For the week of April 7, 1999  thru April 13, 1999  

The game was rigged

Three strikes, the batter is out. In baseball, the batter who strikes out retires to the dugout to rethink his game and review the basics.

The Idaho Land Board should follow baseball’s example.

It struck out three times this week in front of the Idaho Supreme Court. All three cases had been brought by the Idaho Watersheds Project and its founder, Jon Marvel of Hailey.

The Land Board has a lot of thinking to do.

Until the state Supreme Court stepped in, the Land Board, cheered on by its buddies in the Idaho Legislature and the cattle industry, thought it was hitting home runs every time it refused to allow IWP, an avowed environmental organization, to bid on long-term grazing leases.

The Legislature tried to help the Land Board give grazers sweetheart deals on state land leases. It rewrote Idaho law, which changed the rules and nearly eliminated competition for the leases. The rewrite virtually guaranteed industrial-sized grazers below market rates, courtesy of Idaho’s schools.

The Legislature and the Land Board manufactured a complex economic rationale for refusing to allow bids from IWP and for taking low bids instead of entertaining higher ones.

IWP argued that in doing so the state wrongly deprived the state school endowment of money it deserved.

In essence, the members of the Land Board convinced themselves and their buddies in the Legislature that it was OK to eject IWP, the team they didn’t like, from the playing field. Or, to force IWP team members to play with their ankles tied together.

The IWP appealed to the ref, the Idaho Supreme Court. The court justices got out the rulebook, the Idaho Constitution, and did something remarkable. They read it and believed it.

They ruled the Land Board hadn’t played fair.

The high court said the Constitution demands that the Land Board look at "maximum long-term financial return" from the leasing of school endowment public grazing lands. It threw out the board’s tortured economic logic. The court also threw out the specially crafted law that excluded the IWP from bidding.

The court struck a blow for fair competition and sent the players back for a rematch.

It’s time for the Land Board to play fair. It’s time for its members, including the governor, the comptroller, the secretary of state, the superintendent of public schools and the attorney general, to try to hit home runs for Idaho’s schools, not to rig the rules so their buddies in cowboy hats can win every game.


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