Go West : Biden and the Democrats Pan for Gold


Horace Greeley lost by a landslide to Ulysses Grant in the 1872 presidential election, but the famous American editor delivered a famous piece of advice being followed 150 years later by political leaders: “Go West, young man.”

President Joe Biden was in Arizona on Tuesday, using his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate a 917,618-acre Baaj Nwaavo I’tah Kukveni-Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument, on federal lands flanking Grand Canyon National Park. The lands are sacred to the Havasupai Tribe that lives in the canyon, and Biden’s action blocks proposed uranium mining.

Biden next moved on to New Mexico and Utah, using the Land of Enchantment to tout the Inflation Reduction Act and its $360 billion clean energy investment.  Never a guy to crimp on hyperbole, Biden calls that act “the biggest investment in climate conservation and environmental justice ever, anywhere, in the history of the world.”

Of course, he’ll also be raising campaign money in Albuquerque as well as Park City, Utah, one small nest of Democrats in the Beehive State.  Vice President Kamala Harris is coming to Seattle next Tuesday to fill campaign and Democratic National Committee coffers. It’ll be an expensive lunch: If you raise or give $50,000, you become a host. The tab to be an “Advocate” is $25,000, with $10,000 to be a “Champion” and $5,000 simply to show up as a “Friend.”

Harris, too, will hold a public event celebrating the Inflation Reduction Act. The public event is a basic tactic for getting taxpayers to foot the bill for political travel.  The out-of-power party usually protests, but then does exactly the same thing when control of the White House flips.

Our nation’s Second Gentleman, Harris’ husband Doug Emhoff, is being dispatched to Grand Teton National Park this week, where he will tout the Biden-Harris record on the environment. Emhoff will use the same background once used by a Republican, President George H.W. Bush, to sign Clean Air Act legislation. Emhoff will also join the Veep in Seattle.

The West is suffering from prolonged drought and fires, but not the floods and tornados currently battering the South and Northeast. With the once-Democratic “Solid South” now solidly Republican, picking up support in Western states has become essential for Democrats to win the White House, and to hold (barely) the Senate, and to fill campaign coffers.

Bill Clinton was a 16-time visitor to Washington state during the 1990s and held his party’s first $1 million fundraiser in the state at the Columbia Tower Club in 1996. (Secret Service agents guarded the corridor so Clinton could visit the ladies’ room and take in its fabled head-on view of Mt. Rainier.)

Barack Obama used the state as an ATM machine, dropping in for pricey dinners in Hunts Point and Medina mansions. A press pool would be allowed in to hear Obama’s stump speech, then ushered out as Obama began to engage with our technology elite. The price for getting in a question at one luncheon round-table was, if I recall correctly, $17,700.

Going West has other attractions. It’s more successful than the Heartland, which has hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs. The West’s cities are populated with college graduates in an era when educated voters are trending Democratic. The population of Western states is centered in those cities, while rural America is hurting.

No Democrat will ever carry Utah’s sparsely populated San Juan County.  The county’s rancher rulers furiously opposed Obama’s creation of a 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument. Yet Biden’s restoration of the monument — after the Trump administration slashed its size by 80 percent — has been applauded by recreation interests and Native Americans.

Fredonia, in northern Arizona, is another Republican bastion. Yet Arizona has become a “purple” state and gave its electoral votes to Biden and elected Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs and reelected Sen. Mark Kelly last year. Hobbs, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, and Rep. Raul Grijalva joined Biden for proclamation of the new monument.

Democratic administrations have now designated six big national monuments in the three states where Biden is touching down this week. Given protracted legislative stalemates in Washington, D.C., creation of national monuments is one field in which presidents can unilaterally do something. The 1906 Antiquities Act was used by Theodore Roosevelt to create Olympic and Grand Canyon National Monuments, forerunners of what became two of America’s greatest national parks.

Clinton created a 1.8-million-acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in canyonlands of Southern Utah, just over the border from Arizona. The designation drew cries of protest from Utah’s congressional delegation, but helped Clinton become the first Democrat since Harry Truman to carry nearby Arizona.

Similarly, the Washington Farm Bureau and Tri-Cities’ Congressman Doc Hastings fumed when Clinton set aside the Hanford Reach National Monument, protecting the last un-dammed stretch of the Columbia River and spawning grounds to the river’s last big run of wild Chinook salmon. The monument was widely applauded west of the Cascades.

Theodore Roosevelt waxed eloquent when he came to the Grand Canyon, declaring: “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you as one of the great sights to which every American, if he can travel at all, should see.”

Who could object to that? Well, Fox News is complaining that the new Grand Canyon monument is giving Russia a leg up on uranium production. The Trump Administration made a big deal of trying to roll back the size of Grand Stair-Case-Escalante and Bears Ears. Doc Hastings even put out a statement denouncing Obama for setting aside federal lands as a San Juan Islands National Monument.

All the more reason for Biden and Democrats to double down.  Several of the West’s great national parks – Zion, Death Valley, Bryce Canyon – got their start as national monuments created by GOP presidents — even such under achievers as William Howard Taft and Warren G. Harding. No more, no way: Conservation-minded Republicans, e.g. our Dan Evans, are now a critically endangered species.

While the Biden Administration’s go-West agenda is smart politics, it contains a component of justice. The Havasupai Tribe was moved out of the Grand Canyon National Park when it was created. The new national monument protects sacred tribal lands. In Biden’s words, “I made a commitment as President to prioritize and respect tribal sovereignty and self-determination.”

He’s been good to his word. Earlier this summer, Biden designated a 506,000-acre Avikwa National Monument in southern Nevada at the behest of Native American tribes. Protection of sacred tribal lands took precedence over the area’s potential for wind energy.

Biden has also moved to protect the pueblo ruins of Chaco Canyon National Historical Park, a sacred ancestral homeland of the Hopi and Pueblo people. In June, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland withdrew lands within a 10-mile radius of the small park from new oil and gas leasing as well as mining claims. The withdrawal protects an estimated 4,700 archeological sites.

Chaco Canyon was originally preserved as a national monument by Theodore Roosevelt. As with so many natural wonders and cultural sites in the West, protection of this incredible place has passed to a Democratic president.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. I think it goes without saying that they need to make more appearances at public events.
    Whichever candidate is in office, no matter which party. It’s not only good for us, but it is good to bolster their images.

  2. The man from Scranton, Philadelphia, and Wilmington (who only ever goes to one of those three places) heads west to expropriate expanses of land for what purpose? To satisfy a political expediency, a move which certainly helps to put draining the Strategic Petroleum Reserve or cancelling college student loans prior to an election into a greater context.

  3. President Biden is acting in the public interest, with public approval, is designating new national monuments. We can look through America’s history at the exploiters who stood in the way of preservation, and be thankful that resourceful presidents (beginning with Teddy Roosevelt) acted.
    The mining industry stood in the way of a Grand Canyon National Park, leading Roosevelt to designate a national monument. The timber industry bitterly fought against, first TR’s Olympic National Monument and later FDR’s Olympic National Park.
    In my time, I remember the lines of logging trucks and the lies that our timber industry would go in the drink if we “locked up” land in a North Cascades National Park. The miners warned about creation of Alaska’s Misty Fjords National Monument. University of Washington forestry professors, nicknamed “biostitutes” by Bob Simmons of KING-TV, proposed carving the Bogachiel and Calawah River valleys out of Olympic Park.
    The Washington Water Power Co., with dreams of a 600-foot-high dam, used customer bills to campaign against Congress’ creation of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area on the Snake River. The Wenatchee World ran an editorial headlined “A Victory for Selfishness” when the NRA was established.
    Each park, every monument, has been to the benefit of the American people. Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens denounced proposed national parks in his state as playgrounds for only the “effete rich.” Instead, they have proven an economic boon to such towns as Seward. Opponents of the Grand Teton National Park said it would be a playground for the Rockefellers. They sneered with a wheelchair-bound president designated a national monument in 1943. It gained park status seven years later, and today sees upwards of 3 million visitors a year.
    The nature haters of yesteryear have morphed into the climate deniers of today.

      • ..and that goes double for me!

        I remember how President Carter set aside 100 millions of national public lands in Alaska for future generations. And how the Tlingit tribe traveled to Washington DC to present Carter with the Haa Hoo Woo award, the highest honor they could bestow. They also presented him with a ceremonial vest. Deeply moved (he actually wept), Carter later said it was one the greatest moments of his presidency. Then, as now, there were deniers…

  4. Ms. Glycerin:

    Please post more often, especially when your political superior answers and supplies us a treat! (Even considering your stuff that is simply made up.)

    ZING! says Mr. Joel.


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