Bruce Babbitt had the wide-eyed look of a helpless man watching
a dam about to break. Upstream from the Secretary of Interiors
position before the Senate Government Affairs Committee, Sen.
Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) loomed like a scolding principal cautioning
a student about telling more lies.
"I think youre getting in awfully deep water here," said
Thompson, "but thats up to you."
Babbitts face, always folding and reshaping in expressions
that seem to give away his emotions like soft plastic forming
on a mold, drooped in perceptible recognition.
Maybe it was something like he heard, according to Arizona
anecdotes, when a hard-bitten CO Bar ranch manager declared that
he wanted that boy out of his sight, Babbitt or not. Or maybe
it was like that moment in Iowa in 1988 when it was certain that
the Arizona governors bid for the presidential nomination on
a platform of "Needs Assessment" would fail to inspire more than
Bruce Babbitts face sagged, giving him away as it always
had. His place in President Clintons cabinet suddenly seemed
rocky, his chances for a dreamed-of seat on the Supreme Court
gone for good, and it appeared to be an old pal from Arizona who
would be his undoing.
The fickle fortunes of politics had seldom before turned
so sharply away from his ambitions. Born into a large Catholic
family who built an enduring empire on its reputation for dogged
hard work among themselves and generous compassion for others,
Bruce had emerged from an unlikely series of tragedies and coincidences
to become the standard bearer of the Babbitt name that, for its
time, was as legendary and admired as the Kennedys of Massachusetts
or the Gores of Tennessee.
Five Babbitt brothers of English Puritan stock by way of
Cincinnati had made their way into the wild pine-laced ranges
south of the Grand Canyon in 1886 to begin building a ranching
and retail domain that at its peak would encompass most of Northern
Arizona and a good deal of Southern California to boot. Some Arizona
wags used to say in fact that the state had four borders: New
Mexico on the east, California on the west, Mexico on the south,
and Babbitt on the north.
The brothers were never tyrannical or feudal in their influence
as some great ranch families of the time were accused of being.
The Babbitts themselves introduced sheep to the ranges above Flagstaff
and understood when homesteaders tried to make the best of their
rocky ground. The trading posts they operated won a reputation
for being willing with credit and sympathetic to hardship. From
the time at the turn of the century when statehood was first being
discussed for Arizona and New Mexico territories, Babbitts were
part of the impetus and, in one way, part of the obstacle to congressional
Arizona historian Dean Smith wrote that the U.S. Senate at
the time, dominated by the followers of Teddy Roosevelt, William
McKinley and William Howard Taft, regarded the southwestern territories
as "cursed with such strange creatures as rattlesnakes, Gila monsters,
murdering Indians, illiterate Mexicans, polygamous Mormons, stagecoach
robbers, and Democrats." And although Bruce claims now that there
were at least a couple of token Republicans in his extensive family
tree, researchers cant find one serious enough to mention.
Babbitts eventually held or at least helped finance virtually
every important political post won by Democrats in Arizona, except
for the singular achievement of governor, which narrowly eluded
Bruces great-uncle George with his untimely death in 1920. The
Babbitt that all the family, and a good deal of Arizona, expected
someday to rise to sterling political prominence was another brothers
son and Bruces uncle, Jimmy.
James E. Babbitt was probably the most popular of them all
in Arizona. Financed with family ambition, he had risen from a
Georgetown University law school education to become perhaps the
most prominent member of the Arizona Legislature during the Depression
years. He was a state senator and on the verge of the next step
into the governors seat in November 1944 when Jimmy, an avid
outdoorsman, went out on a fateful bear hunting trip in the canyons
near Camp Verde. Caught in a blinding snowstorm, he died of exposure.
His brother John was chosen by the county authorities in Flagstaff
to succeed him in the state senate, but everyone knew the Babbitts
had lost their most brilliant light.
With the family in mourning and some of its business dealings
left dangling without Jimmys legal advice, a quieter, less politically
ambitious older brother with fresh law credentials of his own
returned from Los Angeles to take over the legal affairs of the
vast family holdings. Paul Babbitt brought his young family with
him back to Flagstaff, among them his second of five sons, six-year-old
In some ways, the Babbitts were to ranching in Arizona as
the Rockefellers were to oil refining in Ohio. It was the basis
of their wealth, and no one in the family was ever to forget it,
but that didnt mean that every generation started out or even
spent much time on the range. The Babbitt kids usually spent some
summers at least on the ranch, enough so that Bruce supposedly
wore out his welcome with the hands. But the Babbitt business
extended way beyond cows into Thriftway markets, sawmills, automobile
sales, a slaughter house and even a fur farm. "Bruce," a close
family member said with the agreement not to be identified, "never
really had much to do with the ranch, and certainly doesnt have
anything to do with it now." He said it without malice, but with
a firm tone to the message. Bruce Babbitt never was a rancher,
and probably never could be.
In general though, the family supports Bruces own recollections
of his younger days about tracking through the wilderness, exploring
new sights and finding simple adventures in the endless canyons
and heights of the San Francisco Mountains in the territory his
family controlled. "He read a lot of things, like John Wesley
Powells stories on the Grand Canyon, and I remember him reading
Aldo Leopold," said one of his relatives. Leopold was an early
U.S. Forest Service employee whose scholarly "Sand County Almanac"
became the intellectual heart of the environmental movement.
Rolling that expressive face into a portrait of yearning,
Babbitt spoke last year to the annual convention of the Associated
Church Press and harkened back to Leopolds 1940s account of
shooting a wolf and watching, "a fierce green fire dying in her
eyes." The secretary then told the church writers of his own experience
in Yellowstone National Park in 1995 where he bent down in the
snow, nose to nose with a slightly drugged wolf penned for later
release into the wild. "I saw the green fire flare up again,"
he told them, "a fire brought back by Americas conservation laws
with the power to help restore Gods creation." Babbitt frequently
places himself somewhere near a deity in his speeches, a distance
apart from even his own familys less romanticized relationship
The oldest surviving of the pioneering five Babbitt brothers
was Charles James, "C.J." as they all called him, Bruces grandfather.
Until his death in 1957, C.J. was the benevolent patriarch of
the still growing Babbitt clan whose interests and influence spread
far from its roots in Flagstaff, but never loose from C.J.s gently
held reins. Bruce was noticeable among the crowd of C.J.s 10
grandchildren for his surprising knack for power. His family remembers
him as "cerebral," and friends recall him as a gawky kid with
thick glasses who shunned all the 1950s teenage rebel trends
of pegged pants and ducktail haircuts. He served as an altar boy
at the familys church, paid attention to his piano lessons and
was voted "most courteous" by his classmates. Too small to make
the squad, he volunteered as the football team manager. Yet for
all that was out of fashion about him, he was popular enough to
be elected class president. Following his Catholic roots after
high school, he chose to study geology at Notre Dame University,
and once again emerged from the social fringe to conduct a successful
campaign as student body president of the esteemed "Fighting Irish."
In those heady days of youthful political activism at the start
of the 1960s he could hardly not have been inspired by the rise
of another young Democrat from a large Catholic family in Massachusetts.
Babbitt has never openly compared himself to Kennedy, but
the similarities in their wealthy and ambitious family backgrounds
and their choice of political models is hard to miss. As a Marshall
scholar in England, he made a geology field trip to Bolivia and,
according to Babbitt himself, was suddenly awakened to the suffering
of Third World people living in poverty and squalor. Moved by
that and finished with rocks, Babbitt enrolled in Harvard Law
School and was soon absorbed in the social movements of the time?marching
for civil rights in Selma, giving up his summers to study Spanish
and do volunteer work in Latin America. After graduation from
Harvard, he joined in Lyndon Johnsons War on Poverty, working
first among Hispanics in Texas and later at Office of Economic
Opportunity headquarters in Washington, D.C. Like other rising
Democratic hopefuls he would later encounter among his generations
leadership conference, somehow the horrors of an unpopular war
in Vietnam never called on more than his conscience.
He wore the right ties and the proper shoes to fit with the
bright young political establishment at the time, but Bruce was
still nominally a westerner, and he knew his real political fortunes
would have to be found in the unlikely vacancies of his home state,
still thought by many to be populated with rattlesnakes and stage
robbers, if, in the 1960s, beginning also to show a decided trend
toward Goldwater Republicans.
To hear Bruce Babbitt tell his own political tale, it seems
like he was always encountering some spiritual revelation that
would make his decision and change his life?the poor people of
Bolivia, the clubbing police in Selma, and in the 1970s when he
was working on a voting rights case for the Navajo Tribe, the
injustice to Native Americans of his own state.
"My God," he told Time magazine, "the attorney general has
the largest law firm in Arizona and its devoted to the defense
of racial discrimination. What it ought to be is a public interest
Outsiders might not have expected a young civil rights and
poverty lawyer with no previous political experience to raise
enough support to carry him into the job of top law officer in
Arizona. But those would be the people who didnt know the credit
still held by the Babbitt name, nor the determination of the young
Notre Damer himself.
Other Babbitts had gotten at least that far before. His uncle
Jimmy was even further along before that bear hunt. Between Bruce
as attorney general and a brighter future were more Sunbelt Republicans
than ever. But then came one of those twists of fate that seemed
to favor Bruce again and again. Arizona Gov. Raul Castro decided
to take the ambassadorship offered him by President Jimmy Carter.
Next in the states line of succession was Secretary of State
Wesley Bolin who barely had time to change offices before he died
suddenly of heart failure. Bruce Babbitt, so the story goes, had
meant to sleep in that Saturday morning and was irritated when
the phone rang with the call telling him he was the first Babbitt,
at last, to be governor of Arizona.
Bruce was elected twice more after that on his own merit,
serving a remarkable 10 years as the states chief executive.
Nearly all political observers from the time regard Babbitts
tenure as a period of impressive achievement in the rapidly growing
state. The "Almanac of American Politics" termed it an "understatement"
that Arizona has not found a leader like him since.
Babbitt would always promote his success as having won consensus
for his programs from the Republican-dominated state legislature.
Others grudgingly acknowledge that Babbitt was skilled in making
things go his way, whatever it took. Though they held a majority,
the Republicans in his legislature always lacked enough votes
to over-ride his vetoes, and Babbitt punished them with that executive
authority a record 114 times.
His most enduring accomplishment was a compact that shifted
control of the states precious water resources away from ranchers
and farmers and into the steadily growing suburbs of metropolitan
Phoenix. With Babbitts guidance, Arizona moved on from its outback
image into a new phase of cosmopolitan country living. Especially
now in his infrequent visits "home," the secretary himself must
have trouble recognizing the Flagstaff of his youth. "Its almost
like the land itself is being destroyed," Bruces brother, Jimmy,
said. "Not like it is in Phoenix, I guess. They say an acre a
day goes to development there. But its happening here too, and
its sad to see."
There are widely varying opinions about Bruce in the large
Babbitt family. Jimmy, named for his once promising uncle, now
heads the familys most important retail and commercial interests.
He regrets the steady loss of rural values in the region his grandparents
once gentled without taming, but he doesnt hold his politically
powerful brother responsible. "The truth is," he said, "we enjoyed
a subsidy of sorts on this land for a lot of years. Its time
to pay back."
"Say whatever you want about his arrogance and his power,"
one Arizona rancher observed, "but you cant say [Babbitt] didnt
know how to use the law, especially water law. He knows more about
that than anybody."
Critics of the governor were loudest in his last two years
of office when Bruce began abandoning the state for long periods
in pursuit of his latest ambition. Ronald Reagans dominance of
national politics had left the Democrats in disarray. Only the
reluctant Mario Cuomo of New York seemed to have the eloquence
and style to win back the White House. Until Gary Hart posed with
a blonde at dockside, Babbitt was little more than a cactus curiosity
among a pack of also-rans in the primaries. But the Arizona governor
had been working for more than a year to assemble a campaign that
would draw attention to his bold new ideas.
He played the buffoon for attention in a Saturday Night Live
skit, getting "caught" trying to sneak too many items through
an express check-out line. He practiced long hours before a video
camera, trying to bring more life into his dull speaking style.
With Cuomo and Hart both out of the running, quirky fate seemed
ready to smile again. Babbitt saved his rallying call for a decisive
push in the Iowa caucuses. Among the balloons and colorful hats
of other candidates, the Arizona governors message danced through
the hall on a placard. "Universal Needs Testing," it said. Iowa
didnt get it.
Way short in his long shot try for the Oval Office, Babbitt
returned to his law firm in Phoenix. Its true enough, those who
knew him say, that Bruce always enjoyed the outdoors?skiing and
backpacking with his own two sons especially. For more than a
century, his family had lived with nature, working it, but managing
it for its best continued use. The ranching Babbitts respected
the wild land their interests encompassed and won praise for the
careful way they preserved its purpose. Bruce, they say, was simply
awed by it, and declared himself its spokesman.
The League of Conservation Voters was formed in 1970 as an
adjunct to David Browers activist-minded Friends of the Earth.
The intention was, and is, to direct campaign funds into the coffers
of politicians who follow the green line. So theyll know where
to step, the LCV keeps a running scorecard on every elected officials
voting record, from the president down.
When the League chose Bruce Babbitt to lead their Political
Action Committee, Bruce accepted by saying, "I always wanted to
be president of something." This was no student body formation
he was taking on. The League played hardball politics with the
kind of cash rewards that every politician understands. In one
of his earliest messages as president on their score card, Babbitt
let it be known how he intended the game to go.
"We must identify our enemies and drive them into oblivion,"
he said in 1991. You could assume that those enemies were mostly
conservative Republicans, or you could wonder if Babbitt meant
The League directed its contributions ($750,000 in 1994 alone)
to potential friends and allies like Sens. Tim Wirth of Colorado
and Harry Reid of Nevada, and Babbitt parlayed along with the
payouts to secure his own position among a generation of Democrats
still waiting their chance.
Bill Clinton and Al Gore gave it to them. Closer to the vice
presidential candidate than to his fellow governor from Arkansas,
Babbitt positioned himself nicely. He wasnt just carrying the
mail for green-eyed visionaries either. Records show his appearances
in land swapping proposals to the Bureau of Land Management in
Las Vegas on behalf of former casino giant and now mega-developer
Del Webb Corporation, which had shifted its base from suspiciously
glitzy Vegas gaming power to its Sun City complex in Arizona.
Representing both Del Webb and the LCV was apparently no conflict
for the former governor and presidential candidate who claimed
to have a "holistic" understanding of what was needed in the West.
Bruce by now certainly knew how the game was played. He even
made up some new rules. Insiders say that Clintons first choice
for Secretary of the Interior was Congressman Bill Richardson
of New Mexico. Richardson was a well-liked conciliator with a
part-Hispanic ancestry. The greens, they say, worried most about
how Hispanic might translate in their intentions. And besides,
Babbitt had already proven he came with bucks. In meetings with
Clintons cabinet selection staff, representatives of the LCV
stressed that point.
The question may be whether Babbitt brought the power of
greens to Interior, or whether the greens brought Babbitt. Either
way, C.J.s grandson cleared Senate approval to become titular
landlord over a 1.9 billion acre estate ranging from the Statue
of Liberty to the Pacific Trust Territories, a position of power
that dwarfed anything ever imagined by the five original Babbitt
Gloated Ben Beach of the Wilderness Society during the selection
process, "We had a chance to get a Babe Ruth in there, and that
was Bruce Babbitt." It was also the Wilderness Societys own president,
George Frampton, who was among the first of a long list of environmentalist
heavy hitters to join the Babbitt "team" as assistant secretary
for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
"Its the way it works," said Ron Arnold, the scholarly head
of the Wise Use Movement. "Secretary of the Interior isnt awarded
for skill or intellect, its for politics."
Environmentalists could certainly point to the truth of that
in the tenures of Republican appointees James Watt and Donald
Hodel. With Clinton and Babbitt, they were claiming their turn
at the plate.
Unclearly defined and redefined, subdivided and split into
warring factions throughout its long history, the Department of
the Interior has seemed ever thus to be seeking a clear mission
from all the conflicting pressures of political purposes. Bruce
Babbitt called it "a mess" from the start and by some accounts
privately yearned for some less high-profile job in the administration,
such as trade representative. He knew full-well that Interior
is a political killer of a job. Other secretaries had literally
been driven nuts by it, hospitalized during their tenure, vanished
into obscurity after it was over. Babbitts highest endorsement
came from John Kennedys interior secretary, fellow Arizonan Stewart
Udall. A staunch environmentalist, Udall was "cautiously ecstatic"
about Babbitt giving the demoralized agency "new marching orders."
To his environmentalist allies, Babbitt presented himself
as the crusader who would at last wrench control of resources
and wilderness from the grip of despoilers. If that sounds melodramatic
and romanticized, it is not far off from Babbitts self-proclaimed
visions. They say jaws dropped in the audience of doubting environmentalists
when Babbitt told the Center for the American West at the University
of Colorado in 1990 that "multiple use (of public lands) is a
concept that has proven unworkable in practice." The next step,
he said, would be to replace multiple use "with a new concept?dominant
public use?that gives priority to recreation, wildlife and watershed
He called the Bureau of Reclamation "the most environmentally
destructive of all the public land agencies," and forecast the
ultimate demise of what had once been the gemstone of federal
guidance in development of the West. He accused agriculture of
raiding and wasting water resources from public lands and called
for the water to be directed to growing western cities. He spoke
of "subsidies" to ranchers with grazing rights on public lands
and of the "apparatchiks of Western agriculture" blocking true
reform. It sounded almost as if he was attacking his own family
when he claimed it was time to take control of the West away from
"the lords of yesterday."
Once in office, he hardly hesitated before launching an all-out
campaign for "range reform" that he knew would drive many small
ranchers out of business. He termed his critics, many of them
from his own state, "the paranoid right," and loudly insisted
he had the nation behind him. Only about 27,000 ranchers held
rights to vast federal lands, he said, and hinted that most of
them were directed by greedy corporations.
It was then that Sen. Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming characterized
the Babbitt program as "War on the West." As it turned out, Babbitt
didnt even have Clinton behind him, let alone the parade of western
office holders who watched in appalled disbelief as the secretary
tried to slash his way through long-standing rights and agreements
as if he were some vengeful baron clearing his lands of poachers.
It was bound to create extreme views on both sides, and it did.
"There were five of us who met with him privately right after
he got appointed," said Flagstaff-area rancher Jack Metzger, who
has known Babbitt and his family for a lifetime. "What he said
to us personally just didnt turn out to be the truth. I dont
even want to go into it more than that. Its enough to say that
we couldnt agree with him now on so much as 'Good morning.'"
Babbitts self-proclaimed skill at "consensus building" was
not so easily accomplished without a veto behind his back. His
attempts to ram his ideas through Congress brought on bitter reactions,
especially from western senators who launched a filibuster to
halt even a watered-down version of the secretarys reform plan
introduced by LCV beneficiary Harry Reid.
"It looks to me like what theyre doing is torching their
own ranchers just to prove their own machismo," Babbitt said in
a lashing attack on Colorado senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell,
then a Democrat, and Hank Brown, a Republican. "Well trust those
words slipped out of his mouth," tersely replied a spokesperson
In the end, Clinton himself cut Babbitts grazing proposal
out of the appropriations bill, handing Bruce a hard-to-take reprimand
in his political ambitions. The real damage, however, had already
been done in the message sent to increasingly demanding environmental
pressure groups that federal policy at least tacitly endorse their
relentless attacks on any use of public land beyond their backpacker
Babbitt had more weapons with which to go after the "agricultural
apparatchiks" than just range reform. His most potent riot stick
was the Endangered Species Act, and Babbitt swung that one with
deft political effect as part of what he claimed was his authority
beyond congressional interference. What he couldnt carry through
Congress he threatened to enact administratively, including ominous
increases in the policing powers of his 75,000 employees. Promoting
his desire for consensus, he made personal appearances before
skeptical ranchers and set up Range Advisory Committees (RACs)
to work out accommodations between grazers and the demanding breed
of newer outdoors people.
But the facade of cooperation was hardly masked when in Northern
Nevada, for example, RAC members complained that they had been
deceived by a document that misrepresented their views. Babbitt
sent out his Assistant Director for Resource Assessment and Planning,
Maitland Sharpe, to listen to their complaints and reassure them.
The Nevadans were unaware that Sharpe was the former president
of the Isaak Walton League, a founding organization of the environmental
movement which had campaigned since the 1940s for higher fees
and grazing restrictions on public land the League wanted devoted
to wildlife and fishermen.
Babbitt stressed that ranchers were exploiting a federal
subsidy by paying far less for grazing rights on public land than
they would for privately-owned range. Again and again, ranching
families from small outfits all over the West drove hundreds of
miles to one of the secretarys "consensus gathering" sessions
only to be hushed and ignored with the terms bureaucrats said
the secretary directed them to impose.
Nor were Frampton and Sharpe alone among the former green-group
executives now holding administrative authority in Babbitts Interior
Department. His call for the "reinvention" of government was based
on a long ivy-tinted list of replacements in the top posts of
every Interior Department division. The same federal bureaucrats
who papered their arguments with comparisons to the cost of grazing
on private land firmly refused to acknowledge that the federal
government should pay market value for lands and rights Interior
was threatening to seize for wetlands and species protection all
over the West.
Bruce Babbitt had worried to reporters at the start of his
tenure in Interior that he might "become a prisoner of my resume."
His ambition still reached beyond the traditionally western niche
of public lands policy. Knowing that, Clinton had Babbitts name
at the top of a short list for a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy that
opened soon after his election. Babbitt wanted it, but the powerful
greens behind him werent about to trade their "Babe Ruth" so
soon. They pressured Clinton to leave Babbitt where he was, at
least through the first term. By the time the next shot at a Supreme
Court opening came up, Babbitt had offended enough members of
the Senate to make his confirmation a dicey prospect.
It was Vice President Gore, with his own ambitious view of
nature, who offered Babbitt his greatest opportunity to arbitrarily
carry out the "needs assessment" plan voters had ignored. Gore
set in motion the computer-driven national biological inventory
intended, as Congressman Gary Studds (D-Mass.) put it, "to catalog
everything that walks, crawls, swims, or flies around this country"
whether it was on public or private property.
It would assign awesome new power to the Secretary of Interior
and it would be done in virtual secrecy, exempt from the federal
Freedom of Information Act. When the House of Representatives
imposed restrictions on the survey and demanded that it be open
to public scrutiny, Babbitt withdrew the proposal from Congress
and, as he had done with grazing reform and would do with police
powers, vowed to enact it administratively.
For public consumption, some environmentalists complained
that Babbitt was too cautious and too politically careful, especially
when Jim Baca was removed from the Bureau of Land Management.
But behind the scenes, all the talk about Babbitt being in nobodys
pocket was just more politics. Babbitt was clearly the best hope
they had for a historic and revolutionary change in Interior policy.
"We are living between the flood and the rainbow," he told
the National Press Club in 1995, "between the threats to creation
on the one side and Gods covenant to protect life on the other."
An altar boys analysis with a demagogues twist, it was the kind
of moralizing and arrogance Babbitt is known for.
Until recently though, the Clinton administration could proudly
point to Babbitt as its most untarnished figure. The scent of
political scandal wafting though the cabinet didnt follow Babbitt
into his lofty aerie of an office overlooking the Lincoln Memorial.
Said a Babbitt staffer, it might never have happened if one of
Babbitts secretaries had "thrown herself in front of his door"
that July day in 1995 when a former law partner from Arizona,
Paul Eckstein, came to see the secretary about the departments
rejection of a request by three Wisconsin Chippewa tribes to open
a casino at a road stop.
Tortuous as the casino issue would become, including evidence
that the president himself met with fund-raisers for other tribes
that opposed it, it was not the corruptible money that would get
Babbitt in trouble with Congress, but his usual self-certain style
of disposing with disagreement.
Eckstein says Babbitt told him the opposing tribes had already
paid $500,000 to Clintons re-election campaign. Babbitt claims
he just made that up to get the pestering old friend out of his
office. If so, it was a pretty lucky guess. The tribes had put
at least $400,000 in Democrat campaign coffers apparently with
the help of Deputy White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, whose
name Babbitt cited in trying to dismiss Eckstein from his office.
The potential charge facing Babbitt is not the payoff. Its the
perjury. You could see it in the secretarys sagging face as Sen.
Thompson warned him about "deep water."
Attorney General Janet Reno stalled through the months of
autumn, leaving it as a cliff-hanger over whether she would name
independent counsel to investigate presidential fund raising.
As December began, she faced the scorn of Republicans by saying
the evidence did not warrant an investigation of the president
and the vice president. But Sen. Thompson tried to stand apart
from the partisan bickering by focusing on more direct evidence
of deceit. He alluded to possible indictments regardless of Renos
decision and named the Secretary of Interior as among those suspected
of lying to Congress.
Bruce himself had no direct part of it, but at the height
of his familys empire in Arizona, they used to joke that even
the sheep said "Baa-bbitt." With all the political heat on her
and on the Clinton administration, Janet Reno needed a lamb to
sacrifice. The little thing with the Indian casino seemed least
likely to draw serious blood from Clinton and Gores agenda.
But it isnt that easy. Investigating Babbitts performance
before Congress would lead to Ickes role in campaign financing
and from there to the president himself. Tempting as it might
be, Washington sources said it is very unlikely that the administration
would be willing to take the risk in sacrificing the secretary.
Thompsons subcommittee, meanwhile, ran out of funding. If
any action was to be taken against Babbitt, it would have to wait
until the Attorney Generals decision in February on appointment
of independent counsel or on the resumption of full committee
hearings in Congress at the same time.
The oldest story in the Babbitt family goes back to Edward
"Bobet" (as he wrote it) who arrived in Plymouth Bay in 1639 as
a mere one-year-old. Edward struggled with the others to wrest
control of the raw land and build a new colony. He married and
had children and won respect. Then one day out in the woods with
his dog, he encountered a band of hostile Indians. Edward hid
himself in the sheltering bows of a tree, but the barking dog
attracted the war partys attention.
To this day, the family is proud of the little headstone
erected to their ancestor. "Edward Bobbett," it said. "Kld June,
Bah, bah, Babbitt?
* * *
Tim Findley is a writer from Fallon, Nevada. His experience in
compiling this piece for RANGE brought no response at all in repeated
requests to interview the secretary. It is possible, however,
that he was disqualified from contact with Secretary Babbitt because
of a previous relationship. Babbitt and Findley (who has worked
for Rolling Stone) served with Volunteers In Service To America
(VISTA) at the same time in the 1960s.