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Bill would end bipartisan rule for Fish and Game Commission

Posted at 5:46 PM, Feb 27, 2020

Roughly a month after one of Idaho’s newest Fish and Game Commissioners had to step down because of his political affiliation, a panel of lawmakers has approved a bill to remove the commission’s bipartisan membership requirements.

The commissioners set hunting and fishing regulations, seasons and other wildlife policy. They’re appointed by the governor, and Republicans have held a majority on the commission for years. The remaining spots sometimes go to commissioners who are unaffiliated, rather than Democrats.

The bill, which would end the current rule that no more than four members of the seven-member commission be from the same political party, was approved by the House Resources and Conservation Committee on Tuesday, The Times-News reported.

Idaho Wildlife Federation executive director Brian Brooks opposed the bill, noting the commission was created by the state’s first voter initiative in 1938, which specifically called for a bipartisan approach to prevent undue political influence on resource issues. He said politicization is one of the biggest concerns for Idaho hunters.

It passed 14-4, and now heads to the full House.

Former commissioner Bradley Melton was appointed in September but stepped down in January after it was revealed that he had changed his political affiliation from Republican to unaffiliated shortly before he applied for the post. At the time, Gov. Brad Little thanked Melton for his candor and service, and said the next appointment would be made “in accordance with the spirit of the law.”

“Public confidence in the commission is paramount to me,” Little said in a statement.

Rep. Paul Shepherd, a Republican from Riggins — the same region that Melton represented on the commission — said Tuesday that the best candidates for the job shouldn’t be disqualified because of their party affiliation.

“It shouldn’t be about politics,” he said. “It should be about Fish and Game and what’s best for policy in the agency.”

Rep. Fred Wood, who previously served on the commission, said appointments are made based on experience with and views on the environment, and party affiliation doesn’t factor in.

“I don’t find this onerous,” said Wood, R-Burley. “The Senate still has to confirm it, and they serve at the pleasure of the governor, as they should.”