January 13, 1998 in Nation/World

Batt Denounces Idaho Hate Groups Governor Promises To Do All He Can ‘To Discredit These Pseudo Idahoans’

Betsy Z. Russell And Erica Curless S Staff writer
 
Tags:convene

Gov. Phil Batt denounced the Aryan Nations and other hate groups on Monday in the strongest of terms.

Batt’s comments came as he delivered his fourth and final State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature. The speech laid out his agenda for the legislative session that starts this week, and also sounded the themes that may form Batt’s legacy as governor.

“Idaho has received unwarranted and unfair attention because of a handful of malcontents and screwballs who have chosen to make their home here,” Batt said. “The hatred which spews forth from such evil people as the Aryan Nations is beneath contempt. We denounce such blatant racism and resolve that we will do all we can, within the constraints of free speech, to discredit these pseudo Idahoans.”

That statement was met by thunderous applause, the loudest and longest of his nearly hourlong speech.

“Gov. Batt set the record clearly and strongly about what the citizens of Idaho truly believe,” said state Rep. Don Pischner, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said, “The message is hate has no place in Idaho.”

Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Hayden, added, “I think everyone in North Idaho is very glad that he gave it the prominence he did. We really need that up north.”

The speech addressed everything from school construction to prison reform to new speed limits for trucks. Batt spoke of the accomplishments of previous Idaho governors, and suggested ways current and future leaders can continue that legacy.

Though recent polls have shown Batt’s popularity running high, he said the real reason for that is a strong economy, gains in air and water quality and a lean government.

“With things going so well, and knowing from powerful past experience that the polls can go down as well as up, it seems to be a good time to take my leave,” he said.

Batt announced this fall that he would not seek re-election.

Though lawmakers expect to debate abortion this session, Batt made no mention of the divisive issue in his speech.

“It’s nothing I’m recommending any change on,” he said afterward. “If something on that subject comes on my desk, I’ll take a look at it, but it’s not a priority item.”

Issues he challenged legislators to take on this year include:

Prison reform. Batt said he’ll push for sentencing reforms he proposed earlier this year after naming himself a “Committee of One” to study Idaho’s burgeoning prison population. Those changes include dropping felony penalties for driving without a valid license and writing small-time bad checks.

But Batt said those changes are “only a beginning.”

Criminals can be divided into two classes, he said: Hardened, violent criminals who should be in prison, and another group, “also obnoxious, but it is comprised mainly of misfits, loners and oddballs sometimes referred to as goof-ups.”

That group is mostly made up of people who have drug or alcohol problems, Batt said. “They drift in and out of prisons and often make little attempt to act responsibly. But there are a large percentage of these folks who can be shocked or cajoled or disciplined into a useful mode.”

He said he’ll create a task force, including legislators, to study new ways of dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, with an eye toward solutions other than prison.

Rep. Hilde Kellogg, R-Post Falls, said drug and alcohol prevention is always a good start.

Said Rep. Wayne Meyer, R-Rathdrum: “Education is always going to be cheaper than incarceration.”

Sen. Jack Riggs, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “I agree that we should be looking not just at the crime, but at the person and whether or not we can change their behavior. … Imprisonment is not the only form of punishment.”

Trucks on Idaho’s roads. Batt called for increasing the maximum weight limit for trucks from the current 105,000 pounds. That level is equal to the limit in Washington and Oregon, but well below the 129,000 pounds allowed by Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, and the 140,000 pounds allowed in Canada.

“We are not asking that we lead the way on anything,” Batt said. “The other states around us all have heavier weights.” But Batt also proposed that Idaho enact a new, lower speed limit for trucks: 65 mph on the freeway, and less elsewhere.

“I do not recommend that we turn our highways over to dangerous, speeding trucks,” he said.

The proposals were met with skepticism by North Idaho lawmakers.

“Up there where we don’t have passing lanes, if the trucks are going slower, we’re going to have bottlenecks,” said Rep. June Judd, D-St. Maries.

Riggs said that would lead drivers to pass where they shouldn’t, and “end up dead.”

Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden, said, “The first thing we need to do is to fix the roads, before we start allowing heavier trucks. I’d like to see them fix Highway 95 first.”

Pischner said he’s been lobbied harder to raise truck weights than on any other issue. “I’m a little reluctant,” he said. “I come from the highway construction business, and I’ve spent a lot of time on the highway with trucks and cars whizzing by me.”

Though truckers argue that axle requirements and other factors mean the weight at any point on a truck’s “footprint” won’t increase, Pischner said, “I always think about a Volkswagen running over my foot versus a semitruck.”

Truck weight also is a factor in highway bridges, he noted.

School construction. Batt said if Idaho lowers the two-thirds “supermajority” vote required to pass a school construction bond, it should also consider requiring a certain percentage of voter turnout, “to ensure that a small minority of voters does not impose a tax on a majority of taxpayers.”

House Minority Leader Jim Stoicheff, D-Sandpoint, said tying the change to holding school bond elections at primary and general election dates would accomplish that without the need to set numbers.

Keough said she was disappointed that Batt didn’t ask lawmakers to use state money to help local districts build schools.

“We have some buildings that are literally falling down,” she said. “It’s a miracle we have not lost lives - children’s lives.”

Said Crow, “We need to look at other ways of paying for facilities, other than property taxes.”

Welfare reform. Batt said if Idaho’s two-year lifetime limit on welfare benefits proves too stringent, lawmakers should increase it.

Said Riggs, “Let’s watch and wait. I’m certainly very happy with the preliminary results.”

Stoicheff said he’s concerned about the focus in welfare reform on providing child care so parents of young children can go to work at low-paying jobs. “That’s what molds a kid,” he said. “Otherwise they’re raised by strangers, and I don’t think that’s healthy.”

Mobile homes. Batt said his Affordable Housing Task Force found that in many areas, local ordinances make it impossible to relocate mobile homes manufactured before 1976.

“This has rendered these homes worthless, and deprived their owners of their single greatest asset,” he said. “We need to clamp down on this practice.”

Rep. Larry Watson, D-Wallace, said he’s done some research and found that 60 percent of the mobile homes in Shoshone County were manufactured before 1976.

“It has a huge impact,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story:

1. Speech on the Web

The complete text of Gov. Phil Batt’s speech to the Idaho state Legislature is available on The Spokesman-Review’s Web site at www.virtuallynw.com.

2. Batt’s agenda

Here are some of Gov. Phil Batt’s proposals from his final State of the State speech:

Carry out sentencing reforms, including dropping felony penalties for driving without a license and writing small-time bad checks.

Study drug and alcohol abuse to find new ways - outside of prisons - of dealing with the portion of criminals who aren’t violent, but are continual “goof-ups.”

Consider adding a voter turnout requirement along with lowering the two-thirds “supermajority” now required to pass school bonds.

Raise allowable truck weights, but also set a new, lower speed limit for trucks.

Elevate the Division of Environmental Quality to full department status, as a sign of new focus on environmental quality issues.

Designate portions of two rivers, the Selway and Salmon, as “Outstanding Resource Waters.” The river segments are inside wilderness areas.

Address concerns of owners of pre-1976 mobile homes, who now are prohibited in some cases from moving their homes.

Address cleanup of abandoned mines.

Establish a new state park on the Lolo Trail, one of the best preserved campsites of explorers Lewis and Clark.

Allow communities to vote to eliminate term limits for local officials.

A new focus at the state Health and Welfare Department on early child development.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Speech on the Web The complete text of Gov. Phil Batt’s speech to the Idaho state Legislature is available on The Spokesman-Review’s Web site at www.virtuallynw.com.

2. Batt’s agenda Here are some of Gov. Phil Batt’s proposals from his final State of the State speech: Carry out sentencing reforms, including dropping felony penalties for driving without a license and writing small-time bad checks. Study drug and alcohol abuse to find new ways - outside of prisons - of dealing with the portion of criminals who aren’t violent, but are continual “goof-ups.” Consider adding a voter turnout requirement along with lowering the two-thirds “supermajority” now required to pass school bonds. Raise allowable truck weights, but also set a new, lower speed limit for trucks. Elevate the Division of Environmental Quality to full department status, as a sign of new focus on environmental quality issues. Designate portions of two rivers, the Selway and Salmon, as “Outstanding Resource Waters.” The river segments are inside wilderness areas. Address concerns of owners of pre-1976 mobile homes, who now are prohibited in some cases from moving their homes. Address cleanup of abandoned mines. Establish a new state park on the Lolo Trail, one of the best preserved campsites of explorers Lewis and Clark. Allow communities to vote to eliminate term limits for local officials. A new focus at the state Health and Welfare Department on early child development.

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