The saga of a student and a salamander

One of Wednesday’s big Statehouse newsmakers was neither a governor nor a grizzled legislator nor a handsomely compensated lobbyist.

She was Ilah Hickman, a White Pine Elementary School sixth-grader who wowed the House State Affairs Committee with her case for designating the Idaho giant salamander the state’s amphibian. The committee printed Ilah’s proposal, which means her House Bill 230 should get a full hearing.

Ilah Hickman
Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, and White Pine Elementary School sixth-grader Ilah Hickman. (Photo by Betsy Russell, Spokane Spokesman-Review.)

No matter. Ilah has studied up. As she told lawmakers, the giant salamander in question lives almost exclusively in Idaho and its skin looks like the topography of the Bitterroot mountain range. She has also done the kind of nose-counting that would make a caucus chairperson proud; she told the committee that her proposal has the backing of 26 of her 32 classmates (she said she caught the naysayers at a bad time, polling them while they were doing homework).

Idaho giant salamander
Idaho’s state amphibian in waiting?

Ilah’s feel-good story quickly made its way around the Statehouse (the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell and The Twin Falls Times-News’ Melissa Davlin had good write-ups on the hearing). Soon after, outgoing “Idaho Reports” host Greg Hahn took to Twitter to remind me of an Idaho Statesman blog post I’d written in 2010, the last time the Idaho giant salamander had wandered its way into the political consciousness.

I wrote that a salamander bill seemed “a wee bit frivolous” at the time, seeing as it came the same week that legislators were busily whacking $128 million from Gov. Butch Otter’s budgets.

“If ever there was a time for a no-nonsense, all-hands-on-deck legislative focus, this is it,” I wrote at the time. “The salamanders can wait.”

The Twitter backlash was swift, albeit good-humored, and I was asked what I had against salamanders — or kids.

Nothing, really. And writing about education in Idaho is, ultimately, about writing about that life-defining adventure in which young people learn about the world they will inherit from us. Ilah seems well on her way.

Davlin said it best in a tweet after the State Affairs hearing. “Do you know what I was doing in sixth grade? Not getting legislation printed.”

Same here. And I wasn’t blogging when I was in sixth grade, either. Which is probably for the best.

And lastly, let’s say this for Ilah. She did actually get a bill printed Wednesday. The governor, the legislators or the lobbyists noodling over the personal property tax repeal can’t say that.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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