‘Dark money’ fuels Medicaid fight. Vote on stadium? 10 business stories to catch up on

“Dark money” is flooding into Idaho politics. Here’s how it works.

Billionaires, foundations, and unions can donate money to nonprofit groups without disclosing their identities. Those groups can in turn influence politicians in Idaho. Here's how it work
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Billionaires, foundations, and unions can donate money to nonprofit groups without disclosing their identities. Those groups can in turn influence politicians in Idaho. Here's how it work

The top 10 Idaho business stories of the week:

1. Since voters started collecting signatures to get Medicaid expansion on the Idaho ballot, the debate has been backed by opaquely funded groups from outside Idaho, including a group funded by a California labor union. A Florida think tank with ties to conservative mega-donors has become one of Idaho’s most vocal supporters of work requirements during this year’s legislative session.

Lobbyist John Foster leaves the Idaho House Chambers lobby. Foster is a partner in Kestrel West, a lobbying and communications firm, with Kate Haas (not pictured). One of their clients, the Foundation for Government Accountability, is vying to add a work requirement for Idahoans who receive Medicaid. Darin Oswald


2. Critics of Boise officials’ plans to spend millions of public dollars on a stadium and a new main library have pushed since December for citizen votes on the projects. A bill that might force elections — because both projects may depend upon property taxes from urban-renewal districts — won the Legislature’s approval. Among the drivers of the let’s-have-an-election movement are five Treasure Valley leaders, three of them lawmakers.

A group of about two dozen Boise residents, who want voters to decide on a new library and proposed stadium, gather at a park along Vista Avenue on Saturday, March 16, 2019, to begin a signature drive to add two initiatives to the November ballot.


3. Idaho Power plans to operate using entirely carbon-free energy by 2045. “There’s only a handful of utilities in the country that are doing this,” says Ben Otto, an energy attorney for the Idaho Conservation League. Only six years ago, Idaho Power used coal for more than 40 percent of the power it generates for its 560,000 customers across Southern Idaho and part of eastern Oregon.

Idaho Power has a plan to operate on 100 percent clean energy by 2045. The utility has a head start because its 17 hydroelectric plants — like Hells Canyon Dam, which is sending electricity on these power lines — produce nearly half of its annual load. Provided by Idaho Power


4. An eminent-domain battle being followed closely in Boise is moving ahead. Ada County District Court Judge Deborah Bail awarded a procedural victory to Gary and Lee Davis, who owned the Smoky Davis shop that the Ada County Highway District demolished as part of the State Street/Veterans Memorial Parkway/36th Street intersection expansion. The judge said the Davises can pursue their claim to seek money from ACHD so they can rebuild Smoky Davis on the portion of their property that ACHD didn’t take.

Construction workers tore into the former Smoky Davis building in the spring of 2018. The restaurant closed as part of the State Street and Veterans Memorial Parkway redesign.


5. Jim Hutchens is as surprised as anyone that he ended up in the hemp business. The 55-year-old retired Army and commercial pilot, who lives in Boise, says he flew counter-narcotics missions in the 1990s. Last October, he and several business partners opened Treasure Valley Extraction in Ontario. From hemp flowers, they’re extracting cannabinoid oil, or CBD oil, which is used in a growing number of health and wellness products.

Hemp is legal nationwide, but not in Idaho (yet). Jim Hutchens explains how he turns hemp flowers into high quality CBD.


6. As soon as five years from now, air travelers may see something new on their tickets from Boise Airport: Concourse A. Rebecca Hupp, airport director for BOI, has shared plans for the new concourse — a new wing off the main terminal with new gates and amenities — and other expansions.

Rebecca Hupp, director of Boise Airport, talks to City Council about the next steps in the airport's master plan.


7. Restaurateurs Sarah and Dave “DK” Kelly, who closed Downtown’s Bleubird cafe to launch French-inspired bistro Petite 4, have partnered with Roosevelt Market building owners Pamela Lemley and Jill Simplot to reopen the neighborhood grocery store in East Boise this fall as The Roosevelt Market & Cafe.

The iconic East End community gathering place closed December 2018. On the last day, employee Leland Stewart made a tender tribute for the owners.


8. The president of Frito-Lay North America has been named the next president and CEO of Albertsons Cos. Vivek Sankaran, 55, will replace Jim Donald, who was appointed to the post in September, Albertsons said. Donald succeeded Robert Miller, the longtime CEO, who continued as chairman of the board. Miller will become chairman emeritus and will continue on the board.


9. Clint Colwell was as blindsided as anyone else last spring when a popular Boise rock climbing spot closed on short notice. As the manager of the gym, Urban Ascent, Colwell was also suddenly out of a job. Now he and six other Urban Ascent regulars are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money into a new Boise climbing gym called the Commons Climbing Gym.

Former members and employees are creating the Commons, a new climbing and bouldering space on the Bench, filling a void after Boise rock climbing gym Urban Ascent closed.


10. Fans of Happy Teriyaki are grinning again. The chain of fast-casual Asian restaurants plans to open its latest Boise location at 1011 S. Broadway Ave., next to Pita Pit. The space formerly held a Zumberri Frozen Yogurt shop.

Happy Teriyaki is opening another location on Broadway Avenue in Boise.


Statesman reporters Kate Talerico, John Sowell, Hayley Harding, Michael Deeds, Nicole Blanchard and Katy Moeller, and special correspondent Rocky Barker, contributed.