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

Marvel exposed Idaho’s economic hypocrisy

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

The conventional spin is that Idaho government is a refuge from awful liberal thinking and a beacon for those in search of a pure free enterprise haven.

Well sir, the Idaho Supreme Court took care of that nonsense last week, unanimously overturning a law that in fact mocks free enterprise.

The state high court ruled that the State Land Board can't give preference to ranchers in selling or leasing state land to benefit Idaho schools.

For now, this ends one of the oddest range wars in western history, waged by Hailey architect and environmental gadfly Jon Marvel and his Idaho Watersheds Project against Idaho’s executive and legislative branches and ranchers.

Although he outbid ranchers for state land, Marvel has been turned down in attempts to control grazing acreage. The rationale of the Land Board seems to have been that Marvel would retire the land from grazing and-- horrors!-- preserve it as natural environment, while ranchers would use the land productively for the economy, even if the state profited less.

Isn’t this a form of liberal economic affirmative action that Idaho conservatives, especially ranchers, find outrageous in federal programs?

Suppose Idaho somehow could get away with preferred non-competitive lower lease rates for ranchers, but then also demanded the authority to impose price ceilings on meat, and implement lease rates that fluctuated up when market prices improved?

My bet is ranchers would claim that’s also unfair.

Idaho ranchers and Idaho conservative politicians aren’t alone in this hypocrisy.

I knew one of the nation’s largest chain auto dealers who was a spellbinder with speeches demanding "government get off our backs."

Except, of course, when his self-interests were involved: he successfully convinced a western state’s Legislature to require state approval for anyone seeking to open a new car dealership.

His argument, which thinking people denounced but witless politicians parroted, was to "protect" consumers. Sure. A first year civics student could see who was being protected with this law, and it wasn’t the consumer.

Another ultra-conservative "free enterprise" disciple I’ve watched over the years couldn’t make a public appearance without ranting about liberals, welfare programs and government regulations. He also gave generously to politicians who promised to shut down welfare programs. He also joined notorious ultra-conservative groups that relentlessly denounced spongers on government programs.

But when he built a new national corporate headquarters, he financed it through a low-interest community development program of the federal and city governments, surely a form of sponging off government.

Jon Marvel’s concept of outbidding ranchers isn’t home free yet. Ranchers will hope for some sort of preferential law from the next session of the Legislature.

Win or lose in the long run, Jon Marvel at least has performed the minimum service of challenging and exposing the "free enterprise" hypocrisy that Idaho lawmakers preach, but don’t practice.

Murphy is the retired publisher of The Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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