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Saturday, July 11, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  ID Government

Eye on Boise: Risch: Idaho’s growth is like ‘the dog that has caught the car’

Betsy Z. Russell (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Betsy Z. Russell (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Betsy Z. Russell

BOISE – Idaho’s economy is booming, Sen. Jim Risch said Friday, saying, “We’ve been extremely successful. I liken it to the dog that has caught the car.”

“We’ve had an unprecedented amount of growth. … Hopefully things will level out,” he said. “A more modest rate of growth will certainly be more manageable.”

His comments came as Risch, former chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, held a field hearing on small business in Boise on Friday.

“Idaho is changing,” Risch said at the hearing, which he was the only committee member to attend. “Advancements in technology, commerce and communication have expanded our global economy to new reaches, and as a result, Idaho is now attracting more entrepreneurs to our state who were once bound to the confines of Silicon Valley, Seattle or Wall Street.”

Risch heard from two panels of speakers, including Idaho Department of Commerce Director Tom Kealey; Idaho Technology Council President Jay Larsen; and Brett Palmer, president of the Small Investor Alliance, among others. He pressed them to discuss how more investment could be funneled to small business start-ups in Idaho, including through federal programs.

“It is important that Idaho have access to all resources to put our businesses on a fair playing field and to compete in the global arena,” Risch said.

New tiger welcomed to zoo; attack now nearly 2 decades in past

Zoo Boise unveiled its new rare Amur tiger last week, a 7-year-old female named Diana who is newly arrived from South Dakota; her move to Boise was recommended as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Tiger Species Survival Plan.

Not mentioned in any of the announcements was a much less celebrated experience involving a tiger at the zoo, when in 2000, a male Amur tiger named Taiga slipped through an unlocked gate and attacked a 41-year-old woman who was attending a behind-the-scenes tour as part of a zoo fundraiser dubbed “Feast for the Beast.”

Seeing the tiger on top of the woman, a police officer at the event fired three shots; one bullet struck the woman in the thigh, breaking her leg. She suffered lacerations to the back of the head, neck and shoulder in addition to the bullet wound and made a full recovery. The zoo manager was fired. The officer was cleared of any wrongdoing; and the tiger suffered only a scratch. The woman, a board member of the friends of the zoo, said she didn’t blame the tiger. The city paid her hospital bills.

Taiga was euthanized in 2013 after developing serious health problems; he was one of three tigers at the zoo at the time. Zoo Boise gained national attention for sparing Taiga’s life after the 2000 attack, blaming human error, not the rare tiger, for the attack.

Nominations sought for medal

Idaho Gov. Brad Little is calling for nominations by Aug. 5 for the Idaho Medal of Achievement, the state’s highest civilian honor, and announced that he’s renewed the executive order that created the award. Nominees must be current or deceased Idaho residents who have acted in ways through their lifetime to bring great honor to Idaho.

“The Idaho Medal of Achievement recognizes the most noteworthy citizens among us who have accomplished remarkable feats and demonstrated notable service to the people of our state,” Little said in a statement. Past recipients of the medal include former Gov. Phil Batt; human rights advocate Marilyn Shuler; and astronaut and teacher Barbara Morgan.

A commission chaired by former Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Trout evaluates the nominees and submits up to five finalists to the governor, who makes the award; more than one medal can be given at a time. The medal itself is made from near-pure silver donated by Hecla Mining. There’s more information on the governor’s website,

Little on proposed bank building buyback

During my recent interview with Gov. Brad Little, I finally had a chance to ask him about the Legislature’s proposed buyback of an old bank building kitty-corner across State Street from the Capitol, where he had his campaign office last year as he ran for governor. The building was owned by the state endowment but was sold at auction in 2016 along with a group of other commercial properties and bought by members of the Simplot family for $1.5 million.

It’s on the market, and the House voted this year to spend nearly $2 million from the state general fund to buy it back, for future government use. The Senate killed the bill on the last day of the legislative session.

“The decision to sell those properties was made by a Land Board that I wasn’t a part of,” Little said. He said at the last state Land Board meeting, the board, which he chairs, agreed to “form a committee to look at what we buy and what we sell,” adding, “I’m asking as a new Land Board member to re-look at our policy. … It’s hard for me in hindsight to say whether I would’ve said to sell that property. … I do not disagree with the Legislature that real estate adjacent to the Capitol Mall is going to have value going forward.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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