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Know the West

"But you don’t sound like a republican..."


Martha Marks, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection, has gotten used to funny looks and puzzled questions. Yes, she’s a green elephant — but she objects to being put in the same category as "jumbo shrimp" and "deafening silence." She is not an oxymoron. What she is, she says, is "the environmental conscience of the GOP," a reminder that Republican President Teddy Roosevelt created our first national park, and Republican Richard Nixon signed our landmark environmental laws. These days, Marks says, her party leaders have veered from their conservation roots. But, from her home base in Santa Fe, N.M., Marks has been trying to revive the green ethic in the GOP. Her grassroots group now has about 2,000 members nationwide. Martha Marks recently appeared on Radio High Country News to talk about her project:

On the roots of conservation

There’s nothing more fundamentally conservative than conservation. I like to say, "If conservatives won’t conserve, who will?"

On current leadership in the GOP

My party in recent years has not been friendly toward environmental protection. That doesn’t mean there are no people in the Republican Party who care about those things, but the leadership certainly doesn’t give any indication that it has a strong conservation ethic. And so, while we believe that it’s good that Republicans are in control of the House and the Senate and the White House, we would like to see them do a better job of protecting our environment and natural resources. We certainly will not support them if they do otherwise.

The Big Question

Reporters for years have asked me, "Why don’t you just become a Democrat?" I’ve never been a Democrat. I’ve always been a Republican. I grew up in a military family, singing "God Bless America" as we drove around Western Europe in the years right after World War II. And I’ve always been a conservationist. I never used to think it was funny. It’s only been in recent years that that’s been troubling.

The "R" word

Regulations sound like a dirty word. But in fact, we have regulations for everything. The Republican Party has not been trying to throw out regulations to control traffic. We don’t throw out regulations for schoolchildren getting their inoculations. There are many places where we accept regulations. It’s curious to me that regulations have become a bugaboo in the Republican Party, primarily as it regards environmental issues. And I think it’s a red herring. It’s a bogus issue.

On making a difference

We now have grassroots activists in 48 states who are flexing their muscles in different ways. We write letters to the editor and op-eds. We have a political committee that works to try to make sure that green Republicans stay in office. We are definitely a force in the party. The party leaders know about us. I often laugh and say that they wish we’d sit down and shut up.

Red, white and blue ... and green

We tend to talk in terms of conservative values, like individual responsibility, how it’s not necessarily a responsible thing to go out and buy the very largest SUV so you can to toodle around to the grocery store. We talk in terms of patriotism: It’s a patriotic thing to conserve, because it would free us from our dependencies on the states in the Mideast that are supporting terrorism, and using our money to do it. You can talk about self-restraint: Just because we can build snowmobiles, we don’t have to go out into Yellowstone Park and chase the buffalo out of the park, where they get shot. Just because we can drill in a national monument, doesn’t mean we should.

A mammoth task

It’s like trying to turn an enormous ship around. I see the Republican Party as a very large ship, steaming ahead, and in many ways it’s working well. It’s got the right positions on a lot of issues. It’s got charismatic leadership and plenty of funding. We are trying to shift it off its course on environmental issues. My belief is the Republican Party’s going to have to hit an iceberg that’s identified as environmental before it starts to make a major shift.

An issue for everyone

Environmental protection or conservation of natural resources that we all depend on and we all treasure shouldn’t be partisan issues. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the beautiful places that Republicans and Democrats love to recreate and restore our souls in — those are not partisan issues.