How Richard Pombo Saved the World Email Print

At first glance -- heck, at second and third glance -- California Congressman Richard Pombo seems like an unlikely savior.  For years, Pombo has been the enemy of everything that walks, hops, swims, or flies.  He's worked endlessly to replace the Endangered Species Act with a law that would make it open season on anything that dared cross into private property.  To push his war on wildlife, he's told endless stories of his growing up on a ranch and how his "love for the land" compels him to make sure that people are free to make as big a mess as they want.

So just what could Wreckin' Richard do to secure a halo?  In this case, it's a matter of doing something so bad, that it's good.  

The Trout Heard Round the World
Last October, Pombo snuck a bit of legislation into a budget reconciliation bill that... wait, I'm going to let Christina Larson, editor of the Washington Monthly, tell the story.  
Today's GOP-controlled Congress has shown itself to be no friend of the environment, but even by conservatives' own standards, last October's surprise was a standout. An amendment inserted at the last minute into a budget reconciliation bill would have opened up millions of acres of public lands, including tracts in national monuments and wilderness areas, to purchase by mining companies and other commercial interests. It was to be the biggest divestiture of public lands in almost a century, and it was happening completely under the radar, with no floor vote, no public hearings, and no debate.
There's nothing too surprising in this action.  The most recent congress has been full of these last minute secret insertions, and with the way the Republicans have been running the show, there have been several occasions where such provisions made it into laws before anyone ever noticed they were there.  But in this case, a different version of the bill was passed in the Senate, and by the time the two versions were heading to conference committee, Pombo's ugly kitty was out of the bag.  

Still, I'm sure Richard wasn't worried.  After all, he had a conference committee packed with conservative Republicans on both sides.  What could go wrong?

And then... a miracle occurred.

It turned out that what Richard Pombo did was so underhanded, and such a threat to our public lands, that someone did notice.  That someone included the Wilderness Society, but Pombo didn't care about them.  He'd been giving them the middle finger for years.  It included Earthworks, but Pombo didn't care about them either.  He thinks they're terrorists.  That someone included Trout Unlimited, and Pombo didn't care about 100,000 mostly Republican hunters and fishermen who... wait a sec, what was that?

Trout Unlimited, the sportsmen's group (whose membership is two to one Republican) emailed its roughly 100,000 members and contacted regional editorial boards to spotlight the fight. News spread like wildfire--western sportsmen were outraged that public lands where they hunt and fish might be put on the auction block. Once they knew the stakes, local hook-and-bullet organizations held phone-bank days, organized letter-writing campaigns, and scheduled visits to regional Senate offices. A petition signed by 758 sportsmen's clubs affiliated with National Wildlife Federation, from the Great Falls Bowhunters Association to the Custer Rod and Gun Club, landed on elected officials' desks in Washington just weeks later. "These lands, so important to sportsmen and women, are open to every American, rich and poor alike," the letter read. "We believe it is wrong to put them up for mining companies and other commercial interests to buy at cut-rate prices."
So maybe Richard Pombo wasn't convinced, but fellow western senators were.  Even that favorite go to guy on gambling, Conrad Burns, declared that Pombo's provisions were dead.

And that was good, but something more important had happened.  To defeat the Pombo amendment, groups like the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Society had worked together.  They'd actually stood in the same room and plotted strategy to save public lands, instead of accusing each other of wanting to seize those lands for their own purposes.  Just like that, Richard Pombo pushed two forces together who had been separated -- or at each other's throats -- for more than thirty years.  Just like that, and totally against anything Pombo would have wanted, he might have done more to save the world than any person of either party since the days of Ed Muskie.

A House Divided
Of course, it's an exaggeration to say that Pombo single-handedly brought these factions together (it's not even fair to say that Pombo single-handedly added the provision).  In recent years, there have been several instances of détente between hunting and fishing groups and environmental groups, but this instance showed clearly that the lines were starting to blur in ways the folks in the "development at any cost" camp might not like.

The schism between these twin pillars of the outdoors wasn't there from day one.  Not only were hunters and fishermen among the first environmentalists in the country, it's fair to say that the environmental movement was a movement of hunters and fishermen for most our history.  It wasn't until the late sixties and early seventies that other forces entered the game, and if some blame can be placed on a new politicization of rod and gun organizations, an equal amount of blame can be laid at the feet of those who shifted into the "hunting is evil" camp (a group that, if never the majority among environmentalists, was really darn irritating to the hunters).

Most of what we now think of as the environmental movement grew up after the Endangered Species Act, after the Clean Air Act, after the Clean Water Act.  It was bipartisan efforts, heavily backed by hunting and fishing organizations, that passed these laws, and if it was Ed Muskie who got the ball rolling, it was Howard Baker (yes, that Howard Baker) who gathered support on the Republican side of the aisle while being pushed by groups like the National Wildlife Society.  It's a fair bet that none of these law would exist without the efforts of hunters and fishermen.

When that first Earth Day was held, it wasn't just Democrats wearing of the green.

However, the Republican's growing addiction to corporate forces of development increasingly forced them to step away from the promises of those laws.  With the (quite deliberate) takeover of the NRA, and it's remodeling from a minor, nonpartisan gun safety organization into a fire-breathing mouthpiece against "gun grabbing liberals," the battle lines were drawn.  Very careful work was done to paint environmentalists as "tree hugging hippies," out of touch with the real world.  Hunters and fishermen lined up on the right.  Urban and suburban environmentalists cast their lots on the left.  With these two forces held apart by a carefully maintained PR campaign, the Republicans were able to erode protections and hand more and more land to developers, oil and gas companies, coal companies, and logging companies.    

Thanks to Pombo, and to Bush, that period may be over.  The Republicans may find that they're bleeding green, as hunters and fishermen desert them in droves.  They finally made a land grab so huge, that it made people take off their blinders and really look at the situation.

And all I can say is... thank you, Richard.  Thank you for showing these folks that the modern Republican Party is no longer any place for someone that cares about the Earth.

They once talked about Reagan Democrats, I say we get us some Roosevelt Republicans -- Teddy Roosevelt, that is.

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And I just happen to be working on a campaign that aims to do just that. Jerry McNerney ran against Pombo in 2004 when nobody else had the guts to do such a thing. The Dem Party establishment was happy to just let Pombo run unopposed. After the 2004 election where Jerry garnered nearly 104,000 votes, with no help from the Party, from Unions or anyone else except his grassroots, Jerry kept right on campaigning and today he runs a professional and winning campaign. JERRY WILL WIN THE PRIMARY, but he could use your help as he seems to now have to work AGAINST the Democratic Establishment (DCCC/DLC) this time now that they see that Pombo is vulnerable. (ala Cegelis/Duckworth) Please check out his website at http://www.jerrymcnerney.or g if you want to help unseat Pombo. Thanks

by vlcandy on 04/26/2006 02:30:20 PM EST

Why don't you write something up about his campaign (Platform, background, action, etc.) and submit it via the "Submit New Article" link?

I'll make sure it gets the attention it deserves:)

Political Cortex -- Brain Food for the Body Politic

by Tom Ball on 04/26/2006 10:00:11 PM EST

I am a huge environmentalist -- perhaps the passion that truly defines me as a lefty politico -- and crap like this really burns me.

Such scummy tactics should be wiped from the face of the planet that they are so desperately trying to destroy.


Political Cortex -- Brain Food for the Body Politic

by Tom Ball on 04/26/2006 02:53:26 PM EST