Public Lands: Keep them public

Judy Ferro    [Published by the Idaho-Press-Tribune on Aug. 11, 2014]

August is wildfire season, and this year is no exception. A recent AP article states “some 30 large fires are burning their way through federal and state forests in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.”  Drought-stricken California is suffering the worst with 209 square miles burned so far, 44 percent higher than usual for early August.

Budgeted firefighting funds will run out by the end of the month.  Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack is asking for another $615,000 for this year and next. Some are suggesting that wildfires be funded through federal agencies that deal with floods and hurricanes.

Perhaps that’s why advocates for taking over Federal lands have been quiet all week. .

Not that wildfires deter them.  They claim Idaho would act so responsibly that wildfires would no longer be a problem. I’ve heard one zealous advocate say, “Once we cut the trees, the fires will go away.”  The movement’s leaders, however, stick to the vaguer language of Article X of the Idaho Republican platform:  “The Idaho Republican Party believes…we need to limit and reduce the amount of land owned or administered by the federal government. We believe Idaho should manage and administer all state and federal lands.

Right now the Feds give counties $58 million each year to compensate for timber cutting, an amount that nearly equals the estimated $50 to $75 million made from the sales.  They spend another $390 million or so annually managing lands within Idaho’s borders.

So Idaho’s Republican leadership wants to rid the Federal government of this burden and rely on “better management” to fund management.  By early July the legislature’s Federal Land Task Force, headed by Sen. Chuck Winder and Rep, Lawerence Denney, had spent $41,726 for a lawyer to search for grounds to sue for Federal government lands, grounds which our Attorney General’s office has concluded do not exist.

And House Speaker Scott Bedke is spearheading a drive to combine the efforts of seven western states in wresting lands from the Feds.

I’m surprised ranchers aren’t speaking out on this issue.  In 2013 the Federal rate was about $1.35 per animal unit month; Idaho charged $15.50.

I’d expect to hear more, also, from those who benefit directly from the $6.3 billion in sales generated by outdoor recreation in Idaho.  Speaker Bedke has bluntly stated that we will not be selling state lands.  The position of other Republicans, however, is less clear.  While serving in the U.S. House, Butch Otter co-sponsored a bill to sell Federal lands to pay for New Orleans hurricane relief.

Otter’s position is close to that of the sample legislation from the corporate-financed American Legislative Exchange Council:  BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, to the extent that the Public Lands Commission determines through a public process that any such land should be sold to private owners, that…5% of the net proceeds shall be paid to the Permanent Fund for the public schools and 95% of the net proceeds should be paid to the national government to pay down the national debt.

 That’s right, 95% of funds to the Federal government.  The concern here is not so much that the lands benefit the state, but that they are privatized.

The Cato Institute, another Koch brothers’ creation, calls for selling surface, water and mining rights separately. The surface rights could be sold to a coalition of private citizens planning to camp and fish there, while the water rights go to a coalition of ranchers, and the mining rights to a corporation.

The single poll I have seen say over 70% of Idahoans oppose the land transfer.  Apparently, that isn’t deterring Republican political leaders.  They are convinced that two-thirds of Idahoans will continue to vote for them.

Elections: Woodings can save us

Judy Ferro    [Rejected for publication]

Holli Woodings may not look like the Lone Ranger, but that’s the role she’s been called upon to play this year. You know the scenario: the cattle baron and his ranch hands run roughshod over the citizens and drive out one, two, three challengers. Things look bleak. Then the music stills, and a silent hero, calm and fearless, rides into the fray.

            Over nine legislative terms, including three as Speaker of the House, Lawerence Denney has developed major political clout.  In May he defeated three other candidates for the Republican nomination for Speaker of the House, including Phil McGrane.  McGrane, a law school graduate who has worked with Ada County elections for years, shares Ben Ysursa’s philosophy: Never forget who you work for – the people; and that transparent, fair, and efficient elections have no room for partisanship.” 
            Now the fate of Idaho elections depends on Woodings. As a principle in a family business, a Democratic legislator, and a mother of two, Woodings didn’t really need new challenges.  Yet, she foresaw the danger of a Denney victory and rode to challenge him.            
            What is so bad about Denney? 
            Two things:  he will sell public lands to wealthy investors, and he values partisan gain over the democratic process.
            Admittedly, no Idaho Republican has ever said they fight to control our national forests so they could sell them.  No, they claim the millions to be made from selling timber would spark our economy.  But the numbers don’t add up.   For one thing, the $58 million the Feds now give counties to compensate for timber cutting nearly equals the estimated $50 to $75 million to be made timber sales.  The Feds also spend about $392 million managing lands within Idaho’s borders.  In fact, some U.S. Representatives are arguing that states should HAVE to take over public lands within their borders. 
            So Denney and allies are either figuring Idaho has $350-$400 million lying around to spend on managing former Federal lands or they plan on selling the land.    
            As co-chair of the legislature’s committee on federal lands, Denney and co-chair Dick Winder hired a private attorney to work on the Federal land issue at a cost to Idaho taxpayers of at least $41,000.  Other committee members were not informed of the action, much less asked to approve it.
            And Denney has two black marks concerning elections.  While founder and sole director of Victory Fund, he raised funds from Republican legislators which were used to fund their uber-conservative challengers.  Denney claimed he’d given the funds to the Gun PAC and was totally unaware who would receive the money.  Other Republicans, however, rejected his argument and defeated him as Speaker of the House.
            Denney was also active in the fight to close Republican primaries.  Thanks to him, independents are barred from voting in the primaries and each voter’s party affiliation is announced at the polls.  The number of primary voters is lower than ever.      
            For the 45 years Pete Cenarrusa and Ben Ysursa have served Idaho’s State Department, Idahoans have benefitted from competent administration dedicated to fair elections. Now, with Denney in the running, there is already talk of ending same-day registration and early voting. 
            And I can’t imagine Denney successfully handling the 2012 primaries where new district and precinct lines were still being just before absentee voting started.  For all his experience shaping public policy, Denney has very little practical experience in administration.
            So, hold your breath while the music stills and the challenger rides to battle. 

Politics: Republican primaries

by Judy Ferro

Gotta love Idaho politics. Primaries are behind us, and now Republican factions are arguing over who won.

Butch Otter can claim victory because he actually won the Republican nomination for governor.

But Russ Fulcher is also claiming victory for his anti-Obamacare, anti-Feds, anti-public schools faction.   Getting 46% of the vote against an incumbent in a state-wide race proves that they are gaining strength. Why, he even won in Ada and Canyon counties.

A look at other races, however, leave that claim in doubt. To start with, the Fulcher-faction didn’t win a legislative race against an incumbent in either Ada or Canyon. Statewide, six Republican legislators were defeated, three losing to challengers on the right and three to challengers from the center.

So Democrats look at Fulcher’s near-victory and suspect there is a growing anybody-but-Butch sentiment in the counties where Otter is most at home. This is a governor, after all, who has given us one expensive scandal after another—the broadband contract the Feds believe is illegal, the fraud and ill-run prisons with Corrections Corporation of America, the favorable tax rates reserved for cronies, and the wrongful termination lawsuit in the Transportation Department among others.

This could mean victory in November for Democrat A.J. Balukoff. A.J. has a stronger business history. He started out a pauper and made big bucks without marrying anyone’s daughter. Moreover, he’s served 14 years on the Boise School Board and opposed the Luna Laws. And it shouldn’t hurt that he graduated from BYU-Idaho.   He hasn’t won—or entered—any tight jeans contests and he won’t have that R by his name, but he would make the better Governor.

Unfortunately, the Fulcher-faction did win one statewide race—Lawerence Denney got 36% of the vote to win the four-way race for Republican nominee for Secretary of State. Remember Denney? As majority leader, he kicked out committee chairs who dared to oppose him on anything. He also used donations from fellow Republican legislators to fund their ultra-right opponents. And wasn’t he a major force behind the closed Republican primary?

So the question is did Denny win because his name was the most familiar or do voters really want to see his hard-core partisanship governing our state elections?

Are Idahoans so determined to vote for a Republican that they will risk getting Florida-style elections with purges of the registration rolls, restricted early voting and long waiting lines in precincts that don’t vote right?

The Democrat alternative is a relative unknown—Boise businesswoman and one-term Representative Holli Woodings. But she shares outgoing Secretary Ben Ysursa’s serious commitment to honest elections. Hopefully, that’s what Idahoans want.

The Democrats have other strong contenders for statewide races. Boise lawyer Nels Mitchell would work harder and smarter than Senator “Vote-no” Risch. Retired teacher and seven-term legislator Shirley Ringo has twice the smarts and twice the personality of Representative Labrador. Democrat Jana Jones worked in the Department of Education under Republicans Jerry Evans and Anne Fox as well as Democrat Marilyn Howard. Her opponent is relatively unknown even among Republicans. And Twin Falls CPA Deborah Silver would actually understand what is happening in the Treasurer’s office.

No, I’m not willing to admit that a primary closed to two-thirds of Canyon County voters has decided the statewide races. People are becoming aware that one-party rule has given us corruption and cronyism as well as a poor-paying jobs and a stagnant economy. Republicans are increasingly focused on the internal fight among factions rather than the well-being of Idaho.

There will always be voters who blindly vote the R by the name. Concerned citizens, however, will be voting for some Democrats this fall.