Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Idaho newspapers:
Treasurer Ellsworth can outwit Speaker Bedke
The Lewiston Tribune
Memo to: State Treasurer Julie Ellsworth.
Subject: Taxpayer stewardship.
Status: House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley has accused you of making a “ridiculous” “false claim” and a “gross misstatement of fact” — in other words, lying — because you say his plans to kick you out of your state Capitol quarters to make office space for House members who will be in Boise for only 90 days a year will cost $10 million.
As Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press reported during the Labor Day weekend, the speaker may have you on the details.
Sure, the 2019 plan — contained in House Bill 289 — spoke of spending $10.6 million. But that also included $1.96 million to repurchase a nearby bank building the state sold off in 2016.
When the Senate rejected that bill, the House quickly came up with three replacements:
– Senate Bill 1210, which provided $3.89 million for the “first phase,” while anticipating another $3.2 million the following year.
The Senate also gave that one the boot.
– SB 1211, which allocated $529,000 to move you and your staff.
It died on a procedural move.
– SB 1212, which provided the $1.96 million for the bank building acquisition.
The Senate rejected this measure as well.
Nonetheless, it puts the cost of moving you out and the House members in at somewhere near $7.1 million.
Or maybe it’s more.
“I’m not committed to any of those numbers, frankly,” Bedke told Russell. “I don’t think anyone’s married to any of those numbers. Those were ballpark numbers.”
Until the state gets an architectural design and then seeks bids, Bedke says those are “just very rough estimates.”
All of which is going to sound a lot like political spin to ordinary citizens. Whether it’s $7.1 million, $10 million or $15 million, you’ve got the political high ground.
Idaho is chronically short of money for everything. Its schools may be the most underfunded in the country. Idaho’s colleges and universities are so desperate for tuition dollars they collected virus-spreading students on campus for in-person classes despite risking more COVID-19 outbreaks.
Yet the Legislature believes it is entitled to drain millions of dollars for its own creature comforts.
Of course, you can’t play champion of the taxpayer when you match Bedke dollar for dollar on hiring lawyers to fight this battle out in court.
As of Aug. 31, Russell reported, you’ve spent $205,488 on your legal team. The Legislature has allocated $313,914.
That’s more than half-a-million bucks and the case is just now going to the Idaho Supreme Court.
Recommendation: Consider making a strategic reversal. Stop wasting taxpayers’ money. Make this offer to Bedke and legislative leaders: You’ll vacate your offices the instant they guarantee that not one dime of public money will be spent on their vanity project. Let them go to private special interests to pay for the construction of their offices.
Insist on transparency.
Emblazed on the front of each office should be a bronze plaque designating the current occupant and who paid for it.
– Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, brought to you by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
– Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, brought to you by Juul Labs Inc., maker of e-cigarettes.
– Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, brought to you by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
– Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, brought to you by (Ron) Crane Alarm Service.
– Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, brought to you by Medical Recovery Services, which hounds people for medical debt.
– Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, brought to you by 3 Percenters of Idaho.
– Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, brought to you by Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.
Conclusion: If they take you up on it, of course you’ll have to move on. But a pyrrhic victory for the House allows you to introduce yourself to ordinary Idahoans who don’t know a state treasurer from a state controller.
Who knows? You just might have the biggest Idaho political moment in the two decades since then-Congressman C.L. “Butch” Otter voted against the Patriot Act.
And you know where he wound up.
Online: The Lewiston Tribune
Peters has provided an example
When Mark Peters took over leadership of Idaho National Laboratory in 2015, he made a promise.
“We will be transparent, answer tough questions and address concerns head on. Under my leadership, INL will be responsive. If you have a concern, we will address it.
“By researching complex problems and implementing pragmatic solutions through an inclusive and collaborative process, we can create a world that is more safe, clean and kind,” he wrote.
Over the last five years, Peters has fulfilled that promise.
Under Peters’ leadership, there have been breakthroughs in seemingly deadlocked negotiations between the Department of Energy and the state of Idaho, which endangered INL’s ability to conduct vital research on safe processing and storage of spent nuclear fuel.
The Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear initiative was launched in 2015, providing key support for nuclear energy development in the private sector.
The $90 million Cybercore Integration Center and the Collaborative Computing Center, negotiated in 2017 and opened in 2019, solidified relationships with the state’s university system, expanding cybersecurity education and helping develop local talent to feed the lab’s workforce.
DOE announced last year it plans to build the Versatile Test Reactor, a facility to test fuels and components of new reactors, which INL will lead, and it also announced it will also open the National Reactor Innovation Center here.
In only five years, Peters has advanced INL’s mission to push forward research and innovation in nuclear energy to an astounding degree.
That’s good for employment and economic growth in Idaho Falls, of course. But it’s also essential for the future of humanity.
As terrifying as the coronavirus pandemic has been, the greatest long-term threat to our collective future remains global climate change. Serious solutions to the problem almost certainly involve the expansion of nuclear energy to provide baseload power to compliment clean but intermittent energy sources like wind and solar. Projects like NuScale’s Carbon Free Power Project, based on small reactors that can be factory-built and deployed much more quickly than traditional large reactors, promise to fill that gap.
But that’s only half the story.
During his tenure, Peters has been a moral example to the community of Idaho Falls and the state of Idaho.
At a time when political attacks on diversity and equality have proliferated, Peters and INL Chief Operating Officer Juan Alvarez have been welcoming voices for inclusion, both in the INL workforce and the broader society.
“I can tell you that without question, a diverse group, working together, is the best tool we have to ensure a prosperous and secure future,” Peters said in the midst of the fracas over diversity programs at Boise State University. “At INL, we don’t just value inclusive diversity, we need it. It’s the same with our communities, which are enriched when everyone feels at home and free to be their best selves.”
And as House Bills 500 and 509, two anti-transgender bills which federal courts have blocked for violating the Equal Protection Clause, were advancing through the Legislature, Peters spoke out again.
“I’m hearing concerns within INL and throughout our community about the substance and tone of discussions taking place this legislative session, and how those negatively impact the way in which Idaho is perceived outside our borders,” Peters wrote to House and Senate leaders. “Frankly, I share those concerns.”
Under Peters, INL hasn’t just talked the talk, it’s walked the walk. In January, INL received a 95% rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, the highest score given to any rated organization in Idaho and an improvement over the prior year.
Peters has helped the lab “create a world that is more safe, clean and kind.”
We hope Battelle Energy Alliance will be diligent in its search for Peters’ replacement. Whoever is picked to succeed him, they will have large shoes to fill.
Online: Post Register