Monday, August 11, 2014

Credit where credit is due, good op eds from the Star Tribune

I've criticized the Casper Star Tribune here more than once, but I have to give it credit where its due (risky though that is, I'll probably be upset with its coverage in no time). Specifically, I'll applaud two op ed pieces that appeared in it over the weekend.

The first one is by former Wyoming Speaker of the House, Tom Lubnau.  Now, I'll confess I know Mr. Lubnau slightly, and have always found him a reasonable and intelligent man.  He had the great misfortune recently to be Speaker when the entire Cindy Hill drama played out, and no doubt that entire episode has fixed him in the minds of some of the state's voters, for good or ill.

Lubnau wrote on the one of the perennial bad ideas that surfaces in Wyoming and the West occasionally, which is the concept of "giving back" or "turning over" the Federal domain to the states.  It's come up recently in the context of at least one legislative and one gubernatorial candidate who are backing that concept. Frankly, I don't know if the gubernatorial candidate is serious, I suspect not, but the legislative candidate seems to be.  The interesting thing about this is that this comes in the context of races in the Republican primary, so it pits Republican against Republican.

Lubnau has done an excellent job in his article of pointing out that the concept that there's some historic claim by the state to the Federal domain is completely off base.  Indeed, he could go a lot further than he did.  He did reference the Homestead Acts, but he didn't detail how that act, administered by the Federal government, was a key part of the State's early history long after statehood, and none of Wyoming's early residents had any concept whatsoever that the Federal domain should be granted to the States.  He also didn't go into the fact that there was never, in any state, ever a concept that the Federal government had to grant the land to the states, and the government always kept land it was using (Federal Reservations).  Land was granted to the states to encourage their development in much the same fashion that the Federal government encouraged the development of the Western states through the Homestead Acts.

Beyond that, however, Lubnau did not go into the fact that the Federal domain is in large part what makes Wyoming what it is, and turning the land over to the State would inevitably, over time, lead to its transfer into private hands, probably at reduced rates, ultimately making this state another version of Texas. Everyone would loose out in the end, particularly the citizens of the state who like the outdoors and the remaining local ranchers who would ultimately see prices dictate the transfer or ranchlands to the rich.

The reason, I'd note, that some back this idea is the completely erroneous idea that the Federal government is keeping the lands from being used.  This is simply untrue.  One candidate, for example, declared that if the Federal lands became state lands, coal production would rise.  Oh no it wouldn't.  Coal consumption is controlled by external factors well outside of this state, and industry insiders who I've had the pleasure of talking to from time to time were predicting a dramatic, even industry ending, decline in coal usage as long ago as 15 years back.  Like it or not, it makes a lot more of a difference what power generators in California are using, or what port authorities in Bellingham Washington think, than who owns mineral lands in Wyoming.

Indeed, for those enthusiastic about mineral production being owned exclusively by the State, I"ve heard more than one farmer and rancher who would have allowed none whatsoever, as they rarely actually benefit from it unless they own.  So, once again, the State owning mineral production isn't going to be seen as a fantastic thing by everyone, in spite of what people may think. The production companies themselves will either yawn at the news, or regret it as they're already dealing with the Federal government in large scale already, and regular residents of the state would definitely regret it. Besides, the 350,000,000 Americans who don't live in Wyoming aren't going to agree to it.

Which brings me to another perennial bad idea that comes up every year during elections, but not addressed by the op eds.  The "taking on the Federal government" on this or that. Sure, sometimes we do need to do that as a state, but there's a foolish idea out there that suing the Federal government achieves much. Very rarely is this the case.  This is so apparent that I've sometimes wonder if one of our prior governors sued the Federal government for purely cynical reasons, as the success rate was so low. Sort of like a  Chihuahua that barks to convince the homeowners that it's protecting the front lawn.  Not much of a real effect, really.

The other op ed that I did read and enjoyed was Susan Stubson's article in the Trib.  I have to admit that I don't dislike Ms. Stubson's articles, but I usually don't enjoy them either.  I usually start them to see if I think they're worth reading and then go on to something else, which doesn't say anything about her writing so much as it says something about me, I suppose.

Anyhow, Stubson wrote on "Citizen malpractice", the use of that term probably reflecting  the fact that Stubson is a lawyer (and married to a lawyer)..  Her article was courageous, starting off early in the article with this:
Earlier this spring, I had a discussion with a teacher friend who told me that she and most of her friends opposed the $33 million school construction bond because it was generally a “waste” of their tax dollars. As a reminder, the failed bond would have paid for, among other things, academy equipment, safety improvements, and the construction of a new science and technology center. It was clear to me that this lady and her friends had zero command of the facts, nor did they evince any understanding of the impact of their yes/no vote. It was striking given that this comment came from the people that had the most to gain or lose by the outcome.
Stubson went on to criticize voters who voted in ignorance.  Good for her.

And there's a lot of that seemingly going on.  Right now around here I am routinely hearing a lot of people voice definite opinions about matters, when its clear that they've never thought them out.  It's not that I feel that these people should agree with me on everything (and sometimes I do agree with them, they just haven't thought things out).  Rather I'm amazed by the voters, and candidates, who express certain opinions when in some instances their own lives are directly contrary to the positions they're stating.  I've met, for example, died in the wool haters of government and taxes who are actually employed by the government and would lose their jobs if their own views were enacted. Do they know that?  If so, why don't they quit those jobs?  I've met people who love to do something that's totally tax supported, while hating the taxes that support them? Are they aware of that?  

In noting this, I'm not trying to tell people how to vote on anything, but much more than recent years people really seem fired up and are gravitating towards the margins in the election, without always really thinking things out. Ideas and concepts that are imported from other states, and have little application to our own, have also crept in, perhaps with the influx of workers from those states. That's fine and that's their right, but we've always been a unique state and perhaps its time to sit back and really consider that.  Ideas, concepts and strategies that apply elsewhere often have no application here, and what does work here works here, but might not work anywhere else.  It's good to be informed.

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