SALT LAKE CITY — A veteran House Democrat from Baltimore will hear firsthand from Utahns their concerns about the federal government's control of public lands during a 24-hour visit to the state arranged by Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
The Utah Republican is taking Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., on a tour starting Sunday set to include a land management discussion Monday in Moab with area officials including some from the Navajo Nation, as well as stops in Salt Lake City.
Cummings, the ranking Democratic member of the House Oversight Committee that Chaffetz hopes to lead, brought Chaffetz to Baltimore earlier this summer to show him the problems faced by inner-city residents.
Now Chaffetz said it's his turn to showcase what's important to Utah.
"You want to have a fighting chance to win votes on issues that are uniquely Western," he said. "I have no idea what (Cummings') vision of Utah is. But I guarantee it's going to be different when he leaves."
Chaffetz said he wants Cummings to meet people "who live on the receiving end of these onerous decisions made by the federal government" and would be harmed by the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument.
"It's one of the biggest threats to Utah," Chaffetz said of the possibility that President Barack Obama would designate a new monument.
Chaffetz said he will tell Cummings about legislation sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to curb the president's authority.
"This isn't about how we can make Californians' vacations better," he said. "You're talking about taking people's livelihood and their personal property rights. It's not a movie set out of some John Wayne movie."
Chaffetz said the effects Utahns experience as a result of the federal government's control of public lands are similar to what he saw during his visit to Baltimore, especially in places like Grand, Emery and San Juan counties.
"You have a lot of poverty in that part of the state," he said, calling that "equally as devastating if we don't get the equation right, albeit different" from the East Coast inner city.
Chaffetz said all Cummings has seen of Utah is Salt Lake City International Airport while changing planes. This time, Cummings will take a float trip on the Colorado River after flying on the state plane from Salt Lake City to Moab late Sunday afternoon.
Before leaving Moab for Salt Lake City on Monday morning, Cummings will also get a chance to see Arches National Park. In Salt Lake City, Chaffetz will take him to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Welfare Square.
Also Monday, both congressmen will meet with Gov. Gary Herbert and field questions during a special hourlong town hall edition of "The Doug Wright Show" on KSL NewsRadio that begins at noon.
The visit by Cummings, who has served in Congress since 1996 and is a member of the powerful Congressional Black Caucus, is also an opportunity for Chaffetz to further his efforts to land a committee chairmanship.
"I want to build the ties so we can work in a bipartisan way," Chaffetz said. "I am trying to become the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and I want to have a good relationship with the ranking member."
University of Utah political science professor Thad Hall said there's at least a personal benefit to Chaffetz and Cummings getting to know each other's congressional districts better.
"For it to be meaningful, this needs to affect policy in some way," Hall said. "Politically, it's a smart thing. Don't get me wrong. This could lead to the way issues are discussed being different on the committee."
That's a good thing, Hall said, on a committee known for confronting the Obama administration on a range of issues, including the 2012 deaths of American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya.
But partisanship means a better relationship between the Republican from Utah and the Democrat from Maryland is "not going to result in any sort of policy difference," Hall said.
"Anytime you can get people as far apart politically as Chaffetz and Cummings together, that's awesome," he said. "It's not going to change the world. We live in a world where nothing is getting done politically."
The use of the state plane for Chaffetz and Cummings is something the governor would do for any member of Utah's congressional delegation hosting "a prominent member of Congress," Herbert spokesman Marty Carpenter said.
"Use of the state plane is not partisan and not political," Carpenter said. "It is purely about ensuring Cummings leaves from this experience with a committment to help Utah's delegation in Congress accomplish important policy objectives."
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