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Utah governor sells out State's sovereignty

By Charles Bloomer
web posted February 4, 2002

Utah governor Mike Leavitt, in his State of the State address last week, announced that he will formally ask President Bush to declare another national monument in Utah. Leavitt wants the federal government to take control of 620,000 acres of the San Rafael Swell, located in southeastern Utah.

Utah governor Mike LeavittGov. Leavitt opposed the creation of the 1.7 million acre Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument in 1996 when President Clinton created the monument through an Executive Order. Gov. Leavitt's opposition was based largely on the fact that Clinton had unilaterally declared federal control of Utah without consulting with Utah officials or citizens. According to Leavitt, the desire to declare a monument of San Rafael Swell is different. "This time it is being proposed by locals, with sufficient notice and additional discussion before acting", the governor said.

No doubt the San Rafael Swell is a scenic wilderness site. With "sufficient notice and additional discussion", as well as local support, there is obviously a desire to protect the area and maintain its natural beauty.

But the governor's action raises some questions: Why designate San Rafael Swell a National Monument? Why not make it a State Monument? Why is the governor ceding control of any of his State's land to the federal government? Is there not a process within the Utah political system to protect this area?

The answers, of course, can be found in politics. Governors are first and foremost politicians, who enjoy and want to keep the privileges and power that come with elected office. In order to stay in office, a governor must keep voters happy, and an easy way to make voters happy is to give them something that someone else pays for.

The Utah governor is no stranger to this kind of political ploy. After the Grand Staircase - Escalante land grab, the governor initiated lawsuits in federal court to reverse the Executive Order creating the monument. Gov. Leavitt later dropped the lawsuits in exchange for $50 million, 139,000 acres of federal land, plus mineral rights.

Gov. Leavitt knows that if he designates San Rafael Swell a State Monument, he will have to include the cost of management and maintenance in his State budget. State control over the monument will mean an increase in State expenses, taken from the voters in the form of taxes. To cover this new expense, the governor will either have to raise taxes or cut money from other State programs. Any politically savvy governor knows that increasing taxes and cutting programs are not the ways to endear himself to constituents.

The solution to the dilemma is to shift the blame. By asking that the site be declared a National Monument, the governor shifts the expense of the monument to the federal government, thereby preserving his own budget. The cost of managing and maintaining the monument is borne by all American taxpayers. The "bad guy" in this scenario becomes the tax-hungry federal government, while the governor portrays himself as the "good guy", having satisfied the local stakeholders by protecting the land. It's a classic free lunch.

Unfortunately, lunch is not free. Actions such as this weaken the State's position vis-à-vis the federal government and further weaken the concept of States' right embodied in the Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution. In his shortsighted political manipulations, Gov. Leavitt is selling his State's sovereignty in exchange for a place at the federal trough.

Governors, particularly Western governors, frequently complain about the federal intrusion into the control of open lands, federal land grabs, and unacceptable regulations that deny States use of land within those States, land that constitutionally belongs to the States, not the federal government. As they complain, though, they have their hands held out continuously, seeking federal money to help them retain their elected positions.

State governors should be a tenacious first line of defense for States' Rights and the sovereignty that the Constitution guarantees. Governors will never force a return of respect for the concept of a federal republic as long as they are willing to sell out themselves and their States in order to get a hand out from the federal government.

Governor Leavitt should not let his shortsighted politics lead him to violate his State's sovereignty for a few federal dollars. If Utah wants San Rafael Swell to be preserved, Utah should declare it a State Monument.

Charles Bloomer is a Senior Writer at Enter Stage Right. He can be contacted at clbloomer@enterstageright.com. (c) 2002 Charles Bloomer

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