As expected, the Utah House on Tuesday adopted two resolutions asking GOP President Donald Trump to rescind the newly-created Bears Ears National Monument and reduce the size of the 20-year-old Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, both in southeastern Utah.
It was a partisan vote – taken as protesters in the Capitol Rotunda shouted, “hands off our monument” and protesters walked through the House gallery booing and yelling “shame, shame.”
One Republican, Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, voted against House Speaker Greg Hughes’ HCR11 – rescind Bears Ears.
Cutler has had close elections twice, and only won re-election in November by 277 votes. His district is considered leaning Democratic.
Cutler voted for Rep. Mike Noel’s HCR12, which asks Trump to reduce the size of the staircase monument.
All 13 House Democrats voted against both resolutions.
It is unclear if Trump will fulfill either request by Utah GOP leaders, although Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says he relayed the requests when he met with Trump for 90 minutes last week.
Already Trump has fulfilled several controversial campaign promises – and his executive orders have been hauled into Federal Court in the process.
No doubt if Trump rescinds Bears Ears, or tries to reduce the size of the staircase significantly, those actions would be challenged in court by environmentalists, as well.
Hughes, in a rare instance, came down off of the speaker’s podium to argue for rescinding Bears Ears, created by out-going President Barack Obama the end of December.
“It is incredibly important that we ask the president (Trump) to rescind this monument,” said Hughes, who was an early support of Trump in Utah and was roundly criticized for it.
Hughes accused Obama of making a crass, political payback decision. He said that was proven in WikiLeak-released (hacked) emails that showed Hillary Clinton’s top aide, John Podesta, telling environmentalists they had to gin up political support for Bears Ears.
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative – still before the U.S. House – is a better alternative, said Hughes, and it will allow Utahns, local officials, and Indian Tribes to decide the fate of the land – parts of which should be protected.
Several Democrats said how ironic it is that Republicans are fighting against Bears Ears, because for the local Indians it is a matter of keeping the land “sacred” – and their religious rights shouldn’t be harmed by the Utah Legislature.
House Minority Whip Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake, said, “I’m excited Bears Ears was created. This has been an idea” to protect this area “since the 1930s.”
He said four Utah-based Indian tribes broke with Bishop’s PLI process “because they were not being heard.”
As a Christian, said Briscoe, he respects religious liberty – whether expressed by Jews, Muslims, or his own LDS religion – which holds Salt Lake City and Nauvoo, Ill., as “sacred places.”
Such is Bears Ears for several Indian tribes, who believe “even the rocks are sacred,” and hold religious meanings.
On HCR12, Noel said the staircase has resulted in some jobs Garfield, even Kane County – where the local economies are doing just OK.
But former Democratic President Bill Clinton was just paying back liberal environmentalist votes, and seeking votes in California, when he created the staircase in 1996 – his re-election year.
The staircase could be drastically reduced in size, and even an underground coal mine environmentally put into operation, he added.
“Let us live our life in peace,” in southern Utah, said Noel. “No more federal agents in my area. I want to access roads my great-grandfather accessed.”
The Democrats pleas, even if they were articulate, bounced off the House walls, however.
Bot resolutions now go to the Senate – where they certainly will be passed. GOP Gov. Gary Herbert will sign them.
And Hatch et al. will then take them to the White House, asking Trump to turn back the actions of two Democratic presidents – and we’ll all proceed to the U.S. Supreme Court to see what happens next.