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Lawmakers seek to boot Attorney General from Idaho Land Board, replace with state treasurer

Idaho state Treasurer Ron Crane
Idaho state Treasurer Ron Crane

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday to change the Idaho Constitution to remove the Attorney General from the state Land Board and replace him with the state treasurer.

The Land Board, which is chaired by the governor and also consists of the Attorney General, Secretary of State, state controller and state schools superintendent, oversees state-owned lands in Idaho and the state’s permanent endowment, which largely benefits public schools. It was established by the Idaho Constitution at statehood.

Rep. John VanderWoude, R-Meridian, proposed the constitutional amendment to the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday morning, which voted unanimously to introduce it, clearing the way for a hearing.

Changing the Idaho Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature, plus a majority vote of the people at the next general election.

VanderWoude said he believes the Attorney General has a conflict of interest in serving on the Land Board; the Attorney General has been a member of the board since statehood.

“He’s the legal advice for the Land Board, he sits on the Land Board, and then he actually, a couple of years ago, he ended up suing the Land Board,” VanderWoude told the committee. “It’s almost a position where it’s a no-win position for the Attorney General at that point, because he’s giving legal advice and then he’s suing himself.”

Wasden successfully sued in 2010, charging that lease rules and rental rates the Land Board set for state-owned cabin sites violated requirements of the state Constitution; Wasden had voted in the minority against the rules. The board has since voted to gradually move out of the cabin-site renting business.

In its 2012 decision, the Idaho Supreme Court found no conflict of interest in Wasden’s role, and ruled unanimously that he had standing to bring the case. “As a constitutional officer, and the people’s elected lawyer, the Attorney General plays a unique role in state affairs,” the justices wrote. “It is incumbent upon the Attorney General to safeguard the Constitution against legislative enactments that encroach upon or conflict with its provisions. Where, as here, a legislative enactment appears to clash with the constitutional duties of a state board, it seems axiomatic that the Attorney General must step forward to uphold the Constitution.”

Wasden is currently the longest-serving member of Idaho’s state Land Board.

Idaho’s state treasurer, Ron Crane, who is in his fifth term, is responsible for investment, accounting and disbursement of state funds. A former longtime state lawmaker, he holds an associate’s degree from a Bible college and is the founder and owner of an alarm company.

Wasden said in a statement Wednesday that he believes politics should be eliminated from the Land Board, but this change wouldn’t accomplish that. “The best way to achieve that goal is to replace all five constitutional officers now sitting on the board with professionals who have the expertise and professional background to ensure that all of the constitutional requirements demanded of the Land Board are consistently met,” he said.

Crane said, “I would defer to the wisdom of the Legislature. I’m willing to serve in that capacity if that’s what they decide to do in their wisdom, but I am not championing that cause in any way.”

He added that he hadn’t heard about the proposal until a reporter asked him about it Wednesday afternoon. “I had no idea,” he said. “That’s not one of my causes.”

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