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and just when we learned to
say your name...

By Tim Findley

When Montana Governor Marc Racicot emerged in Florida as a leading spokesman for the Bush campaign, it seemed apparent that the President-elect had caught on to the idea already held by many in the West–Racicot seemed perfect for the post of Interior Secretary. And thanks to the Florida fiasco, even the national press could now pronounce his name. (It’s “Ros-coh”.)

But Racicot told RANGE last month that he never was offered that job. Instead, when the President-elect asked him to consider the position of U.S. Attorney General, the popular Montana governor was forced to tell Bush he could not accept a federal position when he finishes his term-limited administration this year. His wife and five children had to finally come first, Racicot said. It is time for him to earn for them in the private sector.

It’s a disappointment to many westerners who see a crying need for new leadership in merely recovering from the Babbitt-Clinton years. But that isn’t lost on Racicot, nor, he says, on George W. Bush.

“I don’t think anyone in the country could ignore the fact that rural areas overwhelmingly supported Governor Bush,” Racicot said. “Clearly, everyone recognizes that people in the rural West have confidence in the leadership of the President-elect. But it’s also obvious that it’s nonpartisan support in many ways. It’s issues, and there’s no doubt President Bush understands that and will direct the appropriate amount of attention to those issues.”


Some numbers to keep in mind:

Bush won in 2,434 counties. Gore won in 677 counties.
Bush carried 30 states. Gore won in 20 states & D.C.
Bush won in areas covering over 2.4 million square miles.
Gore won in regions covering 580,000 square miles.


Racicot, in his exposure to the national press, may have gotten a little too accustomed to “sound bite” answers, but he has no doubt that the politics of the West especially won’t for long dwell on election numbers alone. Only days earlier, Bruce Babbitt, who opened his eight-year term in Interior by vowing to “drive our enemies into oblivion,” closed it by claiming that those who support a property rights movement in the West are nothing more than “anarchists.”

“I know,” said Racicot, “and it’s my full intention even from the private sector to contribute to this debate, and to vindicate the imperatives of people in this part of the country with great passion and dedication. My intent is to work with people who are involved on the land and who live in the West and to work to bring about thoughtful resolution to these policy issues.”

No “anarchist” himself nor even the timber industry “tool” that Babbitt accused him of being in an insulting national TV outburst during last summer’s fires, Racicot, 52, is a lawyerly younger man with impressive administrative credentials difficult to imagine as more useful anywhere than they might be in Bush’s cabinet. But Racicot has his mind made up. “First of all, I think the election of this President is going to be profoundly important to the people of the West, and that the selection of people in Interior, Agriculture, and the EPA are going to be very, very important to us here.

“Just on the issue of forest management alone–we have a system of forest management in this country that is simply unacceptable, even to those in the Forest Service who are stewards of these lands. We’ve seen a Forest Service emaciated through contradictory policies, a lack of budget and inadequate direction given to them to manage the forests for all their multiple uses. But that alone will take a concerted effort in the private as well as public sector to bring about a management regimen that focuses on forest health. That alone will help everything to fall into place in the environment, private industry and recreation.”

Bush’s nomination of former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton as Secretary of the Interior has Racicot’s support. But it is obvious that many conflicts lie ahead in the West, even beginning with her confirmation by the Senate, and including another looming challenge to grazing on public lands.

“Some of these debates already concluded in minds of many of us in the West have a tendency to get resurrected,” Racicot said. “But this, and frankly all of these debates, ought to focus first of all on the determination of good, sound science that can draw the boundaries of what we ought to do in management of our public lands. That question [grazing] in particular has been examined many times in the past, and I believe the science in significant detail indicates that the best management [of the range] clearly benefits from the stewardship of people involved in agricuture. The evidence is overwhelmingly plain, even from the National Academy of Sciences in that regard, that continuing on with management of our properties in a way that includes grazing is in the best interests of everybody–not only just in agriculture but to those involved in stewarding and enjoying those properties in other ways.”

Even so, however, there remains uncertainty in the West that President Bush will devote the attention necessary to contend with an environmental momentum built up during the Babbitt-Clinton years.

“I believe that will be the case,” Racicot said. “Certainly that’s one of the reasons I became involved in the campaign. There is every reason to believe there will be careful thought and close partnership established with people in the West as we go about making new federal policy in the Bush administration.”

Count on your congressional representatives and your governors and your local elected officials, advises Racicot, and count on new help from people like him in the private sector. And, though he doesn’t say so, he suggests that the West also count on the new President’s memory of those red-colored maps showing where his real support came from.

“I’m confident,” Racicot said, “that we have a new opportunity here to publicly manage our resources in the West.”

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last page update: 04.03.05