Senator Mike Crapo, R-ID, has toiled hard for more than seven years to pass a lands bill that includes Owyhee Canyonlands wilderness protection. It passed the Senate in January, but today failed in the House by just two votes.
Crapo said in a release, “I am disappointed at the result of the House vote, but confident about the future of the Owyhee Initiative. This legislation passed overwhelmingly in the U.S. Senate on a 73 to 21 vote in January with the support of Senator Risch. The way the House voted on the Omnibus Lands package was based on other issues and was not directed at the Owyhee Initiative specifically. We will now look for the next opportunity to bring the legislation forward and I will be discussing this with bipartisan leadership, Congressmen Simpson and Minnick and the Owyhee Work Group in Idaho to discuss the timing of our continuing efforts.”
Rep. Walt Minnick, D-ID, also issued a statement. “As I just relayed to Senator Crapo, it has been a long process to get to this point and the process is not yet over. Although I am disappointed, today’s action shows that there are more than enough votes for this bill to pass the House under normal rules. I urge House leadership to put this bill back on the floor as quickly as possible, and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting, reflecting and representing the collaborative work represented in this bill.”
It’s often written that a Senator has “led a long fight” to pass legislation, but the idea of a fight has long offended Crapo. He believes the process for landing legislative approval has turned into an unproductive, conflict-based melee that wastes time, money, and goodwill between people.
Late last September, after a week of exhausting work on the emergency bailout package, Sen. Crapo sat down with NewWest.Net to talk about his passion for reforming how problems are solved.
“Our laws have, unfortunately, established a system where a distant decision-maker comes up with a ‘solution’, takes public comment, and then decides. People are not brought to the table to discuss the decisions, only to vote on them. The race to get the most people to the hearings, the most TV coverage, the most signatures on petitions is the outlandish way we ‘work together,’” Crapo said.
“Then instead of sitting down to work out issues, we have court battles. We’ve been pushed into conflict mode by our system.”
“We have to move away from clash and battle and into collaboration.”
When Crapo discovered the books and theories of Dan Kemmis, a Montana legislative leader and mayor with progressive ideas on managing the West’s core issues, he became a disciple – and practitioner.
Crapo was drawn to the principles of what Kemmis calls “communitarianism” a fast-growing idea about citizen responsibility in the resolution of problems. This and other related theories are being put into practice by diverse groups all over the world, and the the Owyhee Initiative legislation is a result of one of those groups, led by Crapo.
In discovering Kemmis’ line of thinking, Crapo was inspired. “He and I ultimately met because I loved his book so much I sent it to hundreds of my colleagues. He describes himself as a liberal Democrat and I describe myself as a conservative Republican, yet we agreed 100% on how to approach federal lands issues.”
Kemmis believes that the unique character of the West (or any individual region) requires ordinary citizens, interest groups, and local governments to take responsibility for their regions and work with the federal government to manage lands, and that a collaborative process allows Westerners more power over their lands.
“When I tried to do that back in the early 90s, I was attacked by both sides – the environmentalists and the private property communities. I learned you’ve got to bring people together and then they have to gain confidence in you. They have to know you’re not telling them to lay down their guns in an effort to take sides. That’s why it’s important to get a few small successes as soon as possible,” said Crapo.
Federal processes for coming to agreement on legislation encourage conflict and get in the way of solutions, he said. Regulations that won’t budge or stretch for individual circumstances are also in the way. “The old ways are just not responsive to people. I sincerely believe that collaborative processes such as the one we’re using for the Owyhee Initiative are going to become models for those who are interested in dispute resolutions that don’t turn into pitched battles.”
But Felice Pace, a blogger with High Country News, has pointed criticisms of the collaborative processes being used today.
“I’ve read Dan Kemmis’ books as well but I’ve also been involved in several collaborative (public land and resource management) groups over the years. Never have these groups even remotely lived up to the potential that Dam Kemmis sees in them. Always there are dominant personalities, dominant interests and dominant (often unstated) agendas…. Collaboratives regularly rely on the compulsion of humans to go along with the group mind which operates to control its members and the agenda.“
Crapo doesn’t think the Owyhee Initiative Working Group has all the answers to working collaboratively. He says he’s still learning new ways of coming to agreement because of his interest and commitment to new ideas, including a risky pledge to the group. “What I did with the Owyhees is to gather folks from all political spectrums and told them that if they would truly work together, to collaborate on a work product, that I would advocate that work product even if it turns out to be not the thing I would have done.”
Rick Johnson, Executive Director of the Idaho Conservation League and a member of the working group, has thanked Crapo for his “leadership and vision on this issue, and for trusting the working group to successfully navigate” the issues that are included in the bill.
Getting a big initiative passed through Congress is a huge task, Crapo said. “I don’t mind the patience, but you can get endlessly stuck in process and that’s not good.”
Today’s House vote was reportedly orchestrated by the National Rifle Association, which opposes language about the use of guns on public lands. Despite Crapo’s rewrite of that language, it wasn’t enough for the NRA. The bill goes back to the Senate for modification. If it passes there, it will be rescheduled for House debate, but there’s no official schedule.
This afternoon, Crapo’s spokesman Lindsay Nothern told NewWest.Net/Boise, “We will pursue every opportunity to advance the Owyhee legislation, be it another vote in the House, a vote as stand-alone legislation or as a package of bills.
“Senator Crapo got the bill passed not once, but twice in the Senate. The support is there. Falling two votes shy on this particular vote does not mean the end of the effort by any means.”