Was there ever a serious effort, prior to the 2017 reduction, to upgrade Grand Staircase-Escalante from a National Monument to a National Park? If so, why did it fail? If not, why not?
There was no serious effort to change Grand Staircase-Escalante from a monument to a park--in fact, somewhat, the opposite.
With the designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante as a national monument, a change was made in the standard practice of who would oversee the monument. By leaving the the monument with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the occasional progression of monument to park was disrupted. This change came about after Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt talked with BLM California Director Ed Hastey.
NATIONAL MONUMENTS - How a Utah designation transformed politics in the West, July 13, 2016.
Babbitt got the idea during a 1993 hike through BLM's East Mojave National Scenic Area with BLM California Director Ed Hastey. A bill at the time by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) would have transferred the desert's scenic valleys, dunes and lava flows from BLM to the Park Service to become the Mojave National Preserve.
Hastey told Babbitt the lands should stay with BLM.
"We'd been managing it for a long time, and there's no question we had the expertise," Hastey told Greenwire. Transferring the lands would "impact the morale of our people who worked hard to make that a scenic area."
BLM - Guidelines For A Quality Built Environment, First Edition, December 2010, pp 15-16.
In recent decades, conservation and recreation have become increasingly central to BLM’s mission. In the 1990s, Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt was a powerful voice for BLM. Babbitt was influential in President Clinton’s decision to establish Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a new model for BLM. In the past, when national parks and monuments were established, management passed from BLM to the National Park Service. By contrast, Grand Staircase-Escalante remained under the jurisdiction of BLM. Babbitt believed that the agency should “have a sense of pride rather than ... a bunch of inventory in the garage that is discovered and given to someone else” (Allen 2002, 163)
Additional BLM national monuments have been established since Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was established. These special places protect and raise awareness for spectacular natural landscapes, rare plant and animal communities, and outstanding archeological and paleontological resources. Suddenly “the lands nobody wanted” are drawing legions of new visitors and being recognized for their exceptional values. Christened the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), these BLM lands include national conservation areas and similar congressionally designated conservation areas, as well as national monuments, wilderness and wilderness study areas, wild and scenic rivers, national scenic and historic trails, and conservation lands of the California Desert. The NLCS was legislatively established through the 2009 Omnibus Public Land Management Act, affirming the importance of the System and its mission.
I’m having trouble locating any effort, because all my searches turn up Rep. Chris Stewart’s "too little, too late" proposal that post-dates the 2017 reduction and would therefore include only the reduced monument.
Rep. Stewart's proposal was made December 6, 2017 and died in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands December 14, 2017. [H.R.4558 - Grand Staircase Escalante Enhancement Act — 115th Congress (2017-2018)]