Shepherd responds to website takeover with slavery analogy, concerns about civil war

On Wednesday afternoon, I ran into Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, in the hall and asked him about a college student buying Shepherd’s former campaign website domain and turning it into a resource site for LGBT youth. (In an interview with Motherboard’s Jason Koebler, the student, Dylan Hailey, said the move was in response to Shepherd’s House Joint Memorial 4, which encourages Congress to impeach federal judges who support same sex marriage.)

Shepherd said he’d heard about Hailey’s actions, but hadn’t yet seen the new website. He was bemused, though, and brought me into his office so I could listen to an angry voice mail about the joint memorial.

“Why don’t you butt out… and worry about who you’re sleeping with?” the caller said before insulting Shepherd and his wife.

I asked Shepherd if he was surprised at the vitriol. “I know we have a disagreement out there,” he said, adding opponents of his memorial within the Legislature have been respectful to him.

He then tried to explain his position using historical context.

“Slave owners were very good Christians and good people,” he said, adding he was against slavery. “I totally disagree with that.” This fight, Shepherd told me, is an example of good people who have the wrong idea about moral convictions.

I asked Shepherd to clarify, and he reiterated the connection he saw.

“They (slave owners) weren’t terrible rotten horrible people,” he said — just people who made terrible decisions. “And that’s how I see gay people.”

(Update, 4:05 pm: This isn’t the first time Shepherd has used the slavery analogy. According to Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review, in his floor debate for House Joint Memorial 4, Shepherd said this: “Their Christian moral beliefs were that blacks were inferior… They thought they were good Christians, good moral people, and I’m sure most of them were. But it just proves that our interpretation of Christian morals can be very far and wide … so I have no disrespect for anyone that sees it different than I do.”)

He also said that though this has been hard on him and his family, it’s important to do this to send a message to the Supreme Court, as he doesn’t want to see this progress into a civil war.

I asked if he thought that was a possibility.

“It’s possible,” Shepherd said, adding he doesn’t think it’s likely, and he doesn’t want a war.

Why the focus on marriage? It’s about “saving society from moral pitfalls,” he said, adding he’s concerned about his 40 grandchildren.

“I gotta hang in there,” he said.

As far as the website goes, no word on if Shepherd will try to get the domain back by making a donation to an LGBT group, like Hailey asked.

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Otter passes on signing glasses, contacts exemption bill

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Sneak peek for this Friday’s show: Wednesday morning, we taped a half-hour interview with Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, in which we discuss transportation, education, appointments and more.

After the governor took off his microphone and walked off the set, he was handed a stack of bills that had to be signed before 10:30 a.m.  He took a pen out of his jacket and started going through the bills on a table in the Idaho Public Television production lobby. As he looked over the legislation, I asked if he’d let any bills become law without his signature so far this year.

Yes, he said: The tax exemption for prescription glasses and contact lenses, which passed the legislature last week.

Otter said he struggled with the bill. Currently, glasses and contact lenses are the only medical devices that are taxed, but he was concerned about state revenues.

“I don’t want to lose $2.8 million out of the general fund, but on the other hand, how fair is that?” Otter said.

For our interview, make sure to watch Idaho Reports on Friday, 8 pm MST/7 pm PST.

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Powell fields CCA questions during friendly Senate hearing

Idaho State Police Col. Ralph Powell faced a friendly Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee for his confirmation hearing Monday afternoon.

The committee will vote at a later date. Powell told Idaho Reports he feels good about his chances of confirmation, “but you always remain concerned until the final shoe drops,” he said.

Last week, Idaho Reports discovered Powell and Department of Administration director Teresa Luna hadn’t yet received appointment letters from Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. Powell received his letter on Thursday; Otter announced Tuesday Luna will resign at the end of the session.

Was Powell concerned about being the last to get an appointment letter? Not until last week, when the news broke about his lack of appointment letter. Powell, who took over ISP in 2013, had been erroneously told by a colleague that he was among the small number of agency directors who didn’t have to go through the confirmation process.

“I thought ‘Sweet, I’m in that group,'” Powell said Monday.

During Monday’s hearing, Powell fielded a question from Sen. John Tippets, R-Bennington, regarding the media’s characterization of his role in the Corrections Corporation of America contract problems. Powell defended his decision not to investigate, saying CCA’s forged time cards was a civil issue, not criminal, and adding the judgment wasn’t made recklessly or in a vacuum.

“Ultimately, yes, I’m the one that made that decision,” Powell said, but said all the stakeholders were at the table.

It’s important to note any criticism of Powell has been different than issues the legislature took with Luna. Much of the criticism Luna received came directly from her interactions with lawmakers — notably, not informing them of the state’s missing e-rate dollars, or the extension of the Idaho Education Network contract in the summer of 2013. (There is still no word on whether Luna voluntarily offered her resignation or if she was asked to resign.)

After Powell’s explanation of his role in the CCA investigation to the committee, there were no follow-up questions from senators.

Regarding other appointments, the governor still hasn’t appointed a director for the Department of Insurance, a spot that has been vacant since Bill Deal’s retirement last year. Otter will also have to appoint Luna’s replacement after the legislature adjourns.

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Key member of House Ed Committee “comfortable” with new career ladder

Third time’s a charm.

This morning, Idaho Reports producer Seth Ogilvie ran into Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, a member of the House Education Committee and a vocal opponent of the original career ladder proposals. 

Kerby told Ogilvie he’s comfortable with the new career ladder bill, which was introduced Thursday morning. (Read the run-down by Idaho Ed News here.) Kerby said he likes the changes, and the framework is looking good.

“I’m very comfortable that the details will get worked out,” Kerby said.

How about the view from the Senate? Watch Friday’s Idaho Reports for my interview on the career ladder, teacher shortages and more with Senate Education Committee chairman Dean Mortimer and committee member Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking. (Spoiler alert: It’s looking pretty good for this career ladder proposal.)

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On appointments and interpretations of Idaho code

As Idaho Reports first reported Tuesday afternoon, Teresa Luna will resign as director of the Department of Administration at the end of the legislative session.

The announcement came after Idaho Reports asked why Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter hadn’t yet submitted an appointment letter for Teresa Luna or Idaho State Police director Col. Ralph Powell.

There are still lingering questions on the law regarding appointments and why Luna is resigning now.

State law spells out which directors the governor appoints; the Senate then confirms those appointments. So far this session, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has submitted appointment letters for directors Celia Gould, Gary Spackman, Ken Edmunds, Jeff Sayer, Gavin Gee, Curt Fransen, Sharon Harrigfield, Cassandra Jones, and Jeff Anderson, as well as numerous board and commission members.

Otter also hasn’t submitted an appointment for the director of the Department of Insurance; That position has been vacant since previous director Bill Deal’s retirement in late 2014.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis told Idaho Reports on Tuesday morning that the Senate has not yet received an appointment letter from the governor’s office for Powell, but added he has been in talks with David Hensley, Otter’s chief of staff, on their interpretation of the law concerning appointments. Davis said he read the law as a re-appointment is necessary for a director to continue serving in the position after the governor’s term is over.

Luna and Powell were appointed during Otter’s second term, which ended in January. Otter was sworn in for his third term in early January. Many of the gubernatorial appointment letters for department directors came at the end of January or beginning of February.

“This is an area that, in my opinion, the statute is not a model of clarity,” Davis said.

Hensley wasn’t available for comment on Tuesday. Jon Hanian, spokesman for Otter, said the governor’s office considered Luna the director until the legislature adjourns for the session. “When they adjourn sine die, there will be a vacancy,” Hanian said.

Why is the interpretation important? Luna has made big decisions in her position in the last two months. In February, Luna signed an emergency contract with CenturyLink to provide up to $1.88 million for Internet services over the next six months after a judge voided the IEN contract.

The other big question: Why is Luna resigning now? Hanian declined to comment on whether Luna had offered her resignation or had been asked to resigned. Davis said Tuesday morning that as majority leader, he would support any appointment made by Otter, but he would also advise the governor if he didn’t think an appointment would pass the Senate confirmation process. Davis said he hadn’t advised the governor on confirmation votes for Luna or Powell.

Neither Luna or Powell could be reached for comment.

This week, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that would tighten the timetable on gubernatorial appointments. Senate Bill 1112, sponsored by Davis, would require the governor to submit documents for re-appointment by the 36th day of the legislative session. That bill is heading to the House.

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Luna to resign as Department of Administration director

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter announced Tuesday that Teresa Luna will resign as the director of the Department of Administration at the end of the legislative session.

Luna couldn’t be reached for comment.

Otter said he will appoint an interim director for the department after the legislature adjourns.

“I admire Teresa’s tenacity and commitment to doing the right thing,” Otter said in a statement. “I am proud to call her a friend.”

Jon Hanian, Otter’s spokesman, said he couldn’t comment as to whether Luna offered her resignation or had been asked to resign.

On Tuesday, Idaho Reports had asked the governor’s office why Otter hadn’t yet submitted an appointment letter for Luna or Idaho State Police director Col. Ralph Powell. Otter’s statement came hours after the inquiry; Hanian said he had no word on what might happen with Powell’s appointment.

Powell and Luna have both seen their share of controversy. Powell was criticized for declining to investigate contract issues with Corrections Corporation of America in 2013.
Luna found herself in the middle of the Idaho Education Network strife after a 2014 budget presentation in which she revealed the federal government had stopped paying e-rate dollars to the state for IEN months before. In 2013, Luna also extended the IEN contract through 2019 without notifying the Idaho Legislature.

It’s unclear if that’s why the governor’s office didn’t submit the appointment letters for Powell and Luna. Powell couldn’t be reached for comment.

Luna was appointed director of the Department of Administration in March 2011.

Idaho Reports will continue following this story. Check back for updates.

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Uncertainty in the Wood River Valley

Kevin Harrison and Aaron Kunz

Uncertainty looms over the Wood River Valley as the important water management process plays out in central Idaho. At stake is how much water will be available for crop irrigation, ranching, and other business interests. These water call documents, for the Big Wood River Water Users Association, the Little Wood River Water Users Association, and the Idaho Department of Water Resources paint the legal framework for how they’ll move forward. They can be found here and here.

Idaho uses the “prior appropriation” model, also known as “first in time – is first in right.” The state’s oldest water users took water directly out of rivers, streams and lakes. They are known as surface water users. Decades later we learned how to use pumps to coax water out of underground sources such as aquifers like the giant Snake River Plain Aquifer that stretches from St. Anthony to Twin Falls. Those users are known as groundwater users and because they came after surface water users, a lot of them have junior water rights.

That became a big issue when the courts recognized that surface water and groundwater are linked. Take too much water out of the aquifer, and surface water is used to recharge the aquifer. Take too much surface water and groundwater isn’t recharged. None of this is a problem when water is plentiful, but a huge problem when water is scarce like it has been this year.

The biggest state water management legal case, known as the Snake River Basin Adjudication, has helped set the stage for the situation in the Wood River Valley, where water management is still being developed.

The Wood River Valley Groundwater-Flow Model, a joint project between the IDWR and the United States Geologic Survey, is scheduled for completion early next year. The model is meant to further our understanding of the relation between surface and groundwater in the Wood River Valley. It will also contribute to long-term planning, resource management, and conjunctive administration.

The IDWR has published a project summary that explains why the model is needed. The kick-off presentation from the initial meeting adds additional information. There are also project updates available from both the IDWR and the USGS, both from January 2014. The recent water calls for the Wood River Valley have highlighted the significance this model will play in future administration and litigation. A recent Capital Press story quotes Matt Weaver, Deputy Director of the IDWR, as stating that he doesn’t anticipate much progress will be made on these water calls until the flow-model is complete. You can read the story here.

The model may not be finished until 2016, but you’ll be hearing a lot more from the Wood River Valley as people try to prevent a water curtailment.

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