A politically motivated smear mailer went out this past week compliments of the left oriented Conservation Voters for Idaho. The flyer targeted key legislative districts in an early bid to poison voters with misinformation. District 15 and yours truly was one of the targets. The flyer alleged that the targeted legislators voted against access to public lands by opposing a bipartisan supported resolution to provide "Idahoans with a map of all state lands, letting us see what lands we could access for hunting, fishing, hiking and camping." The flyer heading states "Putting Politics Over Public Access." Unfortunately, in desperation, the liberal left continues to put politics over the truth. The flyer clearly contains false and intentional misrepresentations for political purposes. Here are the facts: First, contrary to what was stated in the flyer, the resolution did not address "all" state lands. Rather, it was specific to "endowment lands," which are significantly different. They are different because they are constitutionally dedicated to maximizing income for public schools, not dedicated to public access. While access to endowment lands is important, it is constitutionally secondary to profit for schools. Second, the resolution was not bipartisan. There was only one sponsor and that was the Democrat minority leader. Third, while the sponsor's verbal argument for the bill was asking for "maps," the word "map" did not appear anywhere in the resolution. Instead, it requested a detailed report which was potentially much more complicated and costly. Finally, the resolution was unnecessary as the Department of Lands already has the authority to produce the maps without legislative mandate and had indicated a willingness to do so. Rejecting the resolution did not prohibit or in any way restrict access to public lands.
So what happened? HCR 20 stated that "we request the Idaho Department of Lands to provide a report detailing the managed uses of state endowment land, both location and quantity, and the location and quantity of accessible and inaccessible state endowment land." It was alleged that this would not involve any additional cost. I do not serve on the Resources Committee, having other assignments. As legislators, we frequently rely on the committee process to ferret out information and issues because we are not experts on all issues. Most of the time that process works, but not always. In this particular case, the sponsor repeatedly emphasized in presenting the resolution that it was about providing maps of accessible endowment lands to the public, which seemed reasonable. There were some questions and debate about the resolution not mentioning maps while specifically requiring a detailed report. The sponsor argued that the Department had the maps, they just needed to be public, and that the language was intended to mean maps. Given the focus on maps, and with the resolution having easily passed the committee, I initially voted to support it on the floor.
There was, however, lingering concern about the specific language of the resolution, because it did not mention maps at all, but rather required a detailed report. Rules allow that a vote can be reconsidered and, within the proper time, a motion was made for reconsideration. The concerns about what "detailing” meant received further focus. Endowment lands involve a variety of uses such as grazing, logging, mining, and other leased activities to fund schools. Routes of access may be direct or over private lands, there may be limited easements, lease requirements, hazardous conditions and the like which could affect public access and complicate detailed cataloging. Additional information from the committee hearing was shared, which revealed that while the Department was able to post maps without additional cost, further detailing would involve unknown time and cost. The claim that complying with the language of the resolution without additional cost became questionable. Despite the assurances of the sponsor, the language of the resolution clearly called for something different than maps.
Another aspect that bothered me was that the legislature was being asked to dictate to the executive branch something that branch already seemed willing to do. There was no disagreement that the Department of Lands was supportive of posting the requested maps. It was something that the Department already had authority to do. Consequently, sending a resolution to the Department demanding that it publish maps on which it was already working, by means of a resolution that did not specify maps, but rather asked for a detailed report, did not appear to me to be good policy or necessary legislation. After hearing further information during debate for reconsideration, quite a number of representatives who originally voted for the resolution changed their minds, including a number of members of the Resources Committee who originally voted for it in committee. The change in vote was not about denying access or information about access. That was clear in the debate which is publicly available for review on the legislative website. Nevertheless, Conservation Voters for Idaho has deliberately used falsehoods and misrepresentations to politically spin that the 46 legislators voted against the resolution in order to limit access to public lands and restrict transparency. Their representation in the mailer is disingenuous and intentionally designed to confuse voters.
As it turns out, in the interim, and as recent news reports have announced, the Department of Lands has indeed been working on the issue. It recently posted a map on its website entitled “Endowment Lands Accessible for Recreation” which reflects that 96% of endowment lands are accessible. More detailed information on particular parcels is available from the Department. They are also working on an interactive hunt planner map which will include accessible endowment lands. This is clear evidence that the resolution was unnecessary and that the Department is responding to the public interest. The legislature did its job in rejecting a fuzzy, unnecessary resolution in which the proffered purpose did not match the written language. In response, the liberal left has spent a significant amount of money to mail out a fake news flyer to battle ground districts to deceive potential voters for 2018. Conservation Voters for Idaho has shown its true colors and the extent to which it will connive to manipulate voters. I always stand ready to explain my votes. Unfortunately, that takes more time and may be more boring than the distortions, half-truths and innuendo upon which agitators and political gadflies tend to rely.