Here's the question: What does a community organizer from Chicago who spent four years in the Senate before being elected president know about spotted owls, endangered salmon, mountain bark beetles, Western water rights, old-growth forests and the maintenance backlog in the national parks?
The answer: Probably not much.
That's a bit of an unfair characterization. While Obama may not know that much about the technical aspects of governing the West, his experience as a grassroots organizer would put him smack dab in the middle of the spiritual center of the West's recent history of conflict.To put it bluntly, Obama knows all about the West. The conflicts the federal government has been fighting for the past 30 or so years in the West have been against Western versions of Obama.
Organizers (sage brush rebels) who want a distant bureaucracy to not roll over their communities. People who have rallied their neighbors to effect change.
The person Obama would appoint as the federal government's liaison to the West would be someone who could engage the federal government in not fighting the old fights. Rather, that Interior secretary would attempt to break down the old walls that divide communities, corporations, users of public land, environmentalists and local governments.
Daniel Kemmis, has a deep history of a politician (mayor, state house speaker), writer and thinker. It also needs to be said that Kemmis is one of the most Western of Western Democrats. He wouldn't be seen as a Democrat from the Pacific Coast or east divebombing into the interior West, ready to put the leg-irons of a distant bureaucracy on an entire region.
His short and dirty prescription for Obama's approach to the West:
Daniel Kemmis, director of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana and an influential Democrat, said Obama should listen to Democratic elected officials who gained their offices by working with both environmentalists and industry and governing from the middle. Historically, Democrats wrote off the West and Republicans took it for granted. But this time wins in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico were crucial to Obama's victory.Kemmis's less short and dirty prescription is "This Sovereign Land," an Obama-esque outline for how the West can be governed in a new way with everyone at the table.
"I think it would be foolish for a new Democratic administration to treat the West in the same way it has been treated in the past," Kemmis said.
Kemmis and Chris Wood, chief operating officer of Trout Unlimited, hope the Obama administration works with Western states, loggers, sportsmen and other land users to craft compromises like Idaho's own compromise on its 9 million acres of roadless national forest lands.
"The lesson of the last eight years is that when you listen to local people, you can still gain significant conservation benefits," Wood said.
From the dust jacket:
In This Sovereign Land, Daniel Kemmis offers a radical new proposal for giving the West control over its land. Unlike those who wish to privatize the public lands and let market forces decide their fate, Kemmis, a leading western Democrat and committed environmentalist, argues for keeping the public lands public, but for shifting jurisdiction over them from nation to region. In place of the current centralized management, he offers a regional approach that takes into account natural topographical and ecological features, and brings together local residents with a vested interest in ensuring the sustainability of their communities. In effect, Kemmis carries to their logical conclusion the recommendations about how the West should be governed made by John Wesley Powell more than a century ago.Throughout, Kemmis argues that the West no longer needs to be protected against itself by a paternalistic system and makes a compelling case that the time has come for the region to claim sovereignty over its own landscape.Soon to be President Obama has the opportunity to change the game in the West. Kemmis would be able to bring the kind of change to Western governance that we hope happens throughout the country.