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Voters appear to be rejecting school reform referendum measures

Idaho's dominant Republican establishment appeared headed for a rare rebuke from voters Tuesday, as  school-reform measures pushed hard by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and GOP Gov. Butch Otter trailed at the polls at press time. The three measures, Propositions 1, 2 and 3, became the hottest election issue in Idaho this year, eclipsing even the presidential race - which was a foregone conclusion for Idaho's four electoral votes in the heavily GOP state that strongly favored Mitt Romney.

Luna called the measures “by far the most important choice on education that many of us will make in our lifetime,” and Otter called them “very important.” On election night, Otter told The Spokesman-Review, “We'll go back, get our heads together in the Legislature, and see where we go from there.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Labrador holds big lead in bid for 2nd term; Simpson has 68%

Freshman GOP Congressman Raul Labrador appears headed toward a second term, with a big lead over Democratic challenger Jimmy Farris and two other candidates. With 34 percent of the vote in the 1st Congressional District counted, Labrador had 64 percent to Farris' 31 percent. Libertarian Rob Oates had 3 percent, and “Pro-Life,” formerly known as Marvin Richardson, had 2 percent.

Labrador, a former state lawmaker and attorney, has made a name for himself in his first term as a tea party favorite and hard-line conservative. “Washington has not changed me,” he declared during his campaign.

Farris, a former NFL football player and Lewiston native who was making his first run for office, said, “I'm pleased with the campaign we ran. I feel like I was able to … give people a choice.”

Farris said he's likely to run for office again in two years.

Meanwhile, in the 2nd Congressional District race, with 47 percent of the vote counted, GOP Rep. Mike Simpson had 68 percent to Democratic challenger Nicole LeFavour's 32 percent.

With 20% of vote counted, all three school reform measures still trail

With 20 percent of the vote counted, all three school reform referendum measures continue to trail, with Proposition 3, the technology measure, faring the worst, losing 64.1 to 35.9 percent. Here's the current tally:

Proposition 1: 45.3 percent yes, 54.7 percent no
Proposition 2: 44.5 percent yes, 55.5 percent no
Proposition 3: 35.9 percent yes, 64.1 percent no

South Dakota voters overwhelmingly reject school reform referendum measure

South Dakota, like Idaho, also had a referendum measure on its ballot regarding teacher contracts; that state's measure asked voters whether they wanted to keep a law their Legislature passed phasing out tenure and imposing a merit-pay bonus system along with a scholarship program. With more than 85 percent of the vote counted there, South Dakota voters are overwhelmingly rejecting the propositions; just 32 percent voted yes, 68 percent no.

School reform opponents: ‘An affirmation’

Opponents of the “Students Come First” school reform measures are celebrating at their own election-night party at the Red Lion Downtowner hotel. The early numbers show a win for the opponents.

“If we pull this off, it's going to be an affirmation of what we've believed since the 2011 session,” said Mike Lanza, chairman of the “Vote No on Props 1,2,3” campaign, shown here discussing the latest results with Boise City Councilwoman Lauren McLean. “The public didn't buy any of the case that Superintendent Luna made for these laws,” Lanza said, “and didn't trust that they were best for our schools.”

A Boise father who hadn't been active in politics before the referendum campaign, Lanza said, “We'll be ready to bring everybody together and have a real and honest conversation about what our schools need and how we can make them better. It has to be based on hard data and things that really work, and not just ideology and things that sound good to some people.”

Idaho Dems celebrate, pool beckons…

At the Idaho Democrats' election-night watch party, the festivities spill into several rooms, including the pool deck at the Boise Hotel & Conference Center, formerly the Holiday Inn. The Dems are celebrating the re-election of President Barack Obama, who's defeated GOP challenger Mitt Romney.

A jubilant Branden Durst, who held the lead in early returns in his own challenge to Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, said, “I've already committed that if my CD1 precincts come out over 40 percent in my favor, I will jump in the pool in my full suit.”

He sheepishly admitted, however, that “they're awful for me.” Durst is trying again to beat Toryanski, who narrowly beat him two years ago in Boise's District 18, which has some precincts in the 1st Congressional District and some in the 2nd CD.

Marijuana measure passes

Initiative 502, which legalizes recreational marijuana use for adults in Washington, will pass.

The Associated Press has called the race, and we here at Spin Control agree. It's at 56 percent yes to 44 percent no, and that's too big of a  margin to turn around.

Next up: A clash between the state and the federal government over conflicting marijuana laws.

Networks calling Ohio for Obama

The networks are saying Obama will win Ohio and may have more than 270 Electoral College votes.

School reform measures trailing in early results

The very first smattering of election results has come in, and with just 9 of 967 precincts reporting, all three “Students Come First” school reform propositions are trailing. The early tally:

Proposition 1:   46.1% yes, 53.9% no

Proposition 2: 44% yes, 56% no

Proposition 3: 35.1% yes, 64.4% no

Party faithful gather, await results…

It's early yet, but folks are gathering at both the Idaho Democratic Party election-night watch party at the Boise Hotel and Conference Center, and at the Riverside Hotel, where the Idaho Republican Party is holding its election-night watch party. Gov. Butch Otter welcomed the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at the Riverside, saying, “What a great crowd - enthusiasm, lot of energy. I wish I was running for something.” Amid laughter, turning to his wife, Lori, he said, “Oh, we are, that's right - the first lady just reminded me.”

Otter isn't up for election this year, but has been saying he'll seek a third term as governor in 2014. Otter told the GOP faithful, “The Republican Party will continue to be strong. We don't know all the results yet tonight, but I can tell you one thing, there isn't a party that tried harder, there isn't a party that worked harder, and there isn't a party that's gonna win bigger than we are tonight here in Idaho.”

The GOP crowd is shoulder-to-shoulder, and the room's plenty loud; on top of all the conversation, young musicians from the Idaho Arts Charter School's electric orchestra are entertaining with an upbeat selection for electric violin, viola, cello and more.

Idahoans turn out at the polls…

Love this AP photo by Adam Eschbach of the Idaho Press-Tribune, showing Dora Winter of Nampa after an “I Voted” sticker was placed on her forehead at her polling place, Karcher Church of the Nazarene, today. Idahoans are voting in great numbers today, in addition to those who already voted early. Tallying up all the votes statewide could take all night, maybe even into tomorrow…

Spokane County turnout nearing 2008 level

Voter turnout — or ballot turn-in, if you prefer — has been lagging behind the 2008 record levels this year in Spokane County. Some times by as many as 7 percentage points in a comparison of days after ballots were mailed.

But Monday and Tuesday counts of ballots delivered by mail or picked up from drop boxes shows that gap is down to about 3 percentage points, and the total number of ballots in hand by noon on Election day is actually about 6,000 higher. (It's an arithmetic thing, as Bill Clinton might say. There are more voters registered, too, so the percent of ballots back so far remains lower than in 2008).

Considering that this is a total that doesn't have the final pickup from the drop boxes at 8 p.m., or the mail deliveries on Wednesday and Thursday, it looks like Spokane County is well on its way to having the more  ballots ever cast than in 2008, when it hiin an election. The percentage of ballots in to voters registered may or may not match 2008 levels, butit's clear there are going to be a heck of a lot of ballots to count.

Today’s best link: So many options for Obama & Romney

The New York Times has a great graphic you should bookmark for watching the returns tonight.

It looks at 512 different possible outcomes in the presidential race: 431 mean a victory for Barack Obama, 43 mean a victory for Mitt Romney, and 5 result in a tie. 

What happens if there's a tie? The U.S. House of Representatives picks the president and the Senate picks the vice president.

Has that ever happened? Not exactly. The Electoral College tied in 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, who technically were running on the same ticket, but that was under the original system the Founding Fathers set up in which the president was the person with the most EC votes and the vice president the person with the second most, regardless of party. The 12th Amendment changed that in 1803, and there hasn't been a tie since then.

I marked my ballot. Now what?

After Washington voters have marked their ballot, sealed it and signed the envelope, they have two choices.

Put a stamp on it and mail it. But remember it has to be postmarked today, so you'll need to take it to a post office, to make sure that's done in time. Leaving it out in  your mailbox is not a good solution..

Or save yourself a stamp, and take it to a drop box. In Spokane County, there's a drop box at most public libraries, as well as a couple other spots. For a list of addresses, go inside the blog.

For other Washington counties, click here to find the information on your county.

Instructions for Idaho voters are simpler. You go to your local polling station. Idaho also has same day registration, but if you aren't registered, you'll need to produce photo ID and proof of residence.

Uh-oh! I lost my ballot? Now what?

If you lost your ballot, mistakenly threw it out with some junk mail, spilled coffee on it,or the kids drew on it with crayons or the dog ate it, you are not SOL in Washington.

County elections offices have “Voter Service Centers” where you can get a replacement ballot. They also have accessible voting machines for the disabled. Spokane County has six, locations are inside the blog.

For a link or phone number to other counties, click here.

For today’s voters: Last-minute help on candidates and issues

Voters who haven't marked their ballots yet may be waiting to research just one more thing about a particular candidate, or study one more thing about a ballot measure.

For those looking for more, we offer the following links.

The Spokesman-Review's Election Center, with information about the candidates and campaigns, and stories that have been published in the paper or online. (It's a shameless plug, but we're pretty proud of it.)

The Secretary of State's On-Line Voter Guide, with information on all statewide candidates and ballot measures, presidential candidates, judicial and legislative races.

The Spokane County Online Voter Guide, which also has information on local races, like Spokane County commissioner.

TVW's Video Voter's Guide is good for those who want to see their candidates in action.

The Living Voters Guide, a compilation of other groups' guides, offers information on the ballot measures. You can drill down to Spokane County issues.

Project Vote Smart's VoteEasy, which allows you to pick where you stand on 13 issues, and tells you which presidential and congressional candidates on your ballot are closest to your stance. It has six of eight presidential candidates on the Washington ballot (all six that are on the Idaho ballot); doesn't have the Socialist Workers Party or the Socialism and Liberation Party. But it's kind of fun to play with. Vote Smart has other candidate information accessible from its main page.

LIveVote asks you to enter your address, and it shows you what's on your ballot with links to candidate statements, some videos, and ballot measure information.

The Christian Coalition's State Voters Guide, can be dowloaded from this location. You'll be asked to provide a name and e-mail address.. Links to guides from other Christian organizations can be found here.

The Progressive Voters Guide, from FUSE, a coalition of liberal and progressive groups looks at the ballot measures, federal, state and legislative races.

The Freedom Foundation, a conservative group, offers up what it calls the Informed Voter's Guide.

The Washington Policy Center, a conservative business group, offers its take on the ballot measures.

The Washington Budget and Policy Center, a liberal group, has a different take on many of those measures.

Time to vote…

There was a half-hour wait to vote at my polling place this morning; one guy ahead of me in line gave up and left. A young mom with first-grader in tow waited all the way through the line, only to find out she wasn't in the book, though this was where she'd always voted; after much scrutinizing of maps, she was sent to a different polling place. There's high interest in today's election; many people's polling places have changed due to redistricting (mine had). You can confirm your polling place online before you go by going to www.idahovotes.gov and entering your address.

Lines are likely today if you go during the busiest times - before work, during the noon hour, or after 5, so allow time. (Oddly, at my polling place, the line was much longer for those whose names begin with A though L - I was one of the lucky M-through-Z'ers). And the ballot itself is quite long - two full legal-sized pages, front and back.

Gary Moncrief, a Boise State University political scientist who studies elections, said, “Turnout is going to be huge.” Asked his advice to voters, Moncrief said, “Bring a lunch - bring a snack. You may be in line a long time.”
  

Today’s fun video: Recap of the election

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

A fun video. Worst line is the reporter quoting the Grateful Dead. But the clips are some of the best hits of 2012.

Today’s fun video: Rappin candidates

The lyrics aren't bad, the animation only so-so. But look for a guest appearance by Donald Trump.

We’re not the best presidential bellwethers

There was a time in the mid 20th Century when, as Washington and Idaho went in presidential elections, so went the country.

But voters in the two states have been imperfect bellwethers of the presidential elections before and since. Spokane County voters have been a little better. They’ve voted for the candidate who eventually won the Electoral College count in 25 of the 30 presidential elections since Washington and Idaho became states.

Kootenai County voters picked 22 out of 30, but have the longer winning streak, voting for the presidential winner in every election from 1916 to 1972.

To read the rest of this post, or to see a chart of how the two states, Spokane and Kootenai counties have voted in every presidential election since statehood, click here to go inside the blog.  

In statewide mock election, Idaho students pick Romney, reject school reform measures

In the fourth Idaho Student Mock Election, high school seniors across the state cast online ballots last week, and today the results are out: The students narrowly picked Mitt Romney for president and backed two state constitutional amendments, but overwhelmingly turned thumbs down on the three school reform measures, Propositions 1, 2 and 3, rejecting Proposition 3 by 81 percent.

Students at 36 schools cast ballots, from Grangeville to Homedale, from Sandpoint to Wendell. Among the schools where seniors cast ballots in their high school government classes were Bishop Kelly High School in Boise, Cambridge Junior/Senior High School, Eagle Academy and Coeur d'Alene High; a total of 1,745 ballots were cast.

“It's a practical exercise in participation,” said Jim Mairs, Help America Vote Act coordinator for the Idaho Secretary of State's office. “That's the whole purpose of it.” The Idaho Student Mock Election is conducted by the Secretary of State's office in coordination with the State Department of Education; information is sent out to all the senior high school government and social studies teachers in the state, who have the option of registering their students to participate. Students vote in class on school computers. “We try and make it a really good teaching moment, as they call it in the Department of Education,” Mairs said. “We put in everything about the propositions, all the links. If they want to read the law, they can read it.”

The whole thing becomes “a very practical civics lesson,” Mairs said. “This is what happens when you vote, and here's where you can find some information about some of these things. Hopefully that rubs off on some of these younger voters.”

Four years ago, Idaho students backed Barack Obama for president in the mock election, but this time, he garnered just 42.9 percent support from the students, while Republican challenger Mitt Romney won with 49.9 percent. Libertarian Gary Johnson got 4.4 percent; and Green Party candidate Jill Stein got 1.3 percent;  while independent Rocky Anderson had 1 percent and Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode trailed with 0.5 percent.

On the school reform propositions, students rejected Proposition 1, curbing teachers' collective bargaining rights, 72 percent to 28 percent; rejected Proposition 2, a teacher merit-pay bonus plan, 75-25; and said no to Proposition 3, regarding school technology, laptop computers and online learning, 81-19 percent.

The students backed both SJR 102, a one-word change to the state Constitution regarding county management of misdemeanor probation services, and HJR2aa, adding a right to hunt, fish and trap to the Idaho Constitution, by 69 percent each. They also cast ballots on congressional races, picking Republican Rep. Mike Simpson in the 2nd District race over Democratic challenger  Nicole LeFavour, 59-41; and choosing GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, 49.7 percent, over challengers Jimmy Farris, Democrat, 31.2; Pro-Life, independent, 9.6; and Rob Oates, Libertarian, 9.5.

Idahoans riled up and ready to vote, big turnout expected

Idaho voters are riled up and ready to vote, with a contentious school-reform debate reverberating in the state's airwaves and decisions looming on every seat in the Legislature, key local races, two constitutional amendments, Congress and more. Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is predicting that 78 percent of the state's registered voters will cast ballots, and forecasting a long night of ballot-counting before final results are tallied. Some large counties have advised election-night workers their shifts could run to 5 a.m. the next day.

“Early voting has been heavy,” Ysursa said. “Certainly we think the presidential year obviously drives turnout - Gov. (Mitt) Romney's very strong in this state. And it's obvious Propositions 1, 2 and 3, with the campaign spending getting these messages out, is going to be a catalyst for turnout.” You can read my full story here, advancing Tuesday's election, from Sunday's Spokesman-Review; and here's a link to my Sunday column on laptop-funding math.
  

More to this campaign than ho-ho-ho

The voice on the other end of the phone was deep and mellifluous. “Jim. It’s Santa Claus.”

It did not belong to the most famous resident of the North Pole, but to a resident of Incline Village, Nev., whose legal name is Santa Claus. A former police official, a monk, a child advocate. A candidate for president.

He’s one of Washington state’s 37 official write-in candidates for president, a list that includes some less-than-serious and some seriously deluded. They are people who took the time to fill out a form and send it to the Secretary of State’s office. Unless you merely want to check running for president off your bucket list, as one Spokane candidate on the list said, it’s an exercise somewhere between futility and obscurity.

You can’t win (please do not bother call and tell me about the conspiracy between the news media and the major parties to keep you from getting the votes you deserve if only we’d pay attention). The votes you get won’t be counted unless they could decide a close presidential race in the state. Translation: They won’t be counted.

Later this month, the state will report the total number of write-ins cast for the office. You can claim all of them; but you can only be certain of one, and that’s if you cast it for yourself.

Claus, however, is a serious guy –

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, go inside the blog.

Idaho’s school-reform hot potato…

I was contacted in April by State Legislatures Magazine, which is published by the National Conference of State Legislatures, about writing a piece about Idaho's school-reform fight for their fall issue, a big-picture piece looking at how the reforms came to be introduced, what they do, the players supporting and opposed to the changes, and how the politics played out in Boise that led to the measures passing the Legislature. I don't often do freelance work (no time), but this seemed worthwhile, my newspaper approved, and I agreed. I took a week's vacation to do the interviews, and filed the story in June. It's now out, and at this point, from the thick of the campaign, it's interesting to step back and look at this whole thing from a big-picture perspective.

The article is headed, “A Bold Approach to School Reform: Sweeping changes to Idaho’s education policy turned into a hot potato issue that’s landed in the voters’ laps.” You can read it here.
  

Ad Watch: Latest school reform commercial echoes earlier one

The latest TV commercial in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 comes from “Yes for Idaho Education,” and features a message strikingly similar to that in a September statewide ad from “Parents for Education Reform.” The look is different, with video of teachers and kids in class, and there's different music, but the message is the same; it pulls out a feel-good item from each of the three complex measures and touts it as what the propositions will do. It does add in a jab at the “national teachers union” that was missing from the earlier ad. “It is essentially the same general positive message we’ve had in initial TV, in radio ads, and on our direct mail absentee chase,” said Ken Burgess, spokesman for the “Yes” campaign.

Click below to compare the wording of the new “Yes” ad and the previous ad from PFER, which was the group that placed the ads funded by secret contributions to Education Voters of Idaho; you can read my fact-check story here from Sept. 28, which was headed, “Ad touting school reforms tells just part of story.”

The  new “Yes” ad is running only in the Boise, Twin Falls, and Idaho Falls/Pocatello markets, Burgess said, adding, “We've left the Gov. Otter ad in place for our full run in Spokane.”

‘Buyout’ clause in laptop contract is not just a contingency, it’s a required cost

It turns out that the “buyout” clause in the $182 million laptop contract is not what the State Department of Education originally described - a  cost that “is only paid if the contract is severed for some reason” and “may or may not be paid.” In response to my repeated inquiries, after I found no reference to such an early-cancellation buyout fee in the contract, SDE spokeswoman Melissa McGrath told me this afternoon, “That would be my error.” Instead, the “buyout” clause is the amount the state would have to pay at the end of the contract term - after it's run its full eight years - to buy out the remaining years in the four-year leases on the laptops, for those with years remaining. That means it's definitely a cost that will remain part of the total.

I'm still awaiting answers as to why the amount estimated by the department, $14.2 million, doesn't match up to the amount of remaining lease payments times the number of units, which comes to $21.9 million. If that's the required buyout at the end of the term, the total contract cost is nearly $190 million - $189,687,228 - not the $181,935,125 the department estimates.

McGrath said the difference in amount comes because the state is scheduled to pay the laptop leases in two semi-annual installments each year, with the two payments together totaling $292.77 per unit per year. “The $14.2 million figure was an estimate HP provided for us,” McGrath said in an email. “The $21 million calculation would have been based on the full cost of the buyout, yet since the state is doing semi-annual payments with HP, it will only pay half of these costs at the end of 8 years.”

Here's my problem with that logic: Whether you pay in two installments or a single piece, you still pay the same amount. The state's estimates show no additional payment in Year 8 for the first half of the buyouts; costs for Year 8 are estimated at $26,459,382, the exact same amount as for years 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the contract, an amount that's exactly equal to the estimated 90,376 laptops times $292.77.

McGrath, who is checking back once again with the SDE's accounting department and will get back to me, said, “I believe either it's already factored in or it's not getting paid. This is the full amount of the contract.”

Incidentally, the contract also allows for up to a 4 percent increase in the $292.77 rate after the first four years, if HP can provide “full justification as to why the adjustment is necessary.” If that full 4 percent increase were approved at that point, it would add another $4.2 million to cost of the eight-year contract.

Washington voter rolls top 3.9 million

OLYMPIA — Washington has slightly more than 3.9 million registered voters for the 2012 general election.

Those numbers include all the in-person registrations at county elections offices through Oct. 29. They are about 270,000 higher than 2008, which was also a record.

Fora drill down of numbers of local interest, go inside the blog.  

More options for that presidential vote

If you don't like Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, you have other choices, and not just the four other candidates on Idaho’s presidential ballot, or the six others on Washington's.

Voters also can – and hundreds do – write in another name on a space provided. Those votes won't be counted unless the race between Obama and Romney is so close they would make a difference. Even though that’s unlikely in either state, that didn't keep 37 would-be White House occupants from filing as official presidential write-in candidates in Washington.

That’s a record number, Libby Nieland of the state elections office said, possibly because this is the first year Washington allowed online filing of the paperwork and because a website offers would-be candidates information and links to the 43 states that allow presidential write-ins.

It’s free in 42 of them. Kentucky charges $50.

The Washington list includes . . .

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Hayes: 15,000 Voted So Far

County Clerk Cliff Hayes announced that Friday, November 2, is the last day for in-person absentee voting at the Elections office, 1808 N. Third Street in Coeur d’Alene. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. “We’ve received over 15,000 ballots so far, by mail and in-person. That’s about 20% of the County’s registered voters”, Hayes said. 604 people voted in-person on the busiest day during this election cycle/Kootenai County Clerk's Office news release. More here.

Question: Are you among the 15,000 who have already voted?

McKenna calls Koster’s comment on rape “innapropriate”

Rob McKenna, the Republican nominee for governor, has called remarks made by a Republican candidate for Congress in a close race in western Washington “inappropriate.”

John Koster, who is running in the Congressional district that includes Seattle suburbs and Mount Vernon, told a liberal activist this week that abortion should be illegal, including when it involves “that rape thing,” according to a report from The Associated Press.

Answering reporters’ questions after a Republican rally in Spokane, McKenna called the comments “inappropriate.”

“I disagree with him strongly,” said McKenna, who supports abortion rights.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who contributed $1,000 to Koster’s campaign earlier this year, said she wasn’t prepared to offer her thoughts on Koster’s statements.