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Babbitt is still a fine good name in the West, but...
© 1998 By Tim Findley, RANGE magazine, Carson City, Nevada


Bruce Babbitt had the wide-eyed look of a helpless man watching a dam about to break. Upstream from the Secretary of Interior’s 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 you’re getting in awfully deep water here," said Thompson, "but that’s up to you."
     Babbitt’s 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 governor’s bid for the presidential nomination on a platform of "Needs Assessment" would fail to inspire more than blank stares.
     Bruce Babbitt’s face sagged, giving him away as it always had. His place in President Clinton’s 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 approval.
     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 can’t 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 Bruce’s 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 brother’s son and Bruce’s 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 governor’s 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 Jimmy’s 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 Bruce.
     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 didn’t 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 doesn’t 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 Bruce’s 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 Powell’s 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 Leopold’s 1940’s 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 America’s conservation laws with the power to help restore God’s creation." Babbitt frequently places himself somewhere near a deity in his speeches, a distance apart from even his own family’s less romanticized relationship with nature.
     The oldest surviving of the pioneering five Babbitt brothers was Charles James, "C.J." as they all called him, Bruce’s 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 family’s 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 Johnson’s 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 generation’s 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 it’s devoted to the defense of racial discrimination. What it ought to be is a public interest law firm!"
     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 didn’t 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 state’s 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 state’s chief executive. Nearly all political observers from the time regard Babbitt’s 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 state’s precious water resources away from ranchers and farmers and into the steadily growing suburbs of metropolitan Phoenix. With Babbitt’s 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. "It’s almost like the land itself is being destroyed," Bruce’s brother, Jimmy, said. "Not like it is in Phoenix, I guess. They say an acre a day goes to development there. But it’s happening here too, and it’s 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 family’s 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 doesn’t 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. It’s time to pay back."
     "Say whatever you want about his arrogance and his power," one Arizona rancher observed, "but you can’t say [Babbitt] didn’t 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 Reagan’s 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 governor’s message danced through the hall on a placard. "Universal Needs Testing," it said. Iowa didn’t get it.
     Way short in his long shot try for the Oval Office, Babbitt returned to his law firm in Phoenix. It’s 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 Brower’s 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 they’ll know where to step, the LCV keeps a running scorecard on every elected official’s 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 something else.
     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 wasn’t 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 Clinton’s 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 Clinton’s 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 brothers.
     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 Society’s 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.
     "It’s the way it works," said Ron Arnold, the scholarly head of the Wise Use Movement. "Secretary of the Interior isn’t awarded for skill or intellect, it’s 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. Babbitt’s highest endorsement came from John Kennedy’s 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 Babbitt’s 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 use."
     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 didn’t 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 didn’t turn out to be the truth. I don’t even want to go into it more than that. It’s enough to say that we couldn’t agree with him now on so much as 'Good morning.'"
     Babbitt’s 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 secretary’s reform plan introduced by LCV beneficiary Harry Reid.
     "It looks to me like what they’re 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. "We’ll trust those words slipped out of his mouth," tersely replied a spokesperson for Campbell.
     In the end, Clinton himself cut Babbitt’s 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 limits.
     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 couldn’t 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 secretary’s "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 Babbitt’s 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 Babbitt’s 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 weren’t 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 nobody’s 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 God’s covenant to protect life on the other." An altar boy’s analysis with a demagogue’s 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 didn’t 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 Babbitt’s 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 department’s 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 Clinton’s 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. It’s the perjury. You could see it in the secretary’s 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 Reno’s 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 family’s 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 Gore’s agenda.
     But it isn’t that easy. Investigating Babbitt’s 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.
     Thompson’s subcommittee, meanwhile, ran out of funding. If any action was to be taken against Babbitt, it would have to wait until the Attorney General’s 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 party’s attention.
     To this day, the family is proud of the little headstone erected to their ancestor. "Edward Bobbett," it said. "Kld June, 1675."

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.


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