Grass Burning Heats Up House Race
Rep. Wayne Meyer is perhaps better known as an outspoken grass grower than a state legislator.
This season’s controversy swirling around grass-burning probably has helped Meyer’s name recognition, while forcing the life-time farmer to defend his choice of Kentucky blue grass as a crop.
Instead of apologizing for polluting the air annually, he promotes himself as a “working man for working people” in his campaign for a second term in the state House.
Opponents of grass-burning - the annual practice of torching grass fields to eliminate stubble - will find an ally in Marc McGregor, Meyer’s challenger for the District 2 seat.
That is, if they remember who he is on Election Day.
McGregor originally filed for candidacy as a favor to fellow Democrats, with the understanding that another candidate would emerge.
When none did, McGregor decided to commit to the seat, citing the oft-heard complaint that the most recent Legislative session lacked real debate on bills because of the Republican Party’s dominance.
While McGregor and Meyer differ on environmental and some business issues, they both support job growth and share an interest in improving school funding and opposition to the One Percent Initiative.
McGregor has yet to spend any money on his campaign.
“It’s time we tried something else,” he says. Campaign financing “is like the arms race - it just keeps escalating.”
McGregor’s fellow Democrats also failed to find a candidate to oppose Hilde Kellogg, the other Republican who represents District 2. She is running unopposed.
While critics might accuse McGregor of being indecisive about running, when it comes to grass-burning, McGregor does not waver.
“It’s inexcusable,” McGregor says. “They’re causing these huge health effects on their neighbors … If they kept every particle of smoke on their land, it would be different.”
McGregor, who owns family farmland in southern Idaho that grows alfalfa and wheat, contends that grass farmers in North Idaho could grow something else and still make a profit.
Meyer disagrees, and has a well-rehearsed litany of math and market figures to press his point to anyone who asks.
When grass growers were faced this summer with the threat of a lawsuit for smoke trespass, Meyer said he would sponsor legislation to strengthen the state’s Right to Farm Act, which protects farmers from nuisance lawsuits.
Now Meyer says he was misquoted, and is undecided about whether he’ll be involved in that legislative effort.
While McGregor accuses Meyer of representing only his own interests, Meyer retaliates by describing McGregor as an “extremist” on environmental issues.
McGregor sees himself as reasonable. “In the Northwest our long-term financial health is dependent on environmental quality,” McGregor says.
Meyer and McGregor also go in opposite directions when it comes to land use. Last session, Meyer supported a bill authorizing the state to negotiate with the federal government on how federal lands should be managed.
“It made sense. Why shouldn’t we the people in Idaho be the ones managing our land?” Meyer asks. McGregor counters that the land belongs to everyone, not just Idaho residents, and criticizes the stewardship of state forests.
The two men are closer on statewide issues that affect North Idaho economically.
“The more you’re down there, the more you find out there are so many inequities between north and south Idaho,” Meyer said.
Both candidates support changes in state tax distributions to benefit the northern counties.