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IACI cried wolf, but its day of reckoning may be coming

IACI cried wolf, but its day of reckoning may be coming

Wayne Hoffman
June 2, 2014

Forgive the cliche, but it is too fitting to pass up: The state's biggest business lobby cried wolf in order to get rid of Challis Republican Rep. Lenore Barrett, who lost big in the May primary.

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry's (IACI) political action committee sent out a mailer in the final days before the election claiming Barrett is "soft on wolves."

However, Barrett has been particularly vocal about the introduction of wolves into the state; no one would ever accuse her of being soft on anything, let alone the critter for which she has an unapologetic hatred. The mailer was particularly effective; Barrett lost re-election, coming in second in a three-way race.

The story IACI concocted behind Barrett's supposed weakness for wolves had to do with two votes on one bill last legislative session. Barrett opposed a bill to create a new government board to tackle the wolf issue. She argued that the board was just another government bureaucracy, an unnecessary one at that, and unfairly squeezes money from ranchers in order to sustain its operations.

I'd argue that she correctly viewed the situation. It continues to be pretty incredible to me how Republicans manage to argue that government is too big, and then whenever they're confronted with a problem, they're quick to accept the creation of a new government program or board.

The wolf board, by the way, was just one of three new boards created by the so-called conservative Legislature last winter.

Still, one might ask why IACI targeted Barrett, a widow who turns 80 this month. Here's a hint. It had nothing to do with wolves. It had everything to do with other anti-IACI stands. Barrett strongly opposed the state insurance exchange, which IACI supported. Barrett had even introduced a bill to repeal the exchange. Barrett also opposed IACI-supported bills the last few years that amounted to corporate welfare and government intervention in the marketplace.

But that's in the past. For the future, Barrett stood as a significant opponent to two more key IACI objectives going forward. The organization really, really wants to expand Medicaid, implementing yet another prong of the Obamacare agenda. And it really, really wants to tax Internet sales. Barrett, a member of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, has long fought taxation of the Internet.

IACI calculated, correctly, that it could launch an attack on Barrett, see little in the way of retribution or counterattack, and possibly be successful. Barrett had little money in her campaign war chest, and it was unlikely she would be able to set the record straight in a district that's as large as some states. That is precisely what happened.

IACI knew Barrett has a strong anti-wolf record, yet it decided to tell voters a very different story.

I know I'm in the wrong business if I'm expecting truth to prevail in politics. Indeed, politics are full of lies and liars. But until now, I kind of expected that Idaho politics was somewhat removed from the levels of deception found in other states and in national politics. Maybe not.

In the fable, a boy derives amusement by yelling "wolf!" and convincing villagers to come racing to the pasture expecting to stop the predator from eating the boy's sheep. There is no wolf, the villagers soon discover. Eventually, a real wolf shows up and feasts on the whole flock while the boy's alarms are ignored.

In our story, IACI also cried wolf. The group got the cheap thrill and the quick results it was after. But I wonder if the destruction of its credibility with lawmakers, its supporters and the public didn't help sentence some of its sheep to death.

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