The much-publicized stakeout of the Freemen and the arrest of alleged Unabomber Ted Kaczynski have helped Montana step off its pedestal as the compulsory destination for those Americans who can lay claim to a laptop computer, a kayak and a Peter Pan syndrome.
It's hard to say whether Montana's dethronement will inspire even one Volvo to stay in Lotus Land, but the glee with which some Montanans have taken up bashing their state hints that they prefer the cold, hard ground to a marble pedestal. T-shirts appeared in Helena proclaiming, "At least our cows are sane." Bumperstickers now say "I brake for FBI agents," and "Back off - I'm a postal worker from Montana," and a Billings Gazette editorial suggested alternatives to the state's Big Sky Country slogan: "Big Psycho Country" and "Montana, We dare ya."
While Montana's strategy is unquestionably the most dramatic in the region, other parts of the West are also discovering that when it comes to mass immigrations of rich people, the best defense is a good offense.
In Santa Fe, for example, Mayor Debbie Jaramillo has struck a chill into the hearts of the town's promoters by totally abandoning her political sensibilities. Elected on a feisty reformist platform two years ago, (HCN, 8/8/94), Jaramillo has already weathered accusations of nepotism stemming from hiring her brother as city manager. But she probably won't be as lucky with the recent appointment of her brother-in-law as police chief. Carlos Jaramillo hasn't worked in law enforcement for 25 years, was once charged with aggravated assault, and his tenure as director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Department was clouded with controversy.
The mayor told the Santa Fe New Mexican that the hiring is "no different than anything that has gone on in this community for 400 years," but City Councilor Cris Moore was not impressed: "I think this makes Santa Fe a laughingstock," he said. "I can't imagine there isn't a qualified lieutenant or captain that isn't related to her."
Utah's strategy to keep potential newcomers from exiting the interstate centers on a heart-stopping level of homophobia. When a group of students at East High School in Salt Lake City sought to start a gay-straight student alliance this spring, they ran into opposition, first at school, then at home, and finally with the school board and the state legislature. As the board of education's attorney put it, the state did not want to "use the school as a place to organize orgies." After failing to find a legal way to ban the gay-straight club and keep the school's other 30 clubs running, the local school board closed all non-curricular organizations.
"Everyone suffers because of the gays," one Beef Club member groused to the Tucson Weekly.
Over in Colorado, livestock is doing its part to make refugees from Aspen and Telluride think twice before exclaiming upon the affordability of the farmland in western Colorado's Delta County. While biking in the Grand Mesa National Forest, local farmer Chris Dourley was recently charged by a foul-tempered bull - the fourth such confrontation he's had in the last few years. The bull takes its place in a local tradition of marauding hooved creatures, which includes an incident a couple of years ago when a University of Denver professor landed in the emergency room with deep lacerations after being attacked by a deer.
Glitzy Eagle County, Colo., has opted for "The Rattlesnake Defense." The Vail/Beaver Creek Times reports that rattlesnakes have been seen in the towns of Avon and Gypsum. And a woman who drove to Colorado from the Southwest found a rattlesnake wrapped up in the suspension of her car. She drove to the Eagle/Vail pound, where an animal control officer drew out the snake and killed it.
About the only Western state that's trying to become more welcoming is Idaho, where officials in Idaho Falls recently decided to cover the swastikas on the floor of the county courthouse. Painted in the 1920s, before Hitler's military rise, the swastikas were based on an Indian design. They were covered just before Passover, reports the Idaho Falls Post-Register.
Explained Sheila Olsen, a member of the Idaho Falls Mayor's Cultural Awareness and Human Relations Committee: "In these times ... we don't need to have anything that can even be construed as offensive."
* Lisa Jones
Heard around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumpersticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or HCNVIRO@aol.com