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Tilting at windmills

Published February 23, 2012 1:01 am

Grab at federal lands is groundless
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The question before the House is: Are the elected leaders of the state of Utah really as ignorant of history, law and common sense as they seem? Or do they just assume that the voters are so clueless that the latest legislative tilt at federal windmills will actually win our favor?

On Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee approved a previously unknown clutch of bills and resolutions demanding that the federal government either give the state all the federally owned land within Utah's borders, or sell it to private owners and give the state a cut of the profits.

This mirage is represented not only as a stand for states' rights but also as a painless way to raise billions in taxes to support Utah's overcrowded and underfunded schools.

They want the handover accomplished by the end of 2014. If legal action is necessary, the measures allocate $3 million to the Utah Attorney General's Office to carry the fight.

Chance of success: Absolutely zero.

Chance of motivating the far-right base of the Republican Party, the part that actually votes in the upcoming precinct caucuses and county and state conventions: Appallingly high.

It is no surprise that this embarrassing snipe hunt is being led by, among others, state Rep. Chris Herrod, a Provo Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate, and Rep. Ken Sumsion, an American Fork Republican who is running for governor. Among the sycophantic admirers of the effort in Tuesday's committee meeting was Chief Deputy Attorney General John Swallow, who is running for A.G.

The lands in question belong to the people of the United States of America. All of them. Those lands will not, cannot, be sold or otherwise disposed of without an explicit act of Congress. There is no way that is going to happen, and no way any court will order it.

Ouija-board parsings of the 1894 law inviting Utah Territory to become a state, wrongly read as a command that the feds sell all their Utah land, are not going to hold water in any court in the land. The Legislature's own in-house lawyers have said as much. But, then, they aren't running for office.

The fact that these moves are being touted primarily by people who see any land without a deep hole or a wide gash in it as useless and unproductive further undermines both the credibility of this campaign and its chance of success.

It is all a way to distract attention from the fact that our lawmakers aren't willing to come up with a tax structure that will properly fund public education, and prefer to blame the federal government for their own failures.

The courts will see that. The voters should, too.