Principle Matters – Political Power vs. Policy Power

There is exactly one thing standing between the American people and the type of government the founders of the nation envisioned. That one thing? For members of Congress to do their job!

For far too long Congress has ceded its authority to the executive branch and the regulatory state. Why has so much power shifted from the legislative branch to the executive branch? Because members of Congress have decided to abdicate authority in order to avoid accountability. Less accountability makes re-election much easier.

My former boss, Senator Mike Lee, uses a simple example to illustrate: Members of Congress love to pass bills with inspiring names, such as the “We shall have clean air” act. (Because after all, who is going to vote for dirty air?) Then within the bill Congress transfers all authority to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to decide what clean air is, what it isn’t, how to comply with the law and what the penalties will be for violations. Further, Congress allows EPA to be the judge, jury and executioner of law. There are no checks and balances for potentially outrageous and overly burdensome regulations or excessive penalties.

When an individual or company is being hurt by these regulations and they rush to a member of Congress for help or relief, the representative can say, “Hey, don’t yell at me, I just voted for clean air. You will have to go complain to the EPA.” Then that individual or company has to go to someone at EPA who is not elected by or accountable to the citizens. When Congress abdicates its policy power to federal bureaucrats, it rarely ends well for the American people.

On the other hand, we also have too many so-called leaders in Washington who are more concerned about maintaining their political power than using their constitutional policy power in conjunction with their power of the purse. Such leaders distract and even discourage the general public with fake fights, false choices and a steady stream of divisive drama. Political power seekers know that if the American people believe that we are too divided as a nation to solve a problem, it gives Congress the excuse to do nothing and the executive branch an excuse to do whatever the president wants through executive order. The result is that power, money and influence stay with Congress, along with the wealthy and well-connected. We need to demand more from Washington.

Congress abdicating policy power and obsessing on political power has weakened the checks and balances within our republic, fostered dysfunction within government, and rightly fueled public frustration toward elected officials. Congress caused this mess, and only Congress can clean it up by reasserting its power and proper role. By putting Congress back in charge of making and funding federal policy, we can once again put the American people back in charge of their government – as it should be.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Open range cattle grazing at foothills of Rocky Mountains in northern Colorado, summer scenery

Dusty Trails: The Erosion of Grazing in the American West

Outdoor Retailer should avoid ultimatums on lands policy

Today, some leaders from the outdoor retail industry are making demands and issuing ultimatums to Utah’s elected officials, threatening to pull the Outdoor Retailer trade shows from the state.

Their aggressive actions highlight how the discussion around public land management has been absolutely degraded. So, while questioning our state’s values and love for public lands, their ultimatums are actually restricting and undermining real collaboration and constructive dialogue on this critical issue. So, those who care about our public lands need to move beyond the bluster and bombast and get to principled compromise and viable land management solutions.

Clearly, tourism and outdoor recreation play a vital role in Utah’s economy today and will for generations to come. Utah’s unparalleled beauty and recreational opportunities draw visitors from around the world, driving small businesses, providing tax revenue, and making our state a great place to work, live and play.

To claim that the only appropriate use of our public lands is outdoor recreation is to ignore the needs of real Utahns – especially those who live in our rural communities. And despite the false claims often depicted on the internet and in the media, responsible land management is not a zero-sum game with only winners and losers.

The type of bullying rhetoric currently coming from some in the outdoor retail industry is creating the kind of fake fight and false choices we often see in Washington, D.C. That is not how we do it here in Utah.

We understand that stewardship of natural resources is everyone’s responsibility. We know public lands can and ought to be put to multiple – often complementary – uses, which expands the economic pie to everyone’s benefit. We must remember that ultimatums kill collaboration and compromise.

We call on Utah’s elected officials, the outdoor retail industry, and other key voices to engage in an inclusive, elevated dialogue that will lead to land management policy that will foster a healthy environment, abundant recreational opportunities, and a diverse thriving economy for all Utahns now and for many generations to come. That is the Utah way.

Illegal Young man Spraying black paint on a Graffiti wall. (room for text)

Testimony in support of HB 239 (Juvenile Justice Amendments)

Testimony given by Derek Monson on Feb. 10, 2017, in support of HB 239 (Juvenile Justice Amendments) before the House Judiciary Committee of the Utah Legislature:

Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. My name is Derek Monson and I represent Sutherland Institute.

Sutherland Institute supports HB 239 because one of its major thrusts is to tap into and strengthen families to find community-driven solutions to problems of juvenile justice.

One of the temptations in criminal and juvenile justice policy is to view families as a problem, and subsequently to take the easier path of ignoring or going around families. But we think the right policy approach is a road “less traveled,”[1] which views families as a solution. That approach has the potential to find answers that are practical, because they work from the ground up within communities, and answers that are sustainable, because they don’t require unending allocations of taxpayer dollars.

We see HB 239 as reflecting this approach, and as a result its impact will be to strengthen families that need help, spend taxpayer funds more cost-effectively, and help children whose future should point to a life of success and happiness despite mistakes, not toward juvenile detention because of their mistakes.

We encourage you to support HB 239. Thank you.

[1] Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” 1916.

 

legs of men walking on a cobblestone square in the city

San Juan County residents bring civil opposition to S.L. Bears Ears celebration

Twelve hours on the road, 600 miles, and day-old gas-station food – that’s what a group of San Juan County residents willingly went through so they could have their voices heard at Monday’s Bears Ears celebration hosted by groups who supported the monument designation.

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Throughout the campaign to designate the Bears Ears National Monument, the most important voices – those of locals who are directly impacted by the designation – were repeatedly ignored and drowned out. Local tribes and the people of San Juan County were simply outmatched by the deep pockets, deceptive tactics and loud voices of extreme environmental groups, out-of-state tribal leaders, and the pen of President Barack Obama. Despite the uphill battle these people faced, they kept fighting for their home. That fight continued on Monday evening as they worked to inform the public of their plight and persuade the Trump administration to rescind or reduce the Bears Ears National Monument.

The group of 25 or so protesters arrived more than an hour before the festivities began – standing outside with their signs and talking of their hope to get things “back to normal.” Once the event began they quietly took their seats and listened to the presentations from out-of-state tribal leaders. Such civility has been a rarity in the Bears Ears debate. Monument supporters have made a bad habit of interrupting public meetings by shouting talking points and yelling at legislators. The courtesy displayed by this small group of San Juan County residents was a model of what the exercise of our First Amendment right should look like.

After the meeting I spoke with Devin Hancock, an organizer of the protest, and asked her why her group came all the way to Salt Lake City. “This monument designation is not about love and protection of the land. It’s about control, power, publicity and money,” Hancock said. “Money-hungry recreational and environmental NGOs (non-governmental organizations) used manipulative tactics to sway some Native Americans outside of San Juan County and others into believing this is right. Native Americans should not be used as political pawns; this is not a game to us.”

While their group at Monday’s event was small, the San Juan residents have what should be the most important voice in the Bears Ears debate. There is no denying that the lands within the monument are public and open to all Americans. However, no one is impacted more by Obama’s designation of the monument than the people of San Juan County. These public lands provide live-sustaining resources, jobs and educational funding, and they are an integral part of the residents’ culture and way of life. This area is a part of who they are and part of their children’s future.

Hyperbolic outrage won’t keep the lamp of freedom burning

President Donald Trump’s divisive campaign rhetoric on immigration, along with the administration’s horrible rollout of his executive order, sparked protests across the country. That spark has been fanned and fueled into a raging flame by opponents and opportunists who have misrepresented what the executive order actually does just to make political points and raise millions of dollars. This is not what keeping the lamp of freedom burning bright is supposed to look like.

Separating genuine concern and proper protests from manufactured outrage and hyperbolic hysteria is proving to be difficult in the digital age.

Many opponents rightly pointed to the Statue of Liberty as they made their case against the travel ban. While pointing to the lamp of freedom Lady Liberty raises in her right hand, they ignored what she holds in her left. Lady Liberty resolutely holds a tabula ansata in her left hand – a keystone-shaped tablet used to evoke the idea of order and the rule of law in upholding democracy.

This particular order is hardly the raging fire or constitutional crisis it is made out to be. President Trump paused – for 90 days – travel, immigration and refugee acceptance from nations with known jihadist organizations.

The order sets a cap on refugees coming into the country at 50,000 annually, which is the historic average of how many refugees have entered the U.S. from 2001-2015. It does not target our Muslim friends. It does not apply to legal permanent residents or green-card holders. It does, however, empower the secretaries of state and homeland security to make exceptions, which would certainly apply to translators, allies and operatives who have bravely served alongside U.S. forces.

President Trump is right to shine a light on national security. But he should also turn his gaze to the lamp of freedom in Lady Liberty’s right hand.

America must never allow concerns for national security to collide with American compassion in a way that undermines the bedrock of our ideals.

Working with Congress, the administration must establish a system to prevent bad actors from entering our country illegally while creating a compassionate gateway, for those fleeing tyranny or pursuing freedom, to enter America legally.

From our founding, and with but few periods of exception, America has opened its arms in order to provide a second chance at life, to millions of huddled masses who yearned to breathe free. And they breathed. And the nation has prospered.

Rather than pouring gasoline on the angry sparks and fear-driven flames currently dominating the executive order debate we should look to the compassionate lamp of freedom and the rule of law represented in Lady Liberty. The statue was originally, and appropriately, titled, “Liberty Enlightening the World.” That goodness is what has and what will continue to make America great.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

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Testimony in favor of HCR 7 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting Ranchers Grazing Livestock on Public Lands)

Testimony given by Matthew Anderson on Jan. 31, 2017, in support of HCR 7 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting Ranchers Grazing Livestock on Public Lands) before the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee of the Utah Legislature.

Good afternoon, representatives,

My name is Matt Anderson and I am a policy analyst for the Coalition for Self-Government in the West – a project of Sutherland Institute. I stand here today to voice my support for HCR 7 and present some research I conducted on the invaluable role of ranching on our public lands.

It is no secret that grazing has declined across the West. While the BLM and USFS do not conduct annual counts of livestock grazing on the public lands they manage, they do compile information on the number of “Animal Unit Months” – the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.

When averaged together, the number of AUMs in BLM grazing districts in Western states is less than half of what it was in 1949 – with some states seeing a drop of more than 70 percent. Utah is one of those states. In the last 65 years the number of operators and permittees allowed to graze in Western states dipped from 21,081 to 10,187. Such a sharp decline has not only impacts ranchers’ way of life, but has a profound and lasting effect on taxpayers, local economies, and the environment.

The BLM and USFS have great potential to generate revenue for the public good. However, on average these federal agencies lose taxpayers nearly $2 billion each year – with grazing losses accounting for a substantial portion of this shortfall. From 2009 to 2013, the BLM and USFS spent an average of $9.41 per AUM, while state trust lands in Arizona, Idaho, Montana and New Mexico spent $2.30 per AUM. At the same time, average federal return per AUM was only $1.18 compared to the state average of $7.79. While states often charge higher prices for grazing than the federal government, their policies actually encourage public grazing opportunities. The federal government’s high management costs, inefficiencies and political entanglements are costing the American public.

Agriculture is a substantial part of Utah’s economy, but plays an even more significant role in the rural parts of our state. When grazing declines, these communities suffer the most. In a study conducted by Utah State University, it was determined that grazing has declined by almost one-third within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This corresponds with the loss of 81 jobs and a decreased economic output of over $9 million per year. For the small rural counties of Kane and Garfield, whose combined population is less than 15,000, the effects have been devastating.

Ranching also plays an invaluable role in improving Western rangelands. Like your lawn, which needs trimming and mowing, rangelands need attention or they die. Harvesting the annually renewing forage on our public lands maintains the health and vitality of these ecosystems by reducing fuel loads that can lead to catastrophic wildfires.

Ranchers are also a vital piece of the rangeland puzzle. Take volunteer firefighting, for example. Rancher-run rangeland fire protection associations mobilize as first responders – often extinguishing blazes long before federal fire crews arrive. In Idaho alone, 146 rangeland protection firefighters fought 56 wildfires in 2015. It would be almost impossible to quantify how many watersheds, how much wildlife, and how many acres of vital habitat these volunteers have saved over the years.

This environmental stewardship extends well beyond firefighting as ranchers regularly partner with environmental agencies and universities to monitor land, water and wildlife; report suspicious and illegal activity to local law enforcement; plant fire resistant species; and improve water sources. The continued decline of grazing operators and permittees has serious implications for the environment.

We in the West don’t see land use in terms of winners and losers; it is not ruled by the zero-sum economics (one person’s gain must be explained by another’s loss) that is insinuated in federal land management policy. We understand that the pie can grow to everyone’s benefit, and most public lands can be – and ought to be – put to multiple, often complementary, uses. Grazing reduces fuel loads, which helps prevent catastrophic wildfires. Recreationists hike cattle trails and utilize roads established by ranchers. Stock ponds are a year-round supply of water for wildlife.

It is time to repair decades of federal mismanagement and reinstate grazing as an essential part of what it means for public lands to be multiple-use. HCR 7 begins to move us in that direction.

Thank you.

Opioid epidemic in Utah

In Utah, and across the nation, we have seen the rise of an opioid epidemic that continues to explode exponentially. It is a topic we have been uncomfortable discussing, but is clearly an issue that must be discussed.

There have been a few legislators locally and nationally who have tackled the opioid epidemic head on. We applaud their efforts – and recognize that there is much more that needs to be done.

In some ways America’s approach to the opioid problem is similar to the famous poem written by Joseph Malin in 1895 titled, “The Ambulance Down in the Valley.” You remember the story of the tiny town, which boasted of a mountain lookout with magnificent views of the valley. While the scenes were spectacular, the cliff was unacceptably dangerous. Many local citizens and passing visitors alike had tragically fallen from the cliff to the valley below.

Some of the citizens in the town advocated for putting a fence around the cliff, but others more persuasively made the case for simply parking an ambulance down below in the valley.

“For the cliff is all right, if you’re careful,” they said,

“And, if folks even slip and are dropping,

It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much

As the shock down below when they’re stopping.”

So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,

Quick forth would these rescuers sally;

To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,

With their ambulance down in the valley.

So, the citizens relied on the ambulance to deal with the ever-present and potentially lethal problem.

Then an old sage remarked: “It is a marvel to me

That people give far more attention

To repairing results than to stopping the cause,

When they’d much better aim at prevention.

Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” cried he,

“Come neighbors and friends, let us rally;

If the cliffs we will fence we might almost dispense

With the ambulance down in the valley.”

As it relates to our opioid cliff, we have added many new tools to the ambulance down in the valley, including vital overdose-reversing injections, needle exchanges, and counseling and rehabilitation programs for those who have become addicted. Unfortunately, we have done far too little to build the fence at the top of the cliff. It is time for a fence-building discussion between families, churches, legislators, doctors, health care providers and drug companies.

The opioid cliff is but one ledge where we would be wise to focus more on fence-building instead of ambulance production. Many of our state and federal programs designed to deal with poverty, homelessness, long-term unemployment, health care and hunger have spawned fleets of ambulances parked in the valley of government assistance.

As James Malin concluded, “To rescue the fallen is good, but ’tis best

To prevent other people from falling.”

We must get better at building fences in our communities, and when appropriate through government. In areas where we lack effective solutions, it is usually because we avoided the uncomfortable conversation.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Utah State Capitol is the house of government for the U.S. state of Utah in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City is the capital and the most populous city in the state of Utah. Salt Lake City has  a strong outdoor recreation tourist industry and is well-known as the center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

2017 Utah Legislature gets underway

The Utah Legislature is now meeting in its annual general session, which started Monday and will continue through March 9.

The state of Utah has an excellent legislative website with a wealth of information available to Utahns. Click here to learn the quickest way to find and read the text of a specific bill. To learn more (with pictures!) about how a bill becomes a law, click here. As a citizen, your voice and perspective are included in the legislative process if  you communicate with your legislators. To find your representative and senator and their contact information, click here.

howbillbecomeslaw

In his introductory remarks (video), Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser addressed the critical need to rebalance the power of the states and the national government. Regarding the “intense partisanship and inability of Washington to effectively pass and deal with issues,” Pres. Niederhauser said,

…this is because the federal [national] government was never intended to be so comprehensive. … The vision of the Founders was to spread power over multiple layers of government in order to prevent any concentration of power. Most issues should be dealt with in our state houses and our city halls, not Washington, DC. … Centralized government was the very thing the Founding Fathers were trying to eliminate. … I call upon my legislative colleagues across this country to join together and build a barrier around state jurisdiction and guard it jealously. Even though I am encouraged by the talk coming from Washington, D.C., now, I don’t think they will give up the power on their own. We will need to hold their feet to the fire.

Underscoring the hard work and decisions of those who have gone before, Speaker Greg Hughes highlighted (video) several of the challenges and issues he and his colleagues in the Utah House of Representatives will address over the next 45 days. Among the more pressing matters will be:

  • The urgency to confront, in appropriate and effective ways, the homelessness crisis in our state
  • Intrusions of the national government and its executive-branch overreach – as manifest in the recent Bears Ears national monument designation – and the efforts now underway to rescind that designation
  • Continuing the prudent balancing of public education funding requirements and preservation of the state’s tax-policy competitiveness with other Western states – a critical element of which is the public land still under the control of the national government

Again, as citizens of Utah, you can participate in the processes of deliberation and decision-making on matters of public policy – if you will – and thereby equip your representatives in the House and Senate to be your voice in the legislative processes of our democratic republic.

 

Man desperate and alone in the dark

Chaffetz is right – D.C. should not promote suicide

In November, the District of Columbia Council overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow doctors to help patients commit suicide if doctors believed the person had six months or less to live.

Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz announced last week that he will seek to have Congress overturn the law. Congress, of course, has this responsibility to oversee District laws under the Constitution (Article I, section 8), and all D.C. Council legislation is submitted to Congress for review before it goes into effect.

The author of the bill responded to the announcement: “This is entirely a local matter and he may have philosophical or perhaps even religious objections, but we have made our own choice and it should be respected.” The “local matter” remark suggests a misunderstanding of the Constitution, but the more interesting comment is the dismissive reference to Representative Chaffetz’s “philosophical or perhaps even religious objections.”

This kind of comment is a common tactic to denigrate unwanted opinions. It is to say, in effect, “That is your idiosyncratic belief based on some subjective, probably irrational, thought process but it need not restrain us from doing what we like.” That dismissal is particularly inapt here because there are compelling reasons to oppose the District of Columbia’s promotion of suicide for the ill and infirm.

For instance, we should be particularly cautious about embracing a right to suicide for vulnerable individuals. The experience of other nations suggests that this “right,” initially limited to those experiencing terminal diseases and advertised as strictly voluntary, begins to be applied to a wider variety of cases, including some not strictly medical and, as in the case of Belgium, now extended to non-voluntary situations such as the euthanasia of children.

Second, the much-valued “choice” to end one’s life does not occur in a vacuum. A person who is ill enough that the doctors guess (and it is usually just that, a guess) she or he will soon die, must act in the context of pressures, real and imagined, from other people – family and friends, physicians and insurance providers (including, often, the state itself). As reports from Oregon (the first state to approve this option) suggest, the doctors involved in these cases are not so much wise counselors giving ethical advice as resources called in near the end to dispense drugs.

Insurance companies, and the state as the provider of medical care to the needy, have a possible motivation of encouraging the less-costly route of suicide. One patient in Oregon was told by her insurance company that it would pay for the inexpensive suicide drugs but not for medication her doctor prescribed to extend her life.

Nearly half of those who opted for assisted suicide in Oregon in 2015 reported a concern with being a burden on family, friends and caregivers. Even where family members have no desire to encourage suicide by an ill family member, the existence of that option colors their interactions and may lead a sick person, particularly one with undiagnosed emotional or psychiatric illness (a very real possibility, as the evidence makes clear), to conclude that others would be better off if they died, even if those others don’t actually feel that way.

The motives of family and friends can be mixed. Take an example from the summer 2016 newsletter of End of Life Washington (slogan: “Your life. Your death. Your choice.”). The story is told by a psychotherapist about a former patient referred to her for anxiety and depression. The patient had twice planned suicide only to change his mind. After 25 years of no contact, the patient called to say goodbye after he’d picked up his suicide prescription to end his life in the face of a terminal cancer diagnosis.

The therapist reported: “He died in the loving presence of his brother and the close friend he had stayed connected with through the years, both of whom actively supported his choice.” In fact, his family and friends had “entreated” him to pursue physician-assisted suicide so that he did not take his own life by jumping from a bridge. The article reports family and friends were “horrified by the suffering his suicide would cause not only him but them.” So, he took advantage of Washington’s law with “their help, encouragement and advocacy.”

The option of legal suicide certainly makes such pressure more effective. It is like the pressure reported by parents of children prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome to abort their children.

It is a serious problem that we speak of the crisis of suicide in some contexts and in other contexts we valorize it as an exercise of personal autonomy. That mixed message may be fatal.

A supporter of the D.C. law carried a sign that neatly encapsulates the fundamental problem with assisted suicide laws. The sign read: “You would do it for your dog. Why not for me?”

Chaffetz is right to reject the idea that we should “put down” those who are sick like we would a pet. That’s not a narrow theological belief but a basic tenet of human decency, of protection for the vulnerable.