Setting the Table for Unity: An Extravagantly Immodest Proposal

Today (perhaps) is the last day we don’t know what color of Administration we’ll have. So I’ll propose something that either party could adopt. I’m going to focus on the idea of uniting and getting better policy. Here are my assumptions: 1) a diversity of ideas to select from promotes better policy 2) wide swings don’t help anyone (the Freudenthal (D former Governor of Wyoming) view) 3) you can favor your friends without punishing your enemies (this is something that perhaps can’t be measured, but can be sensed). We discussed pretty much the same topic in August here, along with the Freudenthal quote. We’ve also talked about the role that the Western Governors could play in terms of Living With Fire.

It seems odd to me that as a citizen, I can weigh in on, as an individual, a 500 acre fuels reduction project. But I can’t weigh in on the priorities of an administration. Citizens can via interest groups, but when was the last time you observed an interest group taking a poll of its members before it determined a policy (let alone a political party!). I always say a political party is a bit like the old church expression “pray pay and obey” without the “pray.”

What if the new administration scoped its priorities? Even though this is an immodest proposal, I’m just talking our own little world of FS and BLM, and private forest issues not, say, immigration or health care or climate change.

Of course, that is a naive idea. We don’t have much of a choice on priorities.. we had a dichotomous choice for Prez and that decision leads directly to whatever they and their allies want done. Even if we voted for a party, most of us have no ability to influence their agenda.. it’s take it or leave it. And we don’t even know for sure what the elected will do, as the people running take more extreme positions to attract votes in the primaries and then moderate to try to win the general election- and some proposals are chiefly symbolic- not feasible or legal. Even the folks who voted for them have no control over what they ultimately do. I get that.. but we don’t have any input (as opposed to control, a relatively tiny ask IMHO) either. Unless we agree with favored interest groups. And so it goes. And so the labels on the chairs outside the Secretary of Interior’s office are changed back and forth from industry to environmental groups, when most of us would want to arrive at some agreement and move on to the next issue. And most of us don’t serve on the boards of companies and NGO’s that exert their influence on administrations.

I’m thinking of some kind of advisory committee, which would be tasked with reviewing, helping select and developing options, with the help of agency folks and others in an open process. This does happen in rule-making, (think ANPR) but the solution to every problem is not rulemaking (nor undoing the previous administrations’ rules). And solutions can be micro and macro or a combination. But if we focus on rulemaking, we’ve already privileged some points of view and skill sets and left out others. This advisory committee could also review how changes are working and recommend course corrections. One of the problems we have is that Party A will start something and Party B will throw it out instead of trying to fix it. Some (most) problems are way too complex for the first tweaks to work perfectly. And an advisory committee could outlive the reigns of Party A or Party B and be a unifying and centering force.

But how to select people to not just replicate partisan warfare? This is where the new administration could decide to “set the table for unity.” When Colorado took up working on a state Roadless Rule, different parts of the government picked members of the task force (members also covered a range of interests).

We can imagine some ratio of appointed by party in power, appointed by party not in power, and of most interest, those unique individuals that are agreed upon by both parties. These folks tend to have talent and experience in bringing people together, and are pretty much the folks who do the heavy lifting on arriving at agreements. We can also imagine variations like “what if the environmental folks picked the oil and gas person?” or “what if the oil and gas people picked an environmental group representative?” We could also throw in some folks designated by the Western Governors since most federal land is located in the west.

At the end of the day, it’s still fine for decisions to be made by an Administration’s circle of friends. But I think with this approach, the Administration would be much more knowledgeable about other paths and practical and political trade-offs.

I’d be interested in any examples you all have of: getting direct public input on priorities, long-term valued advisory group, and other ways of setting the table for unity. We also have a substantial scientific literature on successful collaboration that might be applied to such an effort.

3 thoughts on “Setting the Table for Unity: An Extravagantly Immodest Proposal”

  1. There are many examples of priority setting for specific issues or for specific areas. There is also a very interesting collaborative process called participatory budgeting. The process began, I believe, in Brazil, but since has spread throughout the world. Basically, school systems, city agencies, cities, and counties bring a representative group of people together to decide how to spend public funds. Deciding how to spend public funds is priority setting. Here is more information:

  2. “when was the last time you observed an interest group taking a poll of its members before it determined a policy” – I don’t remember which group(s), but we’ve gotten those kinds of “ballots” to tell them what we think their priorities should be (w/solicitations of course).

    I like the idea of participatory budgeting, but … First, it depends on the existence of “discretionary funds.” Second, it’s hard to think of that working in a meaningful way at the scale of the country, especially because you’d have lobbyists involved. Maybe on a ranger district (with their vast discretionary funds).

    Also, how to spend money is probably less controversial in our world than are national regulations and forest planning, and there is a public process for these we have to follow (which puts some limits on the role of potential advisory committees or collaborative groups, which have been tried). And neither the Forest Service nor the public want to cede their authorities to another “group.”

    Your suggestion does remind me of the redistricting process used by some states for this highly politically charged decision-making (but that reminds me more of dividing up money than it does making policy decisions).


Leave a Comment

Discover more from The Smokey Wire : National Forest News and Views

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading