Republicans all for open space |

Republicans all for open space

Don Rogers

Perusing The Wall Street Journal has its pleasures, even beyond those tartly conservative op-ed pages, home to the pithiest editorials in the land, even if they do lean resolutely to the right.

But straying over to the news pages last Friday, what to our wondering eyes should appear but a news story cataloging the resounding success of open-space ballot questions in 64 of 77 cases Nov. 4.

There go those muddle-headed lefties again? Hardly.

The article notes successes in staunchly Republican territory such as Salt Lake City, Utah; Laramie County, Wyo; Arapahoe County, Colo.; Montgomery County, Pa.

Turns out, Republicans campaigned actively for tax measures and bonds for open-space protection in each of these places, and lots of others, as well. Voters went for them, too, approving the questions from 54 percent up to 78 percent in favor.

The Journal paraphrases Pennsylvania state Rep. Kate Harper, a Republican who led the campaign in GOP-dominated Montgomery County, explaining that economics factored into the move to try to rein in sprawling development that is sweeping away farms at a clip of 2,200 acres a year.

Eagle County last year passed an open-space property tax by the narrowest of margins – a scant 51 votes. For a few mainly conservative folks, the tax itself should be repealed as well as that Bair Ranch easement that has them hollering. The Bairs do seem to be notably unreliable partners with whom to go after the first open-space deal since the tax passed, and that’s a shame considering the bargain for Eagle County.

But the hardcore anti-open-space folk should realize that they just might be out of step with their own party on open space these days. Conservation easements and even the rare purchase of land to keep development at bay fit Republican principles of respect for property rights and fair return to landowners.

That’s the irony in Eagle County. Instead of big bad government zoning people out of their land rights or ability to develop – as Amendment 24 in 2000 would have done – the open-space funds provide a means of giving owners of ranches and open land another alternative.

These are the folks complaining about not being able to walk on land they’d never hike anyway, or decrying the spending of $2 million to keep development off land that would cost five or six times that to purchase outright, and otherwise shaking their fists at what makes sense even to an overwhelming majority of Republicans across the nation.

Go figure.

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