By NICK IVIE
NORDMAN — Move over Boise.
Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter loved being in North Idaho so much on Wednesday to name the little town of Nordman “Capital for Day” that the Governor already gave the green light for a repeat dedication the following month.
Nordman was named the 58th “Capital for a Day” for Sept. 19.
Although joking at the time, it was easy to tell Otter truly loved being in the Great Northwest and the opportunity to meet Bonner County residents in hopes of shortening the 500-mile gap between rural North Idaho and Boise.
“To be right here in Nordman and have 250-300 people turn out is great. It really gives us a chance to hear from the people on the ground,” Otter said. “It’s great when the delegation can come to Boise but better when the cabinet can come out, get face to face, and solve problems.”
Not just the traditional shaking of hands and kissing of babies, Otter and a contingent of cabinet members were on hand to tackle the hard issues facing the residents of Bonner County.
Issues including but not limited to; the designation of critical habitat, landowner property rights, student reform, Veteran services, and the transportation department’s use of salt on the winter roads.
Before and after a hosted lunch, about three and a half hours were spent taking questions and comments from the floor.
A visit from the Priest Lake Elementary student body provided a break in the seriousness, and brought up some even tougher questions for Otter to tackle.
The first through sixth grade students grilled the Governor on everything from wolf management and what the most important action during his time in office has been — to what his real name is.
“We’re shooting ‘em,” Otter said about the wolves. Adding, “Everyone at this table has been engaged in this long, hard battle. We tried to keep them out but now have a management plan that has been accepted and we can go forward with.”
Second grade student Faith asked, “What is the most important thing you have done for Idaho?”
The Governor responded by stating, “Beginning Capital for a Day.” We have been in all 44 counties and Bonner County twice since.”
The subject of Otter’s first name got a little stickier, and almost went unanswered, when asked by a student named Seth.
“There is always one question I pick not to answer on Capital for a Day,” the Governor said. Getting a roar of laughter from the floor.
Otter didn’t hesitate however to tell the students that he was one of the last of nine kids so, “all the good names like Seth were already taken.” Adding that he was born Clement Leroy Otter and by the age of six he was already defending himself from his fellow Catholic schoolmates.
The Governor cited the character Clem Kadiddlehopper from the Red Skelton Show as the culprit of his early childhood anguish.
“Even though Butch wasn’t the name of a Saint I think the nuns, for the peace of the school yard, decided I could be called Butch,” he said.
All the students in attendance received special pens and copies of one of First Lady Lori Otter’s “Books for Idaho Children.”
The idea of all the problems being solved had to be taken at face value, but Otter and his panel of officials seemed sincere about helping people — and even sketchy cell phone service couldn’t stop them from taking action on one issue the same day.
The first question from the floor came by a man sitting in his wheelchair, wearing an Army Veteran hat and receiving constant oxygen.
“I have been confined to a wheelchair, not by choice,” Priest Lake resident Joel Lessara said. “The Veteran’s Administration gave me this chair but I needed transportation to get home from Spokane and it cost me $1,050 for a carrier. I was hoping to see a Veteran Representative about being reimbursed.”
“Being a Vet, I am a representative and can get the information to the department and see what we can do,” Otter said.
It only took the Governor until the afternoon session to have a plan in place — relaying that he had already placed a call in and the issue should be resolved shortly despite spattered cell phone service around Nordman.
Idaho’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna was available to discuss the Students Come First laws, which curtail union collective bargaining, introduces merit pay measures and calls for greater investment in education technology.
Priest River resident Ralph Fulp opened his comments by expressing how a great opportunity has been presented with student laptops, but also showed his concerns to when the laptops are taken home and the school has no control.
“That’s a great point, and really is one small part of Students Come First,” Luna said. “But the decision whether the laptops leave campus is made by the local school board.”
Governor Otter added, “In our future is technology.” “There are always risks, but we have an awful lot of local control.”
Luna stated that “thousands of schools across the nation already have a one-to-one ratio” between students and laptops, and that those schools have only seen a 1.6-percent loss each year due to abuse, being lost or stolen.
“Adults are two time higher,” Luna added.
Much debate went on over the three biggest issues of the day; the designation of 375,000 acres as critical habitat for caribou, the 354 cottage sites at Priest Lake that could be affected by competitive bidding for the coveted lease sites, and the transportation department’s use of salt on roadways in the winter.
“375,000 acres are being proposed and of that, 65,000 acres are state land,” Otter said. “Under Article 9, Section 8 of the Idaho Constitution it says we have the responsibility to manage for the best long term beneficiaries.”
“375,000 acres is not the final answer for caribou,” he added.
The Governor recalled a situation when similar designations were made for the Bull Trout in 2003. Along with the Secretary of the Interior, Otter rode horseback to the highest elevations of West Mountain where a rancher showed them designated habitat for the Bull Trout. The ride showed the absurdity of the situation and designation of critical habitat for a fish who obviously could not have traveled up the mountain.
He added that during his time in office he has reduced critical habitat designation by 70 percent.
“In the 10th amendment there is a 28 word contract between us and the Federal Government,” Otter said. Going on to cite the amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
“We will try to hold them to that,” he said. “This country is a federation of states and little things to them have a huge impact here.”
Idaho Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore added that he, “has not heard back, but Fish and Wildlife is reconsidering their proposal” and that he “is hopeful to see substantial reductions in that.”
Office of Species Conservation Administrator Dustin Miller ended the discussion by saying, “375,000 acres or 600-square-miles for very few caribou is absurd.”
Maggie Drummond, and many other Priest Lakers, voiced their disappointment in the June 29 Supreme Court decision to overturn a previous state law that protected leaseholders from having the land beneath their structures auctioned off in a competitive bidding process.
Drummond expressed she has been a lessee at the lake since the 1950’s and is “very concerned over a lot of the unification” that the cabinet supports and fears there will continue to be delays upon delays.
“It would be nice to have firm timelines,” she said.
“The authority has been given to conduct appraisals in the fall and spring, and 100 percent of the leases will have a known value in March of next year,” Tom Schultz, Director of the Idaho Department of Lands said.
Schultz added that the auction will follow an open oral format.
“I can assure you that you’re not the only ones getting picked on, but we’re here to fight for you,” Otter said. “The best way we can correct these problems is by doing it with the Whitehouse, or with who runs the Senate. It’s not just going to change. November 6 is the time to change those habits.”
Jim Hougeland brought up the issue of salting the roadways in winter and told stories of how damaging the salt is to vehicles, animals, and foliage.
The cabinet seemed to agree the ingredients, including Magnesium Chloride, that are used in the salt are damaging but that salt is by far the most effective. They also stated their diligence in its’ use, keeping the salt to 130 pounds per lane mile.
Those not satisfied with the outcome or who didn’t have a chance to present their issue had their information taken for follow-up information and possible solutions.
Nordman Store owners Randy and Debi Votava hosted the entire event, which had one Priest Laker proclaiming it as, “an event bigger than when the traffic light went in at Priest River.”
Governor Otter and his cabinet also showed their appreciation by thanking all of those in attendance and those that helped bring the event together.
“You got to love North Idaho,” Otter said. “Anything we can do to bring both sides of the state together we will do it.”