If someone presents you with a fine-looking horse as a gift, just how much time should you spend inspecting the steed’s molars? Or, for that matter, the motives of the presenter?
That’s the situation that Montanans find themselves in with the Senate passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which will generate an enormous amount of money for an enormous problem — backlogged maintenance at national parks including Glacier and Yellowstone — and also fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The fact that both Montana's senators were cosponsors is a victory for bipartisanship.
There’s a lot of talk that the bill was a designer effort to shore up support for two decidedly endangered Western U.S. senators — Cory Gardner of Colorado, who has been trailing in the polls, and one Steve Daines of Montana, who has his hands full with his Democratic opponent, Gov. Steve Bullock.
Our reaction: So what?
Election years tend to produce legislation that buffs incumbents’ resumes. That’s actually not a bad thing. It’s the way things often get done in the Senate, and elsewhere. The process tends to bring extreme positions back toward the center, which is what the summer before a November election is for, after all.
Daines’ detractors point to previous votes in which Daines has been on the wrong side of conservation strategies, chief among them a 2017-18 bill to remove protections for several wilderness study areas; other LWCF votes on authorization and appropriations; and his support for acting BLM Director William Perry Pendley.
Well … yes. We believe the WSA bill was ill-advised, and the fact that Daines has not reintroduced it this time around may be indicative of the lack of support in Montana for such a move.
We are inclined to cut him a little more slack because of the circumstances surrounding the other two positions. There is no doubt to us that Pendley is fundamentally unqualified to lead the BLM. We haven’t been happy with much of what the BLM has tried to do in the last couple of years, and Pendley’s previously stated philosophies opposing federal land ownership go far beyond the agency’s scattershot granting of oil and gas leases, though that’s plenty serious.
But we understand Daines’ political dilemma on Pendley. If he opposes Pendley, Daines could face the wrath of President Trump, who has already promised to come to Montana and campaign for him.
And Daines is right that earlier-stage LWCF votes simply reflect incremental or procedural circumstances. While we passionately support LWCF, having seen what it has already done for this state, we understand that sometimes the sausage-making isn’t particularly attractive even though the end result may well be delicious.
Daines can also point to other solid conservation accomplishments, including key support for the successful move to take the close environs of Yellowstone Park off the board for mining.
So we won’t spend a whole lot of time looking at the back teeth of our beautiful new thoroughbred, or, for now, the racing form record of the jockey who booted it to the wire. Instead, we will enjoy the benefits, as we suspect many Montanans will.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!