Wednesday, April 3, 2013

When The People Lead, Leaders Will Follow

Mahatma Gandhi
“When the people lead, the leaders will follow.” Gandhi supposedly said that. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Senator Maria Cantwell and Representatives Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene sort of said that at Monday’s event in Anacortes to celebrate the San Juan Islands National Monument.

Skagit Valley Herald reporter Kate Martin wrote:

“We had a choice,” (Senator Cantwell) said. “Do we want to toss it up for the future to see what this land might become or do we want to say it’s so special that it will be preserved? The community was loud and clear. They wanted the latter.”

Cantwell said designations like the San Juan Islands National Monument don’t happen overnight.

Cynthia Dilling, who has lived on Lopez Island for more than 35 years, said the effort to protect lands in the San Juan archipelago began in earnest in 1989, when a hiker noticed trees on the backside of Chadwick Hill were marked for logging. Supporters spent a week gathering 600 signatures to stop the logging operation.

But the group was told it had to create a larger vision, which has now been included with the 450 acres on Chadwick Hill. Dilling said the group realized about four years ago that the rest of the BLM land did not have any protection at all. The effort to create a national monument here came from that moment, she said.

“It may have started in a living room on Lopez Island,” Cantwell said. “But it traveled all the way to the Oval Office.”

( San Juans celebrated as new national monument )
I think everyone involved in this process is happy with the way it turned out. I also think it’s obvious that the proposal to protect these lands drew widespread support and very little substantive opposition. If this was an easy one, why did it take such a long time?

And if an ‘easy one’ like this is hard to get done, is there any wonder why hard policy decisions never get made?

And what does this say about the “leadership” leaders are supposed to demonstrate?

Permanent protection of these San Juan Islands lands took a long time because of a failure in leadership. Legislation creating a San Juan Islands National Conservation Area was introduced by Congressman Rick Larsen but never moved through the House of Representatives because of the failure of leadership demonstrated by Washington’s 4th Legislative District Congressman Doc Hastings(R-Yakima) who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee thanks to Republican control of the House.

(Electoral sidenote: In 1992, Jay Inslee defeated Hastings for the open 4th Congressional District seat; in 1994, Hastings defeated Inslee, who then moved west of the mountains to represent the 1st Congressional District before being elected governor.)

People can lead as much as they want; leaders like Doc Hastings will not follow.  ( Rep. Doc Hastings disputes San Juans, other national monuments )

So leaders had to make sure that a presidential declaration as a national monument was OK with “the people” if Congressional legislation as a National Conservation Area was a dead end because of Doc Hastings.

“The people” said “yes,” it was— but by then the president was in re-election mode and not available to provide leadership. The big anxiety throughout the summer and fall was what would happen to the national monument proposal under the leadership of a Republican president.

So, when the people lead, leaders will follow? Sort of.

But think about all the other decisions that leaders make on behalf of “the people” based on the input and influence of lobbyists and campaign contributors. Thinking too hard about that might make us cynics.

I’m glad we have a San Juan Islands National Monument. Now the real work begins to engage with the Bureau of Land Management in the management of these lands.

I’m hoping “the people” step up for that. Our leaders will have gone back to doing what they were doing before.

--Mike Sato

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