SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - Met Johnson worried that no one would show up for the two-day Western Summit of conservative state legislators, county commissioners and public-land users he organized here in January.
Johnson, the leader of
the so-called "Cowboy Caucus' in the Utah House of Representatives,
feared the "steam might have gone out of the movement" to wrest
control of the West from the federal
It was just the opposite. The recent
election results spurred more than 500 people to crowd into a
downtown hotel to listen to pep talks from sympathetic members of
Congress and organize strategies to defeat grazing reform, protect
state control of water rights, and preserve road rights-of-way
across public land.
"There's a great difference
in attitude," said Jack Barraclough, a Republican member of the
Idaho House of Representatives, noting that changes in federal
policy being discussed at the meeting are "things that people
thought impossible only a few months ago."
"There's new hope that we can make a
difference," said Tom Hatch, a commissioner from Utah's Garfield
Rep. James V. Hansen, R-Utah, received
thunderous applause when he told the group: "I honestly feel that
one of the most prudent things we could do is to pass legislation
that turns (over) the BLM lands to the states ... I can testify,
and I believe with all my heart, that the legislative bodies of the
West absolutely can take as good care of the ground as the federal
government and do it cheaper and better."
Baum, leader of the Republican majority in the Oregon House of
Representatives, said states want more than just control of the
land. They want the right to set their own policies for
environmental protection, endangered species, welfare, and health
"In 1865 we fought a war against too much
states' rights. But the pendulum has swung too far in the other
direction. Now we're in the middle of a quiet revolution in which
the states are taking back their role from the feds."
He argued, for example, that Oregon laws
protecting endangered species and regulating the timber industry
should prevail on federal lands, not laws passed by
"We (the state) can protect the salmon
and spotted owl, and still have timber production. The federal
government just doesn't get it," said Baum.
A. Curtiss, a Republican member of the Montana House of
Representatives, said Western legislators are beginning to work
together to create a "unified approach" on the state-sovereignty
"We live there. Our local economies are
important to us. We should have more participation in the federal
decision-making process," she said.
protesters from the Sierra Club held a brief demonstration outside
the hotel during the meeting's second day. But just as the camera
crews from local television stations were setting up to shoot the
event, about 60 people from the summit raced out of the building
carrying their own signs and held a counter-demonstration on the
Lawson LeGate, Southwest regional
representative for the Sierra Club, led his side in chants like:
"Public lands in public hands," and "Wise use or wise abuse."
Charles S. Cushman, executive director of the
American Land Rights Association, responded from his group with
such chants as: "What do we hate? Babbitt! What do we love? Jobs!"
and "What do we want? Mining! When do we want it?
Back inside, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah,
warned that the "euphoria" of the recent election needs to be
balanced by the "cold hard fact" that eight of the 53 the
Republicans in the U.S. Senate are "very liberal." This could make
it hard to pass many of the reforms sought by Western
conservatives, he said.
The Salt Lake City
meeting was the third Western Summit. Previous sessions were held
in Phoenix and Denver.
The writer works for the
Salt Lake Tribune.