Intern Files: On getting shut out of a meeting on Utah’s Land Grab

Guest blogger Matt Koschak, our DC intern, shares his experience trying to attend the Western Congressional Caucus HB 148 briefing.

It took just minutes for me to be removed from Room 1324 in the Longworth office building of the U.S. House of Representatives. I was attending a meeting by the Congressional Western Caucus to discuss H.B. 148, Utah’s Transfer of Public Lands Act—also known as the Utah legislature’s pipe dream that the federal government will give 30 million acres of American land to the state of Utah, just, well, because.

There to make his case for this national redistribution of land was Ken Ivory, the bill’s sponsor. I was curious about what he’d say, but shortly after I arrived two aides confronted me and asked for my affiliation. No more had the words “wilderness” and “alliance” left my mouth, than their demeanor changed, and I was politely but firmly asked to leave the “members-and-staff-only” briefing. Even the press was not allowed to hear the scheming to steal our treasured landscapes.

They were cordial, and I told them the truth—I heard about the meeting via phone calls and Ken Ivory’s Facebook and website activity. One staffer shook his head, sighed, and replied, “We asked him to take that down. He should know better.”

Back outside, I headed over to meet Jen Beasley, our Legislative Advocate, and Ashley Korenblat, the owner of Western Spirit Cycling Adventures, a Moab-based outdoor recreation company. Ashley also wanted to attend the meeting, but I was kicked out before she even arrived. She happened to be in DC to lobby during Great Outdoors America Week in support of public lands and the recreation economy, and was willing to take extra time to express her concerns about H.B. 148 despite an already packed schedule. She, too, was disappointed when the closed-door proceedings suppressed any opportunity for dialogue.

Talking to Ashley, I realized the comment from the aide was troubling. Ken Ivory “should know better” than to post his activities online? Better than what?

Should he know better than to inform Americans who treasure this land that he intends to steal it? Ashley Korenblat’s cycling tour business depends on the public landscapes like those in southern Utah. If Utah’s land grab succeeds, her scenic tours in iconic red rock country will soon give way to the sight of well after well, like so many vampires sucking oil from the stone, surrounded by fencing and no trespassing signs. Good for business?

Utah extremists claim the land grab will benefit Utah education, that stealing these beloved places is for the benefit of the people and businesses of Utah. Why then, did they close the meeting to the likes of Ashley Korenblat, the Utah small-business owner? Shouldn’t they know better?

This meeting shows the tip of the iceberg of closed doors and hush-hush deliberation surrounding the Utah government’s land grab. What they claim is the democratic process looks and feels a lot more like a business transaction.

Matt Koschak
DC Policy Intern