Montana has a long tradition of listening to and respecting — revering — its writers and the state’s literary tradition. In an unprecedented show of unity, more than forty of Montana’s best writers have gathered, in rapid response fashion, to write original essays and testimonials advocating for the protection of our public lands, and endorsing Democratic House of Representatives candidate Rob Quist’s position on this (literally) most common ground of issues. Please vote on May 25.

Keep the Promise

Tom McGuane

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The West’s famous optimism is defined by its great spaces where the original American dream of freedom is palpable. Montana is uncommonly blessed by its vast public lands; indeed they define us. But there is a persistent effort to take these lands away as we have seen at the armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. This abominable activity was not even condemned by the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee who with his colleagues would prefer to remove public lands from the American public altogether.

The head poobah of this committee, Rob Bishop, renowned for his smart ass commentary and craving for Diet Coke, has managed to change house rules so that transfer of public lands would be achieved at “no cost” to the government. A no-cost transfer of public assets is unheard of but will make it easier to glom what we have had for so long. Usually, this bad idea is pitched to a credulous local public with the come-on that the states would do a better job managing public lands. But history shows us that states cannot afford to do so and when such transfers occur, the states hang onto the profitable portions and rest gets privatized. If Montanans haven’t seen enough keep-out signs to suit them, this plan would be a bonanza. Others see it as a catastrophe that would change Montana forever and abolish its promise to all of us.

Ryan Zinke knows better, has seen the glaciers shrink with his own eyes,  but he has entered a world where pandering is the coin of the realm, serving an administration virtually at war with the natural world. Gianforte might be happier if Montana began to resemble his native New Jersey but longer term stakeholders wouldn’t like it much. Judge Gorsuch won’t be taking a hard look at the Citizens United ruling which says that corporations are people just like your wife, your dentist or your mail man. The Supreme Court has long lost its ethical prestige since it went into politics but retains the power to keep rogue rulings like this one in place. It’s no accident that climate change research fell off a cliff when the Supreme Court confirmed Citizens United the very title of which, as compared to its reality, elevates bullshit to a fine art.

No one thinks jobs are unimportant but the sly bottom feeders in government use their promise to sell schemes whose great advantages accrue to themselves. There’s nothing wrong with having local people dig the Keystone Pipeline; just give them a cut when the polluting goo comes out the other end. As it is, undeserving One Percenters rake it in right after they’ve sold locals another load of temporary jobs. These workers are good people who believe they are contributing to the nation’s energy independence and seem unaware that the gunk is bound for other shores. The Canadians could have taken the short route to Prince Rupert but no one up there wants to keep this gunk around.

Private property is a fine thing and empowers us to keep strangers off the lawn. But public lands are how we entrust each other as Americans and what makes Montanans of all political inclinations feel so lucky, and so disinclined to be bullied. Keep this in mind as you vote at the special election. Let’s keep what we’ve got.

Tom McGuane is a writer in McLeod, Montana.