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The third applicant was “no gentleman,” the U.S. Forest Service ranger wrote to his boss, but would still make a first-class fire lookout in the remote Klamath National Forest.

He thought little of the first applicant’s abilities, and the second had poor eyesight, though that didn’t prevent him from frequently violating the local game laws. Yet the third candidate was so unusual, ranger M.H. McCarthy cautioned, “I hope your heart is strong enough to stand the shock.”

For the shocking third applicant was a woman, Hallie Morse Daggett, though McCarthy added that she “is absolutely devoid of the timidity which is ordinarily associated with her sex.”

McCarthy told his supervisor not to worry about being overrun by female applicants in the future, “since we can hardly expect these positions to ever become very popular with the Fair Sex.” What is telling in light of recent news about the systemic problem of discrimination throughout the Forest Service is that this was written 105 years ago.

Women—and minorities, too—have long struggled to be accepted as equals in the Forest Service, an agency traditionally led by white males at all management levels. Thirteen years ago, I wrote The Greatest Good and The Forest Service: A Centennial History, which included  about what women working in the Forest Service had achieved, and what obstacles they continued to face in the agency. If I were writing that chapter today, what I then called “New Faces, Changing Values” would now be titled “New Faces, Same Old Values.” It seems that all that has changed is the names of those involved in incidents, and not the misogynistic behavior.

There have always been notable exceptions, of course—women who made their way with the help of their male colleagues, as in the cases of the first female smokejumper, Deanne Shulman, and of Geraldine Bergen Larson, the first female forest supervisor.

Too often, though, it’s been like what their contemporary Gene Bernardi, a research sociologist in the California region, encountered in 1973. When a hiring manager preferred to wait for a male applicant to be available rather than hire her, she complained, garnering compensation—but not the job. Fed up, she and other women then filed a class-action lawsuit in California over sexual discrimination. In the end, after years of litigation and negotiation, the Forest Service consented to hire more women and minorities in the region.

Fifty years before that agreement in California, a group of Forest Service female employees met with agency leaders, including Chief William Greeley, to discuss how the agency could “make working conditions pleasant” for women. In 1924, they told leaders how to do so in no uncertain terms. According to the meeting minutes, a “Miss Peyton” observed:

The first summer after I came to the Service a group of freshly-graduated students arrived from one of the forest schools, painfully young, immature looking, and inexperienced, to such an extent indeed, as to cause quite a number of facetious remarks at their expense, one young forester going so far as to remark that they looked too young to be out without their mothers. That’s the way their fellow workers viewed them and gibed them. Then suddenly something else caught and held my attention. The heads of the Service evidently saw those boys from some different angle. The Service didn’t see mere boys. It saw potentialities. It was not looking at the present. It visioned the future.

In other words, don’t denigrate new employees for their lack of experience. Let them work to gain experience and judge them on ability. Asking that women be afforded the same treatment, she went on:

Their history might in fact be written to a large extent in four words: No responsibilities, no experience. And the result? … What has happened to them might easily be indicated in three fateful words: Unused faculties atrophy. Think of it — (they’re) retrograding instead of developing! … Now, reverse the picture, and thereby get a glimpse of these same women as an army of well-developed trained workers. How great the gain!

Ten years after Gene Bernardi filed suit, a Forest Service employee noted, “Given the Forest Service’s traditional values, it’s a big step to open up the organization to women and minorities. It’ll take time, but we’re getting there.”

Today, 35 years later—after Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke resigned in March amid charges of sexual misconduct, and with the agency’s employment practices once again deservedly under scrutiny—the agency appears far from “there.”

It’s time to heed the advice offered nearly a century ago by Miss Peyton: Look at people for their potentialities, not their gender or skin color. Vision this future.

James G. Lewis is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is staff historian at the Forest History Society in Durham, N.C.

Published in Community Voices

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of the Forest Service as well as several agricultural and food-related research agencies, recently told its staffers to avoid using the term “climate change.” The business-as-usual term “weather extremes” was recommended instead.

While dropping the word “climate” may seem like a defeat for those of us who remain convinced that human influences are harming the global environment, this federal directive made in the spirit of changing the narrative might be good advice. Could it be that the term itself has failed us?

Suppose, for a moment, you are in a restaurant, and someone yells, “Help, she’s having a heart attack!” Being a good person, you would no doubt spring into action, call 9-1-1, look for aspirin or a defibrillator, and so on.

Suppose that same person had instead yelled, “Help, she’s having a myocardial infarction!” You would probably react the same way … but wouldn’t you perhaps pause for just a second? Unless you’re a medical professional, wouldn’t you first have to engage in some type of internal translation? I would. The ailing woman might get better care at a hospital with such detailed wording, but the immediate danger she faces in the restaurant hides behind the wrong language.

Here’s the problem: Although most Americans today say that climate change is a real and serious issue, most probably don’t understand what the term “climate” means. The difference between climate and weather, the moving target of climate averages, and the intangibility of climate experience all make “climate” a problematic word to rally around. I know the Northwest has a rainy climate, and because I experience getting wet frequently, I know in my bones that this is true. The same goes for Palm Springs: You have a warm climate. But, alas, the word “climate” can become jargon.

Yes, the climate is changing, but it is an acute global environmental crisis—global warming—that is touching the realities of daily life for millions of people around the world.

Houston just turned into a gigantic lake. Hurricane Irma, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, is on the march across the Caribbean, one of three hurricanes in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico as of this writing. Furnace Creek, Calif., the hottest place on Earth, posted its hottest July on record. Unprecedented peat fires burn in Greenland. Extreme weather events across the globe abound, and they are tied not just to generalized climate change, but directly to heat. The term “global warming” comes with baggage stuffed full of 30 years of politics, but for now it is the best we have.

Both global warming and climate change been used to describe what’s happening to the planet since the 1970s. Conventionally, global warming refers specifically to the rise of average global temperatures, and climate change refers more broadly, to shifts in prevailing environmental conditions, including the odd spot that is getting colder.

As the 1990s and 2000s saw popular culture build concern for global warming, the issue got entangled in bitter politics. Because “global warming” was accused of sounding alarmist, some researchers hoped that the term “climate change” would sound more scientific.

But climate change has been the wrong phrase for the job, because it is too scientific. It has failed to provoke urgency and been easy to pooh-pooh. (It’s probably not a coincidence that a Republican political strategist recommended using the term “climate change,” because he said “it is less frightening than ‘global warming.’”)

“Change” is a neutral term that does not convey that humanity is the culprit behind what’s happening. After all, it is entirely correct that the climate is always changing—a frequent retort from climate-change deniers. Furthermore, many shifts caused by global warming are not climatic—think sea-level rise, ocean acidification and melting glaciers. This further confuses the terminology.

Al Gore has recently taken to talking instead about the “climate crisis.” While I find this a laudable step, there is still a challenge with the word climate—we just can’t touch the climate. “Global weirding” and “global environmental change” both offer alternatives, but both have failed to catch on.

If I look south outside my window, I can see a small patch of dirty blue ice on a mountain in Denali National Park. Just eight years ago, when I first came here, this patch was significantly larger and snow-white all summer long. Now there is a tan bathtub ring around what used to be a glacier. This change is personal, precise and experiential.

Words matter. Words invoke, connote and direct attention as we move through the world. Discouraging use of the term “climate change” might just turn out to be a good thing. As long as we continue to talk about the subject: Let’s stick with global warming.

Alex Lee is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He is an assistant professor of philosophy at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage.

Published in Community Voices

The more things change, the more those changes echo on into the future. Today, we need to listen more carefully than ever to a voice from the mid-20th century—that of writer and Western historian Bernard DeVoto.

At the recent Republican National Convention, the party faithful approved a platform that directs Congress to give “certain” public lands to the states. It’s an old strategy, trotted out like a broken-down show horse at a county fair.

In the mid-1940s, Western policymakers, mainly Republicans, sought to eliminate the federal Bureau of Land Management, remove grazing areas from Forest Service control, and put public land on the path to state control and private ownership. One privatization bill passed the House in 1946, and even enjoyed the support of Interior Secretary Julius Krug, a Democrat.

Sounding the alarm against these terrible proposals came DeVoto’s prescient voice from his “The Easy Chair” column in Harper’s magazine. His warnings are still relevant seven decades later.

The noted writer knew something of the West; he was born and raised in Ogden, Utah, and later wrote prize-winning regional histories. To DeVoto, the land-divestment scheme amounted to a full-frontal assault on the country’s entire conservation program. He was right: The naked power grab he warned us about continues today, with stockgrowers now joined by powerful oil and gas interests. They bristle at any restraints on their self-interests and argue that what they call “local control” is always the answer.

But DeVoto identified a deeper problem that had—and still has—the potential to eat away at democracy itself. In the summer of 1947, the House Subcommittee on Public Lands began holding hearings in picturesque Western towns. Its short-term objective was to stop the Forest Service from reducing the number of grazing permits on public lands, even though overgrazing had seriously compromised many of those rangelands.

The legislative hearings were stacked with sympathetic audiences who had been primed by stock-grower trade journals to believe the worst of any federal agency, and to disbelieve “long-haired scientists” who showed that overgrazing was a problem in the West. A slew of so-called experts, ranchers and their politicians made the case again and again for giving free reign to the stock industry. Conservationists and witnesses who agreed with the Forest Service were allotted 10 percent of the time for testimony.

Unfounded rumors that the agency planned to disallow all grazing were permitted without rebuttal. Entered into the record without clarifications or corrections, these fabrications circulated like crumpled dollar bills. Inflammatory rhetoric and showmanship overcame evidence, much as it does in our time. In trying to expose the plot and set the record straight, DeVoto demonstrated that public hearings—just like party conventions—work as political theater.

Back then, as now, national monuments were in the news. In the mid-1940s, Rep. Frank Barrett, a Wyoming Republican who chaired the traveling public-lands subcommittee, hoped to abolish the Jackson Hole National Monument, which is now mostly protected in Grand Teton National Park. Today, Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, hopes to prevent the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument by establishing two national conservation areas instead, a designation that offers less protection from development.

Bishop and his supporters like to tout their Utah Public Lands Initiative, which includes an alternative that they call the Bear Ears National Conservation Area. The bill’s proponents like the collaborative process it enacts, yet the initiative in its flexible management plans clearly favors grazing and energy producers. The Nature Conservancy, long a partner in the process, recently announced that it cannot back this bill. In addition, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, representing dozens of tribes, has declared that it wants the area protected by a national monument. Meanwhile, Bishop has proposed a “Partner Act” that would end the president’s power to use the 110-year-old Antiquities Act to create a national monument for the Bears Ears area.

DeVoto saw this coming. There is a clear line from those hearings in 1947 to the ones we’re seeing now, in 2016. The ultimate goal then was not just to stop grazing reductions or stymie national monuments; it was to discredit the federal government and its rightful concern for conservation. “The future of the West hinges on whether it can defend itself against itself,” DeVoto said.

During this presidential campaign, we can expect the Republican candidate and his followers to cite the party platform and offer yet more half-truths about public-lands management. As DeVoto showed 69 years ago, lies told often enough erode public discourse and weaken governance. “Against such psychology as this,” DeVoto implored, “only the force of the ballot can defend the public interest.”

Adam M. Sowards is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News, where this piece first appeared. He is an environmental historian at the University of Idaho.

Published in Community Voices

The Northern Rockies are America’s epic mountains, a bastion of grizzlies and other wildlife, and the awe-inspiring terrain that Lewis and Clark explored and chronicled two centuries ago. In Travels With Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck called Montana “a great splash of grandeur. The scale is huge but not overpowering. The land is rich with grass and color, and the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were ever put on my agenda.”

It’s a landscape whose wild spirit draws backpackers, hunters and anglers—and that spirit appears on every page of Where Roads Will Never Reach: Wilderness and Its Visionaries in the Northern Rockies, Frederick Swanson’s history of wilderness-preservation in the region. The book is scrupulously footnoted, yet accessible to the general reader, with maps to show where the writer is taking us.

When you love a place, you want to save it—not just for yourself, but for others. You cherish memories of a backpacking trip into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area or a horse-packing trip into the great complex of the Bob Marshall, Great Bear and Scapegoat wilderness areas. We’re talking big landscapes here—more than 7.4 million acres preserved in 17 wilderness areas.

Such preservation does not come unbidden, like a wind across the plains. It reflects hard work by people who passionately love a favorite wild landscape. This is the story Swanson sets out to tell, by getting into the hearts of those people, interviewing many who were there at the creation.

Swanson begins with a full disclosure: “My heart is, and always has been with the preservationists.” I plead guilty here, too, for I had a role in some of the successes recorded in this book. But my role was minor; the preservation of wilderness areas requires—requires—that the local congressional delegation be behind any proposals for them to succeed. That can only happen when there is broad grassroots support.

And that, in turn, means support not so much from environmental groups, but from the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker—and the hardware dealer: Cecil Garland, for example, a thickly accented North Carolina native who owned a store in Lincoln, Mont. Hearing that the Forest Service planned to log his favorite hunting area, Garland just said, “Nope.” As the ink dried on the 1972 law establishing the 256,647-acre Scapegoat Wilderness, the regional forester groused: “Why should a sporting goods and hardware dealer in Lincoln, Mont., designate the boundaries? If lines are to be drawn, we should be drawing them.”

Wrong. The 1964 Wilderness Act, which chartered our national program of preserving the wildest, most natural portions of our national forest and other federal lands, gave that boundary-drawing authority to Congress. But it took devoted, hard-working volunteers to motivate their elected officials to push wilderness-protection bills through Congress, with the help of legislative giants like Sens. Frank Church, D-Idaho, and Lee Metcalf, D-Mont.

This is the heart of Swanson’s story, and here, he makes a unique contribution, by introducing us to unlikely heroes like Doris Milner, a housewife from Hamilton, Mont., who noticed trees marked for logging in the wild country where she and her family loved to camp. When asked why she got involved, she seemed puzzled by the question: “I just got mad!” And she got her senators involved. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the law, adding Milner’s magical place to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area.

Among those who worked with Sen. Church on the huge River of No Return Wilderness Area were his longtime Idaho camping cronies, led by Ted Trueblood, an editor ofField and Stream. Environment groups joined in and national lobbyists provided advice, but the real power lay with the Cecils, Dorises, and their like across the country.

Well into the 1970s, the leadership of the U.S. Forest Service was on the wrong side of the wilderness. In part, this reflects the agency’s deference to its corporate logging clientele, and in part, a strong dislike to giving up its discretion over the lands under its care—in this case, the decision regarding which should be protected as wilderness, and what boundaries might be folded back to accommodate roads into wild country.

But a balance has been struck in the Northern Rockies. Wilderness has done well, without destroying the region’s economy. After long struggles, a sustainable timber industry is emerging. “A century hence,” Swanson writes, “the Northern Rockies could be a place where generations of loggers still work in the woods, passing along their knowledge of good practices; where families can drive to and camp by peaceful lakes and clear, undammed streams; where agricultural lands fill verdant valleys.”

This review originally appeared in High Country News.

Where Roads Will Never Reach: Wilderness and Its Visionaries in the Northern Rockies

By Frederick H. Swanson

University of Utah

376 pages, $24.95

Published in Literature

The Rim Fire started small enough, on Aug. 17—a 200-acre blaze burning toward a place called Jawbone Ridge from a north-facing slope in the rugged Clavey River canyon, west of California’s Yosemite National Park.

The area was isolated, and no structures were immediately threatened.

By the 19th, local news sites were reporting 2,500 acres burned with evacuations advised for some neighboring communities. By the 22nd, the fire had exploded to more than 53,000 acres, and then it doubled in size the following day as it roared into Yosemite itself, making national headlines.

A video shot from a Channel Islands Air National Guard plane on Aug. 22 shows a towering mushroom cloud of smoke leaning all the way to the horizon, lit gold by flame and low-angle sun, and casting a dark shadow across forested hills. The pilots point out El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall off to the right, then more gravely observe how impressive the fire looks. As they bank towards the blaze, one says, “Wow… that’s kind of creepy.” As they close in to drop a load of fire retardant, with awe: “That is unreal.”

The word is apt for the dramatic flag of smoke and flame unfurling before the pilots’ eyes. And it certainly fits as of Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 27), with the Rim Fire’s footprint now at nearly 180,000 acres, at least 23 structures destroyed, various evacuations in effect, 3,752 people involved with fighting the blaze, well more than $20 million spent, and smoke billowing across the state line into Reno. And despite some progress towards containment (20 percent at last glance), Inciweb predicts continued “very large fire growth due to extremely dry fuels, strong winds and inaccessible terrain. Rapid fire growth and extreme fire behavior are hampering suppression efforts.”

“This fire is burning unlike anything we've seen in this area historically,” U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Ashley Taylor told the Los Angeles Times. In the neighboring community of Groveland, the Times reported, people gathered in the middle of the two-lane highway to watch the smoke rise. Nearly all the businesses in town were closed due to the fire, save for the Iron Door Saloon, in operation since 1852, where, “on Friday afternoon, every bar stool was taken. Maps showing the perimeter of the fire were laid out like place mats. People jabbed their fingers at the maps, swapping updates: ‘His shed is gone. But the house is still there.’”

The damage has indirectly reached all the way to San Francisco, nearly 200 miles away. The fire is burning towards the city’s drinking water in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, and has already disrupted its supply of hydroelectricity, reports the San Francisco Chronicle:

Two of three power production plants downriver from the reservoir had to shut down before the fire swept through, prompting the city to rely on reciprocal agreements with other utilities and to spend about $600,000 buying supplemental power to make up the shortfall. One of the closed plants was still too dangerous to reach, while crews assessed the damage on the other Sunday afternoon and hoped to have repairs completed Monday. It will not be brought online until transmission lines in the fire zone can be inspected.

So far, though, “Despite ash falling like snowflakes on the reservoir and a thick haze of smoke limiting visibility to 100 feet, the quality of the water (itself) is still good,” reports The Associated Press.

The news of the blaze comes as the U.S. Forest Service grapples with paying for firefighting efforts across the nation in a tight budget year. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, more than $1 billion has been spent so far on suppression efforts in 2013 (last year’s tab was $1.9 billion). And for the first time since 2008, on Aug. 20, the NIFC raised the nation’s fire preparedness to level 5, meaning that the vast majority of firefighting resources are already committed to blazes—and that additional help may be needed from the National Guard and others.

Just a few days before, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell had ordered an immediate Forest Service spending freeze for restoration programs, employee travel, and other personnel costs to help funnel an additional $600 million into the agency’s suppression account, which had been bled down to a mere $50 million—about half of what’s typically needed to cover a single week at Level 5, reports E&E News (sub required). Such borrowing has happened six other times in the last decade, totaling $2.7 billion. Of that Congress eventually restored $2.3 billion, “but not without disruptions to important agency programs”—many of them the kind that could help lessen fire risks in the future.

The FLAME Act of 2009 was supposed to help head off that dynamic by creating a reserve fund for firefighting, but it doesn’t appear to be working, perhaps because of fluctuating appropriations.

Meanwhile, Tidwell also announced last week that, to meet the terms of the federal sequester, the Forest Service will withhold $18 million in Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act funds for habitat and restoration work, some of which could also potentially make ecosystems more resilient and resistant to megafires in the long run, reports the Associated Press:

Oregon stands to lose the most in the move, with nearly $4 million in reductions, (leaving) the state with about $3.4 million. (Those of us here in) California would lose nearly $2.2 million, leaving it with about $1 million. Idaho is set to lose $1.7 million, Montana nearly $1.3 million and Alaska, about $930,000—nearly half (its) allotment.

"This is a mess, as forecast," Chris Topik, who directs the Nature Conservancy's Restoring America's Forests program, told E&E News in response to the spending freeze. "It shows that we need to get serious about investing in the restoration work that reduces fire risk. We need to get serious about a new way of funding suppression.”

Sarah Gilman is the associate editor at High Country News, from which this was cross-posted.

Published in Environment

Earl Butz, Richard Nixon’s controversial secretary of Agriculture, was a profane man known for his hair-trigger temper and his rough handling of subordinates. So when the chief of the Forest Service stood him up for a meeting, Butz unloaded in response: “There are four branches of government,” he reportedly snarled, “the executive, legislative, judicial and the Gawd-damn U.S. Forest Service.”

Although current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack might have worded it differently, he probably appreciates the sentiment now: He recently discovered how ornery the powerful Forest Service can be.

At issue was one of Vilsack’s pet projects—an attempt to reshape the image of the entire $132 billion Agriculture Department, which oversees everything from plant and animal inspections, food safety and ending hunger to the health and productivity of national forests. Dubbed “One Brand,” this graphic facelift has engaged Agriculture Department officials overseeing the agency’s 20 departments for the past three years. One Brand’s goal has been to strip each organization of its historic symbols and insignias, replacing them with a generic logo symbolizing the mother ship—the Agriculture Department. All that would remain visually would be the individual agencies’ initials set in much smaller type centered beneath the Agriculture Department’s dominant initials.

It was appropriate that this homogenizing directive was embedded in an innocuous-sounding document called the Visual Standards Guide. It detailed the items that One Brand would cover and announced the establishment of an oversight office within the Agriculture Department—the delightfully named Brand, Events, Exhibits, and Editorial Review Division, acronym BEEERD. Its reach would be broad and deep, extending from the appearance of social-media platforms such as Facebook sites, Twitter feeds and websites, to all signage, vehicles, uniforms, letterheads and envelopes, decals and PowerPoint presentations, right down to the “Hello, My Name Is …” adhesive name tags.

The directive, however, unleashed a firestorm of protest. But the outrage did not come from within the affected agencies, for few staffers knew anything about the impending airbrushing. Instead, it was Forest Service retirees who learned—to their considerable dismay—that longtime agency logos were being phased out and replaced with “a standardized signature model to be adopted by all USDA agencies.” That meant that the Forest Service’s distinctive pine-tree shield ––worn by men and women for well more than a century––would cease to exist.

Infuriated but organized through the National Association of Forest Service Retirees, the critics bombarded the agriculture secretary’s office with phone calls, emails and letters, sending copies to the beleaguered head of BEEERD as well. Protesters also reached out to their congressional delegations, called local talk radio shows, and contacted newspapers and other media.

Their opposition took on the air of a revival meeting. They talked about the emblematic power of the logo to bind them to one another and to the land they helped steward. The evocative shield and the uniform to which it was pinned testified to their devoted public service, they said. Shedding these symbols, and the emotional attachments they held, seemed like a deliberate attack on their collective history. These defenders proved a potent collective, and so overwhelming was their opposition that it forced the Agriculture Department’s hand.

In a one-sentence release on April 4, the department granted the Forest Service an exemption to its One Brand directive. You could hear the hosannas from agency retirees and staffers a mile off.

Every other department in agriculture, however, has had to submit to the exorcizing of their respective insignias, causing blows to their staff’s morale. In British Columbia, Canada, public-land managers in the provincial forest service, learning of their American counterparts’ successful pushback, regretted that they had not had generated as forceful of a reaction when their home department obliterated their own century-old pine-tree emblem in favor of yet another bland, generic symbol.

What this Forest Service protest reveals is a deep uneasiness with the growing, corporate-style flattening of difference and identity within governmental bureaucracies. To their credit, Forest Service defenders showed an alert wariness toward lockstep representation and uniform thought.

Rebranding consultants, like the ones the Agriculture Department hired to guide its efforts, probably promoted this strategy as a positive way to harness a company’s disparate personnel. But the Department of Agriculture is not a business, and its subagencies’ varied missions and different objectives cannot be, and should not have been, unilaterally reined in.

As the dustup with the Forest Service suggests, a proud institutional history is a sustaining source of workplace identity and individual satisfaction. That’s a core value even Earl Butz might have respected.

Char Miller is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He directs the Environmental Analysis program at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., and is the author of the just-released On the Edge: Water, Immigration and Politics in the Southwest.

Published in Community Voices