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Running a Little Smack at Hansen and Cannon

by mike reberg

It is the sporting season, if you haven't already noticed. We've got it all right season baseball, pre season basketball, hockey underway and football in full swing (as a long suffering Rams fan I'm basking these days). We're even wallowing in an Olympics afterglow here in Utah. Or is that a Fosters hangover?

I like sports. Sports, at their core, are easy to understand. There are winners and there are losers. Go 0 for 4 in a critical major league baseball post season game, people are going to run some smack at you, and it doesn't matter if you're going to the Hall of Fame. Just ask Berry Bonds. Ask Karl Malone for that matter.

I used to write sports. I used to write about winners and losers. Sometimes losers lost with more dignity then winners won. Sometimes, losers blamed everyone but themselves...

...kind of like politics, which in a lot of ways is like sports. It comes down to winners and losers. Some politicians lose with dignity. Sometimes they throw their bat.

Which is a long lead in to what I want to talk about. Political losers. Sore losers. You guessed it. I want to talk about Jim Hansen and Chris Cannon, a couple of bad losers. But I don't just want to talk about them. I'm going pay a little homage to this year's autumn sports orgy and to my sportswriting roots...roots deep enough to remember a time when Jim Hansen wasn't in Congress. I'm going to run a little old-fashioned, sports-style smack their way. They deserve it. They've been talking trash all year long. And when it comes to the San Rafael Swell, they got nothing to show for it.

Four times Cannon and Hansen brought their San Rafael National Conservation area to the political plate in Washington D.C. this season. Four times they struck out. That's 0 for 4. That's a zero batting average. If they were playing for Tony LaRussa, they'd be riding the bench, or worse, they'd be back in double-A. If Hansen, as chair of the National Parks and Public Lands subcommittee, is the committee's coach, Republican leadership ought to be calling for a coaching change.

A few days ago President Clinton signed the $18.8 billion Interior appropriations bill into law. It was a compromise measure that passed both houses of Congress by wide margins earlier this month following intense negotiations by Democrats, Republicans, and White House staff. Only 69 members of the House voted against the compromise. Two of those no votes came from Hansen and Cannon. Why did they vote against the bill? Their poorly written, one-sided San Rafael National Conservation Area wasn't in the compromise spending bill.

That was their fourth loss, a whole extra out in a year-long San Rafael inning. It was a pathetic final defeat for two guys who over-hyped their ability to pass legislation without working with the conservation community. On the floor before the appropriations vote, Hansen bitched at his colleagues for leaving out his San Rafael "rider" he so desperately wanted in the appropriations package. Then Cannon went to the local press and howled that the White House had backed off its support of the San Rafael NCA, leaving Cannon without a bat. Actually, the White House was probably throwing at his head, but I'll get to that in a minute.

I've mentioned the San Rafael Swell in these pages before. Back in June, Cannon and Hansen tried to dunk their poorly conceived NCA over the outstretched objections of the conservation community. At that time Cannon did have the support of Bruce Babbitt and the Interior Department, and he and Hansen were running their own brand of smack during floor debate-telling their colleagues that only "environmental extremists" could oppose their bill. But on the House floor, Democrats and conservation-minded Republicans rejected Hansen and Cannon, calling Babbitt's support of the proposal a "bad deal for the American public," and began amending the bill.

It was a straight-up game and Cannon and Hansen lost. Punked in their own House, Cannon and Hansen pulled the bill before more amendments could be passed.

0 for 1 and looking for revenge.

Next they tried muscle and intimidation, and again ran smack in the press about it. This was a Hansen play, because everyone knows Cannon's got no juice on the Hill. Hansen, as a sub-committee chair, tried to jam up other members' bills, demanding a trade for the Swell.

Now, for muscle and intimidation to work, you've got to be a bad ass and you've got to have something of value. The San Rafael NCA lost a lot of luster when both Democrats and Republicans took it downtown. And as for being a bad ass, there are bigger ones than Jim Hansen in both the House and Senate. Hansen learned a lesson about messing with a Senate Republican bad ass.

0 for 2 and looking stupid.

Finally, and still talking trash, Hansen promised there was more than one way to skin a cat. A rider. A rider is a backhanded way of attaching bills to year-end spending measures. Kind of sneaky, but part of the game. But deals change with riders, and supporting bills straight up vs. supporting riders are two different things.

When Cannon howled to the press about losing White House support, he never really had it at that point. The White House had long ago made a trade - House Democrats for Cannon and Hansen. It was an easy trade. They'd already gone 0 for 2.

So, within 72 hours of announcing there was a San Rafael rider, it was out. Democrats didn't like it, the White House didn't want it, and Republicans, remembering their June embarrassment, didn't think it was worth the fight.

0 for 3. Hansen and Cannon didn't even take the bat off their shoulders.

In spite of their poor performace, Cannon and Hansen are talking about running the bill next year. But they've got to win reelection first, and Republicans have to retain a majority in the House. And in case they still don't know, the conservation community's got more game than Nintendo.

Mike Reberg is the Communications Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance