For the week of June 3 thru June 9, 1998  


Kempthorne plays Santa for Air Force

Idaho Sen. Dirk Kempthorne is hedging his bets. If he fails to win the governor’s office in November, he can fill his time by playing Santa Claus at area malls.

He has already begun to pile up experience in the job by playing Santa for the Air Force in Idaho.

As quietly as Santa, Kempthorne attached a rider to a Defense Authorization bill. The rider authorizes the transfer of 12,000 acres of land from the Bureau of Land Management to the Air Force for expansion of its bomb training range near Mountain Home in the Owyhee desert. Kempthorne is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is considering the bill.

Kempthorne attached the rider to the bill before the BLM had finished negotiations with the Air Force.

The BLM wanted restrictions on low-level flights over prime bighorn sheep habitat, flights over the Owyhee and Bruneau rivers that are popular with river rats, and flights over a wilderness study area in Little Jack’s Creek.

The rider stopped BLM negotiators in mid-sentence. Shortly thereafter, the BLM conceded game-set-match to the Air Force.

Santa Kempthorne also gave muzzles to everyone else opposed to the range expansion. There will be no public hearings.

Environmentalists and recreationists are left to howl at the moon. The Shoshone Paiute Tribes are left with nowhere to turn to protect sacred sites.

Kempthorne, on the other hand, will avoid having to justify spending $30 billion on the range expansion.

He may never have to explain why it is better to spend than save by having pilots continue to train on existing ranges nearby in Nevada and Utah. He may never have to debate the matter with opponent Robert Huntley, who opposes the range expansion.

If Kempthorne wants to play Santa, we don’t understand why he didn’t want to spend his $30 billion on things Idahoans would really like.

The money could finish up purchase of scenic easements in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area to prevent subdivisions, replace the dangerous two-lane bridge on Highway 75 between Hailey and Ketchum or be earmarked for restoring salmon runs to Idaho. It could be used to restore funding to Idaho forests and to remove the need to charge fees for recreation. It could be used to build new schools to replace the wretched edifices that are crumbling.

With just one sneaky legislative rider, Kempthorne could create the long-delayed Boulder White Clouds Wilderness Area.

Kempthorne needs to win the race for governor because if he loses, it’s going to be hard for him to get the Santa job at the malls. No mall needs a Santa who hands out candy canes that taste like castor oil.


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