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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Ad Watch: New Labrador ad claims bill raised taxes

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador has launched a new TV ad, with the help of funding from the Idaho Republican Party, painting Congressman Walt Minnick as a tax-raiser. The one vote cited in the ad: Minnick voted in favor of HR 4154, which the ad says means he “voted to raise taxes on farmers and ranchers.”

But that bill, the Permanent Estate Tax Relief for Families, Farmers and Small Businesses Act of 2009, actually would have lowered the federal estate tax from 55 percent to 45 percent on Jan. 1, and raised the exemption from the first $1 million of an estate to $3.5 million. Because the bill was blocked in the Senate after passing the House, current law now calls for the higher rate and lower exemption to hit Jan. 1.

The federal estate tax currently is at zero for one year, but it reverts to the old, higher rates and lower exemptions unless Congress takes action. Phil Hardy, spokesman for Labrador’s campaign, said that means the bill would have raised taxes from the current zero level. “Republicans want to abolish the estate tax - Raul Labrador wants to abolish the estate tax,” Hardy said. “There’s no way he would have voted for any of these things.”

Prior to the full House’s passage of HR 4154, Minnick was one of just 18 House Democrats who voted in favor of an amendment to the bill to instead eliminate the estate tax. It failed, 187-233. “When that amendment did not pass, he voted for the compromise to make sure that the tax wouldn’t go up,” said Minnick’s campaign spokesman, John Foster. Hardy said, “That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.” He added, “We’re happy with it - we love the ad.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

IACI hits Allred again, with another $24K

The Idaho Prosperity Fund, operated by IACI, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, has filed another independent expenditure report showing that it made a $24,275 independent expenditure today against Keith Allred, all paid to ORRA SGS of Orlando, Fla. for printing, postage and advertising production. The odd thing is that the fund filed an identical report four days earlier; now, it’s saying it’s done it again, and spent another $24,275.

Ad Watch: Latest Otter ad

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Gov. Butch Otter’s latest campaign ad, which touts the Opportunity Scholarship Fund that Otter helped establish, but doesn’t mention that no new students have been able to apply for the scholarship for the past two years due to lack of funds. Renewals for the original recipients still are being funded, and about 450 students are getting needs-based scholarships of up to $3,000 a year.

Dems fund poll for Allred

The Idaho Democratic Party has filed an independent expenditure report showing that it spent $50,000 on polling yesterday on behalf of Keith Allred, the Democratic candidate for governor. Coincidentally, that was a day before the independent Idaho Newspapers Poll came out today, showing GOP Gov. Butch Otter leading Allred in the race, 52 percent to 30 percent, with 5 percent for independent Jana Kemp, 4 percent for Libertarian Ted Dunlap and 1 percent for “Pro-Life.”

The Democrats hired Winding Creek Group of Washington, D.C. with their independent expenditure.

New Otter ad touts scholarship that’s now frozen to just past-year recipients

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s latest campaign ad touts the Opportunity Scholarship Fund, which he pushed for and helped establish to provide needs-based scholarships for Idaho college students, an area that’s long been sorely lacking in the state. However, not mentioned in the ad is the fact that no new students have been able to apply for the scholarship for the past two years; due to lack of funds, only renewals for those whose scholarships started three years ago currently are being funded. About 450 students are getting the scholarships now, down from about 700 when it started.

In the ad, Otter says, “Now, these are tough economic times, and the Opportunity Scholarship funds give students the funds necessary to pursue a higher education - and a better-paying job. Idaho’s future is bright, and I’m working hard to make it even brighter.” The ad closes with a group of college students saying in unison Otter’s campaign slogan, “Butch Otter, our governor, our future.”

Ryan Panitz, Otter campaign spokesman, said, “It’s definitely something great that he’s done.” Panitz noted that Otter wanted $100 million in the fund, but only got $20 million; no new money has been added for the past two years, though Otter unsuccessfully requested another $1 million this year. “The governor wants $100 million in that fund, but because of the economy there’s only $20 million,” Panitz said. “The governor established the opportunity scholarship fund to help students go on to college, whether it be a four-year institution or a two-year school, and that is actually what the ad says and that’s been done.”

Mark Browning, spokesman for the State Board of Education, which administers the scholarship, said the renewable scholarships are good for up to four years, and most recipients get the maximum of $3,000 per year. It’s a “last-dollar” scholarship, meaning students must first apply for all other available financial aid, and the Opportunity Scholarship steps in only after their family’s expected contribution and all other aid are taken into account. The fact that most recipients get the maximum amount, he said, “tells you how big the gap is” between student needs and what’s available. “It’s a great program, because with that last-dollars mechanism you are really getting the people that need help, but it just really exemplifies what’s going on with the cost of education,” Browning said. “It’s tough, it’s really tough. The upside is you’ve got 450-some people that are able to go on and realize that dream. The downside is there’s many, many more that need it that don’t have access to it, because there’s not more money available.”

Faith, politics and Mitt Romney…

AP reporter John Miller takes a look today at how Mormonism and politics have merged in two western campaigns, Idaho’s gubernatorial race and Nevada’s Senate race, and the glimpses it provides into scrutiny Mitt Romney could face in a 2012 run for president. “Americans like their candidates to be religious, but not too religious,” Richard Bushman, chair of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate College, says in the article. “If you have a demanding religion, one that fills a large part of your life, that makes them uneasy. Mormonism, as everyone knows, is a demanding religion.” Click below for Miller’s full report.

From bigotry to baloney: NYT looks at Idaho 1st CD race

Here’s a link to today’s New York Times story by reporter William Yardley on Idaho’s 1st CD race, which notes that “racial overtones have developed here, echoing other campaigns where immigration is an issue,” including Nevada’s Harry Reid-Sharron Angle race. “Idahoans are not bigoted, but he’s assuming that the people of Idaho are,” Labrador says of Minnick in the article.  “He’s assuming that the people of Idaho are going to look at those ads and say ‘I’m not going to vote for the Puerto Rican guy.’ ” Minnick calls that “baloney” and defends his ads as revealing Labrador’s “flip-flopping” on the immigration issue.

Also in the article, Minnick offers this explanation for why he wouldn’t switch to the Republican Party: “It’s easier to be a fiscally conservative Democrat than it is to be a socially moderate Republican.”

KTVB pulls SuperPAC ad

At least one Idaho TV station, KTVB-TV in Boise, has decided to pull the SuperPAC for America ad against Walt Minnick that contains a false claim. “It is a non-candidate sponsored commercial, and we just reviewed the facts,” said Doug Armstrong, KTVB general manager. “It appears the commercial is factually incorrect regarding vote #46 on Jan 28th. We’ve decided to pull the commercial effective immediately.”

Outside group is ‘looking into’ its claim in anti-Minnick ad

RJ Laukitis, executive director of SuperPAC for America, just responded to Eye on Boise’s inquiry about its anti-Minnick ad in Idaho, which falsely claims Idaho Rep. Walt Minnick voted in favor of the stimulus bill when he was one of just 11 House Democrats who voted against it. In an email, Laukitis said, “We are looking into this claim.”

And a ‘superPAC’ is…

Here’s an interesting tidbit about SuperPAC for America, the national group headed by Dick Morris that’s running a false ad in Idaho targeting Idaho Rep. Walt Minnick: Opensecrets.org reported yesterday that the group was the single top outside spender in the nation that day, spending $1.08 million in 11 congressional districts. It’s one of the new independent expenditure-only organizations that can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, unions and corporations for political messages that overtly advocate for or against federal candidates. According to Opensecrets, such groups, nicknamed “SuperPACs,” “have arisen in the wake of weakened campaign finance rules in light of federal court rulings in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission.”

Minnick campaign: False SuperPAC ad ‘outrageous’

Congressman Walt Minnick’s re-election campaign is calling a new anti-Minnick ad from a national group headed by GOP strategist Dick Morris “outrageous” for falsely claiming Minnick voted in favor of the stimulus bill. “What’s outrageous is the actual vote they cite says he voted no,” said campaign manager John Foster. “I have already been in touch with our attorneys and with a couple of station managers. We believe the law here is very clear.” Stations have the option of rejecting false ads that come from outside groups, he said.

The ad is from SuperPAC for America, a national group that’s launching ads against 50 Democratic candidates in what it describes as “second-tier” races that Democrats expect to win.

Ad Watch: National group targets Minnick with false claim in TV ad

A new independent ad against Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick that’s airing in Idaho makes a false claim that Minnick voted in favor of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal stimulus bill, when Minnick actually was one of 11 Democrats who voted against the bill in the Jan. 28, 2009 House vote. SuperPAC of America, headed by GOP political strategist Dick Morris, is airing cookie-cutter versions of its “Voter Guide” ads in numerous states as part of its strategy to target 50 “second-tier” seats that Democrats view as safe, in an effort to fuel a GOP pickup of 100 seats in Congress.

“The more we spend on these ‘safe Democratic seats’ the more we put these incumbents in danger,” Morris writes on the group’s website. “The Democrats will have to tie up incredible amounts of resources to defend these second-tier 50 seats that they once thought were safe. They will not be able to help other Democrats in trouble in the first 50 seats now at risk. In football we would call this strategy ‘prevent offense.’” The anti-Minnick ad began running in the Boise market last night.

The group, which says it’s already raised more than $3 million for its ad push, targets other Democratic incumbents across the country for voting in favor of the health care reform bill and the stimulus bill, then touts their Republican challengers. Minnick, however, voted against both those bills. The anti-Minnick ad alters the message on health care to criticize Minnick for not backing repeal of the full health-care reform bill - Minnick maintains some parts, such as insurance reforms, are worth keeping - but then falsely claims Minnick voted for the stimulus bill. SuperPAC for America’s executive director, RJ Laukitis, didn’t immediately respond to a reporter’s inquiry about the ad.

New Idaho Newspapers Poll: 1st CD race is now a dead heat

There’s a new Idaho Newspapers Poll out this morning, and it shows that the 1st District congressional race has narrowed to a dead heat - freshman Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick has 44 percent to GOP challenger Raul Labrador’s 41 percent, which is within the poll’s 5 percent margin of error. The last Idaho Newspapers Poll in September showed Minnick with a 10-point lead; you can read our full story here, and see today’s full poll results here.

The poll also showed Republicans consolidating their leads in other major Idaho races; Gov. Butch Otter led Democratic challenger Keith Allred 52 percent to 30 percent, with 5 percent for independent Jana Kemp, 4 percent for Libertarian Ted Dunlap and 1 percent for “Pro-Life”; Sen. Mike Crapo led Democratic challenger Tom Sullivan 64-20 percent; state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna led challenger Stan Olson 50-34 percent; and 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson led Democratic challenger Mike Crawford 67-17 percent, with 5 percent for independent Brian Schad.

The Idaho Newspapers Poll is a collaboration of seven newspapers: The Spokesman-Review, the Idaho Statesman, the Idaho Press Tribune, the Lewiston Tribune, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, the Post Register, and the Times-News. The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research In., which interviewed 625 likely voters Oct. 20-22. The poll’s margin of error statewide is plus or minus 4 percentage points; it’s 5 percent in the 1st CD.

Otter, Allred both loaning $$ to their own campaigns

Both Gov. Butch Otter and his Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, are making big loans to their campaigns in the final days of the race, the AP reports. While Otter loaned his campaign $206,000 on Thursday, Allred will report on Tuesday that he and his family have loaned his campaign about $115,000; the campaign had no debt as of its last report Sept. 30. Otter spokesman Ryan Panitz said the loan is part of the millionaire governor’s original strategy and will be used to promote the GOP candidate on TV, among other advertising forms. Allred spokesman Shea Andersen says the campaign will continue spending money to help overcome Otter’s advantage in name recognition; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Ross Perot’s grandkids backing Labrador

H. Ross Perot III, the grandson of the quirky Texas billionaire who ran for president twice in the 1990s, has made a last-minute campaign contribution to Idaho GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador, and so have three of his family members. “Good, solid conservatives, the Perots,” said Phil Hardy, spokesman for Labrador’s campaign, who said the candidate had never met the young Perots. “They know when it’s time to get rid of someone who’s not good for our country. It really did lift our day.”

H. Ross Perot III is a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in history last spring. He gave Labrador $2,000 on Friday, as did Peter Hunter Perot and Sarah Catherine Perot, while Sarah Fullinwider Perot donated $1,000.

The contributions showed up in required 48-hour notices of last-minute campaign contributions, which must be filed for contributions of more than $1,000 within two weeks of the election. Labrador has received $36,800 of those contributions, including $5,000 from a Washington, D.C. group called “Every Republican is Crucial.” Incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick has received $92,300 in such contributions, including $5,000 from the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons and $2,000 from Hecla Mining.

In addition to those donations, Labrador reported raising $60,749 for his campaign from Oct. 1 to Oct. 13, and closing that period with $83,604 on hand for his campaign. Minnick reported raising $61,899 in the same period and having $372,645 on hand. Those figures are prior to the last-minute contributions in the campaign’s final two weeks.

Last-minute money flowing, Otter loans his campaign $200K

As the election campaign moves into its final days, candidates or committees that make big contributions or independent expenditures within two weeks of the election have to file notices with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office within 48 hours. Those 48-hour notices are flowing in now, particularly in the governor’s race. Gov. Butch Otter reports that he loaned his campaign $206,000 on Thursday; he also reported $6,500 in big last-minute contributions since last Tuesday, plus another $12,000 last Monday. His Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, reported $63,900 in big contributions since last Tuesday, and loaned his campaign $11,000 on Wednesday. You can see all the notices on the Secretary of State’s website here.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Prosperity Fund, which is operated by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a business lobby, reported that it spent $24,275 on Wednesday on an independent campaign against Allred, for literature, postage and advertising production. And the Idaho Realtors PAC is mounting an independent expenditure campaign against the re-election of Valley County Commissioner Frank Eld; you can see those reports here.

Kempthorne endorses Labrador

Former Idaho governor, U.S. senator and secretary of the interior Dirk Kempthorne today endorsed Raul Labrador for Congress, saying, “The people of Idaho have been well-served by their Republican team of elected officials” and saying Labrador will be  “a fine addition to that successful team.” Kempthorne was the leading booster of Labrador’s GOP primary rival, Iraq veteran Vaughn Ward, whom Labrador defeated in May.

Labrador said, “I am very grateful to Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for this endorsement.  His long and valued service to the people of Idaho and America is a great example for all men and women in public life.  Secretary Kempthorne was esteemed by his colleagues and always represented Idahoans respectfully and with strength.  I hope to serve the people of Idaho in the same manner.” You can read the full announcement here.

The state’s highest-ranking wedding crasher?

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: JEROME, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter accidentally became the state’s highest ranking wedding crasher during a campaign stop. The state’s chief executive entered a room in the Jerome Public Library in southern Idaho with other GOP candidates on Wednesday evening. The Times-News reports that Otter was responding to a difficult question about wolves when wedding guests started arriving from the nuptials in a nearby park and Linda Helms lobbed an even tougher question by wanting to know why the governor had taken over a room reserved for the bride and groom. Helms says Otter broke off the meeting and the candidates left. Republican Rep. Maxine Bell of Jerome says she felt so bad about the mix up she started folding chairs to get the room ready for the newlyweds.

Profile: The race for governor

Butch Otter’s long-awaited turn as Idaho’s governor – he first ran for the post in 1978 and served as lieutenant governor for 14 years – hasn’t turned out quite the way he planned. He promised improvements to education, a business-friendly climate, and a restructured, more-efficient state government that would be “the people’s servant” and allow Idahoans to “achieve greatness.” He’s had some notable successses. But in the last four years, he oversaw the state’s first cut to school funding as Idaho plunged into recession, and amid controversy and budget cuts, abandoned big changes as quickly as they were proposed. The centerpiece initiative of Otter’s term, his plan to raise hundreds of millions in new revenue to invest in Idaho’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure, was defeated even though his party controlled three-quarters of the seats in the state Legislature.

Today, the state is embroiled in lawsuits over a multimillion-dollar school broadband contract award and the firing of its transportation director. Its biggest agency, Health and Welfare, left health care providers unpaid for months in a contracting snafu and recently backed away from a plan to boot hundreds of dentists off the state’s Medicaid program on 30 days’ notice. “In our state we are experiencing a government that is falling apart,” says Jana Kemp, a former GOP state representative who’s challenging Otter as an independent.

As Otter, 68, seeks re-election to a second and likely final term, he’s facing an unusual Democratic opponent – a professional mediator, citizen activist and former Harvard University professor who had won praise from all sides, including from Otter, as a nonpartisan advocate for the “common interest” of all Idahoans. Keith Allred agreed to run as the Democratic Party’s candidate, but only after the party pledged to back his agenda, rather than the other way around. The contrast between Otter and Allred – both on an array of issues and on the basic questions of how best to govern the state – has dominated the race. Here’s a link to my full story on the governor’s race from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review, and you can click here to see how Otter and Allred differ on some key issues in the race.

Profile: The 1st CD race

Freshman congressman Walt Minnick is a new kind of Idaho Democrat – one who votes more often with Republicans than with his own party, one who attracts business support that usually goes to GOP candidates, and one who crusades against earmarks, refusing to request any even if it means his district loses out on pricey projects.

Still, in conservative Idaho, where the 1st Congressional District voted just 35 percent for Barack Obama for president in 2008 and Minnick is the first Democrat to hold the seat since 1994, Minnick’s re-election isn’t assured. The Harvard-educated former timber products CEO beat unpopular GOP Rep. Bill Sali by just 4,211 votes two years ago. This year, he faces an ardent but underfunded rising conservative star from the Idaho Statehouse, Raul Labrador. You can read my full story here on the 1st CD race from Saturday’s Spokesman-Review, and click here to see where the two leading candidates differ on some key issues in the race.