Death of former governor tops Idaho stories in 2017

Staff Writer

A contentious veto. Protecting voter data. Sexual misconduct in state government.
It's been a wild ride in Idaho over the last 12 months. Here's a look at some of the biggest stories in 2017:

Cecil Andrus, a cabinet member in President Jimmy Carter's administration and Idaho's longest serving governor, died in August of complications from lung cancer. In red-state Idaho, Andrus stood out as not only the last Democrat to hold the top elected seat but also the state's first four-term governor in Idaho history. A onetime lumberjack, Andrus resigned midway through his second term as governor in 1977 to become Carter's Secretary of the Interior. It was there he engineered the conservation of millions of acres of Alaska land. However, it was being governor of Idaho that he deemed "the best political job in the world."

The stars aligned for Idaho this year. The International Dark-Sky Association recognized the state on three occasions in 2017 for its dazzling night skies in a move that could boost tourism and increase home values in some areas. In December, it named a 1,400-square-mile (3,600-square-kilometer) chunk of central Idaho the nation's first International Dark Sky Reserve. In late October, the association named the central Idaho city of Ketchum an International Dark Sky Community, only the 16th in the world. In June, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in south-central Idaho became an International Dark Sky Park, one of about 40 in the U.S.

Before Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein faced reports of sexual misconduct and before the popular #MeToo campaign spread across social media, an explosive seven-page tort claim was filed alleging Idaho State Controller Chief of Staff Dan Goicoechea sexually and racially harassed staffers. The claim โ€” filed by former employee Lourdes Matsumoto โ€” eventually resulted in a settlement but the move kicked off a bigger look at sexual misconduct in Idaho. Fourteen female state lawmakers have sent a letter to legislative leadership asking that the annual training lawmakers undergo include a sexual harassment component.

Secretary of State Lawerence Denney faced criticism this year after his office turned over Idaho's public voter rolls to President Donald Trump's commission investigating alleged voter fraud. But the top elections chief countered he was complying with the state's public records laws โ€” which deems the state's voter registration system as public. Soon after, Denney announced he was reevaluating Idaho's involvement longtime multistate voter registration database, citing possible security concerns.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter found himself backtracking after stating his preference that Christian refugees should be treated as a priority. The Republican governor is a known critic of the nation's refugee program. Yet Otter he raised eyebrows in February when he acknowledged his preference for Christian refugees was discriminatory while discussing President Donald Trump's immigration ban targeting predominantly Muslim nations. Otter later said he believes in religious preference, not religious discrimination.

The Idaho Supreme Court handed down a surprise ruling in July by declaring the procedure the Legislature uses to adjourn was illegal. Justices said the Idaho Legislature must present all bills to the governor before going home for the year rather than allowing lawmakers to adjourn before legislative leaders have sent all of the bills approved during the session to the governor's desk. It's a seemingly small difference, but the decision upends decades of precedent and could have big impact on how quickly lawmakers get out of Boise in an election year.

About 700 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park lost federal protections on July 31 after U.S. government officials ruled the population is no longer threatened under the Endangered Species Act. That opened the door to future trophy hunts in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. But state officials have said they're in no rush, and Idaho officials have not announced a hunting season.

Idaho's Republican U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador stunned health care officials and voters when he responded "nobody dies because they don't have access to health care" to a question at a town hall in May. It's a claim disputed by medical experts who counter that patients without health coverage often risk waiting until their conditions have advanced too far for effective treatment. Labrador soon clarified that his answer wasn't very elegant.

Predator-killing cyanide traps gained national attention in March after one of the traps sickened a young boy in Idaho and killed his dog while the two were out on public land. The traps look like water sprinkler heads embedded in the ground and spray cyanide when triggered by animals attracted by bait. Federal officials quickly placed a temporary ban on the predator traps first in Idaho and then eventually launched an expanded review of the traps and additional guidelines for workers deploying the devices.

Snowfall in lower elevations in Idaho last winter in some areas reached 500 percent above average and caused dozens of buildings to collapse, leading Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to declare states of emergency in eight counties. Flooding followed in the spring, causing President Donald Trump to approve several major disaster declarations for various parts of the state and making available federal disaster assistance. But all that water helped fill reservoirs and send more water to recharge the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer that is tapped for irrigation.