The Salt Lake Tribune made Drudge the other day with a report on the meeting of lawmakers from nine states with an agenda “for Western states to take control of federal lands within their borders.” I wholly support the sentiment as a step in the right direction, but it is only one step in a long path to freedom, and we must examine whether the motives involved portend further steps or not.
Or worse: future steps that may go backward.
The report notes,
More than 50 political leaders from nine states convened for the first time to talk about their joint goal: wresting control of oil-, timber -and mineral-rich lands away from the feds.
“It’s simply time,” said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who organized the Legislative Summit on the Transfer for Public Lands along with Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder. “The urgency is now.”
Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, was flanked by a dozen participants, including her counterparts from Idaho and Montana, during a press conference after the daylong closed-door summit. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee addressed the group over lunch, Ivory said. New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington also were represented.
The event was planned before the Bundy Ranch incident occurred, but is certainly connected with it in both cause and spirit. The Bundy standoff, however, may tend to overshadow the fact that these federally-manhandled western states have been inching this way for some time. In October of 2011, eight sheriffs from northern California and southern Oregon met at an event called “Stand TALL for the Constitution.” They discussed this very issue: they would not allow federal agents to make local decisions in their counties—a whole range of decisions affecting local roads, lands, and resources. Joining them was property rights attorney Karen Budd who has been fighting federal land-grab and regulatory battles in the West for over two decades now.
According to the recent report, officials in the state of Utah has already been setting precedents as well, including landmark legislation two years ago that demands the federal government relinquish its ownership of land in the state, as was promised in the 1894 Enabling Act.
I will not take the time here to weigh all the legal angles from which both sides could assert power, nor to assert my own preference that no government should have title to the property. That would raise too many questions to answer here. I will only point out one obvious area that arises from the report, and that is that the state’s motivation does not seem to be principle, or the liberty or rights of the people, but rather its own bottom line. And while that could be channeled for good, it could also be a recipe for nearly as much tyranny as federal ownership.
Part of the problem is that in politics, there is always the surface argument, but then there is the deeper reality which gets less consideration. There is Cliven Bundy, state’s rights, don’t tread on me, militias, and liberty in the air right now. So the politicians’ surface argument is about asserting our rights:
“It’s time the states in the West come of age,” [Idaho state representative Scott] Bedke said. “We’re every bit as capable of managing the lands in our boundaries as the states east of Colorado.”
Great. But then deeper considerations surface:
Ivory said the issue is of interest to urban as well as rural lawmakers, in part because they see oilfields and other resources that could be developed to create jobs and fund education.
Well, at least it wouldn’t be in federal control, and would not be as hamstrung by federal regulations and bureaucracies like the EPA, BLM, etc. But now we have moved from the realm of independence and local control to speaking of “creating jobs” and “funding education.” Now, he did not explicitly say that it would be the government doing these things, but when a politician leaves any question open-ended, don’t say you didn’t know better.
Then he gets down to brass tacks:
Moreover, the federal government’s debt threatens both its management of vast tracts of the West as well as its ability to come through with payments in lieu of taxes to the states, he said. Utah gets 32 percent of its revenue from the federal government, much of it unrelated to public lands.
So what does this mean? Whatever it fully entails, it means that an underlying (perhaps primary) consideration involved for this politician (and perhaps his colleagues as well?) is the state’s revenue.
So are we to believe that as long as the federal government can make its promised payments that the state will have little interest in the political turmoil of land transfers which may possibly lead to equal revenues? What if projections show that the state cannot generate as much tax revenue from such transfers? Will they still stand for local control? Or will they turn and argue the flip side to their constituents: “Federal control is in our best interests right now. It’s the best practical way to create jobs and fund education right now. You don’t support defunding the future of our children, do you?”
As long as politicians are speaking in terms of funding public services, bolstering the economy, and generating tax revenue, be sure that they are not standing for liberty so much as holding out for the best possible offer . . . for the state. What they’re saying is, “We’re for sale to the highest bidder.”
Now perhaps I am wrong about that. I sure hope I am made to eat my words. And even as it is I would support the transfer of public lands from federal to state and local governments.
But for those living in these states I would warn you that this would be only the smallest baby step toward freedom. There are just as many special interests, cronies, and corrupt plans ready to work at the state level as there are at the federal. They exist at the local level as well. Running off the BLM would be a great moral victory, but not one in principle if the same practices continue only with new faces and names.
And this a danger is great for two reasons. First, fewer people keep as close (if any) watch on state and local officials as on federal politics. These kinds of practices currently take place with much less public knowledge or scrutiny at the local level than at the federal. Corruption may be given fast track rather than impeded in such a scenario.
The need here is extreme vigilance and local involvement from more people than we have right now. The good news is that I think this sentiment is growing nationwide; it just needs good leadership and organization to become effective, to boot corrupt local officials, and to establish sane political discipline.
Second, if we do not root out the various corruptions, cronies, and special interests at the local and state levels, then we will be setting ourselves up for failures which I can guarantee you will be addressed with federal solutions. The vultures of centralized power are always circling. If we take back control and then show ourselves incompetent and incapable of peaceful independence, there will be forces already aligned to reassert federal controls in the name of the common good, and a populace weary of infighting will gladly accept “safety” and “peace” over titular “liberty” and struggle any day.
This is all to say that if we are going to speak of freedom and local control, we must be ready to handle it. We must be ready to handle all of the local disputes and contests of interest that would arise from the new “markets” and government-protected avenues of wealth and power opened up by transfers of titles from federal to state and/or local entities.
Premature independence could turn out to be a disaster that would invite a centralized tyranny even more potent and more lasting than the one we have.
I don’t say this as a prediction, but only a warning. Let us think through what we are doing, why we are doing it. Pay close attention to what the politicians say and how they say it, and make sure they speak for you and not for themselves, their cronies, or only the state’s bottom line. Replacing one tyrant with another is not an advance. It is only a transaction in the marketplace for tyrants.