The 2018 Election – A Tale of Two Elections

Throughout 2018, Dick Simpson and Betty O’Shaughnessy, veteran political scientists and authors of Winning Elections in the 21st Century, have written about the mid-term election. This latest post is their end cap on the coverage. You can read their previous pieces here:

Following the 2018 Election – A Preview

Following the 2018 Election – Why Elections Matter

Following the 2018 Election – Why Money Matters

The Shape of the 2018 Election – New Volunteers, New Movements?

The Shape of the 2018 Election – The Blue Wave in 2018

The 2018 Election – A Tale of Two Elections by Dick Simpson and Betty O’Shaughnessy

The Blue Wave came, especially in many Midwest states, but it did not sweep away Trump or Trumpian Republicanism. When the dust settled, the Republicans still controlled the Senate and the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives.

The Democrats made gains most importantly in the suburbs. Republicans became ever more entrenched in the rural areas.

The youth vote grew almost exponentially and the Latino vote expanded dramatically. Still many of the elections turned on the persona of the candidates and issues that mattered to different local constituents. As Speaker Tip O’Neal famously said, “All politics is local.” And that was true of the 2018 elections. It wasn’t a one-size-fits-all election despite issues discussed nationally such as pre-existing conditions in health care, the caravan approaching the border, or immigration more generally.

It was the most expensive mid-term election in history. In the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in the nation’s history; in winning the governorship of Illinois, Democrat J. B. Pritzker donated over $170 million to his campaign and Republican Bruce Rauner spent almost $70 million of his own money. That meant that Pritzker paid $79.20 a vote.  Most congressional candidates who defeated incumbents spent over $4 million each.

Beyond the huge amounts of money, the candidates who won their races in 2018 mostly followed the fundamentals of campaigns set forth in our book, Winning Elections in the 21st Century: A clear theme or message distinguishing themselves from their opponent; a strong “free media” campaign; a paid media campaign; direct mail and phone campaign; sufficient volunteers to work key precincts guided by voter analytics; and a sophisticated social media effort. This assumes that the candidate was attractive and had clear issue positions on those questions that most concerned the voters in their district.

There were some clear trends in the election. Republicans retained most of their U.S. Senate seats even as Democrats won at least 30 House seats, giving them at least a majority of 225-200 with 10 seats still undecided as of November 10.

One of the biggest changes came in gubernatorial elections. Democrats lost high-profile gubernatorial races in Iowa and Ohio. But they were able to flip Republican gubernatorial seats in seven states — Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin. The Florida race is close enough for a recount. This diminishes the GOP’s previous control of state governments to now 26-23 with the Georgia gubernatorial election also still to be decided. Democrats also flipped seven state legislative chambers and gained a veto-proof majority in Illinois.

In addition to results favoring Democrats, this election may well be noted as one that began more active participation in politics from nontraditional political actors. One important development was how women, nonwhite, and LGTB candidates ran for office across the nation, changing the political landscape. For the first time, Hispanic voters matched their share of eligible voting population and nationwide, 69% voted for Democrats. Women became more active in politics not simply as supporters, but as candidates on all levels.

Overall, the women’s vote was equally divided 49-49, but minority and youth turnout was higher (both groups favoring Democrats), giving women Democratic candidates an edge nationwide. In the U.S. House, at least 102 women were elected (6 races still undecided in which women are running). Twelve women were elected to the Senate (with one race still undecided) and nine women were victors in gubernatorial races (with one undecided). Many women and minorities of both sexes decided to run as Democrats for suburban and other local offices that had previously gone unopposed, often tapping into the power of the grassroots organizations generated after Trump’s election. Many of these candidates won, changing the geopolitics of suburban America and providing a base of experienced Democratic candidates for future races.

All of this sets up the 2020 Presidential election year as a critical election to decide the future direction of the nation and the two political parties. President Trump remains hugely popular with his base but they are a minority of the population now and will be even more so in 2020. Yet, the Democrats have to prove they can play a positive role in the national governing and in the states where they made gains.  If they can continue to run effective, well-funded campaigns, they have the advantage. But there can be wars, economic collapse, further trade wars, and national disasters between now and then. What remains constant is the need to run effective campaigns based upon the new rules of the game at the end of the second decade in the 21st century.

Dick Simpson is professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the co-editor with Dennis Judd of The City, Revisited: Urban Theory from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York.

Betty O’Shaughnessy is a visiting lecturer in political science, University of Illinois at Chicago and coauthor of The Struggle for Power and Influence in Cities and States.

A Rainbow Wave in Kansas

by CJ Janovy, author of  No Place Like Home; Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas.

“There were tears, of course, as the reality began to set in that the eight years of persecution of LGBTQ Kansans was coming to an end,” Stephanie Mott wrote on Facebook early on Wednesday morning. Kansans had elected Laura Kelly rather than Kris Kobach as their next governor.

Mott, a highly visible transgender activist in Kansas for a decade now, remembered the night Sam Brownback was elected governor eight years ago and reelected four years ago. She also recalled the 2016 presidential election, or “that horrible night 2 years past.” Now she was waking up to a different future, “in the full knowledge that anti-LGBTQ legislation will not pass in Kansas in the next 4 years, at least 4 years,” she wrote, in a kind of social media poetry:

  • No bathroom bills.
  • Protected Kansas LGBTQ employees.
  • Yes, there were tears.
  • It is also about Medicaid expansion, and education and tax policy, and so much more.
  • But for this transgender woman and so many LGBTQ Kansans, it is about life and death.
  • It is about living in a state that respects our identities and honors our love. #GovernorElectLauraKelly

Kelly’s defeat of Kobach was big national news; even bigger national news was that Kansans were sending a lesbian to the US House of Representatives. Sharice Davids, who defeated four-term Representative Kevin Yoder, would also be one of the first two Native American women in Congress.

In its postelection piece on what national media outlets were calling a “rainbow wave” (echoing the slogan of the national Victory Fund, which helped bankroll the victories), NPR’s Leila Fadel spoke with 3rd District resident Hailee Bland Walsh, who called Davids’s win “lifesaving”: “Walsh and her wife never imagined that they’d see an open lesbian serve in their district. She’s been afraid as a minority in an America that’s becoming more and more uncivil,” Fadel reported.

“There’s something really fundamental about feeling safe,” Walsh said. Listeners around the country could hear her voice begin to waver. “And today, for the first time in couple of years— I’m getting emotional about it, but I feel safe.”

Volumes on Davids now wait to be written as she heads to Washington and as we watch what she does there. Pundits are already talking about how Kansas, of all places, elected a lesbian.

From where I sat, watching Davids’s rise from afar (I did not cover her campaign) and witnessing people’s enthusiasm about her, the explanation looked simple: 1) Yoder was a Trumpist from a moderate district; 2) Democrats had fielded a clear and qualified alternative, someone whose very existence and openness stood for something bigger than herself; 3) newly awakened voters who were eager to make a statement against the administration added to the energy in Johnson County, where citizens had been working hard through several election cycles to try to reverse the economic disaster of the Brownback administration—primarily its damage to public education; and 4) in majority-minority Wyandotte County, voters broke a twenty-two-year record for turnout, with Davids getting 68 percent of the vote to Yoder’s 29.

For me, the most surprising moment of the Davids-Yoder race was a couple of lines in the Kansas City Star the morning after the two debated, late in the campaign, when Davids held a substantial lead in the polls:

“Asked if Congress should pass federal LGBTQ protections, Davids advocated for the move and  said ‘LGBT people should be considered a protected class.’ Yoder was not clear about the issue during the debate but clarified afterward that he would support making LGBTQ a protected class under federal law.”

The idea of federal protections for LGBTQ people is blasphemy for party-liners in Trump’s GOP; only two weeks earlier, his administration had considered defining trans people out of existence.

But Yoder’s tendency to say whatever was politically expedient at any given moment was just one reason so many people in the 3rd District had proclaimed themselves #OverYoder. It’s likely any strong-enough Democrat would have beaten him; that a lesbian was the one to do it spoke to a profound change in public opinion.

“Twenty years ago, a lot of identities were liabilities. Being a Native American lesbian in the 1990s probably was a nonstarter to getting elected to anything,” University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller told my KCUR colleague Gina Kaufmann on the morning after the election. “And it didn’t matter yesterday.”

It didn’t matter—in fact, it might have been a strength rather than a liability—thanks in part to the kind of hometown activism chronicled in No Place Like Home.

That change in attitudes is not a fluke. We know this because, far away from the national spotlight yet also in Davids’s district, two other openly gay people won their races: Brandon Woodard and Susan Ruiz are headed to Topeka in January to represent their neighbors in the Kansas House.

The two representatives-elect came to politics from different angles: Woodard from a lifelong interest and through a primary where his opponent was also gay—thus ensuring that the Democratic candidate in House District 30 would be an openly gay man either way—and Ruiz, who, like so many other activists I met in the course of reporting for No Place Like Home (and my follow-up blog), stepped up because no one else did.

In both cases, however, identity was not their main issue. Like other Kansans, they were most concerned about public education and health care. Voters seemed to have awakened to the fact that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric was an attempt at distraction.

“We got push-polled with a robocall from our opponent,” Woodard told me, “and I had conservative people call me and say, ‘I don’t have a problem with you being gay—what I have a problem with is your opponent attacking you for your stance on LGBT issues.’”

 

CJ Janovy, Digital Content Editor for KCUR, is the author of No Place Like Home; Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas.

The Perils of a Partisan Farm Bill

by Christopher Bosso, author of Framing the Farm Bill

The House Republican leadership took a gamble. Prompted by outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan, it bet that that it could push through a farm bill without any Democratic votes by emphasizing work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aimed at cutting overall program spending. Stricter work rules are popular with most (but not all) Republicans but opposed by most (but not all) Democrats. Ryan bet that getting tougher on SNAP would overcome skepticism among more libertarian “Freedom Caucus” Republicans regarding the costs of commodity programs. And Ryan had at least the Twitter support of President Trump.

That bet failed. The House on May 18 voted down HR 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, 198-213, with 30 Republicans joining 183 Democrats in opposition. Freedom Caucus Republicans, many upset about inaction on a separate immigration bill, rebuffed Ryan’s overtures – as did a few of their more moderate GOP colleagues, for whom charges that their party was stigmatizing hungry people could prove unpopular going into the 2018 midterms. Prospects for House action by November are modest. Meanwhile, the Senate Agriculture Committee will move on its own, more bipartisan bill, to give senators at least symbolic benefits going into the elections.

The take-away? As we saw with the long saga over passage of the Agricultural Act of 2014, as detailed in Framing the Farm Bill, today’s House is a non-rural body. Only three dozen House members now represent “farming” districts. As such, the 1.7% of Americans who farm — and who depend on USDA farm programs – need the votes of colleagues for whom agricultural policy is a distant priority. To do so, they extended farm bills to include priorities of those colleagues — nutrition programs.

Their political calculation was clear. Since the 1970s a shrinking congressional farm bloc included nutrition programs, SNAP in particular, into farm bills precisely to get the votes of their non-rural colleagues for commodity programs they might otherwise oppose as “welfare” for ever-larger farming operations. In return, rural conservatives would support nutrition program spending despite their antipathy toward “welfare” for poor people. That “farm programs + food stamps” deal, an awkward marriage of convenience at the best of times, became the linchpin holding together the farm bill coalition.

However, the House GOP’s most conservative members, bolstered by their homogenous suburban base, rejects this deal. They despise SNAP and commodity programs. In 2013, after dealing the Agriculture Committee a similar floor defeat, they split the two into separate bills, passing each by party line votes. The Senate, whose members represent broader constituencies, reknit the two. No SNAP, no Farm Bill.

Ryan could put SNAP into a “welfare reform” bill. It won’t pass the Senate, because few senators want to untie the knot that has held together farm bills for decades. More to the point, it won’t pass because the few who farm depend on the good will of the non-farming majority for whom SNAP is important. The House GOP’s partisan farm bill had no hope.

Christopher Bosso is professor of public policy and urban affairs at Northeastern University. His books include Environment, Inc.: From Grassroots to Beltway, also from Kansas, and Pesticides and Politics: The Life Cycle of a Public Issue.

From the Backlist: Inside the Pentagon Papers

President Trump’s incessant threats to limit freedom of the press and the timely release of the Steven Spielberg-directed movie starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks (The Post) has shown a bright light on the past legal battles between the press and the president. In 2004, UPK published Inside the Pentagon Papers which addressed legal and moral issues that resonate today as debates continue over government secrecy and democracy’s requisite demand for truthfully informed citizens. In the process, the book also illustrated how a closer study of this signal event can illuminate questions of government responsibility in any era.

When Daniel Ellsberg leaked a secret government study about the Vietnam War to the press in 1971, he set off a chain of events that culminated in one of the most important First Amendment decisions in American legal history. That affair is now part of history, but the story behind the case has much to tell us about government secrecy and the public’s right to know.

Commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, “the Pentagon Papers” were assembled by a team of analysts who investigated every aspect of the war. Ellsberg, a member of the team, was horrified by the government’s public lies about the war-discrepancies with reality that were revealed by the report’s secret findings. His leak of the report to the New York Times and Washington Post triggered the Nixon administration’s heavy-handed attempt to halt publication of their stories, which in turn led to the Supreme Court’s ruling that Nixon’s actions violated the Constitution’s free speech guarantees.

Inside the Pentagon Papers reexamines what happened, why it mattered, and why it still has relevance today. Focusing on the “back story” of the Pentagon Papers and the resulting court cases, it draws upon a wealth of oral history and previously classified documents to show the consequences of leak and litigation both for the Vietnam War and for American history.

“ A wonderful and significant story. . . . The issues raised by the Pentagon Papers—presidential power, the role of the courts and the press, government secrecy—are all still with us,” Anthony Lewis wrote. “And this book throws fresh and important light on those issues.”

Included for the first time are transcripts of previously secret White House telephone tapes revealing the Nixon administration’s repressive strategies, as well as the government’s formal charges against the newspapers presented by Solicitor General Erwin Griswold to the Supreme Court. Coeditor John Prados’s point-by-point analysis of these charges demonstrates just how weak the government’s case was-and how they reflected Nixon’s paranoia more than legitimate national security issues.

From the Backlist: Libel Laws and the Free Press

Each Thursday we will look at backlist titles that remain or have become relevant. In response to President Trump’s recent pledge to examine libel laws, we revisit two tiles in our Landmark Law Cases and American Society series that helped define defamation law and libel.

In 2011’s The Free Press Crisis of 1800; Thomas Cooper’s Trial for Seditious Libel Peter Charles Hoffer offers a nuanced view of the Sedition Act, often regarded as an extreme measure motivated by partisan malice, that weighs all the arguments and fairly considers the position of each side in historical and legal context.

The far-reaching Sedition Act of 1798 was introduced by Federalists to suppress Republican support of French revolutionaries and imposed fines and imprisonment “if any person shall write, print, utter or publish . . . scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States.” Such a broadly and loosely defined offense challenged the freedom of the American press and gave the government the power to drag offending newspaper editors into court. The trial of Thomas Cooper in particular became an important showcase for debating the dangers and limits of the new law, one with great implications for both the new republic and federal constitutional law.

“A terrific piece of work by one of our very best historians,” Peter S. Onuf said. “Written with verve and authority, it provides a masterful account of a little-known story with powerful implications for the subsequent history of free speech.”

Hoffer’s book is an authoritative review of this landmark case and a vital touchstone for anyone concerned about the role of government and the place of dissent in times of national emergency.

When the New York Times published an advertisement in 1960 that accused Alabama officials of willfully abusing civil rights activists, Montgomery police commissioner Lester Sullivan filed suit for defamation. Alabama courts, citing factual errors in the ad, ordered the Times to pay half a million dollars in damages. The Times appealed to the Supreme Court, which had previously deferred to the states on libel issues. The justices, recognizing that Alabama’s application of libel law threatened both the nation’s free press and equal rights for African Americans, unanimously sided with the Times.

In New York Times v. Sullivan; Civil Rights, Libel Law, and the Free Press, Kermit L. Hall & Melvin I. Urofsky provide a compact and highly readable updating of one of the most memorable decisions in the Supreme Court’s canon.

“By connecting what most commentators have seen as a controversial freedom of press case to the contentious civil rights movement that produced it, Hall and Urofsky have provided new insights into both legal and political history,” Steven F. Lawson said. “An excellent and accessible book about an important moment in American history.”

Juliana v. Trump: Kids Fight Climate Change

By Dr. Elizabeth Blum[1], author of Love Canal Revisited; Race, Class, and Gender in Environmental Activism

On June 1, 2017, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accords signed the previous year under President Barack Obama. Noting that “I can put no other consideration before the wellbeing of American citizens,” Trump justified his decision by stating that the accord “is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States, to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers, who I love, and taxpayers to absorb the costs in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic problems.”[2]

The president’s decision came during a decade when polls revealed that many people, and young people in particular, emphasized climate change as a significant global problem. An Ipsos poll in 2015 noted that knowledge of the terms “global warming” and “climate change” were near universal among American eighth graders, who not only believed it to be a real phenomenon, but pointed fingers at using gasoline, cutting down trees, and creating electricity as major causes. The eighth graders also believed that adults and previous generations saddled them with a problem for their future.[3]  According to another poll taken four years earlier, the Nature Conservancy reported that “American youth are unhappy with the condition of the environment, and lack faith in adults to address it … A majority of American youth (51%) rate ‘the condition of the environment and nature’ as an ‘extremely serious’ or ‘very serious’ problem.”[4]

Seemingly paradoxically, at the same time adults note young people’s awareness of environmental issues, they also gnash teeth and decry children’s overreliance on technology and lack of interest in the outdoors. Concerned about youth “spending more time in front of screens than outside,” President Obama launched the Every Kid in a Park program, which granted every American fourth grader and their family free admission to all federal land.[5]  The National Park Service later announced the continuation of the program in subsequent years.[6]  Richard Louv’s bestselling Last Child in the Woods blamed computers and video games on children spending less time outdoors.  “Nature-deficit disorder,” as he described it, led to attention deficit disorder, along with other problems.[7]  Adults consistently blame modern technology as an impediment to young people “connecting” with nature.

A group of twenty-one young people, ranging in ages from 10-20, defied these prescriptive, stereotypical connections of modern technology with nature. With the help of committed lawyers and scientists, they filed a pathbreaking lawsuit in 2015. Styled Juliana vs. Trump, the case alleges that that the federal government violated the constitutional rights of young people in contributing to, and failing to act sufficiently against, climate change.[8] The plaintiffs, referred to as the “Climate 21,” demand that the court tell Congress and the President to devise and implement plans to alleviate the root causes of climate change.

Julia Olson, the main lawyer in the case, brought the children together as plaintiffs. Only a couple of months prior to the birth of her second son, Julia Olson sat through the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which followed Al Gore giving his pathbreaking climate change talks. She remembers crying through most of the film, despite the fact that climate science was quite familiar to her as an environmental attorney. She felt overwhelmed by Gore’s message in the film, faced with the “added responsibility of ‘I’m bringing them [her children] into the world and I’m also leaving them with this planet that may not be safe for them.’” Faced with the film’s visceral message, Olson decided to act not only on behalf of her own children, but also for children globally and future generations.

Olson founded an organization called Our Children’s Trust, and began working toward a climate case, buoyed by a successful example of legal activism in the Philippines. [9] She specifically planned for children to be front and center, insisting that each plaintiff join the case of their own accord. Olson supported a view of legal activism as a path for children’s agency in the face of such an overwhelming problem as climate change. She noted that she teaches her children small measures, like refusing “plastic straws and toys with unnecessary packaging,” but realized that these typical adult prescriptions to environmental change simply lack effectiveness. “They’re going to need tools of how to live in [their] community and depend on people … and find ways to deal with the catastrophes that will come,” she notes.[10] Finding an empowered voice, as well as their place within a democratic republic reinforces that idea.

In most categories but geographic location, the young people Olson picked represent diverse characteristics. Eleven of the Climate 21 are from Oregon, and one hails from Washington state, making the Pacific Northwest overrepresented. Other areas have representation, though, with two plaintiffs from Colorado, and one each from Alaska, Hawaii, Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and New York. The youngest plaintiff, Levi Draheim, is now 10, and was 8 when the lawsuit started; seven of the plaintiffs are now old enough to vote, and seven others are within two years at most of doing so. Gender and ethnicity show the greatest balance. The plaintiffs divide into 11 males, and 10 females. Almost half have non-white heritage, including African Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Overall, the case seeks most notably to demonstrate a broad array of inclusion, something for which the environmental movement has frequently been criticized.

The Climate 21 entered into the litigation for different reasons. Many of the plaintiffs come to their activism directly from their experiences in nature. Twenty-year-old Tia Hatton expressed a deep connection to the area near her home. She notes that “The sagebrush-filled desert skirts around [her home of Bend, Oregon], leading into National Forests, ancient rock formations, and vibrant rivers. This was my home growing up. The diverse landscapes of Bend became part of me … from a young age, I sought to protect this part of me.”[11]  Her enjoyment of Nordic skiing awoke her to the dangers of climate change, as she noticed snow levels regularly dropping. Levi Draheim, a 10-year-old boy from Indiatlantic, Florida, enjoyed going to the beaches regularly near his home. He watched and learned about progressive change in his area. He noted that “if the sea rises, our [home] could just be underwater. And our reefs … They’re just almost gone.  I can’t even go to the beach [anymore]. It gives me nightmares.”[12]  Deeply connected to the nature around their homes, Hatton and Draheim root their activism in dismay over real and future changes to places they love.

Jamie Lynn Butler of Arizona, and Jacob Lebel and Alex Loznak, both from Oregon, come from farming families. They each note that ever-increasing droughts and heat waves dramatically affected their families’ abilities to make a living. [13] Loznak noted that “during those heat waves, many of our trees died … We had plantations of timber trees that died. Some of our hazelnut trees died or needed intensive watering as a result.”[14] Butler remembers her family forced into selling off livestock when droughts made watering them prohibitive.[15] Contrary to Louv’s image of modern children as so unhealthily immersed with their technology, these young people demonstrate deep connections to nature that have informed and strengthened their beliefs in climate change. Rather than retreat into the world of video games, the Climate 21 chose to develop a political voice in the face of disenfranchisement.

In addition to a strong sense of place, many of the group also have deep interests in other environmental issues. Some pursue this through education. Hatton is an environmental and international studies major at the University of Oregon.[16] Senior Alex Loznak is a Sustainable Development major at Columbia University. Others have prior (and continuing) experience with activism. Jacob Lebel, a Canadian by birth who now lives in Eugene, Oregon, responded quickly to a threat by a Canadian company to build a natural gas pipeline close to his family’s farm. His activism helped to stop the plans for the pipeline. Expanding his geographical concern, he also protested at Standing Rock over the planned pipeline there.[17] Miko and Isaac Vergun participate in Plant for the Planet, a growing network of groups of children who help plant trees as a response to climate change.[18]  In 2014, Avery McRae (now 12), won a local award for raising more than $300 through a “fundraising party with games, crafts, and an introduction about the important role of salmon in the ecosystem.” She noted that her inspiration for the project came from “walking along Whitaker Creek … where she saw salmon spawning.”[19] Again, McRae demonstrates that her activism flowed from personal interactions with nature.

Families and culture provide an important entry point for activism for many of the young plaintiffs. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, probably the most visible of the plaintiffs, cites his Aztec heritage as instilling a “sense of responsibility as a person to protect and connect and be a part of something.” Both of his parents also connected through activism – his mother founded an Earth Guardians school in Hawai’i and his father served as an Aztec “ambassador for Mexico.”[20] Through her extended family, New Yorker Victoria Barrett has viewed climate change both from the American perspective and the developing world. Even over her lifetime, her Honduran grandparents have steadily fought the rising levels of the sea near their home by building ever increasing barriers against flooding.[21]

Louisianan Jayden Foytlin followed the example of her mother, Cherri, in diving into activism. In 2010, “stage-managed trips” organized for the press by BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster frustrated journalist Cherri Foytlin. When she hired a fisherman to take her into the Gulf, they found a pelican drenched in oil that died soon after. Determined to take action, Cherri accepted the leadership of Bold Louisiana, a group fighting oil development expansion. Although Cherri worried about her daughter’s activism, she also saw it as a constructive way for Jayden to participate. [22] Similarly, Jamescita Peshlakai, a state senator in Arizona who has made climate and environmental issues key to her service, influenced her Navajo daughter Jamie Butler to be active.[23]

Importantly, many of the Climate 21 use social media and technology to promote their activism and views of climate change. The young people refuse the negative nature-technology dichotomy so loudly espoused by adults. Martinez, who aggressively uses social media and performs hip-hop music on climate change, makes this connection explicit. He notes that the “reason I’ve been able to have such a huge reach with the Earth Guardian movement is because of social media, and the way it connects us all as a global family.”[24] Jacob Lebel, along with many others, posts videos on youtube to publicize issues. Lead plaintiff Kelsey Juliana, Journey Zephier, Alex Loznak, Nathan Baring, and Kiran Oommen all have Twitter and/or Instagram accounts to spread news of their activism. Others regularly use crowdfunding sources to publicize and seek support for their work. Juliana requested “adoption” to fund her participation in a 2015 climate march across the country. Miko and Isaac Vergun, as well as Zephier, used gofundme accounts to assist in traveling to various conferences and training sessions. Their highly developed use of social media allows them to connect with peers – using a media that they find familiar. Rather than technology precluding interaction with the environment, young people use it to spread their message and safeguard nature.[25]

Although parents and other adults have often been supportive, some adults have a more negative reaction, often rooted in concerns that political activism challenges adult domination over children. For example, Jayden Foytlin of Rayne, Louisiana, lost her best friend over her involvement in the case.  Her friend’s mother stated that “I don’t want nothing to do with children being in adult situations nor will any of our children. I think it’s pathetic that a young girl is even involved in something like this.”[26]  A frequent commenter on CNN’s stories, Balatonian, noted that “Kids must just remain good boys and girls, go to school and study. When they become responsible and sensible adults, then they can participate in voting for and criticizing their adult peers.” [27]  In both of these instances, adults reflected fears of children stepping outside of prescribed roles as a subjugated class to “inappropriately” challenge adults.

The case has been weaving its way through the rather byzantine legal system over the past two years. Unlike earlier efforts, however, Juliana v. Trump has achieved some notable successes. Judge Thomas Coffin recently set a trial date of February 5, 2018.  Judge Ann Aiken upheld his decision, noting that the case “is of a different order than the typical environmental case.”[28] The Trump administration reacted to this setback by filing a writ of mandamus with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where they objected both to the “the unlawful exercise of [the court’s] jurisdiction” and “the staggering burden imposed on the federal government by the ongoing discovery” in the case. They asked  that the appellate court order the lower court to dismiss the case. The Climate 21 filed a response, and eight groups supported them with amicus briefs. All now simply await the Ninth Circuit’s response or the beginning of the trial.[29]

Regardless of the outcome of the case, the efforts of the Climate 21 provide a valuable lesson in how children perceive and interact with the environment. Although they lack a formal political voice in society, these (admittedly exceptional) young people chose to participate in a legal, peaceful protest to affect change. Their actions should remind adults that the 21st century’s children maintain an intimate connection to nature that technology helps guide and promote. The stereotypical image of our current generation of children as lessened by their contact with technology needs serious reappraisal.

[1] The author would like to thank her husband, Sean Blum, for his invaluable help in negotiating the legal wranglings of this case, as well as Karen Ross and Kathryn Tucker for their comments on earlier drafts.
[2] Callum Borchers and Amber Phillips, “Transcript:  President Trump’s Remarks on Leaving the Paris Climate Deal, Annotated,” Washington Post, June 1, 2017, accessed June 2, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/06/01/transcript-president-trumps-remarks-on-leaving-the-paris-climate-deal-annotated/?utm_term=.7bd77ccfc164.
[3] “Nine in Ten 8th Graders Agree that Climate Change is Real and Human Activity Significantly Contributes to Climate Change,” Ipsos, March 13, 2015, accessed February 3, 2017,  https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/nine-ten-8th-graders-agree-climate-change-real-and-human-activity-significantly-contributes-climate?language_content_entity=en-us.
[4] “Kids These Days:  Why is America’s Youth Staying Indoors?” The Nature Conservancy, accessed September 5, 2017, https://www.nature.org/newsfeatures/kids-in-nature/kids-in-nature-poll.xml .
[5] Arne Duncan, Sally Jewell, Tom Vilsack, Jo-Ellen Darcy, and Kathryn Sullivan, “Let’s Get Every Kid in a Park,” The White House, February 19, 2005, accessed June 24, 2017, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2015/02/19/let-s-get-every-kid-park .
[6] Hannah Malvin, “Every Kid in a Park Program Extended; 4th Graders Get Free Park Admission,” The Wilderness Society, July 28, 2017, accessed August 1, 2017, http://wilderness.org/blog/every-kid-park-program-extended-4th-graders-get-free-park-admission.
[7] Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Chapel Hill:  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006).
[8] Originally filed in 2015, President Obama’s administration were the initial defendants in the case. Trump inherited that role with the change in administrations.  The 2015 case is the second case headed by Olson of children filing a case against the federal government for inaction over climate change in the United States.  Numerous cases at the state level have also been filed, without much success.
[9] John Sutter, “Meet the Mom Litigating the ‘Biggest Case on the Planet,’” CNN, September 13, 2016, accessed June 15, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/12/opinions/sutter-julia-olson-climate-kids-profile/index.html .
[10] Sutter, “Meet the Mom Litigating the ‘Biggest Case on the Planet.’”
[11] Tia Hatton, Biographical entry, Planet Forward, accessed September 1, 2017, http://www.planetforward.org/users/tia-hatton .
[12] John Sutter, “Kids are taking the feds – and possibly Trump – to court over climate change,” CNN, November 10, 2016, accessed February 10, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/10/opinions/sutter-trump-climate-kids/index.html.
[13] Sutter, “Kids are taking the feds – and possibly Trump – to court over climate change.”
[14] Dana Varinsky, “Meet the Kids Suing the US Government for Ruining the Earth for Future Generations,” Business Insider, November 19, 2016, accessed September 3, 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/kids-suing-government-for-climate-change-2016-11.
[15] Emery Cowan, “As Climate Lawsuit Faces Challenge, Navajo Teen Contributes from Afar,” Arizona Daily Sun, August 30, 2017, accessed September 3, 2017, http://azdailysun.com/news/local/as-climate-lawsuit-faces-challenge-navajo-teen-contributes-from-afar/article_d399f129-e92c-5abd-81d0-9ddb8e6dabd6.html.
[16] Joe McCarthy, “Meet Tia Hatton, a Global Citizen of  America Who’s Suing Trump Over Climate Change,” Global Citizen, March 17, 2017, accessed September 3, 2017, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/global-citizen-of-america-tia-hatton/ .
[17] Kim Brunhuber, “Why A Canadian Teen Joined American Youth in Suing U.S. Over Climate Change,” CBS News, January 16, 2017, accessed August 1, 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/lebel-lawsuit-climate-change-1.3931321 .
[18] “The Story of the First Oregon Academy,” January 12, 2015, accessed September 3, 2017, http://www.plant-for-the-planet.org/en/about-us/news/f1a2f4d7-9811-11e5-a0ac-902b34544d94.
[19] “Salmon Heroes,” Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, accessed August 26, 2017, http://www.pesticide.org/salmon_heroes .
[20]Zoe Loftus-Farren, “Xiuhtezcatl Martinez:  Youth Voices are Powerful,” Earth Island Journal, Spring, 2017, accessed July 13, 2017, http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/eij/article/xiuhtezcatl_martinez/ .
[21] Mike Pearl, “Meet One of the Teens Suing the Federal Government Over Global Warming,” Vice Magazine, November 10, 2015, accessed February 20, 2017, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/kwxpde/meet-one-of-the-kids-suing-the-federal-government-over-global-warming-381.
[22] Neela Banerjee and Zahra Hirji, “Meet the Louisiana Teen Who is Suing the Federal Government Over Climate Change,” InsideClimate News, June 13, 2017, accessed August 25, 2017, http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2017/06/climate_change_lawsuit.html; Mark Hefflinger, “Over 400 Gulf Protectors Rally and Testify Against Bayou Bridge Pipeline at Public Hearing,” Bold Louisiana, January 13, 2017, accessed August 25, 2017, http://boldlouisiana.org/bbhearing/ .
[23] Emery  Cowan, “As Climate Lawsuit Faces Challenge, Navajo Teen  Contributes from Afar,” Arizona Daily Sun, August 30, 2017, Accessed September 1, 2017, http://azdailysun.com/news/local/as-climate-lawsuit-faces-challenge-navajo-teen-contributes-from-afar/article_d399f129-e92c-5abd-81d0-9ddb8e6dabd6.html.
[24]Loftus-Farren, “Xiuhtezcatl Martinez:  Youth Voices are Powerful.”
[25] “Kelsey Juliana,” The Great March for Climate Action, 2017, accessed September 1, 2017, http://climatemarch.org/kelsey-juliana/; Pam Vergun, “Vergun Plant for the Planet Germany,”  go fundme, June 4, 2016, accessed September 1, 2017, https://www.gofundme.com/VergunsToGermany.
[26] Neela Banerjee and Zahra Hirji, “Fighting Climate Change Can Be a Lonely Battle in Oil Country, Especially for a Kid,” Inside Climate News, June 13, 2017, accessed June 13, 2017, https://insideclimatenews.org/news/13062017/kids-climate-change-lawsuit-childrens-trust-jayden-foytlin-louisiana.   The negative reaction may also have stemmed from Rayne’s mostly conservative atmosphere:  many families rely on the oil industry for jobs, and complaints against the government may be more likely to be seen as unpatriotic
[27] Balatonin, comment, November 14, 2016, on Sutter, “Kids are taking the feds – and possibly Trump – to court over climate change.”
[28] Ann Coffin, Opinion and Order, United States District Court for the District of Oregon, Eugene Division,  November 10, 2016, page 52, accessed June 1, 2016, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/571d109b04426270152febe0/t/5824e85e6a49638292ddd1c9/1478813795912/Order+MTD.Aiken.pdf .
[29] A writ of mandamus allows the appellate court to review the decision of the trial court where proceedings are still ongoing.  For an outline of the progress of the case, as well as links to the legal filings, see the Our Children’s Trust website at:  https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/ .

Donald Trump: Bullying Role Model for Children

by Yale Magrass & Charles Derber, authors of Bully Nation. Written in response to this article.

In Bully Nation, we challenge the widespread idea that children are the main perpetrators or victims of bullying. Rather, we argue that kids who bully are mirroring behavior they see all around them in the adult world. Kids naturally mimic adults, whether it be their parents, their teachers or the President of the United States. In our corporate, militarized society, adults have to bully to get ahead or just survive. So our kids are exposed all the time to adults who are unwittingly teaching them the way to treat others.

President Trump is the most visible adult on the planet. And it is hard for anybody – whether child or adult – not to take notice. As President, he legitimates almost any conduct he does, including brutal bullying. As shown in our book and in our many subsequent op-eds, we know from numerous documented reports by teachers that school kids taunt their minority peers saying “The President is going to deport you – go home.” Or “Trump is going to build a wall to keep you out” and then they wall off the targets from playing with them or joining their play group. Or they make fun of disabled kids, the way Trump mocked a disabled reporter.

American children not only live in capitalism, but in the world’s dominant militaristic empire. Although Trump may be particularly blatant, as commander-in-chief, all presidents have the duty to be bully-in-chief. Even a softer president like Obama, who did not have an instinctive bullying personality, did not change this requirement.

Trump is under investigation and may face impeachment for his possible collaboration with another bully, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in interfering with the recent American election. While what Putin allegedly did may not be defensible, he is hardly alone. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more directly intervened in the American election process when he addressed Congress, hoping to rally support for Republicans.

American Presidents have a long history of bullying other countries, interfering with their democratic elections, and overthrowing leaders who dared to act contrary to American interests. When Columbia would not permit the United States to build a canal connecting the oceans to expedite corporate trade, President Theodore Roosevelt orchestrated a revolution and created a new country, Panama. In 1953, after the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mossaddegh nationalized Iran’s oil industry, the American CIA staged a coop which resulted in the restoration of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The following year, President Eisenhower prevented an election in South Vietnam when he was told “a possible 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader.” When, in 1973, democratically elected President Salvador Allende of Chile tried to nationalize mines owned by American corporations Kennecott and Anaconda Copper, the CIA had him overthrown and replaced by General Augusto Pinochet.

Yes, Trump is a bully who may inspire children to bully and it is essential to get him out of the White House. However, only a fundamental reorientation of American society, from top to bottom, will reduce bullying.

Charles Derber is professor in the Department of Sociology at Boston College.
Yale R. Magrass is Chancellor professor in the Department of Sociology/Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

J Edgar Hoover’s Oversteps: Why FBI Directors are Forbidden from Getting Cozy with Presidents

By: Douglas Charles, author of Hoover’s War on Gays & The FBI’s Obscene File. (Article originally published by The Conversation.)

How are U.S. presidents and FBI directors supposed to communicate?

A new FBI director has recently been nominated, former Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray. He will certainly be thinking carefully about this question as he awaits confirmation.

Former FBI Director James Comey’s relationship with President Donald Trump was strained at best. Comey was concerned that Trump had approached him on nine different occasions in two months. In his testimony to Congress, Comey stated that under President Barack Obama, he had spoken with the president only twice in three years.

Comey expressed concern about this to colleagues, and tried to distance himself from the president. He tried to tell Trump the proper procedures for communicating with the FBI. These policies have been enmeshed in Justice Department guidelines. And for good reason.

FBI historians like myself know that, since the 1970s, bureau directors try to maintain a discrete distance from the president. This tradition grew out of reforms that followed the often questionable behavior of former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who served from 1924 to 1972.

Over this long period, Hoover’s relationships with six different presidents often became dangerously close, crossing ethical and legal lines. This history can help us understand Comey’s concerns about Trump and help put his testimony into larger context.

As the nation’s chief law enforcement arm, the FBI today is tasked with three main responsibilities: investigating violations of federal law, pursuing counterterrorism cases and disrupting the work of foreign intelligence operatives. Anything beyond these raises serious ethical questions.

From FDR to Nixon

When Franklin Roosevelt became president in 1933, Hoover worked hard to develop a close working relationship with the president. Roosevelt helped promote Hoover’s crime control program and expand FBI authority. Hoover grew the FBI from a small, relatively limited agency into a large and influential one. He then provided the president with information on his critics, and even some foreign intelligence, all while ingratiating himself with FDR to retain his job.

President Harry Truman didn’t much like Hoover, and thought his FBI was a potential “citizen spy system.”

Hoover found President Dwight Eisenhower to be an ideological ally with an interest in expanding FBI surveillance. This led to increased FBI use of illegal microphones and wiretaps. The president looked the other way as the FBI carried out its sometimes questionable investigations.

But when John F. Kennedy became president in 1961, Hoover’s relationship with the president faced a challenge. JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy, was made attorney general. Given JFK’s close relationship with his brother, Hoover could no longer bypass his boss and deal directly with the president, as he so often did in the past. Not seeing eye to eye with the Kennedys, Hoover cut back on volunteering political intelligence reports to the White House. Instead, he only responded to requests, while collecting information on JFK’s extramarital affairs.

By contrast, President Lyndon Johnson had a voracious appetite for FBI political intelligence reports. Under his presidency, the FBI became a direct vehicle for servicing the president’s political interests. LBJ issued an executive order exempting Hoover from mandatory retirement at the time, when the FBI director reached age 70. Owing his job to LBJ, Hoover designated a top FBI official, FBI Assistant Director Cartha “Deke” DeLoach, as the official FBI liaison to the president.

The FBI monitored the Democratic National Convention at LBJ’s request. When Johnson’s aide, Walter Jenkins, was caught soliciting gay sex in a YMCA, Deke DeLoach worked directly with the president in dealing with the backlash.

One might think that when Richard Nixon ascended to the presidency in 1968, he would have found an ally in Hoover, given their shared anti-Communism. Hoover continued to provide a wealth of political intelligence to Nixon through a formal program called INLET. However, Hoover also felt vulnerable given intensified public protest due to the Vietnam War and public focus on his actions at the FBI.

Hoover held back in using intrusive surveillance such as wiretaps, microphones and break-ins as he had in the past. He resisted Nixon’s attempts to centralize intelligence coordination in the White House, especially when Nixon asked that the FBI use intrusive surveillance to find White House leaks. Not satisfied, the Nixon administration created its own leak-stopping unit: the White House plumbers – which ended in the Watergate scandal.

Not until after Hoover’s death did Americans learn of his abuses of authority. Reform followed.

In 1976, Congress mandated a 10-year term for FBI directors. The Justice Department later issued guidelines on how the FBI director was to deal with the White House and the president, and how to conduct investigations. These guidelines have been reaffirmed, revised and reissued by subsequent attorneys general, most recently in 2009. The guidelines state, for example: “Initial communications between the Department and the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal investigations or cases will involve only the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General.”

These rules were intended to ensure the integrity of criminal investigations, avoid political influence and protect both the Justice Department and president. If Trump attempted to bypass these guidelines and woo Comey, that would represent a potentially dangerous return to the past.

Making, and Un-Making, Environmental Law: Earth Day’s Uncertain Dawn

By Karl Boyd Brooks, author of Before Earth Day; The Origins of American Environmental Law, 1945-1970

President Donald Trump is about as subtle as a claw hammer. Two weeks ago, he went to Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., to announce his disdain for nearly everything the agency had been doing during the Obama Administration. The presidential criticism amounted to a stunning rebuke of an agency that has, for over 45 years, earned solid marks from Americans for using law to safeguard their lives, communities, and future opportunities.

Presidents usually visit EPA to highlight some new initiative to take care of our environmental resources: the air, land, and water on which our lives, and our American prosperity and liberty, depend. President Trump went instead to lash the agency, demean its staff, and challenge the bipartisan legal legacy that has made Americans more prosperous and free by protecting their public health.  Picture the Trump/EPA moment as the President of the United States flashing his big, fat middle finger at the agency.

Those of us who have worked for EPA, and know first-hand about its people’s dedication and professionalism, found Trump’s symbolism telling:  there the president was — in the Rachel Carson Room, for gosh sakes — signing executive orders to speed up coal mining, roll back air quality protections, and undermine this nation’s signal effort to mitigate the grievous impacts of climate change. For good measure, President Trump paraded a handful of sheepish coal miners in front of his EPA ceremony to buttress his campaign pledge to “make coal great again.”

This month marks the 48th Earth Day. Throughout April, in events large and small, choreographed and spontaneous, Americans join their fellow passengers on Spaceship Earth to salute what Apollo 8’s astronauts, on Christmas Eve 1968, fondly called “our good earth.”  Now that the President of the United States has publicly trashed EPA, our premier environmental law enforcement agency, we should think a little harder about how our lives, our communities, and our legacy depend on environmental law.

EPA began in 1970. A very different kind of Republican president, Richard M. Nixon, created this new agency by welding pieces of other, older federal agencies into a single force combining environmental science, education, lawmaking, and enforcement. Of course, that was big news. And those were very different times than today. But we should widen our focus on EPA and 1970 a little to get the full story about the agency, to understand how radically disruptive and destructive President Trump’s environmental actions appear, and to appreciate how hard they will be to carry out. A little history about environmental law in America will put 1970 in perspective, situate EPA in a long and proud governmental tradition, and link today’s environmental challenges to those our grandparents faced after World War II.

A decade ago, I began writing Before Earth Day: The Origins of American Environmental Law. I wrote the book to answer a simple, but surprisingly elusive, question: where did American environmental law come from? I’d taught the subject at the University of Kansas (KU), to both undergrads and law students, for a number of years. I’d studied the American legal system and American environment systematically since beginning my history PhD work at KU in 1996.  And I’d spent much of my adult life working in and around law and the environment as a lawyer, elected legislator, and citizen activist in my home state of Idaho. And yet, despite some three decades of immersing myself in the challenges we create by living on this earth, I had no more clear idea about environmental law’s back-story than on the day I started law school in 1980.

Even if you’re not a lawyer, and even if you don’t put yourself in the “environmentalist” camp, you probably know a little about the famous federal laws that help keep us healthy and productive: the 1970 Clean Air Act, the 1972 Clean Water Act, and President Nixon’s 1970 pen-stroke that created the United Environmental Protection Agency. My book took a look at the “environmental decade” of the 1970s and found some important precursors to all those important laws. In fact, the more I looked into American environmental law’s “origin story,” the less I believed 1970 was the be-all end-all of the story. My book didn’t mean to diminish the hard-working, creative, and determined Americans who took up the fight against pollution and waste and injustice as the Seventies dawned. What Before Earth Day did is actually make those pioneers more traditional and less revolutionary, and their many accomplishments therefore more durable and defensible.

Law doesn’t just “happen.” Rules don’t appear spontaneously. Systems don’t come from nowhere. Environmental law, like environmentalism itself, emerged somewhat slowly after 1946. And like the ideas, imagery, and rhetoric of environmentalism, the principles and practices of environmental law have one foot planted in cautious tradition and one foot planted in bold reform. In fact, one reason why environmental law has stuck around so long is its very distinguished pedigree. Some of our most important environmental law principles date back to the early 20th century. Others emerged during the New Deal’s darkest days and the postwar era’s bright promise.

We should appreciate American environmental law for the careful, thoughtful, incremental advance it represents over the earliest American attitudes toward the natural world. At the origin of the American Republic, most laws encouraged people to own, use, and waste natural resources and systems. As late as 1900, few laws restrained factory-owners from pouring their waste into the air, water, and landscape. Even in the 1950s, government agencies – federal, state, and local – could plow a roadway through a wetland, or pour chemicals onto a forest, without telling neighbors, sharing the basis for their decision, or accepting constructive criticism. By 1970, though, even “Before Earth Day,” all those older ways of doing business (and damage) to the natural world had been replaced or substantially modified by the legal system we know today. President Trump may complain that dredging a wetland takes too long and emitting air pollutants has gotten too expensive. But that’s what environmental law has gained for us: breathing space, health benefits, and public participation.

President Trump and EPA Administrator Pruitt have announced drastic plans to shear off many key environmental law principles and to slash EPA’s capacity to make and enforce environmental law. What may restrain them as much as public outrage and business indifference (just check out how the energy industry has voted with its investment dollars against coal and for wind) is history and tradition. EPA may be only 47 years old, and it may have appeared when men tended their sideburns and women tottered on their platform shoes (not so different than today), but the underlying legal rules, principles, and precedents are far older. With roots that run so deep in American legal, cultural, and political soil, POTUS and Pruitt will find it harder than they imagine to tear up our environmental law system.

 

 

Karl Boyd Brooks is a Clinical Professor and Program Director, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas-Austin and former associate professor of history and environmental studies, and courtesy professor of law, University of Kansas; and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator and acting Assistant Administrator

A President and Predators

by Frank Van Nuys, author of Varmints and Victims; Predator Control in the American West

9780700621316From the distraught and possibly jaundiced perspective of folks on the left wing of the political spectrum, “emboldened” has become a go-to word to describe opponents on the right. Conservatives. White nationalists. Anti-Semites. Racists. Xenophobes. Misogynists. All have been emboldened by the triumph of Donald Trump, not to mention liberated by the presumptive death of “political correctness.” For environmentalists, the new administration’s determination to steamroll “job-killing” regulations and Congress’s moves to eliminate nettlesome rules, deconstruct the Environmental Protection Agency, and gut the Endangered Species Act signify other alarming ramifications of that which the emboldened are capable.

Apparently, opponents of decades-long programs to reintroduce and facilitate the recovery of predators are feeling emboldened as well. The introduction of legislation in January to remove federal protection for wolves in four states – Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Wyoming – underscored a potentially significant shift in the perpetual conflict over management of predators. Occurring just days before Trump’s inauguration, the bill may have reflected a sense of confidence on the part of farmers, ranchers, trappers, hunters, and others critical of wolf recovery that a Republican administration held considerable promise for transferring the bulk of wolf management decision-making from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to the affected states. In broader terms, elements intent on rolling back the government’s oversight in wildlife management and environmental regulation should feel a sense of giddy anticipation at the arrival of a new era of relaxed federal controls and states’ rights.

gray-wolf_01_ngsversion_1484679603276_adapt_676_1The Gray Wolf State Management Act of 2017 (H.R. 424 and S. 164) orders the Secretary of the Interior to reissue final rules issued in December 2011 for the Western Great Lakes, and in September 2012 for Wyoming, that had removed wolves from Endangered Species Act protection when not on federal properties subject to more focused protection regimes (such as national parks). Court challenges by wolf advocates had led to suspension of the delisting directives for those regions. Those advocates fear, and anti-wolf forces hope, that the administrative and legal stalemate can be broken and predator protections weakened, at least. By barring judicial review, the proposed legislation removes one of the key tactics utilized by wolf supporters since the first attempt to delist wolves in the Northern Rockies in 2002. That is nothing new, it turns out. Congress’s unilateral removal of protection for wolves in Idaho and Montana in April 2011, signed into law by President Barack Obama as part of a hard-fought compromise on enacting a budget and debt-relief package, also blocked judicial review.

Opponents of delisting claim wholesale destruction of wolf populations in the four states will certainly occur should the suspended rules be enacted, and they deplore the wolf hunting seasons that have taken place in Idaho and Montana, and, briefly, Wyoming, over the last several years. State game agencies maintain that it is in their interest to carefully monitor harvest levels to avoid relisting, and, frankly, population estimates in Idaho and Montana seem to bear that out. Idaho’s estimate of 786 wolves in 2015 represents an increase of close to 100 wolves over the 2012 estimate that I noted in Varmints and Victims. [https://idfg.idaho.gov/sites/default/files/idaho-wolf-monitoring-progress-report-2015.pdf ,p. 70] Montana’s estimated wolf population is still in the hundreds while roughly 4,000 range across the western Great Lakes region. Wolf backers may be suspicious of game agencies’ statistics, but there is no serious reason to doubt their general accuracy. Wolf management plans agreed to by federal and state officials require the states in the Northern Rockies to maintain a population of at least 150 wolves and at least 15 breeding pairs, and both Idaho and Montana exceed those minimums by significant amounts. To this point, natural increase and migration appear to have prevented crashing wolf populations despite hundreds lost to hunters and trappers each year. Unless Congress or the Trump administration decide to target those benchmarks, wolves are in no immediate danger of being annihilated when placed under state management.

Not surprisingly, when stories about the harm being done or contemplated by either emboldened “wolf haters” or defensive “wolf lovers” come across our social media feeds or appear in newspapers, we react according to our political and environmental predilections. I am as guilty of that as anyone. Yet, as someone who has been cheered by the slow and steady recovery of mountain lions, grizzly bears, and wolves in parts of the West, I remain cautious about jumping to conclusions about what impacts the proposed legislation will actually have. Judging from the relatively stable populations in the Northern Rockies since wolf hunting began a few years ago, even the most emboldened among the animal’s detractors in Wyoming and the Great Lakes states should not look forward to revival of a wolf-free environment. On the other side, friends of wolves can be skeptical but not necessarily panicked by the current drift of policy. It’s a long game, this tussle over predators. Stay vigilant, certainly, but it is unlikely, at least in this corner of the constant adjusting to life in the Alice-in-Wonderland fog of Trump’s America, that the apocalypse is nigh.

The Gray Wolf State Management Act of 2017 has recently been subjected to some informational hearing activity, and agricultural interests are pressing for expedited passage to provide additional protection to livestock entering calving season. Once the bill emerges from committee and becomes the subject of additional debate, amendment, and eventual passage, emboldened combatants on both sides will be ready to rumble. At least a constitutional legislative process still exists and wolves cannot be simply outlawed and their extermination decreed from on high sans some semblance of public input. Although a dubious proposition to the most jaded among the nation’s beleaguered citizenry, the United States still operates under the rule of law. The most enduring challenge for opponents of delisting and wolf hunting is indeed embedded in the intent of the Endangered Species Act itself, a fact all sides in the predator debates need to acknowledge. The goal of achieving recovery for a listed population, then delisting and allowing states to manage that population was designed to achieve measurable outcomes that would satisfy most, if not all, stakeholders. This is, according to media accounts, what the Fish and Wildlife Service would like to see happen. As much as it must pain millions of Americans who love wolves and hate the idea of losing even one to trapping or hunting, this proposed legislation does not represent a particularly radical departure from the always contentious process of making policy for predator management.

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Frank Van Nuys is professor of history at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and author of Americanizing the West: Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship, 1890–1930.