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Of camel’s noses and tents

In a legislative cliché that’s perhaps second in popularity only to the acclaimed “slippery slope,” the “camel’s nose under the tent” made a starring appearance at the House Rev & Tax debate today over lowering the supermajority vote to form a community college district, a proposal the committee rejected.

“The 60 percent is the nose of the camel, according to some,” acknowledged Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, the bill’s sponsor, though he countered that by noting the plethora of districts that now can be established by a simple majority rather than a two-thirds margin, including fire districts, water districts and sewer districts. Alex LaBeau of IACI then testified, “It is a far cry from the camel’s nose being under the tent.”

John Watts, lobbyist for the Idaho Chamber Alliance and a former state Fish & Game Commission member, then offered this, citing his involvement with the Legislature since 1983: “I have full faith in this committee right here to shoot the camel between the eyes if it gets more than the nose under the tent.” Allowing a 60 percent vote only at general elections to form a community college district, Watts said, won’t result in a cascade of similar bills. “I have full faith and confidence this committee will not allow a stampeding herd of camels.”

Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, then asked Watts if he weren’t afraid that if the camel got its nose under the tent and it was the only such camel, that the EPA would put it on the endangered species list. Watts responded that “levity aside … I, over 23 years, Mr. Chairman, have watched you do your due diligence.”

Raybould then brought the camel back up again, saying this bill involves a big camel – compared to which the other districts Watts mentioned are “mice.”

Later, Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said, “As far as the camel, poor old hapless camel. I’m from Custer County. The first thing that comes to mind is shoot, shovel and shut up.”

Other notable quotes from the committee debate:

“This isn’t just for your district, it’s for the whole state.” – Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, to Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star

“We’re not asking this committee or the Legislature to force anything on anybody. We’re asking for the citizens of that district to tax themselves and determine their own fate.” – M.C. Niland, board chair, Nampa Chamber of Commerce

“This is designed as an incentive to draw people to the polls – that’s really what it’s for.” – Alex LaBeau, executive director, Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry

“We need an educated workforce. … We have a high high school graduation rate, we have a low go-to-college rate.” – Dwight Johnson, executive director, Office of the State Board of Education

“Just so you know, I sit between these two.” – Rep. Dennis Lake, after an exchange between Reps. Leon Smith and Jim Clark over Clark asking Smith a “retaliatory” question similar to one Smith asked when he voted against an earlier bill that Clark had sponsored


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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