Losing Hopi

When President Clinton stood this January in the Arizona sunshine at Grand Canyon Hopi Point and announced the designation of three new national monuments and the expansion of a fourth, he was confident that "the good Lord" must be smiling on him. "I know we're doing the right thing, because look at the day we've got," he crowed.

Well, Arizona Republicans weren't smiling--and they're still hoping to rain on Clinton's parade. Though the holdings involved in the new monuments were already federal land--and though the president acted squarely within the Antiquities Act of 1906--any measure restricting mining, logging, or road-building rights was bound to be a Republican no-no.

Republican Governor Jane Hull blasted the effects the new monuments would have on the Arizona economy, and the state's seven Republican federal lawmakers lined up behind her. Then, on January 26, seven state legislators, all Republicans, joined with Utah ranchers who say they live part time in Arizona to file a lawsuit against the federal government. The litigants don't just want an injunction against the new monument at Grand Canyon-Parashant, which protects wilderness and crucial watersheds at the nation's best-known national park. They want the Antiquities Act declared unconstitutional.

The law they want ruled unconstitutional was passed fairly by Congress for a Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, and has been used for 84 years by all but three presidents since. And the monuments the litigants want to block are actually favored by the vast majority of Arizona voters. An independent poll sponsored by ecological groups revealed that 79 percent of voters favored the designation of Grand Canyon-Parashant, while 75 percent also favored Arizona's other new monument, Agua Fria, which protects land and ancient artifacts in the vicinity of sprawling Phoenix. In a state whose northern regions run largely on tourism drawn in by the Grand Canyon, what Arizona economy are the Republicans speaking for?

The cattle and mining interests, primarily. The legislators' co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are ranchers; and it's true that wilderness crimps uranium extraction and logging. But it was Teddy Roosevelt himself who said, "Public rights come first ... private interest second."

And in Arizona, the public has spoken.

You may also like