Former ENA staffer on Otter’s campaign

Gov. Butch Otter’s campaign finance director is a former Education Networks of America staffer who left the company in September.

Martin Bilbao had worked for the Nashville, Tenn.-based company as its Idaho account services manager. Last summer, when ENA submitted a bid for a multiyear high school WiFi installation contract, the company’s 308-page bid cited Bilbao’s ties to Idaho and Idaho Republican politics. In July, ENA won a contract that could extend to 15 years at a cost of more than $33 million.

But since then — and as Otter gears up to run for a third term as governor — two multimillion-dollar ENA contracts have come under scrutiny at the Statehouse:

  • John Goedde, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, wants the state to sever ENA’s WiFi contract, and instead provide $2.25 million to school districts to spend on their own systems. Otter has budgeted $2.25 million for the WiFi project, but on Tuesday, he was noncommittal about Goedde’s proposal. “He is open to discussing with our partners in the Legislature, how this Wi-Fi portion of the equation fits into the overall broadband puzzle,” spokesman Jon Hanian said.
  • Otter, meanwhile, has taken an active role in pushing for $14.45 million for ENA’s Idaho Education Network. The statewide broadband contract is embroiled in a protracted lawsuit that has left federally administered funding in limbo. Legislative budget-writers are balking at Otter’s proposal to provide $7.3 million for the network in 2014-15; they have approved a $6.6 million stopgap to fund the system through June 30.

Bilbao resigned from ENA, and is not on a leave of absence or retainer, Otter campaign manager Jayson Ronk said Wednesday. He took the full-time campaign finance director’s position in October.

According to Otter’s campaign finance report, Bilbao has been paid $7,548.75 since October.

Bilbao and Ronk have worked together before. He was the state Republican Party’s finance and political director when Ronk worked for the state party. In 2010, Bilbao managed Lt. Gov. Brad Little’s re-election campaign.

“Martin has a deep political background,” Ronk said.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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