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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Victorious Republicans rally on state Capitol steps

Victorious Republican candidates gathered on the Statehouse steps for a rally today, where Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko declared, “Last night was the biggest victory in the history of Idaho Republican politics.” Newly elected 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador said he can now remove the bright red “Fire Pelosi” pin he’s been wearing on his lapel for the last few weeks. “We have done the job and I can take it off, because the mission has been finished,” Labrador declared. Newly re-elected Gov. Bucth Otter said, “Our focus for the next four years … is to continue on exactly what we’ve started the last four years.”

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, who won a third term in the Senate, said, “I think the message from America, which is the same message that people here in Idaho were sending us, is that we need to get to work. … My hope is that we can now get down to work, to work across party lines, develop consensus-based, conservative, constitutional focused solutions to the issues facing our nation. We can do it, we will do it.”

Idaho voters OK four constitutional amendments

All four constitutional amendments that were on the Idaho ballot passed, and passed fairly easily. SJR 101, allowing “tuition” at the University of Idaho (rather than just “fees”), passed with 64.1 percent of the vote. HJR 4, on hospital debt, got 63.5 percent; HJR 5 on airport debt, passed with 53.3 percent support, and HJR 7, for municipal electric system debts and power contracts, passed with 57 percent. All had received overwhelming support in the Idaho Legislature - that’s how they got on the ballot - though the Idaho Republican Party at its convention this year voted to oppose the three debt amendments.

All 11 constitutional amendments that have appeared on Idaho’s ballot since 1998 have won approval from Idaho voters, including complex measures dealing with endowment investment reform. Idaho voters tend to support them. This AP photo by Charlie Litchfield shows a scene from Idaho’s polls yesterday.

Election expands GOP supermajority in the Idaho Legislature

The Republican sweep that swept across Idaho yesterday did more than return the state to a 100 percent Republican congressional delegation to match its all-GOP slate of top statewide officials: It also added five seats to the Republican majority in the Idaho House. According to final, unofficial results, the five switches came as seven-term Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard, lost to first-time GOP candidate Shannon McMillan in District 2; Republican Kathy Sims beat Democrat Paula Marano for the seat formerly held by Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, in District 4; Rep. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston, lost to Republican challenger Jeff Nesset in District 7; Republican Jim Guthrie won the District 29 seat formerly held by Rep. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, defeating Democrat Greg Anderson; and, in the closest race in the state, former Rep. Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, edged Democrat Janie Ward-Engelking by just nine votes in District 18, to win the seat formerly held by Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise.

Durst lost his bid for the Idaho Senate seat formerly held by Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise, to Republican Mitch Toryanski by just 103 votes. But Democrat Dan Schmidt defeated Republican Gresham Dale Bouma to take the Senate seat formerly held by longtime Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, whom Bouma defeated in the GOP primary; that leaves the Senate’s party balance where it was, with 28 Republicans and seven Democrats.

The Idaho House went from 52 Republicans and 18 Democrats to - if these election results hold - 57 Republicans and 13 Democrats. That drops the Dems from a quarter of the seats in the House to under a fifth. Overall, that means the Idaho Legislature goes from three-quarters GOP to four-fifths.

Labrador, Minnick comment on results

Outgoing Congressman Walt Minnick issued a statement early this morning, saying, “It now appears that Raul Labrador will be the victor when all the votes are finally tallied. Therefore, early this morning I placed a call to Raul and wished him every success as Idaho’s next Congressman. I, in particular, hope he can be successful in working with the Administration and his colleagues of both parties in the exceedingly important task ahead of putting our country back to work and of balancing our nation’s budget.”

Meanwhile, the victorious Labrador issued a statement saying, “Everywhere I campaigned throughout the district people wanted someone to bring sanity back to Washington DC.  Whether it was a coffee shop in Nampa or a small business in Coeur d’Alene the message was the same; our government is out of control. I have always put the voters of Idaho first and I’m humbled by the support we received.  They have placed their trust in me.  I will hit the ground running in Washington to restore their faith in Congress and start working to create jobs.”

You can read Labrador’s full statement here, and click below to read Minnick’s full statement.

Labrador wins, beats Minnick

The Associated Press has called Idaho’s 1st District congressional race in favor of GOP challenger Raul Labrador. The latest figures from the Idaho Secretary of State’s office show that with 753 of 961 precincts reporting, Labrador had 50.2 percent to Minnick’s 42 percent, with independent Dave Olson garnering 5.9 percent and Libertarian Mike Washburn 1.9 percent.

Minnick’s campaign said on Twitter just now, “Congratulations  to Raul Labrador on a hard-earned win, and best of luck as Idaho’s next Congressman.”

Otter claims victory, promises ‘conservative leadership in tough times’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has claimed victory in his re-election bid, saying in a statement, “I give credit to my opponent, Mr. Allred, for running a very tough race. In the end, Idahoans spoke loudly that strong conservative leadership is what they wanted during these tough times.” You can read Otter’s full statement here. In this AP photo by Matt Cilley, Otter, joined by his mother, Regina Otter, delivers a thank-you message to supporters earlier tonight; he waited to claim victory until he heard from Allred.

Allred concedes in guv’s race

Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred has conceded to GOP Gov. Butch Otter in the governor’s race. “I believe more strongly than ever in the Founding Fathers’ wisdom that the best solutions are those that attract support across the lines that divide us,” Allred said in a statement. “It’s been my privilege to take that message to the people of Idaho.” Allred, who called Otter at 12:36 a.m. to concede, said, “I wish Governor Otter all the best as he works to guide our state through a difficult time.”

Meanwhile, GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador took the podium at Idaho GOP election night headquarters and said, “I want to go to bed. It’s too early to call it.” He thanked his supporters, and noted that he was outspent both in the primary race and in the general election contest. “I think they have shown what you can do with a little bit of money, a lot of energy and a lot of faith,” Labrador said.

Latest results in guv’s race

With vote-counting delays in Kootenai, Ada and Canyon counties, the election results have been very slow to come in tonight, prompting several major candidates to hold off on either declaring victory or conceding - including Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred. Here are the latest results from the Idaho Secretary of State’s office: With 543 of 961 precincts reporting, Otter has 60.5 percent to Allred’s 31.7 percent, while independent Jana Kemp has 5.7 percent, Libertarian Ted Dunlap has 1.2 percent and independent “Pro-Life” has 0.8 percent.

AP declares Luna, Little, Ysursa winners

The AP has called three more Idaho races: Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna all have won re-election, the AP says. The most high-profile race among those three was Luna’s; he faced a challenge from Stan Olson, the just-retired superintendent of the Boise School District, the state’s second-largest district. With 227 of 961 precincts reporting, Luna’s lead was 62.7 percent to Olson’s 37.3 percent.

Minnick: ‘I expect it to be very close’

Freshman Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick, the only Democrat among Idaho’s congressional delegation, said tonight that he’s not surprised he’s in such a hard-fought re-election race. “It’s the most Republican district to have elected a Democratic challenger in a Democratic year,” he said of his election in 2008. “We’re now in a very Republican year. In that circumstance … I think it was a given that it was going to have a lot of attention.” He said that was regardless of who the GOP nominee was against him.

Minnick said with a “Republican wave” out there, “more and more people have been asking, why shouldn’t it affect Idaho?” Plus, he said, it’s a time when “emotions are high and there is a great deal of disaffection,” given the nation’s economic straits and their impact on people. “Will people look beyond party label to the policies and background of the candidates as individuals? That’s the issue,” he said. “I’m of course hopeful that they will. We’ll have to see how it turns out. I expect it to be very close.

Early numbers look good for Labrador

The early numbers looked very good for GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador - with 124 of 961 precincts reporting, Labrador had 50.7 percent of the vote to incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick’s 42.6 percent, with independent Dave Olson trailing at 5.2 percent and Libertarian Mike Washburn at 1.4 percent. Labrador said he’s not surprised the race is so competitive - even though he was underfunded and running against an incumbent congressman. “I think people this year, more than ever, were looking at the message and not at the money spent,” Labrador said. “When they saw the ads, they wanted to find out for themselves if those things were true.” He speculated that Minnick’s ads drove voters to Labrador’s website to check him out.

He also noted that while his name recognition at the start of the campaign was very low statewide, by the end it was up to 90 percent - a change he attributes to Minnick’s negative ads against him. “I want to thank him,” Labrador said with a grin. He added of the race, “It’s too early to call.”

AP calls top races…

The Associated Press has called several of Idaho’s top races - it’s declared Sen. Mike Crapo a winner, winning a third term in the U.S. Senate; along with 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson, winning another term in the House; and the AP has declared Gov. Butch Otter the winner in his bid for second term - though only a small fraction of Idaho’s votes have been counted. The AP’s projection was based on exit polls along with the earliest results.

Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred, shown here greeting supporters at the Idaho Democratic Party’s campaign headquarters at the Owyhee Plaza Hotel in Boise, said of his first run for office, “It’s been exciting and a lot more fun than I thought.”

One day left ‘til the election…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com from Saturday’s paper on the outside ads being run against Democratic candidate for governor, Keith Allred, thanks to a big cash infusion to the Idaho Republican Party from the Republican Governors Association. And here’s a link to my Sunday Handle Extra column on the upcoming elections in Idaho, including new voter ID requirements and a rundown of contested legislative races in North Idaho.

Party goes negative so Otter doesn’t have to

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter likes to say he doesn’t go negative - all his TV campaign ads are positive and are about him, not his opponent. But there have been plenty of negative ads airing targeting Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, thanks to a $400,000 infusion this month from the Republican Governors Association to the Idaho Republican Party, which then aired the anti-Allred ads. Both are different versions of the same message: That by saying all options are on the table for reviewing “special interest” tax exemptions, Allred’s really said he’s going to tax everything from child care to church bake sales, a contention he rejects.

“The Idaho Republican Party has a very good working relationship with the Republican Governors Association,” said Jonathan Parker, Idaho GOP executive director. “They were very supportive of the party and obviously wanted to see Gov. Otter handily re-elected, so they chose to invest some resources in the state party to help us get the governor re-elected.” He added, “What we did as an independent expenditure was completely apart from the governor’s office, there was no coordination, they didn’t even know it was coming - legally they can’t.” The RGA is flush this year, Parker said, due to successful fundraising efforts by its chairman, Haley Barbour, that left the group with close to $60 million in the bank in September.

Said Parker, “They were just looking for places to spend it.”

According to the Idaho GOP’s latest campaign finance report, the RGA gave it $200,000 on Oct. 4 and another $200,000 on Oct. 8. So far, the party’s spent $349,530 on independent expenditures in support of Otter, all paid to companies in Washington, D.C. and Virginia, apparently for the TV ad campaign. Asked if something more is coming with the remaining $50,470, Parker said, “Possibly so, yes,” and referenced “things that are currently in the works.”

Ad Watch: Labrador, NRCC launch new campaign ads in 1st CD race

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador has launched a new ad today, a spot entitled “Family” that doesn’t mention his opponent and shows lots of pictures of his wife and kids. You can watch it here; Labrador’s campaign says it will begin airing this weekend. In the ad, Labrador says, “Becca and I want for our family what you want for yours.  A future without big government watching and taxing our every move.”

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee has launched a new ad against incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick in Idaho, showing what appears to be the view from behind the wheel of an out-of-control speeding car. The ad paints Minnick as a clone of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, citing such Democratic proposals as “national energy tax, government takeover of health care,” even though Minnick voted against both the cap-and-trade energy bill and the health care reform bill. “Put the brakes on Pelosi. Replace Walt Minnick,” the NRCC ad says; you can watch it here.

Otter faces rivals in final debate

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter defended his cuts to education and his track record as governor Thursday night, as he met four rivals in the final debate before Tuesday’s election. “The choice had to be made, because there’s only two ways that you can balance the budget, you either cut the government or you increase the tax load for the citizenry,” Otter declared. “We chose the former.” His Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, strongly disagreed, and peppered Otter with criticisms; also debating were independents Jana Kemp and “Pro-Life” and Libertarian Ted Dunlap. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Closing comments: Governor’s debate

Among the comments in the candidates’ closing statements: Ted Dunlap said, “I stand for smaller government in every aspect.” Jana Kemp said, “Are you really willing to trust a person who’s running as a Democrat and says he’s not one? … If neither of these two cowboys, dare I say, are appealing, and you want somebody who will do the best job for Idaho, then vote for me.” Keith Allred said, “I’m proud to be independent and I’m proud of the Democratic Party who would nominate an independent. … Butch Otter has a problem. … He’s running against somebody who’s more serious about cutting taxes than he is.” Otter said, “This is serious business, this is no time for theory, no time for ‘maybe it’ll work.’ … The choice had to be made because there’s only two ways that you can balance the budget, you either cut the government or you increase the tax load for the citizenry. We chose the former.”

The back and forth…

When Gov. Butch Otter said some of the other candidates want to raise taxes, Keith Allred said Otter knows he doesn’t want to raise taxes. Otter responded, “This is Obama-speak,” and said Democrats want to say they’re for cutting taxes but really want to raise them. Allred told Otter to focus on Idaho, not talk about Obama, and noted that personally, he favors keeping the Bush tax cuts in place. Jana Kemp asked if that was the same Fox News appearance in which Allred said he wasn’t a Democrat. Allred said he’s an independent running on the Democratic ticket. Allred said he wants the government to get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the economy, and wants to do so by lowering tax rates and eliminating exemptions. Now it’s time for closing statements.

‘If wolves were eating children…’

The candidates for governor have been clashing over water quality monitoring, and now about wolves. “Enough is enough,” Otter declared, defending his decision to end state wolf management. Allred said Otter has been talking for 30 years about pushing back the federal government, but, “What has he ever done that actually accomplished that? … He’s got one tool in his toolkit, and that’s to file federal lawsuits. … We need to be taking destiny into our own hands and using effective tools for beating back federal control, and we need to do that by being able to monitor our own wolf population” to make the case for delisting.

Ted Dunlap said the wolves that were reintroduced into Idaho are “monsters.” Pro-Life said, “When you’re pro-life, you don’t like wolves. … I’m pretty much a vegetarian.” He added, “I think the animals that are in Idaho belong to Idaho. … I don’t think the federal government should have anything to do with that.”

Otter said the state’s spent only $6,000 on its lawsuit over federal health care reform, $1,000 on its brief in the Arizona immigration lawsuit, $1,000 on slickspot peppergrass litigation and $1,000 on the appeal of the federal ruling re-listing wolves. Pro-Life said, “Well if wolves were eating children, I would do something.”

Otter: ‘We’ve had to make some tough decisions’

Gov. Otter was asked how he squares his promise to make Idaho’s government more efficient and customer-focused with the closing of local Health & Welfare offices, the fumbling of paperwork that cost Idaho farmers millions in disaster aid, and other flubs. Otter responded that when he took office, “We had about a $130 million surplus in our budget, we had 2.7 percent unemployment. This last two years things have gotten a little tough and we’ve had to make some tough decisions.” On the farm disaster paperwork, he said, “You’re absolutely right. … We lost that paperwork for a week and that was the last week that we could actually apply for that. So mea culpa, that was our fault. But the $10 million is a stretch. I would agree that there was some loss, no question about it. … We made three different attempts with Vilsack asking for a federal waiver … then I got the delegation involved, they asked for some consideration and a waiver, and we got neither.”

Jana Kemp said, “The key is that in the governor’s office, all communication must be managed effectively. Without that, things fall through the cracks. … The pattern must come to an end. If you want to keep living in the past and mistakes that have been made, you know how to vote.”

Keith Allred said, “Butch Otter wants to blame all of his administration’s problems on the economy and other external circumstances. The one thing that tells you is don’t expect any better performance in the next four years - he thinks the performance of his administration has been fine.” Allred said it “wasn’t the economy” that caused the state’s Health & Welfare billing snafu that left providers unpaid for months, that threatened to kick hundreds of dentists off the state’s Medicaid contract, or made an error with the disaster aid. “We need a governor who can do his homework and get his facts right,” Allred said.