BOISE – In the deeply Republican state of Idaho, the presidential election was naturally big news. Ted Cruz won the support of the GOP delegates in the primary, but when Donald Trump won the nomination many state Republican leaders lined up to support the billionaire’s bid for the White House. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador both campaigned for Trump, and by the end of the year rumors were flying that both men were in the running to be in Trump’s administration.
But plenty of other news events also shaped the state in 2016. Here, a few of the big ones:
In July, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said his office would not press charges against two sheriff’s deputies who shot and killed a 62-year-old rancher near the tiny town of Council the previous fall. Wasden said it was clear that something went tragically wrong when deputies Cody Roland and Brian Wood shot and killed Jack Yantis a confrontation about putting down a bull that had been hit by a car. Still, Wasden said there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the men with a crime.
In November, two Boise police officers were injured and a police dog was killed in an exchange of gunfire with 33-year-old Marco Romero. Cpl. Kevin Holtry, Cpl. Chris Davis and the K-9 named Jardo were doing a yard-to-yard search for Romero, who was wanted in connection with an earlier shooting.
Davis was briefly hospitalized and has since returned to work. Holtry remains hospitalized and is not expected to be released before the end of the year.
Jardo died from complications of his injuries a few days after the shooting.
Racism, rape and small town Idaho
The tiny southern Idaho town of Dietrich made national news in May when three white members of the high school football team were charged with sexual assault after prosecutors said they harassed and then sexually assaulted a black teammate.
Three members of the Dietrich High School football team were initially charged with sexual assault. Two of those cases went through closed juvenile court, but John R.K. Howard’s case went through adult court.
In court documents, investigators detailed the allegations that Howard kicked a clothes hanger into the victim’s rectum while the other two football players pinned the victim down.
In December, however, a deputy attorney general amended the charge to felony injury to a child, noting that Howard and his defense team maintained Howard was just kicking at the victim and unintentionally made contact with the hanger. Howard pleaded guilty to the amended charge, which means he won’t be required to register as a sex offender.
Meanwhile, a $10 million lawsuit – which details months of racial harassment against the victim by fellow students – filed by the victim’s family against the school district is pending in federal court.
Coeur d’Alene pastor Tim Remington delivered the invocation at a northern Idaho campaign rally held by Ted Cruz on March 5. The next day he was shot six times as he walked to his car, the hollow-point rounds hitting his back, shoulder arm, pelvis and skull, one bullet lodging near his brain. Remington survived, but his role in the Cruz rally raised concerns that the shooting may have been politically motivated.
It quickly became clear that wasn’t the case. The only suspect in the shooting was Kyle Odom, a 30-year-old man with a history of mental illness. Odom mailed a strange manifesto to news organizations and his family, admitting that he planned to shoot Remington and claiming that the pastor was part of an alien conspiracy to enslave the human race.
Two days after the shooting, Odom was arrested after being spotted tossing something over the White House fence in Washington, D.C.
Prosecutors reduced the attempted murder charge against Odom to aggravated battery. As of December, the court was still waiting to determine if Odom was competent to assist in his own defense.
This land is your land, this land is my land
The armed standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by protesters who were angry about the way public lands are being managed drew some supporters from across the country, including Idaho.
Idaho militia members, business owners and even a few lawmakers made their way to the refuge just outside of Burns, Oregon in January. Some said they wanted to join in the protest and others – including far-right Republican Idaho Reps. Judy Boyle, Sage Dixon and Heather Scott – said they were on a “fact-finding mission.”
Boyle, Dixon and Scott later returned, saying they wanted to assist with negotiations with the last holdouts at the refuge and ensure the occupiers’ safety.
Local law enforcement was less than enthusiastic about the involvement of out-of-state lawmakers. Oregon state and federal officials were carefully taking a mostly hands-off approach for the first weeks of the armed occupation, and some feared the visits by the out-of-state lawmakers would escalate an already tense situation at the refuge.
Ultimately, one of the occupiers, LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed in a confrontation with authorities. Occupation ringleaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy were arrested and later acquitted. Two of the final holdouts of the 41 day occupation, Sandra and Sean Anderson of Riggins, Idaho, are scheduled to stand trial next year.
Mom vs. mountain lion
A family from Blackfoot was enjoying a camping trip east of Rexburg in August when an uninvited guest made a visit: a young, female mountain lion grabbed their 4-year-old daughter and tried to drag her away.
The child’s mom, Kera Butt, and another adult relative both ran toward the cougar while screaming. As they approached, the big cat dropped Kelsi and ran away.
Little Kelsi was scared and had scratches on her side, back, leg and arm from the cougar’s teeth and claws. But she was otherwise unharmed and was given antibiotics and a rabies shot at a nearby hospital.
Meanwhile, Idaho Fish and Game officials and Madison County sheriff’s deputies found the cat a few hundred yards from the camp and killed it.
Health care gap
For years, state Republican lawmakers have refused to consider expanding Medicaid eligibility in Idaho while also failing to come up with a solution to provide health coverage to the estimated 78,000 Idahoans who currently don’t qualify for Medicaid or make too much to for a subsidy.
Republicans have long resisted adopting Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, and now with Trump vowing to repeal the law, lawmakers are once again announcing that the issue is a nonstarter for Idaho. This is a major blow to health care advocates who ramped up efforts this year to persuade key legislative leaders to expand Medicaid. Despite holding multiple demonstrations inside the Capitol and giving hundreds of hours testimony, Idaho’s Medicaid gap isn’t likely to change in the near future.
Reporter Kimberlee Kruesi contributed to this report.
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