Salt Lake City — The buck starts here. The desk of Utah Gov. Scott M. Matheson -- bathed in a bright afternoon sunlight that streams across the Salt Lake valley and into his sedate executive office -- hardly looks like central headquarters for a revolution. The atmosphere is too calm.
But when the man behind the desk leans back in his comfortable leather chair and begins to speak, the mood changes.
"It is up to the states," he says, "to aggressively take after the federal government and put them back in their historical posture of federalism. And that means the states play a vital partnership role."
The tone reflects controlled outrage -- reserved but determined.
"We are just now beginning to assert ourselves," he continues. "The burden is on us to put our act together and force it on the federal system. They are not going to give anything up without a fight. We have got to take it away."
These are words from the mouth of a first-term Democrat at the top of a state thick with Republicans. They are the products of encounters and entanglements with Washington bureacrats and policymakers over water rights, transportation to his state of dangerous nerve gas bombs from Denver, land claims to federal property, radioactive fallout from nuclear testing decades ago, and, today, the most involved wrestling match -- whether to deploy the mammoth MX- missile systems in the western valleys of Utah.
While Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm and Montana Gov. thomas Judge also have gained a reputation as ringleaders of the so-called "sagebrush rebellion," Governor Matheson is seen by many articulating the needs of the West. He is quick to mobilize Utah over any problem and does not flinch at persisting until an issue is resolved.
Concern over moving the deadly "weteye" nerve gas bombs from Denver has involved three years of relentless arguing.today, with files stuffed full of assurance from the federal government that the project is safe and well-managed, the governor remains unsatisfied.
"I would not give high marks to the federal government for support and cooperation in terms of good, healthy, legitimate, on-the-table negotiations," says. "But that is the nature of the federal system: The central government always tries to eat up the states."
Governor Matheson says he believes the hear of the problem is an overextended Congress and policies that encourage waste.
As an example, he points to medicaid and the open-ended system of matching two-thirds federal money with one-third state money in unlimited amounts.
"We are on the road to bankruptcy because of that," be says. "Everybody is jockeying for money, and that example can be magnified many times. Every federal over air pollution control, water pollution control, land managements -- all those directives are decided at the federal level, and we don't really have much of a role to play."
To improve the state's posture, Governor Matherson, a Stanford University-trained lawyer who spent most of his career representing the Union Pacific Railroad, favors increased reliance on revenue sharing and total abandonment of congressional grants that arrive in the states with strings attached. Politicians may get credit for delivering specific money to a specific project for a specific need, but the result, he says, is poor management and ineffective delivery of public services.
"We use up the resources of the people to monitor the money ," he says . "Categorical grants are smothering efficiency and inordinately increasing the power of the federal government. . . ."
Governor Matheson and Nevada Gov. Robert F. List are currently deciding what tack their states will take in confronting the US Air Force over its $33 billion MX-missile project.
Both governors are concerned that the Air Force has not adequately considered alternative sites or methods of deploying the missiles.
Governor Matheson today is concentrating on the MX project -- holding public meetings, firing up a state task force to check Air Force claims, and working to gain knowledge himself about weapons systems and the possible environmental damage to the fragile Western deserts.
He fears that the Air Force already has decided on the Utah-Nevada location.
"I honestly believe the state has to make a decision on deployment within 60 days. I just don't want to take any chances on not having our state right out front in helping decide its future," he says.