Gale Norton Picked for Secretary of Interior
by Ari Armstrong
[The following article originally appeared in the January/February 2001 edition of Colorado Liberty.]
Former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton was selected as Secretary of Interior by George W. Bush. Norton was a member of the Libertarian Party of Colorado in the late 1970s -- she even wrote an article for the Volume 1, Number 5 edition of the Colorado Liberty (December 1979 / January 1980). Norton knew LP founder David Nolan when he lived in the area.
In the mid-1990s, Norton attended a few sessions of the Austrian Economics Study Group, a reading club that focuses on the works of such free market economists as Ludwig von Mises. Around this time, she addressed the Business Ethics Forum on the subject of asset forfeiture. More recently, Norton served on the Board of Directors of the Independence Institute, a market-oriented think tank in Golden.
Norton's appointment has raised mixed feelings among Libertarians. According to a January 2 article in the Christian Science Monitor, "The Interior Department is responsible for 436 million acres of America's public lands -- nearly 20 percent of all the land surface in the US. This includes about a third of the natural gas, a third of the coal, and a quarter of the oil consumed by Americans."
During his run for President, Libertarian candidate Harry Browne ran on a platform that included selling off all national land holdings in order to pay off Social Security obligations, thus freeing Americans from the burden of that system. Certainly as a Bush appointee Norton will pursue a much more conservative course.
"Of course we want the federal government to handle public property in a responsible manner," said Bette Rose Smith, current Chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado. "But doesn't Ms. Norton see a problem with the fact that the government owns this much land?"
Libertarians and other Constitutional literalists argue the U.S. Constitution allows Congress to establish post offices and post roads and to erect "Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards and other needful Buildings." Nowhere is Congress empowered to exercise control over such huge portions of the American landscape.
"We hope Ms. Norton will start the long-overdue process of returning these lands to the people," said Smith. "Proceeds from the land auctions could go towards paying down the debt or for buying annuities for retirees, allowing them to leave the unreliable Social Security system."
Smith continued, "If she is really worried about land being used in an environmentally responsible way, putting land back in the hands of private citizens is the best way to accomplish this. Owners protect land much better than federal administrators."
Still, many Libertarians see Norton's appointment as a positive step. In his address at last November's Libertarian election night party in Denver, W. Earl Allen suggested that one way Libertarians can achieve progress is by influencing the two major parties.
Norton's appointment demonstrates that the Libertarian Party -- and the much broader libertarian movement -- does impact the political landscape, even if libertarians view the changes as painfully slow and the results as discouragingly diluted.
Independence Institute News Release
Former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton, who serves the Independence Institute currently as a member of the Board of Trustees and who previously held the post of Senior Fellow with the Institute, was named Secretary of Interior Thursday by President-Elect George W. Bush.
During her tenure on the Independence Institute's Board of Trustees, Ms. Norton has helped guide policy decision-making regarding important administrative matters affecting the Institute. She served the Institute as a Senior Fellow between 1988 and 1991.
"We're very proud of the great job she has done as part of the Independence Institute. She has really helped steer us to success," stated I.I. President Jon Caldara, who recruited Ms. Norton to the Colorado think tank's Board of Trustees in January 1999, when her eight-year term as Colorado Attorney General ended. "Her free market perspective and respect for property rights will make her a great steward of the nation's public lands."
"Gale has shown a unique ability to bring together a diverse group of people without losing her principles," Caldara added. "If her leadership at the Independence Institute is any indication, America can expect an effective, straightforward and honest Department of Interior."
A nationally recognized public policy leader, Ms. Norton has served as Chair of the Environment Committee for the National Association of Attorneys General, was appointed by President George H. Bush to the Western Water Policy Commission, and gained her initial experience in the Department of the Interior as an Associate Solicitor overseeing endangered species and public lands issues for the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service. She also worked as Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.