Back in the old days, when Republicans were more interested in working to solve problems than in partisan point scoring, they were able to do important things. That old can-do spirit was recently displayed by two GOP legislators--Congressman Mike Simpson and State Senator Jim Guthrie--who deserve kudos for their courage in proposing viable solutions to problems that need addressing.
Mike Simpson had to know that he was going to get strong pushback for his plan to save Idaho’s salmon from extinction, but he nevertheless put a comprehensive and workable plan on the table for discussion. That is the kind of leadership I would have associated with my former boss, Senator Len Jordan. It is a rare commodity today.
Simpson’s plan addresses every interest affected by the removal of the four lower Snake River dams. It may not be perfect in every respect, but perfection is impossible for this complicated issue. Simpson’s plan is the only proposal put forward in the last four decades that could come close to saving our anadromous fish runs, while providing help to the various interests impacted by the dam removal.
I became immersed in this issue as Idaho Attorney General in 1983, when I argued a case in the U.S. Supreme Court on Idaho’s interest in these magnificent fish. Preparation for the argument required a detailed study of every factor harming the fish runs, particularly the upstream and downstream mortality of each fish run at each of the eight dams on the Columbia-Snake system. At that time, it became apparent that the fish were doomed if they had to contend with all eight dams and that they might survive if the four Snake dams were removed. The situation has not changed in the last 38 years, despite numerous proposed solutions and the expenditure of over $17 billion.
The grim fact is that we can either have the four Snake dams or we can have the salmon and steelhead runs, but we can’t have both. It is a stark choice, which was just confirmed by over five dozen Pacific Northwest fishery experts. Simpson’s plan poses absolutely no threat to Idaho’s water. I would not support it if it did. The plan is entitled to fair and dispassionate consideration by every stakeholder. And Simpson deserves our thanks for his leadership and courage.
Senator Jim Guthrie, another courageous Republican, knew that he would encounter grief for proposing that undocumented immigrants be able to obtain driver privileges. Nevertheless, he introduced legislation to do just that. His Senate Bill 1132 would bring undocumented drivers out of the shadows, allow them to get driver training and liability insurance and make Idaho roads safer.
The fact is that undocumented workers will be driving whether or not they have driving privileges. The Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluation studied the issue and found that accidents involving unlicensed drivers are deadlier and costlier than those with licensed drivers. Other states, including Utah and New Mexico, experienced reduction in traffic fatalities and uninsured motorists from programs like Senator Guthrie proposes.
Many Idaho employers support the legislation, including the Idaho Dairymen’s Association and the Associated General Contractors. It will facilitate their work, reduce their potential liability and save lives. Senate Bill 1132 deserves approval and Guthrie deserves thanks for having the courage and leadership for proposing it.