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Eye on Boise: When political debates also include comic relief…

Republican candidates for Congress in Idaho’s 1st District react after their debate ended at the Idaho Public Television studio on April 27, 2018; from left are Luke Malek, David Leroy, Michael Snyder, Russ Fulcher, and Christy Perry. (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

When six GOP candidates for Idaho’s open 1st District congressional seat faced off in the “Idaho Debates” last week, much of the fireworks – and the humor – came in the closing statements.

First, Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, lit into rivals Russ Fulcher and David Leroy. She joked that Fulcher’s signs, on which he’d taped over “governor,” the office for which he first filed this year, to switch to “Congress,” had started peeling, leaving him running for “gov-gress.” “He didn’t even want to run for this seat – he was running for governor,” she declared. “Well, then Labrador and some special interest groups came in and wouldn’t allow him to do that, so he folded.”

Perry then said of Leroy, “He’s had a distinguished career here in the state of Idaho, but a long time ago. What he didn’t tell you, though, was that the voters rejected him back in ’86 when he lost to a Democrat, and then again in ’94 when he lost to a strong conservative Republican woman from this district. So he’s kinda 0-for-2, and this is his last breath.”

Fulcher, who was up next, prefaced his statement with, “Thank you, Rep. Perry, for the incorrect and inaccurate history lesson, but the short answer is it’s called servant leadership.”

Leroy had this to say at the beginning of his statement, followed by a dramatic pause: “With my last breath…” The studio audience, cautioned to stay silent, laughed anyway.

Leroy fired back, “With all due respect, the experience Washington needs right now is a little gray hair, a lot of good judgment and perhaps a touch of statesmanship.”

Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, the next one to speak, is bald, sporting a shaved head and beard. “Dave, I don’t think Washington needs more hair,” he said to laughter as he opened his statement.

Meanwhile, candidate Michael Snyder used his closing statement to declare that the race is really just between him and Fulcher – according to “people all over social media.”

Candidate Alex Gallegos stayed out of the fray, instead focusing on how people have told him that as a first-time candidate, he faces an “impossible challenge.” “The people that told me that must not be from Idaho, because Idahoans thrive on challenges,” he said.

About ‘The Idahoan’…

Voters across the state received a fat 48-page newsprint publication in the mail this past week – mine was addressed to “resident” – calling itself “The Idahoan,” and purporting to be a newspaper that is published only right before an election – complete with endorsements of far-right candidates in the May 15 primary, multiple ads for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, editorials decrying certain Republican candidates as too moderate, and multiple typos, including one misidentifying the election date.

The publication and its accompanying website identify longtime GOP campaign consultant Lou Esposito and Patrick Malloy as the editors and publishers, but the original filing with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office for The Idahoan was made by none other than Wayne Hoffman, now president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

“It used to be Wayne Hoffman’s DBA; he’s terminated that,” Idaho Secretary of State Tim Hurst said Thursday. “The Idahoan LLC is Patrick Malloy.” According to state records, Hoffman terminated his use of the business name on April 19, the same day that Malloy filed to use the name.

Hurst said, “We’re looking to decide if it’s a newspaper like it says it is, and if it is, they’re exempt from electioneering communications” reporting requirements – which would otherwise require identification and reporting of who’s funding the effort. Asked if a newspaper can exist that’s published only right before an election, Hurst said, “We’re looking at that.”

The cost to send out this large mailer statewide had to be substantial. Idaho’s much-smaller voter pamphlet, which is a pamphlet of a few pages that also is printed on newsprint and mailed out statewide when there’s a constitutional amendment on the ballot, costs about $200,000, Hurst said.

“The Idahoan,” in an article by Esposito on page A2, declares it is a “conservative voter information periodical.”

The Idaho Democratic Party on Friday demanded an investigation into the mailing, charging that it’s “nothing more than a campaign mailer intended to sway voters before the upcoming primary elections on May 15.”

“The Idaho Democratic Party believes that certain conservative political organizations are funding The Idahoan and are attempting to circumnavigate campaign and election laws by improperly classifying The Idahoan as a newspaper,” said a letter from attorney Sam Dotters-Katz, on behalf of the party, to Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney. The letter also called for Denney to recuse himself from the investigation, because of his past campaign dealings with Esposito.

Hurst said Friday that Denney had received the letter. “We’re going to discuss it with the Attorney General’s office,” he said.

Idaho’s Sunshine Law requires reporting of who’s responsible and how much they’ve spent when electioneering communications are sent out to voters before an election, but newspapers and periodicals are exempt from those requirements.

Please keep reading!

I start my new position as Boise bureau chief and state capital reporter for the Idaho Press-Tribune and Adams Publishing Group, which also owns the Idaho State Journal, the Idaho Falls Post Register, and a number of smaller Idaho newspapers, on Monday.

I hope you’ll continue to follow my work – some of which will still run in The Spokesman-Review – and also all the other fine news reporting in this great newspaper. We need the free press in our country. Support it!

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