ST. GEORGE – Public lands was the topic of the day at a summit Mitt Romney and Congressmen Chris Stewart and Rob Bishop attended in St. George Tuesday.
During the summit the three Republicans, all running for Congress, shared their frustration over seeing legislation stalling in the Senate while also speaking in favor of reining in federal regulations and enabling local say in public lands policy.
Trouble with the Senate
As members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Bishop and Stewart said some of the legislation the House passes, particularly appropriations bills, ends up stalling in the Senate due to filibusters and a lack of a large majority vote. The Republicans currently hold a thin majority in the Senate with 51 seats. Democrats hold 47 seats, and two seats are held by independent senators.
“There has to be a change in the Senate,” Bishop said. “If not a change to the filibuster rule, then make them stand up and talk. They’re old, they can’t last that long. They have to do something.”
Stewart referred to the Senate as a black hole.
Dealing with others who have a different idea of what public lands are
Bishop also expressed frustration over dealing with members of Congress from eastern states who don’t have the same concept about public lands as those in the West.
“It’s not that members of Congress from the East – and for me that’s everything east of Denver – are evil, they’re just stupid,” Bishop said. “When you talk about public lands with Easterners, they don’t have the same concept. They think everything is Yellowstone. To them, public lands is a pretty tree by a lake. To us, it’s sagebrush.”
Because of that disconnect, getting others to understand how access to public lands – or lack thereof – can both benefit or harm a community and its economy isn’t easy, Stewart said.
You need to help the “paper pushers” in Washington, D.C., realize the impact their actions have on people and families in Utah, Stewart said.
While he’s had some success during his time in Congress, Stewart compared getting opposing lawmakers to understand how certain public lands regulations can be a detriment to Utah communities to engaging in bouts of hand-to-hand combat.
A power bloc of like-minded politicians
“(Public lands) is one of the biggest issues across the state and particularly here in the southern portion of our state,” Romney said. “So much of our state is public land and our concern is federal government plays too heavy a hand in managing these lands and we’d like to see more Utah involvement at the state level and local level.”
Romney, who is running for Senate, suggested that a way to help fight against federal overreach is to bring together a “power bloc” of “like-minded politicians” in Congress – namely those from Western states with large amounts of public land within their borders – that could “effect real change to get more state and local involvement” in molding public lands policy.
Both Romney and Bishop said there should also be a policy in place that would require regulations passed by federal agencies to be reviewed by Congress for approval before they are adopted and enacted.
“We have to rein in the bureaucrats,” Romney said.
Working with Trump
While there are frustrations with Senate deadlock and other issues affecting Congress, there is hope for continuing change in favor of the states due to who the president happens to be, Stewart said.
“If anyone’s going to rip the heart of power out of government, it’s this president and that’s just the truth,” Stewart said of President Donald Trump.
He pointed to Trump’s coming to Utah to sign the declarations shrinking the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments as an example of the president’s willingness to do what others are not.
Stewart compared Trump to a golfer with a horrible golf swing that the media relentlessly mocks to the point of distraction. While they make fun of the president’s swing, he still manages to get the ball down the middle of the fairway.
It’s a beautiful thing, Stewart said, yet added it makes his job harder as opportunities to speak with media about national policy and other matters can be easily derailed by something the president may have said that week – like congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on winning his latest election.
“The good news is I think that Congress and this president can, and will and already made meaningful changes in federalism, but it’s not an easy path, and there’s incredible resistance to it,” Stewart said. “And the president is, at at the same time, our best friend and our worst enemy in those efforts.”
Foundation for Integrated Resource Management
The public lands summit was organized by the Foundation for Integrated Resource Management, or FIRM, a nonprofit group formed two years ago to promote public lands education and production of information on public lands issues, said Johnnie Miller, the group’s executive director.
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A goal of the group is to become a central hub for data on public lands that policy makers can readily access. The data would relate to how the use of public lands, or lack thereof, impacts communities and economies.
In some cases members of Congress have had to rely on anecdotal stories from local leaders to make their arguments promoting mixed use of public lands versus their being locked off, Miller said. FIRM’s work would help provide the scientific data backing it up.
Miller said Dixie State University and Utah State University have shown interest in partnering in the collection of public lands use data.
Ed. Note: A quote made by Rep. Rob Bishop made in regards to member of Congress from eastern states was incorrectly attributed to Mitt Romney and has been corrected in the body of the text.
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