Hayden Republican Rep. Ed Morse came to Boise hoping to change the world - or at least the sliver of it he knows best.
Instead, he got a lesson in the art of the possible.
During December's orientation for a record-sized freshman class, Morse played the fearless kid in the front row. He posed at least a dozen questions, ranging from details about office expenses and travel to accessing state tax data and how to write a fiscal note.
His first query was for the bill drafters: "Can we submit a bill at this time, even before we're sworn?"
Assured he could start right away, Morse authored three measures - House Bills 94, 104 and 160 - dealing with issues he knows well as a real estate appraiser.
But all three have since stalled, casualties of freshman mistakes and resistance from powerful interests.
Opponents of HB 104 included cities, counties, school and highway districts, and utilities, including Idaho Power. Morse's bill would have boosted payments to property owners in condemnation proceedings for expenses, including lawyers and appraisers like himself.
Morse did not do the customary spadework.
"We were not aware the bill was coming," said Ken Harward, executive director of the Association of Idaho Cities. "It probably would have been a better process had he consulted with those who have an interest. Oftentimes, we're able to help shape good public policy."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, got fiercely lobbied. After an abbreviated public hearing Feb. 21, he met with Morse to deliver the bad news. "I told him that from my perspective the bill should be held in committee," Wills recalled. "I gave him 24 hours to think about it."
Morse agreed to retreat: "I won't argue with a committee chairman around here."
Idaho's eminent domain laws date to statehood. In addition to state and local governments, utilities, railroads and pipeline companies have condemnation power. Appraisals are shared with property owners, who may engage their own appraisers and lawyers, at their expense.
If the condemning authority low-balls a just compensation offer by 10 percent or more, legal fees and costs may be assessed. Morse's bill would require payment of fees if any significant change was made after the initial offer, a revision in the law opponents said would discourage good-faith settlement.
Idaho Power's chief concern "was that it could have restricted the company's ability to work with property owners, particularly in situations when we are discussing changes to a project to minimize the impact on their property," said spokeswoman Lynette Berriochoa.
"It's been an education," said Morse, 62, who has a bachelor's in political science and a master's from the University of Idaho. He graduated from Gonzaga's law school but doesn't practice.
"What's surprising is the complexity of the lobbying process and the focus one has got to bring in drafting a bill that disturbs the existing legal and economic interests," he said.
Lack of seasoning also prompted a rookie mistake that undermined Morse's effort: He didn't disclose his conflict of interest when he introduced the bill Feb. 5.
Alerted to the omission, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, spoke with Morse, reiterating January's ethics training.
Bedke said a strength of a part-time legislature is that lawmakers bring ideas from life experience. "But that certainly doesn't excuse this legislator or any legislator from declaring, 'Hey, in real life, I'm an appraiser,' " Bedke said.
Morse did disclose at the Feb. 21 hearing. He told me it didn't occur to him to mention his financial interest at the Feb. 5 introduction hearing. "I thought that when we got into the issues of the bill that would be an appropriate place to make a disclosure," he said.
That Morse defeated tax-dodging former Rep. Phil Hart in the GOP primary should have made him more attuned. Hart's antics, including invoking legislative immunity in an attempt to avoid paying more than $500,000 in taxes, sullied the Legislature's reputation and helped prompt Bedke and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, to mandate the ethics session.
"Given the Phil Hart history, you would think that might be an issue that would hit them right away," said Wills. "But this is Ed's first year. I wouldn't be too harsh on him."
Morse is tough enough on himself: "I'm finding there's no shortage of how many times you can make the disclosure."
He will keep working on all three measures and a fourth, undrafted bill aimed at boosting auditing of local governments to discourage embezzlement. He vows to try again next year.
HB 94 would make it easier to opt out of a local improvement district. HB 160 would expand the Regulatory Takings Act to allow property owners to sue when government regulations devalue property short of a full legal taking.
"The system is resistant to change because there are vested interests," he said. "I've learned you've got to be tenacious and persistent and creative."
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics