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IOWA

'Idiot' faces voter rejection

DES MOINES — It's drawn little attention, and no organized opposition, but voters next month will be asked to change Iowa's Constitution to remove the term "idiot" in defining who is eligible to vote.

Rep. Pam Jochum, Dubuque Democrat, has been a driving force behind the 10-year effort to clean up the outdated language included when the constitution was ratified in 1857.

"They used the language they thought would fit at the time," Mrs. Jochum said. "We do know a whole lot more today. We now understand mental illness. There is absolutely no reason our constitution should refer to these people as idiots, because they're not."

At issue is language in the constitution that prohibits voting by anyone identified as an "idiot or insane person." The proposed change would make that read "a person adjudged mentally incompetent to vote."

The campaign is a highly personal one for Mrs. Jochum, whose 31-year-old daughter, Sarah, is mentally disabled.

The drive began in 1998 when Mrs. Jochum and then-Rep. Betty Grundberg, a Des Moines Republican who also has a child who is mentally disabled, discovered the "idiot" language in the constitution.

"I certainly understand that then the knowledge of mental illness and mental retardation was nil," Mrs. Jochum said.

LOUISIANA

Board refilled after resignations

BATON ROUGE | The Louisiana Board of Ethics is resuming its work after being stymied for four months.

The board held an introductory meeting for its new members last week.

The board's work — including bringing charges against public officials and offering advice on how to comply with the ethics code — has been stalled since June. That's when 10 of its 11 members resigned.

Several of the resigning members cited new laws supported by the Legislature and Gov. Bobby Jindal that took away the board's power to decide whether ethics codes were violated.

The governor, the House and the Senate have refilled the 11-member board.

MISSOURI

Candidate accused of not paying tax

KANSAS CITY — State Auditor Susan Montee waded into the fray over one of Missouri's hotly contested congressional races last week and accused Republican Rep. Sam Graves of failing to pay state taxes on two airplanes he bought in 2006.

Miss Montee, a Democrat, called a press conference to assert that Mr. Graves had failed to disclose ownership of the two planes and claimed he filed a false personal property declaration.

But Mr. Graves' campaign spokesman Ryan Steusloff said Mr. Graves has complied with state law because the county assessor "determined that junk parts are not taxable."

Atchison County Assessor Lori Jones, also a Democrat, said Tuesday that she told Mr. Graves the two planes in question are not taxable because they are not operable and used only for spare parts.

Miss Montee, who said she was speaking as a resident of the 6th District, not as state auditor, says Miss Jones did not have the authority to make that determination, since both planes are listed with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Missouri State Tax Commission as airplanes.

"It's not the way it works," she said. "The assessor does not have the power to give a waiver. If he owns them, and we know he does because he listed them with the FAA, they need to be declared as personal property," she said.

NEW MEXICO

Filling vacancy up for vote

SANTA FE — Gov. Bill Richardson's national political aspirations led to a proposed constitutional amendment that voters will decide in New Mexico's general election.

The measure, if adopted by a majority of voters, will provide for filling a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor. Currently, the position would remain vacant if the lieutenant governor dies in office, resigns or succeeds to the governorship.

Under the proposed constitutional change, the governor would appoint someone to the vacancy and the person must be confirmed by the Senate.

Mr. Richardson's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination was the main the reason Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat, initially sponsored the measure. There's also the possibility that Mr. Richardson could give up the governorship if Democrat Barack Obama wins the White House and offers the governor a job in his administration.

"Of course, even after him, there could be other situations if a governor were to die or run for another office and the lieutenant governor would move up," Mr. Ortiz y Pino says of Mr. Richardson.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish would succeed Mr. Richardson as governor if he left the office before his term expires.

OREGON

Court hears funding lawsuit

SALEM — Education advocates are urging the Oregon Supreme Court to order the Legislature to boost funding for local schools.

That came as the high court heard arguments Wednesday in a long-running legal battle over school funding.

A lawyer for the school backers told the court that legislators should provide more money for schools to meet ambitious education goals endorsed by Oregon voters in 2000.

But state lawyers said lawmakers are under no obligation to provide the billions of extra dollars it would take to meet those goals.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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