State Governor’s race takes shape

Two leading Republican candidates launched gubernatorial campaigns in 2017, setting the stage for a tight 2018 race. Treasure Valley businessman and former emergency room doctor Tommy Ahlquist announced his candidacy in February, with U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador officially declaring in May.

A November poll that failed to include Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff put current Lt. Gov Brad Little in the lead with support from 21 percent of Idaho voters surveyed, followed closely by Labrador and Ahlquist. More than a third of respondents said they didn’t know who they would vote for.

Other declared candidates include Republicans HyDee Liebelt, Steve Pankey, Lisa Marie, and Sidney Taylor, as well as Democrats A.J. Balukoff and Rep. Paulette Jordan.

Grocery tax veto/Supreme Court case

A legal challenge to Gov. Butch Otter’s veto of legislation that would get rid of the state’s grocery tax ended in the Idaho Supreme Court upholding the veto in July, while establishing that state lawmakers must present all bills to the governor before the end of the legislative session in the future.

A group of 30 lawmakers had challenged Otter’s veto of legislation eliminating Idaho’s 6 percent sales tax on groceries, claiming the governor took too long to veto the bill and missed a constitutional deadline. The lawmakers argued that the governor had 10 days from the end of the session to either sign or veto a bill; Otter contended that he had 10 days from when the bill landed on his desk.

In a 4-1 ruling, the Idaho Supreme Court agreed that the 10-day deadline begins when the Legislature adjourns for the year — not when the bill arrives on the governor’s desk — but upheld Otter’s veto. In future sessions, the court determined, the Legislature must present bills to the governor before adjourning.

Heather Scott yanked from committees

A North Idaho state representative was briefly stripped of her committee assignments in January after she made remarks suggesting that female lawmakers earned leadership positions by performing sexual favors.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, came under fire after allegedly telling Agriculture Committee Chairman Judy Boyle in December 2016 that women in the Legislature could obtain committee chairmanships and other appointments only if they “spread their legs.”

Scott was reassigned to her committees on Feb. 1 after apologizing for the remarks.

Harassment allegations in state offices

Allegations that the former chief of staff for the Idaho State Controller’s Office sexually and racially harassed a former employee resulted in an $83,000 settlement by the state in early December.

A tort claim filed by Lourdes Matsumoto on Sept. 18 accused Dan Goicoechea of engaging in abusive language and violent acts during conversations with Matsumoto and others. The claim said that State Controller Brandon Woolf had not put a stop to the harassment.

Goicoechea resigned from the Controller’s office on the day the tort claim was filed, and began a new job as deputy for governmental affairs for the Idaho State Department of Education.

The settlement included an agreement by the state not to rehire Goicoechea.

Local Downtown projects

At the Festival of Lights Parade on Dec. 1, an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people gathered on each side of Main Avenue’s six blocks. The parade and a tree lighting ceremony followed tours and a grand opening of the new city hall, highlighting two of the three downtown projects the city completed in 2017 after years of planning.

In October, the city finished a $5.7 million remodel that converted the former Banner Furniture building into a city hall that could handle the organization’s growth. The following month, the “Main Avenue Renaissance” was completed, a $6.5 million renovation that Urban Renewal Agency completed in partnership with the city.

A third project in the downtown area, the $3.7 million police operations and administration buildings, were finished this summer as the city made use of the former City Hall to meet law enforcement and public needs.

City pool

When the YMCA backed out of its contract in April, the city was left to manage its city pool on Locust Street. The transition came with a few changes. The city had to approve some fee increases, and the pool later received a new “bubble” to keep it open during the lower fall and winter temperatures.

But the city got off to a good start when, after the first four months of operation, the pool’s revenues exceeded its expenses. The city will continue to manage the pool until at least August 2018, when the YMCA’s contract was set to expire.

Neighborly community resolution

The Twin Falls City Council declared in May that Twin Falls is a neighborly community where all residents are “welcomed, accepted and given the opportunity to connect with each other without bias in pursuit of common goals.”

The signing of the neighborly community resolution followed hours of public testimony both for and against the document. Leaders assured it does not mean Twin Falls is a “sanctuary city.”

The resolution traces its roots to a Boy Scouts project at the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center, and a Boy Scout leader had challenged the Council to lead by example. But it didn’t pass unanimously: Vice Mayor Suzanne Hawkins and Councilwoman Nikki Body voted against the resolution.

Boosts to tourism

Twin Falls’ major tourism season started early, as spring runoff brought Shoshone Falls to its highest level in years. The city began collecting vehicle fees early, and in April it counted about 18,000 more vehicles than what it had previously seen.

“It was nuts, and there were a lot of people,” Parks and Recreation Director Wendy Davis recalled during the summer. “March was insane. April was insane.”

Between mid-March and June, the parks department recorded more than 85,000 cars and 170 buses.

After high flows had returned to normal, the city got another boost to tourism with the Aug. 21 solar eclipse. Although Twin Falls wasn’t directly in the path of totality, it was close enough that hotels booked up fast.