With Republicans firmly in power after the November landslide, a kind of insurrection is brewing in nearly every Western state.
In legislative halls throughout
the West, it's popular to assert states' rights under the 10th
Amendment, streamline or gut environmental regulations and push
private property "takings' legislation.
states, including Arizona, Utah and Idaho, have created a
Constitutional Defense Council to challenge unwanted federal
mandates or assert state control of federal land. Idaho's council
is authorized to spend up to $1 million on the effort. And in
states such as Wyoming and Montana, legislatures have urged
citizens to buy firearms to keep federal officials at bay.
"The rebellion is out there again, it's clear,"
notes John Freemuth, a political science professor at Boise State
University. "But some of the states' rebellions may have as much to
do about unfunded mandates as they do about public lands."
Mark Pollot, director of the constitutional law
center for the Boise-based group Stewards of the Range, said
lawmakers believe the public has ordered them to rein in
government. "The overarching thing is the federal government is
controlling things, pushing things, and they're not being
responsive to the people," Pollot said.
Washington and Montana, the states' rights agenda has attracted
less attention than efforts to soften environmental regulations and
shore up protection for private property rights.
Peter Hurley, executive director of the Washington Environmental
Council, sounded an alarm in the group's newsletter Voices.
"Environmental laws are under the most dangerous attack since James
Watt. Monied special interests smell blood and are attacking full
force," he said.
The council is tracking what it
refers to as "the Sinister Six," a half-dozen bills that would
weaken environmental protection, gut the state Forest Practices Act
and undermine citizen participation under the state's Environmental
Policy Act. The council also opposes "takings' Initiative 164,
which would force taxpayers to pay developers not to pollute.
Hurley calls it "a taxpayer's worst nightmare."
In Montana, about 300 people recently rallied at
the Statehouse in Helena against major changes in state
"It's a wholesale dismantling
of water protection laws for the benefit of the mining industry,
and they don't deserve it," said Julia Page, a member of the
Northern Plains Resource Council from Gardiner,
The water-quality rally didn't get much ink
in the newspapers or footage on the local news. It was overshadowed
by the state Senate's action to kill a bill regulating homosexuals.
It required anyone convicted of violating sodomy laws to register
with local law enforcement authorities along with rapists and
"We would have liked to get more
attention in the press, but (the gay bill) is indicative of the
extreme nature of the Senate," Page said.
local environmental and public interest groups try to fight off the
onslaught, many citizens remain unaware of the radical nature of
some of the new laws, said Tarso Ramos, research director for the
Western States Center in Portland, Ore. "The danger in this is that
there's so much momentum behind states' rights that these bills can
develop support without serious consideration of the issues at
To Mindy Harm of the Idaho Conservation
League, the states' rights rebellion is "just warmed-over Sagebrush
Rebellion: It's the same cast of characters who want to cash in on
the privatization of federal lands."
Western states have passed resolutions or memorials that assert
states' rights under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
They say, in part, that "the powers not delegated to the United
States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are
reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."
How far will that effort go? Will some states
try to leave the Union? Idaho State Sen. Mary Lou Reed hopes people
will see the value of maintaining a federal role. "The extreme
interpretation has a real potential of unraveling the Union,
unraveling the flag," she said. "I share the concern for balance,
but if we swing too far the other way, then we could end up in the
same camp as the extremists."
The drive for
states' rights is so new it has yet to be fully defined. Both
Pollot and Freemuth see the movement cresting during a Conference
of the States to be held Oct. 23-25 in Philadelphia.
Freemuth said he sees no coherent strategy yet,
particularly on public lands. He characterized Idaho Rep. Helen
Chenoweth's recent congressional hearing on "Federal Excessive Use
of Force," as staged theater with a purpose: "Let's beat up on the
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