BOISE — The Idaho Fish and Game Commission would no longer be required to be bipartisan under a bill approved Tuesday by the House Resources and Conservation Committee.
Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, said the best candidates shouldn’t be disqualified because of party affiliation.
“It shouldn’t be about politics,” Shepherd said. “It should be about Fish and Game and what’s best for policy in the agency.”
The bill would eliminate the portion of Idaho law that requires no more than four commissioners on the seven-member commission to belong to a political party. It passed 14-4, with one Republican joined three Democrats voting against; one Democrat voted yes.
The requirement became an issue in late January when Gov. Brad Little asked Clearwater Region appointee Bradley Melton to step down from the commission after learning Melton had switched from the Republican party to unaffiliated shortly after submitting his application.
Idaho Wildlife Federation executive director Brian Brooks opposed the bill and said the party-split requirement was part of the 1938 voter initiative — the state’s first initiative — that was approved specifically to prevent partisan influence on resource issues. Brooks shared internal polling that showed politicization as the second biggest concern facing Idaho hunters.
“Voters then saw the benefit of establishing a commission to manage Idaho’s wildlife and hunting and fishing opportunity, serving as an insulating layer from partisan influence.”
House minority leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said there isn’t an issue finding candidates and the bill is an unnecessary encroachment on Democrat’s input.
“There are very few protections for the minority to have a voice — one of those protections is statutory requirement that there be some balance on boards and commissions,” Rubel said. “I quite frankly think it is an abuse of supermajority power to use that power to eradicate all minority voices.”
Rep. Fred Wood, who previously served on the commission, said appointments are made based on experience with and views on the environment, and party affiliation doesn’t factor in.
“I don’t find this onerous,” said Wood, R-Burley. “The Senate still has to confirm it, and they serve at the pleasure of the governor, as they should.”
Chairman Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, said a Democratic governor could be elected and change the entire makeup of the commission.
“I believe we want the best people available without regard to party affiliation,” Gibbs said.
The bill heads to the full House.
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