Mar 29 2007

Road revenge

Published by at 2:42 pm under Idaho

There was the case in the last session of the Oregon legislature where leadership of one party tried to quash a transportation project pursued by a member of the other party. And denial of legislation and pet projects to minority members is not especially unusual in any legislature.

But what emerged on the floor of the Idaho Senate today is something else – punishing an entire region because the people in it voted against the candidates of the majority party.

This came up on what was supposed to be the last day of the Idaho Legislature this year (still might be), as the Senate was getting ready to consider what was to be its last big decision of the year – approving authority for issuing GARVEE bonds for highway construction. It was the subject of concern and negotiation for some time (there was a reason it was held off until the end), and a final draft of Senate Bill 1245 was presented to the Senate only today, after several leaders in the House had worked on it.

Which is when the senators found out what had happened in the guts of the bill: One of the half-dozen big highway projects in it had been eliminated. This project concerned work on Interstate 84 at Boise from Orchard Road to Isaac’s Canyon – central and southeast Boise. The precise area, in other words, in which voters in the last couple of elections have thrown out their Republican legislative delegations and gone Democratic.

We might be willing to chalk this up to uneasy coincidence; spending priorities will differ according to one’s viewpoint. Except that by legislators’ own accounts there’s no debt that this was the precise reason the project was dropped. Betsy Russell’s Spokesman-Review blog has the quotes that nail it. Start with Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chair of the budget committee, speaking on the Senate floor: “There was one of those six projects that was removed altogether. Why? Because the senator and the representatives from that district were from the wrong political party. . . . It’s time for us to step back.” Drilling down, he later said it happened “because it’s in Elliot’s backyard,” referring to Boise Democratic Senator Elliot Werk.

There were some sort-of demurrals, though House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, seemed to distance himself: “I was never in a meeting where that was discussed” (though he said other House leaders did discuss the GARVEE plans).

The Senate spent almost two hours debating the bill; afterward, it decisively killed it, 23-12.

There may be more to this, and we’ll keep watch. But if Russell’s reportage so far is accurate (and it’s rarely not) and if Cameron is right (and his statements would be extraordinarily out of character if they weren’t), then this is a dark passage: A message from legislative leadership that you’d better vote Republican, or else.

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