JAY KEHNE IN FRONT OF THE SENATE ENERGY, NATURAL RESOURCES. (TVW)

Commissioner Kehne, The Future Thereof

It took all of 100 seconds earlier this winter for a Senate panel to recommend that the full chamber confirm Larry Carpenter’s appointment to the Washington Fish & Wildlife Commission.

Most of that time was actually just a rote recitation of people, bill numbers and positions — Debbie Regala, vice chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources & Marine Waters, reading the rock-solid sportfishing advocate’s name (he’s also a hunting partner of WDFW Director Phil Anderson) and rattling off those of 11 others who Governor Christine Gregoire recently put on the state’s various oversight boards and commissions — before an affirmative vote was held on the whole kit and kaboodle.

That’s how some gubernatorial appointments go.

It has not gone that way for the other man Gregoire appointed with Carpenter that December day to refill the commission to its full nine members.

In a skirmish that embodies the country’s deep divisions, the angst of wolf reintroduction/recolonization in the Pacific Northwest, and is representative of Western Washington-Eastern Washington tensions, Jay Kehne spent 50 minutes in front of the same committee late last week explaining himself, his affiliations, whether he actually hunts, wolves and whatnot.

JAY KEHNE IN FRONT OF THE SENATE ENERGY, NATURAL RESOURCES AND MARINE WATERS COMMITTEE. (TVW)

It remains to be seen whether a majority of the ENRM committee will recommend that his six-year appointment be confirmed, and how or if the full Senate will vote on the matter.

On the one hand, in the TVW video of his hearing it appeared that Kehne would easily get the vote of committee chair Kevin Ranker, a Democrat who hails from one of the last of the San Juan Islands before Canada, and Regala, another Puget Sound Democrat.

While Jerome Delvin, the Republican Senate Whip from Tri-Cities, noted that emails had poured into his office in opposition, he also wished the Okanogan County resident good luck in his term on the commission, seemingly indicating continued service and which way his vote might go.

Two other Republicans are all but for-sure no votes. Bob Morton, who might as well be from Idaho his home is so deep in Eastern Washington, suggested Kehne wasn’t much like himself or other Eastsiders, while Val Stevens of the northwestern Cascades questioned why five farm bureaus opposed the appointment.

Senator Dan Swecker, a Republican from Lewis and southern Thurston Counties, didn’t give any clue either way except to say it was good to see Kehne again and that they “have a history” — read that as you may.

Not in attendance, committee members Karen Fraser, James Hargrove and Ed Murray, all Westside Democrats.

So the question for Ranker — who fairly gushed at Kehne’s performance in the face of Morton’s and Steven’s questions, and as the Senate majority assistant whip knows a thing or two about counting heads before roll call — is, do you risk the appointment with a vote?

While three of five outcomes work in his and other Kehne supporters’ favor, the fourth and fifth leave them with a whole lot of proverbial egg on their faces — and the last would also send Kehne back to Omak to tend his Katahdin sheep.

If Ranker and ENRM 1) leave Kehne’s appointment hanging, 2) end up making a yes recommendation but the Senate doesn’t act — neither uncommon — or 3) both the committee and Senate vote yes, Kehne continues to serve on the Fish & Wildlife Commission.

(Most commissioners go unconfirmed, but if the Senate signs off on him, he’d be one of three such seated members, joining Brad Smith and the recently confirmed Rollie Schmitten.)

But a majority of ENRM could 4) also recommend against confirmation. That is what happened in the “assassination” of recreational angling champion Clyde McBrayer in 2005 by the commercial fishing lobby. He ended up resigning from the commission several months later.

And if 5) the full Senate gives Kehne a thumbs down, that would not only be an embarrassment for Ranker, Senate Democratic leadership, the governor and other supporters, but result in his removal.

Gregoire (or the next guvnah should she be too busy over the next 10 months) would then need to find a new commissioner.

Those latter scenarios would cheer some Washington hunters, legislators and others who have been urging senators to block Kehne’s confirmation.

For starters, they do not like his association with Conservation Northwest nor its boss who they will never forgive as one of the 1980′s original tree-sitters — there is a real nexus between the outdoor trades and outdoorsmen, and both groups have long memories. Kehne works part-time for Mitch Friedman and his Bellingham-based organization as an outreach associate on wildlife-related land issues in his home county.

The Okanogan houses the state’s biggest and most important mule deer herd, as well as other species, and hosts some of the best large blocks of private land on winter range in Washington. It’s where the Department of Fish & Wildlife (which the Fish & Wildlife Commission oversees) is eagerly buying ranches from willing sellers or protecting them from future housebuilding by purchasing their development rights — a hot topic for some in the state’s farming community.

Some see a potential conflict of interest for Kehne. An online petition to ENRM and signed by 275 people wonders, “Why haven’t paid employees of Washington Cattlemen’s Association, SCI, Hunter’s Heritage Council, Washington Livestock Producers, or Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation been appointed to the Wildlife Commission?”

Further angering some is that Conservation Northwest has also been at the forefront of wolves and wolf recovery planning in Washington. Kehne himself has been part of panel discussions entitled “Living with Wolves,” and he rebuked Okanogan County commissioners for their petition to delist Canis lupus, calling it a “waste of energy and time.”

All fine and dandy activities when it was Kehne’s own time and dime.

But now that he’s a Fish & Wildlife Commissioner, they’ve attracted far more scrutiny. For some the questions are, is he more representative of a bunch of tree-and-wolf-hugging Westsiders than the Eastside position on the commission that he filled? What effect might he have on wolf and game management? And is he the right fit for a commission that, as Dave Workman, the longtime Washington hook-and-bullet writer, put it, should be swaddled in “fluorescent orange with a blood stain here and there”?

Kehne attempted to address some of the questions in his appearance before Ranker’s committee.

He told senators that he’s spent 44 of his 57 years in Eastern Washington, and that he grew up in Spokane. That’s when he began hunting upland birds and ducks with his brother when they were boys. He said he now focuses mostly on big game, and hunts the backcountry and Utah and Idaho.

(His Washington hunter reports show that between 2002 and 2010 he killed five deer and two elk; his appointment also upped the percentage of hunters on the Fish & Wildlife Commission from 71 percent, or five of seven members according to chairwoman Miranda Wecker’s count last fall, to 77 percent, or seven of nine.)

The rest of Kehne’s résumé includes two degrees from Pullman and decades of working with ranchers and farmers throughout the western Columbia Basin and eastern slope of the Cascade Range on soil and other issues with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

He has since retired and began working with Conservation Northwest two years ago. Some of his projects include pushing for an underpass on a stretch of Highway 97 where he says 400 deer a year are killed, and helping keep ranchers on the land and their spreads from being subdivided. He also noted that he recused himself from last week’s commission vote to buy a 165-acre parcel that includes a mile of Okanogan River waterfront.

Kehne’s words didn’t seem to phase Senator Morton, described in a recent Omak Chronicle article as in “strong opposition to public-land acquisitions” and who in 1995 introduced a bill that would have barred such buys for wildlife habitat and public use through funding from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, now known as the Recreation and Conservation Office.

As Morton began to grill Kehne, he first held up a sheaf of papers the committee had received on Kehne’s appointment, and then referenced another stack that had come directly to his office and opposed it.

It was from the latter that the senator posed a series of questions.

SENATOR BOB MORTON. (TVW)

He asked Kehne to elaborate on Eastside rural values, why the Fish & Wildlife Commission is comprised the way it is, whether there was anything about Conservation Northwest he disagreed with, if he knew what Y2Y — the Yellowstone-to-Yukon initiative — was, and his thoughts on northern pike, the Shanker’s Bend dam project (since withdrawn), leasing WDFW land for grazing, and the Loomis State Forest.

Morton also threw in several questions apparently designed to test the depth of Kehne’s Five-Oh-Nineyness — what a latigo, panel and throat-latch fish bait were.

If Kehne parried the previous questions, he whiffed on Morton’s gotchas.

(The answers: a saddle strap; part of a corral; part of a fish.)

Concluding, Morton said:

“I wonder if you would consider becoming a representative from Western Washington? I think what I hear from you is, you would be a good one to blend, and leave the seat that would be open for someone who is more familiar with, particularly, the grazing, the agriculture use, the timber, because we have a serious problem with the Loomis, which is our school money … I’ll be talking to you to see if there’s a chance of you taking a slot that would be available that’s a Western Washington representative and leave the seat for the eastern to another individual.”

Kehne responded that he didn’t know much about the Westside.

The RCWs governing the commission require three commissioners to be residents of Western Washington, three to be residents of Eastern Washington and three to be from anywhere in the state. None may live in the same county.

Currently there are members from Whatcom (Smith), Skagit (Carpenter), Kitsap (Connie Mahnken), Thurston (David Jennings) and Pacific (Miranda Wecker) Counties in Western Washington, and Okanogan (Kehne), Chelan (Schmitten), Grant (Chuck Perry) and Ferry (Gary Douvia) Counties in Eastern Washington.

The next at-large position opens up after Dec. 31, 2012, when Douvia’s term is slated to end.

As for what’s next in the Kehne saga, an official at Senator Ranker’s office late last week said that a committee vote had not been scheduled and to call back in two weeks. He said that there are other matters on ENRM’s agenda, including numerous House bills that must be moved before upcoming cutoff dates.

He also pointed out that even if Kehne does get a recommendation, it would then be up to Senate leadership to schedule a final vote.

That poses a risk not only for Kehne and his supporters but for those hunters and others against him.

If he is confirmed by the committee and Senate despite the opposition, what does that say about the sway of sportsmen in Washington?

On the flip side, it could be used as a further rallying cry for hunters to vote for Rob McKenna for governor this fall.

Stay tuned.

One thought on “Commissioner Kehne, The Future Thereof”

  1. Oh COME ON. I can’t believe you pointed that he didn’t know the answer to some dog and pony show questions about vocabulary, like it was some kind of useful point about the process. That was an embarrasment by Morton.

    Not everyone in E WA goes around on horseback corralling cattle or fishing or even hunting every day. I for one am glad Kehne isn’t a rancher–they’ve got enough power in Okanogan already and *I* deserve to be represented here, too. The commission is not just for hunters, you know. But that whole “is he really a hunter” garbage is just more distraction, anyway, and I can’t believe you are following it and treating it like news. He hunts…how much hunting is enough? Is there a required # of animals? # of guns? It’s ridiculous.

    I’ve seen Kehne talk at an event–he was thoughtful and listened to people’s concerns and gave thought to finding solutions for wildilfe. Can’t see how that can be a bad thing for anyone holding office.

    We seem perfectly willing to accept CORPORATE influence on our commissions, with guys from cattle industry, fishing industry, etc–where their decisions could actually make them or the employer money and we don’t quesiton influence or conflict. But we’re freaked when this guy works for a group that helps wildlife, with no profit to be made…it’s the Fish & WILDLIFE commission.

    I am embarrased by my county right now.

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