THE BLOG

Sagebrush Rebellion Ain't Dead Yet

Apr 18, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

Wyoming would seem to have a lot in common with Colorado, when you look at it on the map. It's directly to our north and about evenly split between mountains and plains. People there wear cowboy boots. Some even still work as cowboys. Both states are home to an endangered species called the Preble's meadow jumping mou... oops... correction: the mouse is endangered in Colorado but not in Wyoming.

But one thing Wyoming still has that Colorado seems to have lost is the wild and rebellious spirit of the old West.

It's hard to imagine a good old-fashioned sagebrush rebellion breaking out in the "new" Colorado. But the desire to be free from Washington's suffocating embrace still burns in the hearts of Wyomingites, judging from the batch of neo-federalist bills under consideration by legislators there.

I really admire Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat who isn't afraid to buck Washington when it's in the state's best interests. During his state of the state speech last week, he accused the federal government of trying to "regulate everything." "The states need to be more than empty vessels whose job it is to execute federal policy," said Freudenthal. "And the only way you're going to do that is to take it very delicately and go in and try to re-establish the balance between the federal government and the states."

Can anyone imagine Bill Ritter saying that?

Whether we can "delicately" re-establish this balance is doubtful, in my view. Uncle Sam won't release his grip on Western states without a saloon-style brawl. But some Wyoming legislators seem intent on backing-up the governor's rhetoric with action.

From the AP:

CHEYENNE -- The Wyoming House of Representatives is taking the first steps toward possibly telling the federal government to back off on a range of states' rights issues, from gun control to endangered species management.

[...] Rep. Pete Illoway, R-Cheyenne, is the main sponsor of House Joint Resolution 2. It would call on Congress to stop enacting mandates beyond the powers granted to it in the U.S. Constitution. The resolution lists federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and federal land management statutes as failing to make that cut.

The House voted 50-8 on Tuesday to clear Illoway's resolution for introduction. {...]

So what's on the agenda?

HB-28, the "Wyoming Firearms Freedom Act," would "provide that firearms that are made and sold within Wyoming would be exempt from federal regulations," reports the AP. House Joint Resolution 5 calls on Congress "to stop abridging states' rights, including gun rights." HB-47 "would direct the Wyoming Attorney General to consider legal action against the federal government over federal agency environmental review proceedings or endangered species issues including wolf management in the state," reports the AP.

Can anyone imagine a majority of Colorado legislators supporting such bills?

Utah legislators are also showing a little of the old piss and vinegar. Last week, the House approved a measure that would make skepticism the state's official position vis-a-vis climate change. It also urges Washington not to pursue cap-and-trade or other carbon control schemes. Beehive State legislators also have picked a fight with Uncle Sam on Second Amendment issues, approving a bill that would exempt firearms manufactured in Utah from federal gun rules.

Best yet, a group of county officials are pushing a trio of bills that would approve the taking of federal land in Utah through eminent domain. Reports the Deseret News:

A pair of Utah County Republican lawmakers want to shepherd a trio of bills using eminent domain to wrest control of public lands they say are tied up by an out-of-balance, out-of-control federal bureaucracy.

The sponsors, with unanimous support voiced Wednesday by a legislative appropriations committee, not only want to tap some School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration land for development, but also yank back some of the parcels of oil-rich land withdrawn by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar a year ago this month. [...]

Naturally, a few ninnies worry that showing a little independence, a little defiance, could lead to federal retaliation and cost the states federal funds -- it's the long green leash that keeps so many of them from straying.

"I agree we have a problem," one Utah official said in reference to federal hegemony over the West. "It is out of balance, and it is out of control, and something needs to be done. ... But we work with [the Feds] all the time. The last thing I want to do is get on their short side. ... If you are going to take out the king, make sure you do it in the first shot."

Rep. James Byrd, a Democrat from Cheyenne, is afraid Wyoming's access to mineral deposits on federal lands might be jeopardized, and its federal road funding might go away, if it doesn't "work with" the federal government. "So, we have to be careful as to how we phrase things and what positions we take in opposition to the federal government," Byrd told the Casper Star-Tribune.

What a sad day we live in as Americans, and how far we've drifted from the nation's original design, when elected state leaders feel they need to tiptoe around, whispering like UN diplomats, for fear that they'll anger and enrage the sleeping giant in Washington.