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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

A week on the water…

Here’s how I’ve been spending my time this week - windsurfing in the Columbia River Gorge. This shot is from Doug’s Beach earlier this week; it’s been great.

Meanwhile, political news has continued to break in Boise. Here’s a link to the announcement that 1st District Rep. Walt Minnick has been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a leading business group, and here’s a link to rival Raul Labrador’s response to the endorsement, which charged that the Chamber has a “big-government tilt.” Also this week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred was endorsed by the former GOP Senate tax committee chairman, Hal Bunderson, who said current Gov. Butch Otter has allowed serious problems to develop in the state’s tax system and “now Idaho school kids are also paying the price.” You can read that announcement here.

And some GOP state lawmakers now say they won’t pledge loyalty to Idaho’s new state party platform, despite a candidate disclosure measure approved at the 2010 state convention last weekend asking them to do so. State Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, and Sen. Joe Stegner, of Lewiston, said the disclosure could be used to narrow the party’s base, not promote healthy debate. Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, told the AP he hasn’t decided what he’ll do, but has heard from “five or six” lawmakers who won’t sign any pledge. Click below to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

Allred outraises Otter, Otter outspends Allred in latest reporting period

Once again, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred has outraised incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter, just as he did in the previous campaign finance reporting period before the primary. According to the two candidates’ 30-day post-primary reports, from May 10 to June 4, Allred raised $118,861 and spent $58,917, leaving him with $189,995 cash on hand as the general election campaign season opens. Otter raised $95,969 in the same time period and spent $135,573 - $53,000 of that to one communication consulting firm alone, Mike Tracy Communications - and had cash on hand at the close of the period of $161,532. Said Allred, “Not only are we raising more, but we’re spending less than Butch Otter’s campaign. I hope Idahoans are taking note: I’ll be running Idaho’s government in much the same way.”

Here’s a link to Otter’s report, here’s a link to Allred’s report, and here’s a link to a press release Allred put out today on his fundraising.

State GOP convention kicks off

Idaho’s state GOP convention kicked off today in Idaho Falls, with resolutions awaiting votes on everything from defining a fetus as a “person” to legalizing marijuana; the party also is set to debate a loyalty oath requirement, requiring its candidates sign an oath of loyalty to the state party platform or disclose those areas where they disagree; an Arizona-style immigration law; and a proposal to forbid Republican Party members from working for candidates of another party. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Something new: Paid furloughs?

Here’s a news item from The Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s four top tax collectors will still get paid for furlough hours they took to save money and show solidarity with state workers getting their pay cut, because the law forbids them from altering their salaries voluntarily. Royce Chigbrow, David Langhorst, Sam Haws and Tom Katsilometes took 292 hours of furlough in the fiscal year ending June 30. Since their salaries are set by the Legislature, however, the state controller’s office says the commissioners will be paid for furlough time. That amounts to nearly $12,000. The four said in a memo made public Wednesday by the Boise Guardian blog, “We regret having to do this, but it is simply out of our hands.” Commissioners could still donate a share of their salaries to Idaho or a charity, but they’d be on the hook for any taxes. Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

New analysis: Ward’s entire announcement speech was plagiarized, not just Obama parts

KTVB-TV, in a special “Viewpoint” program entitled “Plagiarism in Politics” that aired yesterday, did extensive analysis on unsuccessful GOP congressional candidate Vaughn Ward’s January announcement speech and reached a startling conclusion - the whole speech was plagiarized, not just the final paragraph in which Ward echoed Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic convention speech. According to the station’s analysis, while other parts of the speech also repeated Obama’s words, the entire meat of the speech echoes an announcement speech given by a Pennsylvania congressional candidate, Pat Meehan, four months earlier.

That includes the entire part in which Ward talked about concerns he’d heard from Idahoans in his year of campaigning around the state; Meehan laid those out as the concerns he was hearing from people in Pennsylvania, during his announcement speech there in September of 2009. Only 25 percent of Ward’s speech was original, the station found, and that part was where Ward talked about his military experience and when he gave his goodbyes and thanks. You can see the program and its documentation online here. KTVB also talked with Ryan O’Barto, Ward’s former campaign manager, whom Ward blamed for adding the Obama lines to a speech that Ward said he’d written himself; O’Barto told KTVB neither he nor Ward wrote the speech, but wouldn’t say who did.

Labrador failed to disclose businesses

Here’s a news item from The Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican congressional hopeful Raul Labrador failed to include his past role as president of a company that sold self-help kits on legal immigration to America in a U.S. House of Representatives filing this year. The financial disclosure form, required of all congressional candidates, also doesn’t list Labrador Properties, LLC., according to a review of campaign and public records by The Associated Press. The form requires candidates to report any position held in the current calendar year and past two years. Labrador reported his position as Labrador Law Offices president in his March filing. But Idaho Secretary of State records show Labrador Properties and Labrador Group, Ltd., which operated under the business name www.rapidimmigration.com and was dissolved in May 2008, should have also been included. Labrador says he didn’t think the inactive businesses qualified for listing on the disclosure and he’ll fix it; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Idaho will balance state budget at year-end June 30 without additional holdbacks

Idaho’s State Board of Examiners made it official this week - no further holdbacks will need to be imposed to balance Idaho’s state budget by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Instead, following legislation passed this year and signed into law by Gov. Butch Otter, the state will meet any year-end shortfall by dipping first into any unexpended money in the Budget Stabilization Fund; second into unspent money in the Permanent Building Fund that’s now tabbed for state building maintenance work next year; and third, if needed, into the Economic Recovery Reserve Fund. None of those three funds actually have extra money sitting in them; all their funds are budgeted to be spent next year, in fiscal year 2011. But Wayne Hammon, Otter’s budget chief, said some year-end reversions are expected to put unspent money back into the budget stabilization fund, and shifting building maintenance money was identified as a second step that should easily cover any shortfall.

“While building maintenance is important, people are more important than buildings,” Hammon said. “For right now, they’ve decided that people come before buildings.” The state Board of Examiners was presented with two scenarios for the year-end state budget picture: One showing a $19.6 million surplus, which is what would happen if original revenue forecasts held true; and one showing a $7 million shortfall. State tax revenues have come in short of projections, including notably in April, but came in $4 million ahead of projections in May, leaving the cumulative shortfall at $7.5 million. The state also anticipates a possible shortfall in June revenues, but expects some money to revert back to the general fund from the state’s income tax refund account at the end of June, leading to the $7 million projection.

If Idaho had to take the third step laid out in the budget-balancing bill - dipping into the Economic Recovery Reserve Fund, which already is budgeted to be fully spent next year - it’d have to make cuts in next year’s budget. But Hammon said that now appears unlikely. Idaho’s only remaining budget reserve funds now are $17.5 million in the public education stabilization fund, which the plan doesn’t touch; and $71 million in the Millenium Fund, which lawmakers and the governor chose to keep as a reserve in case a federal funding boost for Medicaid doesn’t come through.

Allred thanks IACI for taking down attack website, IACI chief stands by claims

Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred says he’s grateful a campaign website has deleted material attacking his stance on Idaho’s state budget, but the business group behind the Internet page says it sticks by its claim. Allred contends the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, on its www.allredink.com website, falsely claimed the Democrat would have left Idaho with a 2010 budget deficit. In a letter made public Wednesday, Allred thanked the group’s board for taking down the information. But Alex LaBeau, the business group’s lobbyist, said it only took down the information because it had become dated. LaBeau, whose group supports Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, called Allred’s thank-you “silly,” because his group still believes the Democrat’s budget plan was too optimistic and could have led to tax hikes, had the 2010 Legislature adopted it.

LaBeau told Eye on Boise the claims on the site were up for only a few weeks; he also said he hadn’t seen Allred’s letter. “It had nothing to do with anything other than the fact that the information was old, and so we took it down,” LaBeau said.

IACI on Minnick: ‘Idaho is well-represented’

IACI, the big business lobby (Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry), is holding its annual conference today in McCall, and the group announced that its three-day gathering, which started yesterday, was kicked off by Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick, who joined IACI Chairman Trent Clark. “We sincerely appreciate Rep. Minnick’s willingness to be part of our annual meeting with the membership,” said IACI President Alex LaBeau. “His office has been very responsive to employers and employees throughout the state. Idaho is well represented.”

Also scheduled to speak today are Gov. Butch Otter, who speaks at noon; and Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who spoke at breakfast. What’s interesting about the group’s kind words for Minnick, a Democrat: IACI has been spending big bucks to boost the campaigns of incumbent Republicans, especially Otter. Through its “Idaho Prosperity Fund,” formerly the Idaho Business PAC, IACI had collected $118,526 in contributions as of a week before the primary, and spent a chunk of that on an attack website targeting Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred. The group also reported spending $6,000 shortly before the primary to promote the re-election of Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick, and $8,000 on independent campaign expenditures for Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, the Senate GOP caucus chairman.

Among those donating to the fund: Micron Technology gave $23,500; Melaleuca Inc. gave $13,500; J.R. Simplot Co. gave $23,500; Idaho Association of Realtors gave $23,500; and Idaho Power Co. gave $23,500. IACI spent most of that money to hire a Florida firm, Orra SGS, which it also hired for both the Burdick and Fulcher pushes.   
Here’s what Minnick had to say in today’s IACI press release: “I very much appreciate the opportunity to meet with Idaho business leaders at the annual IACI conference. As a businessman myself, I know that getting our economy back on track requires an environment where companies and their employees can innovate, grow and succeed. I know we can get there by continuing to work together on a shared vision for a prosperous Idaho.” IACI said there also are 45 invited state legislators from throughout the state attending its McCall conference (at IACI’s expense), which includes policy discussions, member-hosted dinners, and tomorrow, a golf tournament.

State tax revenues for May surpass forecast

Here’s a news item from The Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — May tax revenue beat forecasts by $4 million, moving Idaho closer to balancing its reduced 2010 budget with a month to go in the fiscal year. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said May collections — about $144 million, according to preliminary figures — trimmed the budget shortfall through the fiscal year’s 11th month to $9.5 million, down from a $13.5 million shortfall after April. Still, Moyle remains concerned because of May sales tax receipts, a harbinger of economic activity, trailed expectations after exceeding them a month earlier. Lackluster sales-tax numbers were offset by a jump in miscellaneous tax revenue, including from mining activities. Moyle said, “You don’t bet the bank on miscellaneous mine tax revenue. The numbers you need to watch are June.” State economist Mike Ferguson has forecast Idaho will collect $238 million this month.

Labrador responds to Minnick modified line-item veto bill

GOP challenger Raul Labrador has issued a response to 1st District Rep. Walt Minnick’s modified line-item bill being picked up by the Obama Administration and used as a model for a new administration bill. “I recognize the public relations value of Mr. Minnick’s claims, particularly this close to a tough election,” Labrador said in a statement issued late Thursday night. “But the simple fact is, the only thing that is going to stop this horrendous flow of red ink is a change in political leadership. The most effective thing we can do to arrest the irresponsible spending of this Congress is to take the gavel away from Nancy Pelosi.” You can read his full statement here; I just received it, as I was off Friday, though I did call Labrador for response Thursday as I was writing the story on the Minnick bill and waited until my deadline before filing the story without receiving it.

Otter: ‘Working for more prosperous future’

Gov. Butch Otter is touting a national fiscal survey of states as proof that this year’s legislative budget-setting decisions for 2011, including deep cuts to schools and other state programs, were the right ones, as other states are facing large shortfalls. “We are doing our best to help everyone through this rough patch,” Otter said. “Like any family or any business, we are working for a more prosperous future while protecting what we have and positioning ourselves for a quicker and more robust recovery by not promising what we don’t yet know we can deliver.” Click below to read Otter’s full release.

Allred - with pickup truck - touts ‘fair share’ fees for heavy trucks vs. cars, pickups

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred stood by his pickup truck - a Ford F-250 “SuperDuty” 4x4 - today to make a case that he’s the “fiscal conservative” in the race because, through his work at the nonpartisan citizen group The Common Interest, he helped defeat Gov. Butch Otter’s 2009 proposal to raise gas taxes and more than double car and pickup truck registration fees, and identified a $10 million error in one of Otter’s transportation funding bills that year. “I was doing it working for free for a citizens organization,” he said. Allred said heavy trucks should pay more, not cars and pickups, to reflect “their fair share of the wear and tear on the roads.” He noted that Otter’s transportation task force now is working on a new cost-allocation study to determine that fair share, after the governor’s initial proposal failed in the 2009 Legislature.

Allred, who held his press conference across from the state Capitol despite occasional light rain, said he wanted to use his truck as a prop, given the topic. Asked by a reporter, he also affirmed that the truck in question was his. “It’s hard to haul horses without a truck,” he said.

Forecast: Idaho headed for economic recovery in ‘11

Idaho is on track for an economic recovery in 2011, according to the state’s latest official forecast - though state lawmakers and the governor set a pessimistic budget for 2011 that requires historic cuts in education. The newest state forecast, issued in May, says, “Idaho’s economic recovery should be well established after this year, entering a period of modest growth beginning in 2011. … It has been awhile, but it is beginning to feel like a recovery.” The forecast is considerably sunnier in tone than the last official state forecast, which was issued in January; that one suggested “cautious optimism” and said, “Admittedly, risks to the economy exist, but it appears the worst is behind us.”

The Legislature and Gov. Butch Otter cut their own estimates of state tax revenues far below the official forecast to be on the safe side, even though the decision meant deep cuts in government programs including schools. Public schools saw an unprecedented overall funding cut for next year of 7.5 percent - $128.5 million - along with state authorization to cut pay for teachers and administrators, a statewide declaration of financial emergency for schools, and more. “The governor has said all along that we expect there to be a recovery - it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian. “We’ve gone through this difficult period. … His view is we need to be very frugal, very cautious and conservative in our budgeting. Really, nothing has changed to suggest that isn’t the prudent way to go. It’s Idaho common sense, that’s how he’s built this budget.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho GOP hires on two full-time staffers to run ‘parallel campaign’ against Minnick

The Idaho Republican Party is hiring two full-time staffers to spearhead a “parallel campaign” on behalf of newly nominated GOP congressional candidate Raul Labrador, who’s challenging 1st District Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick. Jonathan Parker, state GOP executive director, said he requested the funds for the two positions from the Republican National Committee, “essentially making the point that you can’t take Idaho for granted and CD 1 for granted, that we’re going to have to do everything in our power and run a competent campaign to unseat Walt Minnick. That’s the plan we’re putting together.”

The two staffers will be a “victory director,” Lindsay Hemmer, who will be based in Boise, and a North Idaho field office head, Jeff Ward, the current president of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans group. Both will start June 8.    Minnick’s campaign manager, John Foster, said, “My friend Jonathan Parker obviously understands what everyone has known for a long time, is that this is going to be a ground game. And if it’s won or lost on the ground, I’m quite confident that Walt will be successful in November.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Independent candidate’s woes in primary: ‘Looked for you on ballot, you weren’t there’

Jana Kemp, independent candidate for governor, says she was surprised to hear from some supporters that they were disappointed they couldn’t find her name on the May primary election ballot. “They said things like this: ‘I looked for you on the ballot and you weren’t there.’” Independents, of course, don’t participate in the May party primaries; they go directly to the general election ballot in November. Kemp is one of two independents running for governor; the other is “Pro-Life,” the candidate formerly known as Marvin Richardson before he changed his name to the slogan. “It’s just an education for me, having run as a Republican before, to see at an even deeper level how much confusion there is,” Kemp said. “Everyone’s busy trying to make ends meet on a daily basis, and so haven’t taken time to understand what doesn’t seem to be a nuance to me, but clearly is a nuance to the general populace, and it creates confusion as a result.”

Kemp, a Boise businesswoman, author and former GOP state representative, is one of five candidates on the ballot for governor; they include the party primary winners - incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred - along with the two independents and a Libertarian, Ted Dunlap of Kuna.

Political gears shift

As the political gears shift after last week’s primary election, the 1st District congressional race is now Walt Minnick vs. Raul Labrador, while other big races, like Gov. Butch Otter vs. Democratic challenger Keith Allred, are following a more expected course. Click below to read an article from AP reporter Jessie Bonner on the new face of the 1st CD race.

Pockets of strong support for challengers who lost…

In two races in which the incumbents won handily this week - state Controller Donna Jones by 56.5 percent to challenger Todd Hatfield’s 43.5 percent, and Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick by 58.4 percent to challenger John Bradbury’s 41.6 percent - a look at county-by-county results shows pockets of strong support for the challengers. Hatfield beat Jones in 9 of Idaho’s 44 counties, while Bradbury beat Burdick in 12, including taking 79 percent of the vote in Clearwater County and 75 percent in Nez Perce County./Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise

Pockets of support…

In two races in which the incumbents won handily this week - state Controller Donna Jones by 56.5 percent to challenger Todd Hatfield’s 43.5 percent, and Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick by 58.4 percent to challenger John Bradbury’s 41.6 percent - a look at county-by-county results shows pockets of strong support for the challengers. Hatfield beat Jones in 9 of Idaho’s 44 counties - Adams, Bannock, Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Kootenai, Latah, Shoshone and Valley - with his strongest showing 61 percent in Benewah and 60 percent on his home turf in Valley County.

Bradbury, a 2nd District judge from Grangeville, beat Burdick in 12 counties, including Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Clearwater, Custer, Franklin, Idaho, Kootenai, Latah, Nez Perce, Oneida and Shoshone. Bradbury garnered a whopping 79 percent of the vote in Clearwater County, and 75 percent in Nez Perce County, and exceeded 60 percent in Benewah, Idaho, Latah and Shoshone counties.

Granted, there are various factors at play - Bradbury appears to have strong support on his home turf, where he’s been an elected district judge for the past seven years, and in rural counties, for whom he’s advocated more court services; and Hatfield apparently picked up support in timber counties with his appeal for small logging companies to get more state timber contracts. But both were running against well-established, mainstream incumbents…

WaPost: Labrador latest insurgent to buck establishment, then consider joining it

The Washington Post, in its “The Fix” political column today, calls Idaho 1st Congressional District GOP nominee Raul Labrador “the latest insurgent candidate to beat back the establishment and then be faced with joining forces with it,” and reports that Labrador is “going with wholesale changes to his staff and is looking at bringing in more established political team, including possibly some consultants favored by Washington.” It also notes Labrador’s endorsement yesterday by Mitt Romney - who yesterday endorsed Idaho’s entire top GOP slate, including Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Mike Crapo, Rep. Mike Simpson and Labrador - and says that in an interview, Labrador told The Fix that his politics are similar to those of former Idaho Rep. Bill Sali, but his approach is different./Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise

Question: Will Labrador become an ‘establishment’ GOP candidate?