Who watches the watchers?

By Devon Downey

Freshman Senator C. Scott Grow has become the center of Idaho politics this year because of his initiative bill, S1159. Proponents argue it gives rural Idahoans more say while also modernizing the process. Opponents call it unconstitutional and punitive. Governor Little said in his veto letter that “the bills invite legal challenges that likely will result in the Idaho initiative process being determined by the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals”.

S1159 would’ve reduced the time petitioners have to gather signatures by two-thirds. It would’ve increased the percentage of registered voters needed in each district from 6%-10%. It would’ve also increased the number of districts required from 18-32, among other changes.

The bill saw a strong public backlash. The House tried to address the criticism and introduced a trailer bill, H296.  It took the house two days to craft, debate and, pass the legislation. H296 would’ve made it so that the time reduction is only half (270 days as opposed to 18 months) and made it so that instead of 32 districts being needed to sign on, 24 districts would’ve been required.

Together, the changes would’ve reduced the time allowed to gather signatures by half, increase the signatures needed by nearly 67%, and require 6 more legislative districts to qualify for the ballot.

These bills drew bipartisan condemnation from across the state, with four former Attorneys General, the previous Secretary of State, and multiple newspaper editorial boards to request this bill be stopped before the Governor vetoed the bills.

So how did legislation as unpopular as these two bills make it to the governor’s desk? Partially because of Idaho lawmakers fears of outside money.

Senator Mary Souza argued that the bills were needed because “big money, whether it is from within the state or outside the state and very professional management groups are being used to bring in high technology… to pinpoint votes all over the state.” When debating H296, Souza continued by quoting a LA Times article about a California labor union that invests in The Fairness Project (a political committee that spent over $500,000 in both itemized and in-kind contributions to Idahoans for Healthcare in favor of Prop 2). “That [union] is simply one example of national groups that are targeting voter initiatives across the country as a way to advance their own agendas.”

These concerns cross political ideology, but with how much of the debate focused on outside money coming to the initiative process, we started looking at how this impacts other elections. Candidates also need to raise money for their own elections. Presumably, any concerns about influence from contributions by those outside of the area should also carry over to the legislators themselves. That means legislators should be just as concerned about money that is contributed from outside of the state or their districts as they are about outside money for initiatives.

Grow being at the center of the initiative bills means that he should be sensitive to these concerns, right?

Combing through the campaign finance data shows two things. First, that Grow didn’t gather the 50 signatures to qualify for the ballot but instead opted to pay the $30 fee to the Secretary of State. Second, it turns out that a majority of his money came from outside of his district.

Grow raised an astounding $114,000 for his 2018 campaign. For context, that was more than the winning candidates for Secretary of State, Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Controller, and Attorney General raised.

Of that $114,000, $102,525 were itemized contributions to his campaign; the rest were either in-kind donations or below the reporting threshold. 61% of his itemized contributions came from outside his district. If that number sounds familiar, it is because 61% is roughly the same percent that Proposition 2 passed with statewide. Just over 55% of all of his contributions came from outside of District 14.


While this is a large amount of money for a legislative race, it should be noted that one of his primary opponents raised over $80,000 and another over $30,000. District 14’s Republican Primary for the state senate was highly competitive, with five candidates receiving more than 10% of the vote. Grow won the primary receiving only 35.2% of the primary vote.

Grow’s main argument for his bill was that rural Idahoans deserve to be a part of the process, but it is hard to classify his own district as rural. District 14 has the largest number of voters, and because of the growth of the Treasure Valley, has seen many new residents since the last time districts were drawn.

The totals in District 14 also implies that his district likes having the initiatives. Both propositions passed in District 14, and over 98% of ballots cast in the district voted on the propositions.

Rep. Heather Scott noted in her floor debate against the initiative bills that Idaho’s demographics are changing, and that seeing the writing on the walls is not a good enough reason to change constitutional protections. She also expressed her disappointment that her constituents and their policy ideas are rarely taken up by either chamber of the legislature.

As supporters of Proposition 2 noted, having frequent ballot initiatives like California can be problematic. Reclaim Idaho founder Luke Mayville told the state affairs committee that it should be hard to get an initiative to qualify for the ballot so that doesn’t happen.

Money and influence in politics are universally panned, but as the Supreme Court has clarified, political spending and campaign contributions are considered protected speech under the First Amendment. While none of the money raised by either Proposition 2 or Senator Grow for their campaigns was illegal, concerns about out of district and out of state money are rampant.

For legislators who feel that there is undue influence on the ballot box by outside money, a better way to deal with the problem directly may be to tighten up the campaign finance rules.


Tribal exemptions for work requirements? Arizona set the precedent.

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

In today’s Medicaid expansion debate, expect to hear more questions about why the work requirement proposal exempts members of American Indian tribes.

The issue came up in the March 21 House floor debate on expansion, with both Reps. Fred Wood and Mat Erpelding expressing concern over House Bill 277 exempting tribal members from proposed work requirements. (Though the Senate Health and Welfare Committee held 277 in committee, the Senate as a whole reconstructed it in amendments to Senate Bill 1204, which the House is amending Thursday.)

So why is the exemption in the bill? It comes down to tribal sovereignty. A 1974 Supreme Court decision, Morton v Mancari, recognizes tribes as separate political entities.

In other words, the exemption isn’t based on one’s ancestry or race. Rather, an enrollee would be exempt from work requirements only if they are a member of a federally recognized tribe. So if someone has American Indian ancestry, but they aren’t a tribal member, they would still be subject to those work requirements.

Arizona set the precedent by adding exemptions into its Medicaid work requirements for tribal members last year. In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved the request, after initially saying it believed the exemption would violate equal protection laws.

According to the Associated Press, Maine and Wisconsin allow tribal members to satisfy requirements by working in tribal work programs, and Maine also exempts tribal members from paying premiums. 

In an April 3 joint letter to members of the House, representatives from Idaho’s five federally recognized tribes supported the inclusion of the exemption in Senate Bill 1204, and hinted at a lawsuit if the exemption is removed by lawmakers. “American Indian and Alaska Native populations are treated distinctly under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which makes it appropriate for states who implement ACA programs to mirror that treatment,” the letter says. “As counsel for the tribes, we view the tribal exemption as a significant legal issue and one we would very much like to avoid if possible.”


If they opposed it, why didn’t they kill it?

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Have some questions after House Health and Welfare sent the Medicaid requirements bill to general orders? I did too! Here are a few answers.

-Why did the five Republicans who opposed the original work requirement bill vote to send the Senate bill to general orders instead of kill it? Because there are some needed tweaks, like a waiver to use Medicaid funds to pay for mental health care, said Rep. Jarom Wagoner, vice chair of the committee. Wagoner acknowledged it’s a long shot that the House will vote for just those uncontroversial tweaks to Medicaid expansion, but it’s worth a shot, he said. Expect multiple amendments, some of which will compete with each other. 

-Is the court decision striking down work requirements on the House’s radar? Yes, said Rep. Megan Blanksma, House Majority Caucus Chairwoman and member of the committee. But, she said, she doesn’t know what will come out of those discussions. As of Wednesday’s committee meeting, the House hadn’t had a chance to caucus and examine the Senate’s amended bill.

-Will we see amendments before they hit the House floor? Only if the amendment authors choose to release them to the public and reporters. Typically, those amendments and fiscal notes are submitted directly to the House clerk, and no one sees them until the House takes them up. That said, authors can choose to share them ahead of time.



Deja vu on Medicaid hearing? Not quite.

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

It might seem like deja vu in House Health and Welfare this morning as the committee considers a Medicaid expansion sideboard bill — one that, with amendments from the Senate, is nearly identical to the House version that the Senate Health and Welfare committee voted to hold last week.

But there are key differences in this hearing. Keep a few things in mind:

  1. Five Republican members of the House Health and Welfare committee opposed the original work requirement bill when it hit the House floor: Reps. Fred Wood, Jarom Wagoner, Marc Gibbs, Laura Lickley, and Mike Kingsley. Those five had initially joined their Republican colleagues to send 277 out of committee with no recommendation, then ultimately voted against it with Republicans. Now that this is the final stop before the amended Senate bill goes to the House floor, their votes might change.
  2. Chairman Wood tells me Rep. Chad Christensen, one of the Republican committee members who voted for the bill on the House floor, is absent today, and doesn’t have a substitute. That will affect what could be a close vote. Other Republican committee members who supported the original work requirement bill: Reps. Megan Blanksma, Bryan Zollinger, John Green, and bill sponsor John Vander Woude.
  3. Just because the Senate amended the bill doesn’t mean the House can’t also amend it. Expect some competing tweaks.

Analysis: 10 percent requirement makes district-by-district efforts even more disproportionate

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

While each of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts has about 45,000 residents (at least at the time of the last US Census), the number of people who vote varies widely in those districts.

That has a big impact on voter initiative efforts — and if the governor signs Senate Bill 1159 and House Bill 296, those efforts will become even more disproportionate in some areas of the state.

The proposed changes to the voter initiative system — one of which has passed both the House and Senate — would raise the number of signatures required for a ballot initiative to 10 percent of “qualified electors” — in other words, registered voters — in 32 legislative districts. (House Bill 296 would lower that to 24 districts.)

Idaho currently requires 6 percent of qualified electors in 18 legislative districts sign a petition to get an initiative on the ballot.

During Tuesday’s Senate State Affairs hearing for House Bill 296, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill asked bill sponsor Sen. C. Scott Grow if Utah and other states use ten percent of registered voters, or ten percent of those who participated in the last election.

The answer: Almost all other states use turnout instead of registered voters. (Hill ultimately voted to send the bill out of committee with a do-pass recommendation.)

According to an analysis on voter initiatives by Senate intern Colin Nash, no other state requires 10 percent of registered voters.  The highest threshold, Wyoming, requires 15 percent of the number of votes cast in the last general election. 

There’s a key difference between registered voters and votes cast. Take Idaho’s 2018 election, for example, which saw record-breaking turnout throughout the state. Even with voter turnout hitting between 60 and 75 percent in most counties, there was a huge difference in those who could have voted and those who did.

Most of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts had between 8,000 and 9,000 registered voters who didn’t show up for the 2018 general election. That means Senate Bill 1159’s proposal of using 10 percent of registered voters instead of 10 percent of voters who participated in the last election would require 800 to 900 more signatures in those districts.

District 34, Sen. Hill’s eastern Idaho rural district, had the biggest difference between registered voters and turnout. If the proposal used 10 percent of voters who simply participated in the last election, signature-gatherers would need to get just 1,178 voters to sign on from Dist. 34. Under this proposal, that number of needed signatures more than doubles.


District 34 needed signatures based on 2018 voter registration and turnout.

District 27, House Speaker Scott Bedke’s rural district, had a fairly high turnout percentage, but the lowest raw numbers of both registered voters and actual votes cast in the entire state. Signature gatherers would need 1,838 voters under the current proposal, as opposed to 1,103 under the current system. 


District 27 needed signatures based on 2018 voter registration and turnout.

On the other hand, bill sponsor Sen. Grow’s District 14 — located in west Ada County — had the highest raw number of registered voters in the state, with more than twice the number of registered voters and votes cast than Bedke’s District 27.


District 14 needed signatures based on 2018 voter turnout and registration.

Under Senate Bill 1159, signature gatherers would need 2,000 more signatures in District 14 than in District 27.


Signatures needed in legislative districts 14, 27 and 34 under Senate Bill 1159 based on 2018 voter registration.

Under the current system, signature gatherers would still have to pony up more signatures in District 14 than District 27, but only about 1,200 more.




A wonky workaround to tweaking 1159

Idaho Reports producer Seth Ogilvie pointed this out yesterday.

So much attention is (rightfully) on the secret Ways and Means meeting held Thursday to propose changes to the voter initiative bill, but the manner in which the House is making those changes is just as significant.

The House is proposing changes in a trailer bill, HB 296, instead of in amendments, which is the most common way to tweak legislation.  That’s critical. Even if they pass both SB1159 and the trailer, the Senate doesn’t have to concur with the trailer. In that case, the original bill will be the only one going to Gov. Brad Little.

Had they sent the bill to the House’s amending order, the Senate would have had to debate and vote on SB1159 again. But as it is, the Senate doesn’t even have to consider HB296, and the original bill could be signed into law without the changes.


Fight over office space prompts cease and desist letter

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Contention over limited office space in the statehouse has prompted a cease and desist letter from a former constitutional officer.

Last week, Ron Crane sent a letter to two members of House leadership demanding they stop citing Crane as a supporter of an effort to move the State Treasurer from the first floor of the capitol, opening up that space for House member offices.

The letter references a March 15 appearance on KBOI by House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding and House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks. In the interview, Erpelding said Crane had an agreement with the legislature that the state treasurer’s office should move from the first floor of the Idaho Statehouse after Crane retired so lawmakers could take over the space.

“Ron Crane hereby demands that both of you cease and desist stating, writing, or inferring that Ron Crane, at any time, as a party to any agreement to voluntarily relocate the Idaho State Treasurer’s physical office, or its functions, either during or after his tenure, out of the Idaho State Capitol building,” the letter states. “Any statement or implication to that effect is not true.”

In a Tuesday interview with Idaho Reports, Erpelding acknowledged he may have misspoken on the radio. “However, my intention was to say that Ron Crane was well aware of the legislature’s intent to move to the first floor,” Erpelding said. “He was not in the dark about this at any time.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the House Republican Caucus issued a statement saying Crane’s letter was unnecessary and extreme. “(A) simple phone call to discuss the interview would have been sufficient,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke in the statement. “House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks and Minority Party Leader, Mat Erpelding, were simply responding to an interview by the current Treasurer on 670 KBOI with Nate Shelman regarding an agreement that was made more than a decade ago. Instead of forcing the move then, a gentleman’s agreement was made to hold off on the move until the former Treasurer retired. That time has come.”

A long-simmering fight

Crane also provided 2018 correspondence between Crane and Bedke on the issue, as well as minutes from two 2007 Capitol Commission meetings, which he says negate the claim he ever agreed to a move. 

In a January 2018 letter to Crane, Bedke pointed to a section of Idaho Code that gives the legislature control of the first floor of the statehouse. “The Legislature temporarily allocated first-floor space to the State Treasurer, but that allocation was temporary and was meant to last only until the Legislature needed more space,” Bedke wrote.

“I was involved in the immediate follow-up discussions when the Governor and the legislative leadership reached a compromise on the allocation of space,” Crane wrote to Bedke in February 2018. “At that time, the Governor asked me if I wanted to move to the second floor or remain in my current office space on the first floor. My response was that I wished to retain the office space on the first floor, next to the original vault. The Governor agreed to this request and I do not recall any discussion of this being a temporary situation.”

Crane also included a 2007 letter from Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to Senate President Pro Tem Robert Geddes that supports his claim.

“In summary, the State Treasurer shall occupy all of the office space located on the south side of the east wing of the first floor. The use of the words “temporary basis” was not and will not be a part of any agreement,” the unsigned letter says.

Minutes from 2007 Capitol Commission meetings do not say the treasurer’s occupation of the office would be temporary.

Moving ahead

Though current treasurer Julie Ellsworth has also opposed vacating the first floor, lawmakers are moving forward with the expansion. Crane’s letter comes as the Legislature considers an emergency $10 million appropriation to fund the new office space and a remodel of the east wing first floor, as well as a bill that would remove the requirement that moneys kept by the State Treasurer must be stored in the vault located on the first floor. 

The fight over office space centers on lawmakers’ complaints over inadequate cubicle space in the basement of the capitol. While all of Idaho’s 35 senators have private offices, 49 of the House’s 70 members are in cramped cubicles without doors. Bill Spence of the Lewiston Tribune has more on the fight here. 

Rep. Brent Crane, Ron Crane’s son, said he doesn’t support the $10 million appropriation for the move and remodel, and will vote against it. 

“I think it’s going to be very problematic to try to defend that,” Crane said, who also voted against the bill regarding the vault. (That bill was sponsored by Monks, who succeeded Rep. Crane as House Assistant Majority Leader.)

Brent Crane called the expansion to the first floor short-sighted, saying he didn’t think it took into account the need for more legislative staff members in the future.

Instead, he hopes leadership will look at other options, pointing to lawmakers’ previous occupation of the basement in the JR Williams building across State Street.

Erpelding disagreed.

“The only way to effectively allow for space for legislators and staff… is to look at the first floor,” he said.