“Keep (your) mitts off Utah.”
That was Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s advice to his 14 colleagues who are pushing for a new national monument here in the Beehive State. He accused the senators, none of whom are Republicans, of “just want(ing) to play politics” with Utah’s lands. He recalled what happened back in 1996 when then-President Bill Clinton designated 1.7 million acres as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
“It was very offensive then, and we hope it doesn't happen again,” Hatch told the Deseret News.
He’s right. It was very offensive then, and it would be very offensive now. What’s encouraging, however, is that other Utah leaders are taking positive steps to ensure that history won’t repeat itself.
That’s not to say that the monument is off the table, which is the outcome we would prefer. We have repeatedly called for the Obama administration to reject the calls for new national monuments, and our position on the subject hasn’t changed, nor is it likely to change. But we also recognize the reality that the Obama administration doesn’t take orders from the Deseret News.
We applaud Rep. Rob Bishop’s efforts to limit presidential power on this subject, but his bill still has a ways to go. In the current political environment, if the president is determined to make this happen, it will be difficult to stop it. But what Utah officials are doing is ensuring that locals won’t be blindsided the way they were 18 years ago.
Back then, Clinton didn’t even dare step foot in Utah to make the designation. Even then Rep. Bill Orton, the only Democrat in Utah’s congressional delegation at the time, received virtually no advance warning from his own party’s president; the decision was inflicted on our state by those who had absolutely no stake in it.
That’s what’s different this time around. Rep. Elijah Cummings’ visit to Utah, hosted by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, appears to have been productive. Gov. Gary Herbert has asked Hatch’s 14 colleagues to come see Utah for themselves, which is a very good idea. But so far, none of the invited senators have RSVP’d to the governor’s gracious invitation.
That’s entirely unacceptable.
No decision of this magnitude can be made without careful consideration of the consequences. That kind of consideration requires active engagement. At the very least, it merits a few days in the magnificent vistas they’re so eager to preserve but, so far, are unwilling to actually see with their own eyes.
We’re grateful that our elected officials are working to prevent that kind of mistake from happening again. We would prefer that these senators and the president take Hatch’s advice and keep their mitts off Utah. But regardless of the outcome, we insist that they come to Utah and at least get their mitts dirty out here.