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Hunting At The Capitol

In season: bobcats, Indians, unions, and superintendents

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At the Idaho Statehouse, some scenes are almost as funny as Dick Cheney's inability to tell a quail from a lawyer, and others are dumber than Democrats running Hillary Clinton for president. But some moves are blatantly political and have little to do with making Idaho a better place.

House Bill 415 sets limits and conditions on labor unions' contributions to candidates, which are mostly to Democrats. Presented innocently in committee by the likeable Ben Ysursa, Idaho Secretary of State, "to plug a hole in the law," declaring the situation an "emergency." That means it would take effect immediately if the governor signs it. Let's see: the Republican-dominated Legislature pushes a law that would reduce the amount of money given to political candidates by unions--which have historically been mostly to Democrats--and makes sure it snaps into place soon enough to influence the outcome of the November elections. Please, Mr. Legislator, have you figured out how to repair the school buildings yet?

Some other measures fall under the heading "My Lobbyist Is Better Than Your Lobbyist," such as HB596 "clarifies which animals are domestic fur bearing animals." (When was the last time you felt confused about which animals are furry?) In fact, the bill is a pro-fur industry measure, and, among other provisions, it adds bobcats to the list of acceptable animals to breed for pelts. So next time you see a bobcat coat on Boise society at the FUNDSY banquet, you can thank Rep. Mike Moyle (R-Star). Right after you pet the big dead kitty.

When a Senate committee rejected a bipartisan proposal to have a legislative group take a close look at certain tax exemptions, Sen. Joe Stegner (R-Lewiston) said, "It will take a significant change in the attitude of the Legislature to address this relatively large, historical practice of awarding exemptions to all of our friends."

It's really bad when they don't even hesitate before making self-incriminating remarks about their own corruption.

Let's just hope they don't follow in the footsteps of the vice president, and claim it's our fault when they blast us with birdshot.

Sometimes things blow through before anyone can say, "STOP, I HAVE A QUESTION." Dan Adamson, a new Republican candidate for governor and a darned merry soul, tramped the halls handing out brochures proposing taco parties for people who vote in primary elections. "Viva el Taco Gratis!"--"Long live the free taco!" proclaims Adamson's brochure.

And it's a little hinky when the House and Senate Republicans hold a "closed caucus" to ensure a lockstep-march about raises for state employees next year, which they did February 7. Rep. George Sayler (D-Coeur d'Alene) pointed out that Democratic caucuses are always open to the public and said it is wrong for the R's to make policy decisions in secret. Republicans ignored this--because they can.

A group of Idaho school superintendents asked this week to meet with Legislators to work out a solution to the school facilities problem and were refused by Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis (R-Idaho Falls.). Since the Idaho Supreme Court's decision last September that the Legislature must provide adequately for the public schools, it would seem lawmakers would welcome anyone with ideas on the issue. But Davis said the Legislature would handle it. Hmm. So far, lawmakers have spent over a decade NOT handling it. So why, again, should voters think they're qualified to do it without help?

Also rebuffed--even before it got started--was a bill written by Minority Leader Clint Stennett (D-Ketchum) protesting the sale of Idaho public lands, including prime hunting and fishing areas, to the feds. "It wouldn't even have been printed if I hadn't written it as a personal bill," said Stennett. He said that majority leaders had offered the opinion that the bill would be held in State Affairs if sent through standard methods. The measure sends a protest to President Bush and Congress about the proposed sale of almost 200,000 acres of public lands to raise money for hurricane relief. "Are we really ready to sell off our most precious asset? It's time to draw a line in the sand and push back," Stennett said. Jerry Conley, retired director of Idaho Fish and Game, added, "This is a nonpartisan issue. There's no such thing as a Republican duck or a Democratic pheasant."

But the tribes of the Idaho Indian Affairs Council had the most reasons for outrage--and the best way of pointing them out. In a spirited press conference complete with chiefs in full-feather headdress, the Coeur d'Alene tribe brought attention to House Concurrent Resolution 35, sponsored by Rep. John Stevenson (R-Rupert), which could do away with tribal gaming. In 2002, Proposition One approved tribal gaming by popular vote, and HCR35 is seen by Indian leaders as circumventing public process and threatening their livelihood. "One courtesy we expected would be that state legislators would use the Idaho Indian Affairs Council as a forum to discuss issues that affect tribal communities. This issue was never brought up in the council and it is very critical to the tribes. Gaming has provided vital funds, jobs and economic benefits to the tribal communities of Idaho--not to mention all the education funding that has been provided to the state because of tribal gaming," reads their press release.

Things got a bit edgy when an Abraham Lincoln impersonator and Civil War Union soldier re-enactors complete with muskets and bayonets happened to descend a marble staircase into the Indian press conference. A startled look passed between the two groups before the soldiers solemnly marched to the House chamber, but guns in the Statehouse seemed symbolic of the threats faced by so many underdogs during this legislative session.