No need for private lawyers in public lands dispute

As elected officials, we owe it to Idahoans to conduct the state’s business with transparency and manage our tax dollars carefully. I believe that the co-chairs of Idaho Federal Land’s Interim Committee fell short on both standards.

Interim committees operate on budgets of $20,000, yet the co-chairs of the lands committee, Sen. Chuck Winder and Rep. Lawerence Denney, decided to blow that budget by 200 percent.

Without consulting other committee members, Winder and Denney hired a private attorney who will be paid $41,000 in taxpayer dollars. The other committee members learned of this decision only after Sen. Winder disclosed the hiring to Montana legislators. That’s right. Our elected leaders let Montanans know what they were doing before telling anyone in Idaho.

What is particularly troubling is that they decided to hire the lawyer after our very competent Attorney General’s Office had already studied case law and offered advice.

Consider for a moment that Idaho is already paying $10 million a year in private attorney fees. Our Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has said that we can save much of that expense by going through his office, which is exactly why we have an Attorney General.

Lawerence Denney has a history of spending public dollars on private lawyers when he’s looking for a specific outcome. He sued the state of Idaho to close the Republican Primary elections. The lawyer who pushed the lawsuit, Christ Troupis, was paid $100,000 in taxpayer dollars. When Denney didn’t like the fair and independent work of the Redistricting Commission, he and Troupis sued, and failed, in the Idaho Supreme Court. Had Denney prevailed, Troupis would have again been paid with taxpayer dollars.

Now, with the federal lands committee, we again have Denney using taxpayer dollars to shop around for an attorney who will give him the opinion he wants.

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Another troubling aspect of this incident is the fact that the overwhelming amount of evidence gathered by the committee’s work over the past 1 ½ years is that there is no legal standing for the state to take ownership or control of federally administered public lands. Indeed, even if such a thing were legal or likely, Idaho lacks the budget to manage those lands.

Idahoans do not want their public lands threatened. We value our public lands for fishing, hunting, and for the resources that we can take from them. We want the legacy of these lands passed down for generations. We want Idaho to always have clean air and clean water.

I am disappointed by what Mr. Denney and Mr. Winder have done as co-chairs of this committee. This is the kind of behind-closed-doors, costly leadership that Idaho cannot afford.