Environmentalists Reaching Out to Green Republicans
By Andy Kerr
Column #12 - Go to next column
Length: 748 words
Published: 2 January 1997, Wallowa County Chieftain
With the movement of the nation to the right, environmentalists have no choice but to diversify their political alliances beyond the Democratic Party. It is no longer a star upon which the environmental movement should hitch its wagon.
The excessive association between the Democratic Party and the environmental movement was forced by Ronald Reagan. He was the first president to make the environment a partisan issue, forcing the environmental movement into the arms of the Congressional Democrats. An unconscious deal was struck: the Democratic leadership would kill horrible anti-environment bills, but the cost was that great environmental bills wouldn't pass either. Environmentalists have been taken for granted by the Democrats not unlike African-Americans and organized labor. What utility this deal had ended when the Democrats lost Congress in 1994.
The major environmental laws on the books today were passed with the bi-partisan support in the 1960s and 70s. It was Republican Richard Nixon who signed the Endangered Species Act.
As a political issue, the environment is like crime. No one is for crime and no one is against the environment. Of course, vast ideological differences exist on how best to address the issues.
Unfortunately, some politicians still talk green more out of political expediency than genuine concern. The point is that the debate about whether to save the Earth is over; it is now a debate on how.
The Republicans are dominant (for the moment), so let's examine them. There are four kinds of Republicans:
Pro-Government/Pro-Environment Senator John Chafee (RI) is the typecast. He feels that government can often have a positive effect on people's lives and favor regulation to protect the environment. His breed is diminishing.
Pro-Government/Anti-Environment Former Senator Mark Hatfield (OR) liked big government and used government to meet his social and economic objectives including harming the environment. It's possible that new Senator Gordon Smith may try to keep this nearly extinct breed alive in his effort to save the failing and corrupt Bonneville Power Administration.
Anti-Government/Anti-Environment Rep. Bob Smith from Oregon's 2nd Congressional District is the archetype. In environmentalists' minds, they too often typify the Republican Party. Despite their high profile in the rural West, these kinds of Republicans are in a distinct minority within the party.
Anti-Government/Pro-Environment Rep. John Kasich (OH) typifies this type of Republican. As chair of the House Budget Committee, Kasich gets up every morning thinking about the evils of big government and how to downsize it. He also cares about the environment. He signed on to Rep. Elizabeth Furse's (D-OR) measure to repeal the clearcut salvage logging rider because he likes trees and hates subsidies to the Forest Service and timber industry.
This last breed will increase as Republicans seek to consolidate their power.
Most environmental problems can be traced back to government subsidies. Often the best solution is eliminating the tax subsidies to environmentally harmful industries. Environmentalists should work to eliminate the offending bureaucracy, not seek another to counter it.
The major error of the Republican leadership in the last Congress was going after programs, which they saw as excessive government, but which the American people see as protecting the public's health and the environment. The leadership let the anti-government/anti-environment minority go wild and paid for it in the last elections. In this Congress, if the Republicans offer alternatives to big government and regulation which maintain, or even improve, environmental protections, they could do much to ensure their continued majority for some time to come.
The opportunities for the environment are great in the next Congress which will likely balance the budget. Environmentalists are recommending many corporate welfare programs to cut. We'll see whether the fiscal conservatives are truly that, or simply corporate socialists.
By cultivating support in both political parties, and supporting any candidate who is green, regardless of party, environmentalists can re-institute the environment as a bi-partisan issue. In elections, environmentalists must reach the point that the major ideologies are competing as to the best way to protect the environment. Is it regulation, tax incentives, the creation of markets, voluntary actions or what have you? It's never one approach for all problems; it depends on the issue.
Only then can environmentalists fully capitalize on the depth and breadth of public concern about the environment.