U.S. Rep. Butch Otter has withdrawn “for now” his sponsorship of federal legislation to sell off millions of acres of Idaho’s federal public lands to raise money for Hurricane Katrina and other disasters. In a rather humble guest opinion sent out this afternoon to news outlets across Idaho, Otter said, “My critics are correct that this bill is not the right approach.”
“I was wrong. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last,” Otter wrote.
Otter had vigorously defended the land sell-off bill for the past three weeks. In a statement defending it on Dec. 19, he called the bill “a responsible option to consider” and said, “It also might be worth asking where the criticism was when the federal government sold large portions of the Boise Foothills to the city of Boise. Are such transfers only valid when they are proposed by self-appointed conservationists, and not by those who espouse the broader concept of multiple-use stewardship?”
The “oops” on that was that Boise held an election on whether to secure permanent public-access easements on the foothills land, and it passed. Otter’s bill favored sales to private owners – not “multiple use stewardship.”
Otter clearly had been taking lots, and lots, of heat for his position. Today, he wrote, “Thank you to the people who have called and written and stopped me on the street to express their earnest thoughts on this matter.”
Jerry Brady, the Idaho Falls newspaper publisher and Democratic gubernatorial candidate who revealed Otter’s quiet sponsorship of the bill, said, “What he says is, ‘For now, I have withdrawn my sponsorship.’ It does leave a question open as to whether he really is contrite, or whether he intends to find some other way to sell the public lands. … How do you not understand the consequences of selling 5 million acres of land, and why did it take this long – why did it take me to bring this up, and then it took 17 more days for him to realize he’d made this mistake?”
Brady, who faces Otter in the race to become Idaho’s next governor, said the whole thing raises questions about Otter’s reasoning and decision-making. “He should be held accountable for even having gone this far,” Brady said. “Everywhere I go people are upset about this. So finally he’s changed his mind.”