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Eye on Boise: Ahlquist alters his ‘blueprint’ plank on same-sex marriage

Tommy Ahlquist, a Republican candidate for governor of Idaho in 2018, speaks at his downtown Boise office during an interview on June 20, 2017. (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)
Tommy Ahlquist, a Republican candidate for governor of Idaho in 2018, speaks at his downtown Boise office during an interview on June 20, 2017. (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

Idaho GOP candidate for governor Tommy Ahlquist has changed the wording on his website about his position on gay marriage, deleting a section that many read as a promise to take the state back to court on an issue on which the U.S. Supreme Court already has ruled.

Here’s what the “Protect the Sanctity of Marriage” section of Ahlquist’s “blueprint” for Idaho says now:

“Tommy believes that marriage should be the union of a man and a woman. As our governor, he will support policies that promote and safeguard the traditional institution of marriage.”

Previously, it had those same two sentences, followed by this:

“He will fight to protect Idaho’s right to define marriage within our state and support the current definition of marriage in Idaho as law.”

I asked Ahlquist about this position statement when I interviewed him at his downtown Boise office on June 20, and he said that he might change the wording. Asked what he meant by the original statement in his blueprint, he reiterated his stance that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.

“I think we deal with wording that comes from these different rulings, and as governor, I’ll, you know, react to those,” he said. “But I think they’ve been dealing with it in the Legislature for a long time.”

“As you know, they’ve been working on language, right?”

I said that I’d not heard of any language being debated in the Legislature on changing the marriage definition – just a discussion on whether the court-invalidated language that’s still in Idaho’s Constitution, banning same-sex marriage, should be repealed, and so far, the Legislature hasn’t taken any action on that.

“I believe in religious liberty,” Alquist responded. “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and I believe we need to balance it to try to, between civil liberties and …”

I asked him if he was referring to the “Add the Words” debate, in which Idaho has been debating different versions of legislation to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Nothing’s been enacted on that, either, though Utah has passed anti-discrimination legislation that also includes provisions dealing with religious liberty.

“I think that the same thing will happen with this,” Ahlquist said. “You’ve had a ruling, and we’ve got to figure that out. I don’t have anything else to say other than that.”

When I asked whether he planned to take the same-sex marriage issue back to court if elected governor, he said, “No, no.” So, how would he fight it? “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, that’s fundamental for me, I believe that,” he said. “I believe that we’ve got to balance that with the rights of others, too, and that’s the needle that we thread.”

So I asked Ahlquist if he believes the marriages of legally married same-sex couples in Idaho, where gay marriage has been legal since October of 2014, should be annulled.

“I think the court’s ruled on that now, right?” he said. “I believe in the ruling of a court of law. Once the Supreme Court ruled on that, then that’s the rule on it.”

So, I asked, why did he put his promise to “fight” that on his website as one of the 12 key issues in his “blueprint” for Idaho?

“Oh, we probably oughta look at it,” Ahlquist said, “because I can see the way you read that, and I understand the question, but the Supreme Court’s ruled.”

Wolf-baiting proposal

A proposed Idaho Fish and Game rule that would allow the use of bait during wolf hunts is raising eyebrows. No other state allows the practice, and Idaho currently allows bait to be used only in the hunting of black bears. That practice, too, is a controversial one; a 1996 voter initiative that sought to ban it prompted a high-profile, emotional debate before failing at the polls, 40 percent to 60 percent.

“Right now, they’re just seeking public input on this proposal,” said Mike Keckler, Idaho Fish and Game spokesman. “This is a proposal that has been brought forward – our commissioners have heard from sportsmen who would like the opportunity.”

He noted that right now, under Idaho rules, someone who’s legally hunting black bears with bait and also has a wolf tag could legally harvest a wolf that responds to the bait. The proposed rule would allow bait to be used for wolves in other situations, including during winter wolf hunting seasons when bears are hibernating.

The Center for Biological Diversity issued a statement last week blasting the proposal, calling it “shameful and unethical.” “Since wolves lost Endangered Species Act protection, Idaho has grown increasingly aggressive in how and where it permits their hunting and trapping. … In the absence of federal oversight, Idaho is doing everything it can to decimate Idaho’s wolf population,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney with the group.

Since protections were lifted for wolves in Idaho, the state not only has set seasons for wolf hunting and trapping, but also has established a state Wolf Depredation Control Board on which it’s been spending $400,000 a year to pay for the elimination, often by aerial gunning, of wolves that threaten wildlife or livestock.

According to Idaho Fish and Game documents, the state had a minimum documented wolf population of 786 at the end of 2015, after 358 were eliminated that year through hunting, control measures, or other human interactions, including traffic accidents. 256 of those were taken through hunting and trapping.

Keckler stressed that no decision has been made on the baiting proposal. “They want to seek public input, see what the public says,” he said.

Public comments are being accepted through July 26 through an online form at the Idaho Fish and Game’s website.

The proposed wolf-baiting rule is one of five on which the Idaho Fish and Game Commission is currently taking public comment. Three would clarify existing rules and processes; another more significant one would make Idaho the third state – after Montana and Colorado – to enact rules restricting the use of electronic two-way communication, including texting and use of cellphones, as an aid in big game hunting. That proposed rule also would ban the use of trail cameras with live streams or other electronic transmissions as a way to aid hunters in finding game.

“There’s always concern about fair chase,” Keckler said. “I’ve heard people refer to it as ‘technology creep.’ Because we want to make sure … that the hunter doesn’t have an unfair advantage.” Idaho already bans aerial spotting of big game from planes and communicating that information to hunters on the ground; this would extend that, Keckler said. “They just want to see what the public thinks about this.”

Third trial ordered for twice-convicted murderer

The Idaho Supreme Court has overturned the murder conviction of twice-convicted Mark Henry Lankford, ruling that prosecutorial misconduct in his second trial for the 1983 murders of Robert and Cheryl Bravence violated his right to a fair trial. In a 3-2 decision, the high court ordered a new trial for Lankford.

In the decision, authored by Justice Joel Horton, the court found that prosecutors failed to disclose promises of leniency made to a witness – a fellow inmate who testified about a purported jailhouse confession and later was released from prison three months early.

Lankford and his brother, Bryan Lankford, were both convicted and sentenced to death for the 1983 murders of the Bravences, a young Texas couple who were clubbed to death while camping in Idaho County. The couple were also robbed of their money, credit cards and vehicle.

Bryan Lankford’s death sentence was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991 because the state failed to provide him notice that the death penalty could be imposed.

Mark Lankford’s original conviction and sentence were vacated by the 9th Circuit in 2006, based in part on ineffective assistance of counsel. The appeals court ordered Idaho to either retry or release him. In 2008, a jury again convicted him of both murders and he was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

Lankford appealed again, and this time, in 2016, the Idaho Supreme Court overturned his conviction, due to prosecutorial misconduct regarding the witness in the second trial. The state sought rehearing of the case, and the justices last week again overturned the conviction.

The two brothers each blamed each other for the murders. Both remain in prison.