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Labrador calls for ban on commercial travel from West Africa, Ringo says that’s ‘bordering on panic’

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador is calling for a ban on commercial travel from West Africa, a call his Democratic challenger, state Rep. Shirley Ringo, criticized as “bordering on panic.” S-R reporter Jim Camden writes that Labrador, in his weekly newsletter late last week, said, “Halting travel will help contain the disease, dispel fear among Americans and give the government and health care providers time to take additional steps to prevent any further spread of the (Ebola) virus.”

Labrador went further than Washington GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, Camden noted, who is calling for the Obama administration to consider “immediate travel restrictions” from Liberia and other countries with the Ebola outrbreak, with a temporary ban on visas to people in areas most affected by the virus. Her Democratic challenger, Joe Pakootas, also disagreed with her position, saying the decision should be left to medical professionals.

Ringo said she thought the United States was “a long way” from considering travel restrictions, and said she doubted such restrictions would work for practical reasons, as people travel by indirect routes.  It makes more sense to stress protocols that identify people who might be ill and deal with them, she said. “Congressman Labrador’s suggestion really borders on panic.” You can read Camden’s full report here at his “Spin Control” blog.

GOP incumbents want Ebola travel restrictions, challengers say no

Republican House members from the Inland Northwest say the United States should consider travel restrictions for West African countries to guard against the spread of Ebola, but their Democratic challengers say that’s the wrong course of action. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to continue inside the blog.


Candidates clash in congressional debate…

A combative Rep. Raul Labrador has interjected repeatedly in tonight’s KTVB debate to give his view of Democratic challenger Shirley Ringo’s positions. He said she supports a single-payer system for health care, like those in Canada or Europe. She said she doesn’t. He said it was on her website; a check of her “Health Care and Retirement Security” issues page shows mention of a “public insurance option” but not a single-payer system.

Labrador interjected again after Ringo was quizzed on what she’d cut and whether she’d raise taxes to reduce the national debt – she said she might support some increased taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, but would prefer a combination of measures including closing tax loopholes.

“Her answer was yes she will raise taxes, and no there’s nothing she would want to cut,” Labrador said. “She doesn’t think that spending in Washington, D.C. is a problem. … She thinks that the way to grow the economy is actually to spend more money.”

Ringo responded, “I keep having my answers defined by the congressman here. And I did not say that I would not make any cuts. There may be some that are appropriate. But I wouldn’t make cuts just indiscriminately no matter where or who it would hurt.”

On immigration reform:

Labrador said the American people are clamoring for piece-by-piece immigration reform that focuses first on border security, rather than the comprehensive, bipartisan bill that passed the Senate. “If we pass the Senate bill today, what we will have is an amnesty today. … That was exactly what was wrong when Reagan passed his amnesty, is that they promised enforcement later, and we never got the enforcement,” he said.

Ringo responded, “The bill that the Senate brought forward did have a path to citizenship, which shouldn’t be considered amnesty.” She said she’s visited with many in Idaho’s Latino community who support the Senate bill.

On war against the Islamic State, or ISIL:

“I think we can only declare war on nations, on groups, but not on an ideology,” Labrador said. “If ISIL is a threat to the United States, then we need to declare war on them.” And if so, he said, we should go in with “full force.”

Ringo said she’d oppose “boots on the ground." “If ISIL gets more purchase in Iraq or anyplace else I think we need to make sure we have all the intelligence we need, and that we do give those folks the support that they need, but I would not send people, no,” she said. “These things, eventually they become our war. And too often … once we leave the whole situation disintegrates.”

How to judge the effectiveness of a member of Congress…

Asked how people should judge the effectiveness of a member of Congress, 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador said during tonight’s KTVB debate, “I think the most effective way that we can judge a member of Congress is whether he or she has kept the promises that they have made. I made certain promises to the people of my district when I was running for Congress.” He said those includes reducing federal spending. “The debt today is less than it was, or it’s grown at a lower rate than it was when I went to Washington, D.C.,” Labrador said. “The deficit is half of what it was. … The unemployment rate is lower. … So sometimes we judge people by the bills that they pass, but the reality as a legislator, some of the most important work that you do is the bills that you stop.”

State Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, Labrador’s Democratic challenger, said, “I think that the effectiveness of a congressperson depends on two or three main things. One would be how well we define the needs of the nation and Idahoans, how well we engage with our constituents, if a constituent comes back to visit with us I think that we should make ourselves available as much as possible and be able to interact with them and hear their concerns. We need to be able to work with everybody there, and we don’t accomplish that when we’re always accusing the other side of doing things that are not productive.”

1st CD candidates go up against ‘The Voice’

Moderator Dee Sarton opened the 1st Congressional District debate tonight at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa with a quote from a listener, who sent in this message: “So sad primetime line-up is being interrupted for the same-old, it’s someone else’s fault campaign crud.” Sarton urged the two candidates, Congressman Raul Labrador and Democratic challenger Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, to keep that viewer in mind as they delivered their opening comments – and try to persuade voters not to switch to the 24/7 cable channel for the regularly scheduled program, “The Voice.”

“I know The Voice is important - my family loves it and my family loves watching the show,” Labrador said mid-way through his opening statement.

Labrador, Ringo outline starkly differing positions in debate

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador and his Democratic challenger, Shirley Ringo, outlined starkly differing positions on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to taxes and spending, as the two faced off in a debate on Idaho Public Television tonight. Labrador, a Republican who is seeking a third term in the district that represents North Idaho, said Idahoans voted in favor of banning same-sex marriage in 2006. “We have to look first at the Constitution. There’s nothing in the Constitution about gay marriage, there’s nothing in the Constitution about traditional marriage,” he said. “So you need to decide whether that’s something that courts should be deciding, or the people should be deciding.”

Ringo, a longtime state representative from Moscow and a retired math teacher, said, “We certainly can’t put ourselves in a situation where the vote of the people overrides the Constitution.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Labrador, Ringo face off on statewide TV tonight

Idaho 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador, who is seeking a third term, will face off with Democratic challenger Shirley Ringo tonight on Idaho Public Television as part of the "Idaho Debates." The debate starts at 7 p.m. Labrador is an immigration lawyer, former two-term Idaho state lawmaker and tea party favorite; Ringo is a longtime Democratic state representative from Moscow and a retired math teacher. After it airs, the debate will be available to view online at Idaho Public TV. The Idaho Debates are co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho.

Labrador faces challenge from Ringo as he seeks third House term

In his two terms in the House, Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador says he’s been pushing big ideas like immigration and sentencing reform and has become the “go-to” person on immigration issues among House Republicans. Nothing Labrador’s sponsored has become law, but a couple of his measures on other issues – extending grazing leases, easing regulations on geothermal test wells, and authorizing community forest management projects on federal land – have passed the House once or even twice. Among the 291 bills he’s co-sponsored, the largest number by far were to repeal all or part of the national health care reform law.

“That’s been the issue that has been most pressing in Congress,” Labrador said. He noted that his community forest project bill and his grazing bill both passed the House this year. “If you look at the record, that’s pretty good in the House,” he said. “As you know, not a lot of things are passing. To actually have two bills pass is actually a positive thing.”

Labrador’s Democratic challenger, state Rep. Shirley Ringo of Moscow, doesn’t think Labrador’s record amounts to much.

As an immigration lawyer who made immigration reform a top issue when he ran for office, “One would think he could provide all kinds of leadership, but he’s been there for four years,” she said. “I don’t believe that he has much to show for it.” You can read my full story here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review; Labrador is facing off with Ringo in his bid for a third term.

Irony: Labrador’s biggest donation in past reporting period came from Eric Cantor’s PAC

A look through 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador’s latest campaign finance report turns up an a bit of irony: Labrador’s biggest donation - $5,000 for the reporting period and $10,000 for the election cycle to date – came from the Every Republican is Crucial PAC – ERIC-PAC, the PAC operated by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Cantor was defeated in the Virginia Republican primary last month; Labrador mounted an unsuccessful challenge to his successor in his leadership post, losing to House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

Overall, Labrador raised a surprisingly paltry $48,145 for his re-election campaign during the two-month reporting period that ended June 30, while his Democratic challenger, state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, wasn’t far behind at $42,838. Labrador’s total seems small for a second-term congressional incumbent seeking a third term – his campaign expenses for the period were $53,147, more than he raised – but he carried over big sums from earlier, allowing him to close out the quarter with $416,522 in cash in his campaign warchest.

Based on his spending, Labrador also clearly didn’t feel financially pinched in his campaign during the quarter: He continued to pay wife Rebecca a $2,022 monthly salary for working on the campaign, and he made $1,000 donations to three other congressional hopefuls’ campaigns, two from Alabama and one from Georgia: Dr. Chad Mathis, a conservative Christian and surgeon who lost a GOP primary in Alabama; Gary Palmer, longtime head of the Alabama Policy Institute who is running for Congress there; and Dr. Bob Johnson, another physician and Christian conservative seeking a GOP nomination in Georgia. Labrador reported no debt.

Ringo’s campaign finance report filed with the Federal Election Commission shows some contrasts with Labrador’s. While $19,000 of the congressman’s donations during the period came from PACs, including the Comcast Corp. PAC at $2,000 and New York Life Insurance PAC at $2,600, Ringo got just one PAC donation, $2,000 from the NEA Fund for Children and Public Education.

Labrador’s individual contributions of $29,045 included donations of $1,000 or more from 13 individuals in Idaho; nine in-state donors who gave less than $1,000; and five out-of-state individuals, all of whom gave less than $1,000.

Ringo received more than 80 donations of less than $1,000 from individuals in Idaho; two for $1,000 or more from Idaho individuals; and nearly 70 donations of less than $1,000 either from out-of-state individuals or from individuals who donated through the Democratic Party’s “Act Blue” online fundraising site. Ringo ran up $19,500 in debt, all in loans to her own campaign; and reported $13,877 in the bank at the end of the reporting period.

Stung by IEN mess, lawmakers hail stricter rules for state contract oversight

Idaho’s state Division of Purchasing is making progress toward better monitoring of multimillion-dollar state contracts, according to a new state report to lawmakers. Incensed over big problems with big contracts, lawmakers have passed four pieces of legislation in the past two years calling for better oversight; as a result, the division has developed enhanced monitoring requirements for service contracts that are worth $5 million or more over the life of the contract, along with other measures. Though that figure accounts for just 45 current contracts, it covers $2.6 billion in state funding commitments.

“That’s big bucks – billions,” said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of the Legislature’s joint budget committee and a member of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, which today received the new report from the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations. She said lawmakers were spurred by problems with the multimillion-dollar contract the state Department of Administration signed with Education Networks of America for a broadband network to connect state high schools; this year, that contract for the Idaho Education Network ended up costing the state millions more than expected due to questions over the original contract award holding up federal “e-rate” payments that were supposed to cover three-quarters of the cost.

“I think the eyes opened,” Bell said. “There were details that were troublesome.” Big contracts like that are happening at “all levels of government, and no one was paying attention,” she said.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, JLOC co-chair, said, “Clearly we’ve had some difficulties, and I’m very happy that people are paying attention. We’re going to have to very carefully monitor our progress on this and make sure that we’re getting results. I would say we’re part-way there … but I wouldn’t say we’re at the finish line yet.”

The new report, a follow-up to one issued in January of 2013 on how the state could strengthen its contract management, notes that an array of contracts still are exempt from state purchasing rules – those issued by the Legislature, the judiciary, and under the offices of statewide elected officials like the state schools superintendent. The 2013 report called for lawmakers to consider setting minimum standards for all state contracting, including those areas, but no legislation was introduced. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said today that he’s working with a group of lawmakers to address that and is hoping for bipartisan backing.

As a result of the legislation already passed, Bill Burns, head of the state Division of Purchasing, said administrative rule changes are in the works and will be presented to lawmakers in January to follow an array of recommendations from the 2013 report, from developing best practices for all agencies in contracting; to adding more oversight of big contracts, including from the division, the agency, and outside subject-matter experts; to notifying the Legislature prior to contract extensions and renewals. Burns said the division will ask lawmakers next year for a new training position to ensure the new requirements can be carried out; if the Legislature expands the division’s oversight to now-exempt agencies, it may need another position as well, he said.

Ringo said, “This is a direction we need to go, and I think that we’re making progress.”

Ringo: Hobby Lobby ruling ‘extremely disturbing,’ saw no corporations at church on Sunday

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who is running against 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador, had this statement today on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, which Labrador praised:

“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby is extremely disturbing.  The message to women from the majority on the court is that their boss can have a say in their personal family planning decisions.  Today’s decision allows corporations to deny contraception coverage to female employees because of the corporation’s religious objections.  I saw many people from my community in church last Sunday, but I didn’t see a corporation there.

The administration and Congress need to fix this. We know Congressman Labrador won’t be part of the solution, but I'm confident that enough members of Congress care about women's rights to do what the majority of Americans want and protect contraception coverage."

Ringo dings Labrador for ‘hobby of partisan in-fighting’

First District Congressman Raul Labrador’s Democratic opponent, state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, had strong words today about Labrador’s announcement that he’ll run for U.S. House majority leader. “I have to admire Congressman Labrador’s consistency,” Ringo said. “First, he tried to divide Idaho Republicans by backing Russ Fulcher against Gov. Otter and opposing Mike Simpson in his primary. Now he’s trying to divide his party in Washington by running for a post he has no chance of winning and no business holding.”

Labrador actually was neutral in the 2nd District congressional primary race, declining to endorse either candidate, but he made a high-profile endorsement of Fulcher over Otter and campaigned with Fulcher in the final stretch before the election.

Ringo said, “We need a representative who understands the virtue of cooperation, and who would rather get a job done than throw up roadblocks. Far be it from me to complain when Washington, D.C. Republicans want to fight each other, but Idaho needs Congress to get back to work, and Congressman Labrador’s hobby of partisan in-fighting is really getting in the way.”

Idaho GOP warns same-sex marriage will lead to ‘disintegration of our society,’ Ringo calls on Otter to accept ruling

Catching up on a couple of items from yesterday:

The Idaho Republican Party issued a statement decrying U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale’s ruling overturning Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage. In it, party Chairman Barry Peterson said, “The disintegration of marriage will lead to the disintegration of our society. Judge Dale is wrong. The State has a valid interest in promoting the optimal circumstance for every child - and that is being raised in a home with both a loving mother and father." You can read the full statement here.

And longtime state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who is running for Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat, sent out a statement calling on Gov. Butch Otter to “immediately accept the federal court ruling” and allow Navy veteran Madelynn Lee Taylor to be buried with her late wife, Jean Mixner, at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery. “I know Gov. Otter is going to appeal this ruling – he has an election next week, after all – but I hope he’ll make a call to the cemetery’s administration and ask that they find a spot for Jean before he races to court,” Ringo said. “More importantly, I hope he’ll reconsider his position and embrace marriage equality here in Idaho.” You can read her full statement here.

Labrador, Ringo Differ On Shutdown

Democratic state Rep. Shirley Ringo says Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador is among a group “holding the country hostage to serve their extreme agenda” by refusing to fund the government without delaying Obamacare. Labrador counters that the House Republicans proposal to delay the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate by a year is “very reasonable” and calls Tuesday’s partial closure of the federal government “The Obama Shutdown”/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.

  • Labrador tweets that he's going to discuss the shutdown on two national TV programs tonight.

Question: Why are the national media so interested in Labrador?

Read more here: http://blogs.idahostatesman.com/ringo-says-labrador-holding-country-hostage-in-shutdown-labrador-blames-obama/#storylink=cpy

Edit: Ringo Will Shake Things Up

In a Sunday editorial, Marty Trillhaase of the Lewiston Tribune writes: If you talk to a national handicapper such as political wonk Charlie Cook, state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, is wasting her time challenging Congressman Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. But you've not seen this kind of political dynamic in Idaho for some time. For the sake of argument, consider:

  • Experience — Ringo may be the most tenured Idaho candidate for Congress since then Idaho House Speaker Mike Simpson embarked on his congressional career 15 years ago. She has served seven terms in the Legislature - and has the enlightening experience of losing a re-election campaign only to come back and win the next time. Perched on the budget-writing and Joint Legislative Oversight committees, Ringo knows where the bodies are buried.
  • Message — Ringo is something rare in Idaho politics - an unashamed Democrat. Count the list of candidates who have run away from that label. Whether it was former Congressman Walt Minnick or the party's 2010 gubernatorial nominee Keith Allred, it hasn't worked. The base of true believers sit on their hands while moderate Republicans stay loyal to the GOP. More here.

Question: Will an unabashed Democrat, like Shirley Ringo, test Congressman Raul Labrador more than a moderate one, like Walt Minnick?

Ringo to run against Labrador in 1st CD

Longtime Idaho state Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, announced Monday that she’ll seek Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat in 2014, the first opponent to emerge for second-term GOP Rep. Raul Labrador.  Labrador, a high-profile tea party favorite, just announced last week that he’ll run for a third term in Congress, rather than run for governor of Idaho, in an effort to quiet speculation that he said was getting out of hand.

Ringo, a former longtime high school math teacher who holds a key seat on the Legislature’s joint budget committee, said, “We all know that Congress doesn’t have a very positive approval rating at this time, with their inability to compromise and get things done. And I have the sense that Congressman Labrador is part of the problem.”

Ringo acknowledged that she faces an “uphill battle” as a member of Idaho’s small Democratic minority, but said she’s talked with moderate Republicans who are “not particularly happy with the direction that some of the more extreme members of their party are taking.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

A first: Ringo takes the gavel, chairs legislative panel

Rep. Shirley Ringo is serving her seventh term in the state House – but today marked a first for her: She chaired a legislative committee. “It’s the first time, and it’s something that I never expected to have the opportunity to do,” said Ringo, a Moscow Democrat, after this afternoon’s meeting of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee. “So it’s a landmark day for me. It just shows if you stay around long enough, that about anything is possible.”

The Idaho Legislature and its standing committee chairmanships have long been controlled by Republicans. But JLOC has two co-chairs, one from each party; this year, it’s co-chaired by Ringo and Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls.

Ringo said, “I think we all appreciate JLOC’s role to look at policy and potential changes in policy.” The joint committee directs the Office of Performance Evaluations to study and report on issues involving state government and how it functions; she noted that recommendations from today’s report on improving contract management could save the state money as well as make programs work better. “I’m very interested in the next one we’re getting, to look at public employee pay,” Ringo said. “We all know that we have been remiss in our dedication to bring those to policy levels.” That report is due out Jan. 30.

MT: Ringo Flunks, Nonini Aces Test

CHEERS … to state Rep. Shirley Ringo (pictured), D-Moscow. She not only flunked the Idaho Freedom Foundation's "legislative freedom index," but Ringo got the lowest score of any of Idaho's 105 lawmakers - a negative-125. Most of north central Idaho's lawmakers didn't fare much better. For example, Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, got a minus-111. The region's highest score came from Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, who got a 46. The Freedom Foundation advocates constant legal warfare with the national government, undermining public services and making certain tax laws coddle the comfortable. Topping its scorecard were the ethically challenged Sen. Monty Pearce, R- New Plymouth, who got a plus-65, and Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, who got an absolutely stratospheric 117. That's no agenda for ordinary Idahoans/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. Marty's weekly Cheers & Jeers column here.

Question: Would you rather have your legislator ace the Idaho Freedom Foundation "legislative freedom index" or flunk it?

Solons Laud IEA Despite Loud ‘Nays’

HCR 48, congratulating the Idaho Education Association on the 120th anniversary of its founding, has passed the House on a voice vote - but with lots of loud “nay” votes. No one debated against the resolution, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, and Sen. Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello; it moves now to the Senate. Ringo told the House the association was created on March 3, 1892, when the state superintendent of public instruction issued a call “to teacher of the state to convene and organize a permanent association.” The measure resolves “that members of the Idaho Education Association be congratulated on their organization's 120th anniversary and their service to the teaching profession and to the children of Idaho/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. And: Idaho Education Association resolution

Question: Are you surprised that the Idaho Legislature would pass this resolution?

Pair Propose Idaho Sales Tax Reform

Rep. Shirley Ringo and former gubernatorial nominee Robert Huntley are reviving a plan to cut the sales tax rate from 6 percent to 5 percent, while eliminating exemptions and expanding the tax to many services. They say new revenue — an estimated $371 million on top of current collections of just over $1 billion — should be directed to restoring funding to education, Medicaid and other programs subject to deep cuts in the past three years. … Their plan would retain the production exemption on sales of goods and equipment used by agriculture and other businesses and continue to exempt health care. But it would lift 21 exemptions and exceptions/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: What do you think of the sales tax reform proposed by Robert Huntley & Shirley Ringo?

Rep. Ringo: Royce Chigbrow Is Lucky

tories abound related to Commissioner Chigbrow’s habit of using his position to favor some, and intimidate others.  In fact, he was officially investigated over several months on suspicion of failing to appropriately deposit checks from a taxpayer.  The allegations included his providing confidential information to a friend and receiving stolen checks totaling more than $30,000. As luck would have it, Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower announced he won’t prosecute despite evidence of wrongdoing because a statute of limitations expired on one complaint.  He found evidence on other complaints insufficient to prosecute. Prosecutor Bower received the complaint before the statute of limitations ran out. His investigation extended beyond the deadline.  Surely he was aware of timelines/Rep. Shirley Ringo, Idaho Democratic Party. More here.

Question: Did Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower blow it by not prosecuting former Tax Commissioner Royce Chigbrow?

Prosecutor: Secret tax deals not a crime

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho prosecutor has declined to pursue a criminal case stemming from allegations that Idaho State Tax Commission leaders gave politically connected taxpayers inappropriate settlements. In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower told the Idaho attorney general’s office that even if the lawsuit’s allegations were true, “we do not see a criminal law violation.” Bower concluded the matter was best left addressed by the Legislature. Idaho Rep. Shirley Ringo had brought a civil case against tax commissioners. It’s since been dismissed, but Ringo’s lawyer, Robert Huntley, refiled claims after finding new plaintiffs who he says have court standing. When asked about Bower’s move not to pursue a criminal investigation, Huntley said Monday he’s still calling for an independent probe of the settlements.

Judge tosses Ringo’s tax deals lawsuit, but new version already filed

4th District Judge Cheri Copsey on Thursday “reluctantly” granted the state’s motion to dismiss Rep. Shirley Ringo’s lawsuit over secret tax deals for lack of standing, but said in her decision that Ringo’s allegations were “very troubling” and should be addressed. Ringo’s attorney, former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Robert Huntley, said he’d anticipated the ruling, and already had filed a new version of the lawsuit on Tuesday with six new plaintiffs who he believes have clear standing: three education associations, a public school student, a parent of a student, and a public school employee. “I think we’ll be just fine with the case with the six new plaintiffs,” Huntley said in an email.

Ringo, D-Moscow, in her lawsuit, submitted sworn affidavits from eight current and former state Tax Commission employees saying the commission has been improperly cutting secret deals with influential taxpayers, letting them off the hook for millions in taxes due.

Three ed groups seek to join lawsuit over secret tax deals

Three education groups are seeking to join Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, in her lawsuit over secret tax deals at the state Tax Commission, saying the alleged deals are causing education funding in the state to suffer.     ”We take the allegations very seriously,” said John Rumel, general counsel for the Idaho Education Association, one of the three groups. “The representative’s allegations indicate that because of some sweetheart deals and corrupt practices, a substantial amount of funds that should be going into the coffers of the state are not getting there.”

In addition to the IEA, the Idaho Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers local from the University of Idaho all have filed motions to intervene in the case as plaintiffs. The UI group represents 65 professors and staffers at the university; the IEA is the state’s largest teachers union, with 13,000 members. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and read the latest filings in the case here.

Sen. Hill on Tax Commission: ‘We’ve taken care of it’

Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, chairman of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, said he doesn’t see great need to reform Idaho’s state Tax Commission. “We tried to address some of the concerns with compromises, and yet these whistleblowers keep claiming there should be no compromises, and I don’t agree with that concept,” said Hill, a CPA. “That’s why the Legislature stepped in and very clearly said, ‘Yes, there should be compromises under these circumstances,’ and we outlined those.” He added, “As far as I’m concerned, we have addressed this issue, we’ve taken care of it, but … we are certainly amenable to suggestions from the public, from other legislators, from anyone else of how we can run our government better, and that includes the state Tax Commission.”

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, is proposing sweeping reform legislation, aimed in part at taking politics out of the process; but Hill said issues like property tax rules and revenue forecasts ultimately are decided by the state Legislature. “How you depoliticize the Legislature I don’t know - politics is part of what makes representative democracy work,” he said. “I don’t think politics is a bad thing necessarily.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Whistleblowers: Pending tax deals could cost Idaho $75 million

Idaho stands to lose more than $75 million just from tax compromises that are now in the works, according to a group of whistleblowers who are current and former employees of the state Tax Commission - including one $203,000 tax break about to be handed to a taxpayer on his $7 million private plane. “This is the worst scandal I’ve seen in Idaho since I first came here in 1950,” declared Robert Huntley, the former Idaho Supreme Court justice who’s representing Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, for free in her lawsuit against the state over the deals.

Ringo has offered to put the lawsuit on hold in favor of an immediate state investigation, along with job protection for the current Tax Commission auditors and managers who came forward with sworn statements about the deals. But so far, the state hasn’t taken her up on the offer; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com, plus see the full documents.

Three more Tax Commission workers go on record about secret deals, brings total to 8

Three current employee of the Idaho State Tax Commission - a manager and two auditors - have gone on the record in affidavits in Rep. Shirley Ringo’s lawsuit over secret tax deals, the Times-News reports today, making a total of eight current or former Tax Commission employees, each with decades of experience, charging under oath that influential people got big tax breaks at everyone else’s expense. Click here to read the full report from reporter Ben Botkin, and see the full documents in the case.

Ringo, D-Moscow, has offered to dismiss the state Legislature as a defendant in the lawsuit if the state convenes an investigation and offers job protection to Tax Commission employees to testify.

The new allegations…

Here’s a link to the letter that Rep. Shirley Ringo’s attorney, Robert Huntley, delivered to the Idaho Attorney General’s office yesterday on secret tax deals, with the three new sworn statements attached along with an earlier affidavit from Stan Howland. One note: One of the affidavits names two names, both of North Idaho legislators. The affidavit of Joe Schwartz, former longtime head of the North Idaho office of the state Tax Commission, includes a comment about  “Representative Hart of Athol,” saying he “refuses to file or pay taxes.” Hart’s tax case, which became public when he filed an appeal to the state Board of Tax Appeals this spring, indicates he failed to file state tax returns for three years in the 1990s, but there’s no indication that he’s failed to file since, though he’s disputing the amount due.

The affidavit also references “Senator Shawn Keough” as an example of lawmakers who allegedly threatened to “punish” the Tax Commission if it attempted to enforce certain laws and allegedly advised constituents not to comply. Keough said, “I don’t recall ever saying anything like that. I don’t remember anyone by that name. I would never tell anyone to break the law.” She added, “I am pretty astounded by the charge.” Said Keough, R-Sandpoint, “At this point, so that the air can be cleared, I would welcome a full investigation and perhaps a court of law is where that needs to occur to remove any cloud of impropriety or political pressure.”

Three more charge that politically influential taxpayers got secret tax deals

Three more longtime senior employees of the Idaho State Tax Commission have come forward with sworn statements charging that secret tax deals were offered to those with political influence, and now Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, is offering to put her pending lawsuit over the deals on hold in favor of an in-depth investigation of the charges. “I think it should make people realize that we have something very serious we’re dealing with,” Ringo said today.     She and her attorney, former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Robert Huntley, sent the three new sworn statements to Attorney General Lawrence Wasden yesterday, along with a letter offering to suspend the lawsuit if the state launches an investigation meeting certain requirements, and grants job protection to current Tax Commission employees who testify.

“We have found several people who work within the Tax Commission who would like to speak up, but they’re in fear of jeopardizing their employment,” Ringo said. Bob Cooper, spokesman for the Attorney General’s office, said, “We did receive Mr. Huntley’s letter yesterday, and we’re reviewing it.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Huntley offers to suspend tax deal lawsuit if state launches special investigation

Bob Huntley, attorney for Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, in her lawsuit over secret tax deals at the state Tax Commission, sent a letter to Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden today with three new affidavits attached from longtime senior tax auditors, all making allegations just as shocking as those in the original affidavit from retired senior auditor Stan Howland about special tax deals being offered to those with political influence, and Huntley proposed that if the state would convene a special investigation panel to look into the charges and follow certain requirements, he and Ringo would suspend their lawsuit that’s now pending in 4th District Court.