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Idaho Politics

Political and legislative news out of Idaho.

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Allred opens gubernatorial campaign, names a Republican as his co-chair

Keith Allred formally announced his candidacy for governor as a Democrat this morning, at a rally in the Twin Falls High School gym, the same place he gave his first speech as a sixth-grader and where he spoke often when he was the school’s student body president. Allred had a surprise announcement: Joining former four-term Democratic Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus as honorary co-chairman of his campaign will be former state Sen. Laird Noh, R-Kimberly, the longtime Republican chairman of the Senate Resources Committee. Noh also served on the board of Allred’s nonpartisan citizen advocacy group, The Common Interest. Click below to read Allred’s full news release.

Common Interest response: ‘Well within the bounds of the law’

In response to the Idaho Republican Party’s announcement that it plans to file a complaint with the IRS over Keith Allred’s letter to The Common Interest members telling them he was running for governor,  Common Interest board member Marguerite McLaughlin of Orofino says the communication was “well within the bounds of the law,” and she added, “In fact, we have acted with an abundance of caution in this matter.” McLaughlin said Allred resigned as president of The Common Interest to run for office, and the organization is suspending its activities until after the election.

The Common Interest includes both a 501c3 educational arm, and a 501c4 political advocacy arm, according to its Web site; a 501c4 can engage in some partisan politics if that’s not its sole focus. However, McLaughlin didn’t mention the two entities in her response; click below to read the full news release from The Common Interest. She noted that Allred’s letter to members said, “The Common Interest does not endorse candidates. That includes me or anyone else.”

Idaho GOP plans complaint against Allred

The Idaho Republican Party has put out a news release saying it plans to file a complaint with the IRS against Keith Allred for the Dec. 10 letter he emailed out to members of his citizen advocacy group, The Common Interest, informing them that he was going to run for governor as a Democrat. Jonathan Parker, party executive director, said the letter was partisan campaign activity inappropriate for a nonprofit, and accused Allred of trying to “exploit the non-profit tax-exempt status of The Common Interest to further his own personal and partisan agenda.” Click below to read the full Idaho GOP news release. Allred campaign spokeswoman Jean McNeil said any response will have to come from The Common Interest rather than the campaign.

CQ weighs in on Idaho 1st CD race

CQ Politics writer Greg Giroux quotes former Idaho Democratic congressional candidate Larry Grant describing GOP 1st Congressional District hopeful Vaughn Ward as “a Sarah Palin Republican” and rival Raul Labrador as “a Bill Sali Republican,” and adding, “The moderate Republicans … won’t run because they know they can’t beat the ultraconservatives in the primary.”

The two GOP rivals have lately been engaged in something of a contest in which each has tried to portray himself as more “conservative” than the other guy. Giroux was following up on an earlier Grant comment - repeated on several blogs - that Grant might jump into the race as a Republican, but Grant told Giroux that was a joke, designed to make a point that “the moderate Republicans in this state have no place to go in their primary.” You can read the CQ item here.

Allred schedules Thursday announcement

Keith Allred, the founder of The Common Interest who’s decided to run for governor as a Democrat, will announce his candidacy on Thursday at 11 a.m. in the gym at Twin Falls High School, the place where he gave his first speech when he was in the 6th grade and where he spoke often as high school student body president; he’s a 1983 graduate of the school. Allred said in a news release that he’ll appear at events afterward in Boise on Thursday and Coeur d’Alene on Friday, but the Twin Falls event will be his only official announcement. Allred hasn’t yet spoken publicly since filing his declaration of candidacy last week, a big surprise as he’d made his mark in Idaho politics previously in a strictly nonpartisan role, with the citizen advocacy group he founded.

Allred will take on GOP Gov. Butch Otter, who’s not yet formally announced his re-election plans but has a campaign up and running. Also in the race are independents Jana Kemp and “Pro-Life;” Republicans Sharon Ullman, Rex Rammell, and Ron “Pete” Peterson; and Democrat Lee R. Chaney Sr.

Wheeler resigns from Common Interest board

Former House Resources Committee Chairman Cameron Wheeler, R-Ririe, now a state Fish & Game commissioner, resigned from the board of The Common Interest yesterday after founder Keith Allred told him he was running for governor as a Democrat. “Common Interest was nonpartisan, and that was the beauty of it,” Wheeler said. “So when Keith put a D in front of his name, honestly, I’m appointed by Butch Otter to the Fish & Game Commission, so it put me in a tough spot. So I figured the only thing to do that was honorable was to resign, and Keith understood that, he was very comfortable with it.”

Wheeler said he’s still a fan of The Common Interest idea, which sought to get citizens more involved in their government to promote common interests, as opposed to special interests. “I thought his concept was good and it made a lot of sense to me,” he said. “I always believed there was solutions to public policy and there’s better ways of doing it.” As for Allred, Wheeler said, “He’s a sharp, intelligent person, and I’m sure this is a well thought-out decision.” He added, “I think he had some influence, I think he did some good things. I wouldn’t have been on the board if I didn’t believe in his concepts and in Keith himself.”

The big news in Idaho politics…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Keith Allred’s filing to run for governor today, which stunned Idaho’s political establishment. Allred’s been distinctly nonpartisan in his political activity to date. Now, he’s filed as a Democrat to run against GOP Gov. Butch Otter.

Allred’s message to Common Interest members

Keith Allred has sent a long, heartfelt letter to the 1,500-plus members of The Common Interest, the good-government citizens group he founded, explaining why he’s decided to run for governor. In the letter, he says he initially wasn’t inclined to run, “because the vision that I’m so passionate about is so non-partisan, my strong inclination was that this was not the right path.” However, he said Democratic Party official Betty Richardson told him the party expected him to “campaign and govern just as I had led The Common Interest. She said that it was that work that attracted the party to me as a candidate and that they didn’t want me to change that. Rather, she said, the party wanted to embrace that approach. Honestly, this was a surprise to me.”

Allred said in later discussions, “party leader after party leader expressed great respect for what we have accomplished at The Common Interest and genuine enthusiasm for me campaigning and governing that way.”

Allred announced the formation of the group in February of 2005, joined by former Sen. Marguerite McLaughlin, D-Orofino, and former Sen. Laird Noh, R-Kimberly. The group, they said, was designed to counter a trend that saw politicians getting more and more extreme and polarized at both ends of the political spectrum, while regular citizens were actually getting more moderate, creating a disconnect between voters and their elected representatives. The group promised to reconnect voters; it asked prospective members for no membership fees, but instead to commit to voting in the primary and general elections and giving an hour of their time to research an issue.

After reviewing the members’ research, the group voted on its most important issues, and when there was a strong majority, the group took positions and Allred lobbied for them in the Legislature. He had notable successes, including enactment of his proposal to tie the homeowner’s exemption from property taxes to ups and downs in the real estate market. The Common Interest also worked for election reform, open meetings, and fairness to both motorists and truckers in state transportation policy; it was Allred who, while researching transportation legislation, discovered a $10 million calculation error in one of Gov. Butch Otter’s main bills last year and alerted the administration. The bill never ended up passing. Last year, the group backed an increase in beer and wine taxes to fund substance abuse treatment, but the bill died after heavy lobbying from opponents including the beer and wine industry, restaurants and retailers.

Click below to read Allred’s full letter to Common Interest members.

Latest employment data fuels optimism

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the promising economic news unveiled today by Gov. Butch Otter’s chief economist, Mike Ferguson. He told the Boise City Club that new, not-yet-published labor data shows that Idaho’s non-farm unemployment levels, which have been sliding, ended their fall in October, and actually showed a slight increase from October to November. “If this holds, this is the bottom,” Ferguson said.

Idaho Dems ‘delighted’ Allred’s running

The Idaho Democratic Party, in a news release, expressed “delight” over the decision by citizen activist and Harvard professor and mediator Keith Allred to run for governor as a Democrat, and said he’s expected to formally announce his candidacy next week. “He will be an outstanding candidate and would make a fine governor,” said former Gov. Cecil Andrus, who will be Allred’s honorary campaign chairman. “Keith will immediately be a credible, serious candidate.”

Bethine Church, a party icon and widow of Sen. Frank Church, said, “I think we can expect one of the liveliest campaigns we’ve seen in years.” Party Chairman Keith Roark said, “We’ll have to wait and see if anyone else files, but this is a great start. Keith Allred is a proven problem solver, someone who can bring people together. He will bring energy, enthusiasm and a new perspective to the race. And most importantly, this is someone who would be an outstanding governor for Idaho.” You can read the party’s full news release here.

Otter campaign: Incumbent guv ‘not focused’ on upcoming race

Asked for its response to Keith Allred filing initial paperwork today to challenge Gov. Butch Otter in 2010, Otter’s re-election campaign issued the following statement:

“With the Legislature convening in about a month, the Governor is working on finalizing his state budget and preparing his State of the State address.  He is focused on his efforts to energize the state economy by creating more career-path jobs for Idahoans, right-sizing state government so its more efficient and responsive to the people and protecting our state sovereignty from an ever-expanding federal government.  He is not focused on who the Democrats may or may not get to run against him next year.”

Some good economic news…

Mike Ferguson, Gov. Butch Otter’s chief economist, had some rare good economic news today: In a presentation to the Boise City Club, he said the most recent data suggests Idaho has hit bottom and is ready to begin emerging from the current recession. “What we’ve seen is a pretty abrupt decline, but I think we are now seeing evidence that we have hit the bottom,” Ferguson said. The new data from the U.S. Department of Labor suggests that after being hit much harder than most states by the downturn, Idaho’s employment decline stopped in October. The data, he said, “shows something that’s very heartening to me, and that is that we have very abruptly hit the bottom. … That is substantial.” He added, “It’s not time to pop the corks on the champagne bottles yet, but if we continue to see this decline arrested, I think we’ll be shifting from ‘when are we going to hit the bottom’ to ‘What is the path out of this?’”

Bob Maynard, chief investment officer for the state’s PERSI retirement fund, who spoke after Ferguson, said, “That’s the most optimistic I’ve heard Mike in a couple of years.”

Allred has filed

Keith Allred has filed his initial paperwork to explore a run for governor as a Democrat, taking on GOP Gov. Butch Otter. Former state Rep. Margaret Henbest is his campaign treasurer. “In working with him in the Legislature with the Common Interest, I have great respect for his approach, and I think in many ways it mirrored how I functioned in the Legislature in terms of a bipartisan, centrist, what’s the best solution to the problem, not looking at necessarily the political drivers but what was best for the state,” Henbest said. “So I was ecstatic to hear that he was going to run and happy to support his campaign.”

She said, “He’s a centrist candidate and I think that the governor has struggled to complete or make progress on issues that are important to him. I think there is an opportunity there.” She added, “This is going to be exciting.”

Allred looking at governor’s race

Keith Allred, founder of the non-partisan The Common Interest citizen group in Idaho and a Harvard professor and mediator, is expected to file initial paperwork today to begin exploring a run for governor of Idaho as a Democrat. “He is not a candidate because he hasn’t filed his C1 yet,” said Betty Richardson, chair of the Idaho Democratic Party’s candidate recruitment committee. “However, I would expect that a filing will take place later today.”

Richardson said she’d been talking with Allred and his wife, Christine, “rather intensely” for the past two weeks. “Over the last five months since the committee was formed, we talked to a number of individuals, and I think we got the best person we could possibly get to be on the brink of throwing his hat into the ring. There will be others, and the voters will decide who the nominee is at the time of the primary election. But speaking for myself right now, I do think Keith will make a simply outstanding candidate and a tremendous governor.”

Allred couldn’t immediately be reached for comment; no paperwork has yet been filed, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office. Allred has made a name for himself in Idaho politics as a neutral, nonpartisan voice who brought together people from all sides to work on public-interest issues, from reforming Idaho’s primary election system to open meetings. Said Richardson, “I’ve never recruited somebody who I didn’t think could do a great job if they were elected, and in this instance I feel such a sense of certainty. … I’m very hopeful. I really love this state and I want to see that it has good leadership, and I think Keith can provide the leadership it is currently lacking in the governor’s office.” Reporter Jill Kuraitis of NewWest.net broke the news this morning; here’s a link to her full story.

Labrador fires back at Jorgenson

Rep. Raul Labrador fired back at Sen. Mike Jorgenson’s criticisms of him on immigration, saying he’s working with Rep. Phil Hart on an immigration bill now that “would actually penalize employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens,” among other provisions. Jorgenson criticized Labrador for voting against SB 1157 in 2007, a successful bill sponsored by Sen. John McGee to require anyone receiving public benefits in Idaho to first prove legal residency; the bill passed the House on a 47-21 vote. “The problem with that bill was the report at the time was that it was not going to do anything, and it was going to cost the state money,” Labrador said. “The federal law already said that you cannot give benefits to illegal aliens. So it was a law that was not necessary.”

Jorgenson also said, “He has not been supportive on anything that would enforce immigration in the state of Idaho. … The fact that he represents and works for industries that are pro-amnesty is wrong.”

Labrador responded, “That’s the problem with Jorgenson right now, is that he has no clout in the Senate, he killed his own bill in his own committee by not knowing what the bill included, and then he blames other people for his ineptitude.” Labrador said Jorgenson wanted to require Idaho employers to use the “e-Verify” system to screen potential employees for legal residency, but “that’s a violation of the federal law, of the e-Verify law. The e-Verify says that you cannot use it for screening. … E-Verify is supposed to be once you hire an employee.”

Labrador said he thinks the dispute between the two lawmakers goes back to the fight over the gas tax in last year’s legislative session, when Labrador was an outspoken opponent of Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal to raise the tax to fund road work. “Jorgenson was one of the great supporters of the gas tax, and he was upset, very upset when we could not pass a gas tax in the House,” Labrador said. “And he and some of his friends had decided that this is the way to get back at me because he wanted to raise taxes in the middle of a recession and I would not support that.” Click below to read Jorgenson’s full press release calling on Labrador to withdraw from the congressional race.

‘We welcome Raul to the race’

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s developments in the 1st District congressional race, in which Rep. Raul Labrador formally entered the GOP primary race while Sen. Mike Jorgenson called on him to withdraw. Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, backs GOP rival Vaughn Ward, whose campaign issued a statement late today saying, in part, “We welcome Raul to the race and look forward to discussing the issues that are important to Idahoans and our differences on those issues, including illegal immigration.”

When Labrador made his announcement in Coeur d’Alene, he was introduced by Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, and supporters included Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, who was part of a gathering of about 20 backers at the Coeur d’Alene resort. Labrador said he’ll be campaigning in Coeur d’Alene for the next three days. A retired Boise physician, Allan Salzberg, also has said he’ll run in the GOP primary. Idaho’s primary election is May 25.

Rep. Clark: ‘A strong conservative’

As the candidates in the GOP primary race for the 1st CD continue to try to out-conservative each other, Rep. Raul Labrador’s campaign has put out a statement from “Conservative Representative Jim Clark,” a Hayden Lake Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, backing Labrador in his race against Iraq war veteran Vaughn Ward, whose Web site touts “conservative Republican values.” Here’s Clark’s statement:

“I am extremely encouraged by today’s announcement that my colleague and fellow conservative Raul Labrador is running for Congress in Idaho’s First Congressional District. I have known Raul for some time and have served with him in the Idaho Legislature and I have seen firsthand what a strong and principled conservative Raul is. When Raul was first elected to the Idaho House of Representatives, I looked into his background, education, and legal experience and came away with the belief that he was a strong conservative and a good leader.  I was proud to serve with him on my committee and his voting record has been nothing but conservative. Whether the issue is taxes, protecting the sanctity of life, fighting to reduce the size and cost of government, or immigration, Raul Labrador has been there in the trenches fighting for conservative values and I am confident that, if elected to Congress, he will continue to stand up for conservative principles in Washington.”

Number of times the statement contains the word ‘conservative’: Six.

Lawmakers, activist back Labrador

Among those posing for pictures with Raul Labrador after his 1st CD announcement this morning were several other lawmakers who are supporting him: Sens. Russ Fulcher and Shirley McKague, both Meridian Republicans; and Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise. “I’m supporting my House colleague. I think he chose some very good words to describe his campaign, ‘proven conservative leadership,’” Bayer said. “I think he has all the credentials, I think he makes a wonderful candidate.” Added GOP activist and former state Sen. Rod Beck: “He has taken some tough shots for the conservative cause.” Beck said he wouldn’t switch his allegiance if former Congressman Bill Sali decided to enter the race. “He just waited too long,” Beck said. “I wouldn’t change now. I’m with Raul.”

GOP lawmakers clash on immigration

Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, put out a press release this morning calling on Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, to withdraw from the 1st District congressional race, just as the GOP candidate was formally announcing his candidacy. “Raul Labrador is an immigration attorney and admits to defending illegal immigrants in his law practice,” Jorgenson declared in his release. “His pro-illegal immigrant stances are wrong for Idaho taxpayers and Idaho’s unemployed.” Asked why he sent out the release, Jorgenson said, “The fact that he’s running for the 1st Congressional District and I have very strong feelings against what his established record is in that area.” Jorgenson has been the sponsor of several unsuccessful anti-immigration bills in the Legislature focused on Idaho employers. “I’ve had many debates and discussions with Raul Labrador and I do know his history on this,” Jorgenson said.

Labrador, asked about the Hayden Lake senator’s move during his Boise announcement, didn’t mince words. “You know, Sen. Jorgenson is usually a person who doesn’t have a lot of friends,” Labrador said. “So I wouldn’t worry too much about what Sen. Jorgenson has to say.”

He added, “The immigration issue is one of the most important issues facing America today, and we have a broken immigration system, and I’m the only candidate in this race who actually understands the immigration issue, because I’m actually somebody who has actually studied it and worked on it for many years. We have to have a system where amnesty is not the solution, but we have to have a way that we can solve the immigration problem, and there’s good, conservative ways that we can solve this problem.”

After his announcement, Labrador told reporters three things are needed to fix the immigration system: 1 - Enforce our current immigration laws; 2 - Put more law enforcement officers at the border and “give them the resources they need to do their job;” and 3 - “We need to have a guest worker program that works … without amnesty, a guest worker program that puts American workers first.”

Said Jorgenson, “My concern is, to me he’s demonstrated his position on this issue. I don’t want him as a representative for me in a federal office.” Jorgenson has endorsed Vaughn Ward in the GOP primary for the 1st CD.

Labrador announces for 1st CD

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, formally announced his candidacy for the 1st District congressional seat this morning, to a loudly cheering crowd in the rather cramped third-floor lobby of the Capitol Annex. Labrador, a second-term state representative who was an outspoken opponent last session of Gov. Butch Otter’s proposals to raise gas taxes and car registration fees to fund road work, declared, “I will fight to protect your liberty and freedom from an ever-expanding federal government,” and said, “Now is not the time to send an unproven person to Washington.” He’s entering a GOP primary race that already includes Vaughn Ward, an Iraq war veteran who’s been campaigning hard for months and has rolled up big fundraising numbers; state Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, dropped out of the race last month. The target: First-term Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick, an incumbent who already has raised far more than any of the Republicans for his re-election bid.

Former GOP Rep. Bill Sali, whom Minnick defeated in 2008, has also said he’s considering a comeback bid but remains undecided. Labrador said he’s running regardless of what Sali does. “Bill Sali’s a good friend,” he said. “I will allow Bill Sali to make his own decision. … What I’m going to do is I’d fight to win this race.” Labrador said jobs and the economy are his top issue; he heads to Coeur d’Alene this afternoon for a similar announcement.