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Opinion Column
For the week of May 16 through May 22, 2001

Idaho GOP playing ĎLetís Make a Dealí

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Newspaper headlines tell the stories of Republicans with connections working to "Letís Make a Deal" with the new Republican administration.

First, an Associated Press story:

"Otter says heís not ready to pay EPA fine."

Idahoís colorful freshman congressman and former Idaho lieutenant governor, Butch Otter, continues to battle a fine for violating the federal Clean Water Act by filling in wetlands on his Idaho ranch. The original fine of $80,000 was reduced to $50,000 by a judge.

But Otter wonít stomach even that. "Iím working out a deal," he says, obviously aware thereís a new man in the White House.

Otter has good reason for optimism. Heís been cited twice in the past for infractions, but he talked the feds into allowing him to keep the changes.

Now, with more clout as a congressman, Otter says heíll use his seat on a committee to change the law that keeps tripping him up.

Then this headline in The Idaho Statesman:

"Legislation would let GOP donor bypass usual procedure."

This is about a revived congressional bill to benefit land developer Jim Doyle of Sun Valley, who along with relatives has donated thousands of dollars to Republican politicians and causes.

The bill by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, would require the feds to buy back 1,500 acres of deserted land in southwestern Utahís Washington County near St. George that Doyle bought in 1990 for $1.1 million, or about $733 an acre.

Undeveloped and situated in the middle of a federal desert tortoise preserve, the land is valued by Washington County for tax purposes at $2.4 million.

But thatís not Doyleís idea of a deal.

Doyle already rejected a Bureau of Land Management appraisal of $28 million ($18,666 per acre) ĺ 25 times more than he paid for the land that is in the same stark condition it was when he bought it.

This has all the appearance of math used by land speculators ĺ valuing undeveloped land for what it might be worth had it been developed.

Although most taxpayers might find Doyleís demand outrageous, Rep. Hansenís bill would not only give Doyle a $15 million down payment but require the Interior Department to continue negotiating a price agreeable to Doyle.

To avoid an impasse, a special hearing will be held on Hansenís bill ĺ by senior Idaho U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, who, coincidentally, received a $500 campaign contribution from Doyle.

Also the billís sponsor, Rep. Hansen, received $8,000 in campaign contributions from Doyle and family members, according to The Idaho Statesman. And Idahoís Rep. Otter received $2,000.

Finally, Hansenís bill is being welcomed by the President Bushís Interior Department, whereas it was opposed by the Clinton administration.

What should strike most people as especially odd is that so many Republicans, who presumably share the disgust for waste in Washington, are rushing to shell out tens of millions of dollars for a parched chunk of Utah desert.



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