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Both Jones, Ybarra urge caution on controversial tiered teacher licensing plan

Sept. 23, 2014 4:38 p.m.

Both candidates for state schools superintendent - Jana Jones and Sherri Ybarra – are urging a cautious approach to a teacher licensing proposal that’s drawn fire from the state’s teachers union, Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News reports. His full report is online here. Meanwhile, Jones and Ybarra will face off in their first debate tonight in Twin Falls; they’ll debate again Thursday in Caldwell and Friday in Boise.

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Latest Otter campaign ad credits guv for economic turnaround, avoid specifics…

Sept. 23, 2014 3:30 p.m. - Updated: 3:31 p.m.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s latest campaign commercial features a real estate broker crediting the GOP governor with turning around the state’s economy and looking out for “all industries.” “Our governor, Butch Otter, has had a lot to do with us coming out of that downturn,” Eagle, Idaho Realtor Tracy Kasper says in the ad, which shows scenes of home construction, manufacturing, and the sun breaking through the clouds over familiar Idaho scenes. “He had to make some tough choices, we all did. He took a hard stance and had to be a big watchdog for all industries.”

“Those are pretty extravagant claims,” said Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor at Boise State University and a longtime observer of Idaho politics, “with no support in the ad, with no documentation or even a specific example of what he accomplished.” Added Weatherby, “I’m not sure the average voter will understand what he’s talking about. The average voter might say: ‘Well, is he a watchdog for me, too?’”

The commercial, which began airing a week ago in southwestern Idaho, doesn’t cite any examples or hard facts, campaign spokeswoman Kaycee Emery said, because “it was completely opinion and a testimonial piece.”

Weatherby said Otter’s ad, like his previous one that cited selective statistics to try to make the case that Idaho’s economy is “on a roll,” appears designed to leave a positive impression about Otter and the economy. After claims in the previous ad were questioned, Weatherby said, “It’s hard to attack this one because it really doesn’t say much substantively.” You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com; you can see the ad here.

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Balukoff announces debate schedule

Sept. 23, 2014 2:13 p.m. - Updated: 2:16 p.m.

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, today released the schedule of the debates he’s agreed to participate in over the next month – the same four to which GOP Gov. Butch Otter earlier committed, plus one more in Twin Falls. “I look forward to these debates with Gov. Otter and the opportunity to lay out my vision for a better Idaho,” Balukoff said in a statement. “While he may try to distract the debates away from his eight year record, I intend to focus on the issues critical to moving our state forward: better schools, creating good-paying jobs, and restoring trust and accountability to state government.”

Otter already had announced he’ll debate Oct. 3 in Coeur d’Alene, in a face-off at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library sponsored by the Coeur Group; Oct. 9 in Idaho Falls at the Idaho Falls City Club debate; Oct. 14 at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa in a debate sponsored by KTVB-TV; and Oct. 30 in the “Idaho Debates,” which will be broadcast live statewide on Idaho Public Television and are co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho.

Balukoff said he’ll also participate in a debate tomorrow from 7-8 p.m. at Canyon Ridge High School in Twin Falls, sponsored by the Times-News newspaper. Otter was invited to that debate, but declined the invitation. The newspaper announced that its debate will feature Balukoff and Libertarian candidate for governor John Bujak. The Times-News also is hosting a debate tonight between the two candidates for state superintendent of schools, Democrat Jana Jones and Republican Sherri Ybarra.

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Idaho, BPA reach $40 million deal on wildlife mitigation funding

Sept. 23, 2014 10:49 a.m. - Updated: 4:15 p.m.

The state of Idaho and the Bonneville Power Administration have agreed to a $40 million deal to satisfy the BPA's wildlife habitat mitigation responsibilities to the state for impacts from its hydropower dams in southern Idaho. The money will go to the Idaho Fish & Game Department over a 10-year period, for administration, operation and maintenance, and restoration and acquisition of wildlife habitat. Of the total, $22 million will be used for restoration, acquisition and stewardship costs associated with new projects (at least 8,588 acres), $4 million will be used to administer the program over the next 10 years, and the remaining $14 million will be placed in a state endowment fund to pay for perpetual management of approximately 8,700 acres already protected by the mitigation program.

“This agreement gives the state control of acquiring and managing wildlife habitat lost as a result of federal dams in southern Idaho,” said Gov. Butch Otter. “The agreement also protects the state’s fiscal interests by establishing a dedicated endowment fund to ensure Idaho can manage these lands for future generations.” It's designed to mitigate the impacts on wildlife from development of Palisades, Black Canyon, Minidoka and Anderson Ranch dams, along with operational impacts of Deadwood Dam. Idaho Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore welcomed the agreement, saying it will give Idaho more flexibility in how it manages mitigation funds and programs, including funding new projects and managing existing ones. Click below for the state's full announcement, followed by some historical information about the role of BPA mitigation funding in Idaho.

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Idaho insurance exchange names new executive director, picks local after national search

Sept. 23, 2014 9:35 a.m. - Updated: 9:36 a.m.

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange, YourHealthIdaho, has named a new executive director: Pat Kelly, the former finance director for the exchange who was named interim executive director in July. “Pat has been with us since the very beginning and has a deep understanding of our commitment to our customers and to our state,” said Stephen Weeg, board chairman for the exchange. “After a very competitive nationwide search, we realized we already had the right leader in place.”

Kelly replaces Amy Dowd, who left in July to head New Mexico’s state health insurance exchange. Prior to joining the exchange, he was a Boise businessman, working in telecommunications, manufacturing and business consulting. Weeg said, “Pat has kept YourHealthIdaho on track during a critical time. We are less than two months away from launching our own technology platform. It has been a challenging process but Pat has been able to bring key stakeholders to the table to ensure we take care of our customers when open enrollment starts on Nov. 15.”

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Homeowner’s exemption to rise for second year, after four years of declines…

Sept. 22, 2014 10:48 a.m. - Updated: 10:50 a.m.

The homeowner's exemption from property tax will rise to a maximum of $89,580 in 2015, up from the current $83,920. That reflects a 6.74 percent increase in Idaho housing prices, and marks the second year of increases after four years of declines. Click below for the full announcement from the Idaho State Tax Commission. The homeowner's exemption reduces taxes on an owner-occupied home by exempting up to half of its value, with the maximum exemption adjusting each year based on the Idaho House Price Index. Lawmakers tied the exemption to the index in 2006.

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Jones, Ybarra to debate three times this week, in Twin Falls, Caldwell and Boise

Sept. 22, 2014 10:42 a.m.

Jana Jones and Sherri Ybarra, the two candidates to be Idaho’s next state schools chief, will face off in three debates this week, Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News reports. The first is tomorrow at 7 p.m. in Twin Falls, sponsored by the Twin Falls Times-News. The two face off again Thursday at 7 p.m. at the College of Idaho in a debate sponsored by the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce. Then, on Friday, they’ll debate in a forum sponsored by the City Club of Boise starting at 11:45 a.m. at the Grove Hotel.

Later, on Oct. 21, Jones and Ybarra will debate on statewide television as part of the “Idaho Debates,” co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho and broadcast on Idaho Public Television. Corbin’s full report is online here, including how to submit questions for this week’s face-offs.

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Dems have hope in Idaho schools chief race, as Jones faces Ybarra

Sept. 21, 2014 7:48 p.m. - Updated: 7:50 p.m.

Conventional wisdom is that the Democrats’ best chance of capturing a statewide office in Idaho this year is the state school superintendent’s post. It’s an open seat in which the Republican nominee is a political newcomer with no statewide experience and the Democratic nominee is the former chief deputy state superintendent who almost beat current GOP Superintendent Tom Luna eight years ago.

So far, the race has been marked by a series of embarrassing revelations about Republican nominee Sherri Ybarra. Even Luna says Democrat Jana Jones could well win. He hasn’t endorsed either candidate in the race. Jones is running hard, but it’s an uphill climb for a Democrat in Idaho, as Republicans hold every statewide office, every seat in the congressional delegation and 80 percent of the state Legislature. You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

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Luna on Idaho’s next state superintendent: ‘I hope they’re bold’

Sept. 19, 2014 11:17 a.m. - Updated: 11:18 a.m.

Curious about his comments to the Times-News last week, I chatted today with state schools Superintendent Tom Luna about the race to replace him. Luna confirmed that he has not endorsed either candidate in the race – Republican Sherri Ybarra or Democrat Jana Jones.

“It’s likely or possible that a Democrat could win this race – I don’t think that’s news to anyone,” he said. Luna also said he met with GOP nominee Sherri Ybarra last week. “She ran a very non-traditional campaign in the primary. I’m assuming she’s taking a similar approach in the general,” Luna said. “But I will tell you that having met her and talked with her, I think she can win, but more people are going to have to get to know her the same way I have. And I’ve only got to know her recently.”

Luna compared Ybarra’s prospects to his own first run for the position, when he lost, but came back four years later and won, “because I had a network in place, I had name I.D. built.” He said, “It’s not uncommon for a Democrat to hold this position. … I don’t think anyone would assume that this will be a cake walk for a Republican.”

Luna, who has served two terms as state superintendent and is the first non-educator to hold the post, said, “I think I have accomplished a lot, and it hasn’t been without controversy, obviously. But I think we have accomplished a lot and I leave office pleased with the results that we’ve seen.” He pointed to improvements in technology in Idaho schools, high school students taking college-level courses, increasing numbers of charter schools, and changes in how teachers are compensated to include factors beyond education and years of experience. “I specifically ran on those things, and we’ve accomplished them,” Luna said. “The bottom line is by every academic measure, our schools and our students are doing better than they were eight years ago when I came into office.”

He said, “I hope the next state superintendent is looking to make a difference and not make a career. I hope they’re bold. I hope they’ll stand up to people that support them and work with people that don’t. It won’t be easy … but it’ll be the most rewarding experience of their life. That’s how I feel about my time in office.”

I’ll have a story on this year’s race for superintendent in Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

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Ysursa urges voters to register, marks National Voter Registration Month

Sept. 19, 2014 9:29 a.m. - Updated: 9:52 a.m.

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is reminding voters that September is National Voter Registration Month, and urging them to be aware of deadlines for the upcoming Nov. 4 general election. “Participation is the essence of democracy, and I encourage all eligible voters to check their registration status online or with their county clerk before going to the polls in November,” Ysursa said.

His idahovotes.gov website allows voters from anywhere in the state to check their registration status and find their polling place. Anyone who is 18 or older, a U.S. citizen, and a resident in Idaho and in the county for 30 days prior to the election is eligible to vote. People who have recently moved or changed their name need to update their voter registration.

Ysursa noted that Idaho is one of eight states that offer same-day registration at the polls on Election Day. However, voters can save time at the polls by registering early. The deadline for early voter registration for the November election is Oct. 10. You can see Ysursa’s full announcement here.

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