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Crapo's Salmon Leadership
Carries Political Risk

by Kevin Richert
Idaho Statesman, June 4, 2009

Idaho's senior senator says all options must be represented
in collaborative effort to settle salmon vs. dams debate

On Friday, Sen. Mike Crapo shook off the shadow of Larry Craig - and took a bold political risk.

Crapo pledged to lead regional talks to save the Northwest's wild salmon, and said dam breaching will be part of the conversation.

During his 28 years in Congress - and his 16 years as Idaho's senior senator - Craig did his best to singlehandedly shut down any debate over breaching the four lower Snake River dams in Washington state. In so doing, Craig played right into the hands of downriver politicians, who have no parochial interest in saving Idaho's wild salmon. The dams were safe, but Idaho salmon languished on the feds' endangered species list, where they remain.

Idaho will save its salmon only by forcing the region to reckon with tough choices. Breaching must be part of the conversation. It is the only way to bring salmon advocates to the table - and the only way to move downriver interests out of their comfort zone.

I suspect Crapo gets this. I don't think Craig ever did.

The no-way, no-how anti-breaching mindset remains well entrenched in Idaho politics. That is personified by Norm Semanko - whose long political resume includes a stint on Craig's staff; his current job as spokesman for the anti-breaching Coalition For Idaho Water; and his job as state Republican Party chairman.

Not unlike Gov. Butch Otter - who has angered Tea Party Republicans with his well-founded push for gas tax and vehicle registration fee increases - Crapo is challenging a core GOP constituency. Water users, who erroneously view dam removal as a threat to Idaho's water, are politically connected.

Lastly, Crapo made clear that he plans to lead the delegation on resource issues such as salmon. During his Senate campaign, and since his election in November, Jim Risch expressed interest in convening regional salmon talks. I hope Risch is involved, but this process requires an engaged senior senator. Credit to Crapo for stepping up.

No, this isn't Craig's congressional delegation anymore. In January, Crapo assumed the title of senior senator - a function of longevity. On Friday, Crapo also showed the leadership to match.

Kevin Richert
Crapo's Salmon Leadership Carries Political Risk
Idaho Statesman, June 4, 2009

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