Writings and observations

carlson

There is an opportunity for any one of the three Republican candidates for Idaho’s governor – Lt. Gov. Brad Little, First District congressman Raul Labrador, or medical doctor and developer Tommy Ahlquist – to show some gutsy leadership skill as well as an understanding that a governor’s role is to solve challenges.

For that matter, the same opportunity exists for either of the possible Democrat gubernatorial nominees, A.J. Balukoff or former State Senator Dan Schmidt.

The issue is that of holding the Department of Energy’s feet to the fire regarding their continuing to adhere to the agreement worked out with former Governor Phil Batt to have removed from Idaho all the various nuclear wastes stored in some form at the Idaho National Laboratory site west of Idaho Fall by 2035.

The Energy Department accepted this part of the Batt agreement because at that time they allegedly believed America would have its National Nuclear Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, up and operating. They badly underestimated the power and skill exercised by the former Senate Majority Leader, Nevada’s senior senator, Harry Reid.

Reid was able to cut off the funding and stop the project dead in its tracks.

The Batt agreement also forbid the importation of additional spent fuel rods recognizing it made little sense to add to a supply of nuclear waste you were supposedly committed to removing down the road.

The implication for many was Idaho would become the de facto repository, keeping all high level wastes on-site while accepting additional spent fuel rods for “research.” Support for this passive acceptence of the status quo quickly became a political litmus test for candidates for statewide office if they wanted support in eastern Idaho.

The reasoning was that keeping waste material on site (other than low-level transuranic wastes which are shipped by rail to salt caverns in New Mexico) would assure continued funding for the site and thus remain an integral ingredient in eastern Idaho’s economy.

Folks in the Idaho Falls Chamber are more than willing to accept the risks of possible contamination of the Snake River Aquifer which could devastate the economy down river in the Twin Falls area.

There is a real possible solution, however, that requires an ability to look over the horizon and recognize what is best for Idaho is removal of all the waste material despite the short-sighted bias of the IF Chamber.

The operating asssumption for several years has been there is no alternative repository with the demise of Yucca Mountain.

Wrong. There will be a fully certified operating nuclear waste repository capable of accepting nuclear waste as early as 2024 known as Onkalo on an island off the coast of western Finland. It has under construction for years, but is nearing completion and is being built by a Finnish company called Posiva.

Presumably Finland would negotiate agreements with the United States, the European Union, Japan and other countries which have nuclear energy facilities but are storing spent fuel rods on site. To prod the process along a governor and a state attorney general could conceivably open its own negotiations.

The point is there is a viable solution. Any or all of the major candidates can and should get on a plane and go see for themselves what the Finns have accomplished that no one else has been able to do.

They’ll see an entrance bored into near seamless bedrock, called gneiss, that is geologically stable and water resistant.

It drops 1500 feet down and then has a series of tunnels that run for miles with storage chambers where spent fuel rods are encased in cast-iron canisters further encased in two inch thick copper which is extremely resistant to corrosion. The chambers and access tunnels will then be backfilld with bentonite clay, which also absorbs moisture.

Here’s hoping all the candidates for governor visit Finland and see for themselves the potential viable solution to an issue that has vexed Idaho for years, but now just may be on the threshold of a real solution for which future Idahoans will be most grateful.

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Carlson

jones

When a district or appellate judge retires during his or her term of office, the Idaho Judicial Council interviews candidates to fill the vacancy.

The Council carefully vets the candidates and sends a list of 2-4 of them to the Governor for selection of a finalist. Candidates for appointment must complete a searching application and authorize the release to the Council of their tax, criminal, credit, and Bar disciplinary records. The Council also solicits input from the public about the candidates. All of this information is at hand when the Council interviews the candidates in public session.

Having presided over a number of these sessions, I can attest that the Judicial Council is able to determine the best candidates for an appointment. The Council can rate the candidates on the list sent to the Governor as “qualified” or “well qualified” or “exceptionally well qualified.” This arms the Governor with sufficient information to make an informed selection

A gubernatorial appointee must run for re-election in the year when her or his term expires. Also, if a judge decides to retire at the end of his or her term, that vacancy is filled through the election process. Where more than one person runs for a position in either of those events, there is a contested election.

The Judicial Council does not vet candidates in a contested judicial election. Judicial candidates cannot run on “the issues” and, consequently, they get little media coverage. The voters, therefore, generally know little about the candidates or their relative merits.

The Idaho State Bar performs a service in contested elections by asking lawyers to rate the candidates and then making the results public. However, many lawyers do not have pertinent information about some or all of the candidates and the survey often gets little coverage. How do we make voters more knowledgeable about judicial candidates?

Persons running in a contested election for a position on the district court, Court of Appeals, or Supreme Court should go through the Judicial Council vetting process, which is public and rather thorough. Those running to fill an important judicial position should have to provide the same information to the Council as persons seeking an appointment to a vacancy and they should sit through an open interview. The Council should evaluate and rate the candidates and release the ratings to the voters. In order to make this process work, the filing period should be significantly lengthened and judicial positions should be voted upon in the November general election. This would take legislative changes but would result is a better-informed electorate.

A 2003 survey of Idaho’s judicial election process by Rachel Vanderpool Burdick concluded that voters had insufficient information about persons running in contested judicial elections and made a similar recommendation as a potential solution.

It is time to take action to improve the election process by giving voters better information on the candidates. Then, we need to end the spectacle of having associates of judicial candidates beating the bushes to finance their campaigns. But that is an issue for another day.

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Jones

rainey

Barrett Rainey is in the process of a long-distance move, to sunnier climes (more about that, no doubt, soon). He’ll be back shortly. In the meantime, here’s a Rainey column from July 30, 2009, on a subject at least as pertinent now as it was then.

In recent days, three unrelated and irritating experiences have become linked in my mind. They seem to say something about the world in which we now live.

The first happened while driving into town a few days ago. A driver ran the red light to my left, cutting me off as she turned into my lane of traffic. At the next light, I rolled down the window and, at the fear of being flipped off, quietly said to the young woman, “You know, you ran that red light.”

“I did,” she said, “but I’m late for work.”

That response somehow seemed OK for her as she sped off, committing three moving traffic violations as she went; speeding, illegal lane change, no turn signal.

A day or two later, while driving Interstate 5 north of Roseburg, OR, I watched a guy standing in his pickup bed on a parallel frontage road, throwing empty cans, bottles and other junk onto the right-of-way. When I came back a few minutes later, he was gone but the garbage was still there.

The third experience has been watching a family a few blocks from our house leave garbage cans out permanently and, with a garage full of adult toys, park two cars on the narrow street night after night. I’m told this violates a couple of Roseburg city ordinances. The resident, not a newcomer, probably knows that.

So, where am I going with this? Well, one common thread here is a seemingly shared contempt for the authority with which we all live, whether driving, littering or violating garbage and parking ordinances. A second commonality we can likely assume is that all three of these violators knew what they were doing was wrong but, for their own purposes, did it anyway.

So what? Nobody was hurt. Well, maybe not. Then again, where do the Bobby Knights, Darrell Strawberrys and Pete Roses come from? Why do parents get into fistfights at Little League and soccer games while their 10-year-olds watch? Why do otherwise law-abiding citizens cheat on their taxes?

There is another connection in these three scenarios and the questions just asked. That would be a lack of personal responsibility coupled with faulty thinking that no one else was injured by what they were doing so it didn’t really matter: “The rules don’t apply to me.”
But such behavior does matter. And it does hurt. In the case of the red-light-runner, it can kill.

Maybe in their early years, no one held any of these people to a level of expected behavior and followed through with immediate punishment for not meeting it. I can tell you that was not the case in our house when I was growing up. There were rules and swift punishment if those rules were broken.

Oh, I don’t mean physical retribution. No, my wise old parents had better methods. Denial of privileges like riding my bike or later, driving my car. Grounding. Reduced or eliminated allowance. Added chores.

At the time, I was sure the rules were too tough, my world would be forever changed and I would never be “socially acceptable” again! I didn’t have to live by their old rules!

Then, one day, the light dawned. I suddenly saw the reduced allowance as a traffic fine. The denial of my bike or car was driving privileges taken away by the “court” for misbehavior. The added chores were the costs of probation and punishment. It took awhile. But I finally got it.

If someone didn’t do the same for participants in the above examples, those people missed something important. But, as adults, they should have at least heard of the concept of personal responsibility somewhere along the line.

So, for those who have heard and believe the rules apply, and for those who have not, here is a reality. Before getting all hot and bothered about what our kids watch on TV, listen to in their headsets or spout the kind of rotten language they suddenly come up with out of nowhere, maybe we should be more aware of what they watch and hear at home where the rules are.

And that would be … us!

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Rainey

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for July 17. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

The nomination of Idaho State Senator Bart Davis to serve as Idaho’s next United States Attorney was confirmed the evening of September 14 by the United States Senate.

Idaho’s August seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in 10 years, matching the state’s record low of 2.9 percent in June 2007. August’s one tenth-of-a-percent decline was the sixth consecutive monthly decrease in the unemployment rate and is a result of the first substantial increase to Idaho’s labor force since February. An additional 1,802 new entrants joined the labor force in August, and employment increased by 2,979 for a total of 796,430, absorbing 1,177 unemployed workers.

A team of Boise State graduate students from the School of Public Service teamed up with the Idaho Conservation League to create and submit an application to establish the first dark sky reserve in the United States.

Senator Mike Crapo last week introduced the Freedom of Commerce Act, S. 1779, which would allow consumers to purchase an automatic knife legal in their state, regardless of where it was manufactured in the U.S.

Canyon County Parks, Cultural & Natural Resources will offer winter field trips for the first time as part of a pilot program with the BLM’s Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.

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stapiluslogo1

Back when I was covering police and courts for Nampa-Caldwell newspapers, we liked to call it – in honor of a former county sheriff – the Dale Haile Jail. Technically, it was the Dale Haile Detention Center, which it still is.

What it also was then, and still is, is too small.

At least, for the demands being placed on it.

On Thursday, according to the online jail roster, it held 431 inmates, just short of the 477 beds it has. (Weekends tend to be busier.) The situation actually is more complicated because, as one staffer told a reporter, “I can’t put a female in with a male. I can’t put a sex offender in with a murderer. You’ve got to be able to separate all these people out.” And there are people who might have been put in jail if there was as place to put them.

And there’s a lot of traffic in and out. The site noted that, “In 2011, Courts and Transport Deputies drove 65,000 miles in transport vehicles, screened over 400,000 individuals entering the two Canyon County courthouses and escorted nearly 11,000 inmates to court appearances from the detention center.”

Overall, one review after another for many years has maintained that more jail space and overall capability is needed. The Canyon County commissioners recently ordered another review from the DLR Group, a large national building design firm, and it found that Canyon needs a jail able to handle at least 1,000 inmates – double the capacity it currently has.

And that’s just to get the county through the next decade.

The pressure is considerable, because building this thing would cost a lot of money (the county hasn’t released an exact number, but it will be big). The county’s voters have, three times in a row, turned down bond proposals for jail construction.

This is worth pondering even if you don’t live in Canyon County because the jail problems it faces are not so radically different from those faced by many other counties.

Ada County, for example, has space for about 1,200 inmates. Since its population is a little more than double Canyon’s (which has capacity for 477), that sounds about right … except that Canyon is really needing capacity for more than 1,000. Which means Ada County probably should be looking at capacity for 2,500 or so.

Yes, this is expensive.

And there are only so many alternatives.

One might be cheap housing, down to and including tents – a popular idea in some quarters. But aside from temporary and limited use, it won’t work in solving the larger-scale issues of security and safety.

You could simply decide to quit jailing people when the beds are full. That may mean jailing low-risk minor offenders and letting the violent and dangerous go free.

Or, you could suck it up and raise taxes to pay for new jail buildings and staff. It would solve the problem of what to do with the inmates, though it wouldn’t make taxpayers happy (as in Canyon at least it hasn’t).

Or, we might try reconsidering what we choose to jail people for, and maybe try to find other ways of dealing with some of the offenders.

Just a thought.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

richardson

The wrong Republican Congressman is running for governor. Raul Labrador has thrown his hat in the ring, but I wish it were Mike Simpson making the race.

Simpson and Labrador both represent Idaho in Congress, but the quality of their representation varies greatly. While Labrador, a spotlight hungry member of the so-called House Freedom Caucus, has become an anti-government icon, Simpson represents an ever more rare brand of Republican pragmatism.

Make no mistake. I haven’t forgotten some of Simpson’s more odious votes – like his vote to repeal the ACA. In a great many respects, he is not my perfect cup of gubernatorial tea. But in this ruby red state, Simpson might be the best the Republicans could offer.

To his credit, Simpson has stood apart from his Republican colleagues – Crapo, Risch, and Labrador – in openly distancing himself from the president. Moreover, he has shown a willingness to work with House members on the other side of the political aisle.

Before heading to Congress, both Simpson and Labrador served in the Idaho state House of Representatives. “Served” doesn’t quite describe Labrador’s tenure. A back bencher with a penchant for making headlines but not passing legislation, Labrador had a brief and unremarkable record. In contrast, Simpson was – by most accounts – a very capable, fair-minded state legislator and one of the most adept speakers of the Idaho House.

Anyone who listened to Simpson eulogize his friend Cece Andrus could hear notes of self-deprecating humor, thoughtful reflection, and real humility in his remarks. He gave Cece a lot of credit for the successful passage of his landmark Boulder-White Clouds legislation. I can’t recall Raul giving anyone else, let alone a Democrat, credit for anything.

A few of my friends will be quick to tell me that all Republicans are venal and that Mike Simpson is no exception. I beg to differ. Robert Smylie was a great Republican governor. Phil Batt was too. If he were inclined to run, Simpson would follow in those altogether reasonable footsteps.

Would I prefer a Democrat hold the office? No question about it. And I remain confident that the Democrats will nominate an outstanding candidate. But wouldn’t it be great if the Republicans would do so as well?

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Richardson

carlson

Without Carol Andrus there never would have been a Cecil Andrus.

Amidst all the well deserved accolades for the good, great former four-term governor her role in his success understandably gets overlooked, but it shouldn’t. The Latin phrase “sine qua non” is appropriate. It means “without which there is nothing” and without Carol it is doubtful he would have achieved as much as he did.

Few outside of the immediate family realized how much Cece respected her political instincts, used her as a sounding board, and often listened as she had the last word. She too had multiple roles to handle from the formal duties of being the First Spouse to being a mother to their children, protecting their zone of privacy and fighting for family time.

At times being a political spouse must have been draining to say the least, especially when one values their privacy yet knows that an adoring public expects to know everything and anything about a governor.

I started off on the wrong foot with Carol and ran smack dab into the “Mama Bear” role. It was the winter of 1969 and I was the rookie political reporter at the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello. I’d begun writing a weekly political column and the key question then was would State Senator Cecil Andrus try again to make a run for governor. If so he would have to win a contested primary.

Without thinking one day I threw into one of those “bits and pieces” columns an item that State Senator Andrus might have a special in with students at Idaho State because Andrus’ oldest daughter, Tana,was dating the ISU student body president. My bad and big mistake.

The next thing I knew I was on the phone with an angry Carol Andrus who explained in no uncertain terms that unless a family member was actually out campaigning for the candidate they were off limits and their right to privacy was to be respected. She was correct and I was wrong and I had the good sense to apologize.

Fast forward to December of 1972 with Cece now being governor. He comes to the breakfast table one morning where Carol is reading the Idaho Statesman. She looks at him with those penetrating eyes and coldly states “I see where I have to read in the paper that you’ve hired Chris Carlson as your press secretary.” Cece acknowledged the obvious and wisely let the subject drop.

It took a couple of years and a long car drive from north Idaho back to Boise during the 1974 campaign in which just the two of us were in the car and we discussed many subjects. I gained an invaluable insight into the multiple roles demanded of Carol and had a new respect for how well she handled all of them.

Another key role for political spouses is to keep the politician’s ego in check. Carol was a master of the well-timed put down. The classic example came early in Cece’s first term as governor. He and Carol were fishing for steelhead on the Clearwater. Cece gave her a few pointers and fairly quickly Carol pulled in a couple of nice fish. Cece still had not landed anything so in a bit of role reversal Carol suggested a couple of pointers.

Naturally, Cece didn’t like the role reversal and the teacher didn’t like the student offering suggestions, so he got a little huffy. Carol looked at him and then struck right to the heart, saying, “well why don’t you just throw a few of your business cards overboard and let the fish know who is up here!” Ouch.

Carol was particularly good at protecting family time and keeping matters private that she felt should be private while still accommodating public interest. The most recent example was the decision by the family for a private funeral church service and a private internment balanced off with a public memorial service at Boise State and the lying in state ceremony at the State Capitol.

Cece had some exceptionally competent administrative assistants over the years – Zuriel Brown, Billie Jeppsen, Clareene Wharry. The common denominator was all three knew the importance of consulting with Carol on the governor’s schedule. Furthermore, they knew they were to assist in preserving Cece’s family time, especially time at their get away cabin on Cascade Reservoir.

I couldn’t help admiring how well Carol composed herself and carried with her usual grace and aplomb the last public role Carol was called to fulfill in late August. Obviously tired she nonetheless displayed steadfast stoicism while comforting grief-stricken daughters and the extended family.

Cece and Carol were married for 68 years. Their devotion to each other and her willingness to share him with the demands of politics was clearly a key to his success.

I invite all those who admired and respected Cecil Andrus to join me in a heartfelt thanks to Carol Andrus for sharing, nurturing, protecting, humbling Cece when needed, and throughout their 68 years loving him as only a spouse can.

Without Carol Andrus there never would have been a Cecil Andrus.

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Carlson

jones

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on September 5 that the Trump Administration was terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA was designed to protect from deportation young people who were unlawfully brought into the country as children.

About 800,000 young people, called Dreamers, are now facing a nightmare scenario–not knowing whether they will be able to stay in the only country they have ever called home, whether they can keep their job or complete their education, or whether they will be ripped apart from siblings who were born later and became American citizens. Idaho has at least 3,132 Dreamers.

Dreamers are not criminal aliens. To qualify for DACA they had to be attending high school, have a high school diploma or equivalent, or have been honorably discharged from the military. Any person with a serious criminal offense was disqualified. These are young people who are in the United States through no fault of their own. They are committed to this country and contributing to society.

According to Administration officials, the President was conflicted on whether to terminate DACA but was convinced by Sessions that the program was clearly unconstitutional. Sessions said he could not and would not defend it in court. It might be noted that this is the same Sessions who blasted a former deputy attorney general who refused to defend the President’s first travel ban on grounds of unconstitutionality. It is the Sessions who vigorously asserted that a president has virtually unlimited authority over immigration issues, as well as limitless pardon power. DACA was certainly an exercise of executive clemency.

The DACA program was primarily based by the previous administration on prosecutorial discretion–that is, where the prosecutor has limited capabilities, the primary enforcement effort should be devoted toward the more serious crimes. This makes sense and it is the path that Sessions claims to be following, except apparently for DACA.

A troubling alternate explanation for the DACA decision appeared in a McClatchy story that surfaced on August 22. According to that story, senior Administration officials wanted to use the Dreamers as a bargaining chip with Congress to obtain money for building the border wall and other immigration objectives. In essence, the Dreamers would be held hostage for wall funding and other concessions, which is not such a tender-hearted narrative. Congress had not been too keen to pony up money for the wall, seeing it as being too costly and ineffective. After all, the Great Wall of China did little to protect the Chinese Empire. Walls, generally, were rendered ineffective after the invention of tunnels and ladders.

The President gave some credence to the bargaining chip scenario when he indicated on September 5 that he would not sign Dreamer legislation which did not include wall funding. Proof of the pudding would come if Congress could muster up the courage to do what is clearly right–to pass a clean bill legalizing the Dreamers and giving them a path to citizenship and to present it to the President for signature.

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Jones

rainey

Ladies and Gents:

We realize, in your diligent search for answers to national problems, you probably wouldn’t look out here on the far edge. Even we understand our remote location is not a place solutions to the weighty conundrums you face will most likely be found. Still, we do think about them. And, when we believe we may have an answer or two, we like to “belly up to the bar” as it were and make a suggestion. Or two.

Here’s one for thought. A lot of hourly wage, beer-drinking workers – and those of us formerly so – have been interested in your struggles to reduce the horrendous national debt. Seems you’ve wrestled with this for a very long time. Some of you want to raise more income. Some want to just not pay bills you’ve already run up and simply slash dollars being spent – even for the “necessities.” As we’ve stood around the bar here talking about it, we think many of you have forgotten where you came from. You don’t remember how you used to handle your personal budget problems before you got to Washington to spend other people’s money. Our money.

Take our families, for instance. If we’ve run up more bills than we have take-home pay, here’s what we do. First, we stop buying stuff. Just get along with what we’ve already got. Second, we carefully examine what we’ve acquired and see if we can get along without any of it. Like maybe driving one pickup rather than two – cut back on payments and gas. Maybe decide we’ll eat out once a month rather than once a week. You know.

Another thing. If we need more income to cover the bills already in the cardboard file box, we consolidate some of ‘em. And we may take on a second – or third – job. Increase what comes in until we cover current expenses and reduce those we’re already committed to. Like what the national debt really is to you.

Now, I’m not saying you all have to get a second job. Or even an honest
one. Even here next to the Pacific, we don’t expect that. No. What we mean is you need to have more income. Not a lot. Just enough to catch up a bit. Pay down what you – and thus we – owe. Avoid late fees – interest on the debt if you will. Keep your credit score up. Our credit score.

Now, let’s review. Stop or reduce future spending. Carefully eliminate a few expenses on things you can get along without. Raise a few dollars to stay current, with just enough left over to pay down those nasty back bills.

We think those are pretty reasonable steps to take. Together, they work for us at home. Makes no difference if we watch Fox or MSNBC. It works.

The other idea, well, you probably won’t like. But even before the third round at the bar, we had this one handled and put away. So hear us out.

Some of our Republican brothers and sisters are trying to get a handle on voter fraud. Even if they haven’t found any significant examples of it. ANY. Which they haven’t. Still, all those Republican legislature’s are changing various state laws to keep out the “fraud.” The “fraud” you found when Democrats won and Republicans didn’t. That “fraud.”

Well, this is just our suggestion, mind you. But what if state elections were run by state laws? All 50 of ‘em. Any way they want to. But, what if national elections were operated under national laws? Controlled nationally. Each state could look after its own races without federal interference. And national races would be run by a single set of rules that would assure national elections are fair and square. Without state “undue” interference. Seems pretty simple. Should take care of all that “fraud.”

And here’s another thought just from me. What if the 49 other states took a good look at how we run elections here in Oregon? What if they started to do what we’ve successfully done for, oh, 20 years or so now? Very successfully. Suppose other states copied our system of voting by mail. No registration problems. No standing out in the weather for 10-12 hours. No long lines. Nobody campaigning at the polling places. And, so far, our cases of fraud have been virtually non-existent. For more than 20 years!

So, there you go. Two problems you’ve been trying to find answers to for far too many years. Two suggestions how to handle them so you can solve ‘em and get back to work on other important things. And a bonus solution that might make the whole national balloting process better.

My calculations are you’ve spent about $800-900 million administratively and still aren’t any closer to solutions. Cost for our ideas was less than a $40 bar tab. As I said, maybe you just forgot how you used to handle these kinds of things. Here at home. Back when you were one of us.

Your friend,

Barrett

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Rainey

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for July 17. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said on September 6 that the State of Idaho and 63 Idaho schools districts and education providers have agreed to settle all financial claims with the Federal Communications Commission regarding the Idaho Education Network (IEN).

Smoke from several wildfires in Idaho and surrounding states is affecting the air quality for residents in nearly every Idaho community and is expected to continue to do so for the next several days. Public health officials are advising people in the affected areas to limit their time outside as much as possible to reduce their exposure to smoke.

The nomination of Idaho State Senator Bart Davis to serve as Idaho’s next United States Attorney has been sent to the full Senate for consideration.

Although there has been a swarm of earthquakes in Southeast Idaho the likelihood of a strong 7.0 earthquake, although possible, is remote, noted professors in the Idaho State University Department of Geosciences.

The University of Idaho saw its most successful fundraising year in its 128-year history for fiscal year 2017, receiving more than $38.7 million in gifts and commitments.

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