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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Complicated or not, Idaho backs amendments

BOISE – Here’s why it’s not surprising that all four constitutional amendments on this year’s Idaho ballot passed, and passed fairly easily: That’s our history.

All 11 previous constitutional amendments that have appeared on Idaho’s ballot since 1998 have won approval from Idaho voters, including complex measures dealing with endowment investment reform. Even when amendments are complicated and difficult to understand, Idaho voters tend to support them.

This year’s amendments: SJR 101, allowing “tuition” at the University of Idaho (rather than just “fees”), passed with 64.1 percent of the vote. HJR 4, on hospital debt, got 63.5 percent; HJR 5, on airport debt, passed with 53.3 percent support; and HJR 7, for municipal electric system debts and power contracts, passed with 57 percent.

All had received overwhelming support in the Idaho Legislature – that’s how they got on the ballot – though the Idaho Republican Party at its convention this year voted to oppose the three debt amendments.

Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature, plus a majority vote of the people at the next election to take effect.

Mild by comparison

Every year, people say the campaign ads, claims and counterclaims seem to be the nastiest and worst ever. But a look back into American history tells us that scurrilous charges and outrageous claims about political rivals are as American as, well, apple pie, Fourth of July fireworks and autumn political arguments.

Thanks to Bruce Reichert of Idaho Public Television, we can look back on these famous jabs from political seasons past:

Thomas Jefferson‘s handlers called John Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

And Stephen Douglas had this campaign-season description of none other than Abraham Lincoln: “A horrid-looking wretch, sooty and scoundrelly in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse-swapper and the nightman.”

Yep, it’s deductible

Numerous Eye on Boise readers have been asking whether Idaho Rep. Phil Hart‘s “voluntary donation” to the state school endowment fund would be tax deductible, so I posed the question about such donations to Dan John, tax policy manager for the Idaho State Tax Commission. The answer: Yes.

“Under federal law, which we adopt, it would be deductible by an individual who itemizes their deductions as a charitable contribution,” John said. “There’s a specific code section under Internal Revenue Code that allows charitable contributions to the United States, states or possessions and their political subdivisions.” The section, Internal Revenue Code Section 170(c)(1), comes into play fairly often, John said, as it applies to such things as donations of parks to cities. “We have charitable contributions all the time,” he said.

Hart sent a $2,450 payment to the state’s permanent school endowment fund, which was the 1996 value of the 8,000 board feet of timber he cut and took illegally from school endowment land in that year, though he owes thousands more under a thrice-appealed judgment over the theft. Rather than specifying that the check he sent was for timber, he said it was a voluntary donation.

Easy wins

Two of the victorious GOP incumbents who won re-election to statewide offices were unopposed in last week’s election, but they both spoke at a Republican rally on the state Capitol steps celebrating the election victories.

State Treasurer Ron Crane aimed a quip at Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, the state’s chief election official, saying, “Thank you, Ben, for those results,” referring to his vote tally – 100 percent.

Crane added, “The election is over, the voters have spoken, and now it’s time to govern.”

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden noted, “As the Attorney General, I have a unique role in state government. My job is to call balls and strikes fairly and squarely.”

That doesn’t always put him in agreement with fellow members of his own party, he noted.

Then, like other candidates, he thanked his spouse and his campaign staff – though in this case, they were one and the same. “I wanted to thank my entire campaign staff - she is standing next to me,” Wasden said of his wife, Tracey.

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or

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