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Idaho’s Freshman Class: A Series Of Profiles Rookie Earns Respect In Idaho Legislature Meyer Tries To Get To Know People, Find Out Their Needs

Wayne Meyer’s black cowboy boots don’t kick up a lot of dust in the state House of Representatives.

Five weeks into the legislative session, Meyer has kept a low profile.

But fellow North Idaho legislators say his dignified, earnest approach has earned him respect.

“Everything I’ve done so far in my life has been training for what I’m doing now,” Meyer said. “Getting to know people, finding out what their needs are, that’s what I’m here for.”

What brought Meyer here was the grass field burning issue. As a thirdgeneration farmer himself, he fought many battles against former Democratic Rep. Wally Wright, a vocal critic of the smoke that annual grass fires bring to the Sandpoint area.

“Everything he tried to do was directed at me, it seemed,” Meyer said. “For me, being here is a more protective position.”

But grass field burning has not been a legislative issue this year. Meyer says it also wasn’t foremost in voters’ minds when they sent him to Boise.

He’s been dealing instead with issues ranging from property tax relief to water quality, spending his time looking, listening and learning.

“He sure thinks things through,” said Rep. Twila Hornbeck, R-Grangeville, who sits to his left on the House floor. The two share a bond in picking the last two numbers in the lottery for seats, with Meyer getting the final choice.

“He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and I think that’s a refreshing quality here.”

Fellow GOP freshman Gordon Crow said, “He’s introspective and deliberate in everything, and I think people from houses on both sides of the rotunda respect him for it.”

When he’s not returning calls and answering a few letters at his clutterless desk, Meyer is serving on the Business, Education and Environmental Affairs committees. As the only farmer on Environmental Affairs, Meyer thinks his perspective is important, especially in water quality issues.

“People don’t understand sometimes how much I deal with water quality in what I do for a living,” he said.

Property tax is the top issue this session, Meyer said. Granting real tax relief - more than Gov. Phil Batt did in his $40 million relief plan - would make the session complete.

Although he thinks that issue was the top reason voters sent him to Boise, the most vocal constituents from his district call about education bills, especially bills affecting collective bargaining for teachers, he said.

Meyer’s district, which takes in parts of Bonner and Kootenai counties, is in the midst of change.

Meyer would like to keep farming for as long as he and his family can. But as he watches more and more of the Rathdrum Prairie being swallowed by development, he wonders how long grass farming will remain viable.

“I’m not going to fight the growth because there’s really not much you can do - it’s going to come sooner or later no matter what,” he said. “I’ve got a nephew who works with me on the farm, but he doesn’t see much of a future in it.”

Years of refereeing high school basketball games provided plenty of experience for Meyer in seeing both sides. He draws on that in the Legislature.

For example, he leans toward expanding the circuit breaker and homeowner’s property tax exemptions for senior homeowners, causes pushed more by Democrats than his own GOP.

“As a farmer, I can talk with other farmers,” he said, “but I can also talk to an insurance salesman, or an advertising executive, and I can understand their problems.”

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