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Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Idaho’s governor in waiting

If newly re-elected 72-year-old Idaho Gov. Butch Otter didn't complete his full third term, Idaho's new governor would be Brad Little, the second-term lieutenant governor, rancher and former state senator who's been toiling full-time in the part-time, low-paid post since Otter appointed him to it in 2009.

Little's record seems decidedly more moderate than Otter's - he blocked Idaho's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage for two years before reluctantly supporting the final version in 2006. But Little, 60, is an Otter fan who says his differences with the governor are more style than substance. He also says he fully expects Otter to serve out his term, but is ready should he be asked to step up.

That call already has come on a short-term basis: Little has served as acting governor on 247 days since he took office on Jan. 6, 2009. You can read my full story here from today’s Spokesman-Review.

9th Circuit lets Otter file reply, but not 57-page amicus brief

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today granted Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s motion to submit additional arguments in the state’s same-sex marriage case, but rejected without comment his bid to submit a copy of a 57-page amicus brief from a Louisiana case that Otter argued presents “a gold mine of scholarship regarding the practical, real-world impact of redefining marriage.” Otter wants an en banc review, by an 11-judge panel, of the earlier 9th Circuit decision overturning Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, which was made by a three-judge panel. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Idaho since Oct. 15; you can read the court's latest order here.

Labrador suggests GOP should cut off all hearings on appointments in response to president’s immigration action

Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, in an interview airing now on NPR, says he thinks the president’s planned executive action on immigration is illegal, and while shying away from talk of impeachment, had these suggestions on how congressional Republicans might respond:

“Well one of the things, I think, is Mitch McConnell should say first thing tomorrow morning that he will not allow any appointments that this administration has made. So there will be no hearings on the new attorney general, there will be no hearing on judges, there will be no hearing on anything this president wants and that he needs. I think that would be one action that we can take immediately.”

“I think we can look at funding, different agencies, different things, we could look at that. We can do something procedural. We can ask the president to have a comment a period before something like this major change happens. I think we can do that through asking for an administrative procedures act, put that in some sort of funding bill. That would have nothing to do with funding, that wouldn't shut down the government.”

You can see, and hear, the full interview online here.

Idaho ranks middling for percent of legislative races contested in the general election

The National Institute on Money in Politics reports that 36 percent of state legislative races in this year’s general election, nationwide, were uncontested, up from an average of 31 percent from 2001 to 2012. And in some states, including Wyoming, a large majority of races went uncontested. The group examined the 46 states in which there were legislative elections this year; Idaho had the 25th-most contested races, putting us in the middle of the pack. Sixty percent of Idaho’s legislative races were contested in the general election this year, the group reported. That’s down a bit from Idaho’s average from 2001 to 2012 of 67 percent.

The states with the most contested races, Michigan and Hawaii, both came in at 100 percent, followed by California at 96 percent. The states with the fewest were Arkansas and Wyoming, both at 36 percent; South Carolina, 28 percent; and Georgia at just 20 percent. You can see the group’s full report here.

Otter files additional arguments to 9th Circuit in marriage case

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has filed a motion with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals asking that the state be allowed to file additional arguments in its motion for an en banc review, a reconsideration by an 11-judge panel of the earlier three-judge panel’s rejection of Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. “Since the Governor submitted his petition, the Sixth Circuit has issued an opinion counter to this Court’s ruling in the case, requiring a reply by the Governor regarding this new circuit split,” Otter’s attorneys wrote. They also cited an amicus brief filed in the Fifth Circuit same-sex marriage case in Louisiana, and submitted a copy, saying it has presented “a gold mine of scholarship regarding the practical, real-world impact of redefining marriage.”

“Plaintiffs … have no answer to Gov. Otter’s showing that by its ‘explicit terms’ Idaho’s marriage laws discriminate facially, not on the basis of sexual orientation, but on the basis of biological complementarity,” the lawyers wrote. “Removing the man-woman definition threatens serious harm to the institution of marriage, and, thus, to the children of heterosexual couples.” You can read Otter's brief here.

Sen. Crapo selected once again to head the ‘Committee on Committees’

It’s the sixth time in 12 years that this has happened, but somehow it still sounds funny: Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo has been selected for the prestigious post of chairman of the Committee on Committees for the Senate Republicans. That’s the panel that’s in charge of committee assignments for the upcoming Congress; Crapo’s been selected for the once-every-two-years post five times before. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Mike is a trusted advisor and has the respect of his colleagues. He has a proven track record and the entire Republican conference is honored to have him once again leading our negotiations on committee assignments.”

Idaho officials heartened by 6th Circuit ruling against gay marriage, say they’ll press appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

Idaho officials say they have new hope that their state’s same-sex marriage case could be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, after Thursday’s 6th District ruling upholding bans on gay marriage in four states – the first federal appeals court to rule that way, after a string of rulings unanimously going the opposite direction. Those have included Idaho’s case; the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected Idaho’s appeal and overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage last month. Gay couples have been legally able to marry in the state since Oct. 15, and the state now recognizes marriages of same-sex couples that took place legally in other states.

Thursday’s ruling, which upheld same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, is “significant because it establishes a conflict among the circuits, and creates a situation in which the Supreme Court is likely going to have to resolve the issue,” said Todd Dvorak, spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “Because of that, we are moving forward with our plans to file a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court.” That’s the process for asking the high court to take up an appeal. Dvorak said the state has until Jan. 5 to file that petition.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who already has a petition pending with the 9th Circuit asking that court to reconsider its ruling, welcomed the 6th District ruling. “This decision reinforces many of the same points I have made in federal court here and in the 9th Circuit – that defining marriage is a states’ rights issue under the Tenth Amendment,” Otter said in a statement. Otter has continued to press the case, even forcefully speaking out against same-sex marriage in his election-night victory speech to GOP supporters late on Tuesday night. “I’m going to continue that fight as long as I possibly can,” he declared to cheers and applause.  You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and watch video of the governor’s election-night comments here.

The election that was…

On a special edition of “Idaho Reports” tonight on Idaho Public Television, I join Jim Weatherby, Kevin Richert, Bill Manny, and co-host Melissa Davlin to discuss the results of Tuesday’s Idaho election, and their implications for Idaho politics and policy going forward. Tune in at 7 p.m. After the show airs, you can watch it here online any time.

Ybarra has big challenges ahead; educators reach out to her

The leaders of Idaho’s three most powerful education groups sent Sherri Ybarra a letter Wednesday morning inviting her to their next meeting, Idaho Education News reports. The letter, sent just hours after Ybarra won a tight race to become Idaho’s next state superintendent of public instruction, was from the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Education Association, and the Idaho Association of School Administrators.

The longtime leaders of the groups representing trustees, teachers, principals and superintendents said they don’t know Ybarra very well, and they don’t want to wait to start changing that. “We look forward to working with her and hope to see her soon,” said Karen Echeverria, ISBA executive director. “I don’t know her very well at all.” Idaho EdNews reporter Jennifer Swindell has a full report here.

Also, Idaho Statesman reporter Bill Roberts has a report today on the challenges that will await Ybarra when she takes office in January, from a controversial tiered licensure proposal for teachers to school funding, student testing and more. School district superintendents from around the state told Roberts that Ybarra needs to get up to speed very quickly. “Every day counts now,” said Don Coberly, the Boise School District superintendent. Roberts’ full report is online here, headlined, “State school chief Ybarra’s to-do list is long, urgent.” Roberts reported that Ybarra declined a request for an interview Wednesday for the article, and spokeswoman Melinda Nothern said she was taking time off to be with her family.

Republicans roll in Idaho - again

Here’s a link to my full day-after story at spokesman.com on Idaho’s election results. It took until this morning at 7, but GOP newcomer Sherri Ybarra eked out a slim win in the race for Idaho state schools chief, completing a Republican sweep of all statewide offices that echoed results in Idaho elections since 2006. Democrats picked up one seat in the state Legislature thanks to upsets in Moscow and Lewiston, but GOP dominance of the Idaho Statehouse remained otherwise unchanged – 80 percent of seats went to Republicans, down from 81 percent. “It was a good election for Republicans, and they got their voters out,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and longtime observer of Idaho politics.

Otter: ‘It says something great about Republican principles’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, in brief comments late last night to KTVB-TV, pondered his re-election to a rare consecutive third four-year term. “This is the first one in the 21st century,” he said. “What I believe it says, it says something great about Republican principles, and how enduring, how survivable they are, even when we have major differences in the party. It’s still those principles that people of Idaho want to be governed by.”

Otter faced a divisive primary challenge in May, when he defeated state Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, by just 51.4 percent to 43.6 percent, with barely a majority of his own party backing his bid for a third term. Last night, Otter got 53.5 percent of the statewide vote to win a third term.

Balukoff concedes to Otter in gov’s race

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor, has conceded the election to GOP Gov. Butch Otter; Balukoff said he offered Otter his congratulations in a late-night phone call. “Being governor is often a thankless job, and I commend Gov. Otter for his public service,” Balukoff said in a statement.

“I urge the members of my party and all Idahoans to come together, through our common values, to pursue our shared goals, so that we may rise to the challenges before us,” he said. “We ran a good race and we brought attention to some very important issues. And in the end, as a nation of free elections, we accept the decision of voters.”

Balukoff said over the past year, he's worked successfully to change “the tone of the conversation about education in Idaho. That's a victory—and it's a victory most of all for Idaho's children. But we have more work to do to make the people we elect to the Statehouse accountable to delivering on their promises and their obligation to put our schools and our kids first.” Click below for his full statement.

Otter thanks supporters, pledges to keep fighting same-sex marriage

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter told the crowd at the Republican Party election night watch party that he was reluctant to give a victory speech because he hadn’t yet received a concession call from losing candidates A.J. Balukoff and John Bujak, but he wanted to take the opportunity to thank his supporters. Otter also spoke out strongly and at length on his continuing opposition to same-sex marriage.

 “I believe our values are strong in Idaho, I believe we’re the last … right now in the United States to stand up for what we believe is traditional marriage. And I’m going to continue that fight as long as I possibly can,” Otter declared to cheers and applause.

“I don’t believe there’s anybody in the state of Idaho that is purposely discriminatory,” Otter said. “But there are values that we believe in. And we can accommodate those other things but we can’t give up on our values. We voted in 2006 to say that a marriage is between one man and one woman, in the state of Idaho. Now if they want to change the other 49 states, go ahead, that’s not going to bother me, but why should we change? Why should we leave our values? Why should we leave our moral principles because everybody else is? That isn’t what the founders want, that isn’t what our creator wanted … so we’re staying there.”

Otter also thanked state GOP Chairman Steve Yates. “Steve, you brought the party back together,” he said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com on tonight's results in Idaho races.

One of GOP campaign bus tour stops was a public charter school, where whole student body welcomed the candidates

When the Idaho GOP campaign bus tour rolled into Gooding on Oct. 24, the students and staff at North Valley Academy Public Charter School were ready. The entire student body, in the colorful uniforms that are required at the patriotism-themed charter school, assembled on the lawn in front of the school, the school string orchestra played, and the kids sang the national anthem.

According to an Idaho Republican Party Facebook post, campaign signs for the various Republican candidates were planted in the lawn along the sidewalk at the front of the school for the half-hour event. Among candidates re-posting the party’s post was GOP candidate for state schools superintendent Sherri Ybarra, who participated in the bus tour; both her post and the party’s said, “The Idaho GOP Bus Tour received a warm welcome at North Valley Academy in Gooding. Their student band played for us and did an amazing job! We’re on our way to Wendell!” However, Kaycee Emery, spokeswoman for the Otter for Idaho campaign, said Ybarra wasn't at that stop, though she was at others on other days. Emery said the Gooding stop, unlike others, included no stump speeches.

 “I don’t believe it was a campaign event,” said the school’s board chairwoman and founder, Deby Infanger. “For us it was a visit from the governor.” She added, “It was outside. And he does what governors do, he supports public education, and I think it was very appropriate to thank him and sing the national anthem with him.” Infanger said she was out of town and didn’t attend the event, but said, “We gave the governor a plaque and thanked him for his support of education.”

The event took place during the school day, from 1:30 to 2 p.m. on a Friday. But the state Board of Education’s Code of Ethics for Idaho Professional Educators strictly forbids using schools “for the promotion of political candidates or for political activities.” Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna sent a memo in May of 2011 to all district superintendents, charter school administrators and school board trustees outlining the prohibitions, and warning against “allowing the use of the school to further political agendas in conjunction with any school activity or event.”

In his memo, he wrote, “If substantiated, each is a violation of the Code of Ethics and is punishable by a letter of reprimand, the placing of conditions on the educator’s certificate or the suspension or revocation of the educator’s certificate. … Those whose certificates are suspended or revoked can no longer be employed by an Idaho public school.”

Luna urged educators to “ensure that your professional employees do not put their certification at risk by violating the Code of Ethics for Idaho Professional Educators.”

Brady Moore, spokesman for Luna, said today that the state’s Professional Standards Commission will neither confirm nor deny whether it is looking into the GOP bus tour event at the public charter school, or whether it has received a complaint. The soonest the Professional Standards Commission could hold a hearing on the issue would be its next meeting in January, he said. “So it’s kind of hard to say at this point whether or not it would be a violation,” Moore said.

“Any certified person could technically be penalized by the professional standards commission, if it’s found to be a violation,” Moore said. “It can go all the way from a letter of revocation to a letter that says, ‘Don’t do that again.’”

David Johnston, executive director of the Idaho Republican Party, said he was on the bus tour. “It was a great stop,” he said. “The pictures, I think, said it all. It was a great crowd, a good turnout. We rolled up there and everybody was out on the front lawn, and the band did a great job on their performance.” Johnston said he wasn’t aware that the academy was a public school. “We didn’t stop at any other schools,” he said.

Watch the full governor’s debate…

The full, 90-minute debate between Idaho GOP Gov. Butch Otter, Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff and Libertarian challenger John Bujak can be viewed online here. It was a lively and often heated debate that saw the candidates clash on an array of issues as Tuesday's election approaches. The debate, which was broadcast statewide on Idaho Public Television, is part of the “Idaho Debates,” co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho. It was the final debate in the race before the election.

Balukoff: Analysis of Otter’s schedule shows he’s a ‘part-time governor’

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, has analyzed a year’s worth of incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s detailed calendars, and concluded that Otter is a “part-time governor,” working only 27 hours a week in 2013, or 32.8 if receptions and travel time are added in. “Gov. Otter treats his job like he’s in semi-retirement,” Balukoff said in a statement today. “Many Idahoans are working 50 or 60 or more hours a week in two or three jobs and still barely scraping by. Idaho needs and deserves a governor who’s on the job more than part-time.”

In January of 2011, then-Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey did a similar analysis, comparing Otter’s schedule for 2011 to 2009, before he was re-elected for his second term. He found that in 2011, Otter largely took Mondays off; took 41 personal days, a 28 percent increase over two years earlier; and his official appointments were down 21 percent and unofficial appointments down 64 percent.

Otter had no comment on the report then; in a statement today, his campaign said, “Being governor is not a typical 8 to 5 occupation. Gov. Otter is governor 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Mr Balukoff probably doesn't realize that the job of governor is a 24-hour calling.” You can see Balukoff’s full analysis here, and his full statement here; click below for the Otter campaign's full statement.

Politics in North Idaho county ‘not fun any more’ amid disaffection, splits…

Bonner County is seeking disaffection and splits within its Republican Party, Bonner Bee correspondent David Gunter writes today, in an extensive piece examining the state of politics in the county and how they reflect the state. “I’ve heard the comment from some longtime Republicans that, ‘This isn’t fun any more,’” Bonner County Republican Central Committee Chairman Danielle Ahrens told the Bee. The full article is online here.

In-depth ‘In Crisis’ series examines shortfalls in Idaho’s mental health care system

The Idaho Statesman and Boise State Public Radio are running an extensive, five-part reporting project this week on Idaho’s mental health system, titled, “In Crisis.” Among the revelations so far: Involuntary mental commitment cases in the state rose from 2,337 in 2007 to 4,686 in 2013. The state is short on both treatment facilities and providers, and its suicide rate is 48 percent higher than the national average. More than 22 percent of uninsured adults who don’t qualify for Medicaid now – but would if the state expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act – were in “serious psychological distress.” And prisons and jails are among the state’s top mental health care providers.

The series also reported that Idaho's per-capita spending on mental health was the nation's lowest except for Puerto Rico at $37, but the state Department of Health & Welfare disputes that figure, saying a glitch in how data was examined for a Kaiser Family Foundation report comparing states left out part of Idaho's spending, which H&W says actually came to $143.56 for fiscal year 2010, above the national average of $120.56. You can see the full series, which continues tomorrow, online here and here; it includes audio, video, data and more.

AdWatch: Hockey ad seeks to balance barrage of negative ads in gov’s race

There’s more skating and hockey-playing than political images in the latest ad in Idaho’s governor’s race, as Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff dons an Idaho Steelheads hockey uniform for his final campaign commercial of the race. “In politics, taking shots at your opponent is just business as usual for some,” Balukoff says in the ad, “but skating around Idaho’s problems with cheap shots won’t get results. … It’s time Idaho families get a fair shot.”

The commercial takes aim at negative ads that have been airing in the race, both from outside groups backing GOP Gov. Butch Otter and from Otter’s campaign, whose latest ad accuses Balukoff of “falsely smearing” Otter over a private prison scandal. It comes as an array of messages from various groups is airing in Idaho, as the race comes down to the wire ahead of Tuesday’s election.

“I think it’s a clever ad, and it addresses the negative advertising that he’s been a recipient of,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and longtime observer of Idaho politics. “It might attract some voters who have tuned out to all the negative ads that are so prominently displayed right now.” You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com, including a look at controversial radio ads airing in eastern Idaho that claim to be from Balukoff’s campaign, but actually are from an Otter supporter.

Balukoff’s past campaign contributions went to both R’s and D’s - including one to Otter in ‘04

Here’s an interesting tidbit: After reading in the Twin Falls Times-News today that A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, donated to Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns both in 2007 and in 2012, I searched FEC records for Balukoff’s donations in federal races. Both those donations showed up, $2,300 in 2007 and $2,500 in 2012. So did several others – donations both to Republicans and Democrats over the years. In federal campaigns, Balukoff has donated to Democrats Shirley Ringo, Nels Mitchell and Walt Minnick; and to Republicans Larry Craig (2001), Mike Simpson (1998), Mark Stubbs (1998).

And, perhaps most interesting of all was this donation: In 2004, Balukoff donated $250 to a GOP candidate for Congress – Butch Otter. Mike Lanza, Balukoff’s campaign spokesman, said, “He once believed that Butch Otter would deliver on his promises. He no longer believes that.”

Ysursa predicts 58 percent turnout in November, says it should be higher

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is predicting 58 percent turnout in the Nov. 4 general election – that’s 58 percent of registered voters, and is equal to roughly 39 to 40 percent of Idaho’s voting-age population. “It’s not something to write home about,” he said. “I am disturbed, troubled and concerned about the decline in voter participation.”

In a brown-bag luncheon speech to ISU alumni in Boise today, Ysursa said Idaho’s voter turnout has been on a steady decline since the record 1980 election in which Steve Symms defeated Idaho Sen. Frank Church. That trend has continued even though Idaho has removed many obstacles to voting – it’s one of just eight states with election-day registration at the polls, and it now offers no-excuse absentee voting and early voting.

“What is the answer to increasing voter turnout?” Ysursa asked. “I’ve been trying to figure that out for 40 years. … I do know that the process needs to be inclusive and not exclusive.” Click below for more.

RGA video sparks clash between Balukoff, Otter over 2008 presidential vote

The Republican Governors Association has been touting a video of Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho A.J. Balukoff being asked by a cameraman who he voted for in the 2008 presidential race, a question Balukoff doesn’t answer, saying instead, “I’ll have to see if I can remember.” Today, the Twin Falls Times-News reports that Balukoff’s campaign says he voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and then for Mitt Romney in 2012. Reporter Nathan Brown writes that Balukoff said he considered voting for John McCain in 2008, but decided against it when he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. “As he’s said before, he doesn’t just vote the party line,” campaign spokesman Mike Lanza told the Times-News. “He tries to check individuals and their experience, and what their ideas are and what they represent.”

Balukoff contributed to Romney’s campaigns in both 2007 and 2012.

Lanza said the video was shot by a cameraman who followed Balukoff around the state for a month, and initially declined to say for whom he was filming, but later acknowledged it was for the RGA. The RGA is the biggest outside spender in Idaho’s governor’s race this year, Brown reports, having spent $700,000 on an independent campaign against Balukoff that’s included three TV commercials. The ads seek to tie Balukoff to Obama. The Times-News’ full report is online here.

Lanza told the Times-News, “Gov. Otter’s allies in Washington, D.C. are pulling out all the stops to try to distort A.J.’s positions and record. They’re doing this in order to avoid a conversation about Gov. Otter’s terrible record on education and jobs in his eight years as governor, not to mention that his insider deals for campaign supporters have now cost Idaho taxpayers millions of dollars, with the tab still growing.”

Otter’s campaign, in a news release sent out yesterday with the RGA video, said, “While voters want straight talk, Balukoff continues to avoid concrete facts, even when it comes to simple questions about his voting record. While he can’t recall who he voted for, it is apparent that Balukoff supports a liberal agenda including higher taxes, Obamacare, and the re-introduction of wolves. Balukoff’s stance on issues is a far cry from values important to Idahoans.”

The election is on Tuesday.

Groups spending on Idaho races as election approaches…

Today’s independent expenditure reports – documenting big independent campaign spending in the final days before the election, which must be reported within 48 hours – include an IACI-linked group, the Idaho Prosperity Fund, spending another $50,000 today on literature attacking Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff; the Idaho Republican Party spending $65,416 Monday on mailings supporting Butch Otter, Lawerence Denney and Sherri Ybarra and opposing A.J. Balukoff, Holli Woodings and Jana Jones; and Idahoans for a Strong Economy, a Democratic group, spending close to $140,000 yesterday and today on mailings, broadcast advertising (including radio ads) and literature supporting Jones and Woodings and opposing Denney. You can see the full reports online here.

Otter, Balukoff each report spending more than half a million on broadcast advertising in October

The 7-day pre-general election campaign finance reports were due by 5 p.m. today. Here’s what they show in the governor’s race: A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor, reported more than $1.04 million in fundraising during the final reporting period, from Oct. 1-Oct. 19, with $995,000 of that coming from his own funds. Overall, Balukoff reported raising $3.2 million to date, more than $2.7 million of it his own money, and spending all but $7,552. (See below for more on this from Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert.)

Libertarian candidate for governor John Bujak reported raising $11,565 in the final reporting period, including $5,000 each from his parents, Joseph and Jean Bujak of Coeur d’Alene; he raised $29,638 year-to-date, including an earlier $10,000 loan to his campaign, and still had $15,080 in the bank at the close of the reporting period.

Incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter reported raising $184,321 in the final reporting period, through Oct. 19, and $2 million to date, and spending all but $157,719 by the close of the reporting period. Both Otter and Balukoff reported that their biggest expenses during the reporting period were for broadcast advertising, with each spending well over half a million dollars.

The 7-day pre-general election reports only cover contributions and spending through Oct. 19, but big contributions in the final two weeks before the election must be reported on separate reports that are due within 48 hours. Both Otter and Balukoff filed 48-hour reports today. Balukoff reported $101,000 in contributions on Monday, with $100,000 of that his own money. Otter reported $18,400 in new contributions on Monday, with $3,000 from Hayden Beverage Co. and $2,500 from Rod Lewis of Eagle the largest on the list.

Also filing a 48-hour report today: Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who reported receiving a $5,000 campaign contribution from Facebook in Menlo Park, Calif. on Monday.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert tallied up Balukoff's reports in the governor's race, including the 48-hour reports, and came up with a total of $3.2 million in personal funds Balukoff has put into his campaign all told. Richert also has an overview of top races here, including two more races in which Democrats have out-raised their Republican opponents: Secretary of State, in which Democratic candidate Holli Woodings loaned her campaign another $100,000 and also collected twice as much in donations as GOP rival Lawerence Denney during the final reporting period; and state superintendent of schools, in which Democratic candidate Jana Jones continued to out-raise GOP rival Sherri Ybarra.

Idaho’s legal bill for same-sex marriage appeals tops $90,000

Idaho is paying another $10,000 to outside attorneys for its continued appeals of the federal court decision overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. According to records obtained pursuant to a public records request, Gov. Butch Otter’s office has agreed to pay Washington, D.C. attorney Gene Schaerr $10,000 for filing a petition to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals asking the court to have a larger, 11-judge panel re-hear Idaho’s case in an “en banc” review.

The flat fee of $10,000 is just for the petition; the agreement leaves open the possibility of Otter hiring Schaerr to do additional, related work. You can read it here.

That brings the state’s legal bill to challenge U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s May 2014 decision overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage to $91,477 so far, including $86,920 for private attorneys hired to represent Otter. The figure also includes some costs incurred by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office in the original appeal to the 9th Circuit, but Wasden used staff attorneys, so the expenses were small.

The state also could be on the hook for the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs for the original federal lawsuit, since the state lost; a pending motion asks the U.S. District Court to order Idaho to pay nearly half a million dollars. The state also could be asked to pay the plaintiffs’ fees and costs for the state’s unsuccessful appeals.

Today’s reports show more spending on pro-Otter, anti-Balukoff independent ads

Today’s tally of last-minute campaign spending shows another big broadcast advertising push in favor of GOP Gov. Butch Otter, to the tune of $50,241 by the Idaho Republican Party, which already had launched a radio ad campaign. And another push against Otter’s Democratic challenger, A.J. Balukoff, by the Idaho Prosperity Fund, a political action committee affiliated with the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry business lobbying group; the IACI group spent another $24,012 for broadcast advertising against Balukoff on Saturday, according to 48-hour reports filed with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office.

Meanwhile, the Conservation Voters for Idaho Action Fund reported spending $7,766 on mailings in support of candidates Fosbury, Rudolph and Rubel; and Michael D. Batt of Idaho Falls reported spending $10,198 on radio advertising against Balukoff in eastern Idaho.

Candidates filing 48-hour reports today included Otter, who reported $4,000 in new contributions including $2,000 from K12 Management Inc. of Herndon, Va.; Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who reported $7,000 in new contributions including $4,000 from Midas Gold Inc.; GOP Secretary of State candidate Lawerence Denney, who reported a $1,000 contribution from Todd Mall of Grand Rapids, Mich.; Democratic candidate for state schools superintendent Jana Jones, who reported a $1,000 contribution from high-tech entrepreneur and human rights activist Greg Carr of Idaho Falls; and GOP state Controller Brandon Woolf, who is unopposed for re-election but reported a $1,000 campaign contribution from Potlatch Corp.

AdWatch: New version of RGA anti-Balukoff ad drops debate video clip

The Republican Governors Association launched a new ad targeting A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, today, but it’s virtually identical to the group’s earlier anti-Balukoff ads. The main difference between the latest version and the previous one is that it’s dropped a video clip of Balukoff briefly losing his place during his opening remarks at a gubernatorial debate in Coeur d’Alene, which the ad used to suggest Balukoff “needs a script.”

At that debate, GOP Gov. Butch Otter visibly read from prepared remarks during his 2-minute opening comments, while Balukoff spoke largely without looking at his text – except when he lost his place.

The claims in the ad are identical to the RGA’s previous ad, attempting to tie Balukoff – a Mitt Romney supporter – to President Barack Obama, and suggesting he’d raise taxes and restrict gun rights. You can see my fact-check of the claims in my two previous AdWatch stories here and here.

One other small change in the latest RGA ad: A citation to an April editorial from the Idaho State Journal that misstated Balukoff’s position on property taxes has been dropped, in favor of a citation to a 2006 Idaho Statesman article about a voter initiative that sought to raise Idaho’s sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent to increase school funding. The initiative failed, after the Legislature and then-Gov. Jim Risch raised the tax to 6 percent to reduce property taxes three months before the election on the initiative. You can see the ad online here.

State’s legal bill for same-sex marriage appeals tops $80,000, still growing

Idaho’s legal bill for challenging a federal judge’s decision overturning the state’s ban on gay marriage has now topped $80,000, and that was before Gov. Butch Otter’s latest appeal to the 9th Circuit. In response to a public records request, Otter’s office has released an Oct. 7 agreement with Washington, D.C. attorney Gene Schaerr to pay a flat fee of $10,000 for two specific legal briefs: One appealing to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay, to keep its decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Idaho from taking effect; and another appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court for the same thing.

Both were filed, and both were unsuccessful; same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho on Oct. 15.

Prior to that, Idaho had spent $71,477 to challenge U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s May 2014 decision overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, $66,920 of that for outside lawyers hired to represent Otter. The bills for the stay requests bumped the total up to $81,477, including $76,920 for private attorneys.

Since then, Otter has filed a petition with the 9th Circuit requesting an en banc review, a review by a larger, 11-judge panel, of that court’s earlier ruling by a three-judge panel. Otter also filed a motion for permission to exceed the 15-page limit on such petitions; the court granted the motion and allowed Schaerr to file a 35-page brief on behalf of Otter. The 9th Circuit has now asked the plaintiffs in Idaho’s same-sex marriage case to file a response to Otter’s petition within 21 days.

The governor’s office has not yet responded to requests for information on costs for that legal action. Earlier, in the state’s appeal to the 9th Circuit, Otter was represented by private attorney Monte Stewart, who charged the state $250 an hour. Stewart has withdrawn from representing Idaho; Otter replaced him with Schaerr.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden also participated in the original appeal to the 9th Circuit, but did so using staff attorneys, so there were no outside legal bills. Wasden has announced he’s planning to file an additional appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming weeks.

The state also could be on the hook for the plaintiffs' attorney fees and costs for the original federal case, since the state lost; a pending motion asks the U.S. District Court to order Idaho to pay nearly half a million dollars.

AdWatch: Otter hits back at Balukoff, defends handling of prison scandal

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has launched a new TV ad striking back at Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff, and defending Otter’s handling of a prison scandal. It’s the first time that Otter’s campaign has directly mentioned Balukoff in one of its ads, though two outside groups have been running ads attacking Balukoff and trying to tie him to President Barack Obama.

“This may be as good of evidence as we have that this may be a closer race than at least one or two polls have indicated recently,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. He noted that Otter’s name recognition in the state, as a two-term governor, is close to 100 percent, while Balukoff came into the race virtually unknown outside the Boise area. That would normally prompt a well-known incumbent to avoid giving a little-known challenger any free publicity.

Balukoff, a Boise businessman, is the longtime chairman of the Boise school board; Otter served three terms in Congress and 14 years as lieutenant governor before becoming governor.

Otter’s ad is a direct response to a new commercial Balukoff launched last weekend criticizing Otter’s handling of the state’s troubled contract with private prison firm Corrections Corporation of America; both ads are running statewide, including in the Spokane broadcast TV market. CCA, which until July 1 was being paid $29 million a year to operate the state’s largest prison, was at the center of 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 were never worked. In early February, the state dropped all claims against CCA in the staffing dispute in exchange for a $1 million payment.

Weatherby said, “I think the question a lot of viewers might have is: What was dishonest in the Balukoff ad? What are they specifically objecting to? And it’s not clear in this ad.” Balukoff’s ad called the settlement with CCA a “sweetheart deal.” Otter's ad doesn't mention the settlement. You can read my full AdWatch story here, along with links to both ads.

Crane drops plan to challenge Bedke for House speaker

House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, has decided against challenging House Speaker Scott Bedke for the House’s top leadership post, Idaho Reports co-host Melissa Davlin reports today on her blog; you can read her full report here. Crane had said earlier this year he was considering a challenge to Bedke, but now says he wants to remain as assistant majority leader.

Legislative leadership positions will be decided during the Legislature’s organizational session, which is set for Dec. 4, after the November election.