On endorsements and unconventional candidates

The race for Superintendent of Public Instruction has Idaho politicos talking, and anxiety is rising for Republicans worried they’ll lose the seat to Democrats.


Nearly every Republican I’ve spoken to has said Sherri Ybarra is in real danger of losing, or has already lost. In an Aug. 4 interview with Idaho Reports, newly elected GOP chairman Steve Yates acknowledged many Idaho Republicans have said they’re coming to terms with losing the superintendent race to the Democrats, and said while he’s still confident Ybarra can win, he hadn’t yet spoken with or met her.


Ybarra’s absence from the public eye has been an ongoing concern for lawmakers on the two education committees with whom we’ve chatted. But at a Thursday meeting with reporters, Ybarra said she is making the rounds within the party and meeting more people.


When asked about skipping the Idaho Association of School Administrators earlier this week, Ybarra said she had prior commitments, including a medical appointment. Ybarra also said she isn’t concerned with Bonneville superintendent Chuck Shackett’s high-profile endorsement of Democrat Jana Jones, and countered that she has the endorsements of educators and 10 lawmakers. Interestingly, Ybarra declined to name the educators who had endorsed her, however, instead saying the list would be on her website later. (As of 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the list of educators is not yet online.)


The current list of lawmakers who have endorsed Ybarra includes a few House Education Committee members, but no one from the Senate Education Committee. (It also erroneously promotes House Majority Leader Mike Moyle to the Senate.)


But here’s the real question: What do endorsements actually mean? Secretary of State primary candidate Phil McGrane had multiple endorsements from county clerks and government officials from across the state, but lost to Rep. Lawerence Denney. Superintendent primary candidate Andy Grover had endorsements from editorial boards, lawmakers and educators from across the state (including Chuck Shackett), and ultimately came in last in that four-way race.

It’s about the impressions made at those meetings and conferences, and what those administrators and superintendents will tell educators and parents when they go back to their school districts. From conversations I’ve had, Jones has a public relations advantage right now, but there is still a lot of time before November. 

I’m interested to see who ends up on Ybarra’s list of educators who have endorsed her, and I’m still curious why she wouldn’t tell reporters who was on the roster. But on the morning of November 5, we’ll see what resonated for the voters of Idaho.


Raw footage from the Idaho GOP convention

In June, Idaho Reports producer Seth Ogilvie and I headed to Moscow to cover the now-infamous Idaho Republican state convention. Like the delegates, we didn’t know what would happen when we got there, but we knew the weekend had the potential to be chaotic. We were right; the convention dissolved into a three-day political brawl, ending in adjournment before delegates could elect a party chairman. The fight over party control is now heading to court, and talk of the convention is heating up again.


In the month since the convention, we’ve received a few messages and phone calls from journalists and Republicans alike hoping to view our tape from the June 14th general session. This week, we decided to release all the unedited footage we have. That way, no one can accuse us of playing favorites by providing the video to certain people, and the same footage is available to everyone.


There are a few important things to keep in mind:


1. We didn’t tape the whole event. As anyone who was there knows, it was an hours-long process that included multiple recesses and breaks (and a painfully long roll call), and we were trying to preserve our battery for the duration of the meeting, which had the potential to drag into the evening. We hit record when there was action.


2. We don’t have the moment Labrador said adjournment would mean leadership would stay the same. At the time, the Ada County delegation was leaving, and Seth was getting footage of that.


3. This is the raw footage. It hasn’t gone through editing to make it pretty. You’ll see out-of-context B-roll and a lot of stops and starts.

That said, here you go.



Add The Words: Why keep protesting?

One of the criticisms I’ve heard about the Add the Words protests boils down to alienation of lawmakers. Why protest when they know they’re not going to get a hearing this year? Aren’t they just making people mad?

As an observer, I wondered the same thing. But after watching the demonstrations and talking to the people who show up every day to protest, the message is clear: It’s no longer just about the Legislature. It’s about public opinion.

And that public opinion on LGBT issues has shifted in recent years, even among conservatives. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll released earlier this month, a record 59 percent of people nationwide support gay marriage, and a Pew poll released today says 61 percent of Republicans ages 18 to 21 support same sex marriage.

Add the Words isn’t about marriage, but these polls show attitudes are changing.

Republican leadership said early on that Add the Words wouldn’t happen this session. And though the first wave of protests was aimed at lawmakers, with demonstrators blocking doors to the Senate chambers, there has been a noticeable shift in strategy. Now there are vigils and demonstrations with people sharing painful, personal stories of discrimination.

With that media attention comes more public support. If you haven’t already, check out the Facebook page STAND UP WITH A SELFIE. You’ll see more than a thousand photos with the telltale hand-over-mouth silent protest. Many are from Idaho, but others have posted in solidarity from France, the Netherlands and other countries. On Monday, some of those photos were printed out and strung around the statehouse.

So the question remains — Will that support carry through for next year? And what will lawmakers do?


About that interview with the governor…

On Friday’s show, we had an interview with Gov. Butch Otter. I had a few people ask me why we didn’t ask the governor about his remarks on Judge Winmill, minimum wage or Add the Words. 

There are a few reasons. First, we taped the discussion with him on Wednesday before Dan Popkey’s blog post on the Winmill remarks came out. (That’s the only big drawback of a weekly in-depth politics show — If you do an interview early in the week, things can change by the time the show airs.)

But even if we had known about it, we might not have asked. When you have a one-on-one with the governor and only 25 minutes in which to talk, you’re not going to get to everything. 

We had a list of topics we wanted to cover (including wages and the role it plays in economic development) and got to only half of them.  I would have loved to talk to Otter for longer, but we’ll have to book another interview. 

And as always, if you missed the show, you can catch it online at idahoptv.org/idreports. 


Another alternative budget

During our discussion on alternative proposed budgets last Friday, one of the questions we asked the pundits was whether anyone has proposed alternative budgets before.

On Monday morning, I found an alternative budget from the Idaho Freedom Foundation in my inbox. Like the one by Mike Ferguson, it differs from the governor’s in approach, priorities and philosophy.

Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Wayne Hoffman is a proponent of small government and low taxes; The budget reflects that with $180 million in tax relief. The press release suggests that could be used to entirely eliminate either the corporate income tax or the grocery tax.

Hoffman gives a relatively small increase to education at $14 million in general fund dollars. That includes teacher pay raises, but the budget doesn’t fund any of the task force recommendations, said IFF Communications Director Mitch Coffman.

The other thing that stood out to me (partly because I’m working on a related segment): The IFF budget puts $10 million from the general fund into transportation. That’s a departure from looking at other revenue sources (like the gas tax and registration fees) to pay for roads and bridges.

“Safe highways and bridges can no longer be regarded as a ‘user fee’ proposition. Everyone benefits from transportation infrastructure. If the Legislature doesn’t commit to funding roads using general tax receipts, eventually lawmakers will opt to raise taxes and fees and no matter what the increase, it will never be enough,” Hoffman said in the press release.

Other highlights of the Freedom Foundation budget:

-$10 million to Public Education Stabilization Fund, compared to $29.3 in governor’s budget, and no money to Higher Education Stabilization Fund or Budget Stabilization Fund, compared to a total of $42.3 in governor’s budget

-$2 million in replacement items, compared to $17.8 in governor’s budget

-$2 million in a public defender pilot program and $4.7 million in justice reinvestment; Neither of these items is in the governor’s budget.

I had other questions, but Hoffman is out of town right now. I’ll update with more when I’m able to catch up with him. But until then, here’s a link to the IFF’s alternative budget: http://idahofreedom.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/iff-alternative-budget.pdf



A note on employee compensation

There is no elegant way to fit this in a televised discussion, especially because I hate interrupting the pundits, but I wanted to address a conflict of interest in case state employee compensation comes up again this week.

Aaron and I, as well as our producer Seth and the whole Idaho Reports gang, are state employees, and Idaho Public Television is a state agency. The funding structure for public television includes contributions from viewers, grants, and state money. None of this is a secret, of course (and like all state employees, our salaries are public information) but I prefer to over-disclose. 

And if anyone is interested, Idaho Public Television’s budget presentation is next Friday. 

In other news, it’s been a busy week at the legislature, and it’s only going to get busier from here on out. We’re already up to our ears in projects, but if there is something you’re especially interested in seeing on the show, shoot us a note. My e-mail is melissa.davlin@idahoptv.org. We’d love to hear from you.