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AdWatch: In rare move, Idaho Secretary of State candidate hits the airwaves

In an unusual move for an Idaho Secretary of State candidate, Holli Woodings is running a statewide TV commercial touting her candidacy and her commitment to making it easier to vote in Idaho; the ad is airing in the Boise, Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Spokane markets.

While Woodings doesn’t mention her GOP opponent, Lawerence Denney, in the ad, it draws a contrast to his campaign theme of enhancing security in elections; Denney co-sponsored Idaho’s voter photo I.D. law and has called for additional measures to combat potential voter fraud, including using technology to scan voters’ fingerprints or signatures at the polls. In a debate against Woodings on statewide TV, Denney declared, “I will not give up the security of the ballot for convenience.”

In the ad, Woodings, a Democrat, cites the leadership of Idaho’s current and former secretaries of state as “40 years of nonpartisan ethical leadership.” Both current Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and his longtime predecessor, the late Pete Cenarrusa, earned praise from all parties for their handling of the state’s elections, though both are Republicans.

“She’s really trying to win the argument over who is the most qualified candidate to assume the nonpartisan professional service orientation of the Ysursa-Cenarrusa years,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. “I think it’s quite an effective ad in introducing her. She doesn’t have the name I.D. that Denney has. … She needs a lot of independents and Republicans to be successful, and this ad could help her.” You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com, and watch the commercial here.

Letter: ‘I knew Pete Cenarrusa’

A letter to the editor in the Idaho Statesman today from Penny Ysursa, retired longtime employee of the Idaho Secretary of State’s office and wife of current GOP Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, is drawing some attention; it’s aimed at Republican Lawerence Denney, who is vying with Democrat Holli Woodings to be Idaho’s next secretary of state when Ben Ysursa retires at the end of his current term. Before becoming Idaho’s Secretary of State 12 years ago, Ben Ysursa worked for the late then-Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa for 28 years, including 26 as his chief deputy. Here’s Penny Ysursa’s letter:

Where is Lloyd Bentsen when you need him? I keep reading or hearing Lawerence Denney comparing himself to former Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa. I worked for Pete Cenarrusa, I knew Pete Cenarrusa, he was a friend of mine. Lawerence Denney, you're no Pete Cenarrusa.

Penny Ysursa, Boise

Woodings calls on Denney to give up state retirement pension; no response yet from Denney

Idaho Secretary of State candidate Holli Woodings is calling on her GOP opponent, former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, to give up his state pension, in light of his comments at a live debate last week that he doesn’t believe elected officials should be on the state pension system. “If we want a fair and honest person as our next secretary of state, that person should be willing to live under the same rules he or she wants everybody else to live under,” Woodings declared.

Denney didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Woodings’ challenge, which she made in a news release distributed to news media statewide. During last week’s debate, he repeatedly called for removing all elected officials from the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho. But he also suggested they should get some other type of retirement compensation to offset that. “I think that if you remove the retirement portion totally from all legislators, if you remove that retirement portion from all elected officials and give them the compensation so that they could put it in their own 401K or whatever, I think we could do that and do it very painlessly,” he said.

Under a special provision, longtime Idaho lawmakers who take high-paying state jobs at the end of their careers qualify for full retirement pensions as if they’d been full-time state employees all those years. When legislation was proposed in 2012 to do away with that perk for lawmakers, Denney, then speaker of the House, killed the bill. Under the provision, his state pension would jump from roughly $500 a month to roughly $3,600 a month for life if he wins the election and serves one four-year term as secretary of state. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Denney appears to advocate controversial changes in Idaho elections, then backs off

Lawerence Denney, the Republican candidate for Idaho secretary of state, this week backed off from statements he’d made in suggesting he’d do away with Idaho’s primary election. “I think you misunderstood what I said,” Denney told reporters during a live debate on Idaho Public TV against his opponent, state Rep. Holli Woodings, D-Boise. “Certainly I do believe that a primary election is not necessarily an election at all, it’s a nomination process, and it is a party nomination process, and I think the parties deserve to choose their own candidates.”

A day earlier, in a debate at the City Club of Boise, Denney said, “I think it’s important that Republicans nominate Republican candidates and that Democrats nominate Democrat candidates, and I think that there could be a process that’s a lot better than what we’re doing now.” But at the public TV debate, he said, “We have a long tradition of having the primary and having the ballot. What I am concerned about is having the taxpayers of the state of Idaho actually paying for a party nomination process.”

Woodings said, “I support primary elections. I believe that if they’re open and available to all the voters of Idaho to choose which primary they would like to vote in, that that’s absolutely something that we should be administering as a state.”

It wasn’t the first time Denney has taken what appears to be a controversial position during the campaign, and then stepped back from it. He appeared to be calling for requiring voters to be fingerprinted at the polls before they could vote, then said that wasn’t what he meant. He was highly critical of same-day voter registration at the polls – something Idaho and just seven other states offer – saying it “overwhelms” the system and can perpetuate fraud. But when asked if he’d do away with same-day registration, Denney said, “I am not advocating that at all.” You can read my full Sunday column here at spokesman.com.

Denney wants to eliminate Idaho’s primary election

Idaho Secretary of State candidate Lawerence Denney wants to do away with the state’s primary election. Denney made the proposal at a City Club of Boise today against his Democratic opponent, Holli Woodings, who sharply disagreed with it; she said Denney wants to “put additional barriers between people and the ballot.”

“There’s a kind of misnomer that the primary is an election. It’s not an election,” said Denney, a nine-term state lawmaker and former speaker of the Idaho House. “It’s a nomination process. It should not be, in my opinion, it should not be run by the state government but by the parties themselves, because we are selecting our candidates.”

More than half of Idaho’s voters are not affiliated with any party; the state never had party registration until 2011, when the state Republican Party closed its primary election to anyone other than registered Republicans and sued the state to force a change in its election laws. Denney was a strong supporter of the move, which he said he stands by today. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Closing statements: Smartphone app, leaving partisanship ‘at the door’…

After sparring on everything from voter access to Land Board policies, Democrat Holli Woodings and Republican Lawerence Denney were each given the opportunity for closing statements at today’s City Club of Boise debate.

“Well, that was a lot of fun - I haven’t debated since high school,” Woodings said. “As your Secretary of State, I will run a fair and honest office and will do so impartially.” She said she’d “work proactively to give all Idaho citizens an opportunity to participate in our democracy. … Let me make clear we can have electoral access and electoral integrity. They are not mutually exclusive.” She then announced a new smartphone app her campaign has developed and released to the public today; the free app, dubbed, “IdaVotes!” provides links to the websites of federal, state and legislative candidates in the user’s home district along with maps to polling locations and county election websites.

Denney said today’s debate was “a great opportunity.” He said, “As a lifelong Idahoan with experience as a farmer, miner, logger and businessman, I understand Idaho. I will leave my partisanship at the door. And I believe that there is a great example of how this can be done, and that was one of our predecessors, Pete Cenarrusa. Pete was a speaker of the House, and I can tell you that Pete was as partisan as they come as speaker. And I believe that I can follow in those footsteps and I can leave my partisanship at the door. I will work just as my predecessors have to safeguard the integrity of the office. … I will work to get the Land Board out of the pocket of private business and commercial real estate. … As the chief elections officer ensuring secure, fair and honest elecions will be one of my highest priorities.”

Secretary of State debate: Independents, fingerprints, voting…

Some more highlights from today’s City Club of Boise debate between Republican Lawerence Denney and Democrat Holli Woodings:

After Denney took the position that the primary election isn’t really an election and shouldn’t be run by the state, he was asked where independent voters should go for the primary election. “Independent voters right now get the non-partisan ballot, the judges and the other issues that are nonpartisan on the ballot,” he responded. Woodings said she knows many Idahoans who are independents, and they should still be able to participate in primary elections.

Woodings was asked if she’d ever brought an issue to a group where people disagreed. She responded, “I don’t know how many in this room are familiar with the North End Neighborhood Association.” The comment drew laughter. Woodings was president of the association for two years.

Denney was asked about a comment he made in a recent guest opinion, saying he’d seek funding from the Legislature for technology including scanning fingerprints at the polls. “I made the comment and I was talking about technology,” Denney said. “Certainly I didn’t intend to say that we want to fingerprint everyone before they can vote. But there is a technology there that we can use in scanning your signature that we can at the polls verify your signature with your voter registration card.” He said, “We don’t have a lot of voter fraud in Idaho yet.” But he said he sees news reports every day about voter fraud elsewhere. “Certainly Idaho’s not immune, and I think it’s best for us to be on top of the situation to start with, rather than trying to catch up after it’s done.”

Woodings said Idaho already scans signatures to verify them. She said county clerks tell her the cost of the type of technology at the polls Denney is advocating would be “astronomical.” She said, “I trust Idahoans and I think there’s a reason why we don’t have a problem with voter fraud in Idaho and it’s because we’re a really honest bunch.”

Denney, Woodings on ‘scandals’

Asked to address "scandals" including the Phil Hart affair, redistricting and more, Lawerence Denney, GOP candidate for Secretary of State, told the City Club of Boise, “Ninety seconds to explain all of those scandals is going to be a little bit difficult.” He said, “We were controlled with what we did with Phil Hart by a pesky little document that nobody really follows any more called the Constitution. You know, we really had no authority to do anything.” Denney said that Hart’s constituents re-elected him to the Legislature, despite his ongoing tax protest, legal problems and timber theft case. “We really had no authority under the Constitution to do anything other than what we did,” he said.

Holli Woodings, the Democratic candidate, responding to the same question, said, “I was not involved in any of those scandals. But I can tell you what happened during the Phil Hart scandal, and that was that a very good friend of mine, Rep. Eric Anderson, who serves his district honorably in North Idaho, was unseated from his (vice) chairmanship for bringing ethics complaints.” Anderson filed an ethics complaint against Hart; Denney then removed him from his committee vice-chairmanship. “So to me that brand of partisanship does not belong in the Secretary of State’s office, and I hope you agree,” Woodings said. 

Denney: Primary is not really an election, shouldn’t be run as one

Republican Lawerence Denney, debating Democratic opponent Holli Woodings today at the City Club of Boise, was asked if he now regrets supporting the closed primary, as he runs for Secretary of State, a position responsible for promoting voter turnout.

 “I do not regret having supported the closed primary,” Denney said. “There’s kind of a misnomer that the primary is an election. It’s not an election. It’s a nomination process. It should not be, in my opinion, it should not be run by the state government but by the parties themselves, because we are selecting our candidates. I’ve had people tell me that we are suppressing the vote by having a closed primary. Well I think it’s important that Republicans nominate Republican candidates and that Democrats nominate the Democratic candidates, and I think there could be a process that’s a lot better than what we’re doing now. It’s run as an election … but it’s really not, it’s a nomination.”

Woodings responded, “As secretary of state I will oppose any effort that puts an additional barrier between the citizens of Idaho and their ballot, and this is just one example of putting additional barriers, and this is one example of … depressing voter turnout.” She noted that turnout in the primary in Kootenai County was just 16 percent. “That’s 16 percent making the decisions for the people of their entire legislative district and the state and that is just wrong,” she said. “I will oppose those efforts, and any other efforts such as photo ID, fingerprinting or any other efforts that will place barriers between people and the ballot.”

Secretary of State candidates on partisanship…

The first question to Lawerence Denney and Holli Woodings, the candidates for Idaho Secretary of State, as they debate today at the City Club of Boise, was about how they reconcile being partisan politicians with the nature of the office, which oversees elections.

Denney said his record “was not as partisan as some might believe that it was.” He noted that when he was ousted as speaker, the minority leader was the first to rise on the floor of the House and acknowledge him for his service. “I think I had a good relationship with the minority party … and I think certainly as Secretary of State there is no room for partisanship and there really are very, very few places where you can have partisanship in the Secretary of State’s office.”

Woodings said, “There is no room for partisanship in the office. We have the responsibility to make sure that everyone is held to the same level of accountability, whether we’re friends with them or not friends with them.” She said, “My opponent speaks to the fact that he was ousted by his caucus as a speaker … because he showed a lot of partisanship. That is my understanding in talking to my colleagues in the Legislature, that that was the reason why that happened. .. I think we both have history and I think that my history shows … working across the aisle.”

Idaho Legislature’s federal lands panel bills for private lawyer climb to more than $61,000

The bill for outside legal fees for the Idaho Legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Committee has now swelled to $61,375, according to documents obtained by The Spokesman-Review under the Idaho Public Records Act. The law firm Holland & Hart has submitted invoices to the Legislature for work from April to August totaling $19,613; that’s on top of the $41,762 the firm already had been paid before then.

The joint interim committee, which is looking into how Idaho could demand to take over federal public land within the state, hired Holland & Hart lawyer Bill Myers, former solicitor for the U.S. Department of Interior, to advise it. Myers’ most recent charges to the state, at $420 an hour, include charges for a phone conversation and email with Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood in July; charges to review a Montana Senate resolution and correspond with Montana state staffers; charges to meet with committee co-chairman Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise; charges for legal research; and charges to participate in meetings in Montana and Utah. The joint panel's other co-chairman is Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale.

“I think getting good sound legal advice is well worth it,” Denney told Eye on Boise today. “Of course we have been criticized for not using the Attorney General, but I’m not sure the Attorney General has any attorneys on staff with the time or the expertise that Bill Myers has. So I think for us to get good sound legal advice, I think it’s a good idea for us to hire outside counsel.” Legislative committees can get legal advice from the Attorney General without charge. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Denney, Woodings vie to run Idaho elections

Lawerence Denney already has experience shaping Idaho’s election policy. In the Legislature, he pushed successfully to close Idaho’s GOP primary election to anyone but registered Republicans and fought to require voters to show photo I.D. at the polls to vote. He tried unsuccessfully to fire his own appointee to the state’s bipartisan citizen redistricting commission for being too accommodating to Democrats, and unilaterally quashed a long-sought financial disclosure law for lawmakers. Now Denney, the former House speaker, hopes to lead the state’s elections as secretary of state.

His opponent, Democratic state Rep. Holli Woodings, argues Denney’s brand of partisan politics isn’t the kind of experience that would be good for running fair elections. She praises Ben Ysursa, the longtime Republican secretary of state who is retiring. “If somebody else got into this position who was more partisan or who was part of this movement to limit people’s voices, it could look very different,” she said.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University reports that 22 states have enacted new voting restrictions since 2010, from requiring more and more documentation to qualify to vote to cutting back early-voting access and hours. “There’s definitely an unfortunate trend that we have seen toward restricting access to the ballot,” said Jennifer Clark, counsel for the center’s Democracy Program. “That’s a huge concern. Voting is a fundamental right, from which all other rights spring.”

Denney says he wouldn’t make big changes in how the office is run. “Most of the things that you are in charge of are in Idaho Code, and the only way to be more partisan is to break the law – and I certainly am not going to do that,” Denney said. “You’re pretty much controlled by what the code says.” He added, “If you can tell me how I could be more partisan, please do.”

Ysursa has a different perspective. “As secretary of state, you’re not merely following the dictates – you can lead,” he said. “At times our law is open to interpretation, like everything else. Nobody’s passed a perfect law; sometimes you can have a nuance or interpretation. Where there’s a doubt, you err, if you err at all, in favor of the voting franchise.” You can read my full story here on the race for Idaho Secretary of State this year, from Saturday’s Spokesman-Review.

Federal lands interim committee adds seventh public hearing next month

The Federal Lands Interim Committee, a joint legislative interim committee co-chaired by Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, has scheduled a seventh public hearing, this one in Sandpoint on Sept. 12. That’s in addition to the six already scheduled over the next two months, including Sept. 11 in Kamiah and St. Maries; Oct. 9 in Idaho Falls and Soda Springs; and Oct 10 in Twin Falls and Hailey.

The move already has prompted a “jeer” from the Lewiston Tribune’s editorial page that Denney “just happens to be making a series of statewide swings at taxpayer expense, right in the middle of campaign season, including stops next month in Kamiah and St. Maries.” Denney, former speaker of the House and current House resources chairman, is running for Idaho Secretary of State; he faces Democrat Holli Woodings in the November election.

Denney said, “We thought that it was important that the people have their say in what they think about the state taking over title to the federal lands. And that was certainly always the plan – last year was to be fact-finding, this year was more public hearing.”

Winder, Denney’s co-chairman, said, “We have to report back to the 2015 session. So in trying to coordinate schedules, it was very difficult to get anybody to where we could get like two days together, actually going back to July or August.” Denney said the pre-election timing “wasn’t my choice,” saying, “I would like to have started way earlier, because it’s going to take time away from me right when I think I need it most in the campaign. … I think it was just logistics.”

Asked why the panel is heading to small towns like Soda Springs, Kamiah and St. Maries, Denney said, “A lot of the people who want to come and testify are from these more rural areas, and why make them travel? … They always have to travel.”

Winder said the Sandpoint session was added at the request of Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who said her constituents “felt like it was too far to go to St. Maries to testify.”

The panel is charged, during its two years, to “undertake and complete a study of the process for the state of Idaho to acquire title to and control of public lands controlled by the federal government.” It’s already spent more than $41,000 on legal fees to Bill Myers, a Boise attorney and former solicitor general for the Department of the Interior, whom it hired to advise it.  

Winder said, “We’re already pretty confident that from a legal perspective, we don’t stand on very firm ground if it were a matter of litigating. But we do think there are alternatives available to us in existing laws and potential for congressional changes in how the states interact with the federal agencies that manage public lands. … We think it’s worth the effort.”

Trib: Denney, Winder Waste Our $$$

Marty Trillhaase of the Lewiston Tribune takes former House Speaker Lawerence Denney and state Sen. Chuck Winder to task for wasting taxpayers money by hiring an outside attorney to pursue an unconstitutional issue. Denney and Lawerence put Idaho taxpayers on the hook for $41,736 — and counting — because they refused to accept the advise from Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's office that the state can't take over federal lands: "We hired legal counsel from outside of state government primarily because we didn't feel as the Legislature that we were getting the help that we needed from the attorney general's office, once they determined the legal prospects of the case against the federal government on this didn't have much merit," Winder told Montana lawmakers last month. Full editorial here.

Question: Izzit just me — or is it OK for conservative hardliners to waste money on a quixotic clause as long as the cause is popular with their base?

Denney responds to Woodings’ criticisms: ‘An insult to the people of Idaho’

Rep. Lawerence Denney, the Republican candidate for Idaho Secretary of State, sent out a guest opinion today responding to last week’s article from Democratic opponent Holli Woodings ripping Denney for hiring a private attorney with public funds to represent the Legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Committee. Denney calls Wooding’s piece “an insult to the people of Idaho,” and charges that she had her facts wrong.

“My opponent’s statement makes several false claims,” Denney writes. “Chief among them is the charge that I bypassed committee members by hiring private counsel to determine how Idaho could best seek to recover its public lands from the Federal Government. That assertion is patently false and my opponent knows it.” Denney said the decision was made by himself and his co-chairman, Sen. Chuck Winder, along with the speaker of the House and the president pro-tem of the Senate, and that’s what legislative rules required.

He also notes that he wasn’t a party to the lawsuit to close Idaho’s GOP primary; defends his unsuccessful lawsuit to jettison his chosen member on Idaho’s citizen redistricting committee; says “many legal scholars” support pursuing transfer of federal public lands to states; and defends taxpayers’ payment of $100,000 for legal fees to attorney Christ Troupis for the closed-primary lawsuit. “This Democrat does not denigrate the fee claims of the attorneys for the gay marriage proponents against the State, even though the case never even went to trial and their fees are almost $500,000,” Denney writes. “It seems that this Democrat is only critical of Republicans defending their Constitutional rights. Unlike my opponent, I believe that everyone’s constitutional rights are entitled to a proper defense.” Click below for Denney’s full statement.

Woodings rips Denney over hiring of private attorney for public lands transfer panel

Rep. Holli Woodings, D-Boise, is ripping her GOP opponent in the Secretary of State's race, Lawerence Denney, for hiring a private attorney with public funds to represent the Legislature's Federal Lands Interim Committee, after he and co-chair Sen. Chuck Winder didn't like the legal advice they got from the Idaho Attorney General's office on the chances for getting federal public lands transferred to the state. "Without consulting other committee members, Winder and Denney hired a private attorney who will be paid $41,000 in taxpayer dollars," Woodings writes. "The other committee members learned of this decision only after Sen. Winder disclosed the hiring to Montana legislators." That disclosure is detailed in an AP story here.

"Lawerence Denney has a history of spending public dollars on private lawyers when hes looking for a specific outcome," Woodings writes. "Now, with the federal lands committee, we again have Denney using taxpayer dollars to shop around for an attorney who will give him the opinion he wants." Denney, R-Midvale, is the former speaker of the House; he was deposed as speaker in 2012, and became chairman of the House Resources Committee and co-chair of the land transfer panel. Click below for Woodings' full statement, sent to Idaho news media today; Denney hasn't yet responded to calls seeking his response.

 

Jeers: Toryanski Helped Denney Win

In his weekly Cheers & Jeers column, Marty Trillhaase/Lewiston Tribune Jeers … former Idaho state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise: "Because of him, you're about to risk entrusting the integrity of Idaho's elections and campaign finance reform laws to former House Speaker Lawerence (Boss) Denney - a man known for extreme partisanship and ethical lapses. Only 37 percent of Idaho Republicans thought Denney fit for higher office. But in a four-way race for secretary of state, it was good enough to win the GOP nomination. Everyone could see this train wreck coming. Unable to win, Toryanski could bleed off enough Treasure Valley votes from deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane to hand the nomination to Denney. Yet Toryanski waved off every entreaty to quit. As predicted, Toryanski came in last Tuesday, but his nearly 21,600 votes came at McGrane's expense. Now all that stands between Denney and the keys to Secretary of State Ben Ysursa's office is the Democratic nominee - freshman Rep. Holli Woodings of Boise"/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here.

Question: She may be a long shot by Rep. Woodings already has my vote. How about you?

GOP rivals for Secretary of State blast perceived front-runner McGrane in debate

Among the four GOP candidates facing off for the chance to become Idaho’s next Secretary of State, the three with experience in elective office made it clear in a televised debate last night that they see the one who lacks that as the front-runner.

Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney and former state Sens. Evan Frasure and Mitch Toryanski heaped criticisms on chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, the youngest candidate in the race and the one who’s been endorsed by retiring Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and many of Idaho’s 44 county clerks. “I didn’t accept any endorsements from (county) clerks,” Frasure said. “I think it’s inappropriate. … They are the referees. They need to stay out of partisan elections, clerks do.” County clerks, who oversee elections in their counties, are partisan elected officials in Idaho.

Toryanski said, “Unfortunately, Mr. McGrane put them in a very bad position. He persuaded them to use their position and their title to support his campaign,” while also advocating that the Secretary of State be fair and non-partisan in handling elections. “Phil says one thing but when it benefits him, he does another, and that bothers me,” Toryanski said.

McGrane responded, “I’m honored to have the support of Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and the majority of the clerks throughout the state.” He said, “It’s because of the great people who oversee this system that we put so much faith in it.”

The debate, sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho and broadcast statwide on Idaho Public Television, was part of the “Idaho Debates” leading up to Tuesday’s primary election. During the hour-long debate, McGrane took heat from his rivals for everything from his concerns about the closed primary to whether it’s better to making voting easier. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see the full debate here at idahoptv.org.

Tonight is the final installment of the Idaho Debates: The sole debate in the GOP primary race for governor, with Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Russ Fulcher, Harley Brown and Walt Bayes all scheduled to appear.

Denney accuses Ysursa of conflict of interest for endorsing one of Denney’s rivals

After a Statehouse press conference yesterday in which 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador and state Treasurer Ron Crane formally endorsed Lawerence Denney in the four-way GOP contest for Idaho Secretary of State, Denney sent out a news release questioning the ethics of current Secretary of State Ben Ysursa for endorsing one of his rivals, Phil McGrane. “I was surprised to see our current Secretary of State endorse somebody in this race,” Denney said. “Because of the appearance of conflict of interest, as Secretary of State, I will not serve as anyone’s campaign chairman for any campaign over which I serve as the chief election judge. Doing otherwise sends the wrong message for the chief elections officer.”

Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports today that Ysursa said he doesn’t count ballots and isn’t playing favorites. “Within these walls, it’s all by the books,” he said. “I think I’ve proven that over 40 years. People who know me know that the fact that I think Mr. McGrane is the best candidate and should be nominated will have nothing to do with the duties of my office.”

Popkey also reported that when Ysursa ran for the post in 2002 after years as chief deputy to then-Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, Cenarrusa endorsed Ysursa in the primary, in which he defeated GOP rival Evan Frasure. Frasure is running again this year, as is former Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise; the winner of the four-way GOP primary will face Rep. Holli Woodings, D-Boise, in November.

Denney touts backing from Labrador, Ron Crane

Lawerence Denney, candidate for Idaho Secretary of State, has scheduled a press conference for Tuesday to announce endorsements from 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador and state Treasurer Ron Crane. Labrador is one of Denney’s three campaign co-chairs, he announced when he filed to run for the office on March 12. Denney also has posted endorsements on his website from 11 other state lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star.

Denney is one of four candidates vying for the GOP nomination for Secretary of State; the others are chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, former Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, and former Sen. Evan Frasure, R-Pocatello.

Of Duck Dynasty, Denney, and the Idaho Secretary of State’s race…

Several stars from the A&E program “Duck Dynasty” appeared at a fundraiser for Idaho GOP secretary of state candidate Lawerence Denney on Saturday night, and Idaho Statesman reporter John Sowell reports that “several thousand” people attended the event at the Idaho Center, which seats 12,279. You can read Sowell’s full report here; he reports that Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, 67, clutching a Bible, told the crowd, “When this goes, your freedom goes with it.”

Close to two dozen “Add the Words” protesters protested outside; one counter-protester held a small sign saying, “Phil for President.” Sowell reports that Denney appeared briefly onstage to introduce several Robertson family members, and said he’d known the family for many years; his daughter Stephanie works for their family business, Duck Commander, and Alan Roberts, a minister, married Stephanie and her husband Jason. Last year, Phil Robertson was temporarily suspended from the show after making anti-gay comments in an interview with GQ magazine.

Meanwhile, Holli Woodings, a Democrat who also is running for Idaho secretary of state, sent out an email noting that Denney sold tickets for the campaign event for $47. “Why is that important? Because Idaho’s sunshine law requires candidates to report every contribution over $50,” she wrote. “Contributions under $50 don’t have to be disclosed. That means no one who attends this event will appear on Denney’s sunshine report. So why would someone who wants to be secretary of state – the very person in charge of upholding our sunshine laws – try to skirt the system?” Woodings said, “Denney isn’t technically breaking the law, but let’s face it – he’s definitely violating the spirit of the law.” She invited her supporters to send her $51 contributions – exceeding the reporting limit and requiring that the donations be disclosed.

Denney is in a four-way GOP race for secretary of state, an open post since longtime GOP Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is retiring; the other Republicans running are former state Sen. Evan Frasure, chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, and former Sen. Mitch Toryanski. Woodings is unopposed on the Democratic ticket; the primary is May 20.

Election brings up past conflict involving former Speaker Denney

Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who is running for Secretary of State, was involved in a conflict that sparked accusations of theft, private work done on state time, political retribution, state contracts that benefited his family, undeclared conflict of interest and more – all involving the former employment of his wife, Donna, by a state agency, Idaho Statesman reporter Cynthia Sewell reported in a Sunday story. To make the tale even more interesting, Donna Denney’s former boss was Kim Toryanski, wife of Denney’s GOP Secretary of State rival Mitch Toryanski, and former head of the Idaho Commission on Aging.

Sewell reports that Kim Toryanski told an Idaho State Police detective investigating the case that she resigned her position and went to work for another state agency due to “political pressures, particularly from Speaker Denney and his political allies.” The Denneys referred Sewell’s questions to their attorney, David Leroy.

Frasure Begins Sec Of State Run

(Former Idaho senator Evan) Frasure acknowledged that he’s in a crowded race – announced GOP candidates for Secretary of State so far also include Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale; former Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise; and Chief Deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane. But he said he likes his chances. Frasure, a former redistricting commissioner, said by his calculations, 43 percent of the Republican primary vote comes from east of Boise, a third comes from Ada and Canyon counties, and 24 percent comes from north of Boise/Betsy Russell (pictured), Eye on Boise. More here.

Other Eye on Boise stories today:

Question: At this point, which one of the Republican candidates for secretary of state do you favor?

Catching up on a holiday week’s news…

There’s not usually a lot of news over the holidays, but there was some last week while I was gone. Here’s a quick roundup:

Wolf derby: A federal judge on Friday declined to block a “Predator Derby” scheduled over the weekend in Salmon targeting wolves and coyotes, ruling organizers weren’t required to get a special permit from the U.S. Forest Service. Idaho For Wildlife, the sponsoring group, reported that by the end of the derby yesterday, no wolves had been shot but 21 coyotes were.

Idaho airman killed: Sandpoint Air Force Capt. David Lyon died Friday in Kabul, Afghanistan, after his vehicle was hit by an explosion. Lyon, 28, was about a month away from completing his year-long deployment to Afghanistan; he was an Air Force Academy graduate, a five-year Air Force veteran, and a renowned track star at Sandpoint High School. There’s a full report here at spokesman.com.

Gay marriage: Four couples challenging Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban asked a federal judge on Thursday to block the state from intervening in their lawsuit, which was filed against Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Ada County Clerk Chris Rich. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden responded, "I have an obligation to defend the Constitution and the statutes of Idaho, and that's what we intend to do." The Idaho case is developing as judges in New Mexico, Ohio and Utah have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

Megaload rolls: A giant shipment of oil field equipment bound for the Canadian oil sands drew spectators and a handful of protesters as it moved into Idaho, spending a week in the Marsing area due to weather delays. It traveled nearly 100 miles over the weekend, moving only at night, but will take a break over the New Year’s holiday.

Bowl loss: Oregon State beat Boise State 38-23 in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve, snapping a five-game losing streak for OSU. BSU played without starting quarterback Joe Southwick, who was sent home for a team rules violation, but then went public, saying he was wrongly accused of urinating off a hotel balcony and had taken a lie detector test to prove his innocence. It was an odd end to a tumultuous season for the Broncos, who just lost prized coach Chris Petersen to the University of Washington; new coach Bryan Harsin takes over after the bowl loss.

Duck politics: The A&E Network ended its suspension of Duck Dynasty reality show star Phil Robertson for his controversial remarks about homosexuality and race in a magazine interview, after the rest of the cast refused to go forward without him. Former Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who is running for Idaho Secretary of State, announced that his March fundraiser with Robertson will proceed as planned, saying, “Our family proudly stands in support of the Robertson family in its modeling and expression of our Christian family values and heritage.”

Endorsement wars: ‘Pete liked and trusted Mitch’

It’s become something of an endorsement war this week among the GOP candidates for Idaho Secretary of State, with Mitch Toryanski introducing Freda Cenarrusa, widow of longtime Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, as his campaign chair; Evan Frasure touting endorsements from an array of lawmakers topped by Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis; and Lawerence Denney naming three honorary campaign chairmen: 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador for the Treasure Valley; former Sen. Don Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, for eastern Idaho; and GOP icon Ruthie Johnson for North Idaho.

Freda Cenarrusa joined Toryanski for his formal campaign kickoff in the state Capitol on Thursday. “Pete liked and trusted Mitch. And I like and trust Mitch Toryanski,” she said. “Mitch is what Pete and I like in a leader.” Mrs. Cenarrusa cited Toryanski’s commitment to family, his distinguished military career, and his government and business experience. “I respect Mitch Toryanski’s stellar record as a leader, a commander of troops, a father and a husband,” she said.

Frasure, who held his formal campaign kickoff the same day in Pocatello, named backers including Sens. Fred Martin, R-Boise; John Tippets, R-Montpelier; McCammon Republicans Sen. Jim Guthrie and Rep. Kelly Packer; and three Bannock County commissioners, and the mayors of Pocatello and Chubbuck. He’s a former longtime state senator who is making his second run for Secretary of State after losing to Ben Ysursa in 2002; he also served on the Idaho Citizens Redistricting Commission. Now a high school government teacher, Frasure was a real estate broker for 30 years.

Denney, launched his campaign Oct. 24 – well before current Secretary of State Ben Ysursa announced he wouldn’t seek another term – said of his new honorary campaign chairs, “These close friends are well-respected politically, have great connections and are tremendous, hard-working people that anyone would be proud to have on their campaigns.”

Chief Deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, who launched his campaign Dec. 10 with the backing of an array of county clerks from across the state, also is in the race. Still considering it are Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Rep. Holli High Woodings, D-Boise.

Idaho campaigns feature stars: Christie for Otter, ‘Duck Dynasty’ for Denney

Sure, Butch Otter is bringing in big GOP political star Chris Christie for a fundraiser tonight at the Coeur d'Alene Resort, but former House Speaker Lawerence Denney has stars of his own headed to Idaho for a fundraiser for his campaign for Secretary of State: The main characters from the popular "Duck Dynasty" reality show on A&E, who'll talk family values in a stadium show in March and visit with Denney supporters at a VIP reception. “They’re good family-values people and we’re happy to have ‘em coming,” Denney said.

Pulling in out-of-state star power to boost a campaign isn’t uncommon, notes Boise State University emeritus professor Jim Weatherby, especially for a top office like governor. He pointed to presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s campaigning with movie star Chuck Norris, and declaring that he was “Chuck Norris approved.” Christie “certainly has star power,” Weatherby said. “He’s an excellent speaker and I suspect will draw a big crowd.”

As for Denney’s race, Weatherby said, “It’s a little hard sometimes to get a lot of excitement for some of the elected positions like Secretary of State.”

Denney said he put in an offer to get the famously bearded TV stars to come out, and was surprised when they accepted. He’ll pay them a flat fee, and they’ll present “Happy, Happy, Happy: An Evening with A&E’s Duck Dynasty” at the Idaho Center in Nampa on March 29, 2014. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Denney killed bill to end retirement boosts, now could benefit…

Former Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney, whose pension benefits would soar by more than seven times if he wins his bid for Secretary of State, personally killed legislation last year designed to end the costly special treatment for longtime legislators who land high-paying government posts at the end of their careers. “He’s the one that made sure the bill died,” said former state Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, the bill’s sponsor.

Idaho legislators, who are currently paid $16,438 a year, qualify for only modest pension benefits under the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho, or PERSI, because of their low salaries; based on his nine terms in the House, Denney, 65, would get about $500 a month per life. But a quirk in the law means that if Denney were to serve one four-year term as Secretary of State after his years of legislative service, his benefit would rise to more than $3,600 per month. That’s because PERSI sets retirement pensions based on the highest-paid 42 months of state employment. The current salary for the Idaho Secretary of State, by law, is $99,450 a year.

Denney acknowledged that he directed a committee chairman to scuttle Lake’s bill in 2012. “We have a citizens commission that sets legislative compensation,” he said. “And they are the ones that should be dealing with all of that, in my opinion. … That was passed to take the politics out of it, and if we get involved, we’re putting the politics back into it.” However, the chair of that citizens commission, Boise attorney Debora Kristensen, said the commission never was asked to look at the issue – and she doesn’t think it’s within their purview.

Lake, who retired from the Legislature after the 2012 session, said he still thinks Idaho should eliminate the pension perk for former lawmakers. “It’s absolutely wrong for a legislator to be able to accumulate time as a legislator, and then collect their pension as a high-paid executive,” he said. “That’s wrong.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

If Denney wins Secty of State race, his state pension would increase by more than 700%

If former House Speaker Lawerence Denney were to serve one four-year term as Secretary of State after his many years of legislative service, his state retirement pension, for life, would rise from roughly $500 a month to more than $3,600 a month. That’s because the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho sets retirement pensions based on the highest-paid 42 months of state employment – and state legislators, who now make a little over $16,000 a year, who move up to higher-paid, year-round jobs at the end of their careers can count all those lower-paid years of legislative service for retirement. The current salary for the Idaho Secretary of State, by law, is $99,450 a year.

Then-Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, proposed legislation in 2012 to end that pension-boosting perk for state legislators, saying legislative service should be counted only as part-time employment in retirement calculations, but it was blocked by then-Speaker Denney. Lake retired from the Legislature after that year’s session.

Denney, 65, wouldn’t be the first to take advantage of the perk, which has boosted the retirement of every longtime state lawmaker who ended his or her career in a higher-paid, full-time state job. Denney’s announcement today, however, brings new attention to the perk; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

 

Of website updates and campaign announcements…

Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, now a GOP state representative from Midvale, is flying around the state today in a neighbor’s Cessna 182, making stops to announce his run for Idaho Secretary of State in Idaho Falls, Boise and Coeur d’Alene. But he sent no advance notice to the press of the announcement tour, nor did he post notice of it on his campaign website or the Idaho Republican Party’s online events calendar. In fact, Denney’s campaign website still says he’s Speaker of the House, a position from which he was ousted by his own caucus in 2012, and the most recent news item posted on the site as of this afternoon, from October of 2012, urges a yes vote on Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in the November 2012 election – the election in which voters overwhelmingly rejected all three propositions, repealing state schools Superintendent Tom Luna’s “Students Come First” reform laws.

The Secretary of State is responsible for some of the most closely watched websites in Idaho – the sites on which candidacies and election results are announced, campaign finance reports are posted amid firm deadlines, and more. Asked about his qualifications for that aspect of the job, Denney said, “I can tell you that I don’t think the current secretary of state does that either. I think he has a staff that does, and certainly I’m not going to make wholesale changes in the staff.” He said the staff does a good job.

Denney said updates to his campaign website will be up “shortly.” He said he planned today’s announcement tour now because of the good weather. “We picked this day 10 days out, and we are very, very fortunate,” he said. “It’s a beautiful day.”

Moyle backing Denney’s statewide run, but not Fulcher’s…

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, who was among those attending former House Speaker Lawerence Denney’s statehouse campaign kickoff today for his bid for Idaho secretary of state, said he’s backing Denney in his run. “It’s my understanding that (current GOP Secretary of State Ben) Ysursa wasn’t going to run before we started,” Moyle said. “I’m with Denney.”

“I think that Ben got sideways with the party on some issues,” he said, but added, “I like the fact that Ben speaks his mind and he does what’s right.”

Asked about another recently announced statewide candidate – Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, who’s exploring a primary challenge to Gov. Butch Otter – Moyle said he’s not on board with that one. “I wouldn’t support Fulcher, no,” he said. “Gov. Otter has said he’s running again. Gov. Otter has done a good job. Ben has said he’s not running again, or implied that. I’m with Butch.”