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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Idaho Newspapers Poll: No to repeal of 17th Amendment, yes to Tea Party

Idahoans are dead-set against handing over selection of U.S. senators to the state Legislature, and Idaho Republicans are even more against the idea than Democrats or the state as a whole, according to the Idaho Newspapers Poll, a collaboration of seven Idaho newspapers. Yet that move is a plank in the Idaho Republican Party platform, raising questions about how closely the leadership of the state’s largest political party reflects its members.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of Idaho Republicans, and nearly half of the state as a whole, say they generally support the agenda of the tea party movement, with the numbers in North Idaho rising to a 56 percent majority, compared to 47 percent support in southeastern Idaho and 43 percent in the Treasure Valley. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see today’s full poll results here.

EOB: Labrador plans fundraiser in Puerto Rico

Idaho GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador plans to travel to his native Puerto Rico next week to raise money for his campaign against Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick, the AP reports, with a $500-per-person reception next Thursday. More here at Eye on Boise


Labrador plans fundraiser in Puerto Rico

Idaho GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador plans to travel to his native Puerto Rico next week to raise money for his campaign against Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick, the AP reports. A campaign flier says Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno is expected to attend a $500-per-person reception next Thursday for Labrador, who was born in the U.S. territory. Eric Labrador, a Republican who served in former Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello’s cabinet and is Labrador’s half brother, is among nine dignitaries hosting the fundraiser.

Idaho Newspapers Poll: Idahoans oppose education cuts, many undecided in supt race

As Idaho voters make clear their displeasure with cuts to public education spending, the men running to lead the state’s schools for the next four years are campaigning in relative obscurity, reports Ben Botkin of the Times-News in today’s installment of the Idaho Newspapers Poll; you can read our full story here. Day 3 of the poll results examines Idahoans’ concerns about education funding - 56 percent think we’re spending too little on K-12 education, and 59 percent oppose this year’s school funding cuts - and about the race for state superintendent of schools, in which incumbent Tom Luna faces a challenge from just-retired Boise School District superintendent Stan Olson.

You can see today’s full poll results here. Coming tomorrow in the poll, a unique collaborative effort between seven Idaho newspapers, are the results looking at party affiliation, platform planks and support for the tea party movement; that final installment was my piece to report and write. All the papers are running the stories and contributing to the coverage.

Ad watch: The new Allred TV ad

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred’s new TV commercial focuses on education cuts, for which he criticizes Gov. Butch Otter. Here’s a look at the claims:

CLAIM: In the ad, Allred says, “Butch Otter doesn’t do his homework. He botched the budget and cut education 7 percent, the first cut in Idaho history.”

Allred has rounded down; this year’s cut in Idaho’s public school budget, from all fund sources, was $128.5 million, or 7.5 percent (the correct figures appear on the screen as Allred speaks). Otter himself has acknowledged the historic nature of the cut, saying it’s the first since at least the 1950s. Last year, Idaho cut state general funds to schools, which also was historic, by 13.7 percent, but the overall budget for schools actually rose by a tiny amount, 0.4 percent, because of the impact of $145.7 million in federal stimulus money that was pumped into the 2009-2010 school budget. This year’s school budget is a reduction both in state general funds and total funds. Another measure of Idaho’s school funding, discretionary funds to school district per classroom unit, dropped by 14.4 percent, according to the 2010 Idaho Legislative Fiscal Report.

CLAIM: Allred says in the ad, “The result: Too many kids per class. Not enough textbooks or instruction time.”

The impact of the budget cuts varied by school districts, but Idaho districts did report increased class sizes, cuts or delays in textbook purchases, and decreases in instruction time. Among them: The Cambridge school district imposed six unpaid furlough days on teachers and went to a four-day school week; Filer shortened its school year by four days and Buhl by six days; Genesee cut 15 days while lengthening the school day; Parma cut six days from the school year, and Firth cut 10. The Idaho Falls district left teaching positions unfilled, swelling class sizes. Some of the impacts of the cuts are being mitigated by a last-minute infusion of federal funds aimed at saving teachers’ jobs, but it’s not enough to make up even half this year’s cuts, and Otter is urging schools to spread that money across the next two years.

CLAIM:  Allred, in his ad, says, “It didn’t have to happen. I’m Keith Allred. I’ll make cost-effective investments in education without raising taxes. Otter helped special interests and hurt schools. As governor I’ll work for you and them.”

Allred maintains Idaho could have eliminated tax exemptions for special interests and filled vacant positions at the state Tax Commission to collect more tax money. Otter responds that he’s signed just one tax exemption into law since he’s been governor, and that he successfully proposed a plan to phase in more audit staff at the Tax Commission over several years, while monitoring that the investment pays off. Allred also has contended that Otter and the Legislature estimated tax revenues for the coming year too low, ignoring forecasts from experts and forcing deeper cuts than were necessary; only time will tell on that.

Otter’s campaign spokesman, Ryan Panitz, had this response to the ad: “We invite our opponent to actually do his own homework and study these facts!  Governor Otter put more than $394M in to education to insulate it and put $20M straight in to the classroom for textbooks, supplies, and important programs to our students.  Governor Otter’s initiatives, like the Idaho Education Network, have connected our students to new learning opportunities.  In addition, the Governor’s new Opportunity Scholarships are providing more chances for our children to go on to college than ever before.”

The ad includes an image of a troubled Otter looking down at a tall stack of papers; that’s a composite image in which the papers and other elements were added. “He is consistent in saying that we had alternatives to making the cut to education that Otter chose to make,” said Allred’s campaign spokesman, Shea Andersen. “So we talk about studies from the state’s economists, from the Tax Commission, there’s several out there that say there were options. So the message in the ad with that image is the evidence stacks up and Otter still does the wrong thing.” The children shown in the ad are from families of Allred supporters who volunteered to participate in the commercial. It started airing last night in markets from Boise to Idaho Falls. Andersen said the campaign anticipates running TV ads in northern Idaho as well, but thus far has not.

Tax exemptions in campaign spotlight; Risch blasts Allred

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Grappling with Idaho’s $1.7 billion worth of sales tax exemptions is becoming a centerpiece in the 2010 race for governor. U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, a Republican supporter of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, upped the ante this week by lending his name to a partisan attack on Democrat Keith Allred. Risch blasted Allred in a mailer — paid for by a business lobby — saying Otter’s challenger would repeal millions in tax cuts and kill thousands of jobs. In fact, Allred has been pushing to end some of the $1.7 billion worth of tax exemptions he says benefit well-connected special interests to the exclusion of other Idaho taxpayers, then using the revenue to reduce Idaho’s overall tax rate. He contends the roughly 130 exemptions enacted since 1965 include some that succeeded only because one industry had a better lobbyist than another. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho Newspapers Poll: Protect education, reform sales tax

In Day 2 of the results of the Idaho Newspapers Poll, Idahoans say they want the sales tax reformed, but they’re unclear as to how; they’re also very concerned about school funding. You can read a full report here, including reactions from Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred, and see today’s full results here.

The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., is a collaboration of seven Idaho newspapers: The Spokesman-Review, the Idaho Statesman, the Idaho Press-Tribune, the Lewiston Tribune, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, the Post Register in Idaho Falls, and the Times-News in Twin Falls.

Allred launches education ad

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred has launched his second TV ad of the campaign, focusing on this year’s funding cuts to public schools; more on the ad tomorrow; you can watch it here. With TV ads playing such an important messaging role in Idaho’s big campaigns, reporters like me work to check out the claims and put the ads in perspective, but it’s not always an easy thing to do on deadline. That’s why this year’s Idaho Press Club fall conference couldn’t be better timed: It will bring in the head of FactCheck.org to advise reporters here on skills and tools for effective fact-checking on deadline, and holding politicians accountable for their claims.

Also scheduled: Sessions on tapping social media and new media and the law. If you’re an Idaho reporter or editor and haven’t yet registered for the conference, do it now; there’s info here. (Yes, I’m the president of the Idaho Press Club, but I can’t claim any credit for this conference - it was organized by our Southwest Chapter board, which is ably headed by Todd Dvorak of the AP.) The conference, entitled “Behind the Lines: A reporter’s path to the truth,” is this Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Judge halts state budget cut for disabled

Idaho’s planned cutbacks in Health & Welfare programs have run into a snag - a federal judge has temporarily barred the state from cutting a cash assistance program for some developmentally disabled adults. The recipients, who all function at the level of an 8-year-old or below, are part of a proposed class-action lawsuit charging that cutting their monthly payments could force them to become institutionalized, actually costing the state more than paying to keep them in certified family care homes. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Idaho Newspapers Poll: Undecideds still high in guv’s race, 1st CD close in North

Seven Idaho daily newspapers, including The Spokesman-Review, have joined together to commission the Idaho Newspapers Poll, a statewide poll of 625 likely Idaho voters taken Sept. 13-15 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Washington, D.C. Today, the first installment of poll results is out in all the papers, which include the Lewiston Tribune, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, the Idaho Statesman, the Idaho Press Tribune in Nampa, the Post Register in Idaho Falls, and the Times-News in Twin Falls.

The top news today from the poll: Gov. Butch Otter leads Democratic challenger 45-29 percent with 20 percent undecided; and 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick leads GOP challenger Raul Labrador 46-36 percent with 16 percent undecided. Minnick’s lead shrinks, however, among the poll’s North Idaho respondents to 43-40, which is within the poll’s margin of error; you can read our full story here and see today’s full results here.

The statewide poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. In the 1st CD, the margin of error is 5 percent; sixty additional interviews were conducted in the 1st Congressional District to bring the total sample size there to 400 likely voters, and 15 additional interviews were conducted in the Second Congressional District to bring the sample size there to 300, with the extra interviews covering only the congressional races. Additional installments of the joint project coming this week will look at taxes (Wednesday), education (Thursday) and party affiliation (Friday).

Idaho could gain if Bush tax cuts expire

Idaho is one of nine states that that would gain state tax revenue if some or all of the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, according to a new report from Stateline.org. The reason: The nine states collect state taxes based on federal taxable income, not adjusted gross income. So if increased deductions go away, federal taxable incomes rise, and people would pay more in state income taxes. Stateline reported that in these states, a legislative decision on whether to match federal tax changes “would allow them to raise revenues without legislators having to vote on a tax increase.”

Idaho almost always matches its tax code to federal changes, in a process dubbed “conformity” that usually sees little opposition in the Idaho Legislature - even when it costs the state millions - because matching the federal tax code is so much easier on Idaho filers, who otherwise would have to essentially keep two sets of books for state and federal taxes.

Labrador advances in ‘Young Guns’

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador has been named to “Contender” status in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program, the second tier of the three-tier program. “By achieving ‘Contender’ status, Labrador has already demonstrated his ability to build a successful campaign structure and achieve vital fundraising goals,” the NRCC said this morning in a press release; you can read it here. In it, NRCC Chairman Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Tex., said, “Raul Labrador has met a series of rigorous fundraising and campaign goals that will go a long way in helping to put this seat in the Republican column.”

Asked what those goals were, NRCC spokesman Greg Blair said, “That’s something that’s just between us and the campaign. Those goals are different for every campaign … we can’t comment on internal strategy like that. I will say that he did have to reach a bar, and he accomplished that.”

Labrador has lagged badly in fundraising, with incumbent Congressman Walt Minnick reporting a million-dollar cash-on-hand edge as of the last campaign finance report, though that was early in the summer. Labrador initially said he’d decided to “opt out” of the Young Guns program, after it touted his GOP primary opponent, Vaughn Ward, and boosted him to its top rank well before the primary. Labrador changed his mind a month and a half ago.

Asked how reaching ‘Contender’ status will benefit Labrador’s campaign, Blair said, “Basically they keep us in the loop on what they’re doing and we provide guidance where we can on building their campaign infrastructure, building their media plan, building their campaign plan, helping them build a path to victory. … That’s where they’ll see the benefit now.” The designation carries no financial benefit. “Raul’s put in a lot of hard work, and we’re looking forward to working with him for the rest of the campaign,” Blair said.

National Dem blog slams Minnick

The Daily Kos, a national Democratic liberal/progressive blog, slammed Idaho Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick over the weekend for his latest campaign commercial, which targets GOP challenger Raul Labrador over immigration. “Minnick is up 20 in the polls, while his opponent is broke and has zero institutional support (he’s a teabagger who beat the establishment’s choice),” Kos writes. “It’s a done race, yet Minnick decides to be a bigot anyway by attacking his opponent’s work as an immigration lawyer. Not only is this gratuitous, but it hurts his state’s small but growing Democratic Party.”

Kos concludes his post with an epithet, after writing, “Minnick has decided, for no obvious reason, to run a hateful campaign.”

State revenues for August $5.7M over target

Idaho’s state tax revenues surged another $5.7 million over the state’s projections in the month of August. When combined with the $4.5 million that state taxes beat projections in July, that puts the state $10.2 million ahead so far for the fiscal year that began July 1, according to the state’s Division of Financial Management. Individual income tax was the largest source of revenue strength in August.

Mike Ferguson, Gov. Butch Otter’s chief economist, reports the latest numbers in DFM’s monthly “Idaho Outlook” report, which also includes a look at what would happen in Idaho if the nation descends into a “double-dip” recession. However, national models now put the chances of that at 25 percent, and Ferguson notes that a double-dip is “not expected” because factors that have pushed the nation into the two previous double-dip recessions, in the late 1950s and the early 1980s, are lacking now. You can read the September report here.

Jorgenson condemns Minnick ad

Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, today issued a press release objecting to Congressman Walt Minnick’s negative campaign ad targeting GOP challenger Raul Labrador over immigration, though it takes a similar approach to a press release Jorgenson himself sent out in December of 2009 calling on Labrador to withdraw from the congressional race. In today’s release - read it here - Jorgenson says he was “appalled and disappointed” by Minnick’s ad, and said, “I cannot condemn it enough.” Here’s a link to Jorgenson’s 2009 release, which was headed, “Labrador Wrong For Idaho.”

Political news of the day…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the flap over Congressman Walt Minnick’s new negative ad targeting GOP challenger Raul Labrador. Here’s a link to an article today by Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman on how Minnick is in a quarter-million-dollar dispute with the IRS over the value of a conservation easement. Here’s a link to Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker’s report on House GOP leaders disputing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred’s role in the 2009 gas tax fight in the House, and here’s a link to a Lewiston Tribune article on Gov. Butch Otter deciding to do a radio call-in show in Boise on Oct. 7, the day that formerly was to be the Lewiston gubernatorial debate until Otter backed out.

And here’s a link to a Wall Street Journal article today on how business interests are increasingly worried about how the election of Tea Party-backed GOP candidates to Congress could threaten their priorities next year; Labrador is interviewed in the article as a prime example, saying he opposes any government program that could help one segment of the business community over another. “I’m against all of them,” Labrador told the Journal. “I don’t think the government should be picking winners and losers.”

Campaigns clash over new Minnick ad

GOP congressional hopeful Raul Labrador issued a statement tonight calling Congressman Walt Minnick’s new campaign ad “disgusting,” “disgraceful” and “shameful,” and saying it “succeeds in only twisting and editing my words into quotes that are blatantly untrue.” He also demands that Minnick immediately remove “this sleazy, degrading ad.” You can read Labrador’s full statement here. Meanwhile, Minnick campaign manager John Foster said in a statement, “Raul’s clients may deserve fair representation, but so do the people of Idaho. These are very tough times, and people deserve to know the truth about their candidates.” Minnick’s campaign also sent out a fact sheet citing the sources for the statements used in the ad, with links; you can see it here. Phil Hardy, Labrador’s communications director, sent out his own version in an email to the media tonight; you can read it here.

Minnick targets Labrador in new ad

Idaho 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick has put out a new campaign ad, and this one is a negative ad targeting his GOP challenger, Raul Labrador, for his work as an immigration lawyer. The ad just began airing this evening throughout the 1st Congressional District, including the Spokane market and North Idaho. It suggests that “illegal immigration may be good for Raul Labrador” because of his line of work, and says, “That sure makes him wrong for Idaho;” you can see the new ad on YouTube here.

Jim Weatherby, Boise State University political scientist emeritus, said it’s surprising to see an incumbent who’s ahead in the polls come out with a negative ad at this stage in the campaign. “That’s not typical, and may tell you that Minnick is more concerned about Labrador than a front-runner might ordinarily be,” Weatherby said. “But it also tells you in this political environment, I think candidates are learning from Lisa Murkowski and others: Take nothing for granted. Murkowski did not engage in any negative campaigning with her opponent. She paid a huge price.”

Murkowski is the Alaska senator who was defeated by Tea Party candidate Joe Miller in the GOP primary; she’s considering running in November as a write-in or third-party candidate. “The polls indicated she had no reason to be concerned, (and had) a sizable lead with an underfunded unknown candidate” challenging her, Weatherby said. “It’s typical that front-runners act like they don’t have an opponent - just ignore their opponent. But this is a different kind of year. Obviously, Minnick is taking no chances.”

Has Gov. Otter changed his stand on repealing the 17th Amendment?

Has Gov. Butch Otter changed his stand on repeal of the 17th Amendment? Today during a campaign debate before an audience of more than 400, Otter was asked by moderator Jim Weatherby, posing an audience-submitted question, “Governor, where do you stand on the 17th Amendment? You’ve implied your support for repeal. Simple question: Do you want Idahoans to elect our U.S. senators?” Otter responded, “I want Idahoans to elect our U.S. senators.” The 17th Amendment shifted selection of U.S. senators from state Legislatures to a vote of the people, and repealing it is a plank in Idaho’s Republican Party platform. Otter added, “I have said time and time again, and I’ll say again, my focus is on the 10th Amendment. I do not  believe you’re going to repeal the 17th Amendment, and have spent no time on repealing the 17th Amendment. That was a decision, and a very populist decision that was made in the early 20th Century, and I believe that decision is one that is going to stand no matter who wants the 17th Amendment repealed.”

But when he was the keynote speaker at the Spokane Tea Party rally in Spokane on April 15, Otter was sharply critical of the 17th Amendment. There, he told a cheering crowd, “All of the amendments to the Constitution in one form or another, some of ‘em I have a serious objection with, like the 17th Amendment, the direct election of United States senators. You know, that was the first big loss we had in states’ rights.” Since then, he’s been non-committal in his comments about the issue, saying he understands concerns about electing senators by popular vote rather than having legislatures choose them, but didn’t think the issue was likely to be addressed. Backers of repeal contend it would increase states’ rights by giving state legislatures a more formal say in the federal government.

Otter’s campaign spokesman, Ryan Panitz, said Monday afternoon that Otter “has always disagreed with the 17th Amendment but from a practical stance, repealing it isn’t going to happen.” Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, responded during today’s debate, “This is what you see with career politicians, the flipping and flopping back and forth depending on their audience. I have been consistent and clear. Idahoans can, should elect their own senator.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Closing statements: Guv candidates sound themes

In their closing statements at today’s City Club of Boise debate, the two major-party candidates for governor sounded the themes of their campaigns. “In these tough times, it’s not enough to just talk about the founding fathers,” said challenger Keith Allred. “Today we need a leader with a track record of bringing Idahoans together to identify the solutions that will attract that broad support. We need a leader with a track record of beating back the extreme partisanship of the special interests of our day. That is not Butch Otter’s track record.”

Otter, in his closing statement, said, “Idaho has and Idahoans have the right to be the architects of our own destiny, and we’re not now. … We generally run into some federal rule and regulation. We’ve tried every effort in the last four years to push back on the federal government, to recognize and appreciate the fact that we are a constitutional republic and that it should be Idahoans that are deciding what land is locked up … what our schools look like … what kind of activity we have in our economy. You can’t operate a state on theory, folks.”