The Republicans who control the Idaho Senate did a rare thing Monday, snubbing their governor, letting the meat loaf grow stale in the lunchroom and delaying an annual ceremony honoring Abraham Lincoln.
The male-dominated Senate rejected Gov. Butch Otter’s nomination of the second woman to serve in the Idaho Fish & Game Commission’s 75 years, in a 19-16 vote after almost two hours of debate.
Joan Hurlock, the daughter of a California game warden who moved to Buhl 10 years ago, was principally faulted for one thing: She isn’t an avid hunter or fisher.
Hurlock is a former cop with a degree in forensic science and a lifetime member of the NRA. She taught her kids to fish and seeks to reverse the decline in hunting and fishing by attracting young people.
Opponents said she was smart and well-informed, but her absence of time in elk camp cost her the volunteer post.
“I wonder if she’s ever sat on the top of a high mountain ridge at daylight after having walked miles in the dark to get to that special hunting spot, only to have an ATV drive by and scare the game away,” said Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot.
Until Hurlock became interested in the job last year, she held hunting licenses in 1999 and 2000 and a fishing license in 2003. She bought multiple licenses in 2012. That casual history signaled she couldn’t be trusted to put hunted animals ahead of the department’s other legal duty — to protect non-game species.
“Where does that leave the hunter?” asked Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, a former Fish & Game commissioner.
“This lady is not qualified,” Siddoway recalled telling Lt. Gov. Brad Little shortly after Hurlock’s nomination in June. “She admitted to us that she wasn’t a fisherman and that she had hunted once in her life and shot two whistlepigs. The passion that she has for hunting and fishing in Idaho is not there.”
In the eight months since Otter’s nomination, Senate Resources and Environment Committee Chairman Monty Pearce has been fighting to remove Hurlock, who began serving in July and had the support of all six male colleagues on the commission.
“There’s a fear of some environmentalism involved here,” said Pearce, R-New Plymouth, whose committee voted 5-4 last week against Hurlock. “Just trust us, trust us in the way we see it.”
The Senate tradition of affirming committee work also played a role. All four GOP leaders and seven of 10 committee chairmen opposed Hurlock. The 19 opponents included 18 of the Senate’s 30 men, one of five women. Among the 28 Republicans, 19 voted against Hurlock; all seven Democrats backed her.
It was historic — the first time in memory that a GOP-controlled Senate overturned a Republican governor’s pick. The last governor to suffer such embarrassment: Democrat Cecil Andrus in 1988, who also had a Fish & Game nominee rejected in 1974.
Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, defended Hurlock, who tied for the top spot among a committee of eight that interviewed seven candidates for Otter. Lodge’s brother, Dyke Nally, chaired the panel.
Lodge recounted growing up in a hunting family in Canyon County with game so plentiful she shot birds from the porch. “If my father hadn’t hunted, we probably wouldn’t have had any meat,” Lodge said.
Lodge said it’s high time to “bring 50 percent of Idaho citizens — women — into the mix” and offer “a new perspective.” Hurlock would be good for hunting, Lodge argued, boosting animal populations, focusing on science and reversing a decline in license sales and an aging hunting population.
“This is about bringing no agenda except to get young people outdoors and away from violent video games,” Lodge said.
Otter voiced the same sentiment on Friday. “It gets them away from the TV, away from the Game Boy,” he said. “They’re actually out looking at nature and learning about life.”
Otter said he warned Hurlock the floor fight was “not going to be pretty…but if you want to stay in this, I’m with you.”
Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, voted for Hurlock in committee and said she was plenty tough. “She knew she was headed for a wreck and yet she came anyway.”
Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, warned Hurlock’s foes they risk losing broad public support as hunting culture wanes in an urbanizing Idaho.
“We need more recruits,” said Brackett. “Joan Hurlock is committed to that. For the survival of hunting as we know it we’re going to have to get more youth involved sooner.”