Risch to donate $500 to charity after campaign contribution from white supremacist

Sen. Jim Risch will donate $500 to charity after campaign finance documents revealed the president of an organization classified as a white supremacist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center made a campaign contribution to Risch.

Council of Conservative Citizens president Earl Holt made the contribution in August 2013. That $500 is in addition to about $25,000 in donations he made to other Republican politicians, including Rand Paul, Rick Santorum and and Ted Cruz.

“Prior to your mentioning the name Earl Holt to me today and me mentioning that name to him, the senator had never heard of Earl Holt,” wrote Suzanne Wrasse, media contact for Risch, in an e-mail to Idaho Reports. “Senator Risch has received donations from thousands of different individuals, PACs, and institutional donors over the past seven years. Since there are thousands of donors, it is inevitable that the list of donors contains some “scoundrels.”

Charleston shooting suspect Dylann Roof cited Holt in an online manifesto he wrote before opening fire on a prayer group at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina last week, killing nine people.

Since then, a number of candidates have distanced themselves from Holt, and some have returned his contributions or made donations to a fund set up for Charleston victims’ families.

“Given Mr. Holt’s statements regarding race it would be inappropriate to retain his contribution,” Wrasse said. “The amount he contributed will be donated to a charitable fund.”

Wrasse said she didn’t know which charity Risch would donate to.

A request for comment to Council of Conservative Citizens wasn’t returned by Monday afternoon.

See the campaign disclosure form for the Holt donation to Risch here.


New DEQ director’s former employer has environmental record dings

Aerial view of Agrium Conda’s Soda Springs phosphate operation, next to Woodall Springs. Image from Google Maps

By Melissa Davlin and Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

The incoming director of the Department of Environmental Quality worked for a fertilizer company that is currently being monitored by Environmental Protection Agency.

The company was also involved in multiple incidents requiring hazardous materials response clean-up.

Sen. John Tippets, R-Bennington, was appointed earlier this week as new DEQ director beginning July 6. Previously, Tippets worked as a public affairs manager for Agrium, an agricultural supplier with multiple locations in Idaho and across the globe. Tippets retired from the company earlier this year.

The EPA has monitored Agrium’s Soda Springs phosphate operation since 2009 after a series of spills over the years, including one in March 2007 involving 285,000 gallons of waste water containing phosphoric acid. Pursuant to a 2009 order through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the company continues to provide data and conduct testing for the EPA. 

As for the current status of Agrium’s RCRA compliance, the EPA is in confidential negotiations with the company. “Since that process is ongoing, we are unable to discuss this matter further until the negotiations or other actions related to this order are resolved,” wrote Mark MacIntyre, senior communications officer for EPA’s Region 10 office in Seattle.

According to the EPA’s website, the company is listed as out of compliance with RCRA with a “significant violation.”

Since 2011, when Tippets began working for Agrium, the company has also been listed on 21 hazmat incidents across the country, including a serious truck accident in Idaho that killed the driver and spilled 500 gallons of liquid nitrogen into a drainage ditch in February 2014.

That incident involved a contracted transport company and not a truck owned by Agrium. The driver was not an Agrium employee, records confirmed.

Of the 20 other hazmat incidents, some of the leaks were minor, and involved transport companies and non-Agrium employees. Others, however, were the result of improper packaging on Agrium’s part, according to the US Department of Transportation’s Hazmat Intelligence Portal.

See a database of the hazmat reports here. See a map of the incidents here.

The Department of Environmental Quality doesn’t respond to hazmat incidents by itself; That’s under the purview of the Bureau of Homeland Security. However, DEQ assists on some clean-ups, providing on-site control and assessment, according to Elizabeth Duncan of Bureau of Homeland Security. DEQ also continues to monitor the scene and ensure hazardous materials are properly removed.

The number of hazmat incidents involving Agrium nationwide is comparable to other companies that produce fertilizer. In that same time period, the JR Simplot company had 29 hazmat incidents, including 5 classified as serious. Helena Chemical Company had 20 hazmat incidents, of which 3 were serious.

Still, the question remains: Is it appropriate for someone who worked at a company with dings on its environmental record to head the state Department of Environmental Quality?

In an interview with Idaho Reports, Tippets said he had agreed to recuse himself from any DEQ discussions specifically involving his former employer, and knew he would have to be sensitive regarding discussions involving mining, fertilizer and agri-business. As to whether he would recuse himself from decisions affecting similar companies, he said that would be too broad a decision to make.

“Where do you draw the line? That’s a little difficult,” Tippets said. 

Tippets added there are advantages to having someone with agri-business experience heading the DEQ.

“I think, frankly, it can be a good thing to have that insight,” Tippets said. “You kind of know the questions to ask.”

Jon Hanian, press secretary for Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who made the appointment, said the hazmat incidents weren’t specifically addressed during the appointment process. “However, you should know we talk to all appointees about potential conflicts and the perception of conflicts and how those issues would be addressed, if and when they arise,” Hanian wrote in an e-mail to Idaho Reports. “Senator Tippets was treated no different.”

As of Friday, Agrium officials couldn’t be reached for comment.


Tippets named DEQ director

Sen. John Tippets, R-Bennington, has been appointed as the new director of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, as first reported by Idaho Reporter.

“I never planned on going to work for the state full time,” Tippets said in a Monday interview with Idaho Public Television. “I’m looking forward to it now.”

Tippets, who plans to move to Boise for the position, said he doesn’t plan on making major changes at DEQ.

“I told the governor that this wasn’t a department that needs someone to go in and fix it. It’s operating well. Director Fransen did a good job,” Tippets said.

That said, Tippets said he’ll miss serving in the Senate.

“Some of the best people I know serve in the Idaho Legislature,” Tippets said.

Tippets starts July 6. Read the press release here.


GOP committees pass on opening primary, support Sunshine Law and pres primary changes

The Idaho Republican Party State Central Committee meets Saturday to consider a short list of resolutions and party rule changes, including one supporting a Sunshine Law change and another adopting a presidential primary.

First off all, why do party rule changes and resolutions matter? Considering Republicans currently hold the majority of legislative seats and every state seat and congressional seat in Idaho, in-party decisions (like a rule to have a closed primary election) can have major implications for everyone in the state — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike.

Resolutions aren’t legislation, but sometimes plant the seeds for future bill proposals.
The state central committee as a whole will consider the passed resolutions and rules on Saturday.

The resolutions committee voted not to pass a resolution to end the party’s closed primary after a spirited debate. Dennis Turner of Bear Lake County, who presented the amendment, cited declining voter participation in primary elections.

Committee vice chair Tyler Hurst struggled with the resolution. “I don’t understand why we would want people voting in our party if they don’t want to stand up and be counted as a member of our party,” Hurst said. Ultimately, the resolution died on a 5-8 vote.

Among the resolutions that did pass: A proposal to change to Idaho’s Sunshine Laws to increase the minimum amount on contributions and expenditures political committees must report. Currently, political committees with expenditures that exceed $5,000 must report individual annual contributions exceeding $50, and all individual expenditures exceeding $25. The proposal would raise the reporting requirement on individual contributions to $200 and expenditures to $100 for political committees with expenditures that exceed $20,000. That resolution passed the committee with just one no vote.

The committee also passed a resolution that supported the use of Bibles in school as instructional and reference texts. Some members of the committee expressed concern with other religious texts, such as the Quran, being used in the same way, while others questioned whether a change would violate the Idaho State Constitution. Ultimately, the divided committee amended the resolution to take out a phrase supporting classes on the Bible in school.

The rules committee adopted the presidential primary passed earlier this year by the Idaho Legislature. Committee members voted down a controversial “Pay To Play” proposal, which would punish county chairmen if their counties don’t pay party dues. The committee also declined to pass a proposal that would kick people off of the state central committee if they campaign against Republican nominees after the primary election.

“People should not be allowed to be in leadership and take positions against the people they are leading,” said presenter Chuck Reitz of Shoshone County. Ultimately, committee members had concerns about due process, and a motion to pass the rule out of committee died for lack of a second.

The rules committee made it through just one-fourth of its agenda before adjourning, meaning other rules — such as one that would disqualify candidates for state or congressional office from holding central committee seats — won’t be considered this year.

The debates today have been spirited, and some frustrations have bubbled over, but nowhere near on the same level as last year’s Republican state convention. There are disagreements and split votes on the resolutions and rules committees, but no shouting matches or overly tense moments.

Say Nice Things About Mike Crapo Day

U.S. Senator Mike Crapo received a friendly welcome from Republicans at an Idaho Falls luncheon Friday, with warm introductory remarks from fellow Senator Jim Risch and an endorsement from Congressman Raul Labrador.

20150605_121544Before Crapo spoke, Labrador took the stage and shut down rumors he will challenge Crapo in the 2016 Republican primary. “There’s no way I would treat a gentleman like that in that way,” Labrador said. “He’s a good decent man.”

Risch also praised his Senate colleague.

“I didn’t realize this was going to be Say Nice Things About Mike Crapo Day,” Crapo quipped.

The lunch kicked off the Idaho Republican Party State Central Committee Meeting. In his speech,Crapo criticized federal regulations and their effect on the economy, as well as data collection by the NSA. (More on that in a follow-up post.)

After lunch, Labrador said he wanted to address the challenge rumors, which had been swirling in DC for months.
Congressman Mike Simpson is attending meetings in DC and won’t be able to make it to the central committee meeting, a staffer said.

Yesterday, former gubernatorial candidate Russ Fulcher announced his endorsement of Crapo. ” Overall, the federal government has been headed in the wrong direction, but Mike Crapo has demonstrated integrity in taking steps to reduce all three,” Fulcher wrote.

The State Central Committee meeting is different from the party convention, which happens every two years. At the central committee meeting, members consider party rules and resolutions.

On Friday evening, Republican presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio will address attendees. The event also includes an afternoon at a local gun range and training on precincts, data and parliamentary procedure. 


Rep. Bell remembers Kitty Gurnsey: “She appeared to know everything”

Longtime Idaho House member Kitty Gurnsey passed away in Boise on Monday. She was 87.

Gurnsey represented Boise’s North End from 1975 to 1996, and the last Republican to hail from that district. She co-chaired the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee for 16 years.

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome and current co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, remembers being appointed to JFAC when Gurnsey was co-chair.

“I was so wet behind the ears when I was appointed in my sophomore year to JFAC. Just did not know what to expect,” Bell said Tuesday. “And she appeared to know everything, and I was just amazed.”

“And she stretched me. It stretched me because I decided at that time if I was going to spend my time in there, I was going to know what she knew.”
Gurnsey was a good role model, Bell said — not stern, but steadfast.
“She was very gracious with her efforts to help me,” Bell said. “On the other hand, if I didn’t stand on firm firm ground on a budget, I was dead. I mean, you didn’t mess with her. You didn’t mess with her planning.”
Former Idaho Statesman political reporter Dan Popkey wrote a tribute to Gurnsey for her 85th birthday in 2012. In his post, he recalled her having a “singular wit.”
“When I attended the North Idaho Legislative Tour in 1990, I introduced (Gurnsey) to the woman who later became my wife as ‘my friend,'” Popkey wrote. “Said Gurnsey: ‘It’s nice to have friends,’ emphasizing “nice” with a tone that made me blush.”
“I owe much to Gurnsey, who helped school me in the Legislature,” Popkey wrote.
Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review has a great overview of Gurnsey’s career. You can read it on her Eye on Boise blog. 

Extended sit-down with Betsy Russell, and a look at the summer ahead

As we head into summer, it gets harder and harder to schedule guests and pundits, as people flee the city for vacations and visits with loved ones. Such was the case this week with pundit Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review, who is attending her son’s college graduation. (Congratulations, by the way!)

We sat down with Russell yesterday to get her take on the special session, the Idaho Freedom Foundation vs Rep. Luke Malek, and more. Time was tight for our show this week, so here’s the full segment below.

As for us, it’s our last show of the season, and we’ll transition from chasing politics to working on Outdoor Idaho programs for a few months. But don’t you worry: We’ll be updating this blog throughout the summer. We’re already hearing 2016 election buzz, and there are plenty of interim committee meetings to cover. Also, next week, producer Seth Ogilvie and I are heading to Idaho Falls for the Idaho GOP state central committee meeting. Look for our updates.

Thanks for watching (and reading) this year. We’ve had fun, and we appreciate your support.