To the surprise of none, by overwhelming votes Wednesday night, the Utah Legislature passed a resolution asking Democratic President Barack Obama not to designate any new national monuments in Utah.
Most especially, Republican legislators – and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert – don’t want a 1.9 million-acre monument in San Juan County.
Lawmakers also restored $4.7 million in various education budget items that Herbert vetoed earlier this year.
But the education money wasn’t controversial.
The Bears Ears was, with a just-released UtahPolicy poll on the issue much the talk Wednesday evening in Capitol hallways.
Herbert told UtahPolicy Wednesday, in a quick hallway interview, that he doesn’t know if sending Obama a resolution will change anything – although he hopes it may.
Herbert believes working with the Obama administration, Congress and state officials, a “win-win” situation can be found, with Bears Ears becoming a BLM-type conservation district, not a national monument.
More than a few GOP lawmakers believe the resolution may be important in an upcoming court action.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said he believes Obama will not only create the Bears Ears National Monument but maybe one or two more monuments in Utah before he leaves office early next year.
“What are we going to do when this happens?” asked Ivory in House floor debate.
Sue in federal courts, said several House Republicans, including Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, sponsor of HCR201.
It was a partisan vote: Only Rep. Brad King, D-Price, voted for it among the House Democrats (he has southern Utah constituents); all Republicans voted for it. All Senate Democrats voted against it (all Democratic senators come from Salt Lake County); all Senate Republicans for it.
Speaking about the new UPD poll results showing only 17 percent of Utahns favor the Bears Ears National Monument, Herbert said he doesn’t know if polls and the resolution passed Wednesday will make much difference in D.C.
He said he doesn’t want a confrontation with the Obama administration, but Utahns need to have their feelings known.
“Hey, done right, we can have it all” – both sides can win. And ultimately, said Herbert, the president’s public land/conservation legacy can be even more enhanced by passing U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop’s PLI bill than by Obama creating a Bears Ears National Monument all on his own.
“We can have stream protection, all kinds of things” can be done in the PLI that can’t be done just in a national monument, Herbert said.
Plus, there are around 18 million acres dealt with in the Bishop bill, not just 1.8 or 1.9 million acres in the Bears Ears.
“This national monument down there is a new idea – just came up in the last few years. I’ve been dealing with land issues since 1995. We don’t need to rush into” a national monument designation. Haste is never best, Herbert said.
“The president’s (conservation) legacy can be much broader than just Bears Ears. It can be a win-win situation for everyone” with just a little time and effort put into it all, Herbert added.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, said passing the resolution and “sticking it under” Obama’s nose will actually ensure he will create Bears Ears. “It will be red meat” to the president.
Obama will “put this in the trash,” said Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, talking about the resolution passed Wednesday.
Telling Obama had to get Utah legislative approval before he could create a national monument – as the resolution calls for — is an insult to the president, Davis added.
Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, was successful in getting House Republicans to amend Stratton’s resolution to instruct Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to prepare for a lawsuit against Bears Ears or any other Utah monument designation coming from Obama.
At one point Christensen amended the bill to say the 1906 Antiquities Act gave Obama (or any president) “alleged” powers of creating a monument.
And as Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, a leader in fighting the BLM and southern Utah federal land officials, went on and on over keeping “alleged” in the resolution (House members took it out), House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan actually called for a “point of order” to stop Noel from talking – rarely do you see a GOP leader so correct one of his caucus members on the floor.
There was also a House fight over which native Americans, especially Navajos, oppose Bears Ears Monument and which support it.
“We’re getting transgender bathrooms (for school children, another Obama issue),” said Ivory in an open GOP House caucus. “And we’re getting Bears Ears.”
Still, the question, said several GOP legislators, is how to fight in court what Obama is bringing.
If Obama creates a national monument in Utah, a court fight is clearly coming.