Tom Strickland and Gene Nichol are two 40-something former Texans who have used their law degrees to help the Sierra Club. They live 35 miles apart on Colorado's Front Range, and they're applying for the same job - Democratic replacement for retiring Republican Sen. Hank Brown.
similarities end there. Strickland is a partner with Brownstein
Hyatt Farber & Strickland, an influential law firm known for
its fund-raising prowess. In the first quarter of 1996, Strickland
raised more money than any Republican candidate and more than his
four Democratic rivals combined. Supporters Gov. Roy Romer and
former Sen. Tim Wirth commend his environmental achievements, such
as spearheading the drive to give lottery funds to parks. However,
he has represented several real estate developers; one of them
backs a controversial ski expansion near Steamboat Springs, Colo.
He received an endorsement from the Colorado Education Association
(an organization of public school educators) although his kids
attend private school.
In contrast, Nichol quit
his job as an attorney in Alaska during the late 1980s when his
firm required him to defend polluters. In 1988, he became dean of
the University of Colorado law school, the youngest person to
become dean of a U.S. law school. He refuses PAC money. He sends
his kids to public schools.
environmentalists are convinced that Strickland has the best shot
at gaining the Senate seat, and after being burned in 1994, they
seem more interested in electability than in purity. That became
obvious last month when the Bureau of Reclamation released its
latest environmental study of Animas-La Plata, the $2 billion
scheme to divert water from the Animas River and then pump it in
two directions to irrigate arid southwestern Colorado.
The Environmental Protection Agency says the
newest study of the beleaguered project is flawed; the Sierra Club
Legal Defense Fund recently sued the Bureau for not negotiating
payments with local taxpayers; and environmentalists have renewed
pleas to Congress to find a less damaging way to fulfill the Ute
Indians' water rights, to which the project owes its political
Strickland still says he supports the dam;
Nichol opposes it. But green faith in Strickland continues.
"His environmental platform is proven," says
long-time Animas-La Plata opponent, Sierra Club leader and
Strickland supporter Mark Pearson. And around the same time that
the Colorado River Alliance rated the Animas River the state's most
endangered because of the specter of the dam, a national water
group, Clean Water Action, endorsed Strickland.
"We went through a pretty meticulous endorsement
process with a 14-page questionnaire and interviews," says Clean
Water Action's Carmie McLean. "Strickland had a greater depth of
knowledge." One issue they didn't ask about was the water project.
Nichol did well at county assemblies, winning
1,162 delegates to the June 5 state convention to Strickland's
1,353. But Strickland's manager expects him to win the August 15
primary, when deep pockets and wide publicity are essential.
Whoever gains the nomination will face a tough
opponent this fall. Both leading Republican candidates have
proposed handing federal lands over to the states and compensating
landowners for environmental "takings." There is no clear
frontrunner, but the richest is Colo. Rep. Wayne Allard, who chairs
a House Agriculture subcommittee. Half of his campaign coffers have
been filled by the agriculture industry and other PACs. His primary
opponent, state Attorney General Gale Norton, formerly worked for
Interior Secretary James Watt. She has received donations from the
WISH list, an organization that contributes to the campaigns of GOP
women who favor abortion rights.