Compromise is as American as the founding of our country … literally.
In the summer of 1787, our founding fathers assembled in Philadelphia to tackle the inherent weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. Their diverse interests and backgrounds resulted in heated debates.
One of the stronger disagreements was whether states should be represented based on population, or equally, with one vote per state. The debate became so intense that delegates threatened to dissolve the convention and disband the union.
It was at this point that a delegate from Connecticut stepped in and proposed the Great Compromise that led to the founding of the United States of America. Delegates from large and small states chose to compromise on important things for the sake of even more important principles, and as a result they produced the best governing document ever conceived by a free society.
This type of principled compromise and political cooperation are at the heart of the American political system and who we are as a country. Sadly, ideological extremism and an “us vs. them” mentality have largely replaced this foundation of American freedom, leaving principled compromise as an undervalued and scarce commodity. However, we do have some hopeful examples before us.
For instance, the Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI). Released last week, this federal piece of legislation represents principled compromise between the interests of environmentalists, Native Americans and those who want to free public lands from federal mismanagement. It couldn’t be timelier. With armed men still occupying a wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon and repeated threats by Outdoor Retailers to pull its shows out of Utah due to the state’s attempt to gain control of its public lands, federal land-management issues have reached a fever pitch.
Just like any principled compromise, preparation of the PLI was arduous and time-consuming. It took three years and over 1,200 meetings to gather input from a host of individuals and organizations. Congressional staff made countless trips to eastern Utah, meeting with Native American tribes, oil and gas companies, environmental groups, ranchers and the citizens of the seven affected counties. Those who argue that the PLI is one-sided are factually misrepresenting both the efforts that went into producing it and the outcome of that work.
Of that outcome, Rep. Rob Bishop notes, “There is something here for everyone to like and something for everyone to hate, but if you look at the totality of what we are doing, it is moving us so far forward, there is value in it.”
Eastern Utah tribes and environmental groups are getting the designation of 2.3 million acres as wilderness, 1.8 million acres of new national conservation areas, special protections for the Bears Ears and the creation of the new Jurassic National Monument.
Economic development and recreational access advocates will get the barring of future Antiquities Act monument designations in these seven counties, the transfer of thousands of disputed road segments to the state and an accelerated process for drilling in areas deemed as open for mineral development.
Does everyone get exactly what they want from the PLI? No. But that is the nature of principled compromise and political cooperation. Because of that nature, it is tempting to turn our backs on principled compromise in pursuit of total political victory — but when we do that we are really just turning our backs on America’s governing philosophy for the sake of power.
The PLI is good policy, designed to better the lives of Utahns while protecting our cherished public lands. Put together in the spirit of principled compromise, it holds out the promise of lasting solutions to difficult problems. Utahns would do well to support it.
Matthew Anderson is policy analyst for the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of Sutherland Institute.