With tax cuts, hunting scandals, a mass stabbing and a battle for health care, it’s been a busy year for Idaho.
A look at some of the biggest stories that changed the state in 2018:
A NEW GOVERNOR
Idaho voters selected a new governor for the first time since 2006, electing Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. Little won with nearly 60 percent of the vote — a huge but not uncommon margin in the deeply red state of Idaho. Still, the race drew a nearly unprecedented amount of attention from the national media. Why? Former state lawmaker Paulette Jordan, a Democrat and a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, had a not-insignificant amount of grassroots support and the potential distinction of being both the first female Idaho governor and the first Native American governor in the U.S. if she had won the race.
For the last four years, thousands of Idaho residents have been living “in the gap,” earning too much to qualify for Medicaid health insurance but not enough to get subsidized health care coverage under the state insurance exchange. They were often left with no way to access basic medical treatment, forced instead to rely on expensive emergency room visits as untreated health problems turned into health crises. By November, Idaho voters had enough, breaking away from far-right conservatism to order the Legislature to expand Medicaid coverage to potentially more than 60,000 low-income adults across the state through an initiative called Proposition 2. The expansion will be primarily covered by federal tax dollars, though the state will have to kick in a small portion of the funding. Still, the fight for health care isn’t over: The libertarian think-tank Idaho Freedom Foundation has sued the state over the voter initiative, with the Idaho Supreme Court expected to hear arguments in January.
CHURCHES AND CHILD ABUSE
Revelation after revelation of abuse within the Catholic church has shaken the nation. Those revelations hit close to home in 2018 when a Boise priest was charged with several counts of child pornography for possessing and sharing what investigators said was among the most gruesome and violent images they had ever seen. The Rev. Thomas Faucher, a 73-year-old retired pastor who served at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Boise and frequently held Mass services for school children, was sentenced to 25 years in prison without parole. Prosecutors said he chatted online about wanting to abduct, rape and kill a child, and his child pornography collection included videos of people being killed and children who were wailing and crying.
Roman Catholic Jesuit provinces in the U.S. also released the names of priests and other ministry leaders who were found to have credible allegations of sexual abuse made against them dating to the 1950s. The report included 111 names within the Jesuits West province that covers Idaho and nine other Western states.
THE MASS STABBING
It was a sunny summer day that quickly became one of the darkest in Boise’s history. As a group of children and family members celebrated little Ruya Kadir’s third birthday on the grassy lawn outside her apartment complex, a stranger attacked. Police say Timmy Earl Kinner Jr. stabbed and slashed nine people: Ruya and five other children along with the three adults who tried to protect them. Ruya died of her injuries; many of the others sustained serious, life-altering wounds.
Kinner, described as a 30-year-old homeless man with a criminal record in other states, had recently stayed at the apartment complex but was asked to leave for bad behavior. The victims were all refugees from Syria, Iraq and Ethiopia who, after fleeing violence and danger in their home countries, hoped to find safe refuge in Idaho.
Kinner has been charged with first-degree murder and other felonies in connection with the knife attack. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. A hearing over whether Kinner is competent to stand trial is expected in January.
HALTED GRIZZLY HUNTS
Idaho geared up for its first grizzly bear hunt since 1946. But a federal judge in late September ruled grizzlies weren’t sufficiently recovered to sustain hunting and restored federal protections for the bears around Yellowstone National Park, blocking planned hunts in Idaho and Wyoming. Twelve hunters in Wyoming and one in Idaho had been issued licenses out of the thousands who applied. U.S. government attorneys filed notice on Dec. 21 that they are appealing the court ruling. The Yellowstone population has rebounded from just 136 animals when they were granted federal protections in 1975 to about 700.
A NEW NAME FOR THE WHITE CLOUDS
Cecil D. Andrus’ name was added to the White Clouds Wilderness. The four-term Democratic governor of Idaho and past U.S. Interior Secretary died last year. He lobbied for the creation of three wilderness areas in central Idaho that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2015. In March, lawmakers approved a spending bill adding Andrus’ name to the 142-square-mile (368-square-kilometer) White Clouds Wilderness in central Idaho. Republican U.S. Sen. James Risch of Idaho fought the name change and delayed the spending bill but ultimately lost.
NOT ENOUGH PRISONS
Idaho continued to struggle with overcrowded prisons despite its relatively low crime rate in 2018. Idaho Department of Correction officials announced they would ask lawmakers for half a billion dollars to build a new prison in the coming year.
Currently, hundreds of state inmates are being housed out of state in privately run facilities. The out-of-state placement is necessary because there aren’t enough beds in Idaho’s prisons, but the far-away beds come at a higher price than the ones owned by the state. Experts also say sending inmates out of state can harden the prisons at home and limit the support system available to the prisoners who are moved. Still, new prisons are typically a hard sell for Idaho lawmakers tasked with balancing a limited budget that also must cover schools, transportation and myriad other needs.
The Idaho Department of Correction’s proposal seeks a new 1,510-bed state prison, plus expansions at other facilities around the state.
TRANSGENDER BIRTH CERTIFICATES AND OTHER RIGHTS
When it comes to policy issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents, most of the changes come via the courts, not the Capitol. Such was the case in 2018, when a federal judge ruled that Idaho can’t bar requests from transgender people to change the gender listed on their birth certificates. Most states already allow such changes, but Idaho was among four holdouts — including Kansas, Ohio and Tennessee — when the ruling came down in March.
The ruling was a response to a lawsuit brought by two transgender women last year who said they faced hostility and harassment at places like grocery stores and government offices because they had to present identification that did not reflect their gender identity.
In a separate lawsuit, a federal judge has ordered the Idaho Department of Correction to allow a transgender inmate to have gender confirmation surgery. Barring an appeal, 31-year-old Adree Edmo will be the first prisoner in state history to receive the surgery. Prison officials said they will determine in the months ahead if Edmo, who has identified as a woman for years, will be moved from the all-male prison facility where she is currently housed.
THE TAX CUT
Idaho lawmakers passed what was billed as one of the biggest tax cuts in state history in March. The bill had two prongs, one aligning Idaho’s tax code to match the federal tax overhaul, and the other to offset the roughly $100 million more in federal taxes that Idahoans are expected to pay next year because of the federal changes. The offset was achieved by reducing all seven of Idaho’s brackets for personal income tax rates and corporate tax rates by 0.475 percent. It also created an Idaho child tax credit. The change to Idaho tax brackets is expected to lower the state’s $3.5 billion general fund by nearly $160 million, and the child tax credit is expected to slash the fund by another $42 million.
Still, many Idaho taxpayers could find themselves writing, not cashing, checks when tax day rolls around. The Idaho Division of Financial Management says monthly individual tax revenues have been lower than expected, which means people likely aren’t withholding as much as they need to under the new tax rules.
THE COMMISSIONER AND THE BABOONS
Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer resigned at the governor’s request in October, just a few days after an outcry began over several photos of an African hunting trip that he emailed to friends and acquaintances. One image showed Fischer posing with a family of baboons he shot during his trip to Namibia, another shows him hoisting the head of a giraffe with his foot on the animal’s neck. For many the baboon photo was the most disturbing, with the four dead animals huddled together, the smallest juvenile baboon placed as if sitting in its mother’s lap.
Fischer said he didn’t do anything illegal or unethical. But he nevertheless apologized in his resignation for poor judgment “in sharing photos of a hunt in which I did not display an appropriate level of sportsmanship and respect for the animals I harvested.”