Bipartisan Curious 

“When we label or stereotype someone, that’s usually based on our inability to deal with someone intellectually.”

Chris Meyer, environmental attorney with Boise-based Givens Pursley LLP and president of the Idaho Environmental Forum Steering Committee, likes a good political cartoon. One of his favorites, in the Dec. 17 2012 issue of The New Yorker, portrayed two men walking near the U.S. Capitol.

"And it shows one man turning to the other and asking about his political orientation," said Meyer. "And the other man responds, 'I consider myself bipartisan-curious."

After a good laugh from a packed room at Boise's Owhyhee Plaza hotel, the setting for IEF's annual legislative forecast, Meyer suggested that the cartoon might be a theme for the afternoon.

"I would suggest we could all use a healthy dose of bipartisanship," he said.

That remark was greeted with a good many nods of approval.

"How many here are attending an IEF event for the first time?" asked Meyer. A handful of hands went up.

"And how many are here by mistake?" Meyer joked. One hand went up. Meyer chided the one person with a hand in the air.

"No, not you, Mr. Speaker."

Those in attendance turned around to see that the hand belonged to Oakley Republican Rep. Scott Bedke, speaker of the Idaho House, who led the room in another good laugh.

Bedke, a seven-term member of the Idaho Legislature and newly elected House speaker, admitted that there was a time when he "wouldn't have been caught dead at an IEF function."

"But that was then," Bedke said with a smile. "I can tell I'm among friends."

Bedke grew up in what he called "a sagebrush rebel's home," referring to the late 20th century war of words pitting ranchers, loggers and miners against federal officials over Western land, water and mineral rights.

But after taking the podium as the forum's guest speaker, Bedke cautioned the gathering to heed his self-learned lesson about stubbornness.

"When we label or stereotype someone, that's usually based on our inability to deal with someone intellectually," he said.

Bedke cited examples of working with state agencies--specifically the Idaho Departments of Agriculture and Environmental Quality--when he thought it was necessary to intervene on his constituents' behalf when dealing with federal agencies--specifically the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The EPA may consider you're wrong about something," said Bedke. "But when an Idaho state agency intercedes, they can make things happen. Society's goals are more easily met in an Idaho-centric way."

Bedke next set his sights on a topic that he knows well -- as a politician and a fourth-generation Idaho rancher: land management.

"I submit that we have to have a pilot project in Idaho when it comes to land management," he said.

Bedke pointed to Utah's efforts to reclaim federally owned lands in its state and questioned why Idaho couldn't do the same.

In 2012 the Utah Legislature passed a measure asking the U.S. government to transfer the lands by the end of 2014, exempting national parks and tribal property.

"I think we need to take a close look at what happened in Utah," said Bedke.

Indeed, a few days following Bedke's speech, the Idaho House and Senate resource committees hosted Utah Republican Rep. Ken Ivory who touted the benefits of his state's reclamation efforts.

"This is about economic self-reliance," Ivory told Idaho lawmakers.

In fact, the Idaho Republican Party platform advocates for state control over federal lands.

Ivory added that Idaho could shelter itself from the U.S. governmet's current fiscal crisis, in that "40 percent of Idaho's revenues come from the federal government.

Bedke agreed, saying, "Somebody is going to have to pay and the federal government's path of least resistance usually goes through the states. I know that because as a lawmaker, the path of least resistance for our state is usually through the counties."

Bedke added that the Utah measure was a "good model but has some flaws."

If, for instance, the federal government doesn't transfer federal lands to Utah by 2014, the state would likely pursue the matter in federal court and, most probably, would end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bedke suggested compromise was a much better path.

"If we can touch all the bases of society's goals, it's incumbent for us to think about this direction," he said.

But it's not as if Bedke wouldn't be ready for a tussle.

"I'm a charter member of the 'act of defiance' club," he said with a laugh.

Bedke conceded that the jury was still out on the currently raging debate on whether Idaho should self-manage a health care exchange as part of the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act.

"I honestly don't know if the same holds true for the health care exchange," he said. "We're just going to have to have that debate."

Bedke said "dealing with each other intellectually" will be the only opportunity for constructive debate on the key issues before the 2013 legislative session.

"Whether it's the EPA versus the DEQ, or wolves, a state-run health exchange or land management, we just don't need to stereotype or label or put each other in a box," he said.

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