Gary Herbert had better be careful what he asks for. So had Jason Chaffetz.
Those two Utah Republicans, the governor and a member of Congress, have done a good thing by trying to engage, rather than simply vilify, members of the other party as they discuss the future of public lands in Utah.
It could turn out well for all concerned, with more collaboration on planning for the future of the federally owned lands that cover most of the state.
Or their efforts could, from the Republican point of view, backfire. If enough Democrats actually have a look at some of Utah’s natural wonders, their belief that vast swaths of those lands should be preserved forever as national monuments, even wilderness, may actually increase.
Not that there would be anything wrong with that.
As many critics of the status quo like to remind us, most of Utah is federally owned land. Land that Herbert, Chaffetz and other Beehive State worthies, mostly Republicans, think should be more aggressively exploited, drilled, mined and, in many cases, turned over to the state.
To that end, Chaffetz has engaged in a praiseworthy home-and-home exchange of visits with Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Baltimore. First, Cummings led Chaffetz on a tour of his inner-city district, where overcoming poverty and disease are everyday challenges. Then Cummings hop-scotched around wild Utah, not only taking in the beautiful landscapes but also talking to local elected officials about how, in their view, Washington gets in the way of the proper development of the area’s natural resources.
Herbert, meanwhile, has issued a friendly challenge to a group of Democrats from the U.S. Senate to come out and have a personal look at the large area of federal land around Canyonlands National Park. That’s land that the 14 senators, mostly liberals from the coasts, have asked President Obama to preserve with the unilateral powers granted him by the Antiquities Act.
Like Chaffetz, Herbert would like the Democrats to not only see the red rocks and cliff dwellings, but also talk to the people who hope to boost their local economies through more drilling and mining on the land.
It could happen.
Or something else could happen. The more people see of rural Utah, the more of them will agree with another Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, and his advice to future generations after seeing the Grand Canyon:
"Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it."
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