BOISE – Three Idaho lawmakers spoke out Tuesday about their visit over the weekend to armed protesters who have taken over a federal wildlife refuge near Burns, Oregon, saying the protesters’ grievances were being ignored before their “fact-finding mission.”
“We did hear from constituents in Idaho and there are Idaho citizens that are out there as well,” said Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay. Dixon said the protesters from Idaho contacted him and the other lawmakers. Their message: “That they weren’t being heard.’”
Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, and Dixon were among a half-dozen state legislators from the region, including Washington Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, who visited the protesters. The three Idaho lawmakers held an impromptu press conference in the Idaho Capitol Tuesday afternoon to explain their visit and issued a news release.
“At the refuge, we received a petition of grievances from the group, which is a right guaranteed to citizens under the First Amendment,” the three wrote. “They believed their grievances have been and still are being ignored.”
All three Idaho lawmakers are conservative Republicans who side with the tea party wing of their party; Scott made waves last summer when she posed with a Confederate battle flag on Facebook.
Asked why the protesters chose them, Dixon said, “I don’t know if they specifically chose us three, but we may have been the three that responded.”
Scott said, “It’s pretty obvious we all three agree with liberties, limited government, smaller government. I think some of the people resonate with us on those issues.”
Boyle said, “We’re outsiders, and they’re outsiders, and we just brought our perspective to them.”
Both Scott and Dixon are first-term lawmakers from the state’s northernmost district, which abuts the Canadian border. Boyle is in her fourth House term.
The three lawmakers said they first met with county officials, law enforcement and FBI officials in Burns “to make them fully aware of our intentions.”
When they went to the refuge themselves, Dixon said, they found a “vastly different” situation than they said the officials described, though he declined to elaborate, referring back to the written statement, which didn’t elaborate on that point.
“Clearly, based on our brief visit to Burns, a further investigation is warranted to find a satisfactory solution not only to the standoff but to the alleged unwarranted actions of the federal agencies,” the three lawmakers wrote in their statement.
Wrote the three, “It is part of our job as legislators to continually understand citizen grievances, find solutions based on facts and attempt to de-escalate volatile situations whenever possible. We believe it is very important to try to preempt any similar situation that may occur in our state.”
Asked if they’ll go back to Burns, Dixon said no, but Scott said, “Possibly.”
The Oregonian newspaper reported the lawmakers’ visit on Sunday, and wrote that those attending also included Washington Rep. Graham Hunt, R-Orting, and Oregon Rep. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, but that Oregon Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, whose district includes the area, opposed the visit.
Bentz told the Oregonian that Heard contacted him about it. “He had called me and indicated he was heading that direction, and I indicated that was inappropriate,” Bentz said. “I think it’s fair to say I was not enthusiastic about the idea.”
Through a spokesman, Shea told The Spokesman-Review Monday that he went at his own expense, at the invitation of Oregon lawmakers. The Oregonian reported that Nevada Assemblywoman Michelle Fiore, R-Clark County, joined the group by telephone.
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