No clear answer on whether racist robocalls violate Sunshine Laws

A racist robocall is hijacking the discussion surrounding Sandpoint’s mayoral race, but no one has publicly claimed responsibility for the ad — and that might be at odds with the state’s campaign finance laws.

The Sandpoint Reader reports the robocall went out earlier this week. In the call, a voice mocks candidate Shelby Rognstad’s name and says Rognstad wants to bring “undesireables” to Sandpoint. It also calls Ferguson, Missouri a “violent jungle” filled with “primitive destroyers,” an apparent reference to protests and racial tensions in the city last year. (You’ve really got to hear it for yourself. Here’s a link and full transcript, courtesy of Better Idaho.)

So who’s responsible? Candidate Mose Dunkel condemned the call on his campaign Facebook page. “I have nothing to do with it and honestly i’m sad that a small town campaign would generate this,” Dunkel wrote on Tuesday.

Rognstad also spoke out against the post on the Sandpoint Reader’s Facebook page. “This is not an attack on me. It is an attack on honest elections and our community values,” he wrote. “We should not let this distasteful attack distract us from real issues, like job creation and expanding higher education. We should focus on how we can keep making our community a better place to live.”

The robocall ends with “paid for by Sandpoint United Against Shelby,” but there is no political action committee currently registered under that name in Bonner County, the city of Sandpoint, or on a state level.

If a group collects or spends more than $500 in an election cycle, it must register as a political action committee as soon as it meets that threshold, said Tim Hurst, Chief Deputy Secretary of State. “They should do it before they reach that threshold,” but there is no penalty for not doing so, he added. Independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate don’t have to be reported until seven days before the election.

It’s not clear how much Sandpoint United Against Shelby paid for the robocalls, as no one has filed paperwork for the group.

Idaho code 50-420 says city attorneys and city clerks investigate and enforce election reporting laws for municipalities. Sandpoint city attorney Scot Campbell said his office has received a number of complaints about the robocalls, mostly centered around the content (which, though offensive, isn’t illegal).

“We’ll be looking into it,” Campbell said, adding he thought the call was in poor taste.

Sandpoint has seen anonymous robocalls in the past. Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, told Idaho Reports there were robocalls attacking her in the her last two primaries, and at least one was anonymous.

Those calls weren’t racist, Keough added. “They were more political in nature. ‘She’s a liberal, she’s not a conservative,’ that kind of thing.” And over the summer, racist robocalls from an out-of-state white supremacist group hit Idaho landlines, telling Idahoans to “wake up” and “diversity equals white genocide.”

In an interview with Idaho Reports, Dunkel said the calls came as a surprise to him, and he immediately contacted Rognstad to discuss the situation.

“I just have a better campaign to run than that,” Dunkel said, adding the calls were a low-blow and derogatory. “I’m really against negative campaigning.”


Clean Water Rule lawsuit: Federal overreach, or clarification of the same old rule?

Idahoans can agree on one thing: Clean water and access to it are vitally important.

But the details on how to maintain that clean water are causing disagreements, different interpretations, and multiple lawsuits involving a new rule through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act.

The rule is complex, but in a nutshell, it’s an attempt by the EPA to clarify which waterways must get pollution discharge permits. (Read it here.)

Right now, the EPA requires permits for those who put pollutants into certain waterways. In the new language, certain kinds of canals — specifically, those that act as tributaries and carry water to other bodies of water — may require permitting.

That’s a problem to some, though the EPA contends the new rule will not result in any new regulations. Still, the language prompted Idaho to join 12 other states in suing the EPA. In August, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction on that rule in the states involved in the lawsuit.

The controversy is two-fold. One: some water users in Idaho and around the west feel it’s inappropriate to include canals in the list of waterways that may need permits, arguing it turns simple agriculture tasks into bureaucratic slogs.

The second argument: The EPA overstepped its authority by making the rule in the first place, said Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. That definition should have come from Congress, he argues.

“Congress needs to do its job. That’s what really ought to happen,” Wasden told Idaho Reports. “Congress can define this but they haven’t done it. They’ve given a statutory definition and then EPA is acting beyond the scope of Congress.”

It’s important to note that this controversy is nothing new. States have tussled with the EPA over its permitting system for years, with the most notable recent example being Rapanos v United States, a 2006 US Supreme Court Case which challenged the EPA’s definitions of wetlands. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, resulting in a whole lot of uncertainty over which waters are and aren’t regulated.

This latest rule, which underwent drafts and received more than one million public comments before its finalization, tries to clarify those definitions.

Another note: the agriculture industry does have exemptions in the Clean Water Act. Ditches don’t require permits, for example.

“The rule does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions,” according to an EPA press release. 

Liz Paul of Idaho Rivers United said all the ag exemptions that have always been in place will remain in place, and pointed out the rule is already in place in 37 other states.

While the political power structure in Idaho stands together in opposition to the rule, nationally, other groups are in favor of it. On its website, The Sierra Club calls efforts to stop the rule “major attacks” on the Clean Water Act, and said the rule is the final step in a longstanding policy.

And despite the controversy, the EPA is excited about the change. “We are enthusiastic about the opportunities provided by the rule to improve the process of identifying waters covered under the Clean Water Act and making jurisdictional determinations and permit decisions more effectively and efficiently,” wrote Ken Kopocis, Deputy Assistant Administrator at the EPA’s Office of Water, in a July 31 blog.

There’s one more catch: Congressman Mike Simpson, member of the House Appropriations Committee and chairman of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, has inserted language into both the Energy and Water Appropriation Bill and the Interior Appropriation Bill that would block the EPA from implementing the rule.

For more, watch the Oct. 2 episode of Idaho Reports.


Idaho Reports web extra: More pundits! More lawsuits!

A lot has happened since the last time Idaho Reports was on the air.

Among those things: An ACLU-Idaho lawsuit over Idaho’s public defense system, a lawsuit over a federal sage grouse conservation plan, a lawsuit challenging the state’s implementation of Idaho Core Standards, and a budget surplus.

We have only half an hour for our show, and far too many opinions to fit into that time, so we’re giving you a run-down of what you need to know in this Idaho Reports web extra, with former Secretary of State Ben Ysursa joining pundits Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review and Dr. Jim Weatherby.

For the rest of our discussion, watch Idaho Reports at 8 pm Friday night, or check it out online at


A running tally of Idaho open meeting law violation accusations

There have been quite a few accusations of government entities big and small violating Idaho’s open meeting laws recently. That’s not a trend journalists like to see.

So I’m keeping a running tally of such accusations throughout the state, starting retroactively in September. I’ll update with new stories when I see a link. Is there something I missed? Let me know:

(Full disclosure: I serve on the Idaho Press Club’s First Amendment Committee, which advocates for open government.)

If you need to brush up on Idaho’s open government laws, here’s a handy PDF, courtesy of Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office.

Sept. 29: Burley City Council admits to open meeting violation after unnoticed meeting regarding airport (via Times-News):

Sept. 29: West Ada School District trustees void Superintendent Linda Clark’s contract extension after open meeting violation, then go into executive session, with one trustee accusing his colleagues of once again violating open meeting laws (via Idaho Education News):

Sept. 29: Idaho lawmakers pledge to open tax working group meetings to the public after previously meeting with little public notice (via Spokesman-Review):

Sept. 27: Cassia County commissioners admit to third open meeting violation, but agree to pay back Perkins bill that taxpayers originally picked up (via Times-News):

Sept. 20: Prosecutor: Transportation group violated open meeting law for its entire 25 years of existence; group will now post meeting notices (via Times-News):

Sept. 17: Snake River Alliance accuses Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance of holding two meetings without posting notifications or agendas until after the fact:


Otter, legislature sue over sage grouse plan, land use restrictions

The sage grouse fight isn’t done.

Governor Otter’s office announced today that it is joining with the Idaho Legislature to file a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s sage grouse plan and the new land use rules it implements.

There are plenty of people on-board with the lawsuit: House Speaker Scott Bedke, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore, and Dustin Miller, administrator of the Idaho Office on Species Conservation.

Here’s a link to the lawsuit. Read the press release and FAQ from Otter’s office below.


(BOISE) – Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and the Idaho Legislature filed a lawsuit today challenging the federal government’s failure to stick to a transparent, collaborative process in setting new land-use restrictions on greater sage-grouse habitat in Idaho and other states in the West.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced on Tuesday that listing sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was “not warranted.” But Governor Otter and other Idaho stakeholders contend the process behind amendments to federal land-use plans aimed at protecting the birds imposed unprecedented and unnecessary restrictions on Idaho farmers and ranchers, sportsmen, recreationists, employers and others.

“We didn’t want an ESA listing, but in many ways these administrative rules are worse. This complaint is an unfortunate but necessary step to protect the rights of Idaho citizens to participate in public land decisions that will impact their communities, their economy and their lives,” Governor Otter said. “Our people deserve to be involved in development of critical land-use plans that will responsibly address the most serious threats to Idaho’s sage-grouse population – wildfires and such invasive species as cheat grass that are fueling them.”

The Governor contends the flawed amendment process by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service effectively undermined years of open and partnership-driven work by local and State leaders and other stakeholders. Their goal was to avoid the potentially draconian impacts of a “threatened” or “endangered” ESA listing for sage-grouse.

Then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked Idaho and ten other western states in 2011 to develop and submit state-based conservation plans for incorporation into a National Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy primarily focused on updating nearly 100 federal land-use plans.  Governor Otter responded by gathering a diverse Idaho sage-grouse task force and submitting a consensus- and science-based Idaho alternative.

Once the Idaho plan was submitted, the federal government ended collaboration and turned to developing a national solution that includes new and tougher land-use restrictions. Interior Department officials contend the last-minute, closed-door effort was necessary to prevent a sage-grouse listing decision. The lawsuit filed today in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleges the federal government violated the law by failing to complete the federal planning process in an open and transparent manner, or to complete a necessary analysis of the newly ordered land-use restrictions. The full complaint can be found here.

“Under a collaborative framework that included industry, the conservation community, and state and federal experts, we achieved something pretty remarkable for sage-grouse and the citizens of Idaho through our planning effort,” said Dustin Miller, administrator of the Idaho Office of Species Conservation. “Unfortunately, the Interior Department has chosen to ignore our local efforts and replace them with top-down and unnecessary restrictions through the land-use plans that weren’t properly vetted with the states and the public.”

Idaho Department of Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore said, “Idaho’s conservation actions and science support keeping sage-grouse off the Endangered Species list.   But U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leaders recently stopped using science and common sense when it came to identifying sage-grouse habitat for federal land managers. The Service ignored Idaho sage-grouse experts and arbitrarily designated thousands of additional acres as sage-grouse strongholds when they don’t even contain sage grouse habitat. Unfortunately the Forest Service and BLM relied on flawed information in making their land-use decisions for Idaho. It’s important we focus sage-grouse conservation on habitat and actions that really matter.”

“The Idaho Legislature values sage-grouse and their habitat; but we also value the people who use the land and make their livelihood there,” Idaho Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said. “Idaho developed a plan that conserved sage-grouse and its habitat while maintaining predictable levels of land use, but the federal government rejected it. It is imperative that we defend our plan and Idaho’s way of life.”

“Dwight Eisenhower said, ‘Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.’ His admonition rings particularly true regarding the Obama administration’s heavy-handed sage-grouse mandates on millions of acres of western land that have no impact in Washington, D.C., but make a world of difference to us here in Idaho,” Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke said.

“Secretary Jewell, and Secretary Salazar before her, promised a transparent public process, but in the end they imposed unnecessary land management policies that have little or nothing to do with the birds – all developed during closed-door sessions with no input from Idahoans who have worked hard on our state management plan,” Bedke said. “That’s the kind of thing that leaves Idahoans not only questioning the process but doubting the Obama administration’s intentions.  These additional burdensome measures seem to speak to something besides the protection of sage-grouse.  I appreciate the Governor’s leadership in challenging them.”






Q: Why is Governor Otter suing when the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) determined that the species did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act?

A: While the Governor is supportive of the decision to not list greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), he does not support the process used in arriving at that decision.

The Governor is not suing over the “not warranted” decision on an ESA listing. Instead, the Governor is suing over the BLM’s and Forest Service’s recent adoption of land-use plan amendments that include new overly restrictive conservation measures for sage-grouse that were developed late in the process in Washington, D.C.  This was done without proper analysis and vetting by the states or the public. The process used by the federal government in developing the last minute changes to the land-use plans is legally flawed. The Governor and the State of Idaho were key collaborators in the land-use plan amendment process until they were shut out late in the process.  Through this legal challenge, the Governor intends to protect the integrity of the process and the rights of Idaho citizens.


Q: What are the Governor’s claims against the sage-grouse land-use plan amendments?

A: In short, the land-use plan amendments are illegal because they violate the federal agencies’ mandate to manage public land for multiple-use, which includes recreation, resource development, fish and wildlife, and livestock grazing. In an effort to get to a “not-warranted” listing determination, the federal government earlier this year developed a new land-management scheme focused on addressing impacts to secondary threats to sage-grouse. Unfortunately, the federal agencies failed to properly analyze the impacts of last-minute changes to the land-use plan amendments and failed to comply with the law requiring public vetting of these actions.


Q: Weren’t the Governor and the State of Idaho instrumental in developing the sage-grouse land-use plan amendments?

A: In 2012, at the invitation of then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Governor Otter assembled an Idaho Sage-Grouse Task Force to assist in developing a sage-grouse conservation plan for federal lands.  The plan was developed using the best available science, Idaho’s best sage-grouse biologists and a diverse group of stakeholders. The plan was tailored to meet the unique needs of the state while focusing on the primary threats to sage-grouse in Idaho, which are invasive annual grasses and wildfire.  Ultimately, the major elements of the Governor’s plan were approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the plan included as a co-preferred alternative within the federal land-use plan amendment process in Idaho.

Years of negotiation and collaboration between the Governor’s Sage-Grouse Task Force, the State and federal agencies at both the local and national levels produced a locally developed solution based on the Governor’s Plan and driven by the best available science. This collaborative approach had the potential to serve as a model for future conservation efforts.

Unfortunately, the collaborative process ended in early 2015 when federal officials in Washington, D.C. unilaterally developed additional land-use restrictions for secondary threats in Idaho and other states. These additional restrictions only serve to divert the federal agencies’ limited resources away from combatting primary threats such as wildfire and invasive species.


Labrador hinted at House Speaker change goal earlier this month; Simpson releases statement praising Boehner

Earlier this month, Idaho Reports spoke to Congressman Raul Labrador in his Washington DC office. On the list of topics: His thoughts on House leadership. In the interview, Labrador reiterated his displeasure with House Speaker John Boehner, and gave a hint at what was to to come.

Labrador said while he voted for Boehner as speaker earlier this year, he wouldn’t do it again in two years.

“There could be a change in leadership even sooner than that if he doesn’t start listening to the message of the American people,” Labrador told Aaron Kunz. Labrador has long been critical of Boehner’s leadership; Two years ago, he voted against Boehner as speaker. Labrador has also been part of a coalition of conservative lawmakers who have met with Boehner over defunding Planned Parenthood; Their latest meeting was Thursday afternoon. 

On Friday morning, Labrador issued a statement on Boehner’s resignation “Though I differed with Speaker Boehner on the pace of reform, I respect and admire him. He served Ohio and the House with distinction and grace. I wish him the very best.”

You can see our full interview with Labrador in our upcoming season of Idaho Reports, which starts Friday, Oct. 2.

Meanwhile, Congressman Mike Simpson, a consistent supporter of Boehner, released a statement praising his friend. “I am confident that history will look kindly on John Boehner’s speakership,” he said.

“Good leadership requires wisdom, humility, a willingness to listen to those who might have a different perspective, and the courage to do the right thing,” Simpson said.

You can read Simpson and Labrador’s full statements below, and watch an excerpt of our interview with Labrador here.

Simpson Statement on Speaker Boehner’s Resignation

Washington, D.C. – Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson issued the following statement regarding the announcement of Speaker Boehner resigning.

“First, I cannot say strongly enough my gratitude for Speaker Boehner’s leadership over the past five years. Facing challenges that often seemed insurmountable, he has consistently acted with integrity and in the best interest of this nation. I am confident that history will look kindly on John Boehner’s speakership.

Leadership on the national stage looks appealing to many, but those who step into his shoes do not have an enviable task ahead. Good leadership requires wisdom, humility, a willingness to listen to those who might have a different perspective, and the courage to do the right thing. This is especially difficult when you are leading a fractious party and divided nation, but this is how Speaker Boehner led. I wish my friend well as he finishes his work here and moves on.”


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, issued the following statement in response to today’s news that House Speaker John Boehner will resign next month:
“Though I differed with Speaker Boehner on the pace of reform, I respect and admire him. He served Ohio and the House with distinction and grace. I wish him the very best.

“As for succession, today is not the day for such talk. But I am committed to supporting leaders who will keep our promise to the American people to fight for real change in Washington.”


Otter, Risch, Crapo, Labrador, Simpson issue statements on sage grouse decision

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, Rep. Raul Labrador, Rep. Mike Simpson, Sen. Jim Risch and Sen. Mike Crapo have issued statements on today’s announcement that the sage grouse won’t be listed as an endangered species.  The common thread: Skepticism.

On a related note, we talked to all four members of Idaho’s congressional delegation about land management and more during our recent trip to Washington DC. We’ll start rolling out those interviews on our upcoming season of Idaho Reports, which starts Oct. 2.

In the meantime, here are some press releases about sage grouse:

(BOISE) – Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter issued the following statement today in response to Interior Secretary Jewell’s announcement that an Endangered Species Act protective designation for the greater sage-grouse is “not warranted.”

“While I appreciate Secretary Jewell’s public recognition of local and state efforts to preserve the species and its habitat, the question behind a ‘not warranted’ determination is: ‘At what cost’? For months now, the federal government’s initially transparent and collaborative process has been replaced by closed-door meetings and internal memoranda. That’s resulted in a land management scheme for sage-grouse habitat that remains a mystery to property owners and state and local wildlife advocates alike. The feds are asking us to trust them. It’s not that simple and unfortunately this is far from over. I remain committed to doing what’s best for the species and the people of Idaho.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, issued the following statement in response to today’s decision by the Obama Administration on the greater sage grouse:

“I welcome the Administration’s decision against listing the greater sage grouse. A listing would have immediately wreaked economic havoc across the West. However, the accompanying imposition of new federal management plans undermines much of the good work done at the state level.

“Governors, private property owners and other stakeholders have spent years crafting plans that protect habitat while allowing the development of natural resources, sustainable use of rangeland and recreational access. Unless an overreaching federal government respects the wisdom of state-level conservation efforts, the sage grouse won’t recover and the new federal restrictions will undermine local economies.”

Risch, Crapo Skeptical of Sage-Grouse Decision

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo issued comments reacting to news that the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, has announced that placing the greater sage-grouse on the Endangered Species List is “not warranted”. The Record of Decision for the Land Use Plan Amendments has already been signed.

“While I am pleased Secretary Jewell has acknowledged the greater sage-grouse population is on the rebound, I am concerned the regulations generated by the Department of the Interior to reach this decision will do little to continue the recent population rebound in Idaho,” said Risch. “We had pressed DOI early on to rely on a locally-driven, collaborative process to conserve the sage-grouse, but this process changed when it came to Washington, D.C. The two main threats to the greater sage-grouse in Idaho are fire and invasive species. The Secretary adopts a plan that relies heavily on regulation of the mining, oil, and gas industries when it should focus more heavily on fire control. Today’s announcement serves as political cover for another top-down mandate that will not be the best prescription for sage-grouse in Idaho.”

“While a ‘not warranted’ decision is better than a listing determination under the Endangered Species Act, the Department of Interior’s reliance on heavy-handed land-use management plans to arrive at this decision is unacceptable,” said Crapo. “The Department ignored much of what the Idaho Sage Grouse Task Force recommended and, instead, opted to move forward with top-down federal lands-use management plans. While the agency cited collaboration as the basis for its decision, the move to abandon the state’s planning process that adequately addressed true threats to the bird–namely the impact of wildfires and invasive species on sagebrush habitat–will ultimately lead to greater uncertainty for sage grouse populations in the future.”

Simpson’s Statement on Sage-Grouse Decision

Boise, ID – Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson offered the following statement regarding the determination by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the Greater Sage-Grouse does not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act:

“For years, state and federal partners have worked toward the not warranted listing that was issued today, and, given the impact that a listing decision would have on Idaho and the West, I am pleased with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s determination,” said Simpson. “That being said, I recognize that this decision does not come without a price. There has been widespread concern about the impact of the federal land management plans, especially from the states, which felt their recommendations in this process were disregarded. Whether the price we pay for a not-warranted decision will be too high remains to be seen. In the meantime, I will continue working with both federal and state agencies to see that the real threats to sage-grouse habitat, including wildfire, can be addressed.”