BOISE – 1st Congressional District rivals clashed last week over so-called “letter-marking,” based on a National Public Radio story on an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity into the practice, in which congressmen write letters to agencies to request funding for specific projects, as opposed to earmarks in which specific projects are funded in congressional bills.
Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick was among those highlighted for opposing earmarks, but writing letters promoting projects from his state seeking federal stimulus funds. But he strenuously argued that the letters are nothing like earmarks. Instead, he said such letters merely show a congressman’s support for consideration for projects from his state; the stimulus funds were given out in competitive grants.
Minnick’s GOP opponent, Raul Labrador, brought up the issue during a Meridian Chamber of Commerce debate, saying, “We come to find out that he has been looking for earmarks through a back-door approach, and I am completely against it. … It was NPR and the Center for Public Integrity that called him out, it wasn’t Raul Labrador.”
Minnick responded, “Somehow my opponent, Mr. Labrador, thinks that a support letter in support of … a sewer district seeking a loan … is equivalent to earmarks. It’s not. … That is what a congressman should do.”
Minnick is one of only three Democrats and 37 Republicans in Congress who have refused to request any earmarks; he also introduced legislation to ban them, though it didn’t advance.
Later in the day, Minnick’s campaign sent out a statement listing bills Labrador voted for in the Idaho Legislature that spent stimulus funds. “Only one candidate in this race voted for stimulus money, and it was Raul Labrador,” said Minnick campaign spokesman John Foster.
Minnick noted that he, Labrador, and independent candidate Dave Olson, who joined Minnick and Labrador at the Meridian debate, all oppose earmarks. Said Minnick, “We’ve got to carry some of this Idaho logic back to Washington.”
Allred, Otter, clash
Democratic candidate for governor Keith Allred is blasting Gov. Butch Otter over the DentaQuest contract issue, on which Otter last week announced a reversal, keeping all previously contracted dentists in the state Medicaid contract. Between 150 and 200 of them faced being kicked off with just 30 days notice, leaving both the dentists and their low-income patients scrambling.
Otter convened a stakeholders’ meeting last week, and then announced that the dentists wouldn’t be kicked off the contract after all. “I appreciate all the leaders accepting my invitation to work this out together,” Otter said.
The issue had surfaced in an earlier televised debate between the two, during which Otter said the dentists were being dropped from the contract for “doing too much … actually over-providing for their patients.”
Allred said, “There’s a right way and a wrong way to make changes. Butch Otter’s ‘just kidding’ style of leadership is reckless.” He said Otter has “repeatedly made decisions which needed to be hastily reconsidered,” from eliminating state funding for parks and Idaho Public Television to pushing for a gas tax increase in 2008 and 2009.
Mourning Stennett’s passing
Flags were lowered to half-staff at all state buildings to mark the recent passing of longtime Idaho Senate minority leader Clint Stennett of Ketchum, who died of brain cancer at the age of 54.
Gov. Otter issued a statement saying, “Clint was a model of civility and bipartisan cooperation who led by example. I’ll miss his good humor and wise counsel, and Idaho will miss his leadership.”
PETA lauds Idaho
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is heaping some rare praise on the state of Idaho, this time for agreeing to add a warning to the state driver’s manual about the danger of leaving dogs or cats in parked cars in warm or hot weather.
In response to a letter from PETA, Idaho Transportation Department driver services manager Ed Pemble told the group in an e-mail, “Since mention of this danger is already included in the Idaho driver manual as it relates to children left in vehicles, wording can be easily modified to include mention of the danger posed to pets as well. This change will be included in the manual that will be published in the spring of 2011.”
PETA Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch said, “Death from heatstroke is slow, agonizing and terrifying. By making the progressive and compassionate decision to add a few words of warning to the driver’s manual, Idaho has set an example for other states to follow and will help save animals’ lives.”
In recent months, Nevada and California have decided to add similar warnings to their state driver’s manuals.
Otter: Don’t shoot
In perhaps the weirdest development on the wolf front last week, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter first told the Associated Press that federal law allows hunters to shoot wolves they see pursuing elk or moose, then a day later reversed himself and said that wouldn’t be permitted.
The initial comments came as Otter decided to pull the state out of wolf management, partly because federal authorities wouldn’t permit Idaho to hold a sport hunt for wolves, as it did last year, now that a federal judge has restored endangered species protections for wolves.
Clarifying his earlier comments, Otter told the AP he still believes big game are Idaho’s “livestock,” and that residents should be able to protect them like any livestock owner, but that actually shooting a wolf would likely be a violation of federal law.
Repub endorses Dem
In a statement entitled “A Difficult Choice,” former longtime Idaho GOP state schools Superintendent Jerry Evans has endorsed Keith Allred, the Democratic candidate, for governor over incumbent GOP Gov. Otter. “It came as a disappointing surprise this year when Gov. Otter recommended a large cut in public school support,” Evans wrote. “We cannot afford another four years like the past four.”