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
  • WESTERN WATER PROJECT MANAGER
    National Wildlife Federation is hiring NM-based position focused on riparian corridors, watershed health. Learn more and apply online: https://www.nwf.org/about-us/careers
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Associate Program Director Location: New Mexico; flexible in state Position reports to: Senior Program Director Position Closes: March 13, 2020 GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The...
  • DEAN, W. A. FRANKE COLLEGE OF FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION, UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
    Dean, W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, apply http://bit.ly/2548umjobs. AA/EEO/ADA/Veterans Preference Employer
  • GRAPHIC DESIGNER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a creative and driven graphic design professional to design high quality print and digital collateral. The Graphic Designer will bring...
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • CAMPAIGN REPRESENTATIV
    Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign is hiring an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry on the Gulf...
  • AG LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Oregon Agricultural Trust (OAT) seeks passionate relationship builder experienced in coordinating agricultural conservation easement transactions.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • FINANCE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Coms/Engagmnt Mngr; Dev/Engagmnt Dir; Americorps vol
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND ENGAGEMENT MANAGER
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Dev/Engagement Dir; Coms/Engagement Mngr; & Americorps volunteer
  • SEASONAL TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    Lead the nation's premier volunteer-based trail crew programs on the spectacular Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This is a great career-building opportunity for rising professionals....
  • ORGANIZING AND TRAINING COORDINATOR
    Is this your dream job? Are you looking to join a nationally recognized organizing network, live in a spectacular part of the West, and work...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND ADVOCACY DIRECTOR
    Provide stewardship and protection for the Great Burn wildlands along the Montana-Idaho stateline. This position is based in Missoula, MT, where a river runs through...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • SAN JUAN BASIN ENERGY CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is seeking a full-time San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer located in Farmington, New Mexico. The San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer focuses...
  • WILDLIFE PROGRAM MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA) is looking for a passionate, experienced, and motivated Wildlife Program Manager to lead campaigns to protect and enhance wildlife and...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes."- Billings Gazette Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, &...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER AND MEMBERSHIP COORDINATOR
    Western Colorado Alliance is hiring for 4 positions, 2 Full Time Community Organizers, 1 Part Time Community Organizer and a Part Time Membership Coordinator. For...
  • BUSINESS OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    Thorne Nature Experience is looking for a Business Operations Director who will work in partnership with the Executive Director and Thorne's Directors and Managers to...