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Eye on Boise: Losing candidate files challenge with the Idaho Senate

The Idaho Senate had an unusual matter to deal with at its organizational session Thursday: An unsuccessful Senate candidate formally contesting the election.

New Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, defeated his Republican challenger, Tom Katsilometes – not the longtime county commissioner and current state tax commissioner by that name, but a cousin – with 48.1 percent of the vote in the November election. Katsilometes got 44.9 percent and independent Sierra “Idaho Lorax” Carta took 7 percent. Now, Katsilometes has filed a formal notice to the Senate contesting the election result, claiming a series of errors in vote counting, tabulation and sunshine law compliance.

“He is challenging the entire Bannock County vote – the process and the way it was counted,” Nye said, “which would affect the vote for the president down to the bottom. He has tried this before, about a year ago, on a city election, and lost.”

Katsilometes charged that Nye had violated campaign finance laws, though a complaint he filed earlier to the Idaho secretary of state’s office was dismissed. He also claims Bannock County made errors “in counting or in declaring the result of the election” that changed the result, and that the county’s vote tabulation machines “were not properly prepared and certified.”

Nye said the unsuccessful candidate’s challenge is “not well taken and is an attack on the very good city clerks and county clerks. … One could say this is sort of sour grapes. I’m not saying he’s a sore loser; I don’t know him very well.”

Said Nye: “I’m being sworn in to be the senator, and we won this fair and square. I look forward to being the senator, somebody that’s going to fight for Pocatello and help the people of the state.”

Nye served one term in the House from the same district, District 29, before winning the Senate seat in November. It was previously held by Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, who retired.

Under the Idaho Constitution, the Senate is the judge in the case of a formal contest of Senate election results, not the courts. So without comment, the Senate on Thursday received and filed the complaint. Under a process laid out in state law, discovery related to the complaint will be compiled between now and Dec. 29. Then it will be gathered, sealed and delivered to the Idaho secretary of state. On the second day of the legislative session in January, the sealed box will be presented to the Senate.

When this last happened, in 1980, the sealed box was given to the Senate State Affairs Committee, which reviewed its contents and made a recommendation to the full Senate that the complaint be dismissed; the full Senate agreed.

Leadership changes

While Idaho GOP lawmakers re-elected the same House and Senate leaders this year, there was change on the Democratic side.

Rep. Mat Erpelding, of Boise, was elected House minority leader by the House Democratic caucus, replacing former Minority Leader John Rusche, of Lewiston, who lost his seat in the November election. Erpelding formerly was assistant minority leader. The new assistant minority leader is Rep. Ilana Rubel, of Boise; and the new minority caucus chair is Rep. Elaine Smith, of Pocatello. The only contested race was between Smith and Rep. Hy Kloc, of Boise, for the caucus chair position.

On the Senate side, Sen. Grant Burgoyne, of Boise, opted not to run again for minority caucus chair, and Boise Sen. Maryanne Jordan was elected to succeed him. Sen. Michelle Stennett, of Ketchum, was re-elected as minority leader, and Boise Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb was re-elected as assistant minority leader.

Senate Republicans had no contested leadership races; House Republicans had two. But challenges to Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, of Nampa, from Iona Rep. Tom Loertscher and to Majority Caucus Chairman John VanderWoude, of Nampa, from Caldwell Rep. Greg Chaney both fell short.

Both House Speaker Scott Bedke, of Oakley, and Majority Leader Mike Moyle, of Star, were re-elected without opposition.

The legislative session starts Jan. 9.

Dems lose seats

After Republicans picked up four seats in the Idaho Legislature in the November election – three in the House and one in the Senate – pushing their majority to 84 percent, minority Democrats lost some seats on House and Senate committees. In the House, the minority gave up two of its four seats on the State Affairs Committee and one on the Revenue and Taxation Committee.

In the Senate, the Democrats gave up seats on Agriculture, Transportation and Health and Welfare, giving those panels just one minority member apiece.

Property taxes shift to residential

Residential property owners are now paying 65 percent of the property taxes collected in Idaho, while commercial property owners are paying 27 percent, according to figures presented by Ada County Assessor Bob McQuade to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho last week. That’s a shift from back in 1996, when commercial property owners paid 30 percent and residential property owners paid 54 percent.

“So, we can see that the burden is shifting,” McQuade said.

Among the reasons: Tax exemptions granted to business property. Plus, “residential tends to appreciate much faster than commercial property does,” McQuade said. “Also, we’ve had a lot of people moving into the state, which would really add to the value of residential property,” and could further drive the shift.