A new study shows that national parks and monuments boosted the economies of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho by a combined $1.15 billion last year. But if you think a river of tourism dollars alone would be enough to protect them from mining and timber exploitation, you might be wrong.
The study released on Friday by the National Park Service shows that the majority of that amount, $723.3 million, went to Wyoming where GOP gubernatorial candidate Taylor Haynes says that he wants to open up the state's biggest tourism draw—Yellowstone National Park—to mining and logging.
It's fair to say that Haynes, a 68-year-old retired urologist and rancher from Cheyenne, really hates the federal government. In fact, he hates the federal government to the point where—if elected—he says he would have federal officials who try to administer federal laws in the state of Wyoming arrested and thrown in jail.
According to an interview with the Casper Star-Tribune, Haynes says that if elected, he would send federal agencies a certified letter inviting them to a meeting where he will explain his plans. They would then all have to be gone from the state of Wyoming by the day he takes office in January, 2015 or risk being jailed for "impersonating a law enforcement officer in Wyoming."
Haynes backed off a bit in a primary debate against popular incumbent GOP Governor Matt Mead last week, claiming that he said that he'd open up the national parks for drilling and grazing just to get some attention. But he followed that up by saying that the government should look at tapping the park's geysers and hot springs for geothermal energy, and reaffirming his intention on arresting federal officials who try to enforce federal regulations in Wyoming.
"I think it's a poor way to get attention to say you'll drill in Yellowstone National Park and then say you don't intend to," Mead said.
Haynes, Mead and state Superintendent of Public Education Cindy Hill—who did not attend last week's debate—are squaring off in the GOP primary set for August. The winner will face Democrat Pete Gosar in November's general election.
In the debate, Haynes also said that he opposes resettling refugees in the state claiming that as a Christian his heart goes out to them, but they could carry HIV or Ebola—or even worse—could be terrorists.
"I think they're groups of people brought in to kill our labor and undermine our culture," he said.
Now, of course most of Haynes' plans are either illegal or unworkable horseshit (he claims to be a constitutional scholar but apparently hasn't gotten to the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause yet, to say nothing of the clause in the Wyoming State Constitution in which the state gave up all claims on federal lands in perpetuity in exchange for statehood) and he's running against a relatively popular incumbent in Mead, who touted his own lawsuits against the federal government but also said that he works with the feds when he thinks it's beneficial to Wyoming.
But Haynes' brand of anti-federal, xenophobic brand of conservatism is catching on among many conservatives across the state—which has a population of roughly 580,000 (or just a bit less than the population of Milwaukee) spread across an area larger than the United Kingdom, is home to GOP stalwarts like Alan Simpson and Dick Cheney and which hasn't sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1977 or to the U.S. House since 1979.
When Haynes first ran for governor as an independent in 2010, he received 7.3 percent of the vote as a write-in. This time he thinks he can win.
"This is not a symbolic campaign," Haynes told the Powell (Wy.) Tribune in March. "We've received tremendous encouragement and support during this exploratory phase. We're certain that we can win by the grace of almighty God."
That appeal to faith—and his willingness to mention his it at every opportunity—has drawn in a number of conservative voters this time around.
"If we get the first priority right, I think the rest of the things fall into place," Haynes supporter Gary Raymond told the Casper Tribune.
But Haynes' statements about opening up Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the other national parks and monuments in the state to exploitation—attention grab or not—may be one the thing that actually costs him the election.
The biggest industries in Wyoming may be mining, drilling and timber, but tourism's not far behind—at least as long as the state resists the urge to dig up or cut down the scenery. And despite a growing anti-federal streak across the west, polls show that most westerners tend to support environmental protections.
In a "Props and Disses" editorial last week, the Jackson Hole Planet probably summed it up the best for the majority of the state, saying that Haynes had their support right up until he said he would open up the entire state to drilling, mining and grazing:
The strict constitutionalist is calling for limited federal government involvement in Wyoming. On the surface, it sounds like a platform right up our valley.
"People want to be left alone more or less, to have their personal liberties, to enjoy their lives with a minimum of government interference or government overreach," Haynes told the state paper back in April.
Keep talking, Taylor.
In a political climate where states are increasingly becoming keen on taking back more power from Washington, Haynes' diatribe found purchase with 13,796 Wyoming voters in 2010. As a write-in. That's better than Libertarian candidate Mike Wheeler did (5,362).
Haynes thinks Wyomingites are tired of higher taxes and would like more flexibility when it comes to school choice.
Preach on, Taylor.
On Sunday, Haynes likely lost every potential vote in Teton County when he announced he would consider opening the entire state to drilling, grazing and mining, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Haynes believes the feds should surrender all state held land and vacate it by the time he would take office if elected (January 1, 2015) or he will arrest federal government employees for "impersonating a law enforcement officer."
Stop talking, Taylor.
Image via AP