If you enjoy nonstop political intrigue, Christmas has come early. Among the many political tempests last week, a highlight for Utah was President Donald Trump’s quick trip to the state. In the holiday spirit, we review whether he brought candy or coal for politicos’ stockings.
Trump was surrounded by numerous smiling Utah officials (some of whom didn’t vote for him) as he sliced and diced two national monuments established by his predecessors. Opponents ranged from protesters outside the Capitol to conservation organizations, Native American nations and outdoors businesses. Trump’s actions were followed by a congressional proposal to establish a national park in the Escalante Canyons area. What does it all mean?
Pignanelli: “Laws change; people die; the land remains.” — Abraham Lincoln
Last week, geologists revealed that below New England is a rising mass of hot molten rock. At the same time, activities around these national monuments generated massive forces of geological proportions within the state's electorate. Almost 90 percent of Utahns live along the Wasatch Front. They love to recreate throughout the state and object to unreasonable development that threatens this lifestyle. Yet a primal and stronger undercurrent, existing for more than 160 years among residents, is a deep distrust of the federal government.
Shrewd policymakers understand these two forces. The announcement by Congressman Chris Stewart and the Utah congressional delegation to establish a new national park reflects this dynamic.
Misconceptions need to be corrected. Supporters of Trump's actions must explain he transferred nothing to state control but, rather, a different version of federal protection. Monument sympathizers should immediately distance themselves from companies and environmental organizations that launch vicious personal attacks against Utahns holding different opinions (this paper appropriately editorialized against such nastiness).
Magma can evolve into volcanoes. But these political molten flows are indicators of the pragmatic common sense Utahns embody and will not result in destructive explosions — if properly channeled.
Webb: The designation of these two monuments was an act of presidential arrogance and overreach, so it was appropriate that they were chopped down to size by America’s most narcissistic president.
I hope two lessons have been learned: First, the Antiquities Act should be used modestly, following the act’s original intent. Second, major land use decisions should be made by Congress, following a regular order that includes transparency, public hearings, plenty of debate, votes in committees and on the House and Senate floors and a presidential signature.
I’m hopeful that this long journey will culminate in Utah’s congressional delegation working with all stakeholders to produce some excellent progress on Utah’s public lands. This means enhanced protections and conservation designations for numerous amazing, treasured sites across the state. Other areas should be available for energy extraction and a variety of traditional land uses, including recreation and tourism.
Utah is big enough, with such a variety of landscapes, that everyone can get most of what they want. But it will require a little compromise and goodwill.
Otherwise, we continue the eternal battle over public lands.
Emotions on this issue are running high. What will be the impact on the 2018 elections?
Pignanelli: Only foolish candidates in 2018 can expect to dodge questions about the monument issue. Republicans will need to offer comfort that moving public lands from federal control will not result in their pillage. The GOP may emphasize the potential of the “nation’s best-managed state” providing good stewardship of wilderness areas. Democrats can prioritize environmental concerns, but a warm embrace of the federal government is toxic to local voters.
Utahns will soon endure a media bombardment from outside special-interest groups attempting to tap into their emotions. Successful office seekers will maintain personas independent of such efforts.
Webb: Vowing to fight to restore the monuments to their original size isn’t a winning campaign pledge for Democrats. They’re better off saying they’ll fight for balance in the management of public lands and will protect the lands for public use.
Trump gave a not-so-subtle nudge to Sen. Orrin Hatch, encouraging him to seek re-election in 2018. Is Hatch now more likely to run?
Pignanelli: Politicos are gossiping about Trump’s hard push for Hatch to run again. The senator got a boost from last week's activities, having garnered credit from the president to San Juan County officials. This fervor, and tax reform, will postpone a decision by the senator until next year.
Webb: Hatch is on the verge of one of the greatest accomplishments of his remarkable political career. He deserves a great deal of credit for historic tax reform that will boost the economy. It is a crowning achievement.
Yes, there is always more to accomplish, especially with Republicans controlling Congress and with a president willing to defy political convention to get things done. But Hatch has another year to get a lot done.
This is a great time for Hatch to announce his retirement at the apex of a distinguished career. And I think he will.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is the president/CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. Email: email@example.com.