Harry Truman once wished for a one-armed economist because he’d grown tired of hearing, “On the one hand…on the other hand.” This post-election wrap-up is a bit like that: slivers of hope set against hard reminders.
For public lands, the election’s best news is probably this: the blue wave that washed over the House also swept away Rob Bishop’s chairmanship of the House Resources Committee. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) will likely replace Bishop. Think Imperator Furiosa replaces Iago. It will be much more difficult for the Utah congressional delegation to move bad wilderness legislation.
We won’t really celebrate, though, until we get past the dangerous uncertainty of a lame duck Congress. Retiring Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is trying to ram through his Emery County legislation. This late in the game, his likeliest avenue is to slip his anti-wilderness bill inside some larger legislative package. It’s our job to see that he fails. Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek and the San Rafael Badlands are in the balance.
But we hope the election will embolden Democratic leadership to block bad legislation in these few remaining weeks, even as their Republican counterparts redouble efforts to do all the damage they can before losing power. Lame duck congresses often prove to be duds; they can also be dangerous. Muddying this lame duck’s waters even further, Trump is relieved of whatever pressure he felt to act like an adult prior to the election. With a budget deadline of December 7, he may yet have the chance to shut down the government to indulge some momentary whim.
We’ll have to contend with the Trump administration for two more years; the election doesn’t change that. But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Trump’s trained seal, faces a number of ethics-related investigations that may distract him some from his assaults on public land. Offsetting that faint hope is the likelihood that the Bureau of Land Management will be ever more servile in its acquiescence to local Utah politicians and their anti-public lands demands.
The mid-terms did nothing to quash Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s massive litigation seeking control over national parks, monument, and wilderness through the antiquated and repealed RS 2477.
There were some changes among Utah’s congressional delegation. In potential good news for the environment, it appears Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams beat incumbent Republican Representative Mia Love. The outlook is less clear regarding former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who returned to Utah to collect the retiring Hatch’s seat. During his senate campaign, Romney pandered to the right wing on public land issues. We’ll see if he chooses to stay on the fringe.
At the state level, in what is the very essence of rotating bald tires, former San Juan County commissioner and all-terrain-vehicle protest rider Phil Lyman replaced long time State Representative Mike Noel. A leader in the state house, the bellicose Noel did his best to drag Utah backwards with false claims on public land issues and a penchant for wasting Utah tax dollars pushing his anti-federal views. Perhaps Lyman will surprise us by being something else. We doubt it.
Notably, this election brought real change to San Juan County, home of the Bears Ears National Monument. Native Americans Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes won two of three county commission seats. Both support the Bears Ears; both beat candidates who didn’t. This is an extraordinary shift of power to the Native American majority in a county where gerrymandering Anglo politicians have long suppressed Native needs and Native voices.
Make no mistake, Kenneth and Willie will face hostility from the entrenched county forces seeking to make them fail. Those forces were at work from the very beginning. The San Juan County Clerk sought to falsify documents in order to keep Willie off the ballot, but was busted by a federal judge. We wish the new commissioners success, and thank them for the courage to take on these offices.
We have survived half of the national nightmare of Donald Trump’s reign. Each year becomes more dangerous as blatantly unqualified political appointees remain in place and work their mischief, twisting and distorting the bureaucracies that manage our public lands.
We operate in an ever-changing political environment at every level. Politicians, bureaucrats and judges come and go. The constant is the red rock wilderness and our resolve to defend it. Thank you for being part of this movement.