout the state about what their fears and their concerns are, every one of them will tell you that they don’t like the way things are being done in Washington, D.C.”

Minnick endorsed by contractors, Labrador slams group as tax-raisers

Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick’s re-election bid was endorsed by the Idaho Associated General Contractors today, along with its national organization, the Associated General Contractors of America. Minnick joined Idaho AGC’s president, Burke Hansen, and executive director, Mark Dunham, at an Eagle-area concrete plant for the announcement. “Congressman Minnick has proven himself to be a pragmatic, fair, and proactive representative of the people of Idaho,” said Hansen, president of Hansen-Rice, Inc. “His background in business lends itself well to identifying problems and, more importantly, identifying solutions. He is pro-business and pro-solution.” You can read Minnick’s full announcement here.

Raul Labrador, Minnick’s GOP challenger, derided the group - one of the largest and most influential trade associations in Idaho - for endorsing Minnick. “More government spending with Minnick and Pelosi will only be paid for by higher taxes. Therefore the endorsement made by the Associated General Contractors today shows that they are in favor of raising taxes to fund the liberal spending policies of Minnick and his Democrat friends, even in the middle of a recession,” Labrador said in a statement. “I am not only against that, but I will fight for the interests of Idahoans.” You can read his full statement here.

Report: States rethinking immigration legislation after Arizona court ruling

USA Today reports that state legislators in an array of states - including Idaho - are rethinking plans to introduce Arizona-style immigration laws after a federal court temporarily blocked the core of the law. Among state lawmakers quoted: Idaho Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes. The newspaper reports that he “says his colleagues had planned to file an S.B. 1070 replica but are making changes. ‘I don’t know that we would cut and paste exactly what Arizona has, based on what the judge has already ruled,’ Geddes says. ‘That doesn’t help us much to engage in the same battle that Arizona has lost.’”

Otter responds to Allred gas tax plan

Gov. Butch Otter has dismissed Democratic challenger Keith Allred’s proposal for a 3-cent cut in Idaho’s 25-cent-per-gallon gas tax and a corresponding hike in fees on heavy trucks, saying it shows “a lack of leadership and credibility.” Allred’s proposal came after Otter’s transportation funding task force received a new report showing cars and pickups are overpaying for their impact on Idaho’s roads, and heavy trucks are underpaying; the task force also indicated it sees a gas tax increase as the best way to fund more road work in the future.

“I can understand wanting to have the perfect solution in a campaign cycle, but the bottom line is the task force has not completed its work, we need to respect its bi-partisan process,” Otter said in a statement. “Leadership requires we deal with reality rather than theory. There are many factors to consider, but once again my Democrat opponent chooses to posture and ignore reality–his plan simply shows a lack of leadership and credibility.”

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who chairs Otter’s task force, also commented in the statement, saying, “Talking about a tax cut when what he’s really proposing is hiding a tax increase from consumers might be good politics, but it’s very bad public policy. This idea shows that Mr. Allred is not credible, out of touch with the marketplace and the realities of Idaho’s transportation needs — even our immediate needs and realistic options, much less addressing a long-term solution.”

Campaign moves outside district to save money

The AP reports that GOP congressional candidate Raul Labrador has moved his campaign office outside the 1st Congressional District in a money-saving move, closing his Eagle office and moving into existing GOP office space in downtown Boise. In a statement to The Associated Press, Labrador’s campaign said it will have an office in the 1st Congressional District “when Raul is elected to U.S. Congress.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Allred calls for 3-cent cut in gas tax

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred aims to cut Idaho’s gas tax by 3 cents and says Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s push to raise more money for roads is misguided. Allred would cut the tax to 22 cents per gallon, from 25 cents per gallon now, to save drivers $19.2 million annually. He’d boost fees paid by heavy trucks by an equal amount to make up the difference. His plan comes after a new study, commissioned by the state, showing heavy trucks are underpaying for upkeep of Idaho highways and bridges, while passenger vehicle owners are overpaying. Allred says restoring education funding and keeping taxes low, not boosting cash available for Idaho roads, should be the priority. Otter, a Republican, and Allred will square off in November’s general election; also on the ballot are independents Jana Kemp and Pro-Life and Libertarian Ted Dunlap.

Crapo to hold ‘iTownhall’ forum

Sen. Mike Crapo is inviting Idahoans to participate in an “iTownhall” meeting Wednesday evening on federal spending and expiring tax cuts. “I encourage all Idahoans to speak out during this statewide forum,” Crapo said. “This is not the time to be considering tax increases in Washington and I would appreciate hearing from Idahoans on issues of taxes and spending.” Click below for his full announcement, including how to participate.

Meanwhile, Crapo’s Democratic challenger, Tetonia businessman Tom Sullivan, has aimed sharp criticism at Crapo in the past week and a half for his votes on financial reform legislation and his campaign contributions from the financial sector. Constitution Party candidate Randy Lynn Bergquist of Weiser also is on the ballot.

Labrador fills in for, praises Bachmann

GOP congressional candidate Raul Labrador, while in Washington, D.C. this week for a fundraiser and other meetings, filled in for scheduled speaker Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., yesterday at a talk at the Republican National Committee headquarters dubbed the “Fire Pelosi Speaking Series.” “I am honored the RNC asked me to fill in for a visionary leader like Congressman Michelle Bachmann,” Labrador said in a statement. “She is helping lead our country away from the brink of financial ruin and return it to fiscal sanity. I respect her greatly.” You can see Labrador’s full statement here.

Labrador says he doesn’t want to be an NRCC ‘Young Gun’

GOP congressional candidate Raul Labrador says he’s opted out of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” candidate recruitment and training program, though he didn’t say why; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner, who writes that Labrador’s move is a sign he’s “further breaking ranks with the GOP mainstream.”

Allred: ‘Raising gas tax is wrong’

Keith Allred, the Democratic candidate for governor, said the state’s new highway cost allocation study, released today, validates his longstanding criticism that current Gov. Butch Otter has been favoring “special interests” over Idaho citizens, particularly when the governor proposed a big car registration fee increase but only a small hike for trucks; Otter wanted a study before further changing truck fees. That proposal, like Otter’s proposed gas tax increase, failed to pass the Legislature. Allred said he also opposes a gas tax hike. “Raising the gas tax is wrong for three reasons,” he said in a statement. “First, this is no time to be raising taxes on Idaho families. Second, we have other far more pressing priorities than roads right now, our kids’ education chief among them. Third, raising the gas tax does nothing to correct the unfairness of car and pickup owners paying for heavy trucks’ wear and tear.”

Gov’s race moves into town halls, rodeo arenas

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred drew about 200 people to his town hall meeting in Boise last night at the Egyptian Theater, the second in a series that started at the Sandpoint Community Hall on Monday with a crowd of 30 to 40. Allred, who’s planning similar events at the Nampa Civic Center on Aug. 10 (doors open at 6 p.m., program at 6:30), in Lewiston on Aug. 26, and one still to be scheduled in eastern Idaho, spoke for about 10 minutes, then took questions passed up on cards from the audience to a moderator, Boise City Club-style, for the remainder of the two-hour session. Top questions in Boise: Jobs, education and the economy, said Allred campaign spokesman Shea Andersen. “I was delighted to see that on a beautiful summer evening right around dinner time, that that number of people were willing to stop by and sit for a couple hours and listen to a candidate talk about his views on how to improve the state,” Andersen said.

Boise City Councilman T.J. Thompson served as the moderator for the event. But perhaps the biggest impact came from the theater’s marquee, which in huge letters, for two days, proclaimed “Allred for Idaho,” since that was the coming attraction and then the now-playing event. It was the equivalent of a giant billboard for the campaign in the center of downtown Boise.

Incumbent Gov. Butch Otter, meanwhile, is competing in team roping tonight at the Snake River Stampede, part of a long tradition the 68-year-old governor has of performing in rodeos as part of his campaigns. “He did one last week in Jerome,” said Otter campaign manager Debbie Field. “Whenever he gets an opportunity, he does it, he loves it.” Field said the Otter campaign is looking into holding “tele-town hall” meetings every other week starting in August, to allow people to question Otter. She said the campaign is “paying attention to what we need to do, and that’s turning out Republicans to the polls and answering questions. … We’re working with our team across the state. People will start paying attention when the summer gets over and the kids get back in school.”

Independent gubernatorial candidate Jana Kemp will appear in Pocatello’s “Pioneer Days” parade this weekend. Also on the ballot for governor are independent “Pro-Life” and Libertarian Ted Dunlap.

Crafting the next state revenue forecast…

Idaho House Minority Leader John Rusche is calling on Gov. Butch Otter to consider a broader than usual call for economic expertise in August when the state revises its 2011 budget revenue projection. “These are unusual and somewhat volatile times,” Rusche said. “I know legislative leaders would have a better comfort level if a broader group was to submit in writing to the Division of Financial Management economist their take on the economy and the amount of General Fund revenue they forecast will come in FY 2011.” Rusche suggested that the various groups, from industry representatives to the state Tax Commission to Idaho university economists, who submit forecasts each year to the Legislature’s revenue projection committee be called on to have input into the August revision, which normally is prepared by the state’s economists in the governor’s Division of Financial Management.

Wayne Hammon, Otter’s budget chief, said the administration already is working on a plan to do just that, but for the December revenue forecast, not the August update. “I appreciate your interest in getting it up and running in time for the upcoming August update, but I disagree,” Hammon wrote back to Rusche. “I think it is essential that the best and brightest economic minds be invited to participate and organizing the group in such short notice just isn’t practical.  Furthermore, the August revenue update is just a mid-year check on how we are doing.  The budget actually submitted to the Legislature for consideration is based upon the December update, giving it much more weight.” Click below to read both Rusche’s full statement, and Hammon’s full response.

RNC: Idaho part of ‘D2H’ strategy

The Republican National Committee and the Idaho Republican Party announced today that the previously announced funding the RNC is sending to the Idaho party for two staffers to run a parallel campaign against Congressman Walt Minnick is part of the party’s “Delaware to Hawaii,” or “D2H strategy to compete aggressively in all fifty states.” RNC Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement, “In an effort to replace Walt Minnick with Raul Labrador, the RNC is excited to be partnering with the Idaho Republican Party to provide the necessary support to win this important race.” Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko said the state party was “grateful” for the help from “my good friend, Chairman Steele.” Click below to read the full RNC news release.

Rasmussen: Otter leads Allred 53-36

Rasmussen Reports has released its latest automated poll in Idaho election campaigns, and it shows incumbent Gov. Butch Otter leading Democratic challenger Keith Allred, 53 percent to 36 percent. The same group’s May poll showed a 54-32 Otter-Allred lead, and in March, 60-32. Rasmussen reported that the latest numbers show Otter “still holds a sizable lead over his Democratic opponent,” and said, “Any Democratic candidate faces long odds in Idaho. The state hasn’t elected a Democrat governor in 20 years.” Shea Andersen, spokesman for the Allred campaign, had a different take: “To me, the direction is clear,” he said. “This shows Keith Allred gaining and Butch Otter slipping.”

The automated poll also showed Sen. Mike Crapo with a big lead in his re-election bid, and 56 percent of Idahoans approving of the job Otter’s doing as governor, while 41 percent disapproved; there’s more here.

NRCC boosts ‘Young Gun’ congressional candidates, Labrador not on list

The National Republican Congressional Committee elevated 33 more GOP congressional candidates to its “Young Guns” program today, but Idaho GOP challenger Raul Labrador wasn’t on the list. The Hill newspaper reported today that 14 candidates made the “Contender” level, and 19 were named to the “On the Radar” list. In February, Idaho 1st District congressional candidate Vaughn Ward was named to the top tier of the program, “Young Gun” status; Labrador then defeated him in Idaho’s May GOP primary. The NRCC describes the “Young Guns” program as “the candidate recruitment and training program for House Republicans” and says it’s “designed to assist Republican candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives build a foundation for victory.”

The Hill reported that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Andrew Stone said in a statement, “After the NRCC got burned by investing heavily in serial plagiarist Vaughn Ward while Congressman Minnick worked hard in his district and tallied up a cash advantage of 16 to one over Raul Labrador, it’s looking more and more like this district is falling off the NRCC’s radar.” An NRCC spokeswoman, however, told the newspaper that the group believes incumbent Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick faces a tough challenge from Labrador.

Idaho the ‘point of the spear’

Idaho is the “point of the spear” as conservatives work to reshape the GOP agenda across the nation, writes AP reporter John Miller, as he examines the outcome of this year’s Republican state convention in Idaho Falls last month. Click below to read his full article.

Minnick rejects Tea Party Express nod

Idaho Rep. Walt Minnick has decided to decline an endorsement from the Tea Party Express group - he was the only Democrat the national Tea Party group endorsed - in the wake of the group’s spokesman posting a controversial blog about the NAACP that Minnick dubbed “reprehensible.” You can read Minnick’s letter to Tea Party Express here, which was first reported today on Idahoreporter.com, and click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Parties tangle, accusations fly

The political war of words between the state’s top party leaders continues today, with Norm Semanko, Idaho Republican Party chairman, issuing a statement sharply critical of Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Keith Roark’s guest opinion last week, which was entitled, “You Have Been Invited to Leave the Idaho GOP” and derided the “fringe element now running the Idaho Republican Party,” saying Idaho voters are “tired of one party rule and your loyalty oaths.”

Semanko called Roark’s statement “sad” and an “attempt to mislead Idahoans and spread falsehoods about what took place at the Idaho Republican Party State Convention in Idaho Falls when he wasn’t even there.” He went on to charge that the Democrats are the only party in Idaho using a “loyalty oath,” citing the pledge participants must sign to take part in Democratic presidential selection caucuses; and slammed the Democrats for closing their platform deliberations to the press during their state convention at Worley last month, while those deliberations at the Republican convention were open; you can read Semanko’s full statement here.

Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director Jim Hansen disputed both points. The pledge used at caucuses is a national party requirement to make sure voters don’t participate in both parties’ caucuses in the same election, he said; in many states, Republicans as well as Democrats hold caucuses. Hansen dubbed Semanko’s comparison “intellectually dishonest.” And as for the decision to close the deliberations at the Democratic convention last month, Hansen said, “Well, actually, the press didn’t come, unfortunately.” The only reporter covering the convention was one from the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Idahoreporter.com. “They didn’t consider Wayne Hoffman’s group a press outlet, they considered it a Republican entity,” Hansen said. “They would not have excluded the press.”

Hansen said convention delegates debated the closure and then voted in favor of it, though the vote was divided; the Idahoreporter.com representative was allowed to attend all proceedings other than the final deliberations on the platform, which lasted about two hours. “There was a difference of opinion expressed,” Hansen said. “Most people, I think, lamented the fact that the press was not present, and that this was the only tool available to keep this Republican entity from distorting what was happening in the proceedings.”

Idahoreporter.com covered both parties’ conventions this year, but there was considerably more press coverage at the Republican convention in Idaho Falls, which also was covered by the Associated Press, the local newspaper and more. Click below to read the Idaho Falls Post Register’s editorial take on the closure, in which it offered “jeers” to both the Democratic Party and the press.

IACI: Beware politicians who tout small biz

The Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, the influential lobby group that represents the state’s largest businesses, sent out a guest editorial last week warning Idahoans to beware of “candidates of every political persuasion” who call for promoting small businesses. “In reality, the real cynical political motivation for touting ‘small business’ is to create an ‘us versus them’ mentality that is not only a misrepresentation of reality, but a dangerous path of rhetoric that leads to an economic caste system,” warns IACI President Alex LaBeau. You can read his full op-ed piece here.