Compared to the passionate fight to save redwoods from logging in the privately owned Headwaters grove, the campaign for California's 1st Congressional District is a skirmish. But it has attracted national environmental groups aiming to strengthen protections for wildlife, water and woods.
target is Republican Frank Riggs.
ranges from the well-heeled wineries of Napa Valley north of San
Francisco through tiny fishing and logging communities to Crescent
City, home to Pelican Bay State Prison on the Oregon
A sheriff's deputy turned politician,
Riggs, 45, is seeking a third term representing the sprawling
1,500-square-mile district. His support comes from the financial
and real estate industries as well as local timber, agribusiness
and mining companies.
The League of Conservation
Voters named Riggs to its "dirty dozen" polluters list after giving
him a zero rating for his 1995 stand on environmental issues. He is
also on a Sierra Club list of 25 candidates targeted for
Challenging Riggs is Michela Alioto, 28,
granddaughter of former San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto. After
defeating the candidate backed by the Democratic party in the
primary election, Alioto now has the party's full support in her
bid to become the youngest woman in Congress.
1992 graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles,
Alioto spent over two years at the White House, first as a
transition liaison for the Department of Health and Human Services,
then as an aide for Vice President Al Gore, preparing daily press
briefings on telecommunications, the environment and other
Backed by her San Francisco family
connections, Alioto is sophisticated about politics and promises a
liberal stance on social issues, says Lynda McClure, a Mendocino
County organizer and political activist. Alioto is campaigning on a
green-leaning platform but her position on environmental issues is
"The jury is out on her. But the
jury's in on Riggs," says McClure. "He's convicted."
Riggs has voted to gut Environmental Protection
Act enforcement and clean water laws. He voted for the timber
salvage rider, which suspends appeals on dead and certain green
timber harvests on federal land. In the controversy over northern
California's redwood forest, however, Riggs favored protecting the
much-fought-over Headwaters grove and a buffer zone with a land
swap of about 4,700 acres.
But this was far less
than environmentalists - and some other politicians - wanted to
save from being logged. A tentative land swap brokered last month
protects 7,500 acres in and around the grove, which is the world's
largest ancient redwood forest under private ownership (HCN,
9/30/96). Environmentalists had called for the preservation of the
entire 60,000-acre ecosystem.
Riggs has sometimes
bragged about his anti-environmental stand, telling reporters,
"Newt is greener than I am." That was a joke, says Beau Phillips,
Riggs' campaign manager. And the League of Conservation Voters'
zero rating is "a bum rap," Phillips says.
cited 1995 legislation authored by Riggs which extends federal
funding for fish and wildlife restoration in the Klamath and
Trinity rivers. Riggs also introduced bills to permanently ban new
off-shore drilling and preserve nearly 25,000 acres in the King
While local environmentalists welcome any
efforts to protect natural resources, Riggs' work represents the
bare minimum, says Tim McKay, coordinator of the Northcoast
Environmental Center. "Riggs views the environment as commodities
first. He sees national forests as a source of wood fiber, not a
source of clean water and habitat for fish and wildlife."
Alioto has no voting record to reflect her
position on environmental issues, but she is campaigning on
promises to reverse most of the stands Riggs has taken. She would
repeal the salvage rider and oppose the House-adopted Clean Water
Act amendments. In the Headwaters Forest controversy, Alioto
supports the proposal to preserve 7,500 acres of redwoods as a
first step. She is not promoting preservation of the 60,000-acre
But even this modest environmental
stance is eroded by Alioto's investment portfolio. She owns as much
as $50,000 worth of stock in DuPont, called the nation's leading
corporate polluter in a report issued recently by the EPA. She also
owns as much as $50,000 stock in Exxon and up to $100,000 in
"Does Ms. Alioto think voters are stupid
enough to believe that she really cares about the environment when
the only real record she has is her ownership in America's number
one corporate polluter?" asks Pam Simpson, Riggs'
David Madland, Alioto's campaign
staffer, says calling her anti-environmentalist is sheer hypocrisy
coming from Riggs, who has accepted over $100,000 from timber,
mining and agribusiness companies.
months, the candidates have traded dirty tricks. A magazine article
hung in the window of Riggs' campaign headquarters compared the
Alioto grandfather-granddaughter relationship to that of Benito
Mussolini and his granddaughter, Alexandra. Riggs apologized. The
tables turned a month later when two of Alioto's staffers - her
brother and her cousin - conspired to improperly gather Riggs
campaign material through a San Francisco television station where
one of them was a summer intern. Alioto
The exchange has left many political
activists lukewarm about the tactics of the campaign. "So far it's
a pissing match," says McClure. "It's a silly little stand-off on
* Jane Braxton
Jane Braxton Little
writes from Plumas County,