Which Western politicians are to blame for the shutdown?


Hotels, raft guiding outfits and other tourism-dependent businesses in and around Western national parks have collectively lost millions of dollars each day that the government has been in partial shutdown. According to the Arizona Republic, the biggest hotel near Grand Canyon National Park had about half the occupancy it normally does this time of year, and rafting outfitters were predicting a loss of nearly $1 million in revenue from cancelled trips. In southern Utah, counties have declared a state of emergency, thanks to the impact of closed parks. The Western tourist economy, after suffering through wildfires and flash floods this year, is now getting flushed down the toilet by political wrangling in Washington.

A sign in southwestern Colorado warns the public that a US Forest Service campground is closed due to the government shutdown. Photo by Jonathan Thompson.

It’s left many a small business owner wondering whom she can hold accountable for this shutdown (or, in Fox News parlance, the “slimdown,” as though this assault on livelihoods is merely a visit to the weight-loss spa). I suppose she could, like Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Tex., berate the National Park Service rangers for doing their job. Or she might buy into much of the mainstream media’s false equivalence and blame all of the politicians in Washington.

But most of us know better: This shutdown was a long-planned act, perpetrated by extremists and funded by the Koch brothers and other ideologues, as detailed in a New York Times report. Its goal is to cripple the Affordable Care Act that was passed by both houses of congress, signed by a president who was later re-elected, and ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court; a law that could – albeit imperfectly – heal some of the wounds inflicted by this nation’s health care crisis. And the pawns in this Tea Party game are a coalition of politicians apparently intent not only on disabling their nation’s economy, but also on bringing down the Republican party from within.

Depending on what criteria you use, the coalition of the extreme is made up of anywhere from 20 to 80 or more members of the U.S. House of Representatives – mostly white men, who represent mostly white, conservative districts. The “suicide caucus” – so-termed by conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer – are members who signed onto the letter by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., which essentially lays out the plan to use the "power of the purse" as a "weapon" to defund "one of the largest grievances of our time," i.e. the Affordable Care Act. Not so deep in the extremist Inferno are an additional handful of representatives who did not sign the letter, but did co-sponsor Rep. Tom Graves’, R-Ga., bill to defund the Affordable Care Act. In a supporting role are a handful of senators who co-sponsored Sen. Ted Cruz’s similar bill, or signed a Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, letter, identical to the Meadows letter, or who just sit on the sidelines while their party is eviscerated by their own.

The majority of these “wacko birds” (Sen. John McCain’s label, for which he later apologized, though he continues to call them "bullies") or “lemmings in suicide vests” (the label given them by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.) are not from the West. Yet a handful of them have not only made their nests in the West, but are also from districts getting hit hardest by the shutdown – suicidal lemmings, indeed. The most obvious are the Utah contingent of Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart, who represent the people of southern Utah, an area that is getting battered by the shuttering of national parks and monuments. Colorado’s Scott Tipton, whose district includes Mesa Verde National Park, is also a co-sponsor of the Graves bill, and if his Facebook page’s comments are any indication, many of his constituents are none too happy with him. Maybe they're not the ones he's trying to please. Tipton's friend and major campaign contributor, Robert Gaddis, told the Durango Herald that he'd like "to see the government shutdown go on for about six months." Great.

Here's our list of other Westerners who are holding the hard line in today's shutdown/healthcare battle.


  • TG = Co-sponsored Tom Grave's defund "Obamacare" bill.
  • MM = Signed Rep. Mark Meadows’ letter to pull government "purse strings" to kill the Affordable Care Act.
  • TC = Co-sponsored Ted Cruz's bill to defund the Affordable Care Act.
  • ML = Signed Sen. Mike Lee's letter, identical to Meadows'.
  • * = Listed among the New York Times 20 dissident Republicans who are leading the effort to use a shutdown to kill "Obamacare."

House of Representatives

Chris Stewart, R-Utah (TG)                       
Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif (TG, MM)     
Steve Daines, R-Mont (TG, MM)         
Mark Amodei, R-Nev (TG)                        
Paul Cook, R-Calif (MM)                            
Scott Tipton, R-Colo (TG)                         
Cory Gardner, R-Colo (TG)                       
Rob Bishop, R-Utah (TG, MM)          
Paul Gosar, R-Ariz (TG, MM)              
Steve Pearce, R-NM (TG, MM)            
Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo (TG, MM)   
Ed Royce, R-Calif (TG)                              
Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah (TG)                    
*Raul Labrador, R-Idaho (TG, MM)  
*David Schweikert, R-Ariz (TG, MM)
Trent Franks, R-Ariz (TG, MM)          
Doug Lamborn, R-Colo (TG, MM)     
Tom McClintock, R-Calif (TG, MM)  
*Matt Salmon, R-Ariz (TG, MM)


Dean Heller, R-Nev. (TC)                         
John Barrasso, R-Wyo. (TC)                   
Mike Crapo, R-Id. (ML)                           
Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. (TC, ML)             
James Risch, R-Id. (TC, ML)            
Mike Lee, R-Utah (TC, ML)


Jonathan Thompson is a senior editor at High Country News. Follow him on Twitter @jonnypeace.

High Country News Classifieds