A mailer sent to Blaine County voters targeting Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, criticizes his record in the Legislature on public lands issues. Miller said the mailer misrepresents his actions and proposed legislation.

    The mailer is from a group called Stronger Idaho PAC, whose treasurer, Caitlin Lister, did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.

    The PAC has received $28,179 in contributions from Planned Parenthood Votes, $25,000 from the Idaho Education Association’s Political Action Committee for Education and $25,000 from the Idaho Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.

    On Oct. 26, the PAC reported spending $6,241 on mailers that, in part, oppose Miller’s re-election to the House of Representatives. Miller has represented legislative District 26, which includes Blaine County, since 2012.

    Juxtaposed with an image of a “no trespassing” sign, the mailer states “Rep. Steve Miller wants to lock us out!” It further states, “If Rep. Miller had his way … public lands we’ve cherished for decades would be sold to the highest bidder. Access roads to the places we hunt, fish, hike and camp would be closed to the public.”

    Asked for his response, Miller said the claims about selling lands and closing access roads are distorted.

    In the 2018 legislative session, Miller sponsored House Bill 608. The legislation states, “All lands granted to the state of Idaho by Congress after July 1, 2018, are declared to be the public lands of the state and shall be held in trust in perpetuity for the people. These lands shall be acquired and managed for public access, multiple use and sustained yield. …

    “Any transfer of federal lands to the state shall be structured to prevent sale of those lands, except where limited sales or exchanges would actually enhance public access and management, such as where a sale or land exchange might help consolidate state lands resulting in greater access.”

    The bill was introduced in the House State Affairs Committee but died without a hearing. In February, Miller said he didn’t know of any plans in Congress to transfer land, but his bill was intended as a precaution.

At the time, Miller told the Idaho Mountain Express that he is an advocate of transferring about half the federal land in Idaho to state ownership—primarily national forest land suitable for timber harvesting and BLM land suitable for livestock grazing.

The Idaho Conservation League opposed the legislation, calling it “straight out of the playbook for a public lands takeover.” The organization noted that state lands have been sold off since Idaho gained statehood in 1890, and “despite the assurances that public lands would not be sold, it would take only a simple majority of the Legislature to repeal this provision if the state were faced with a budget crisis.”

Miller’s bill stated that state officers would work with Congress. They would ensure that federal legislation transferring land to the state include provisions that the lands “be held in perpetuity for purposes other than maximization of financial returns.” Critics said that would conflict with a provision of the Idaho Constitution mandating maximum long-term financial returns.

Miller said he worked with the Attorney General’s Office in crafting the language for his bill.

“The language said, ‘in perpetuity for the people of the state of Idaho,’” Miller said. “Idaho would not be able to sell it. There are very few state lands where roads have been closed.

“My first memories were hunting and fishing and camping. They’re a part of our Idaho heritage. I would never take that away from my kids. I would never take that away from anybody.”

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