Although People for the West--the antienvironmental "grassroots" lobby of the mining, ranching and logging industries--boasts more than 3,000 Arizona members, fewer than 200 showed up in Mesa last Saturday for the organization's state convention. Most of the conventioneers were over 60, the sort of right-wingers who drive slowly in the left lane because it's their constitutional right.

Big bellies hung over big belt buckles, and cowboy hats stayed on even during the banquet luncheon. Everyone hooted at dramatic readings about endangered owls, mooed over threats to repeal the Endangered Species Act, "that obscene law," and rose to their feet with machine-gun applause to protect their right to bear arms.

Here's what's happening in the West these People are for: Bruce Babbitt "and his monkeys" are rolling over people, the Fish and Wildlife Service is taking paradise from ranchers and loggers, the media tell lies, the United Nations advocates World Government and soon, good, law-abiding, free-enterprising Americans may have to take up arms to beat back the federal government.

"I hope we will continue with ballots rather than bullets to restore our Constitution," warbled the day's best speaker, a University of Texas lawyer and economist named Floy Lilley. She also offered scientific evidence that "lung cancer reduces with increases in radon" and that "the spotted owl is not a species and is not endangered."

Lest anyone think this was a crackpot-conservationist convention, consider that Arizona's distinguished Republican delegation to Congress was there in full force, a-hootin' and a-hollerin' and speaking in tongues with the best of them.

Governor Fife Symington, who last year won People for the West's Conservation Leadership Award, was a no-show--even though he was advertised as a scheduled speaker. And Arizona Speaker of the House Mark Killian--who was to receive this year's award--called in sick.

But three freshmen U.S. representatives--Matt Salmon, John Shadegg and J.D. Hayworth--all stood up to take their cracks at Babbitt, Bill Clinton and the Endangered Species Act.

Congressman Hayworth waved his People for the West membership card at the audience (along with a scrap of paper he claimed was a copy of the Contract With America he carries in his wallet) while eloquently promising that the free market will flower like the return of spring to the rural areas even though the darkest hour is just before dawn because the laws, like the times, they are a-changin'. He vowed to grab the bull by the china closet as he was "running around Washington, trying to cut down on pork personally." Whether that last remark had to do with a new diet was unclear.

Mysteriously, more than once, the big man stated that he could not freely speak his mind on the issues, because the MEDIA were present in the convention hall. Apparently, he thought that with the press being FREE and ALL THAT, his freely spoken words might actually be digested by the electorate. And apparently, he's forgotten that not so long ago, Hayworth was part of the media and that his reading the sports on TV every night might have had something to do with voters recognizing his name at the polls. But memories can be partial, and so can truths.

For example, in support of logging, Hayworth climactically pointed out that in Scandinavia, it's illegal not to clean dead wood out of the forest to help prevent forest fires. What he didn't mention, and may not know, is that Sweden's bogs and moors and about 200 native species are disappearing because of that fastidious forest gardening. Hayworth, by the way, will bring his environmental expertise to a House task force that will examine and reconsider the Endangered Species Act.

His congressional colleague, John Shadegg, who is chairing a House task force on takings (when the federal government takes your "property" by enforcing environmental regulations), got a standing ovation and shrieks of joy when he boldly described how easily the House of Representatives could render powerless the Fish and Wildlife Service by wiping out its budget. When the applause died, a seemingly embarrassed Shadegg said, "Yeah, we're preaching to the choir here."

If the rhetoric was stale and predictable, the conference was the best possible place to brush up on the latest antienvironmental jokes.

"Hi, I'm Bruce Babbitt, and I'm here to help you," quipped Matt Salmon at the start of his shtick.

"I tell you what," he continued. "The other day in Washington, it was so cold, I was wishing for some global warming."

The audience tittered.
"And I took my kids to see Jurassic Park and I thought, 'Boy, am I glad that there was no Endangered Species Act then.'"

But seriously, folks.
"What's the difference between a lawyer and a catfish?" Pause.
"One's a scum-sucking bottom dweller--and the other's a fish."
Rim shot! And those pesky owls?

"I can't remember the name," Salmon went on and on, "but they tasted great. They blew in from Mexico. . . . In Mexico, there's so many, you're steppin' on 'em everywhere you go."

And speaking of funny, Hayworth, not to be outdone while being outspoken, related a conversation he'd had in the lobby of the convention hall with an imaginary friend who brought up a new problem for the Endangered Species Act.

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