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.

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Testimony in support of HCR 12 (Concurrent Resolution Urging Federal Legislation to Reduce or Modify the Boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument)

Testimony given by Matthew Anderson on Feb. 2, 2017, in support of HCR 12 (Concurrent Resolution Urging Federal Legislation to Reduce or Modify the Boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument) before the Senate Business and Labor Committee of the Utah Legislature.

Good afternoon, senators. My name is Matt Anderson. I represent the Sutherland Institute and the Coalition for Self-Government in the West.

I want to quickly talk about the ranching and grazing ramifications of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to hopefully answer some of Senator Gene Davis’ concerns. A Utah State University study conducted two years ago found that the number of AUMs, or the amount of grazing on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, has declined by almost one-third in the last 20 years since it was created. In addition to that it has had an economic effect of $9 million of economic output in the county and a loss of 81 jobs. While that may not seem big for us living here in Salt Lake, for Kane and Garfield counties – which have a combined population of 15,000 people – that is significant. Eighty-one families is a big hit to the economy and a large reason why we have a large economic and a scholastic state of emergency declared in Garfield County. Thank you.

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Testimony in support of HCR 11 (Concurrent Resolution Urging the President to Rescind the Bears Ears National Monument Designation)

Testimony given by Matthew Anderson on Feb. 2, 2017, in support of HCR 11 (Concurrent Resolution Urging the President to Rescind the Bears Ears National Monument Designation) before the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee of the Utah Legislature. 

Senators, good to be here with you today. My name is Matt Anderson, and I represent the Sutherland Institute.

Senators, I have spent the last year of my life meeting with the people of San Juan county – with ranchers, Native American tribes, schoolteachers and many others. And I can tell you, without question, that the people of San Juan County do not want a national monument. Polls show the people of Utah do not want a national monument.

I think it’s important for us to remember that the promises that are made for national monuments simply aren’t kept. When the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was created, President Bill Clinton promised that grazing would remain “at historical levels.” Today, grazing has declined by almost one-third. So these promises that Native Americans will be able to cut wood and do their traditional practices and that ATV trails and many other things will be open are simply false. Utah has seen that firsthand. Also important for us to remember is that the federal government has been managing this land since Utah statehood, and now it wants to manage it more. The federal government is already not protecting the land the way it needs to be.

Secretary Sally Jewell came to Utah last summer and she said that she was shocked, shocked at the lack of protections. It is her job to protect antiquities in the area. She’s not doing it, and now we’re giving more responsibility to her agency, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service. With that, thank you.

Outrage, riots and knowing where you’re going

It is so easy to get swept away in the fog, rhetorical riptides and tweet storms of the digital age. Leaders can overwhelm the public with a whirlwind of words designed to distract and confuse – often leaving citizens wondering where in the world we are. If we do not know where we currently are, it is impossible for us to chart a course to where we truly want to go.

Long years ago, before cell phones, Google Maps and GPS systems, I was on a speaking tour in Ireland. On the first day of my tour I was scheduled to speak to corporate executives at a company in Cork. I set out for the speech with a very specific and detailed old-school map. I immediately encountered several ring roads and roundabouts, and soon had no idea where I was. After about 20 minutes of wandering through the Irish countryside, I realized that this was not a good use of my time and I did the hard thing: I bit my ego and pulled into a little gas station at the side of the road to ask for directions. Map in hand, I went in and asked the man behind the counter, “Where am I?” The man obviously knew I was a foreigner, because he just flashed me a big Irish grin and said, “Why, you’re in Ireland don’t you know!” I then tossed the map at him and asked, “Where am I on the map?” Once the attendant pointed to our specific location I had no problem navigating my way to my speaking engagement. By stopping to figure out where I was, or what the present reality was, I was better able to chart the right course to my desired destination.

Before a critical debate in the United States Congress, Daniel Webster said: “Mr. President, when the mariner has been tossed about for many days in thick weather on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun to take his latitude and ascertain where he is in relation to his desired course. Let us imitate this prudence and before we float on the waves of this debate refer to the point from which we departed, that we may at least be able to surmise where we now are.”

As a nation we have been through some thick weather and tossed about, to say the least. Here are a few areas where I believe we need to figure out where we really are before we start to try and solve the problems:

Education

Regulation

National division

Poverty

Criminal justice

Federal lands

Health care

(Just to name a few …)

Before the American people and our elected representatives float on the waves of debate on these critical issues, let’s stop and determine where we are today.

By specifically identifying our present reality we will be able to chart the best possible course to reach our desired destination as a nation.

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

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

Portrait of a pretty young woman waving an American flag with wide open arms outdoors.

Testimony in support of HCR 6 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting the Re-empowerment of the States Amendment)

Testimony by Stan Rasmussen, Sutherland Institute director of public affairs, in support of HCR 6 (Concurrent Resolution Supporting the Re-empowerment of the States Amendment) before the House Judiciary Committee of the Utah Legislature on Jan. 31, 2017.

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon, representatives. Stan Rasmussen with Sutherland Institute. I am pleased to share with you a statement prepared by our office, particularly the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of Sutherland Institute.

We firmly support House Concurrent Resolution 6 because we support efforts in Congress to re-empower the states and restore the system of checks and balances instituted by our nation’s Founders.

At best, executive orders and administrative rulings can easily and blatantly disregard the opinions and rights of the American people. At worst, they allow government power to go unchecked which can ruin lives. Such actions have been taken by presidents and agency heads of both parties and fly in the face of the principles undergirding our American republic. Our families, our communities, and our state deserve better.

While the mechanism by which this resolution makes possible the repeal of executive orders, rules and regulations is important, it also gives incentives to the president and bureaucratic agencies to work with the people most impacted by their decisions. With the president and bureaucratic agencies working with individual states, laws will become more reflective of the will of the people, thereby encouraging collaboration and unity. The restoration of the states’ stronger voices will have a predictably constructive effect on participation in local governments, with citizens feeling a greater capability to contribute to and advance the cause of liberty in their homes and communities, returning the government to its constitutional origins of being of, for and by the people.

Because this is and ought to be a nonpartisan issue, we encourage you to support this resolution and efforts being pursued in Congress to re-empower the states.

Thank you.

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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.