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The Fallen Heirs

America’s public lands are among the most perfect expressions of the American democracy. Within a public space every person is an equal. Our public places tell the American story, promising every person, no matter his station in life, a personal stake in our country’s patrimony. The GOP’s reneging on this promise for political expediency and partisan pandering is a betrayal of what the party once believed to be the most glorious heritage a people ever received.

Purple <Mountains Majesty from Pikes Peak by Ted Lee Eubanks

We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.

~Theodore Roosevelt

Republican Mitt Romney self-proclaims a love of country, a passion he evidences by his fondness for the anthem America the Beautiful. Yet with the same breath Romney questions the value of public land, those places that embody Theodore Roosevelt’s glorious heritage stretching from Katherine Lee Bates’ sea to shining sea.

Romney is toeing the GOP party line. He is not alone. The new surface transportation bill recently proposed by House Republicans would gut the National Scenic Byways program, one of America‘s most lauded initiatives connecting people to the American story and to their public lands. According to the NRDC, the bill would industrialize pristine stretches of America’s natural heritage—including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—and open the entire Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling. This proposed legislation (a drilling bill masquerading as a transportation bill) would eradicate a public transit fund that has enjoyed bipartisan support for 30 years. Transportation secretary Ray LaHood, himself a Republican, has called this the “worst transportation bill” he has seen in 35 years of public service.

One of Romney’s primary opponents, Ron Paul, recently mused “how wonderful it would be if land will be or should be returned to the states and then for the best parts sold off to private owners.” Rick Santorum has called global climate change “just an excuse for more government control of your life, and I’ve never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative.”

Pennsylvania Republican Governor Corbett threatens to lift the moratorium on fracking in public lands while the state still struggles to clean up the acid mine drainage from the last energy orgy. Corbett has slashed DCNR’s budget, zeroed out the Keystone fund, divested public lands, and is making DCNR reliant on resource extraction for its operating budget.

Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) has disparaged the value of natural wonders like national monuments and wilderness. He has stated in the face of studies that indicate otherwise:

Contrary to claims by the administration and others, the designation of national monuments and wilderness are not a boon to local economies, but rather a detriment in most scenarios.

~ Rep. Rob Bishop

Grand Canyon Sunset

The GOP needs a history lesson. In 1864, during the darkest days of the Civil War, Republican President Abraham Lincoln still found time to sign legislation giving Yosemite Valley to the state of California “upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort and recreation.” In the early 20th century Republican Theodore Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to set aside many of the public places that we celebrate today. Later, Republican President Richard Nixon installed many of the environmental protections that protect us still.

American has suffered through periods of intense partisanship before. The late 1700s (after Washington’s second term) and the years prior to the Civil War (ever heard of Bleeding Kansas?) both come to mind. Political parties during these conflictive periods often pandered to the emotions of the moment. As President Lincoln said, “he who molds the public sentiment… makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to make.”

Is America’s heritage, its public lands and sacred places, nothing more than another checker to be scooted around the political board? America is a young country, and this heritage, these places, is what binds our nation together. Spend a day at the Grand Canyon and watch the ethnic parade that streams along the South Rim. Would you sell the Grand Canyon “off to private owners”? What value do you place on purple mountains majesty?

As Theodore Roosevelt said of the Grand Canyon,

Keep this great wonder of nature as it is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, for the ages have been at work upon it. Keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you.

~Theodore Roosevelt

America’s public lands are among the most perfect expressions of the American democracy. Within a public space every person is an equal. Our public places tell the American story, promising every person, no matter his station in life, a personal stake in our country’s patrimony. The GOP’s reneging on this promise for political expediency and partisan pandering is a betrayal of what the party once believed to be the most glorious heritage a people ever received.

Denali National Park, Alaska, by Ted Lee Eubanks

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