Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Jaquet: Session required SV defense

Second-longest Legislative session finally over

Express Staff Writer

Defending the Sun Valley area against bad perceptions is a task sometimes required of state legislators from the Wood River Valley.

It's something that Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, has been keenly aware of throughout her career in the Idaho House of Representatives, which began in 1994.

"When you represent this area you have to be sensitive about how you're perceived," Jaquet said. "That is something I think we work on a lot."

During this year's session of the Legislature—the second longest in Idaho's history—Sun Valley's image took a hit among legislators working in Boise, Jaquet said.

But District 25—the area Jaquet represents, along with Jon Thorson, who took the place of Sen. Clint Stennett this session, and Rep. Donna Pence from Gooding—also got some benefits from the session. That included $1.6 million in federal stimulus cash directed to the Ketchum-based Mountain Rides Transportation Authority. The money will be used to buy additional and replacement buses and vans and to expand its educational outreach.

Jaquet said she was well aware of the fact that the valley came out of the process quite well compared with other rural areas of the state. The $1.6 million identified for use in local transit projects came out of a total of just $8.7 million in federal stimulus funds Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter requested for transit programs in rural areas statewide.

"The governor told me, 'I want to ride on one of those buses, Wendy,'" she said.

Jaquet also worked with the State Board of Land Commissioners when it reviewed a federal grant to help with rehabilitation from the Castle Rock Fire. On the line item list, the money was designated for "Sun Valley," which raised some eyebrows on the land board. Jaquet had the name of the appropriation changed to reflect that the money was headed for something other than a wealthy resort community.

Jaquet said much of the harm done to Sun Valley this session had to do with the Sun Valley-Ketchum merger issue. Tensions related to the proposed consolidation between the two cities traveled to the state Capitol, where Idaho lawmakers witnessed the acrimony surrounding the issue.

Legislators rejected a bill that would have amended Idaho Code to allow voters to choose the name of a new city in the case of a consolidation. But that news was overshadowed by a scuffle that required Capitol security officers to separate Sun Valley resort General Manager Wally Huffman and an Associated Press reporter.

As currently written, state law requires the name of the more populous city to be adopted in the case of a consolidation.

Jaquet said some of her constituents were upset by her support for the name-change bill, and considered that vote an indication of support for a Sun Valley-Ketchum merger.

"I thought, this is something we could fix for people across the state," she said. "Obviously, I was interested in having conversations about merging some of the services."

Jaquet said she really enjoyed her work this session on the powerful Joint Finance Appropriations Committee, also known as JFAC. Last December, she announced her departure as House minority leader to take on the JFAC post.

Jaquet said she had been considering running for statewide office—possibly for lieutenant governor—but gave up that idea after seeing how poorly Democrats fared in the November election. The party remains a distinct minority in Idaho.

Jason Kauffman:

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