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A necessary condition

We’ve generally been mostly positively impressed by the move over the last decade of so many congressional offices across the region from federal buildings to private office buildings.

There have been some real pluses. As an internal matter, those federal buildings were often tight for space and had poor electric, telecom and other resource access, so the new spaces were usually a big improvement for the staffs and for efficiency. From the public’s standpoint, as the Idaho Falls Post-Register‘s Marty Trillhaase writes in an editorial today (the article is behind a pay wall), the federal offices were often “security-ridden” – constituents seeking help from their congressional offices would often be treated like prospective terrorists, and neither the constituents nor members of Congress much liked that.

There is a potential glitch, though, in using private property: The property owner does have a right to set terms and conditions for use of the property. In Idaho Falls, where Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo and Representative Mike Simpson have offices, that building is owned by a fellow Republican, attorney Blake Hall. When Iraq war protesters sought to carry their message to their members of Congress, and picketed their offices (all three have been strong war supporters), Blake ordered them evicted.

Trillhaase: “However anomalous Tuesday’s episode, it has exposed a precedent. What happens the next time a landlord decides to block people protesting immigration policies or salmon restoration, for instance, from petitioning the congressional offices in his building?”

Simpson and Crapo are reported to be reviewing the situation with Hall, and Simpson particularly seems to get the point, saying that either his offices are open to the public (including protesters) or “I will begin considering my options for alternative office space.”

The point to draw the line seems clear enough. It doesn’t really lie with property owners like Hall. Rather, government agencies should operate under rules which require that any space leases they execute must allow for free public access, period. As open as the federal buildings used to be.

BY THE WAY If you know anything about how thoroughly connected to Idaho Republican politics Blake Hall is, you have recognize how uncommonly cozy this particular lease arrangement looks.

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