Two years ago environmentalists were flying high following the election of President Bill Clinton, Al Gore and a cadre of Democrats in Congress.
Surely this was
the time to reform grazing and mining on public lands, designate
millions of acres of new wilderness, toughen laws protecting water
But the brief window of opportunity
has slammed shut, and environmentalists are gingerly nursing
bruised knuckles with hardly a significant victory to speak of.
Grazing reform limps along an administrative path and Congress has
backed down again on wilderness and revision of the century-old
Even the California Desert Protection
Act, which was seen as a sure thing, passed only in the waning
moments of the session, following an attempted Republican
"The atmosphere for environmental
issues in Congress is as bad as I've ever seen it," says Jim Lyon,
Washington director of the Mineral Policy Center. "With the
exception of the California Desert Protection Act, we're in a
defensive mode. At least under Reagan, the Democrats held
There may be no need to pine for the
Reagan years, when things looked so bad that environmental groups
were able to rally widespread support and at least mount successful
holding actions. An emboldened wise-use/property rights/Christian
Coalition movement, bolstered by an electorate sick of politics and
angry with regulation, has raised candidates and initiatives that
could change government at all levels Nov. 8.
Republicans are positioned to harvest the
alienation, while many of the Democrats swept into office two years
ago are trying to distance themselves from the Clinton
Nowhere is the backlash against
government-as-usual more obvious than in the 10 mountain and desert
states covered by High Country News, and no target is feeling it
more than Washington state's Tom Foley, often cast as the West's
most prominent - and to some environmentalists, traitorous -
In a September open primary, the House
speaker won just 35 percent of the vote while three Republican
contenders split the remaining 65 percent. Foley's opponent in
November, Spokane attorney George Nethercutt, is the happy
recipient of a flood of Republican PAC money from around the
country, and recent polls put him ahead by as much as 20
In Arizona, Republican candidates for
governor and both U.S. House and Senate seats are using
environmentalists and their causes as whipping boys. Gov. Fife
Symington, R, who once proclaimed himself an environmentalist,
recently told the American Mining Congress that the Mexican spotted
owl shouldn't get federal protection because the owl is smart
enough to survive on its own.
"There isn't one
spotted owl on earth that's worth losing a job over," he
Symington, up against perennial Democratic
outsider Eddie Basha, is backing Proposition 300, a ballot
initiative that claims to protect Fifth Amendment property rights.
The proposition requires the state government to produce lengthy
and costly property-rights compact statements before issuing new
regulations; some environmentalists say the vote on it will
indicate just how far the wise-use movement has
In Arizona's largely rural 6th
Congressional District, freshman Rep. Karan English, a Democrat, is
campaigning as if she were an independent candidate, running away
from Clinton and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt as if they were
Her list-of-achievement sheet on
natural resources touts her opposition to the administration's
rangeland reform proposal, as well as her efforts to free federal
timber for logging and relieve copper mining companies from some
reclamation requirements - even though support from
environmentalists enabled her election two years ago. Her opponent
this time is J.D. Hayworth, a popular Phoenix sportscaster who says
the Endangered Species Act goes too far.
neighboring New Mexico, Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman is fighting a
challenge from rancher, oil company owner and banker Colin
McMillan, whose fiery rhetoric leaps straight from the Sagebrush
Rebellion of the 1970s.
"This campaign is about
the attack on the Western way of life. Let's get rid of the killer
Bs - Bingaman, Babbitt and President Bill," he recently told party
"Two years ago our job was to
distinguish between two candidates who claimed to be
environmentalists," says Rob Smith, Southwest regional director for
the Sierra Club. "But the environment isn't a litmus test anymore.
Candidates are running openly against the environment.
Anti-environmentalism is being couched in terms of anti-tax,
anti-government, anti-regulation. It's an attempt to cast the
environmental movement as representative of all the things people
Rancher Jack Metzger, former
federal lands director for the National Cattleman's Association,
says the election will be payback time for environmentalism run
"People are saying "we can't live with the
sky is falling all the time," " says Metzger. "The environmental
movement has stubbed its toe."
environmentalists sick of status quo politics are making their
moves in two states.
In New Mexico, the Green
Party has placed a full slate of candidates on the ballot. Green
gubernatorial candidate Roberto Mondragon, a long-time New Mexico
politico who once served as lieutenant governor under current
governor Bruce King, D, is running strongly in the largely Hispanic
northern parts of the state, including Santa
In Montana, an environmental activist and
artist, Steve Kelly, is making a bid for the state's lone House
seat. Running as an independent candidate, Kelly favors the
creation of a five-state wilderness bill. Democratic incumbent Pat
Williams has tried unsuccessfully for years to pass a smaller,
Some environmentalists and
Democratic leaders label both Kelly and the Green Party as spoilers
who can't win but who could tilt the balance toward right-leaning
In Montana, the Republican
congressional candidate is Cy Jamison, who directed the Bureau of
Land Management during the George Bush years. In the New Mexico
governor's race, the Republican is Gary Johnson, a political
newcomer aligned with People for the West, which backs unregulated
mining, logging and grazing on public lands.
the long-shot challenges might better be seen as a protest against
a two-party system mired in gridlock. "I'm providing Montana voters
a choice for the first time in 54 years," says Kelly. "Nobody is
satisfied with the job Congress is doing. Maybe an outsider can do
Democrats will likely give ground in both
the House and Senate in November, and in the West, Democratic
incumbents are vulnerable to Republican challengers in a dozen
In the state of Washington, a virtual
Democratic sweep in 1992 gave Democrats eight of the state's nine
House seats. Republicans predict they will gain a majority of the
seats this year.
But nothing in politics is a
sure thing. Foley could stage a last-minute comeback and win. And a
slate of more moderate candidates representing the changing
demographics of the West could prevail throughout the region.
Certainly, such candidates have emerged, especially in the
high-growth states of Colorado, Montana and Arizona, and new
coalitions have formed in several states to counter the organizing
of the right wing.
Here's a look at some of the
region's key races.
The governor's race, between Democratic incumbent Bob Miller and
Republican challenger Jim Gibbons (a state legislator from Reno)
has become a race of extremes. Gibbons has aligned himself with the
newly formed Nevada Freedom Coalition, composed of anti-tax,
anti-gay, pro-gun, and anti-environmental organizations. The
coalition supports candidates at all levels of government, from
school boards to the U.S. Senate, pushing an agenda that includes
the return of all federal lands to
Environmentalists say Miller has been no
friend when it comes to grazing and mining reform, but he has
fought for regulation of toxic pollution. "Compared to Miller,
Gibbons would be a real disaster," says Sierra Club activist
Countering the "freedom fighters'
at the state legislative level is the Nevada Progressive Coalition,
which formed last May and includes environmentalists, women's
groups and labor unions. State director Bob Fulkerson says it hopes
to elect candidates that better reflect the booming state's new
"Nevada's Hispanic population
grew by 130 percent between 1980 and 1990," says Fulkerson. "It's a
huge new political force."
MONTANA: No fan of
environmentalists, Republican Sen. Conrad Burns is sweating a tight
race against Democrat Jack Mudd, an attorney and former dean of the
University of Montana's law school.
Burns is a
vocal opponent of efforts to reform grazing and mining on public
lands. He introduced a wilderness bill written by the timber
industry, which killed the chances of a more moderate bill
introduced by Rep. Pat Williams. This could hurt Burns, says Sierra
Club northern plains director Larry Mehlhaff, because Burns
campaigned in 1988 saying he would solve the wilderness issue.
A Great Falls Tribune poll in September showed
Burns with a slim lead of 46 percent to Mudd's 40 percent, with
Mudd attracting young and college-educated
The House race between Williams,
Republican Cy Jamison and independent candidate Steve Kelly has
divided conservationists. Some fear if Kelly wins just 5 or 10
percent of the vote, he will siphon support from Williams, who has
a decent environmental record, and help Jamison.
"It would be a shame if Kelly defeated Williams
and elected a James Watt clone," says Sierra Club political
director Dan Weiss.
Kelly admits he is frustrated
with the Montana wilderness logjam and blames Williams for some of
it. But he says his candidacy represents a much broader
dissatisfaction with government and money's role in
"Environmentalists were tricked" into
thinking that the election of Clinton and the 103rd Congress would
help them with their agenda, he says. "And these are the same ones
calling me a spoiler."
WYOMING: Malcolm Wallop is
stepping down from the U.S. Senate and the big question is: Will
the conservative, anti-environmental Republican be replaced by
someone much like him - Rep. Craig Thomas - or by the more moderate
Democrat Mike Sullivan, who is giving up the governor's seat to
Though no environmental champion, Sullivan
has the support of many activists in the state who say he is an
intelligent consensus builder. Thomas has tried to paint Sullivan
as a close friend of the Clinton administration and one of those
waging "War on the West," criticizing him for working on a federal
grazing reform model for Wyoming.
has won kudos from some ranchers for his efforts to bring
environmentalists and agricultural interests to the table. He has
lashed back at Thomas and Wallop for being critical
"Talk of genocide, divide and
conquer, not only contributes nothing to the debate, but acts as
kind of a bugle call for ... resentment and hatred," he recently
told the Casper Star-Tribune. "I wonder when people talk like that
if they are trying to destroy all possibilities of constructive
resolution of these issues."
Wyoming voters have
clear choices in two other statewide races. State legislator
Barbara Cubin, R, who is trying to win Thomas' vacated seat, has
the support of the wise-use movement and the Christian Coalition.
"She's worse on "War on the West" than Craig
Thomas, if you can believe it," says the Sierra Club's
Cubin's Democratic opponent, attorney
Bob Shuster, has done pro bono work to protect wilderness areas in
Teton County from oil and gas development.
Wyoming governor's race pits popular Secretary of State Kathy
Karpan, D, against Jim Geringer, a state legislator who has pushed
takings legislation. Karpan has worked to slow the sale of state
trust lands and opposes the proposed Noranda gold mine near
Yellowstone. She recently charged Republican leaders with trying to
scare her out of the race by threatening to accuse her of being a
lesbian - a charge she says is baseless and irrelevant. Geringer
claimed in the Casper Star-Tribune that sexual preference is not an
issue, but "to some people that will make a difference ..."
Wyomingites also will vote on a ballot
initiative that would give counties the ability to allow gambling
if a majority of their residents approve.
COLORADO: The House of Representatives race for
Colorado's 3rd District, which covers the western half of the
state, is a showdown between the Old West, in Rep. Scott McInnis,
R, and the New West, represented by state legislator Linda Powers.
Powers, a former councilwoman from the ski town
of Crested Butte, has pushed hard at the state level for new
subdivision rules to slow the effects of growth on agricultural
lands. McInnis has gone to bat for developers and the traditional
extractive industries using the public lands.
think McInnis' support is a mile wide and an inch deep," says Carmi
McLean, executive director of the Denver-based Clean Water Action.
"Our polling shows that the wise-use/takings people are out of
step. Most people like zoning and regulation because it will
protect their property rights." McInnis, however, has enjoyed
strong support in previous elections.
governor's race, incumbent Roy Romer is running for a third term
against Republican oilman Bruce Benson. Romer, who has been
campaigning on the issue of "smart growth," has a big lead over
Benson, who has suffered from "character" problems relating to two
arrests for drunken driving in the early 1980s and a messy divorce.
Romer has aligned himself strongly with Babbitt's grazing
A James Watt protégée, state
Attorney General Gale Norton, faces a challenge by Democrat Dick
Freese, a lawyer who formed the Rocky Mountain Center on the
Environment in the 1960s. Norton, who worked in Watt's Interior
Department and as counsel for the conservative Mountain States
Legal Foundation, supported takings legislation and has shied away
from prosecuting corporate polluters, environmentalists
IDAHO: Attorney General
Larry EchoHawk, a Democrat, leads the race for the governor's seat
vacated by Cecil Andrus. EchoHawk, who is both a Mormon and a
Pawnee, has strong appeal among Republican moderates and Mormons
and is expected to defeat Republican Phil Batt.
Environmentalists say EchoHawk will not be the
feisty fighter Andrus has been on the salmon issue. But they say
the lawyer who brought the state's successful lawsuit against the
National Marine Fisheries Service has the right philosophy and
would hire good people to keep pushing for fundamental changes in
the Columbia River hydro system.
As for Gov.
Andrus' pet project to expand the bombing range in the Oregon
desert, "EchoHawk will let it die," predicts John McCarthy of the
Idaho Conservation League.
Rep. Larry LaRocco, D,
faces a colorful challenge from arch-conservative Helen Chenoweth
in the state's 1st District. Although LaRocco has been no friend of
environmentalists - he has called for salvage logging and recently
fought to allow hunters in areas proposed as a national park in the
California Desert - the "War-on-the-West" spouting Chenoweth would
be a disaster, says McCarthy.
late-summer Sockeye Festival and Feed rally in Stanley, Chenoweth
told a crowd of farmers, "It's the Anglo-Saxon male that's
endangered today. The courts ... are elevating the rights of
animals and plants to the level of humans."
NEW MEXICO: Gauging the
effects of the Green Party dominates headlines in this state.
Democratic leaders are particularly concerned that gubernatorial
Green candidate Roberto Mondragon will hurt the chances of Bruce
King, a Democrat seeking his fourth term. Polls show Republican
newcomer Gary Johnson is mounting a strong
Environmentalists have split camp.
Saying Mondragon is unelectable, the statewide Rio Grande Chapter
of the Sierra Club has endorsed King, a rancher with a weak
environmental record. But the endorsement has spawned an uprising
within the chapter. Activists Susan Schock and Pat Wolff, who is
also the Green Party candidate for state land commissioner, won
seats on the chapter's executive committee with backing from those
who opposed the King endorsement.
other environmental PAC, the New Mexico Conservation Voters
Alliance, has not endorsed anyone for governor. Its literature
notes that Mondragon, who specializes in social issues, "has a ways
to go to demonstrate he can effectively move the environmental
agenda forward," and King "has broken a long list of written
ARIZONA: Voters in
Arizona have clear choices. The seat held by retiring Sen. Dennis
DeConcini, D, is contested by two members of the U.S. House of
Representatives, Democrat Sam Coppersmith and Republican Jon
Coppersmith has the best environmental
record of anyone in the Arizona delegation and is a member of the
Grand Canyon Trust. Kyl, a lawyer who once served on the board of
the Mountain States Legal Foundation and as a lobbyist for the Salt
River water project, has one of the worst environmental voting
records in Congress, says Sierra Club staffer Rob Smith. Kyl also
has amassed a huge war chest, something that Coppersmith, who had
to endure a lengthy vote recount in a dead-heat primary, may have
The races for the seats
vacated by Kyl and Coppersmith are also studies in contrast. In
Kyl's 4th District, Democrat Carol Cure, a lawyer, faces another
lawyer, John Shadegg, whose campaign slogans include "Protect your
property rights' and "Protect your hunting and fishing rights." And
in Coppersmith's 1st District, environmentalists are supporting
Chuck Blanchard over Republican Matt Salmon, another
The Navajo tribal
election is scheduled for the same day as the general election,
which bodes well for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eddie
Basha, whose Navajo support gave him the victory in the primary.
But there could be a hitch. Tribal President
Peterson Zah, who is up for reelection, decided to include a
last-minute ballot initiative on whether the tribe should pursue
gambling. The election board may move the tribal election back a
few weeks if it can't print new ballots in time, which could reduce
Navajo turnout for the general election and hurt Basha, says Tom
Arviso, publisher and editor of the Navajo Times.
The delay could also help Zah's opponents in the
tribal presidential contest - lawyer Albert Hale and Larry Curley,
a health and social services expert who hopes the election board
approves him as a write-in candidate. Hale, who has worked closely
with Zah in redesigning tribal government, is mounting the
strongest challenge, says Arviso.
view Zah's decision to put the gambling issue to a vote as a smart
political tactic that will not risk the tribal leadership's
interest in bringing gaming to the Four Corners area reservation.
Arviso says a series of public meetings held earlier this year
showed that the majority of Navajo people want
UTAH: Two House
races in Utah have distinct environmental significance. In the
state's 2nd District, Democratic freshman Karen Shephard, a 100
percent environmental voter who has fought the Army's plan to shoot
missiles over Moab, faces two opponents: Republican Enid Greene
Waldholtz and Merril Cook, who is running as an independent. Cook
has run for a number of Utah offices, including governor and state
school board, and has wide name recognition; Greene Waldholtz wears
the conservative banner.
In the 1st District,
Republican Jim Hansen is fending off a challenge from Bobbie Coray,
an economic development consultant from the Cache Valley. Hansen
adamantly opposes new wilderness in the state. Recent polls show
Coray, who has the support of the Sierra Club, trailing, but
several national political reports say Hansen is still
Republican PAC money from all over the country is flowing into the
state's 5th District, where Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley
confronts the toughest race of his 29-year congressional career.
That money, including a chunk from a group called De-Foley-Ate
Congress, has bought advertisements in every media market of the
district, including one television spot featuring Foley's face
superimposed on President Bill Clinton's.
environmentalists say they would be glad to see the man who has
long supported logging and aluminium interests in the Columbia
River Basin lose to George Nethercutt, a former aide of Alaska Sen.
Ted Stevens. But others fear a Foley defeat would leave a region
needing pull in Congress without its strongest
A number of Foley's fellow Democrats in
the House, including Jolene Unsoeld and Jay Inslee, are also in
trouble. Unsoeld, whose district includes the timber country of the
state's southwestern forests, barely won more votes in the
September primary than last-minute write-in Linda Smith, R.
"It shows you how well organized the Christian
right is," says Beth Doglio, director of the Washington
Environmental Political Action, noting Smith's support from the
Christian Coalition. Inslee, a freshman who ran as an
environmentalist two years ago, was outpolled in the primary by
Republican Doc Hastings, a state legislator with a Reaganite
On the local level, the Growth Management
Act is the hottest issue, says Doglio (HCN, 9/5/94).
Property-rights advocates are supporting county commissioner and
state legislature candidates who want to weaken the law, which
requires comprehensive plans that protect wetlands and other
natural resources. Doglio says her organization is helping
pro-planning candidates in several counties, though not in the
right-wing strongholds of central and eastern Washington.
OREGON: Oregon voters face a
daunting list of 18 ballot initiatives. Among them are the latest
incarnation of an anti-gay initiative, a ban on bear-baiting and
hunting bear or cougars with dogs, and a measure requiring mining
companies to backfill their pits. The latter was put together by
environmentalists trying to keep a mining company from opening the
first cyanide heap-leach gold mine in the
Democratic Gov. Barbara Roberts is
stepping down from office, and former Republican Rep. Denny Smith
is coming out of retirement in hopes of taking over. Smith, whose
enviromental voting record was perennially among the worst in
Congress, is opposed by Democrat John Kitzhaber, a former state
legislator who was a board member of the Pacific Rivers Council.
Although Kitzhaber has been attacked by Smith
for his environmental bent, the Democrat is known for his ability
to bring opposing viewpoints together, as he showed when he crafted
the state's progressive health plan, says Anna Goldrich, director
of he Oregon Conservation League.
In the House,
two progressive Democratic women are facing conservative Republican
men for two open seats. In the state's rural 2nd District, Sue
Kupillas is running against Wes Cooley for the seat vacated by
conservative Republican Bob Smith. The 5th District contest for
Democrat Mike Kopetski's seat features Catherine Webber against Jim
Bunn. Both Bunn and Cooley have been endorsed by the Oregon
Citizens' Alliance, which put the anti-gay measure on the ballot.
And in Oregon's 1st District, freshman incumbent
Elizabeth Furse, D, is facing the most conservative Republican
backed by the Alliance, Bill Witt. In a New York Times article on
the rise of the Christian right in Oregon, Furse said, "We used to
be known for things like land-use planning - the bottle bill, for
God's sake. We are a progressive state and yet Oregon has become a
real test case for the radical right. If they can do it here, they
can do it anywhere." n
Larmer is HCN's associate editor.