Romney Flunks Public Lands 101

The liberal Center for American Progress caught this magnificent Mitt Romney deer-in-the-headlights moment on public lands policy, in an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal last night. It’s hard to imagine how this could have gone worse:

I don’t know the reason that the federal government owns such a large share of Nevada. [Pols emphasis]  And when I was in Utah at the Olympics there I heard a similar refrain there.  What they were concerned about was that the government would step in and say, “We’re taking this” – which by the way has extraordinary coal reserves – “and we’re not going to let you develop these coal reserves.”  I mean, it drove the people nuts.  Unless there’s a valid, and legitimate, and compelling governmental purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land.

So I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land, [Pols emphasis] so I don’t want to say, “Oh, I’m about to hand it over.” But where government ownership of land is designed to satisfy, let’s say, the most extreme environmentalists, from keeping a population from developing their coal, their gold, their other resources for the benefit of the state, I would find that to be unacceptable…

Now there are particular reasons why so much of Nevada’s territory is managed by the federal government–the biggest of which is the enormous military presence in the state–and areas like the Nevada Test Site that Romney would probably prefer stay public once he “studies” them.

Here in Colorado, while not as extensive as Nevada, we certainly have broad swaths of public lands too–places like Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Not to mention national monuments, forests, grasslands, wilderness, plain old BLM…how many billions of dollars in economic activity do we owe to our public lands in Colorado?

Anyway, we sincerely hope Romney gets a crash course on this stuff before he sits down with editorial boards in our state. This is a little like Arizona’s John McCain telling the Pueblo Chieftain in 2008 that the Colorado River Compact “obviously” needed renegotiating, then being somehow confused when people started showing up at his rallies with pitchforks.

20 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Aristotle says:

    Moving in for the kill. Come on, ‘fess up. You tricked Romney into talking about this, didn’t you? You dastardly bastards.

  2. harrydoby says:

    Even without any knowledge of American history, you’d think the first response might simply be, “you know, my administration will have the BLM review these vast holdings and look for areas that could better be used in the private sector”.

    Good thing he’s not very good at thinking on his feet.  All he could come up with was the usual GOP conspiracy tripe:  some librul must be to blame.

    Rest assured, Mitt, with responses like that, you will remain “unemployed”.

  3. ajb says:

    This was the rallying cry of the “sagebrush rebellion” back in the 70s, and certainly predates that. The federal govt owns something like 83% of the land in NV. Among Republicans in NV, this is the issue they carp about the most. They feel it keeps them from prospering and getting rich.

    I’m not saying they’re right. Most of them are a bunch of hypocritical “welfare cowboys” as Edward Abbey called them (in a speech delivered in Elko IIRC).

    Anyway, Romney is campaigning in NV, and this is what Republican presidential candidates say when they go to NV. Democrats push back in predictable ways, promoting “responsible development” and citing preservation of the land and water, mostly in terms of hunting and fishing. I doubt that you’d have to dig very far into Harry Reid’s stump speeches to find this.

    Bottom line – I think this is an ineffective way to attack Romney.

    • Gilpin Guy says:

      at Cape Kennedy in Florida had the same quality.

      All it really shows is that Romney would be eager to sell off our national assets to the highest bidder if he was on control of the BLM.  Nothing new about Republicans wanting to exploit the land to profit a few.

      • JeffcoBlue says:

        Whatever he chooses to pander to NV “sagebrush rebellion” conservatives with, this will meet a different reaction in Colorado. Like McCain and the water. He’d better not say this shit inside our borders…

    • Konola says:

      ajb is right! This is a hangover from the “sagebrush rebellion.” The scary part is that the Tea Party folks out here near the Utah border want Colorado to lobby for the sale of all of those federal lands too. But its assets and put the money in a rainy day fund for counties and local governments. At least that was the campaign stump speech delivered by Ray Scott.

    • GalapagoLarry says:

      The US Gov. (we the people) used to own it all with the exception of a few grants by the Spanish crown and later the Mexican gov. which the US has honored — or sometimes not. After the Spanish stole it from the Native Americans and then the Mexicans won it from Spain and France, we robbed it from them. That the US Gov. now owns 83% is due to selling, granting and opening for settlment the other 17%, more or less

      What pisses the sagebrushers off is, the Feds (again, we the people) have set aside large tracts in perpetuity for the enjoyment/use of us all, and instead of selling it outright to interested private parties–ranchers, oil companies, ski resorts, the Koch kids, etc.– leases parts of it to them for limited use at ridiculously low prices, or trades certain tracts for private lands of similar value or sometimes still, sells it. But we usually don’t give it away. Which is why they whine. They want something for nothing.

      But we (The US Gov.) are not going around in modern times “taking” huge tracts of land from hapless citizens. When we do

      step in and say, We’re taking this.”

      , we pay fair market for it. Sometimes we (the US Gov.) are stopped from such transactions of eminent domain by other citizens who oppose them. See Pinyon Canyon.

      Mittless is clueless about both history and land use, especially in the West–the point of the Pols post. Which, considering the people he circulates with, is why he’s so fucking ignorant. And, jeebus, is he ignorant.

      • ohwilleke says:

        Color me ambivalent about whether it is good policy or not.

        Homestead Acts did give away land in a mass privatization of much of the Great Plains for many decades, but this worked less well in the region from the foothills of the Rockies to the Cascades, because little of that land was suitable for horticulture, and because the provisions of the Homestead Acts, drafted with East of the Mississippi farming conditions in mind, failed to recognize the distinction between how many acres it took to run a Western farm with water access and how many acres it took to run a farm without it.  Also, herders need wide open spaces, so grazing permits worked better than homesteads for them.

        On the whole, it probably would have been wise to reserve public ownership of all water rights and mineral rights, but the argument that the federal government, rather than state government, or local government (like the land grants of the Northwest Ordinance for education), or private individuals, should be the predominant land owner in Western states isn’t at all obvious.  States with very little public land in the Appalachians aren’t obviously worse off as a result.

      • ajb says:

        My point is that it won’t.

        Republican candidates for president always say this when they’re in Nevada. I can’t recall that it’s ever become a campaign issue in Colorado.

        The Colorado Compact issue pits state against state. This issue pits ranchers and miners against the federal government. Private versus public ownership of land. It’s a strictly western issue – back east, folks don’t care because there’s little federal land outside of parks.

        • Aristotle says:

          it’s the fact that he sounds truly ignorant.

          Now, I sincerely doubt any president in the last 50 years or so (with the possible exception of Nixon, since he was from the west) has really understood BLM policies and the history behind all this federal land ownership, so Romney’s not in bad company. But most of them know how to phrase things better than “I don’t know the reason” and “I haven’t studied it” when discussing things outside their area of expertise. You don’t just hand the opposition sound bites like that.

          Anyway, I think that that was the point.

  4. divergent_tdog says:

    From Conquest to Conservation: Our Public Lands Legacy by Dombeck, Wood and Williams does a nice job of detailing that one of the reasons there are public lands is that states had to give up any territorial claims in order to enter the union: this included territory outside of the original colonies that these colonies had claimed. Oh, the founding fathers. It meant that other states could exist.

  5. Pam Bennett says:

    How many acres of Utah does his family own? His answer, if he comes up with one that is real, would be interesting for meany reasons. The primary one is Utah like Colorado is either federal or railroad and a little bit private. The percentage his family owns of the state could be nice to know.

  6. BlueCat says:

    Seriously. Thanks, smart posters. Just wonder how much we should chalk up to Mittens actually knowing as much about all this as our intrepid posters do and how much should be chalked up to his oft demonstrated general cluelessness.  

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