The Fine Line 

How a state worker kept his hand in politics

After dancing between state and political jobs for the last two years, Wayne Hoffman has finally found a home. The former Idaho Statesman reporter has parlayed his campaign work into a full-time job as Idaho communications director for U.S. Rep. Bill Sali.

For Hoffman, it is the latest in a string of jobs that began back when he left the Statesman to become a spokesman for the Idaho Department of Agriculture in 2005.

But before long, Hoffman was taking plenty of time off from his state job to go to work for conservative Republican candidates like Sali and Tom Luna, now the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Luna beat Democrat Jana Jones for the job in November with Hoffman's help.

Although Hoffman was careful not to cross the boundaries between his state jobs and his political work, he aggravated Democrats, who say it reveals a too-cozy relationship between a Republican-dominated state government and the party's candidates. Hoffman's work also raised eyebrows among members of his own party.

Records obtained by BW show that Hoffman took lots of time off from his job at the state agriculture department and used his cell phone--the bills for which were paid in part by the state--to network with Sali and Luna as their campaigns heated up. Hoffman said the two telephones were his, but that the state repaid him between $40 and $50 per month for the bills.

"The one thing that I really tried to do with that was minimize my appearance of conflict," Hoffman said. "I thought I did a pretty good job of that."

The Idaho Attorney General's Office has said that so long as state workers aren't doing political work on state time or using state resources, they are within state law.

But Hoffman's moonlighting still made Republicans nervous.

"There were Republicans telling him to knock it off," said one party worker who asked not to be named. "Even if his nose was clean, it's a perception and they were very worried about it."

The political work came as a function of Hoffman's private business, Hoffman Policy and Research, which he began in 2005.

His phone records show that in a period between January and July 2006, he was in contact with Luna 130 times on his cell phone. He was in contact with Sali 44 times during the same period.

Often the calls were brief, as were the dozens of calls he made to his own private cell phone, usually to check voice mail messages. The calls came at all hours of the day and night, including hours that he was working for the state.

"Did Mr. Hoffman abuse his office? I think you can legitimately ask that question," said Chuck Oxley, spokesman for the Idaho Democratic Party. "If people know that he is a Republican 'operative,' how would that affect how they viewed the Department of Agriculture?"

As the election approached last fall, Hoffman received approval for more vacation time and overtime compensation hours from his boss, former state agriculture secretary Pat Takasugi.

Hoffman's e-mail account shows little in the way of electioneering work, except for an e-mail in his account that he did not send, with reference to Luna's primary opponent, former Rep. Steve Smylie, who sent a message on his legislative letterhead to constituents telling them about his schools-chief candidacy. Shortly after Hoffman drafted that unsent note, Luna appeared in local media criticizing Smylie for the gaffe.

After the election, Hoffman went to work for Luna, as a "management specialist," at an hourly rate of $31.25. He was there less than three months before he got the call from Sali to come work as his spokesman in the Boise office.

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