Whenever there is an Idaho State Police trooper posted at the door to a legislative hearing, you know you are in for a treat. And this time, seated outside the west conference room in the Hall of Mirrors Building for a hearing on House Bill 138, the officer eyed the crowd a bit nervously.
In fact, he blatantly tracked Unda' the Rotunda's odd movements in and out of the room, as we tried to gauge the caliber of man who had come to testify on this Little Red Riding Hood bill, which makes it a felony to "introduce" a dangerous animal to the state.
The bill originally targeted specifically "Canadian" gray wolves and the people who protect them (Greenies? Idaho Department of Fish and Game? American Indians? Barack Obama?) but that was found to be a bit vague by state lawyers. Rep. Phil Hart, a Republican from North Idaho's District 3 decided to take a series of different tacks with the bill, applying it to any dangerous animal.
"What am I going to say to my constituent if one of their relatives are killed or injured by a wolf?" Hart asked the House Resources Committee. "If there is an attack, if someone is killed or injured by a wolf, who is liable?"
Hart is from the town of Athol, and is prone to introducing crazy bills.
Another crazy one this year that he supports amounts to a memo to Congress reminding the Feds that Idaho is a sovereign state and Washington, D.C., ought to quit telling us what to do.
That's just a memorial without the weight of law and might be considered fairly harmless and folksy. But more on that later. Several actual laws on the docket deserve the loco label too, including prohibitions on seizure of guns and ammo in the case of martial law, allowing for the payment of state taxes and fees in silver medallions and bars and allowing unlicensed barbers to cut hair at state prisons (we don't know much about this last one, but it sounds wacky).
The silver standard bill is Hart's work as well, hailing as he does from near the state's Silver Valley and favoring, as he does, setting lose a pack of wolves on the Federal Reserve.
At the wolf hearing, the room was filled with men in cowboy hats who looked like they had driven long distances from small places to support Hart's effort. The first to testify, a man from Calder, Idaho, brought a slideshow that his wife had made. It consisted of a series of photos of dead elk, apparently killed by wolves, set to a hip-hop horror movie soundtrack. One close-up of a ripped apart elk anus appeared several times.
The testimony amounted to a therapy session for Idaho's erstwhile anti-wolf coalition, which according to an ominous poster left on a table in the room, may now be called "Citizens for proper management of Canadian Wolves."
We had to leave early to talk to a group of interns about the decline of print journalism, but Rep. Liz Chavez, a retired teacher from Lewiston, filled us in the next day.
"There were some very strange things brought into it," Chavez said.
Like when Hart mentioned that even the Russian Soyuz spacecraft packed shotguns in case wolves attacked the cosmonauts upon landing (which appears to be a bit of an urban legend—the cosmonauts never actually encountered wolves and Russia has never said why she packs heat in space).
"It's just a little too far afield for me," Chavez said.
Chavez said that since she is a woman and a Democrat, she saved her colleagues some trouble and moved that the bill be sent to General Orders for amending, where it can die a quiet death and no one will have to say they voted against the wolf-eating-people bill.
The sovereignty resolution appears to be somewhat far afield as well, though it is a notion making it's way across the states and was recently profiled in the Christian Science Monitor, a nationally respected newspaper that just quit publishing five-days a week and moved its operations mostly online (i.e., not some crazy publication, eh).
And it passed 51 to 17.
Rep. Dick Harwood, also a Republican from North Idaho, said the declaration of sovereignty is a "grassroots movement throughout the states."
Harwood got himself into a little rhetorical mess when he declared on the House floor that the United States is a "confederacy" or a "confederated republic," according the Spokesman-Review, which lampooned the cheery lawmaker, quoting a political scientist who recommended remedial history lessons.
We asked Harwood twice what motivated the resolution and he failed to take the bait. But—not to be conspiratorial—Republican Reps. Lenore Barrett, Marv Hagedorn, Judy Boyle and Phil Hart all had similar resolutions planned at the beginning of the session and Harwood got them to support his.
Perhaps they all read the same magazines or something, along with confused-confederates in Oklahoma, Maine, Washington and others.
In a letter from Harwood posted on the 10th Amendment Center Web site, the legislator argues against federal mandates and then acknowledges: "If the federal funds help plug some holes in the state budget, or delays larger-than-expected budget cuts in programs such as education, transportation or Medicaid, fine. But I'll say 'no thanks' if the money goes to federally mandated programs that Idaho does not need or want."
We do not have space here to debate the 10th Amendment, but it sounds like Harwood is being a bit picky with his federal programs.
"Our founding fathers tried to limit the powers of the federal government," said Boyle, a Midvale Republican.
Boyle, a former staffer for the late Rep. Helen Chenoweth, said that Chenoweth took resolutions for the Idaho Legislature very seriously, writing Dear Colleague letters to argue her state's position.
Well here's another one she could have easily argued: If there is a state of emergency or declaration of martial law, don't ask us to give up our guns or ammo.
Rep. Pete Nielsen, a Mountain Home Republican, is amending the state's martial law statute to prohibit the seizure of firearms by official authorities.
"I honestly didn't think that we had a problem," Nielsen said. "That [the government's] not going to pick up the guns no matter what."
Nielsen said that in a state of emergency, people with guns are very helpful protecting abandoned homes and staving off looters. So his bill prevents the governor or local authorities from trying to confiscate those weapons.
"I'm not worried about our current governor," Nielsen said.
But he's worried about something. Phil Hart is worried. Harwood is worried ... and the problem is all of these worried people either have guns or talk big about having guns. And that's just the way Idaho voters like it.