Solveig Torvik

Citizens dissatisfied with the performance of Okanogan County’s three commissioners recently formed Represent Okanogan County (ROC, in an effort to replace them.

ROC hopes to support viable challengers on the fall ballot who, in its view, are more attuned to the true interests of the county’s residents than incumbents Ray Campbell and Sheilah Kennedy. (Chairman Jim DeTro’s term is not up.)

Gay Northrup, chair of ROC’s non-partisan steering committee, says candidates must pledge transparency, responsiveness and accountability to all voters. ROC contends that the present commissioners fail to meet this basic threshold for holding office.

ROC will support viable candidates be they Republican, Independent or Democrat, Northrup stresses. “We know there has to be compromise,” she said.

Steering committee members hail from the Tunk Valley, the Chiliwist, Chesaw, Omak, Twisp, Winthrop and Mazama. Most, like Northrup, a retired financial adviser, are political novices. While differing in political outlook and background, ROC steering committee members agree on this: elected, and paid, to listen to all county residents, the commissioners simply ignore their concerns.

Oops. That’s just the sort of perceived high-handedness that so wonderfully concentrates voters’ minds on throwing the bums out.

ROC faults the commissioners for fumbling on matters essential to the county’s well being: failing to protect the county’s agricultural lands, water supplies, and public health; failing to protect against wildfire; closing public roads to benefit a private corporation (Gebber-owned Gamble Land and Timber), thus jeopardizing public safety during wildfires; failing to support public transit; and failing to prepare a legal land use plan.

And this: donating $1,000 to embrace efforts by the Koch Industries-supported American Lands Council (ALC), which is spearheading efforts to “return” federal lands to local control.

Public land grab

The public land grab movement caught our attention during the recent armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and during Cliven Bundy’s 2014 armed standoff against officers who tried to remove his illegally grazing cattle from public lands.

For 20 years, Bundy was allowed to adhere to a deeply flawed, patently anti-competitive business model: refusing to pay for grazing his cattle on our property. This became $1 million in overdue grazing fees owed me and thee. He’s under indictment, as are his sons Ammon and Ryan, for their armed seizure of the Oregon refuge.

Nonetheless, Okanogan County is among five in Washington whose commissioners quietly have joined the ALC, creating the unfortunate impression that they’ve made common cause not just with the poisonously anti-government Koch network but even the Bundy bunch.

DeTro reinforced this impression when he asserted on social media that refuge occupier LaVoy Finicum was killed by a “government assassin,” an act “Orchestrated to silence those who are in the right on public lands ownership in the West.”

Asked to clarify his stand on land transfers, DeTro says, “It’s going to be resolved by the courts,” not by armed rebellion. He contends $150 trillion worth of natural resources are “locked up” on federal lands that should be opened to “multiple use.” But opponents of development on federal lands “don’t want anyone there but them,” he adds.

Billionaires Charles and David Koch meanwhile charmingly profess their abiding concern for the “well being” of everyone. But for 40 years they’ve successfully labored to undermine it.

Their secretive, so-called “Kochtopus” donor network relies on public gullibility, strategically “weaponized philanthropy” and innocuous-sounding organizations such as Americans for Prosperity to achieve their self-serving goals, Jane Mayer reports in her new book, Dark Money.

These oligarch wannabes seem focused on weakening institutional support for government regulations that protect ordinary Americans from corporate misbehavior. The judiciary, the academe and local government officials thus have been prime targets of their generous dark money machine’s anti-government “education” programs.

No impediments

But why not give federal land to the states?

Because states’ price for admission to the union was to “forever disclaim” any right to lands claimed by the federal government.

Plus, states don’t have funds to maintain federal lands; ours struggles to maintain those it already owns. Utah’s legislature discovered that costs of fire protection alone would rise six-fold. Jan Brewer, Arizona’s former Republican governor, sensibly refused to be saddled with federal lands.

So why obtain them?

To sell them, warn opponents, or lease them to corporations that would extract timber, minerals and oil. “The lands will not be sold,” declares DeTro. They could be managed like the Washington State Department of Natural Resources holdings to produce constitutionally mandated financial returns, he contends. 

Proponents of local control of federal lands claim that wherever feds own lands, economies suffer. They’re wrong, counter independent economists.

“We don’t see any evidence that federal lands are impeding local growth,” said economist Megan Lawson of the non-partisan, Montana-based Headwaters Economics.

In fact, among the 276 western counties, those with the most federal lands had the fastest growth in population and income between 1970 and 2014.

In 134th-ranked Okanogan County, where 45 percent of the land base is federally owned, population grew from 25,901 to 41,290, the Headwaters economists found. Jobs increased by 75 percent in our county, from 14,171 to 24,827. Per capita income increased by 61 percent, from $23,299 to $37,562 in 2014 dollars.

So what’s up with these land grabbers? Are they actually selfless patriots who are just grievously misinformed? Or do they hope to turn public property into private profit?


Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.