Monday, December 19, 2016

The Wyoming Federal Natural Resource Management Committee tells the voters it knows better.

The Wyoming Federal Natural Resource Management Committee met on December 14 in Cheyenne.  It was a public hearing.  Not that the public was really going to be listed to.  This committee decided to ignore the public with finality, apparently, back in November and is now only willing to consider amendments to a proposed Wyoming Constitutional Amendment that has received widespread public opposition.

The Committee was meeting on the language of a proposed amendment to the Wyoming Constitution that's basically in aid of the some in the state's effort to grab the Federal Domain against the wishes of the residents of the state and contrary to the oaths the Legislators took when they signed on to do their jobs.  The legislators were surprised that public opposition to a proposal that's quite popular amongst Wyoming's politicians received such widespread opposition from the public.  At least, to their credit, they have tried to do something about that, as opposed to our Congressional representation in the House and Senate which has supported it and simply flat out ignored the voting public.

The concept that transferring the public lands would benefit the state in any fashion is completely erroneous. The state would, sooner or later, and likely much sooner rather than later, sell the lands to the highest bidders that would invariably be rich out of state interests.  When this occurred we'd simply become a rural version of Ohio in which the residents of the state would have to be content with whatever the towns have to offer unless they were willing to pay a sufficient tribute to what would ultimately become out of state landlords.  To try to ease the fears of those who know that this amendment is being pushed.

The idea that a Constitutional Amendment would prevent this is delusional, as that would, at best, keep the Legislature from such an attempt for a single session or so, until a way around it was found.  Indeed, the Legislature right now does not seem to be able to recall  Article 21, Section 26 of the Wyoming Constitution which provides:
The people inhabiting this state do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof, and to all lands lying within said limits owned or held by any Indian or Indian tribes, and that until the title thereto shall have been extinguished by the United States, the same shall be and remain subject to the disposition of the United States and that said Indian lands shall remain under the absolute jurisdiction and control of the congress of the United States; that the lands belonging to the citizens of the United States residing without this state shall never be taxed at a higher rate than the lands belonging to residents of this state; that no taxes shall be imposed by this state on lands or property therein, belonging to, or which may hereafter be purchased by the United States, or reserved for its use. But nothing in this article shall preclude this state from taxing as other lands are taxed, any lands owned or held by any Indian who has severed his tribal relations, and has obtained from the United States or from any person, a title thereto, by patent or other grant, save and except such lands as have been or may be granted to any Indian or Indians under any acts of congress containing a provision exempting the lands thus granted from taxation, which last mentioned lands shall be exempt from taxation so long, and to such an extent, as is, or may be provided in the act of congress granting the same.
There's actually no proposal to repeal this section, so it would remain in effect, essentially saying "you can't get any more Federal Domain but if you do. . ."  Ah. . . a Constitutional Amendment that only courtroom lawyers will benefit from. . .

As Legislators, those on the present committee should recall that they swore an oath to uphold the Wyoming Constitution, and in these regards, efforts contrary to this provision seem to fairly clearly violate it.  Not that this has been something that's restrained the Legislature in recent years.  This doesn't seem to bother them much as only one single committee member cast a "no" vote on November 8 to approve the amendment even though nearly everyone who gathered at the November hearing spoke against it.  But we need to keep in mind that this body has seemingly been fairly comfortable with voting on unconstitutional acts in recent years and very recently got into a fair amount of trouble for just that.

Several nights ago in Cheyenne, 100% of the speakers from a large crowed spoke against the amendment again.  This time, however, the committee informed the speakers that it was already a done deal, they'd already voted against the wishes of the state's residents and they were only there to consider amendments.  They apparently agreed to a few. But its hard not to view this as being rather insulting to the voting public.  The committee well knew that a large crowed would be in attendance.  It also knew, of course, it had already voted for approval. But it is not the case, as these bodies will want to believe, that they can't unring the bell. They could have.  It just wouldn't suit the views out of four of the five people on the committee.

Now the whole thing goes on to the State Senate and, should it survive there, the House.  If it passes two thirds of both bodies then it must be voted on by the voters in the next election.  The Governor, for what it is worth, who has already spoken as to the illegality of acquiring the Federal Domain, has no role in this.

If this passes our legislature, at least from my prospective, the voters nearly have to pass the bill to try to protect the lands from these same people. Everyone well knows that this amendment is mere camouflage for an effort to violate the state's organic act and to violate the state's constitution and grab the Federal domain.  The amendment will be the only way to protect the land, even though this entire issue shouldn't even be on the plate.  That ironically argues for and against it at the same time.  We practically need it as our representation in Cheyenne has shown a determination to vote against the will of the citizens', but at the same time this simply aids their effort.

Here's the proposed amendment, before the apparent and anticipated amendments to it.  Note that this wold not take effect until 2019, giving a land transfer plenty of time to take first well before it, and for this thing to accordingly mean nothing whatsoever.  That's a bit odd.  And also note that this does nothing to preserve the lands the state already holds.

Note also that it appears in Article 18. Article 21 above remains in effect. So the net result of that is that this would make a mess out of the state's constitution, which is one of the few of the same that's actually survived the test of time.  Most state's have been trough several by now.  What would a court do with this?  Nobody knows.  But both sections clearly cannot stand together.  It would be equivalent to the U.S. Congress proposing an amendment to legalize banning speech in a clause separate from the First Amendment. 
Article 18, Section 7
Public lands management and access

(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this constitution and when in accordance with the purposes of a grant of land to the State of Wyoming from the United States, lands granted to the state after January 1, 2019 shall be managed for multiple use and sustained yield, including public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation, as prescribed by the legislature.

(b) The legislature may provide for the exchange of state lands acquired pursuant to subsection (a) of this section. The legislature shall ensure that any exchanges of lands acquired pursuant to subsection (a) of this section collectively cause no more than a de minimis loss or gain of the state lands, either in value or size.
(c) Any exchange of the lands acquired pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall maintain or increase public access to those lands.
And of course this doesn't consider that in addition to the State's constitution the State's organic act also disclaimed the public lands.

Here are the names of the Committee membersIn Cheyenne earlier this week they'd said they'd already voted, but that doesn't mean that voicing your opinion, should you have one (either way) won't suddenly cause that to magically reverse.  Over a long period of time I've learned that governmental entities of any type which state "we can't do that" can and will "do that" when it becomes too uncomfortable not to.  I've even heard one agency officer tell me something was illegal and then approve it as not illegal in less than 30 seconds.

Eli Bebout
Gerald Geis
Larry Hicks
Norine Kasperik
JoAnn Dayton
Tim Stubson

Dayton is the only one who voted no on the November 8 vote to ignore the voters.  She apparently listened to her constituency.

She's also the only Democrat on the body, and this is why I think we'll see an increase in Democratic fortunes in the upcoming election. The last unconstitutional bill passed by the legislature caused a revolt in the GOP amongst its hard right/libertarian wing which is still smoldering.  The Public Lands issue is in fact causing some long time Republicans I  know to vote Democratic.  Alienating both sides of the GOP locally is not really a very good idea.
Of those mentioned I should note that Stubson is on his way out, having run for Congress and lost.  He actually won't take his seat in January as Jerry Obermuller will instead, Stubson having determined not to run in order to run for Congress.  This is presumably his swan song as a legislator, assuming of course that he doesn't run again and obtain a seat at a later date.
Bebout is the only one who responded to my email the last time, to his real credit, with a well stated letter, albeit one I disagree with.  It takes guts and dignity to write somebody who is opposed to you, and I respect him for that.  Geis' email bounces back so I can't comment regarding him.  They're all likely getting hundreds of emails, as they well should be.

Stuff like this, I should note, really creates a distrust of democracy.  The concept always is that the people who go to the state house and Congress will uphold our views.  But here they aren't, and aren't coming close to it.  They're upholding a view that regards Washington as our enemy, a view that's really been stoked in recent years, and they also clearly believe that if we just get "Washington off our backs" the money will really flow.  But all the studies of this show that the state can't afford to administer the lands.  Ironically, moreover, transferring the Federal Domain doesn't make all regulation evaporate by any means and the Federal Government is not necessarily any harder to deal with than the state can be.  And at the end of the day this is poking the sleeping giant of the American urban population right in the eye, which isn't such a good idea.  A change in political fortunes can easily go from "give us the land" here in Wyoming to "it's all park land now" back in D.C.

If there's a silver lining in any of this it would be that Secretary of the Interior nominee Zinke is a very strong opponent of the transfer the lands movement and so is Donald Trump, Jr. who apparently had his father's ear on this one.

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