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Idaho electors cast ballots

BOISE – When Idaho’s portion of the Electoral College met this week, the four electors dutifully cast their ballots for Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who was presiding along with Gov. Butch Otter, said, “They are free to vote their conscience.” But all four, John Erickson, Melinda Smyser, Ben Doty and Darlene Bramon, followed the state’s election results.

In fact, Idaho’s never had a “faithless elector,” Ysursa said, which is the name for one who chooses to vote differently from what the election results dictate. But other states have. He and Otter recalled a Washington state elector who refused to vote for Jerry Ford, instead casting a ballot for Ronald Reagan. And Ysursa said in 2000, one Washington, D.C., elector refused to cast her vote in protest of the national election results, though Al Gore had carried the district.

That was a year when much attention was focused on the Electoral College proceedings, Ysursa said, because the results were so close that any state could have thrown the election to Al Gore or George W. Bush in the process. The popular vote nationally had gone to Gore, but the Electoral College edge had gone to Bush. “We had Karl Rove on the phone to Phil Reberger,” Ysursa recalled. “Everybody was worried.”

Idaho’s election results weren’t in doubt, though. “If they called us, they were worried about every state.”

Each party with a candidate for president on the ballot in Idaho appoints four electors, whose names appear on the ballot; the group from the victorious party casts the Electoral College ballots. If Barack Obama had carried Idaho, the electors casting the final, formal ballots in Boise this week would have been Cecil Andrus, Chris Bray, Bethine Church and Dave Whaley.

Ysursa said some states have laws to fine or otherwise penalize faithless electors. “Idaho’s never had that,” he said, and it’s never had a problem. “The parties submit these,” he said. “These are good, staunch Republican workers.”

When zero earnings are OK

Idaho’s state endowment fund lost 4 percent in November, “which brings the fiscal year-to-date to a whopping 25,” said manager Larry Johnson. The loss to the fund in November was 4.4 percent; fiscal year to date, it’s 25.2 percent.

Earnings from the fund go to public schools and other state institutions.

“We’re in very unusual times,” Johnson told the governor and other top elected officials this week. “If it’s a small consolation, so far in the month of December we’ve earned zero. The investment managers are performing as we would expect they would.”

All the budget cuts

Gov. Butch Otter’s additional 3 percent holdback, imposed this month, adds up to $81.7 million, on top of his 1 percent holdback from September that totaled $27.1 million. But the total holdback amount now comes to $130.6 million – much more than the total of those two figures.

Here’s why: Otter also made four additional cuts in budget items that were funded this year with one-time money, when he announced the additional 3 percent holdbacks. They add up to an additional $21.8 million in budget cuts.

They are: $150,000 from the state Parks & Recreation Department, to trim an approved park housing project; $5.6 million in transfers to the Permanent Building Fund, which means building maintenance projects the Legislature approved this year won’t happen; $3.97 million from public schools that had been appropriated for a math initiative – but the money then will be made up from the public school stabilization fund, like other public school holdbacks, so the initiative still will go forward, just with a different funding source; and $12 million from Water Resources for aquifer management and planning. That final item was part of the governor’s big aquifer management initiative, which essentially “parked” a big chunk of one-time money at the Idaho Department of Water Resources for aquifer projects. Because only a couple million was scheduled to be spent each year, the project’s still on track for the first few years, but not for the out years.

Idaho gets cash, toy safety promise

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and 37 other state attorneys general have reached a settlement with Mattel Inc. and Fischer-Price Inc. over lead paint in toys manufactured in China and sold in the United States. The settlement resolves a 16-month investigation that followed a voluntary recall of the company’s toys for excessive lead paint in 2007; it was filed this week in Ada County District Court. As part of the agreement, the companies agreed to meet new, more stringent standards for lead in toys several months ahead of required timelines passed last year by Congress.

The agreement also requires Mattel to pay $12 million to the states by Jan. 30, 2009. Idaho will receive $202,139, which will help fund consumer protection in the state. Wasden’s office has posted a list of toys involved in the recall on its Web site,

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or For more news from Boise go to