Here's my full column from Sunday's paper:
By Betsy Z. Russell
So, who are the “Citizens for HJR 5”?
The group began fundraising on Sept. 30 of this year, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Idaho secretary of state. Its treasurer is Travis Hawkes, managing partner at Riverwood Strategies in Eagle, which also is consulting on the campaigns this year of U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson. The firm lists among its other clients the Sun Valley Film Festival, Marco Rubio, The Romney Group, Gardner Co., Butch Otter’s gubernatorial campaign, the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, and the campaign of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead.
The “citizens” who have donated thus far consist almost entirely of elected officials, nearly all GOP members of the Idaho Legislature, and lobbying groups or large businesses that lobby the Idaho Legislature, including Idaho Power ($5,000), Simplot ($5,000), Idaho Association of Realtors ($5,000), Micron ($5,000) and the Idaho Dairymen’s Association ($5,000).
Forty-three sitting state lawmakers, 41 of them Republicans and two Democrats (Reps. Mark Nye and Elaine Smith of Pocatello), each anted up between $250 and $1,000.
Other donors include the Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association, $3,000; Northwest Food Processors, $2,000; Simpson for Congress, $5,000; Hecla, $2,500; Avista Corp., $2,500; Idaho Forest Group, $5,000; AgriBeef Management, $2,500; Idaho Medical Political Action Committee, $1,000; Pacific Source, $1,000; and more.
Citizens for HJR 5 reported its fundraising, but no spending; it’s raised $113,350 since September.
But the Idaho Republican Party reported receiving $56,194 from Citizens for HJR 5 on Oct. 25, and then spending that same amount the same day to mail out a postcard to Idaho voters advocating for passage of HJR 5.
HJR 5 is a proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee that no future Idaho Supreme Court overturns the current system in which the Idaho Legislature reviews, and can reject, agency administrative rules, with no veto power by the governor.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Gov. Butch Otter, both Republicans, have come out strongly against the amendment, saying it would unduly expand the power of the legislative branch at the expense of the state’s executive and judicial branches of government. Otter also pointed out a legal concern about the wording of the amendment that he says could be interpreted as vastly expanding the current legislative power, rather than just enshrining the current power into the state constitution.
So why is the Idaho Republican Party taking such a big role in the campaign in favor of HJR 5, when it’s not something that’s in the party platform (which dates back to 2012) and top Idaho GOP elected officials are divided on it?
David Johnston, party spokesman, said, “The Idaho Republican Party fully supports HJR 5, which has a super-majority support among Republicans, including lawmakers and party members. We are working with the Citizens for HJR 5 campaign who is taking the lead on the effort. The effort has a broad-based coalition of supporters representing thousands of Idahoans including the Farm Bureau, Idaho Dairymen, Idaho Realtors and many more. The principle of ensuring that Idahoans have a say in the rules review process and can hold their state government accountable is very much consistent with our platform.”
The postcard backing the amendment, which has landed in Idaho voters’ mailboxes across the state, says, “It’s simple. It’s clear. It protects Idaho families” and declares that the measure “holds the politicians and the bureaucrats accountable!” It also states, “Paid for by Idaho Republican Party, Chris Harriman, treasurer.”
Meanwhile in Pocatello …
Here’s an oddity: Rep. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, is running for the Senate, now that Democratic Sen. Roy Lacey is retiring, and the GOP opponent who’s listed on the ballot as running against Nye is Tom Katsilometes. But that’s not the Tom Katsilometes who’s currently an Idaho state tax commissioner, and has been since 2005, and who served as a Democratic elected county commissioner in Pocatello for 18 years.
“I’m not running for anything, ever,” said the elder Katsilometes, 69. “He’s my first cousin.”
The younger Katsilometes, an attorney, ran as a write-in in the GOP primary and made it on the ballot. Now he’s running a largely self-funded campaign, including signs and billboards that don’t include his photo – but do include his well-known name.
“There’s some confusion,” Nye said. “Tom was a very popular county commissioner here and well-known before he went on the Tax Commission.”
There’s also a third candidate in the race, running on the Libertarian ticket. He’s listed as “Sierra ‘Idaho Lorax’ Carta,” although in the past he’s sought office, including mayor of Pocatello, as just the Idaho Lorax. That candidate has long been raising concerns about radioactivity in the Pocatello area and is known for attending City Council meetings in a hazmat suit.
At a candidate forum sponsored by the Idaho State Bar and others last week at the state Capitol, Idaho Supreme Court candidates Robyn Brody and Curt McKenzie were asked to name a sitting or former justice they admire or draw inspiration from. Brody named former Chief Justice Linda Copple Trout; McKenzie named current Justice Daniel Eismann.
“Linda Copple Trout’s demeanor is something that I greatly, greatly admire,” Brody said, adding, “She brought a certain grace to the bench that I appreciate,” something that “I hope I get the chance to emulate.”
McKenzie said, “From the bench I would say Justice Eismann, just because of his demeanor, his service to the country I think gave him a good perspective, and then I can relate to how he got on the bench. … Justice Eismann was probably the closest campaign that people had voted on in a number of years.”
Eismann, a decorated Vietnam veteran, defeated then-Justice Cathy Silak in 2000 with 58.6 percent of the vote to her 41.4 percent, after a fiercely contested and politically charged campaign. She was the first Idaho justice to lose her seat in an election in 56 years, and just the second woman – after Trout – to serve on the Idaho court.