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Cedar City • During a morning session at the Western Freedom Festival on Friday, Iron County Commissioner Dave Miller presented a slide on cognitive dissonance that featured Calvin from the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes."
"It's not denial," the smiling boy said. "I'm just very selective about the reality I accept."
Miller showed the slide near the beginning of his presentation on the proper role of government to explain that, despite controversy and negative attention, the goal of the event was not to be antagonistic or have a "bash session" about the federal government.
"The objective of coming together is not to create animosity with a federal partner," he said, "but to try to figure out how we work with a federal partner in a way that protects our unalienable rights and protects our interests at home."
About 100 people attended the Legacy of Freedom Conference portion of the festival at the Cedar City Heritage Center. A country concert was scheduled for Friday evening at Southern Utah University's Centrum Arena.
Other speakers found plenty of fault in the federal government's management of public lands.
Gubernatorial candidate and Overstock.com chairman Jonathan Johnson, the festival's marquee sponsor, said the federal government operates under the "arrogant" assumption that states require help from Washington.
"It's time for states to step up and tell the federal government 'Yes, we can and will manage our own affairs,' " he said.
Miller attributed the imbalance of power to government officials acting outside of their constitutional authority. He said people possess the unalienable rights of life, liberty and property, and if there is a proper role of government, it is to reflect and protect those rights.
"God is the creator of your rights, and only those rights that are yours can you delegate to a government," Miller said.
West Jordan Republican Rep. Ken Ivory, during a presentation on federalism, described the federal government as a bloated, and growing, front wheel of a bicycle.
"Until we solve the system problem, it doesn't matter how hard you pedal on the bike," he said. "In fact, the harder you pedal, the worse it could be."
He said that states already possess sovereign rights, and rather than timidly ask for the ability to use their powers, states need to act and draw firm lines between themselves and the reach of Washington, D.C.
"Where there is no line, there is no limit," he said. "Where there is no limit, there is no liberty."
The festival, sponsored in large part by county governments in southern Utah, was seen by some critics as a publicly funded stage for Ivory and the American Lands Council, a nonprofit organization he launched to push for state ownership of federal public lands.
That effort is presumed doomed by many. A public-accountability organization earlier this year called Ivory a snake oil salesman, proselytizing an anti-federal government rhetoric and empty promises throughout the western United States.
Prosecutors with the Utah Attorney General's Office on Wednesday announced they had concluded an investigation into Ivory and would not pursue legal action, citing a low likelihood of prosecution.
Ostensibly a celebration of Western heritage, Friday's freedom festival included presentations on the impacts of environmental policies, the transfer of public lands and the constitutional limits on government.
The political bent was enough to prompt Iron County School District administrators, after receiving complaints from parents, to cancel a patriotic performance by the district's fifth-grade students.