His Democratic opponent, Holli Woodings, criticized the move.
The two state lawmakers squared off Monday at a City Club of Boise forum — 29 days before Idaho voters decide on a successor for outgoing Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.
The forum was dominated by questions about elections policy, the main function in the secretary of state’s office, with both candidates pledging to uphold the office’s standards for even-handed administration of elections. Denney was asked several pointed questions about his own record as House speaker; before the 2013 session, House Republicans ousted Denney and elected current Speaker Scott Bedke to take his place.
The candidates fielded relatively few questions about one of the secretary of state’s main policy roles. The secretary of state holds one of five seats on the Land Board — and, as such, gets the chance to vote on endowment decisions affecting K-12 and other beneficiaries.
Denney, a Midvale Republican, believes the state could yield a greater return for schools if it were allowed to manage federal lands for logging and other purposes. Denney co-chairs a legislative committee that is expected to make recommendations next year on demanding a transfer of federal lands to state management — and the committee has paid Boise attorney William Myers more than $61,000 on legal guidance.
“You don’t hire an attorney to give you an opinion you want to hear,” Denney said. “You hire an attorney to give you sound legal advice.”
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Denney said the state would be better equipped to manage forests, and yield timber harvests from lands now susceptible to fire.
Woodings, a Boise Democrat, agreed that there are tremendous opportunities to better manage federal lands. “People want some logging opened up to support their local economies, and I get that.” However, she said, bypassing the Idaho attorney general’s office to hire outside counsel is tantamount to paying someone to serve “apple pie instead of broccoli.”
The candidates also disagreed on another Land Board issue — managing commercial real estate properties in Boise.
Denney said the state should not be in competition with private entities, since the state enjoys property, sales and income tax advantages.
But Woodings said the state’s endowment holdings — from timberlands to Downtown — are inherently commercial in nature, and in conflict with private entities. “There isn’t a bit of it that’s not.”
More reading: Monday’s forum, in Storifed form.
Disclosure: Kevin Richert is a City Club of Boise board member, who organized Monday’s forum.