BOISE – Former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has emerged back on the Idaho political scene, endorsing 1st District congressional candidate Vaughn Ward, introducing Ward at a Statehouse press conference officially announcing his candidacy, and traveling with him around the state for two days of Ward’s four-day, 18-stop announcement tour.
“Eighteen years ago when I was a candidate running for the U.S. Senate, I asked Sen. Jim McClure if he would be my chair,” Kempthorne explained. “He, at the time, had recently left public office. He said, ‘Now that I’m a citizen, I can do this.’ I have never forgotten that. Now that I’m a citizen, I can do this.”
Kempthorne said he’s known Ward since Ward graduated from Boise State University and went to work on Kempthorne’s Senate campaign 18 years ago. Ward then worked on Kempthorne’s Senate staff, then joined the Marines and served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning the Bronze Star for his service in Fallujah, Iraq. “I gave him the oath of office when he became a second lieutenant,” Kempthorne said. “We’ve spent so much time together over the last 18 years. … He has such a passion for service.”
Kempthorne told a cheering crowd of Ward supporters in the Capitol rotunda last week, “I saw greatness in that Marine.” He lauded Ward as “a son of Idaho, an American hero, a man who I believe we will elect the congressman from the 1st District.”
It was Kempthorne’s first public political act since he left office as the nation’s secretary of the interior under President George W. Bush. He’s also served as governor, U.S. senator and mayor of Boise.
Now, he said, he’s serving on corporate boards and advisory boards, and doing business consulting both nationally and internationally on energy, national resources and systems integration, based in both Boise and Washington, D.C.
Ward faces state Rep. Raul Labrador in the GOP primary for a chance to challenge Democratic 1st District Congressman Walt Minnick.
Minnick: No earmarks
Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick has announced that he’ll refrain from seeking any earmarks in Congress in 2010, just as he did in 2009. He’s the only one in Idaho’s four-member congressional delegation who refrains from the earmark process, which lawmakers use to send federal money to specific projects, often in their districts or for specific constituents.
“The unambiguous lesson of November 2008 and of last week’s election is that the American people want Congress to spend less money, and want us to approach major issues in an independent way,” Minnick said. “One significant step I can take to show I am serious about heeding those lessons is to refuse earmarks.”
Minnick’s no-earmark stance has won him the praise of the conservative anti-tax group Club for Growth – the same group that bankrolled the first campaign of former GOP Rep. Bill Sali, whom Minnick defeated last year. Minnick is one of three Democrats and 37 Republicans in Congress who refuse to participate in earmarks; Sen. John McCain is the biggest name on the list.
The first-term Idaho Democrat said he’s been able to obtain money for his district without earmarks either through the normal appropriation process, or by helping folks from the district apply for federal grants and other programs.
Workers now uninsured
Seventy-five to 80 part-time state employees have dropped health insurance since November, when the state sharply increased the costs for part-timers, state Department of Administration official Teresa Luna told lawmakers last week. The Senate Commerce Committee questioned Luna about a series of rule changes, including the one that increased premiums for family coverage from $103 a month to either $244 or $385 for part-timers, depending on how many hours they work.
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, asked Luna, “Have you calculated the possible increasing cost to the county indigent fund” to cover those workers once they’re uninsured. Luna responded, “No, we did not do those calculations.” She said the state is saving $2.7 million this year and an estimated $5 million next year by raising the premiums for part-timers.
Sen. John Andreason, R-Boise, asked, “Where are the savings actually coming from? … I think you just told us it would come from the … part-time workers. Is that correct?” Luna said that’s right. “Yes, those are the savings to the state, and being incurred by the part-timers.”
Cut lawmakers’ benefits?
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, says she thinks lawmakers should consider cutting their own health benefits just as the state has cut health coverage for other part-time state employees. “We ought to have that discussion – I don’t think we should shy away from it,” Keough said.
She was responding to a column by Dan Popkey in the Idaho Statesman, which called lawmakers “tone-deaf” on the issue. It noted that all but 18 lawmakers receive state-paid health coverage that’s the same as that for full-time state employees, though Idaho has a part-time citizen legislature. Keough said she’s one of the 18; she gets her health coverage through her employer.
Keough said she’s “not rich or retired” and works 12 hours a day during the legislative session and about 20 hours a week off-session on legislative work. “Plus I work a full-time job and have two kids,” she said. “All that being said, I was and remain willing to take the same cuts we are asking of our state employees and Idahoans.”