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Two divergent views on Idaho education…

The two major-party candidates for governor are offering “two divergent views on education” this week, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, with GOP Gov. Butch Otter sending a guest opinion to Idaho newspapers saying Idaho is on a continuing “journey to education excellence,” and Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff sending out a fundraising  email calling Idaho’s bottom-ranked per-pupil spending “downright shameful.” Both candidates used a back-to-school theme.

Otter writes, “As Idaho students head back to school, I’m reminded of how far we’ve come toward improving education in Idaho – and how far we still need to go. It’s been an interesting and instructive journey, and one that reinforces my belief that how we get where we’re going is just as important as the destination. Almost two years ago I called on education stakeholders to join policymakers in charting a bold new course for Idaho's schools. In response, the State Board of Education assembled a diverse group of working educators, business leaders, legislators and other experts. The product of their work was a slate of 20 visionary recommendations that now serve as our path forward on improving education.” He says as part of that, he’s “committed to replenish classroom dollars” after budget cuts.

Balukoff writes, “Kids all over Idaho are returning to school. Some of them will get five-day school weeks, others will get just four. Some will have pay-to-pay athletics, some will have music and art while others won’t, and many classrooms will be overcrowded. The Idaho Constitution requires a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools. Education in Idaho is anything but uniform. The only way to change that is by voting out the top decision-makers. Not only is our dead last standing in the country for investment in education unacceptable, it’s downright shameful.”

You can Richert’s full report here.

 

9th Circuit rejects Otter’s bid for initial en banc review in gay marriage case

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has rejected, without comment, Gov. Butch Otter’s request for Idaho’s same-sex marriage case to go directly to a full 11-judge panel of the court, rather than the usual three-judge panel. Otter made the request in July, saying a full-court review by the appellate court rather than a smaller panel would enhance the “perception of the legitimacy of this court’s resolution.” It’s highly unusual for such a request to be granted.

Today, the 9th Circuit issued a 10-word order, saying only, “Appellant Otter’s petition for initial hearing en banc is denied.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale overturned the Idaho Constitution’s ban on same-sex marriage in May, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. The state is now appealing her ruling to the 9th Circuit; the appeals court has set arguments for Sept. 8.

New GOP Chair Yates: ‘We ought to be able to work out our differences’

New Idaho GOP Chairman Steve Yates has been starting from scratch at the Idaho GOP office, where the last remaining employee when he took over – recently hired party Executive Director Judy Gowen, who was brought in by former Chairman Barry Peterson – left shortly after the Aug. 2 meeting at which Yates was elected chairman.

“She seemed to be a very qualified and good person,” Yates said of Gowen, former political director for Sen. Russ Fulcher’s unsuccessful primary challenge to GOP Gov. Butch Otter. “I had a conversation with her very soon after the Aug. 2 meeting, and she let me know that she preferred to go back to school. She did not seek to be a candidate for executive director going forward.” Yates said he’s made a selection for a new executive director and is just awaiting executive committee approval. “We’re also now anxiously working through a process to identify a finance chairman that can help field a team that works on trying to breathe some oxygen into the effort that we have for the November (election) cycle,” he said.

After the party’s state convention failed to elect leaders over the summer amid a bitter intra-party divide, Peterson sued, claiming he still was chairman. A judge said no, prompting the election of Yates Aug. 2. “I have a reasonable amount of experience dealing with things that can be hashed out in the situation room in the West Wing, or in territorial disputes abroad,” said Yates, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who moved to Idaho Falls in 2011. “I have to believe that whatever our disagreements may be within the party, less is at stake … and that we ought to be able to work out our differences.”

He said, “First priority is to build up a capacity and execute a plan that supports all our nominees through the November cycle with the things the party usually does – absentee ballots, get-out-the-vote efforts, field offices and things they can do to help all the candidates. We’re beginning the efforts to liaise with all the campaigns.” Yates said after the party gets through the November election, “We’ve got longer-term issues to deal with by way of rules and processes that led to where we ended up this year.” He said he’s heard from lots of Republicans who felt that party rules weren’t fairly applied; new rules and processes can address that before 2016, he said. But for now, “In the closing months of the election cycle, people need to be focused on the work.”

Later, he said, “perhaps they’ll have … time to decide how much they like the person standing next to them.”

“We’ve certainly got our work cut out for us,” he said, “in the sense that we’re amping up as a state party midway through an election.” I spoke with Yates yesterday; the Idaho Statesman also published a profile of Yates in today’s paper by reporter Sven Berg. It’s online here.

Labrador on this summer’s GOP convention: ‘At least I tried to fix the problem’

Looking back on this summer’s tumultuous Idaho Republican Party convention, which he chaired, 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador says he’s not sorry he stepped in, even though the confab ended in chaos, without any votes on leaders, resolutions or the party platform as two wings of the party fiercely opposed each other. “I think what I keep reminding people is that at least I tried to fix the problem that we had,” Labrador said. “One of my favorite quotes is from Teddy Roosevelt about the man in the arena. I think sometimes politicians are afraid of getting right in the middle of something because they’re so worried about what happens to them politically. I actually wanted to solve the divide that existed in the party.”

Labrador noted that he spent five hours the night before the convention reached its climax trying to bring both sides to a compromise. “It was rejected, and I still don’t understand why it was rejected, but there’s nothing I could do about that,” he said. “The easy thing for me would have been to say, ‘Hey, I’m running for majority leader of the House, I should walk away from this so I don’t have anything fall on me.’ I think that would be the chicken way out, and I don’t do that.”

Now that the party, after a failed lawsuit from the former party chairman, has chosen a new chairman in newcomer Steve Yates, Labrador said, “I’m very impressed with him. Maybe he’s exactly what we needed – somebody who wasn’t really part of either camp so he can try to unify. I know that’s been his message, and I’m wholly supportive of him. And I want to help him in any way I can. But I would’ve been supportive of anybody who came out of that process.”

Here’s the quote Labrador referenced, from a speech Roosevelt gave at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” 

Crapo says he’ll seek another term

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo says he will seek re-election in 2016. In making the announcement Friday in Lewiston, the 63-year-old Republican says he's committed to resolving a number of critical issues to the country. The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/XqzcMO ) that Crapo was elected to the Senate in 1998 to succeed Sen. Dirk Kempthorne. He is serving the fourth year of his third term and is ranked 39th in seniority in the Senate. A member of the minority party in the Senate, Crapo is the ranking member of the Senate's Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and serves on the Budget and Environment, Public Works, Indian Affairs and Finance committees. There had been speculation by some political observers that Crapo would retire from the Senate after his current term.

Balukoff asks IACI board to take down ‘appalling’ attack website

A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, has sent a letter to the board of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the business lobbying group whose PAC has launched an attack campaign against him including a website dubbed “LiberalAJ.com,” asking the business leaders to take down the website. Balukoff wrote, “This website is filled with lies and gross misrepresentations in a transparent attempt to mislead voters. It demonstrates an appalling lack of integrity.” He cited the Rotary Club’s “four-way test,” saying he uses it as an “ethical guide.” The test asks: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

Mike Reynoldson, IACI board member, immediate past chairman of the board and director of government affairs for Micron Technology, said he stands by the “LiberalAJ” website. Asked his reaction to Balukoff’s letter, Reynoldson said, “First-time candidate who maybe isn’t all that used to the political process. Obviously he’s upset that the website points out his positions, and so he’s trying to detract from that by making this request.”

Reynoldson said many of the “LiberalAJ” site’s claims point back to information Balukoff had posted on his own campaign website. For example, under the heading “Embracing Obamacare,” the site states, “A.J. supports Obamacare and its disastrous policies saying, ‘rather than calling for its repeal, I would prefer to work with it.’ Idahoans know that a federal government ‘solution’ isn’t what we need. We can’t afford a governor who embraces Obama and his failed healthcare policies. SOURCE: AJforIdaho.com/faq.” Next to the item is a picture of Balukoff with a picture of Obama super-imposed next to him.

Balukoff’s list of 23 “frequently asked questions” on his website includes, “What do you think about the Affordable Care Act?” His response, in part, says, “The Affordable Care Act is far from perfect, and it is not what I would have recommended. But rather than calling for its repeal, I would prefer to work with it and try to amend the parts of the law that are problematic. The problems in the law could be resolved through cooperation and compromise. Small businesses with few employees have a difficult time providing affordable health insurance for their employees, especially when one or two employees have a history of medical problems. The insurance premiums are high because the risk pool is small. This problem is fixed by the employees joining a larger risk pool, which is exactly what the state’s existing health insurance exchange provides—the opportunity to join a larger risk pool in an Idaho-run health insurance exchange rather than the federal exchange.”

Both IACI and GOP Gov. Butch Otter, whom Balukoff is challenging, supported the state-run insurance exchange, which Otter championed. But Reynoldson said, “His position and IACI’s position are different.”

You can see Balukoff’s website here, and IACI’s attack site here, which is headed, “A.J. Balukoff, YOU’RE A LIBERAL.”

Constitution Party rejects own candidate for guv, but he remains on ballot

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — The Constitution Party of Idaho has rejected its gubernatorial candidate. The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1kBzsTb) in a story on Wednesday that delegates at the party's recent state convention in Cascade voted against endorsing Steve Pankey for governor. The 63-year-old Pankey describes himself as celibate, a born-again Christian, and Idaho's first openly gay gubernatorial candidate. Constitution Party Chairman Floyd Whitley says Pankey's advocacy for same-sex marriage goes against party beliefs. Pankey in May wrote a letter to Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden urging him to accept a federal court ruling that overturned Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage. The Idaho Secretary of State's Office says Pankey will remain on the November ballot as a Constitution Party candidate because there are no statutory provisions for kicking someone out of a party.

Click below for a full report from the AP and the Lewiston Tribune.

IACI launches anti-Balukoff campaign

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a lobbying group that represents the state’s largest businesses, announced today that its political action committee, the Idaho Prosperity Fund, is launching an independent campaign against A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor. “A.J. Balukoff wants Idahoans to think he’s some kind of level-headed moderate,” said Alex LaBeau, IACI chief. He said his group will seek to counter that impression and tie Balukoff to Democratic President Barack Obama, drawing on everything from Balukoff’s voting record as a Boise school board member to his campaign website.

“As the voice for a strong and vibrant economy in Idaho, the Prosperity Fund believes it’s a critical part of our mission to inform voters about the true positions of someone running for our highest office,” LaBeau said. He said the campaign will include television, direct mail, social media and more, and will be centered around a new website dubbed “LiberalAJ.com.”

Asked why his group decided to launch the effort, LaBeau said, “We wanted to make sure that there wasn’t just one side of the issue getting out there. We wanted to make sure that people understood there are two sides to this campaign.”

Balukoff is challenging GOP Gov. Butch Otter, who is seeking a third term; former Canyon County prosecutor John Bujak also is in the race, running as a Libertarian. The ballot also includes independents Jill Humble and “Pro-Life,” and Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey.

Report: Idaho economic performance falls on heels of cuts to schools, taxes

Idaho’s economic performance is declining on the heels of a “dramatic erosion in resources” due to tax policy changes and falling investments in K-12 and higher education, according to a new report from the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. The report notes that Idaho’s per-capita income is lower than all but one state, Mississippi; its low- and moderate-income residents pay a larger share of their incomes in taxes than do higher earners; per-student school funding is down 16 percent since 2008 in inflation-adjusted figures, while higher-ed funding per student is down 37 percent; and Idaho ranks 31 percent below the national average for tax collections and 41st in the nation for tax collections relative to income levels.

“While Idaho has never been a high-income state, our sharp downward trend in economic performance is alarming,” said Lauren Necochea, director of the center.

Jasper LiCalzi, chairman of the Department of Political Economy at the College of Idaho, said, “Reduced funding for education, both primary and secondary, depresses per capita income, which, along with a regressive system of taxation, reduces tax receipts for the state. These problems cannot be resolved in isolation but only together.” You can read the full report here.

The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy is funded by the Northwest Area Foundation and was opened by former longtime state chief economist Mike Ferguson in 2011; Ferguson retired from the center June 30, and Necochea, who also heads Idaho KIDSCOUNT, took over. Necochea said the latest report, headed, “Six Key Facts About Idaho’s Revenue Shortage and Our Declining Economic Performance,” was designed to sum up information examined in larger reports by the center “in a way that was concise and easy to digest.”

Both the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy and Idaho KIDSCOUNT are programs housed at Mountain States Group Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit. Necochea is a native Idahoan who studied economics at Pomona College and earned her master’s degree in public affairs at Princeton. Ferguson called her “ideally suited” to taking over the center. Though Ferguson no longer has an official role with the center, Necochea said, “Mike is a dear friend and we’re still talking to him frequently.”

Catching up on the news…

Catching up from the past week’s news while I was gone:

There was a major development in the race for state Superintendent of Schools, as the Idaho Association of School Administrators invited both candidates to speak and answer questions at a high-profile forum at its annual conference in Boise last Monday. Democratic nominee Jana Jones spoke and answered questions from the 460 school administrators in attendance, but GOP nominee Sherri Ybarra declined the invitation. During the conference, Idaho EdNews reporter Clark Corbin spotted Ybarra in the same downtown Boise neighborhood having coffee; she told Corbin she was waiting to meet with a Republican legislator and her schedule was too busy to attend the IASA conference; you can read his Monday report here, which includes reporting on Jones’ call at the conference for building a new education coalition.

Two days later, Ybarra issued a press release criticizing the Idaho EdNews story, saying she planned to attend the IASA conference as a participant later in the week. She also met with reporters and said a doctor’s appointment was among her schedule conflicts on Monday, and announced that 10 GOP lawmakers and a group of educators had endorsed her but said she wouldn’t immediately name them. There’s more on that herehere and here.

Meanwhile, this year’s Idaho Superintendent of the Year Chuck Shackett, a high-profile supporter of the voter-rejected “Students Come First” school reform laws - which Jones strongly opposed - and prominent Republican, endorsed Jones. “I trust Jana completely,” Shackett said Tuesday, hours after he was honored as superintendent of the year; he noted that when Jones, former chief deputy state superintendent, left the State Department of Education, he tried to hire her to head the Bonneville School District’s special education programs.

In other news last week, data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that Idaho residents have among the lowest personal incomes in the nation but spend a higher percentage of their money on food, housing and other essentials. AP reporter Rebecca Boone reported that Idahoans had to spend more than 43 percent of their income on the basics; only Mississippi was higher. You can read her full report here.

Former longtime Idaho Statesman political columnist and reporter Dan Popkey talked with Boise State Public Radio on why he made the switch to become 1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador's new press secretary; his interview with BSPR's Scott Graf is online here.

Severe thunderstorms on Wednesday caused large amounts of sediment to flow into the South Fork of the Salmon River, killing 1,200 adult Chinook salmon at an Idaho Fish & Game trapping facility and also killing some Chinook in the river; about 200 adult Chinook were saved and transferred to a hatchery near Riggins. Because summer Chinook run in a four-year cycle, the kill is expected to result in significantly fewer of the fish returning to the South Fork in 2018.

And the Idaho Transportation Department on Friday issued a permit to Bigge Crane for a giant megaload of equipment bound for a Great Falls, Mont. oil refinery to travel up Highway 95 and across the Long Bridge to Sandpoint in North Idaho; it’s expected to reach Sandpoint around the middle of this week. Originally, the load was proposed to be hauled along Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive en route to Montana by Mammoet, but the need for a federal environmental assessment derailed that plan; the equipment, already shipped to the Port of Wilma, then was cut into three parts, with two of them shipped by rail. The third, which is 21 feet wide, 16 feet 8 inches high and 311 feet long, weighs up to 1.086 million pounds; ITD says it will travel between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.

New Idaho GOP Chairman Yates faces plenty of challenges

New Idaho GOP Chairman Steve Yates has his work cut out for him. He told reporters today that his next major challenge will be getting the state party office open; he’s also asking county GOP chairmen to contact him with any outstanding bills that need to be paid.

Idaho Public TV’s Melissa Davlin reports that she’s spoken with several central committee members who said they’re optimistic his election will help move the party forward, even if they didn’t vote for him; Yates won a three-way contact, defeating Douglas Pickett and Mike Duff.

The party he’s now heading has been in disarray since its June state party convention in Moscow, at which deeply divided delegates squabbled over seating several counties’ delegations and never got to votes on leadership, resolutions or a party platform. Republicans currently hold every statewide office in Idaho. Click below for a full report from the AP.

Idaho GOP central committee chooses Yates as new party chairman

Idaho’s GOP state central committee has voted in Steve Yates as the next state party chairman; he defeated Mike Duff of Blackfoot and Douglas Pickett of Oakley. Yates is a former aide to Dick Cheney and recent arrival to the state who unsuccessfully challenged GOP Rep. Jeff Thompson in the primary.

Yates acknowledged his newcomer status in his stump speech to the committee, in which he emphasized that he moved here because he loves the state, Idaho Public TV’s Melissa Davlin reports. He talked about finding common ground and resolving conflicts quickly and quietly. “I have my own point of views,” Yates said, but said it's not the chairman's job to impose his opinions on others.

In Duff's speech, he asked for unity in the party. “Our enemy is not in the Republican Party. Our enemy is in the Progressive Socialist Party, formerly known as the Democratic Party.” He also blasted candidates Richard Stallings and AJ Balukoff, calling the latter a “limousine liberal.”

Pickett's speech started with an extended metaphor comparing the party to an energetic colt. He also appealed for unity. “We are all Republicans after all,” he said.

Today's selection was required because the June state Republican Party convention ended in disarray and division - without any votes on party leaders, resolutions or a platform. Former Chairman Barry Peterson maintained he was still in charge after that, changing the locks on the state party office and filing suit against other party officers, but lost in court, leading to today's meeting.

GOP meeting’s start neither quick nor painless…

As this morning’s Idaho Republican Party central committee meeting got started, Idaho Public TV’s Melissa Davlin reported that a fair number of delegates are using proxies, and there is some confusion as eligibility.

Damond Watkins, National Committeeman, gave the invocation and asked for respect during the prayer. Then Bryan Smith claimed “mass meeting rules” are in order, and parliamentarian Jesse Binnall concurred. Smith challenged the meeting chairman named on the agenda, Chuck Winder, and proposed Damond Watkins run the meeting. The delegates voted for Watkins, and the meeting started.

Reports Davlin, “People showed up this morning hoping the meeting would be quick and painless. Not sure this start to the day will foster that.”

Balukoff hits airwaves with first campaign ad of Idaho guv’s race

The first campaign commercial of Idaho’s governor’s race is out, and it’s from GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s Democratic challenger, millionaire businessman A.J. Balukoff. “Tired of business as usual in Boise? Then take a look at A.J. Balukoff, a successful businessman who’s created jobs by bringing people together to get things done,” the ad begins.

“It’s a good positive ad introducing himself to the people of Idaho, in terms of his background and that he’ll run on a change platform,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University emeritus professor and longtime observer of Idaho politics. “We don’t know exactly what he will do, but he needs to introduce himself. He’s not well-known outside the Boise valley.” You can read my full ad-watch story here at spokesman.com, and watch the commercial here.

Reaction to GOP ruling: ‘He changed the locks, discarded documents, and fired staff’

In more of the reaction to yesterday’s court ruling on leadership of the Idaho Republican Party, the two party officials whom Barry Peterson unsuccessfully sued, Mike Mathews and Cindy Siddoway, have issued a statement on the results. “I am happy that the August 2nd meeting called by the grassroots of the party will go forward.  I look forward to holding elections to end any confusion in party leadership,” Mathews said. He was the party’s first vice-chairman, but according to the judge’s ruling, there are now no state officers, though the locally chosen central committee members remain in place.

Siddoway, the party’s national committeewoman, serves a four-year term rather than a two-year one like the officers, so she’s still in office as a state party official. She, national committeeman Damond Watkins, and whomever is elected chairman at the Aug. 2 meeting will attend an upcoming Republican National Committee meeting as Idaho’s representatives. “I am pleased to see that Idaho will have full representation at the upcoming RNC meeting in Chicago,” Siddoway said. “It is now critically important that all the loyal party members come to Boise to cast their vote for officers.”

Mathews and Siddoway said in their statement: “Since the GOP convention adjourned in June, Peterson has attempted to hold on to the chairmanship.  He changed locks on the office, discarded documents, and fired staff.  Even when the National Republican Committee said that it would not recognize Peterson as Idaho’s chairman, he persisted.” Click below for their full statement. 

Jason Risch, counsel to the Idaho Republican Party, shown above leaving the Twin Falls county courthouse with attorney Timothy Hopkins, who represented Mathews and Siddoway in court yesterday, said, “I appreciate the judge’s thoughtful consideration of this issue. It was very clear that he had done his homework and read the rules and come to an appropriate decision.”

Troupis: Party needs to unify

Christ Troupis, attorney for Barry Peterson in his unsuccessful lawsuit to remain Idaho Republican Party chairman, said Peterson pursued it in order to address concerns from some in the party that party rules weren’t being followed.  “We don’t want to preserve a conflict,” he said, noting that no appeals were contemplated. Troupis, who unsuccessfully challenged GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in the primary this year, said the party needs to unify.

Peterson accepts ruling, says he won’t run again on Aug. 2

Barry Peterson had this to say after 5th District Judge Randy Stoker ruled he’s no longer chairman of the Idaho Republican Party: “The judge made a ruling, and I’m comfortable with what the judge did.” As for what the party does next, he said, “I’m not the chairman, so it’s not up to me.” Peterson said he won’t appeal and never intended to.

He also said he won’t run for state party chairman on Aug. 2, when the state party Central Committee chooses the new leaders. He said he’s heard of three candidates: Steve Yates, Doug Pickett and Mike Duff. “I’m happy for all of them,” he said.

Christ Troupis, Peterson’s attorney, said Peterson met with Gov. Butch Otter yesterday and offered to resign as party chairman, “And the governor said you can’t resign because you’re no longer chairman,” Troupis said. “Barry wanted the process for the integrity of the party.”

Peterson declined to discuss his meeting with Otter. “We visited on Saturday, on Sunday, and on Monday,” he said. “On each day, I got a different reflection of the governor. … It was clear to me that the lobbyists and his staff had significant influence on his position.”

Judge: Peterson is no longer Idaho GOP chairman

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker today rejected a bid from embattled former Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson to hold onto the chairmanship by blocking a scheduled Aug. 2 state central committee meeting to choose new leaders. “His term has expired,” Stoker told the court.

The judge’s ruling came after extensive arguments that lasted for more than two hours in court this morning in Twin Falls. “This is not a question of this court taking any position with regard to what the Republican Party should do in this state,” Stoker said. “I have no dog in this fight, so to speak.”

The Aug. 2 party central committee to choose new leaders will go forward, the judge ruled. “It is your business what you do there,” he told the party members from both sides. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Some of the back-and-forth in court: ‘The party is in trouble’

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled GOP Chairman Barry Peterson and six supporters, told the court this morning, “We believe the chairman was re-elected at the convention by the delegates.” Judge Randy Stoker asked him, “Let’s go back to what happened at the convention. You agree, it’s undisputed, that the parliamentarian of the Republican Party has publicly said, ‘I made a mistake.’” Parliamentarian Cornel Rasor said after the convention that he erred in advising that adjourning the convention would have the effect of extending current officers’ terms for another two years. “Why is that not the end of this dispute?” the judge asked Troupis. “Isn’t that a political determination?”

“I agree,” Troupis said. “All of those were political actions. The delegates acted in reliance upon the statement, if you adjourn like this, these officers remain in place. The subsequent statement ‘I made a mistake’? Well, there’s a lot of politicians who make those kinds of statements. … Maybe he didn’t make a mistake. … I happen to disagree with him.” Troupis said, “What he said that was relied upon by the convention delegates at the convention, he can’t recant after the convention and say, ‘Oops, my foul.’ The point is the vote was taken based upon what he said.” He added, “I wish the parliamentarian had been more careful at the time, but the fact that he wasn’t doesn’t un-ring the bell.”

That prompted this question from the judge: “I know what your clients think they voted on. … What did the other 521 people think? How am I supposed to know?” Troupis responded, “You can’t.” When the judge suggested the only way to know was to call in all 521 to testify, Troupis said he didn’t think that was necessary. “They were told this is the effect of your vote, and they voted in accord with that,” he said.

Troupis said, “There’s an entire side of the party that is very disgruntled and upset right now and the party is in trouble.” To that, the judge said, “That may be, but that’s not something that I can fix, is it.”

Judge denies motion to dismiss, will hear full Idaho GOP case this morning on merits…

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker has denied the motion to dismiss Barry Peterson’s lawsuit over chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, saying he’ll instead move to hear the full merits of the case this morning, after a 10-minute break. The judge said he believes state statute cites party rules, so they can be enforced by the court. “I think that this case involves both political questions and questions of whether there has been a statutory and therefore a rule violation,” Stoker said. “It’s a mixed issue.” A 1908 Idaho Supreme Court case involving a fight between competing delegations in the Idaho Democratic Party set the precedent on that, he said.

“The court has no stake in who is elected chairman or vice chairman or secretary or treasurer of this party or any other party,” Stoker said. “The issue that I have is are you following the rules, it’s just that simple.” He said his decision to deny the motion to dismiss shouldn’t be taken as a sign he’s leaning either way on the case as a whole. Peterson is seeking an injunction to block the Idaho Republican Party from holding an Aug. 2 state central committee meeting to select new leaders.

Role of First Amendment in Idaho Republican Party case…

Christ Troupis, attorney for Barry Peterson, argued that the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees are implicated in the Idaho Republican Party lawsuit Peterson’s brought in an attempt to keep the chairmanship. “All political activity is First Amendment protected,” Troupis told the court. “Any loss of First Amendment rights is an irreparable injury.”

Tim Hopkins, attorney for the two party officials Peterson sued, told the court, “My God, nobody’s short on freedom of speech in these instances. … I don’t think there’s been any limitation or restriction on anybody’s freedom to speak.” Hopkins said, “The efforts here to create  legal question out of what is clearly a political feud, if you will … It has no sound basis in law for the court’s consideration.”

Judge tells court he’ll decide Idaho GOP case today

Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker told the court his morning that he will rule today in the Idaho Republican Party lawsuit, in which two wings of the party are fighting over the chairmanship. “‘This is a very unique proceeding,” Stoker said. “I’m going to give you a ruling at the end of the day.”

More than two dozen people are in the audience. The judge told the court he’s studied all the briefing and affidavits, pored over Idaho Republican Party rules and watched video of the state GOP convention and a rules committee meeting.

Among the arguments: Timothy Hopkins, attorney for party Vice Chairman Mike Mathews and National Committeewoman Cindy Siddoway, told the court: “There are winners and losers inevitably in a political setting like this one, but there is not irreparable injury.” Therefore, he argued, no injunction is warranted.

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled Chairman Barry Peterson, cited Bush vs. Gore and the Idaho closed GOP primary case. “The courts involve themselves in the affairs of political parties every day,” he said.

The audience is quiet and attentive. A sign in the corridor outside warns that a ringing cell phone in court can bring a $100 fine.

Embattled GOP chairman contends he’s facing ‘hostile takeover’ by ‘rogue members’

Lots of interesting stuff in the court filings in the Idaho Republican Party case, including a link to a YouTube video of the final four minutes of the Idaho GOP convention; you can watch it here. In it, convention Chairman Raul Labrador calls for adjourning the convention, and a motion is made to suspend the rules to allow the convention to continue past its scheduled ending point. Asked by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, what happens if the convention adjourns without any votes on leadership, Labrador confers with parliamentarian Cornel Rasor and then says, “Platform stays the same, the officers stay the same.” A voice vote is taken, with the “no” votes much louder, and Labrador says, “The nays have it and we are adjourned.”

However, Rasor later told the Lewiston Tribune he “inadvertently misread the rules.” “It was my fault, not Raul’s,” Rasor told Tribune reporter Bill Spence in a June 25 article that’s among the documents filed in court. State party rules specifically say there “shall be no automatic succession to the office of state chairman.”

Christ Troupis, attorney for embattled Chairman Barry Peterson and six of his supporters, contends it doesn’t matter – the 527 delegates at the convention thought that was the result of adjourning. Any other interpretation, he wrote in court documents, “threaten(s) to nullify the votes of 527 convention delegates.”

Timothy Hopkins, attorney for party Vice Chairman Mike Mathews and National Committeewoman Cindy Siddoway, whom Peterson has sued in an attempt to halt an Aug. 2 party central committee meeting to choose new leaders, wrote, “No vote for chairman was held. No vote for any officer was held.”

“The entirety of plaintiff’s claim for relief is based on a significant mistake and misreading of the rules at the end of the convention,” Hopkins wrote. “No constitution or statute permits a group of individuals to conjure a right to use mistaken information in order to lay claim to party leadership positions.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Balukoff knocks Otter for destroying public records, also incorrectly says records law is in Constitution

A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor, is criticizing GOP Gov. Butch Otter for destroying 22 of the 37 applications for two recent openings on the state Board of Education, saying Otter isn’t following through with his pledge to emphasize openness in government, made when he appointed a state public records ombudsman in his office this spring. However, in his statement, he mixes up the Idaho Public Records Law and the state Constitution. “That was my error,” said Mike Lanza, communications director for Balukoff’s campaign; he said a corrected statement is in the works. “We’re talking about the law here,” Lanza said. (Update: A corrected statement was posted within an hour.)

Balukoff said, “Gov. Otter made a great show of this appointment, which followed a request from newspaper publishers for better government compliance with the freedom of information and public-records laws. The Otter administration’s handling of this episode raises two questions: How committed is the governor to obeying state open-records law? And why would his administration conceal from us some applicants for a high-profile state board?”

Balukoff also charged that Otter’s move violated the state Constitution, incorrectly attributing a passage from the Public Records Act to the Idaho Constitution. “The public has the constitutional right to know who’s seeking positions in government, and there was no legitimate reason to have destroyed those records,” he said.

Otter’s public records ombudsman, Cally Younger, told Idaho Education News that the applications were destroyed because they contained personal information; the news outlet had requested all the applications. But those that weren’t destroyed, and were released, also contained personal information such as driver’s license numbers; it was redacted, or blacked out, in the released versions.

Lanza said, “The language is pretty darn clear in that statute – it seems to be clear to us, anyway, as to what the government should be doing.” Balukoff’s full statement is online here.

Idaho state treasurer defends record, calls critical state audits ‘politically motivated’

In his 16 years as Idaho’s state treasurer, Ron Crane has built up the state’s credit rating, launched a popular college savings program and a free annual control-your-finances conference for women, and helped create a bond bank that lets local school bonds and other local-government debt take advantage of the state’s favorable interest rates, potentially saving property taxpayers millions. But he’s best known for a series of critical state audit findings over the past five years, the most recent suggesting that Crane made an inappropriate transfer between two funds that cost the state’s taxpayers more than $10 million.

Crane vigorously disputes the audit finding, contending his office did nothing wrong and made reasonable decisions based on what it knew at the time. “As to the charges of the audit, I maintain and will maintain that they were politically motivated,” Crane said in an interview. “We think there’s an excellent explanation for each one. When voters understand what the real explanation is, they will agree with our position.”

The audit findings have prompted a longtime Twin Falls CPA, Deborah Silver, to challenge Crane in this year’s general election. “I would absolutely follow the auditors’ suggestions, no argument, no excuses,” said Silver, a Democrat who taught accounting at the College of Southern Idaho for five years and has operated a CPA firm with her husband in Twin Falls for nearly three decades. “This is a job that I can do.”

The Spokesman-Review asked David Burgstahler, the Julius A. Roller Professor of Accounting at the University of Washington, to review the audit finding about the fund transfer and Crane’s detailed response. “I found the auditor’s conclusions pretty convincing,” Burgstahler said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Eight migrant kids from border surge have come to sponsors in Idaho; Otter not happy

Eight migrant children from Central America apprehended at the Mexican border already have been sent to Idaho, according to a U.S. Health & Human Services report quoted late yesterday by the Associated Press, though they’ve gone to sponsors, not to state custody; that means they’ve been taken in by relatives, family friends or foster parents.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who yesterday sent a letter to top federal officials declaring that the Gem State won’t take any of the unaccompanied minors who arrived illegally at the southern border as part of a surge of tens of thousands, wasn’t happy about the report. “Assuming this report is true, HHS has not provided any information  about this nor did it go through any of the established channels  to inform the Governor’s Office that this was happening,” Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, said in an email.

“We are working now to determine the veracity of this report. Should it prove to be true, it underscores the importance of the letter the governor released yesterday putting the federal government on notice, that Idaho will not be used as a staging area or a destination for the crisis the federal government has created. Just as troubling is the fact that they are ignoring states and the impacts associated with placing these undocumented migrants without the knowledge or consent of state governments.”

The report cited by the AP said 269 children from the border surge have come to Northwest states between Jan. 1 and July 7 of this year – 211 to sponsors in Washington, 50 to sponsors in Oregon and eight to sponsors in Idaho. The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement has the data posted here. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber released a statement saying his state welcomes the children and that the border surge was a reminder of Congress’ failure to enact immigration reform. “These children are fleeing their homelands because of overwhelming violence and economic hardship, and they do not deserve to become political fodder,” Kitzhaber said.

Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, said today, “There are more than 200 children who have been placed with sponsors in Washington state. These are children who have seen and experienced traumatic violence and disruption in their communities. The federal government has identified care givers, some of whom are family members, who have agreed to take these children in. This is clearly an improvement over holding children in detention facilities. Our state will provide the support and services they need as they await their court proceedings.”

Two new Idaho GOP chair hopefuls emerge in two days

Two new candidates for Idaho Republican Party chairman have emerged in the past two days: Cassia County Republican Chairman Douglas Pickett, and former Dick Cheney aide and three-year Idaho Falls resident Steve Yates. This comes as the party is headed to court in a lawsuit filed by its last elected chairman, Barry Peterson, who maintains he’s still in charge despite the failure of the June state party convention to elect anyone as state party chair; while other party leaders have scheduled a state Central Committee meeting for Aug. 2 to choose new leaders, Peterson’s called a competing meeting for Aug. 9.

He’s asking a judge to declare his meeting the legitimate one, though those endorsing the Aug. 2 meeting date so far have included Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Jim Risch, Congressman Mike Simpson, and the legal counsel for the Republican National Committee, who advised the RNC that the Aug. 2 meeting’s choice would be the legitimate chairman.

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports today that Pickett has been a party activist for 14 years, serving as a precinct committeeman, youth committeeman and state committeeman. In 2012, he ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, in the primary, garnering 44 percent of the vote; Popkey’s full report is online here.

Yates said he’s spent 24 years working public policy issues at the federal level and moved his family and business, D.C. International Advisory, to Idaho Falls in 2011; he’s a regular analyst on Fox News. Yates ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, in the May primary, losing narrowly with 48.9 percent of the vote.

Feds never asked Idaho to take captured immigrant kids; Otter was acting ‘pre-emptively’

Asked if Idaho has been contacted by federal officials about housing or staging unaccompanied minor immigrants captured at the southern border up north here in the Gem State, Gov. Butch Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, responded, “The short answer is no.”

“We have not received any information to suggest that undocumented UAM immigrants are headed this way nor have we heard that Idaho will be a destination,” Hanian said in an email. “However, the governor felt it was important to act preemptively on this issue in an effort to avoid the kind of chaos that the federal government has forced on a multitude of other states where illegal immigrants have been brought in without the knowledge or consent of those states.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com

Otter fires off letter to feds saying Idaho won’t take any immigrant kids captured at southern border

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today fired off a letter to three top federal officials declaring that he wants “to immediately eliminate the chance of the federal government using Idaho as a destination or a staging area for the influx of unaccompanied and illegal immigrants entering the United States through our southern border.” There was no indication that Idaho – which borders Canada, not Mexico – had been targeted for any such use; the governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about that.

Otter, in a letter he also copied to the four members of the state’s congressional delegation, wrote, “It should be understood that the State of Idaho and its subdivisions will not be actively involved in addressing the humanitarian crisis the federal government has created. Idaho will not open itself to the unwelcome challenges with which other states have struggled at the federal government’s hands.” You can read Otter’s full letter here.

Otter’s letter was addressed to U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Leon Rodriguez. 

Peterson says he’s filed lawsuit against GOP officials

Embattled state GOP Chairman Barry Peterson announced today that he and six backers have filed a lawsuit in state district court in Twin Falls County, challenging the state GOP central committee meeting that's been set for Aug. 2 by petition of several counties' delegations to pick new state party leaders. The lawsuit targets Mike Mathews and Cindy Siddoway, whom Peterson termed “the two party members who illegally issued a call for a special meeting of the State Central Committee while unilaterally declaring that all state party offices were vacant.”

“It is with great regret that we have had to take this legal action to enforce state party rules,” Peterson said in a statement. “Since June 12, 2014, much effort has been put forth to sit down with Gov. Otter to resolve this issue. With no response from the governor, this action is necessary to uphold the integrity of the party and the party Rules.” Click below for his full statement. Peterson called for a meeting of the same body on Aug. 9. While he maintains he's still the state party chairman, others say his term ended after two years when this year's state party convention ended in disarray, without any votes on leaders, resolutions or a party platform. Instead, factions within the party spent the entire convention fighting over whether or not to allow several counties' delegations to participate. The Idaho Statesman has posted Peterson's complaint here.