Cheers and jeers: Political opposites come together

CHEERS to the commissioners from Blaine and Custer counties. On May 29, at the Challis Community Center, these six people gathered for the second time to discuss the possibility President Obama will create a 571-276-acre Boulder-White Clouds National Monument.

Obama can bypass Congress by using the Antiquities Act of 1906. There is a growing belief he will do just that because of Congress’ failure to embrace compromise wilderness legislation drafted by Rep. Mike Simpson.

Clearly, the elected officials from Blaine County (Lawrence Schoen, Jacob Greenberg and Angenie McCleary) have little in common with the commissioners from Custer (Wayne Butts, Doyle Lamb and Lin Hintze).

Blaine’s officials back the monument. Custer’s officials do not. But, and perhaps our national government can learn something here, that did not stop these folks from hearing each other out, listening to experts and giving voice to their constituents, more than 200 of whom showed up for the hearing.

In the end, the commissioners did about the only thing they could. They invited top Obama Administration officials to central Idaho to answer questions and hear concerns about the monument.

“Certainly we hope they would engage in a conversation with us,” Butts said.

We share that hope, while acknowledging there are no easy answers here. The Boulder-White Clouds are a national treasure, a place that belongs to all Americans. But, those living in their shadow have their own livelihoods to be concerned about.

Clearly, the best path forward would be for Congress to pass Simpson’s bill, which Idahoans spent a decade crafting and would set aside 332,775 acres as wilderness. Just as clearly, that’s not going to happen until Sen. James Risch and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter get behind Simpson’s effort.

So, for now, the folks in central Idaho are left wondering what Obama will do; if his recent designation of a national monument in New Mexico is a sign of things to come; if Interior Secretary Sally Jewell or Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will show up and hear them out before anything is decided.

It’s difficult to say if the two meetings accomplished anything beyond allowing frustrated citizens to vent.

But give them credit for trying.

CHEERS to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Congressman Raul Labrador. While many Republicans are using the controversial swap of Idaho Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban officers to score political points, Otter and Labrador have taken the high road.

Otter on Wednesday preached patience: “There are still too many unknowns for me to weigh in on the specifics of how this prisoner exchange occurred,” the governor said in a news release. “I’m not going to speculate on anything beyond what I know — and what I know is that after almost five years, a young man from Idaho no longer is in enemy hands.”

Labrador, speaking to a Boise radio station, criticized Republicans for acting as though the U.S. has never before negotiated a prisoner exchange.

“Usually our side will release people that are less than desirable in order to get some of our people back in these swaps,” Labrador said. “So I would suggest that anybody who’s being hyper-critical about this, they should look at the history. This has happened before.”

JEERS to the co-chairmen of Idaho’s federal lands interim committee, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise and Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale.

Winder and the Boss didn’t like the legal advice they received from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office, that trying to get the feds to turn millions of acres over to the state is a legal and political land mine. So, with the blessing of House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Brent Hill, they are using taxpayer dollars to hire outside legal counsel.

Winder and the Boss didn’t bother to tell the folks paying their bills. The hiring of Boise attorney William Myers III became public only after Winder talked about it to a group of Montana politicians.

Winder said Wasden’s shop didn’t “give us a whole lot of imagination or creativity on what the political solutions might be.”

Translation: If you don’t like the facts, buy some new ones. In this case, the price tag is $42,000. That’s no sweat for Winder or the Boss. They’re not paying the bill. You are.

CHEERS to Bingham County Republican Party Chairman Dan Cravens. According to the Idaho State Journal, Cravens will head to the State Convention in Moscow next weekend attempting to do some good.

Bingham County’s 19-person delegation unanimously supports an end to the closed primary, which for the second consecutive election cycle, diluted voter turnout.

“Closing the primary simply alienates people,” Cravens said.

The Bingham County delegation also opposes repeal of the 17th Amendment, which gives citizens and not state legislatures the right to elect U.S. senators.

“We don’t need to go back to the days of smoke-filled rooms,” Cravens said. “Idaho voters have selected great senators.”

Amen to that first point. To the second, well, let’s move on.

JEERS to former Idaho Congressman Richard Stallings, who is seeking to regain his old seat from incumbent Republican Mike Simpson.

Stallings was one of those decrying the down-and-dirty primary election contest between Simpson and challenger Bryan Smith. And yet, according to the Twin Falls Times-News, Stallings is jumping right into the mudslinging, referring to Simpson as a “villain” because of his opposition to raising the minimum wage and purported refusal to engage on issues such as immigration reform.

Stallings and Simpson squared off for this seat in 1998. Simpson won. Some bad blood clearly lingers. But, please, for the sake of those citizens still recovering from the Smith-Simpson knock-down-drag-out, can we agree that there are no “villains” in this race, just two candidates with different ideas and ideals?

JEERS to the legislative co-sponsors of House Bill 598 and Senate Bill 1254.

HB 598, sponsored by House Majority Leader Mike Moyle at the urging of the Idaho Technology Council, will give big business a tax break on software system upgrades.

Moyle’s bill cleared the House on a 58-12 vote and the Senate 33-0. The listed fiscal impact of the bill was between $2 million and $5 million annually.

The actual price tag, according to the Idaho Tax Commission?

Around $40 million annually.

How much different would those votes have been if lawmakers knew the true hit to the state treasury?

Senate Bill 1254, the guns on campus bill, had 21 legislative co-sponsors, including four eastern Idahoans: Lenore Barrett (Challis), JoAn Wood (Rigby), Jeff Thompson (Idaho Falls) and Janet Trujillo (Idaho Falls).

SB 1254 listed no fiscal impact. The truth? As reported by the Idaho Statesman’s Bill Roberts, Boise State University anticipates spending $500,000 over the next three years to expand and arm its security force. Other Idaho colleges and universities face similar costs.

Legislators are required to list a fiscal impact on bills they sponsor so their colleagues will know all the implications of voting for or against. HB 598 and SB 1254 are classic examples of false advertising.

In the business world, there are consequences for misleading the public. In the Idaho Legislature, on the other hand, a bogus fiscal impact will earn you a campaign contribution from the involved lobbyists and a signing ceremony in the governor’s office.

Corey Taule