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Eye on Boise: Simpson relishes sticking fork in rule curbing potatoes

Idaho congressman Mike Simpson is hailing the demise of what he called a “biased anti-potato rule,” saying a proposed USDA rule to limit potatoes, corn, green peas and lima beans to one cup per week in school lunches was “senseless” and costly.

The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed the fiscal 2012 agriculture appropriations bill, HR 2112, which includes language designed to head off the rule.

“The USDA proposed rule would have been another completely unnecessary, unfunded mandate by the federal government,” Simpson said, extolling the nutritional benefits of potatoes, Idaho’s signature agricultural crop. “A medium potato contains over 200 milligrams more potassium than a banana and has as much fiber as a similar serving of broccoli.”

Schools would have faced substantial increased costs to comply, he said; the appropriations bill includes a clause directing the USDA to issue a new proposed rule that will not carry any increased costs for schools.

Megaload lawsuit expands

Idaho Rivers United has filed an amended complaint in its lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service over megaloads of oil equipment traveling through the wild and scenic river corridors of the Lochsa and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers along U.S. Highway 12. Now, in addition to the Forest Service, the group is suing the Federal Highway Administration. The federal lawsuit charges that both agencies violated the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by allowing the Idaho Transportation Department to issue permits for hundreds of megaload transports along the route.

“These rivers represent the embodiment of what the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was meant to protect,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “The industrialization of this river corridor clearly violates the desires of Idaho’s late Sen. Frank Church, who authored the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It also violates the will of Congress and the American people, who have overwhelmingly supported the protection of these two treasured rivers.”

The lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court in Boise.

Likes the vault

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, leaving a press conference in the lower level of Idaho’s state Capitol last week after speaking to the state’s school technology task force, passed the lobbyist room. Since the Capitol renovation, lobbyists are located in a former vault, still with its historic (but no longer locking) vault door. Bush had to stop and have someone snap a photo.

He said, “We’ll send this to our friends in Tallahassee – this is where they put the lobbyists!” Ducking inside, he asked, “Is this a joke?” Then, walking out of the room, he pronounced it “a much better way of doing it.”

Call to resign

Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant is calling on House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, to resign from the Legislature. Grant cited Loertscher’s unilateral killing of a bill that would have required a public hearing before a public road is vacated, which occurred shortly before Loertscher filed a lawsuit seeking to declare a road across his own property private.

“Loertscher’s actions are highly suspicious,” Grant said. “It certainly appears he has used his office for personal advantage.” House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who assigned the bill to Loertscher’s committee at his request rather than to the Transportation Committee, has declined so far to call for an ethics committee to investigate the issue, though any House member may request one.

North Idaho hearings

Idaho’s bipartisan citizen redistricting commission is headed to North Idaho this week for public hearings on how folks in the area would like to see new legislative and congressional district lines drawn.

The commission will take public testimony Wednesday in Sandpoint from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the Sandpoint High School auditorium; and in Coeur d’Alene Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., in Room 16 of the Meyers Health and Sciences Building at North Idaho College. Also planned are hearings Thursday in Moscow from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the University of Idaho student union building; and Thursday in Lewiston from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Lewis-Clark State College.

Reach Betsy Z. Russell at, or (208) 336-2854.