Billboard corporations and other big industries make their own rules

  • Ray Ring

 

There were rumors of night-time guerrilla activity when I lived in Tucson, Ariz., during the 1980s. Under cover of darkness, people scurried around using chainsaws and flammable liquids to destroy billboards. Ed Abbey, the edgy desert author of the novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, was reportedly among them; so were some other founders of the insistent-exclamation-point activist group Earth First! Abbey described the destruction of billboards as "a routine neighborhood beautification project."

Such eco-sabotage has long been a thread on the fringe of the environmental movement. I don't sanction it, but it's helped me understand the visceral reaction that some people have to billboards. Tucson had been shamed by a 1970 Life Magazine story that called one of the city's primary thoroughfares, Speedway Boulevard, "the ugliest street in America," largely because of the thickets of billboards along it. The Tucson City Council, and local voters who passed a ballot measure, imposed regulations in the 1980s, and since then, hundreds of billboards around that metro area have been removed -- legally, this time.

On a fundamental level, the political struggle I saw in Tucson -- a local government passes regulations, and billboard corporations resist by going to court and the state Legislature -- has also erupted in many other Western communities. The battlegrounds range from San Diego, whose billboard regulations were partially upheld by a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1981, to Rapid City, S.D., where last June voters passed measures to ban billboards -- tough regulations that are now being challenged in court by one of the nation's largest billboard corporations.

The storyline of well-heeled and politically connected corporations skirting the will of the people should be a familiar one to High Country News readers. Last year, we ran cover stories on an aircraft-tourism company's domination of local government on the southern edge of Grand Canyon National Park, and on giant meatpacking companies resisting federal regulations that seek to reduce their power over cattle ranchers. In previous years, we've scrutinized the political power of ski companies, mining companies, mega-dairies and more.

These struggles will only persist and likely intensify in the wake of a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations to spend as much as they want on political campaigns. The Citizens United ruling by the five most "conservative" Supreme Court justices, vehemently opposed by the other four justices, overturned a federal law that limited corporate campaign spending. It also overturned the limits set by many state governments. One result is obvious: Corporations will now work even harder to elect politicians that support them.

As our televisions, computers and airways fill up with political ads paid for by "third-party" backers this election year, will Westerners rediscover their fighting spirit? The vitality of our democracy might well depend on it.

High Country News Classifieds
  • FIGHTING FOR WILDLIFE
    Position Type: Community organizer; full-time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT. Compensation: $50,000 Benefits: Medical stipend, vacation time, flexibility. Application Deadline: June 15th. Starting Date: July 1...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION PLAN COORDINATOR
    The Coeur d'Alene Tribe is hiring an Environmental Programs Manager in the Natural Resources Department. This position manages work in wetlands, brownfields, climate change, energy...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR - YELLOWSTONE TO YUKON CONSERVATION INITIATIVE
    About the Organization The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) is a joint Canada-U.S. not-for-profit organization with a mission to connect and protect wildlife habitat...
  • COMMUNICATIONS & DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT Compensation: $42,000 - $47,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k, PTO, flexible...
  • PARTNERSHIP & COLLABORATION DIRECTOR
    WEST REGION WILDFIRE COUNCIL- RIDGWAY, CO The partnership & collaboration director will provide leadership and/or assistance with all initiatives that create and enhance connections between...
  • 2 FIELD PROJECT SPECIALISTS (POSITION FORMERLY TITLED TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISOR)
    Are you passionate about environmental conservation and connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with outdoor leadership...
  • WATER STEWARD
    The Blackfoot Challenge is seeking a full-time Water Steward to coordinate and deliver a variety of partnerships and projects aimed at conserving and enhancing water...
  • SMALL FARM AT BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
    Fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm in the mountain town of Mount Shasta. Small home, 2 barns (one with apartment), and more. Famously pure air and water.
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • POLICY & PLANNING SPECIALIST
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT highly preferred, remote negotiable Compensation: $50,000-54,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Illinois Valley SWCD is offering an incredible career opportunity in beautiful SW Oregon. .8+ FTE, plus benefits. Visit our website for full details.
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Formed in 1980, Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action brings people together to build grassroots power through community organizing and leadership development. The Alliance works...
  • LITIGATION ASSISTANT, NORTHERN ROCKIES OFFICE - FULL-TIME BOZEMAN | REMOTE OPTION
    Visit our website to apply: earthjustice.org/about/jobs
  • BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE SEEKING AN ASSESSMENT CONSULTANT
    ASSESSMENT OF THE SCOPE OF CONSERVATION PLANNING AND ACTIVITIES IN NATIVE NATIONS IN THE NORTHERN GREAT PLAINS Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Rural Community Assistance Corporation seeks experienced CFO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, the official philanthropic non-profit partner with the National Park Service Southeast Utah Group, is seeking an Executive Director....
  • GRAND CANYON MANAGER
    Application deadline: May 9, 2022 Anticipated start date: June 15, 2022 About the position Are you passionate about building authentic relationships, supporting tribally led initiatives,...
  • LAND CONSERVATION PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT) is seeking a Land Conservation Program Director to join our nationally accredited land trust. This is a full-time position based...
  • OUTREACH AND COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    Reports to: Communications and Outreach Director Location: Ashton, Idaho (partial remote schedule possible) Status: Full-time, 40 hours per week Timing and Duration: Position open until...
  • CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
    The Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) was founded in 2012 by landowners and managers to increase the wellbeing of working lands in the American West and...