Thanks a bunch, Jeb. No.
In his run-up to the Republican presidential nomination in 1968, Richard Nixon campaigned in a number of states and often found vice presidents in them. During a visit to Nevada, for instance, he said Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt might be a likely vice presidential candidate. The notion was absurd, given Laxalt’s mere two years as governor of a small state with poor quality of life and an outlaw reputation. So were the candidacies of numerous other local Republican officials around the country semi-anointed by Nixon, but it made for good pampering of the various local favorites in the states he visited.
Last week on a visit to Nevada, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush tried a variant of that ploy, suggesting the headquarters of the U.S. Department of the Interior be moved to the other side of the country from D.C., perhaps to Reno.
Or Salt Lake City.
Whereupon, news stories speculating on the impact of moving the Interior Department appeared in Reno.
And Salt Lake City.
Never mind that Interior agencies in Nevada have in the past been bombed, its employees threatened.
Never mind that the notion of moving a 70,000-person cabinet department around like a chess piece is absurd. Or that the arrival of its workforce would cause a housing crunch in Reno the likes of which the city has never seen, exhaust its sewer plant capacity, generate traffic congestion that would make life miserable, and leave everyone short of water.
Never mind that building a Reno equivalent of Main Interior, also known as the Stewart Udall Building, which occupies five acres in D.C., might finally be one way of getting the Reno airport to move to Stead.
Never mind that other markets are already lining up for consideration. “May we recommend Heppner, Boardman or Hermiston?” editorialized the East Oregonian. “Certainly those cities are at the fore of some of the West’s most important land and resources issues moving forward. And we’d love to see the property market and building boom that comes with all those high-paying federal jobs.”
No, what concerns us is that this is an underhanded way of deemphasizing the functions and missions of the Department of the Interior in the guise of doing the opposite.
Moving the Department 2,595 miles from the policymaking and budgeting of D.C. to Reno is no way to enhance its influence. It’s a way to diminish it. The same goes for the other putative destinations for the Udall Building.
Other candidates, like Rand Paul, may be signaling to the Republican base their hostility to public lands by hanging around with Cliven Bundy. Jeb Bush does it by proposing a “solution” to a non-existent problem—putting the Interior Department somewhere it will have little influence.
But he is also signaling that hostility to all other Nevadans, too, the ones who polls suggest are in the majority—the supporters of public lands. And they won’t forget when the general election comes.