March 12, 2008 in City

Orr confirmed to state Fish and Wildlife panel

Richard Roesler Staff writer
The Spokesman-Review photo

(Full-size photo)

OLYMPIA – A long-simmering tug-of-war involving the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission briefly threatened Monday to stall the confirmation of someone who everyone seems to agree is a good fit for the commission: Spokane’s George Orr.

Orr – a retired firefighter who’s served as school board member, union official, Democratic state lawmaker and gambling commissioner – has actually been a fish and wildlife commissioner since Aug. 8. He was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

But he’s one of just two commissioners confirmed by the Senate.

Last year, the deeply divided commission angered key lawmakers when it publicly snubbed longtime commissioner and Spokane native Fred Shiosaki by denying him the largely ceremonial chairmanship of the group.

Board members said at the time they wanted someone less deferential to fish and wildlife officials.

Shiosaki said the board should set policy, but that it’s not the board’s place to micromanage the agency’s professionals.

He stepped down shortly thereafter.

Infuriated at the treatment of Shiosaki, Sen. Ken Jacobsen last year refused to confirm any other commissioners in his committee.

And just in case anyone missed the point, he sponsored a bill to make it impossible for anyone not confirmed to be chairman.

After failing last year, the same provision was quietly tucked into this year’s House Bill 2788, which carried the title of “Organizing definitions in Title 77 RCW,” and the House and Senate are now clashing over whether that provision will stick.

In the Senate on Monday, Jacobsen praised Orr, an avid hunter and angler and a former colleague of Jacobsen’s in the House of Representatives.

“He understands the purpose of the commission is to set policy, not micromanage parts of the agency,” he also pointedly noted.

Not so fast, said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. She questioned why lawmakers are essentially trying to pick the commission’s chairman.

“We are not allowing the commission to have a vote” on who leads them, she said. She wanted to delay the vote “just to see what the politics are on that commission.”

Jacobsen said the confirmations are also muddied by a turf war between commercial fisherman and sport anglers over who’s on the commission:

“We’re getting high-centered on these,” he said. “I’ll just put it real simple: the sport fishermen don’t want the people that like the commercials, and the commercial supporters don’t like the ones that like the sports fishermen.”

Orr, on the other hand, “is judicial and honest, and everybody on the committee felt he was balanced,” Jacobsen said.

As if to provide evidence of that, Orr drew praise Monday from liberal senators like Jacobsen and Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, as well as by conservatives Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley. McCaslin even faced an election challenge from Orr years ago.

In the end, the Senate voted unanimously Monday to confirm Orr.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if his opponent can support him – I’m supporting him with all my heart – he’ll do a tremendous job,” McCaslin told the Senate.

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