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Mainstream media reporting on Wednesday’s announcement by President Joe Biden of a new Camp Hale National Monument have portrayed it as an election gift to Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who has for years fought for the passage of the broader Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act that included Camp Hale as a first-ever National Historic Landscape.
But the real story is the utterly imbalanced Senate gridlock that led to this moment. The CORE Act, led by the bipartisan efforts of our local U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse – a Lafayette Democrat whose district includes Vail – has passed the U.S. House in some form or another no fewer than five times. And yet it can’t get more than a committee hearing in the Senate, where all good legislation goes to die.
Take, for instance, the Inflation Reduction Act and its absolutely vital to our mountain state (and the globe) commitment of roughly $370 billion to combat climate change. That spending – so long overdue – is paid for by tax increases on the wealthiest individuals and corporations (the least they could do) and such popular things as allowing the federal government to finally negotiate drug prices for people on Medicare, thereby saving huge amounts of our tax dollars.
The IRA will actually reduce the federal deficit. And yet no Republican in the Senate would vote for it, let alone the 10 needed to overcome filibuster rules, forcing Democrats to pass it via the budget reconciliation process.
Similarly, debate on the CORE Act and its congressional protections from mining, logging, oil and gas drilling and other extractive industrial uses allowed on U.S. Forest Service land started more than 12 years ago when it was called Hidden Gems, protected way more acreage and was championed by then Vail-area Rep. Jared Polis – a Boulder Democrat who is now Colorado governor.
What ensued was a decade plus of bipartisan wrangling at the state and local level to pare the package down to acceptable levels and include everything from mechanized outdoor recreation access for some areas to wildfire mitigation access for water districts worried about mega-fires and erosion. Any Republican who calls the CORE Act a partisan land grab was not paying attention for the past 10 years.
So to see the much-better and more-permanent protections of the CORE Act cast aside for the executive action of a national monument designation by Biden is a Senate slap in the face to the hundreds of local elected officials, access advocacy groups and other stakeholders who spent countless hours crafting the bill.
One of the first things a President Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis or (insert GOP POTUS of choice here) would do after being elected in 2024 would be to roll back any and all public lands protections established by Biden, including his rollback of Trump’s reduction of Bear’s Ears and Escalante in Utah.
While that would be a slap in the face of the Native tribes fighting oil, gas and mining interests in Utah, the rollback in 2025 of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument would also be a slap in the face to the veterans of the elite 10th Mountain Divisions ski troopers who fought the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II after training at Camp Hale, then returned to Colorado to found the modern ski industry that brought so many of us to these mountains we love.
And those doing the hardest slapping would be the 50 Republican members of the U.S. Senate who would not vote to pass the CORE Act and who represent just 43.5% of our nation’s 50-state population. The Democrats who tried to pass it represent 56.5% of the 50-state population, which means the Dems who support is have tens of millions more constituents but exactly the same number of seats.
Put another way, neighboring Wyoming, with a population of just 576,851 people, has the same number of senators (two) as Colorado, with an overall population of 5,773,714. In fact, Wyoming has the same level of Senate representation (both Republicans) as the Denver metro area, with 715,522 residents. That can only be described as minority rule … or at least obstruction.
Because of its rural-state bias, the U.S. Senate is imbalanced and broken. Legislation that is wildly popular with the vast majority of Americans can be easily blocked because it takes 60 out of 100 votes to pass something, anything. Simple majority passage can be filibustered to death, explaining why the United States can’t seem to do anything meaningful about climate change, sensible gun safety, common-sense immigration reform or protecting basic voting rights.
Biden has worked with the Senate to do a remarkable job passing some bipartisan bills, including on infrastructure, modest gun safety, the CHIPS and Science Act and veteran’s health; however, the sweeping changes we need in a time of mounting global crises remain elusive. But don’t blame Democrats, who are at least trying to govern, even as they risk losing both chambers of Congress on Nov. 8.
Bennet’s fingerprints have been all over Biden’s accomplishments since 2020, and no one has fought harder for the protection of public lands surrounding Colorado’s mountain communities. The idea that Biden is throwing him a political bone on this one is as laughable as the national mainstream media narrative that has Bennet in a desperate campaign dogfight with a surprisingly moderate GOP opponent, who in fact is not very moderate at all and has done a delicate dance with the most extreme elements of the authoritarian Party of Trump.
On Nov. 8, a vote for Joe O’Dea — who previously said he would vote for Trump again, although he hopes he won’t run in 2024 — would be a vote to roll back whatever protections Biden bestows upon Camp Hale on Wednesday, and a vote against conservation and protection of our public lands as a vital tool in combating climate change.