Lassoing the West's polital winds

  • BETSY OFFERMANN

    HCN File Photo
 

The HCN staff and board are just back from our fall board meeting in Seattle. In the spirit of eating dessert first, we'll start with the high point of the meeting, a talk from Tim Egan, national correspondent for The New York Times and author of books such as Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West.

Egan told us about traveling the West in the spring of 1993 with President Clinton's new Interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt. Federal land managers around the region were feeling liberated, he said, after years of working with the likes of ultraconservative Interior Secretary James Watt.

"It was like Bastille Day," said Egan.

On that trip, and in that optimistic atmosphere, Babbitt predicted that in a short time, the Republican-dominated West would turn Democratic. Timber and mining jobs were disappearing and with them the Republicans' constituency, he reasoned, while environmentalists were flocking from the coasts to the West's urban areas.

Unfortunately for "the Emperor of the Outdoors," as Egan dubbed Babbitt, "the people weren't necessarily with him." Instead of a Democratic awakening, Babbitt kicked off "the War on the West." He was hanged in effigy, while federal land managers lived in fear of rural sagebrush rebels - and didn't feel much more welcome in the cities.

What happened? In Egan's estimation, "The Democrats and the environmentalists were losing the culture war," not appealing to the common people of the West. This was particularly poignant for Egan, who grew up among blue-collar Democrats in Spokane, Wash., and obviously has a deep-seated love of the land.

"We didn't think of environmentalists as outsiders," he said. "Now, rural Westerners think of environmentalists as outsiders enforcing a point of view on them."

This is a thread you'll pick up in many of the stories in this issue, as environmentalists - and the Democratic Party, which they've co-opted * search for a political foothold in the Interior West. Some of them are starting to reach out to a broader public - whether it's the crowded Arizona urbanites in Ray Ring's cover story or the gun-loving elk hunters in Ed Quillen's back-page essay.

Right now, it would be hard to argue that either major party is looking out for the common people in the West, whose votes, one would think, are there for the taking.

Marston steps aside

The rest of the board meeting was spent with the difficult work of doing business, and preparing for the departure of longtime publisher Ed Marston. Ed had planned to give up his seat at the end of the year, but says once the exit was in sight, he couldn't wait. He adds that he feels confident leaving the operation in the able hands of longtime staffer Paul Larmer, who will steer the ship until the board selects a new publisher in November. Paul is one of the candidates.

Ed's last day as publisher was September 30, but he hasn't left us. He'll stay with HCN for another year (his 20th at the paper) as a senior journalist, returning to the craft of writing, which inspired him to get into this business in the first place. Betsy Marston, Ed's better half, says she has no plans to leave her post as editor of HCN's syndicated column service, Writers on the Range.

We want to send a special thanks to Michael Shank of Biodiversity Northwest for helping organize our West Seattle potluck dinner, which was seasoned with great company and quality conversation. Thanks also to Bill Jenkins of Hale's Ales for providing the keg of great beer.

Lost in the desert

Blame it on blinding sandstorms or bad maps or sub-sea level disorientation, but in our cover story, "The Royal Squeeze," we put the Imperial Valley and Salton Sea in the wrong place (HCN, 9/16/02: The Royal Squeeze). Numerous desert aficionados have written in to let us know that the area is not in the Mojave Desert, as we claimed. It's actually in the western part of the Sonoran Desert, known as the Colorado Desert.

Farewell, Betsy O

The staff of High Country News was deeply saddened to hear of the death of former employee, Betsy Offermann. A graphic artist by training and a Buffalo, N.Y. native, Betsy came to work for HCN in the fall of 1996.

Practically the first thing the staff did was to christen her "Betsy O," since we already had a Betsy on staff. That was fine with her, although she said she'd even answer to Elizabeth, if that was better for everyone. But the nickname stuck, and any time someone was looking for her in the office, they'd call out "Betsy O!"

Betsy was a willing worker, doing whatever jobs were passed her way. She worked on promotional material, handled printing jobs (she once had 16 jobs going at the same time), and generally made herself helpful any way she could.

Betsy's creative and generous spirit is sorely missed by her HCN family. Our hearts go out to her husband, Colin Kurtz, her brothers, her sister and her parents.

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