Anyone who has watched a Clint Eastwood western is familiar with the line he utters to a bad guy who is thinking of drawing his gun. Steel blue eyes, taut jaw, usually a toothpick in the corner of his mouth, a look of undeterred force and with a growly voice he dares his opponent to be dumb enough to try.
That response should be the model for President Barack Obama’s response to the many Republicans who think they can make a politically-winning issue out of the President using his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to declare the Boulder/White Clouds a National Monument.
Recently, the Republican-led House passed by a narrow margin (222 to 201) a bill designed to prevent the President from issuing such a declaration without first conducting a complete Endangered Species Act review of the action as well as holding hearings in the local area and conferring with a state’s governor and its congressional delegation before he could utilize the Antiquities Act’s power to withdraw lands from the federal domain. They conveniently ignore the fact that after a presidential declaration the law itself requires public hearings to establish the rules and regulations which will govern the set-aside.
Republicans are making two bad assumptions. First, they assume that requiring a strong showing of local support will set the bar too high for any President to even think of using the redefined Act. Second, they assume that local sentiment will always oppose turning an area into another land-restricting Federal entity.
Ever since the law was passed, most places where a President has used this authority have opposed the initial designation. In fact, local sentiment against protecting a national treasure in the national interest almost always comes about in spite of public sentiment, not because of local, public support.
According to the Idaho Statesman writer Rocky Barker, Interior Secretary Sally Jewel has made the mistake of assuming that a public meeting in Stanley will result in hundreds turning out to talk against the Monument designation. She sees such a hearing, controversial as it may be, giving Interior a better chance at selling a change in status.
She does not understand the politics of the issue very well nor does she understand all the heavy lifting that has already been expended by Idaho’s Republican Second District Congressman, Mike Simpson, who labored for ten years to produce a carefully crafted bill. Senator Risch supported the Simpson bill when he was governor, and initially even supported it after he arrived on the Hill. Urged on no doubt by Governor Otter and the ATV crowd, he changed his mind and served notice he was exercising his Senatorial prerogative to put a hold on the legislation, casting it into limbo.
Candidly, Secretary Jewell cares too much about the views of Senator Risch, Governor Otter and First District Congressman Raul Labrador, all of whom viscerally hate the President.
When told of her requiring a hearing and a show of local support, former Idaho Governor and Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus, reportedly said “give me 48 hours notice when she intends to hold a hearing and I’ll have over 500 folks there, most all local, speaking for a Monument Declaration.”
Andrus, as have most supporters for protecting the Boulders/White Clouds, including the Idaho Conservation League, have concluded a Presidential monument declaration is the only gambit that will get everyone including the insufferable Senator James Risch to the negotiating table.”
The whole strategy, however, is premised on the President actually using his power under the Antiquities Act and speaking forcefully against the traditional Republican interests that want to privatize the public lands. In other words, the President should tell the Congress “make my day!”
The other basic fact many R’s are missing is that even with possible passage of their bill restricting the president’s authority in the Senate, were the measure to come to the president’s desk, the President would veto and proponents would not even come close to over-riding the veto.
Some may even argue that opponents of the GOP legislation ought to engage proponents and sucker them into passage of the bill just so the President can dress up like Clint Eastwood, say “make my day,” and dramatically send the bill back to the trash bin of history.
Virtually every president since Teddy Roosevelt was given the power in 1906, whether Republican or Democrat, has used the Act to protect areas in need of protection. Chief executives just don’t sign away and cede back to Congress the kind of power Congress vested in the Antiquities Act.
Interior Secretary Jewell and President Obama ought to review the record and they’ll have the game plan all laid out for them to follow.Share on Facebook