It’s clear that we’ve entered a new era in Washington D.C. Amidst the uncertainty, we have an opportunity to fundamentally reshape the relationship between Western state and federal governments. During the Obama Administration, many Westerners came to view the Feds as the adversary. Frustrated by endless laws and regulations on everything from endangered species protection to health care to education, Westerners pushed back. In some cases, coalitions of state Attorneys General filed legal actions against overbearing environmental regulations, notably the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule. In more extreme cases, such as Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s standoff against BLM in 2014, disgruntled citizens took matters into their own hands, ratcheting up the tension.
While the notion of rugged individualism has largely defined the history of the West, we need to also acknowledge that massive infrastructure projects such as the Hoover Dam, Central Arizona Project, and the US interstate system have facilitated the growth of the West over the past century. These projects were made possible through cooperation between the federal government and the states. Additionally, the federal government remains the largest landowner in the West. Much like our storied history, our future growth is going to rely on a productive and healthy relationship with Uncle Sam. For these reasons, I am starting the Policy Blog for the New West.
With this blog, I will offer ideas to help transform the relationship between the states and the Feds to more of a partnership, where federal policy can work to facilitate the best of Western ingenuity. Since the year 2000, the population of the West has grown by over 20%. Why is this? It’s not just a robust birth rate. People are choosing to move here. In large part, they are drawn to the West for the same reasons they always have been – it is the land where endless blue skies meet endless opportunities. These opportunities are most readily realized when policies and regulations passed at the federal level respect the unique needs of Western states and empower local communities to solve their own problems.
Here are some of the topics this blog will take on over the next several weeks.
- A Replacement Strategy for Obamacare: The West has some unique challenges when it comes to delivering health care to its diverse populations. Solutions that may work in densely populated urban areas with large academic medical centers simply won’t bring down costs or improve access to care in the West. Rural communities with no major hospitals, hard-to-reach tribal lands, a shortage of qualified health care workers, high rates of substance abuse and insufficient access to behavioral health care are among the most pressing issues that a replacement for the Affordable Care Act must tackle.
- Don’t Rip Up NAFTA; Modernize It: Over the past 23 years, NAFTA has played a major role in deepening the economic relationship between Western states, Mexico and Canada. Trade has grown exponentially, markets have become deeply integrated, and wages for many workers have actually risen. However, when this trade deal was enacted over two decades ago, businesses were just beginning to use the Internet. E-commerce, cybersecurity, intellectual property, and border security and infrastructure are ripe for renewed negotiations.
- The Future of Public Lands in the West: Reeling from an unprecedented number of designations of new National Monuments by former President Obama, Utah’s Congressional delegation along with other leaders from the West are searching for ways to permanently constrain Presidential authority under the Antiquities Act. President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Interior – Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) – is on the record saying he opposes transferring federal lands to the states. So where do we go from here? How do we ensure our most treasured lands are protected while still allowing for appropriate development and usage?
Over the 16 years that I have lived and worked in Arizona, I’ve come to see that this region as unique and special. Many policy challenges call for our collective creativity and resourcefulness – from managing our water resources to fostering an emerging high-tech start-up culture. I’d love to hear your ideas on how we can shape the future of our region and encourage cooperation among levels of government in a way that strengthens communities and brings out the best of our Western spirit. Let me know what topics you think will be the key issues for the Western states in the coming decade.