A District 26 lawmaker says she hopes a new caucus will help the Legislature transcend party politics to address rural issues.

Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, is one of four founding members of the recently created Farm, Ranch and Timber Issues Caucus. The caucus is bipartisan—a rarity in the Idaho Legislature—and open to any member of the House of Representatives or Senate.

Though the caucus will focus on farming, ranching and the timber industry, it will also discuss nonagricultural issues affecting rural communities, such as health care, broadband access, education and infrastructure. Toone sees the group’s bipartisan nature as “a unique opportunity to have conversations” without the expectations and “finger-pointing” of partisan politics.

“We need to be able to have conversations without the politics in it, and we haven’t seen that in our state capitol,” Toone said in an interview. “It needs to happen more often, because I really do believe the best solutions are in the middle.”

Toone said she was approached several years ago by Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, about starting a bipartisan caucus to focus on rural communities. Since then, the pair has been developing the idea and working to recruit members.

“The challenges facing our farmers, ranchers and loggers keep getting more complicated, so this is the perfect time for all of us to come together,” Troy said in a statement.

Along with Toone and Troy, the caucus’s founding members include Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, and Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise. The group is open to any member of the Legislature, regardless of whether they represent a rural district.

“Anybody is welcome to come in and listen and be part of the conversation,” Toone said. “Our issues are open to anybody, but we really want to focus on those more rural parts of the state of Idaho.”

About two dozen people showed up at the caucus’s first meeting, at which members discussed broadband and spoke with Idaho Department of Commerce Director Tom Kealey, head of the state’s Broadband Task Force. An upcoming meeting is expected to feature representatives from Idaho Fish and Game and the Idaho Cattle Association. Toone said she anticipates conversations about grazing, elk and depredation in the near future.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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