What will Otter’s education legacy be?

Assuming this term will be Gov. Butch Otter’s last, it would be a good time for him to be thinking about his place in Idaho’s history. That is, of course, if this ends up being his last term.

But legacy building is taking an ugly detour as a result of the Idaho Education Network broadband contract, which was thrown out in court and the private-prison contract with Corrections Corporation of America, which is under investigation with the FBI. Administration of contracts could be one of the big issues heading into the next legislative session. Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Bone, who chairs the House State Affairs Committee, has told the Post Register he is looking into investigating the IEN issue.

One person who is not letting the broadband issue go away is Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, who is giving the administration plenty of heartaches. Earlier this month, the Midvale Republican circulated a statewide column discussing the broadband contracts and pointing fingers in high places.

“I am not going to let this go away and I don’t think the people of Idaho should let it go away,” said Boyle, who has gained the attention from fellow conservatives and Democrats.

As one of the more conservative members of the Legislature, Boyle says “no” to a lot of things. The broadband contract was not one of them. She sees the value of connecting schools, libraries and state agencies with high-speed Internet and didn’t blink at the $60 million contract.

“Correctly done, it brings the world to Idaho students and citizens, especially in the rural areas,” Boyle said in her commentary. “However, when it becomes illegal and corrupt, I must speak out.”

As with the national debt, the costs for the illegal contracts keep climbing in the form of withheld federal funds and legal fees. And it’s all as a result of former Director of Administration Mike Gwartney, Otter’s right-hand man early in his governorship, changing the terms of the contract – eliminating Syringa, which was supposed to share in proofing the broadband connections. Quest’s name was left on the contract.

Boyle sees the arrangement as an example of “crony capitalism,” which gives special favors to campaign donors. In this case, Boyle says, “the children of Idaho will be the losers” in the deal.

Boyle says her commentary was only a start. The solution is for the Legislature, and possibly the state Department of Education, to investigate further. She has an ally in Democratic Sen. Grant Burgoyne of Boise.

“The Legislature needs to stand up and make sure the money is appropriated and spent properly,” he said.
On the CCA contract, he said, “how did we get in a position where we went for a long period of time with the contractor submitting false billings to us?”
Burgoyne and Boyle are miles apart on many legislative issues, but he admires Boyle for keeping the issue in the forefront.

“Representative Boyle has always stepped up and told people exactly what she thinks,” Burgoyne said. “She’s courageous and outspoken. She does not mislead anybody about what she thinks and her intentions. Those are very good attributes.”

Somewhere, the late former U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth – Boyle’s longtime mentor, employer and friend – must be smiling.

Click here to read more about Rep. Judy Boyle.