Sierra Club Home Page   Environmental Update  
chapter button
Explore, enjoy and protect the planet
Click here to visit the Member Center.         
Take Action
Get Outdoors
Join or Give
Inside Sierra Club
Press Room
Politics & Issues
Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Books
Apparel and Other Merchandise
Contact Us

Join the Sierra ClubWhy become a member?
Sierra Main
In This Section
  September/October 1998 Features:
Two-Wheeled Revolution
Environmental Impact
The Hidden Life of Bananas
Texas on My Mind
Field Guide
Ways & Means
Good Going
Way to Go
Hearth & Home
Lay of the Land
Home Front
Natural Resources
Last Words

Sierra Magazine
Ten Tight Races That Could Shape Our Future

Christopher Shays. Bob Franks. Connie Morella. Here at the Sierra Club, some of our best friends really are Republicans. We endorse and actively campaign for Earth-friendly Republicans at every level of government, and fervently wish there were more of them. The Club's own president, Chuck McGrady, is a registered Republican.

But there's no denying that GOP control of Congress has been an environmental disaster itching to happen. The 104th Congress' depredations, marked by attacks on everything from national parks to clean water, were called off only when polls suggested that voting to trash the environment might be an act of political suicide. By the waning days of the session in 1996, the Capitol was dizzy with legislators trying to spin away from their own indefensible records.

That wasn't the end of it, though. The old arrogance typified by the bilious head of the House Resources Committee, Alaskan Don Young-who once vowed revenge on "the waffle-stomping, intellectual bunch of idiots" known as environmentalists-lost some of its strut, but none of its purposefulness. Like a belled cat, the GOP leadership merely refined its stalking technique. It now preys on the environment using legislative riders and budget cuts, thus avoiding messy floor debates and separate recorded votes. (See Ways and Means)

As 1998 dawned, the conventional wisdom was that Republicans, as the party locked out of the White House, would make significant gains in Congress; that's what has happened in every non-presidential election since 1938. By May, though, the GOP's hold on Congress was slipping. "The darkening of this sunny outlook creates anxiety for GOP lawmakers who dread the loss of majority perquisites after enjoying them for only four years," lamented conservative columnist Robert Novak. "What is damn near tragic," added GOP consultant Craig Shirley, "is that instead of talking about gaining 15 to 40 seats, we are trying to hold on to what we have or survive with a little less."

We'll soon know how the drama ends; Democrats need a net gain of 11 seats to retake control of the House. Short of a wholesale leadership change, however, November could still bring a substantially greener Congress. According to Greenwire, the online daily of The National Journal, the environment will play a "significant role" in at least 10 Senate and 37 House races this fall. "In most of the races on our list," the editors said, "environmental issues are likely to sway a relatively large number of voters in a closely fought campaign."

Vulnerable incumbents include Senator Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.), who would weaken laws that protect rivers from his own livestock operations, and Representative Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho), a charter member of the "wise-use" movement. The following pages highlight ten tight congressional races whose outcomes are sure to have a major impact on the environment. They also provide some revealing evidence of the quality of representation we've been getting from our elected officials, both good and bad. If that's not enough to motivate you to work (or at least vote) for pro-environment candidates, ask yourself this question: Don't you just love the sound of "Don Young, bilious former chair of the House Resources Committee"?


  • Barbara Boxer
  • Alfonse D'Amato
  • Patty Murray
  • Maurice Hinchey
  • Brian Baird
  • Jim Maloney
  • Connie Morella
  • Lane Evans
  • Tom Udall
  • Roxanne Qualls


    Call them wannabes or call them has-beens, but don't try calling them at the House or Senate. Two old soldiers in Congress' War on the Environment, California's Frank Riggs and Oregon's Wes Cooley, are finally fading away.

    Riggs, a militantly pro-timber North Coast congressman, gained national notoriety last year when he applauded sheriff's deputies who rubbed pepper spray in the eyes of peaceful anti-logging protesters. His views didn't play any better at home than they did beyond California's borders. Facing long odds against re-election to the House, he announced that he'd run for Barbara Boxer's U.S. Senate seat instead. He never got out of the blocks.

    A fanciful comeback bid by Cooley—who was convicted of lying about his Korean War combat record and left Congress in disgrace—was shot down in his state's GOP primary. Cooley once introduced into the Congressional Record a letter he'd signed denouncing his Republican colleague Sherwood Boehlert for consorting with the "radical" Sierra Club. If Cooley is remembered at all by environmentalists, it will be for a 1996 newspaper photo that showed him unceremoniously flipping the bird to Club staffers on the grounds of the Capitol.


    In December 1996, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R) lashed out at "wacko environmentalists" who, he alleged, "want to tell us what deodorant we can use and what kind of gas to put in our car." Last April, Huckabee, a Baptist minister, added a religious gloss to that assessment, telling the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation that "environmentalists are those who worship the things [God] made rather than He who made them." But when 44 public-interest groups accused him by letter of "demagoguery on a scale beyond that normally seen in the course of public debate," Huckabee issued a mea culpa. "It would have been more appropriate," he acknowledged, "if I made a distinction between environmentalists and those who could be considered 'radical' or 'extreme' environmentalists."

    For Missouri Republican Kit Bond, alas, that's too fine a distinction. When Bond, running for re-election to the Senate this year, was asked about his recent vote to weaken Superfund toxic-cleanup legislation, he played the loony card. "We've seen the green socialists complain about the Superfund," explained the senator, waving away objections to his party's putative "reform" legislation. "The wackos don't like the bill."


    Credit Sherwood Boehlert, Republican congressman from New York, for knowing a naked greenscam when he sees one—and having the guts to say so. A PR-minded band of Newt Gingrich allies in June launched the Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates to put an Earth-friendly spin on the records of Congress' sorriest anti-environmentalists, including Representatives Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho). But the masquerade was too much for Boehlert, a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool Republican environmentalist. "I looked at the lineup and I decided not to participate," he told The Washington Post. "You need to do more than establish an organization with a good-sounding name."


    GOP control of Congress has put some of its most rabid anti- environmentalists at the heads of some of its most environmentally pivotal committees. And while no one's predicting a change in the Senate's leadership, there's at least a chance the House could fall to the Democrats this November. That would force current committee chairs to move into less powerful seats at the table.

    A few of the House chairs whose ouster would be music to the ears of conservationists:

    Don Young (Alaska), Resources Committee. Young's first act on assuming command of the Natural Resources Committee was to drop the word natural from its name. As pro-development as they come, he favors oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, increased logging in the Tongass and other national forests, and cutbacks in endangered species protection-and that's just for starters. (See "Leader of the Pack" in Sierra's November/December 1995 issue.)

    Helen Chenoweth (Idaho), Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health. Chenoweth's 1994 campaign featured "endangered salmon bakes," and two terms in office haven't dampened her perversely aggressive ignorance about Idaho's (and America's) environment. This magazine gave her one of its "eco-thug" awards in 1996. More recently, in tandem with Don Young, she's been threatening to slash the Forest Service's budget if it dares to slow the destruction of our national forests.

    Richard Pombo (California), Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry. It's bad enough that Pombo, another Sierra eco-thug, happily took the lead in Don Young's 1995 effort to trash the Endangered Species Act. But he also chairs this key panel at a time when environmentalists are calling for tougher pollution standards for huge hog and poultry operations. Property-rightist Pombo has declared that the "eco-federal coalition"-his phrase for people who call for tougher pollution standards-"owes more to communism than to any other philosophy."

    James Hansen (Utah), Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Lands. Hansen, a nine-term member of his state's pave-the-wilderness congressional delegation, has tried to curtail the president's power to create national monuments-such as Grand Staircase-Escalante in Hansen's home state-and to enable state governments to grab up federal lands for development. He not only supported a 1995 bill to sell off national parks, but ensured that it reached the House floor under rules that restricted debate and banned amendments.


    The League of Conservation Voters-which ranks legislators according to their votes on selected environmental legislation- reports that Congress "marched toward the middle on the environment" in 1997. There were fewer zeroes than in the last Congress, but also fewer heroes.

    The 105th Congress suffers from a failure of leadership, LCV ratings show. While GOP senators averaged a miserable 16 percent in 1997, the four top-ranking Republicans-Majority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.), Majority Whip Don Nickles (Okla.), Conference Chairman Connie Mack (Fla.), and Conference Secretary Paul Coverdell (Ga.)-earned a collective zero. Things weren't much better in the House: while the rank and file eked out a paltry 27 percent average, the leadership-Majority Leader Dick Armey (Texas), Majority Whip Tom DeLay (Texas), and Conference Chairman John Boehner (Ohio)-averaged 17 percent. (As House Speaker, Newt Gingrich rarely votes on legislation.) Chairs of the five environmental committees in the House were even worse, scoring 6 percent each; like most others who escaped a zero rating, their sole pro-environment vote was for H.R. 1420, a benign wildlife refuge bill. In the Senate, John Chafee (R-R.I.) scored 71 percent as head of Environment and Public Works, but he's clearly out of step with his fellow "environmental" chairs. No one else earned more than 29 percent.

    Compared to the last Congress, the 105th had 25 fewer House members scoring over 80 percent in 1997, and 59 fewer scoring under 20 percent. "As members increasingly score somewhere in the middle on the environment," LCV reported, "fewer members are taking strong leadership roles for pro-environment initiatives."

    Scoring 100 percent in the Senate: Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), John Glenn (D-Ohio), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), and Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.). Scoring 100 percent in the House: Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Maurice Hinchey (DN.Y.), Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), James McGovern (D-Mass.), Michael McNulty (D-N.Y.), Martin Meehan (D-Mass.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), John Tierney (D-Mass.), Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), and Walter Capps (D-Calif.), who died in office earlier this year.

    Scoring zero in the Senate: Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). Scoring zero in the House: Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.).

    B. J. Bergman is Sierra's writer/editor. Senior editor Paul Rauber contributed to the profiles.

    Up to Top

    HOME | Email Signup | About Us | Contact Us | Terms of Use | © 2008 Sierra Club