Plagiarism with a purpose

If you thumbed through the latest edition of the Borah Senator, the paper for Borah High School in Boise, you might have noticed the editorial looked familiar.

Student writer Harmony Soto plagiarized the piece from Boise Weekly writer George Prentice. But there’s a catch: She acknowledged the plagiarism with a biting editorial note.

“You may find parts of this article similar to previous articles written by George Prentice for the Boise Weekly,” Soto wrote. “We could apologize and say this is a mistake on part of the Borah Senator Staff, but if our new state superintendent was able to get away with it, is it even worth it?”

Soto added “To our State Leadership: Remember, the students of Idaho do pay attention to the examples you’re setting.”

Soto, a senior at Borah High, said she got the idea to purposely plagiarize after hearing about parts of Sherri Ybarra’s campaign website being lifted from general election opponent Jana Jones’ site. (Ybarra said the copied text was unintentional.) Soto and her mother contacted journalists in the area to ask about using their work, and Prentice was the first to respond, she told Idaho Reports.

“I really wanted to do a story based on the superintendent election,” Soto said. “The one thing that just really really stuck out with me…. was (Ybarra’s) plagiarism scandal.”

Prentice said he was intrigued, but apprehensive. After discussing it with Senator advisor Michelle Harmon, he agreed.

“I’m not certain how I feel about having my work plagiarized,” Prentice said in a Wednesday interview. “On the other hand, I’m fascinated that it’s part of a bigger conversation about quite a bit of aggregating and borrowing and just flat-out stealing that is going on, that I can’t remember any time in my lifetime as much as I see now.”

“If it is part of the bigger conversation, that’s not a bad conversation to have,” he added.


What we’re watching tonight: Another House Democratic leadership race is shaping up

When House Assistant Minority Leader Grant Burgoyne ran for the Senate, we started keeping a close eye on who might go for that open leadership spot. Early on, Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said he was interested.

We assumed that would be the most interesting race for the Dems, but we were wrong. No one else has announced they are going for Assistant Minority leader or said they are challenging Minority Leader John Rusche, but Minority Caucus Chairwoman Donna Pence, D-Gooding, said Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, is also going for that spot this time around.

I couldn’t find Rubel for comment, but that’s shaping up to be an interesting race. Pence has served in the legislature since 2004, and Rubel was appointed to fill a vacancy in the 2014 session.

Democratic caucus members might not care about seniority, however. Of the 14 Democrats who will serve in the 2015 session, 9 were elected in 2012 or 2014. Just five, including Pence herself, have been there longer than 2012.

We’re keeping an eye on all the leadership races in both chambers. Watch us on Twitter: @davlinnews and @idahoreports.


One itty bitty post-election mystery solved

One of the biggest sources of post-election tension in state government: How much turnover Secretary of State-elect Lawerence Denney and Superintendent of Public Instruction-elect Sherri Ybarra would see among employees in their new offices.

We’ve talked to a few staffers in each office, and no one knew the fate of their jobs come January, though all were hopeful they would stay on. (It should be noted Ybarra hasn’t indicated she’s cleaning house when she takes office, and Denney said he will keep the staff, adding he believed he had to keep them on, as they’re classified employees. The classified employee part isn’t true, though Denney said he thought retaining the staff was important for continuity.)

There was also speculation that many would voluntarily leave, following the paths of long-term ed department staffers like Luci Willits, Jason Hancock and Melissa McGrath. We were especially interested in the fate of Secretary of State Chief Deputy Tim Hurst, who has worked at the SOS office for years. Denney told the Statesman he’d asked Hurst to stay on, but there was no public word on whether Hurst would.

But outgoing Secretary of State Ben Ysursa told new lawmakers today that Hurst will stay on after Denney takes over. Mystery solved.

Ysursa, however, is looking forward to retirement. “Thirty two days and counting,” he told the freshmen.

Another interesting note: When we visited the Superintendent’s office the other day, one corner room — normally vacant and used for meetings — was set up as a transitional temporary office for former Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, who helped with Sherri Ybarra’s campaign. We chatted with Corder, who said he’s helping with the transition, but doesn’t plan to stay on Ybarra’s staff permanently.


2015 Session Preview: Shifting misdemeanors to infractions

In the 2014 session, public defense reform united the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, and in the wake of this year’s Public Defense Reform Interim Committee, you should expect to hear more about it in the upcoming session.


The suggestions for changing Idaho’s public defense system — which the IFF and ACLU say violates the Sixth Amendment for its supposed inadequate representation for indigent defendants — are wide-ranging and aren’t all centered on adding more money into the system or hiring more public defenders. One idea from stakeholders focuses on reducing caseloads for public defenders by changing some misdemeanors to infractions. (Offenders charged with misdemeanors are entitled to a public defender if they can’t afford their own attorney; infractions often require nothing more than paying a fine.)


Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, has put together six pieces of draft legislation that do just that. The sections of code deal with Fish and Game, driver’s licenses, alcohol and tobacco, littering, and curfew violations.

Luker also suggests repealing two sections of code altogether. Those two sections deal with tampering with vehicles and failing to provide assistance to police officers.


The interim committee praised Luker for his efforts, but we’ll have to wait and see how the Legislature as a whole reacts. (Debates concerning alcohol are often touchy, in my experience.) And not all of the stakeholders are on the same page. One public defender Idaho Reports spoke to in October didn’t like the idea of changing some misdemeanors to infractions, saying accused people should have the right to be represented in court if they choose.


Regardless, Luker’s proposed legislation lines up with sentencing reform efforts that have been building momentum across the country, both on a national level and within state legislatures. Earlier this fall, Congressman Raul Labrador co-sponsored a bipartisan effort to give courts more discretion in sentencing for nonviolent drug cases.


For more, make sure to watch Idaho Reports. We’ll have much more on this when our season starts in January. And check out this brief from the Associated Press for more from Monday’s Public Defense Reform Interim Committee meeting.


The latest in leadership races…

Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, confirmed to Idaho Reports that he is going to run for House Assistant Majority Leader.


Current Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, announced this summer that he was considering running for House Speaker, as he was unhappy with how Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, conducted business. After that announcement, Youngblood said he was contacted by someone who encouraged him to run for Assistant Majority Leader, the position Crane currently holds.


Crane has since changed his mind, as he told Idaho Reports in October, and intends to run for Assistant Majority Leader again, but Youngblood is still running for the spot as well.
As of right now, that’s the only challenge in majority leadership in the House. We’ll update you with how other races are shaking out.


Now comes the fun part

With the ballots counted, we’re now looking ahead to the December organization session, where caucuses choose leadership and lawmakers receive their committee assignments for the next two years.

However it shakes out, it has as much affect on policy as the elections. Between retirements and incumbents losing in the primary and general, there are four chairman positions up for grabs in the House and two chairman positions in the Senate.

Each chamber also has committees with huge shake-ups: House Appropriations is losing four of its ten members (including vice chair Darrell Bolz), and House Resources and Conservation is losing six of its 18 members, including chairman Lawerence Denney.

On the Senate side, the Education Committee is down three of its nine members, including chairman John Goedde.

Remember, according to legislative custom, a lawmaker can be on either JFAC, be a chairman, or be in leadership, but can’t be more than one of those things. So depending on who gets moved where, other chairman or JFAC positions could open up.

Considering the new superintendent position and the pending proposals on tiered licensure, whoever ends up in JFAC and Senate Ed has a busy session ahead of them.

We’ll have more on Friday’s Idaho Reports. Tune in, 7 pm on Idaho Public Television.


Knee-jerk takeaways

1. This could — and maybe should — change the way Democrats and Republicans approach statewide races. Democrats spent $3 million (much of it from Balukoff himself) in the governor race alone. He still didn’t break 40 percent of the vote statewide.

It’s a different race, but let’s look at the other extreme. Ybarra raised about $35,000, but focused on community forums and debates. Though Jana Jones had experience working with education on the state level, Ybarra still won with about 5,000 votes. Did voters like her, or was it the R by her name?

This isn’t a Why-Should-Democrats-Bother post. But it’s been said before: Idaho liberals need to do some serious soul searching about their approach to campaigning on a statewide level. (And Republicans might start spending less on statewide seats after the primaries. Is all that money really needed?)

That said, Democrats had a net gain of one seat in the legislature, and came very close in other races. In the next several years, we might see a much bigger focus (and bigger investment) on those seats.

2. One factor in Ybarra’s win might be the people who were so fed up or unimpressed, they voted for neither candidate. Look at the vote totals. Ten thousand more votes were cast in the US Senate race. I chatted up Republican and independent politicos over the last two weeks. Many voted for Jana Jones or left the race blank altogether.

3. Should Idaho media change the way we cover these races? That’s something to explore when we’ve all had some sleep.