Eye on Boise: Idaho Senator Hill donates to rival campaign fund

SUNDAY, JULY 6, 2014

BOISE – A week after this year’s primary election, Idaho Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, did something rather unusual: He made a $300 donation to his GOP primary opponent’s campaign. That made Hill the biggest donor to challenger Scott Smith’s campaign other than Smith himself.

Hill, a seventh-term senator and retired CPA, defeated Smith 77.1 percent to 22.9 percent in the primary. Smith raised $1,484 for his campaign, including more than $600 of his own money. Hill raised $45,283 in campaign funds since Jan. 1, spent $24,630, and has $35,531 in his campaign fund; his expenditures included multiple contributions to other GOP campaigns.

“It’s no big deal – I felt like he ran a good campaign,” Hill said of his donation to Smith. “He stayed on the issues.”

Hill added, “I probably wouldn’t have felt that way if he’d run a mean-spirited campaign, but he didn’t. We went to candidate forums. We definitely had differing opinions on things like the health insurance exchange. … I just thought he did a good campaign, and I believe in the political process. I think competition is good in this regard. It brings the issues to a higher level. People listen to them more than if they’re only hearing one side.”

Board of Education finalists interviewed

Five finalists were interviewed last week for an opening on the Idaho Board of Education, and one of them is Tommy Ahlquist, chief operating officer of Gardner Co., an emergency room physician, Idaho State University Foundation board member, founder of a Boise-based defibrillator company and more. Ahlquist is the head of Gardner Co.’s Idaho operations, which include the newly constructed, 18-story 8th & Main Building in downtown Boise, and the City Center Plaza project, for which ground was broken Tuesday. The five interviewees are finalists for the seat being vacated this month by longtime board member Milford Terrell.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter already has interviewed four finalists for an earlier opening, created when then-board member Ken Edmunds became Otter’s new state Department of Labor director. Otter confirmed that one of those four is former state Rep. Wendy Jaquet, but he declined to name the other finalists for either of the two positions.

Changes in Boise

The ambitious City Center Plaza project, which includes a new tech-focused nine-story office building, a new underground multi-modal transit center and a major convention center expansion, all in the heart of downtown Boise, kicked off with a groundbreaking last week. It’s scheduled to open in mid-2016.

The project was put together by the Gardner Co., whose recently completed 8th & Main Building filled a gaping hole in Boise’s downtown core that had stood vacant since the historic Eastman Building burned in 1986. Now, the City Center Plaza project is taking on two more long-planned but long-unrealized downtown goals: Convention center expansion, to allow Boise to host larger conventions for which it currently doesn’t have large enough facilities, and a long-debated transit center.

Luna aide to out-earn South Dakota governor

Jason Hancock, a top aide to Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, is headed to South Dakota, where he’ll start Aug. 5 as the director of that state’s legislative research council.

Hancock worked closely with Luna on his signature “Students Come First” package of school reform laws, which voters rejected in 2012. Prior to joining Luna’s staff, he worked as a budget and policy analyst for the Idaho Legislature.

The Associated Press in Pierre, S.D. reported that Hancock will make $125,000 a year in his new job – more than the state’s governor, who makes $104,002. The South Dakota Legislature’s executive board told the AP it raised the salary for the position to draw a strong candidate and strengthen the legislative branch.

Patti Tobias, administrative director of Idaho’s courts for the past two decades, will leave in the fall for a new position with the National Center for State Courts in Denver, in the court consulting division. “I’ll be able to work with all of the state courts across the nation,” she said, on everything from technological innovation to new problem-solving courts and other court improvement efforts.

Tobias has presided over a time of big changes in Idaho’s court system, including a technology upgrade now underway to bring all state court filings and documents online and make them more widely accessible. She’s also won national awards.

Tobias holds a master’s degree in judicial administration from the University of Denver College of Law.

A national recruitment effort is planned to replace her. She’ll leave her Idaho position in late August to start her new job.

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