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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: There’s a new Sen. Bayer, at least for now

Sen. Cliff Bayer speaks in the Idaho Statehouse in this photo dated March 2, 2017. With Bayer in Washington, D.C., to be new Congressman Russ Fulcher’s chief of staff, his mom, Regina Bayer, has been appointed to fill in as his temporary replacement. (Associated Press)
Sen. Cliff Bayer speaks in the Idaho Statehouse in this photo dated March 2, 2017. With Bayer in Washington, D.C., to be new Congressman Russ Fulcher’s chief of staff, his mom, Regina Bayer, has been appointed to fill in as his temporary replacement. (Associated Press)

BOISE – With Sen. Cliff Bayer off to Washington, D.C., to be new Congressman Russ Fulcher’s chief of staff, Bayer’s mom, Regina Bayer, has been appointed to fill in as his temporary replacement. The Senate welcomed her last week; she’s also known as Sen. Bayer.

“I got a couple of photos sent to me,” said Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, by phone from D.C. “She’s been very involved, local, district, county, state and in the political arena for a long, long time.” Bayer noted that his dad, whom he referred to as “Pops,” served in the Idaho House in the mid-1980s; that was Rep. Dieter Bayer, R-Boise.

Cliff Bayer said his mom’s been actively following legislative action for years, tracking issues, contacting lawmakers and testifying on bills. “It’s kind of amazing. For somebody who doesn’t work as staff in the building or serve in an elected capacity, she’s very well-versed on how it functions.”

The new Sen. Bayer will serve until the process is completed to name a permanent replacement for her son; she’s among those interested in the permanent post as well. The Republican Party legislative committee for the district will send a list of three nominees to the governor to fill the position; Gov. Brad Little will make the appointment from that list. That process can take up to a month.

“That’s between her and the precinct committeemen,” her son said. “But she’s very interested in the opportunity to work with the precinct committeemen through that process and would love to have the opportunity to serve.”

‘Not deceased’

In the Senate last week, Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, in honor of new acting Sen. Regina Bayer, R-Boise, retold the Bayer family’s history of service in the Legislature. But in the course of his comments, Martin made mention of “the late Sen. Cliff Bayer.”

That prompted the new Sen. Bayer to rise for a good-natured clarification. “Sen. Cliff Bayer is not deceased,” she said. He’s alive and well and doing fine in Washington, D.C., she noted.

That prompted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, to comment amid some laughter, “He always was late for the roll call, so I think that’s what the senator was referring to.”

Meanwhile, due to the former Sen. Bayer’s departure from the Senate, several committee posts have been swapped. The changes: Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, replaces Sen. Cliff Bayer on Senate Resources. New Sen. C. Scott Grow becomes vice chair of the Local Government & Taxation Committee; new Sen. Don Cheatham fills Grow’s spot as a panel member. Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, takes Cheatham’s former spot on the Senate Education Committee. And the new acting Sen. Regina Bayer moves to the Senate Health & Welfare Committee, replacing Crabtree; she also serves, as did her son, on the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee.

Confusion and communications

When Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney came before lawmakers for his budget hearing on Friday, there was confusion about some of his requests. One request, for instance, was $161,500 in state general funds for the state match for a $3.2 million federal Help America Vote Act grant Denney’s office received.

Denney told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, “We had to come up with the $161,000 and change for our match. However, the current $1.2 million that we have ongoing for the current election systems upgrade does qualify under HAVA for that match. So we don’t actually need the money for the match, but we do need to have the paper trail, so that when we are audited by HAVA, that we can show where that money came from.”

That prompted even more questions. Gov. Brad Little had recommended approval of the $161,500 request. But Denney said he doesn’t expect lawmakers to fund it.

Legislative budget analyst Maggie Smith explained that since the Legislature already appropriated $1.2 million last year for the election system, the notation that those funds are being used for the match for the grant can be accomplished internally in the Secretary of State’s office, without any need for action by JFAC.

Another source of confusion: Denney requested $73,800 and one additional position for a communications coordinator. He made the same request last year, but didn’t get it, and this year, Little didn’t recommend it in his budget. But Denney hired a communications coordinator anyway, and is paying her from the federal HAVA funds.

“This person is on staff now,” Denney said. “But some of the requirements on the HAVA funds is we cannot use those for ongoing. … It would be a year-to-year basis that we could continue that contract with her. But we think this is an important position that needs to be fully funded by the state, so that once those HAVA funds run out we can continue with that position.”

Denney said his two top priority requests for next year are adding a cybersecurity policy analyst, which Little has recommended at $97,600; and the communications coordinator.

“Prior to the 2016 election, cybersecurity was not high on our priority list,” Denney said. “However in 2016 there were reports of cybersecurity incidents around the country.” Homeland Security reported “penetration attempts in 21 states” by foreign actors, two of those at least partly successful, he said. “While election results were … unaffected, it pointed out huge gaps in cybersecurity protocols and communications strategies in all states.”

Denney said he believes one of the major obligations of elected officials like himself is “to instill public confidence in the electoral process. We not only have to be prepared to thwart any cyber attacks on our system, but we also have to be ready to communicate with the public and with the media on those attacks.”

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