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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Risch no longer among 15 richest lawmakers

BOISE – Idaho Sen. Jim Risch has dropped one spot on Roll Call’s list of the 50 richest members of Congress, to 16th.

The Capitol Hill newspaper analyzes congressional financial disclosures. It reported that Risch is worth $19.78 million, up just half a percent from last year’s $19.69 million.

Meanwhile, No. 1-ranking Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, saw his wealth balloon by nearly 300 percent to $294.21 million, largely because of the holdings of his heiress wife, Linda, who is the daughter of Clear Channel Communications Chairman Lowry Mays. McCaul ranked fifth last year. Second-ranked was Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., whose $220.4 million net worth was up 37.7 percent since last year, when he also ranked second.

Risch was the only lawmaker from the Pacific Northwest to make the 50-richest list; you can see the full report online at 50richest/.

Luna goes on tour

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna headed around the state last week for classroom visits, tours and community speeches, from New Plymouth and Horseshoe Bend on Tuesday to Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene on Friday. In the four days, his schedule included five elementary school visits, four secondary school stops, two school assemblies, two Rotary Club speeches and a talk at a community breakfast in Gooding.

Luna this year pushed through controversial and far-reaching school reform legislation; it’s up for a referendum vote in 2012. Luna’s office said in a statement that the tour is his usual practice; “Every school year, Superintendent Luna travels across the state to visit classrooms and hear directly from students, teachers, school administrators and parents.”

Art face-lift for tunnel

Wall paintings done by high school students from past decades, some 30 years old, some fading, long have adorned the underground tunnel that connects the state Capitol with the state office buildings across the street. When the Capitol was renovated, officials wanted to do something to update the tunnel art, too, but it never happened.

Now a committee of state lawmakers has voted to paint over the tunnel art and replace it with 4-by-4-foot reproductions of paintings by Idaho artist Ward Hooper depicting Idaho’s 44 counties. Then, they’d like to see a statewide high school art competition launched for the right to display works in the Statehouse – but they’d like them to be shown in a public area, like the new wings.

Idaho Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz reported to the Capitol Services Committee that he met with first lady Lori Otter and her staff, and she proposed the Hooper art – which she owns, as it’s depicted in her children’s book, “Ida Tours the 44: A Book of Idaho’s Counties.” The cost to the state would be minimal; just the $100 or so to create each of the 44 canvases from the existing digital images and hang them in the tunnel; there’s leftover money in the Capitol relocation budget to cover the cost.

Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, said he thought the plan would “freshen up the tunnel,” and Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, said, “I think that would make a very attractive tunnel, as opposed to a tunnel, what it is right now.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, countered, “I really do like the tunnel the way it is.” He said that when he sees the decades-old high school students’ paintings, he thinks to himself, “That’s neat.  … What a part of history.”

But Stegner said he doesn’t see much in the tunnel to preserve. “If we want to freshen that up right away, this idea is as good as any.” Said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, “This is the state Capitol, and representing the 44 counties would be a positive.”

The Hooper art could be up by the next legislative session, Youtz said; some of the newer wall paintings in the tunnel, including an anti-drug message, likely would be retained.

The first lady’s book is the second in the Lori & Butch Otter Education Series, published in 2010 by Boise State University; the first was “Ida Visits the Capitol,” which teaches kids about the state Capitol.

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