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Otter met with CCA officials about understaffing issue in 2013, before recusing himself

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who said in two recent debates against challenger A.J. Balukoff that he “recused” himself from settlement talks with the Corrections Corporation of America over understaffing and falsified staffing records at an Idaho state prison because he’d received campaign contributions from the firm - $20,000 since 2003 – participated in meetings with CCA about the issue as recently as 2013, the Idaho Statesman reports today. Reporter Rocky Barker and Cynthia Sewell report that Otter’s former chief of staff, Jason Kreizenbeck, now a lobbyist for CCA, brought the company’s CEO, Damon Hininger, and other CCA executives to Otter’s office on May 28, 2013 to discuss the company’s state contract and the staffing issue.

Mark Warbis, Otter’s communications director, said CCA officials asked for the meeting to apologize for the understaffing and fraudulent billing that later led to a $1 million settlement with the state, and to ask about extending their contract to run Idaho’s largest state prison. “The governor responded that our intention instead was to consider putting the contract out to bid,” Warbis told the Statesman. The newspaper’s full report is online here.

Warbis told the Statesman that Otter recused himself from settlement talks when formal talks started in 2014. CCA had offered to settle the matter with the state for $170,000 prior to the May 2013 meeting, Warbis said. During the meeting, he said, “CCA might have mentioned that offer, but there was no additional discussion of it.”

Last night, Otter’s campaign launched a new TV ad responding to an ad from Balukoff critical of Otter’s handling of the CCA issue; I’ll have a full AdWatch story later today examining Otter’s new ad.

Last-minute campaign money flying

It’s that time, the period shortly before the election when things happen quickly. Campaign contributions or independent expenditures of $1,000 or more now have to be disclosed within 48 hours. There are three independent expenditure notices thus far: The “American Comeback Committee Idaho PAC,” which is affiliated with the Republican Governors Association, has reported spending $33,645 on Monday for literature/printing in support of Butch Otter and against A.J. Balukoff, all paid to Paces Direct LLC in Atlanta, Ga.; the RGA already has run two TV ads in Idaho attacking Balukoff.

And the Idaho Republican Party has reported a $24,871 independent expenditure for broadcast advertising in support of Butch Otter, through a payment to Strategic Media Services Inc. of Arlington, Va. Party Executive Director Dave Johnston said that’s for a new radio ad the party is launching touting Otter, to run in selected markets around the state. “We put together a radio ad that talks about pro things about our governor, so that’s hitting the airwaves,” he said. There may or may not be more to come. “We’ll see,” Johnston said. “We’re adjusting on the fly … as the campaign cycle gets closer and closer. … So it depends on how the remaining week goes.”

The third independent expenditure report, from “Idahoans for a Strong Economy” and benefiting candidates Talkington, Burgoyne, Kloc, McCrostie and Wood, reports $1,870 spent for a mailing.

Meanwhile, as of mid-afternoon today, Otter has filed 48-hour reports showing eight contributions totaling $27,000, including $5,000 each from the Idaho Republican Party, Babcock & Wilcox Co. of Lynchburg, Va., Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers of Washington., D.C., and Val Holms of Helena, Mont. Balukoff has filed 48-hour reports showing four new $1,000 donations, plus another $100,000 of his own money that he’s kicked into his campaign.

Lawerence Denney, the GOP candidate for Idaho Secretary of State, reported two $5,000 contributions, one from the Idaho Republican Party and one from Richard Larsen of Rexburg. And Jana Jones, the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of schools, reported a $1,000 contribution yesterday from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, while GOP rival Sherri Ybarra received $5,000 yesterday from the Idaho Republican Party. Also, state Treasurer Ron Crane reported a $5,000 donation from Richard Larsen Farms in Rexburg. You can see the statewide candidates’ filings here, and the independent expenditure reports here.

Capitol footage in Otter campaign ad came from ‘Add the Words’ documentary

The Lewiston Tribune reports today that part of the footage in one of Gov. Butch Otter’s campaign ads came from an unlikely source – out-takes from the “Add the Words” documentary. Tribune reporter Joel Mills writes that the footage is an interior view of the state capitol dome that appears in Otter’s “Business Testimonial” ad. “I rewound it and said, ‘Oh my God, that’s my shot,’” filmmaker Michael Gough told the Tribune.

The feature-length documentary film told the story of protesters at the 2014 Idaho Legislature who called for a hearing on legislation to amend the Idaho Human Rights Act by adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” to prohibit discrimination on those bases. No hearing was granted, and hundreds of protesters were arrested.

Gough told the Tribune he put some of the unused, generic shots from the project on a stock footage website, where anyone can purchase them. About a month ago, he got word that someone had bought a five-second clip of the dome for $75; Gough didn’t know who until he spotted the footage in the Otter ad. “I was excited because somebody actually paid $75 for it,” he said.

Otter said recently in a political debate that he expects a hearing to be granted on the anti-discrimination bill next year, and blamed the “antics” of protesters for lawmakers’ refusal to grant a hearing this year. Otter also has been an outspoken opponent of allowing same-sex couples to marry in Idaho, though federal courts have thrown out Idaho’s ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional; this week, Otter asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear Idaho’s case. The Tribune’s report is online here, though a subscription is needed to see the full story. You can see Otter's campaign ad online here; the dome footage is at the 12-second mark.

Navy vet gets approval to be buried with late wife at Idaho Veterans Cemetery

Today was the third time that 74-year-old Navy veteran Madelynn Lee Taylor visited the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery to make arrangements to be buried there together with the remains of her late wife, Jean Mixner, but today’s outcome was different – Taylor completed all the necessary paperwork, picked out the plaque, and an interment ceremony was set for Mixner for next week.

“It’s done!” a relieved Taylor said as she left the cemetery office, throwing both hands into the air in triumph.

Her original application for the burial had been denied, citing Idaho’s ban on recognition of same-sex marriage. Taylor and Mixner were legally married in California in 2008. But now that courts have overturned Idaho’s ban as unconstitutional, the state can legally recognize the two women’s marriage. Cemetery Director James Earp welcomed Taylor to her appointment at the cemetery office today, helped her through the paperwork, and congratulated her with a handshake when it was done.

Accompanied by her pastor, the Rev. Renee McCall of Liberating Spirit Metropolitan Community Church, her lawyer, Deborah Ferguson, and an array of friends and supporters, Taylor let her relief show. “It’s a good day – we get to get Jean out of the closet!” she joked. McCall responded, “I just know she’s up there smiling and shining – she’s proud of you.” Said Taylor: “She’s dancing.”

Taylor filed a federal lawsuit against the state over the denial, but that’s moot now; the case is expected to be dismissed soon. Said Ferguson: “Lee deserves credit for shining a powerful light on the injustice and indignity caused by Idaho’s former exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. Her persistence, visibility, and refusal to accept inequality are a model for us all.”

Otter’s other late-night filing to 9th Circuit: Motion to file 35-page, rather than 15-page, en banc petition

Well, here’s the answer about the over-length petition Idaho Gov. Butch Otter filed to the 9th Circuit late last night: He also filed a motion, which was unopposed by the plaintiffs, for permission to file an over-length brief of up to 35 pages, though court rules limit en banc petitions to 15 pages; you can read the motion here. Otter’s reasoning? “The panel misunderstood, and for the most part ignored, Governor Otter’s fundamental argument regarding how the panel’s redefinition of an institution thousands of years old into a genderless union will negatively impact that institution, and with it Idaho and its citizens, especially children of heterosexuals. This needs to be carefully explained.”

Otter petition to 9th Circuit: ‘Policy-making masquerading as law’

It’s been a long day, but now, a bit after 10 p.m. Boise time, Gov. Butch Otter’s petition for an en banc review of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case finally has been filed. You can read it here. Its conclusion says, “The panel’s decision appears to be judicial policymaking masquerading as law. But it is bad law, conflicting with numerous decisions of this Court, other circuits and the Supreme Court. And it is even worse policy, creating enormous risks to Idaho’s present and future children—including serious risks of increased fatherlessness, reduced parental financial and emotional support, increased crime, and greater psychological problems—with their attendant costs to Idaho and its citizens. For all these reasons, the panel decision merits en banc review.”

Otter had an outside attorney to help with the 83-page filing, Gene Schaerr of Washington, D.C. The argument itself, outside of all tables of content, attachments and so forth, runs 25 pages. Here’s the odd thing: The 9th Circuit’s rules about en banc petitions are very specific, according to its guide to practice for attorneys, which is posted on the 9th Circuit’s website here. The deadline is 14 days after the decision; because the decision was issued Oct. 7, today is the deadline. And, the practice guide says, on Page 79, “Length. A petition for rehearing is limited to 15 pages. Fed. R. App. P. 35(b)(2).”

Does that matter? Might Otter’s petition be disqualified because it exceeds the limit? I don’t know the answers to these questions and it’s too late to ask anyone. But I’ll be interested to find out in the morning.

Monte Stewart no longer represents Otter in same-sex marriage case

A check of the 9th Circuit docket for Idaho’s same-sex marriage case doesn’t show Gov. Butch Otter’s petition for an en banc review yet, but it does show another filing: Attorney Monte Neil Stewart has withdrawn from representing Otter in the case. Stewart, who argued both Idaho’s and Nevada’s cases at the 9th Circuit, filed a controversial petition for rehearing in Nevada’s case last week claiming that the three-judge panel that heard both states’ cases was intentionally stacked with judges sympathetic to the plaintiffs. The charges, which question the integrity both of the judges who heard the case and the entire 9th Circuit administration for how it assigns judges to cases, raised eyebrows around the country and were highly unusual; the court hasn’t yet acted on Stewart’s petition.

When Stewart filed his petition, Otter’s office had no comment on it.

Otter says he’ll file petition for en banc review of 9th Circuit ruling in Idaho’s gay marriage case

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced today that he's filing a petition with the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals for an en banc re-hearing of Idaho's same-sex marriage case; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. “I will continue defending Idahoans’ self-determination and the will of Idaho voters who decided that traditional marriage is a core principle of our society,” Otter said in a statement; click below for his full statement. He said his office will file the petition later today.

An en banc review at the 9th Circuit, because the circuit is so large, would mean that a larger 11-judge panel would re-hear the case, after a three-judge panel made the decision earlier. In smaller circuits, an en banc review is a rehearing by the full court. Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden earlier requested that 9th Circuit assign a full 11-judge panel to hear Idaho's case in the first place, rather than a three-judge panel; that request was denied. Wasden is not joining with Otter in today's petition. However, his spokesman, Todd Dvorak, said today that Wasden does plan to file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming weeks.

Christian group in Mississippi floods Idaho gov, mayor with protests over supposed arrest threat

A fundamentalist Christian organization in Mississippi is spearheading a protest that’s brought thousands of emails and phone calls to Gov. Butch Otter’s office and Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer’s office today, claiming the city is planning to arrest two ministers if they refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. It’s not true, but that hasn’t stopped the calls and emails.

“None of these people understand that we have an exemption,” Widmyer told S-R reporter Scott Maben today; you can read Maben’s full report here at spokesman.com. The owners of the Hitching Post wedding chapel in Coeur d’Alene, a for-profit business, said earlier this year that they’d shut down rather than perform wedding ceremonies for gay couples, as owners Donald and Evelyn Knapp, who are ordained ministers, oppose such ceremonies on religious grounds.

On Friday, the Alliance Defending Freedom in Lawrenceville, Ga., filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Coeur d'Alene on behalf of the Knapps, anticipating that now that same-sex marriage is legal in Idaho, the city would use its anti-discrimination ordinance to force the chapel to perform same-sex weddings. Yesterday, city attorney Michael Gridley said in a letter to the Knapps' attorneys that the city will not prosecute legitimate nonprofit religious corporations, associations and other organizations exercising First Amendment rights. Gridley, who asked that the Hitching Post drop its suit, pointed out that two weeks ago the business took steps to become a nonprofit religious corporation.

None of that is mentioned in the American Family Association’s post about the case, which states, “Once again, homosexual bullies have targeted Christian-owned businesses in their attempt to silence all opposition to their sinful lifestyle.” The Tupelo, Miss. group today posted a call to action for its members to contact Widmyer and Otter, under the headline, “City threatens to arrest ministers for refusing to marry gays.”

Dems decry Otter fundraising letter for GOP candidate with criminal domestic violence record

The Idaho Democratic Party is criticizing Gov. Butch Otter and other Republican leaders for sending out letters asking lobbyists for campaign donations to seven legislative races, the AP reports, including one in which the GOP candidate’s criminal record for domestic violence was revealed early in the campaign. “If we hope to sustain our majority in the House, or even increase it, we must take action now to help these seven candidates with their legislative races,” Otter wrote in the letter. The seven include first-time Republican candidate Greg Chaney of Caldwell, who was charged with domestic battery in 2009 after being accused of shoving his then-wife. Police also reported he threatened to kill himself in front of his family. Chaney later pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace and malicious injury to property.

Chaney told the AP he hasn't consumed alcohol since 2009 and now has custody of his two children. Otter’s letter, which also was signed by Lt. Gov. Brad Little and House Speaker Scott Bedke of Oakley, called the seven candidates, including Chaney, “reliable and hard-working Republicans.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

AdWatch: Gloves come off in guv’s race, with ad rapping Otter over prison scandal

The gloves have come off in Idaho’s governor’s race, with Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff launching a hard-hitting new ad faulting GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s handling of a scandal involving the state’s largest prison. You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com; and watch the commercial here; it’s running statewide, including in the Spokane broadcast TV market.

Idaho took over operation of the Idaho Correctional Center this year from private operator Corrections Corporation of America, after multiple lawsuits, reports of violence so intense that the prison was dubbed “Gladiator School,” and evidence that CCA had fraudulently overbilled the state for thousands of hours of guard duty that never were worked.

Otter, an advocate of privatization, made the announcement reluctantly on Jan. 3; on Feb. 4, he announced a settlement in which the state dropped all claims against CCA in the staffing dispute in exchange for a $1 million payment. At the time, the state had been saying for a year that the Idaho State Police was conducting a criminal investigation, but it turned out no investigation ever had been launched. Otter said then that the ISP had determined none was needed; two weeks later, after meeting with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Otter reversed his stance and called for a criminal investigation by ISP. In March, the FBI stepped in.

“It fails the smell test badly,” Balukoff said, “and we have to wonder what more will come out when the FBI wraps up its ongoing investigation of this debacle.”

The ad includes actual footage of inmate violence at the prison, notes that CCA is a  major campaign contributor to Otter – the firm has donated $20,000 to his campaigns since 2003 – and calls the settlement a “sweetheart deal.” Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics, said the ad – the first time Balukoff’s gone negative – could be a “turning point” in the governor’s race.

Records show ISP cited conflict of interest when it handed over CCA investigation to FBI

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Public records show an Idaho State Police investigation into staffing problems at a private prison was handed over to the FBI after police detectives determined their agency could have a conflict of interest in the case. The apparent conflict of interest wasn't revealed earlier this year, when the state first announced the FBI would be investigating whether fraud or other crimes occurred when Corrections Corporation of America understaffed Idaho's largest prison in violation of its $29-million-a-year contract. The records were among hundreds of documents obtained through public records requests by a campaign staffer for A.J. Balukoff, a Democrat who is challenging Republican incumbent Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter for the governor's seat. Balukoff's campaign spokesman, Mike Lanza, said Balukoff thought it was important for the public to find out more about how the state handled the investigation into understaffing at a prison run by Corrections Corporation of America.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Otter aims for third term, challengers aim for change; link to election coverage

Here’s a link to my Sunday story on the governor’s race, which wraps up the series I’ve been doing over the past few months on Idaho’s top races in the November election. From the story: Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s cowboy charm has long appealed to Idaho voters, helping make him one of the state’s most-elected officials: a longtime lieutenant governor, three-term congressman and two-term governor. But has he earned the rare distinction of becoming only the second governor in Idaho history to be elected to a third consecutive term? An array of challengers, led by A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic nominee and longtime Boise School Board chairman, say no, arguing the state’s schools, economy and reputation have suffered on Otter’s watch. Otter says he wants a chance to finish leading the state out of the recession. “Now the economy’s getting much better, and it’s an opportunity for us to rebuild,” he said. 

Here are links to the earlier stories in the series: My Oct. 12 article on the Senate race here, in which Sen. Jim Risch is being challenged by Nels Mitchell; my Oct. 5 story on the 1st CD race here, in which second-term GOP Rep. Raul Labrador is being challenged by longtime state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow; my story on the Idaho Secretary of State race here, between Reps. Lawerence Denney and Holli Woodings; my story on the race for state superintendent of schools here, in which Republican Sherri Ybarra and Democrat Jana Jones are facing off; my story here on the wild card role the Libertarian candidate, John Bujak, could play in the governor’s race; and my story on the state treasurer’s race here, in which incumbent Ron Crane faces a challenge from Twin Falls CPA Deborah Silver.

You can also see our Idaho Voter Guide here, with a guide to candidates and races in federal, state, local and legislative races on the ballot in Kootenai County; and visit our Election Central here, for links to all our news coverage related to the election in Idaho and Washington.

What the CCA settlement actually said and didn’t say about civil, criminal liability…

After Gov. Butch Otter said in two recent debates against Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff that the $1 million settlement the state signed with Corrections Corp. of America over fraudulent billing and understaffing at the state’s largest prison can be “set aside and then we can go after CCA” if the FBI’s investigation turns up anything, I filed a public records request for the provision in the settlement agreement that says that. Here’s what I received: The 9-page Settlement Agreement and Release, which talks about how all claims, past or future, discovered or undiscovered, are settled by the $1 million payment; and a series of emails here.

In the emails, Otter aide Mark Warbis inquires of state Corrections Department officials about this very question. “David (Hensley, Otter’s chief of staff) has a question about the ‘Release and Discharge’ section at the bottom of Page 1,” Warbis writes. “Does this release and discharge apply only to civil claims, or could this potentially block the pursuit of criminal claims should they emerge?”

Mark Kubinski, lead deputy attorney general for the Idaho Department of Correction, responds, “The release section only applies to civil claims. The signatories are Division of Purchasing, IDOC and the Board, none of whom have any authority to waive any potential criminal charges. I’m comfortable with the language as drafted.”

If I'm interpreting this correctly - and please, all you lawyers out there, chime in if I'm not - that suggests that the state could in fact “go after” CCA criminally if the FBI investigation uncovers evidence of criminal wrongdoing, but the settlement agreement would not be “set aside” and the state could not seek any additional civil penalties or damages.

Latest poll shows governor’s race closer than earlier polls suggested…

There’s little public polling in Idaho. So far, the few publicly released polls have shown GOP Gov. Butch Otter far ahead of Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff, like the CBS News/NYT/YouGov national online poll, which had Otter leading Balukoff 57 percent to 33 percent in its latest round, which ended Oct. 1. Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker writes today that the Republican Governors Association’s decision to invest in a six-figure ad buy for attack ads against Balukoff suggests private polls were showing otherwise. “Now a new poll by a Democratic polling group released this week shows the closer race that the RGA actions suggested,” Barker writes; you can read his full post here.

The poll by PPP Polling, a North Carolina pollster with mainly Democratic clients including the Democratic Governors Association, shows Otter with 39 percent to Balukoff’s 35 percent. It was PPP’s first Idaho poll, and included a full range of questions, from the governor’s race to Broncos-or-Vandals question – the poll came out 49 percent Broncos, 19 percent Vandals, and 12 percent ISU Bengals. The full poll is online here.

Otter statement on IEN: Syringa ‘has no legitimate claim for monetary damages’ from state

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, through his campaign, has released a lengthy statement on the legal dispute over the contract award for the Idaho Education Network, the statewide broadband network designed to link every high school; the state is embroiled in a lawsuit from Syringa Networks over the award of the $60 million contract to Qwest and Education Networks of America. The legal questions over the contract award prompted the federal government to stop paying its three-quarters share of the project in 2013, and lawmakers had to bail out the IEN with $11.4 million in extra state funds this year to offset the missing federal “e-rate” money; millions more may be requested when the Legislature convenes again in January.

In response to questions raised by Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff about news reports that the state was seeking a confidentiality agreement in its negotiations with Syringa, Otter's statement says, “Confidentiality agreements are common in mediations to ensure both parties negotiate in good faith. Syringa refused to sign a confidentiality agreement; nevertheless, the state proceeded with mediation. There are no 'secret' negotiations taking place.” Click below for Otter's full statement, which includes several references to court documents in the case. It also asserts that Syringa “has no legitimate claim for monetary damages” from the state. You can read the full Idaho Supreme Court decision here in the case, which remanded it back to the district court on a single question: whether the contract was awarded illegally.

Balukoff calls on Otter to release all documents on CCA settlement

A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor, is calling on GOP Gov. Butch Otter to immediately release all public records and communications related to the Corrections Corp. of America, after today’s Idaho Statesman reported that Otter’s top staffers were involved in negotiating a $1 million settlement with the firm, a major donor to Otter’s campaigns and the former private operator of Idaho’s largest state prison. “This news story shows that Gov. Otter’s claim that he had no involvement in the CCA settlement was a bald-faced lie,” Balukoff said in a news release; you can read his full release here.

“Gov. Otter has bungled this debacle badly, and now there’s very good reason to suspect criminal wrongdoing at some level in state government,” Balukoff said. “If Gov. Otter wants voters to believe that he deserves a third term in office, he has a responsibility to show voters just exactly what has been going on in this affair.”

Emails show Otter staff played key role in $1 million deal with big campaign contributor

In two recent political debates, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said he recused himself from settlement talks with troubled private-prison operator Corrections Corp. of America before the state reached a $1 million settlement with the firm over fraudulent billing and understaffing; Otter said he “had nothing to do with” the settlement. But the Idaho Statesman reports today that emails obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law show Otter’s top staffers were directly involved in the negotiations with CCA, reviewed the settlement agreement before it was approved by the state Board of Correction, and urged lawmakers to support it. The Statesman’s full story, by reporters Rocky Barker and Cynthia Sewell, is online here.

Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary, told the Statesman that Otter meant he personally didn’t participate, and he wasn’t saying his staff didn’t. “Decision-making authority on the settlement itself resided with the (Corrections) Board/Department,” Hanian said. The emails document involvement in the deal by Otter's chief of staff, David Hensley; chief counsel, Tom Perry; and communications director and liaison to corrections Mark Warbis. In one email to state lawmakers, Warbis wrote, “The Governor's office believes the proposal accomplishes our goals of certainty, closure and fairness to taxpayers. It helps us to move forward with the transition to State control of the ICC in an amicable manner.”

During the City Club of Idaho Falls debate on Oct. 9, Otter said, “I personally did not involve myself in the negotiations of the settlement with CCA because I had received money from CCA for my campaign. So I recused myself and let the professionals make that decision. I did not.” The Statesman reports that Otter has received $20,000 in campaign contributions from CCA since 2003.

Balukoff calls on Otter to ‘come clean’ about IEN contract; records show ENA gave more than $18K to Otter’s campaigns since 2006

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor, says GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s handling of a troubled $60 million broadband contract shows “incompetence,” and is calling on Otter to “come clean” on the deal, after reports today that state officials negotiating with Syringa Networks over the deal have been attempting to secure a secrecy agreement.

“Gov. Otter’s incompetence in his role as guardian of taxpayer dollars is shocking,” Balukoff said in a news release today. “But even worse, he has never explained to the people of Idaho how and why this contract was awarded to a campaign donor in violation of state law. Before asking voters to give him a third term in office, he needs to come clean on that. This case fails the smell test badly.”

The $60 million contract was awarded in 2009 to Qwest, now CenturyLink, and Education Networks of America, which new campaign finance reports show donated $5,000 to Otter’s campaign this year. But those weren’t the first ENA donations to Otter; records filed with the Idaho Secretary of State show ENA has donated $18,250 to Otter’s campaigns since 2006. That included $5,000 in October of 2006; $1,000 in 2009; $2,000 in 2010; $1,250 in 2012; and $4,000 in 2013. Add in the $5,000 that ENA donated on Sept. 26 of this year, and it comes to a total $18,250.

Otter’s campaign spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Balukoff’s full news release is online here; Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert, who scrutinized the most recent campaign finance reports filed last week and noted the September donation, has a full report here.

Ada County sets marriage license record: 45 today, all to same-sex couples

As of the close of business today at 5 p.m., Ada County had set a record for marriage license issuance, issuing 45 licenses, all of them to same-sex couples. That's according to Chief Deputy County Clerk Phil McGrane, who said, “This is the most licenses Ada County has issued in a single day.”

Here, in this AP photo, Guy Wordelman, left, marries James Wordelman outside the courthouse this morning, with Pastor Renee McCall officiating.

9th Circuit issues published opinion on legal reasons for lifting of stay; that now can be cited in other cases

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a published opinion today, detailing its legal reasoning for lifting a stay and putting into effect its order legalizing same-sex marriage in Idaho. “We decline to deny the plaintiffs their constitutional rights any longer,” the unanimous three-judge panel of the court wrote in the nine-page opinion. They also went through the arguments Gov. Butch Otter offered in earlier legal filings opposing the lifting of the stay, and rejected all of them. “Governor Otter can no longer meet the test for the grant or continuation of a stay,” the court wrote.

It also noted that the full U.S. Supreme Court also ruled against Otter’s bid for a continued stay to prevent same-sex marriages from starting in Idaho. “Because the Supreme Court has thus rejected the argument that a stay was necessary … we decline to second-guess that decision,” the court wrote.  It noted that same-sex marriage is now legal 33 states plus the District of Columbia. “This figure includes Idaho and Alaska,” the court wrote.

The 9th Circuit judges also wrote that they nevertheless granted the state an additional opportunity to file an emergency stay request with the Supreme Court by making the lifting of the stay effective today, rather than yesterday, “even though we see no possible basis for a stay.” No additional stay was sought.

Todd Dvorak, spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said, “We’ll analyze it and use that as part of our decision-making process going forward.”

Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the four couples who successfully sued to overturn Idaho’s ban on gay marriage, said, “It makes public their reasoning for lifting the stay, and so that’s, I think, very helpful. I’m very glad they did that.” She noted that as a published opinion, the court’s opinion now can be cited in other cases. You can read it here.

Idaho same-sex couples rejoice as marriages begin

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the advent of same-sex marriage in Idaho this morning, which drew a crowd of couples and hundreds of their supporters to the Ada County Courthouse for marriage licenses. In just under half an hour, Ada County issued 19 licenses. Wedding ceremonies followed on the courthouse steps, complete with ministers, flowers, cake, and hundreds of well-wishers.

Minister: ‘By power vested by state of Idaho, I now pronounce you wife and wife’

Numerous wedding ceremonies were performed on the Ada County Courthouse steps this morning after same-sex couples received their long-awaited marriage licenses. At the close of one of them, as two men were being married by another minister nearby, Presbyterian minister Marci Glass said, “By the power vested in me by the state of Idaho, I now pronounce you wife and wife.” The two brides hugged, and the crowd cheered.

A few blocks away at Boise City Hall, acting Mayor Maryanne Jordan officiated inside the council chambers in weddings including those for two of the couples who sued to overturn Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage. A big windstorm has now blown into Boise, pushing festivities inside. 

At least a dozen licenses issued in first 20 minutes in Ada County…

In the first 20 minutes that marriage licenses could be legally issued to same-sex couples in Ada County, county Clerk Chris Rich estimated that more than a dozen have been issued. “I would say we've done at least 12 to 15,” he said. Things have gone smoothly thus far, Rich said. “We had a paper jam, and one machine was low on toner, even though we tested all the machines yesterday,” he said ruefully, but that was quickly fixed. “Everybody knew they needed to have cash” for the $30 fee.

For now, Ada County's marriage license forms have been altered to offer applicants two choices: Bride and groom, as before, and “spouse and spouse.” That may differ in other counties, Rich said. He said eventually there may be more options, such as bride and bride, groom and groom, or no specification.

Pictured above, Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer watch as their license is issued, the first one in Ada County. 

First Ada County licenses issued to two plaintiff couples from Idaho’s same-sex marriage case

There was a loud countdown and then a cheer from the crowd as the 10 o'clock hour arrived at the Ada County Courthouse this morning, where dozens of same-sex couples and hundreds of their supporters are gathered to celebrate the start of legal same-sex marriage in Idaho. Shelia Robertson and Andrea Altmayer, shown above with son Bridger, and Amber and Rachael Beierlie, who were at the next station at the marriage license counter, were the first to receive licenses. They're among four Idaho couples who sued successfully to overturn Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage; the other two couples already were legally married in other states, and sought recognition of their marriages.

Deborah Ferguson, the women's attorney, said, “We're thrilled - the day has come, it's actually here.” Both couples are headed over to Boise City Hall immediately after receiving their marriage licenses, she said, where they'll be married by Acting Mayor Maryanne Jordan. “There's been enough twists and turns here,” Ferguson said. “They've waited a long time - they're ready.”

Big crowd awaits marriage licenses at Ada County courthouse…

There's a big crowd both inside and outside the Ada County Courthouse this morning for the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, which starts at 10 a.m….

Guv debate closes with candidates mixing it up…

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on tonight’s debate between GOP Gov. Butch Otter, Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff and Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey. After their closing statements at tonight’s KTVB debate in Nampa, there was a little extra time, so the candidates got in a few extra digs. Otter said of Balukoff, “If you went to his original website, it’s much, much different than his website today. In his website he says we need to have a statewide property tax so that we have a sustainable tax for our school system in our state, similar to Montana.” Balukoff interjected, “I have never said that, and in fact you should know, Governor,  that the Idaho Constitution prohibits a statewide property tax.”

Otter retorted, “It also defines marriage as between one man and one woman.” That prompted Pankey to blurt, “Do I need to separate the two of you?”

Perhaps the biggest news out of tonight’s debate: Otter pledging to continue fighting same-sex marriage, though he issued a statement earlier today saying, “We have done all we can through the courts for now to defend traditional marriage in Idaho.” Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage has been overturned in court and the state’s appeals have failed; same-sex couples can begin legally receiving marriage licenses in the state Wednesday morning.

Otter on running for 4th term: ‘If I did, I’d be running as a bachelor, my wife told me’

Panelist Jim Weatherby asked Gov. Butch Otter about the Idaho Statesman’s endorsement of Otter, which said that a third term for Otter would be his last. “Along with the endorsement, they got that right too,” Otter said, indicating he won’t run for a fourth term. “If I did, I’d be running as a bachelor, my wife told me.”

Three candidates for governor agree: Idaho schools are underfunded

Here are the three candidates’ answers when they were asked if Idaho’s schools are underfunded:

A.J. Balukoff: “It is underfunded.” He said the state is not meeting its constitutional mandate to provide for a “general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

Butch Otter: “I would say it could use some more funding, but I don’t think you can just throw money at a problem and expect to have the great results that A.J. is talking about.”

Steve Pankey: “Yes, they are underfunded.”

Otter then said the Boise schools - where Balukoff has been school board president for the past six years and on the board for 17 years - got a “special little deal” in 2006 to give them more funding. Balukoff denied it; he said as a charter school district, created 10 years before statehood, the Boise School District has additional taxing authority. “We’ve made good use of those additional funds,” Balukoff said. “Our student achievement is the highest in the state. That’s because we have money to support the curriculum that we need.”

Otter responded, “We can’t borrow money like they do in Washington, D.C. … If A.J.’s schools are doing so good, if he wants uniform schools across the state, then give some of that money you’re getting form the state to some of those rural districts that aren’t doing as good as you.”

Otter on same-sex marriage: ‘I don’t think it’s over with’

Asked about same-sex marriage, GOP Gov. Butch Otter, on tonight’s KTVB debate, said, “I don’t think it’s over with.” He said Louisiana’s case is still pending. “I’m not going to give up on it,” he said. “The voters passed that.”

Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey said, “Same-sex marriage yes, decadence no. … This is just about decency. Gov. Otter is frozen in time in 2006. Frankly, I think the people of Idaho have moved along.”

Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff said, “Governor, we have a pesky document called the United States Constitution. … This has never been about defending traditional marriage or defending the Idaho Constitution, it’s about obeying the United States Constitution, which holds supremacy over anything the voters vote for in this state or in any other. … When someone’s behavior offends our beliefs, we do not have the right to discriminate against them. … I think it was foolish to waste money to fight the United States Constitution.”