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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. 
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 


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For the week of June 6 - June 12, 2001

  Opinion Column

Judge breathes life 
into initiatives process

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Idahoans should be grateful to U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill for providing life support for a lawsuit that could restore a balance of power between the public and the Legislature.

The citizen lawsuit, which Judge Winmill refused to dismiss at the state’s request, would eliminate utterly shameful obstacles erected by legislators to placing citizen initiatives on the state ballot.

The Legislature’s Republican majority connived to force citizens to gather signatures of 6 per cent of the registered voters in half of Idaho’s 44 counties before a ballot initiative could qualify.

Previously, initiative backers could garner enough signatures by harvesting them at a major one-stop gathering such as the state fair.

Why the tougher law? Because lawmakers and business interests that set the state’s political agenda are terrified that Idahoans interested in better government will take matters into their own hands and modify, repeal or enact laws without the Legislature’s consent.

Defenders of the tougher new law use the phony argument that lenient requirements will clutter election ballots with frivolous issues.

Frivolous? Jeepers. One need only sample some of the Legislature’s witch’s brew of inane issues for examples of what’s frivolous.

Speaking of high-handed politicians:

Idaho’s freshman congressman, former Lt. Gov. Butch Otter, continues his childish standoff with the Environmental Protection Agency over a $50,000 fine he’s been ordered by a court to pay for damage to wetlands at his ranch, the third such offense.

Originally the fine was $80,000. But Otter beat it down to $50,000. Then, in a delaying tactic, Otter threatened EPA he’d use his position as a congressman to change the law that got him into a pickle, a threat some might consider an attempt by a pipsqueak newcomer to muscle EPA into dropping the matter.

Without catching a breath, Otter came up with a new demand: he’ll pay the fine if EPA will divert it to environment restoration and guarantee that his $50,000 won’t be used to hire bureaucrats.

Demanding that EPA isolate and track the ultimate destination of $50,000 mixed into a budget of more than $7 billion, and dictating what EPA does with revenues from a fine, has all the trappings of another Otter delay.

By continuing his stalls, Otter runs the risk of leaving the impression that he’s not really the true-blue law-and-order Republican conservative he pretends, but maybe just a petty scofflaw who believes he’s entitled to special treatment.

President Bush’s photo-op visit this week to Florida’s huge Everglades National Park is as cynical a public relations stunt as he and his anti-environmental coaches have dreamed up thus far.

Remember, Bush is the president who wants to open public lands for commercial development.

And there he is posing as a friend of Mother Nature in the Everglades, 1.5 million acres of the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the continental United States, which WAS opened to developers — who drained swamps, allowed salt water to flood the fresh water aquifer with devastating consequences to humans and wildlife, and is now being restored at taxpayer expense of some $7.8 billion.

Our grandfathers had a name for slippery people like this in their day — snake oil salesmen.




The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.