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Local Property Rights Group Uncomfortable InPublic Spotlight
Posted - 2 pm, Monday, Oct 6, 96
(C) 1996 by GeneMetrick
The arrest of several Whatcom County militia members this summerhas helped to focus local attention on not only the militias, butalso on their ideological cousins, the property rights movement.
And many of the members of the Coalition for Land Use Education(CLUE), the local chapter of the Wise Use Movement, dont seemtoo pleased with the public scrutiny they are becoming subjectedto.
In response to a column in the Bellingham Herald by WWU associateprofessor Vernon Johnson, co-chair of the Whatcom Human Rights TaskForce, many CLUE supporters wrote the Herald vehemently denouncingJohnson for truthfully stating the connections that exist betweenpoliticians such as Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) and the militiamovement.
Johnson's article discussed the extent to which the militiamessage is becoming a part of the mainstream. He also described howgroups like CLUE supported last years deservedly failedproperty rights measure, Referendum 48, and worked to elect two ofits members to the Whatcom County Council.
The angry reaction from both the grass-roots supporters and theleadership of CLUE is understandable, although it stems fromdifferent reasons.
The rank-and-file members of groups like CLUE and Wise Use arerightfully shocked when the true motivations and real forces behindthe property rights movement are even partially hinted at.
And the founders and leaders of the groups would probably preferthat these rather uncomfortable facts were not divulged to thepublic.
Many CLUE supporters wrote the Herald expressing their outrage atJohnson's supposed insinuation of ties between CLUE and the militiamovement.
But in an August article in the Seattle Times, real-estatedeveloper and CLUE co-founder Skip Richards, who is currently runningfor the 40th District state senate seat, acknowledged working withmilitia members. Richards defended this practice as simplyplaying interest-group politics.
The Times also reported that CLUE meetings at local grange hallshave hosted speakers warning of efforts to establish a NewWorld Order and passing out Militia of Montana literature.CLUEs newsletter has also included militia information.
Another CLUE leader, Whatcom County Councilwoman Kathy Sutter,told the Portland Oregonian in August that connections between theWise Use Movement and militias were a matter ofdegrees.
Nothing in Johnson's article sought to connect CLUE with themilitias, but that did not prevent the letter writers from denyingthat any existed.
And although no "smoking gun" evidence exists that could directlylink the two groups, it is curious that so many people are ardentlyprotesting allegations that were never made.
The grass-roots supporters of these property rights groups aregenerally rural working- and middle-class landowners who areconcerned over rising property taxes and environmental regulationsthat sometimes unnecessarily overburden them.
CLUE and Wise Use exploit these legitimate concerns, turning themto their own advantage by encouraging and directing feelings of fearand anger at government workers and environmentalists.
Organizers blame rising tax rates and economic insecurity on thecosts of environmental protection and government land-use policies,and present their groups as protectors of small land owners from"intrusive government" and "watermelon environmentalists."
But the protection of small land owners was not the reason thatthe Wise Use Movement was created. It is nationally organized andfinanced by a coalition of timber, mining and real-estate developmentinterests for the purpose of eliminating or reducing as much aspossible the environmental protections that hinder their pursuit ofprofits through unlimited land development and unchecked exploitationof publicly-owned natural resources.
Similarly, CLUE was formed by a group of Whatcom Countyconstruction, real estate and other development interests.
The rising tax rates that mobilize support for these groups aremore often than not a result of the business activities of theseinterests that fund and direct the movement from behind thescenes.
When a new housing subdivision or commercial business mall isbuilt, the public ends up paying higher tax rates to build the roads,sidewalks, sewer systems and water lines that must service them.
Tax money is used to build logging roads for corporations likeWeyerhaeuser to use while mineral rights are practically given awayto large mining companies. Wise Use was a reaction to efforts to endpractices such as this.
Ron Arnold, a principle strategist and national leader of WiseUse, wrote a series of articles for Logging Management magazine in1988 proposing that the resource and development companies putcitizens instead of corporate spokesman in the front lines of theenviron-mental battle. Arnold advised these companies to "stopdefending yourselves, let them do it, and get the hell out of theway. Because citizen groups have credibility and industriesdon't."
Vernon Johnson's article was meant to be a call for an honestdiscussion over the problems that affect our local community andurged residents to engage in a give-and-take dialogue to reachsolutions that can benefit everyone.
It's a shame that this message had to be deflected by the smearand diversion tactics employed by the leaders of the property rightsmovement that continue to stifle debate, demonize opponents, andmislead those who they pretend to speak for.
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