Politics: Eat Your Heart Out, Al Gore

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, August 1996

Politics: Eat Your Heart Out, Al Gore

Meet Sherry Boehlert, the man environmentalists can't do without
By John Galvin

"He may well save the republicans in spite of themselves," intones Mark Childress, vice-president of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based outfit that lobbies for environmental causes.

"He" is Congressman Sherwood "Sherry" Boehlert, a seven-term Republican from upstate New York who, as we swing into the season of electioneering, holds the unlikely distinction of being both the politician whom environmentalists can't do without and the colleague whom the Republican Party is most eager to clammily embrace. How's that? Boehlert, long a supporter of all things green, dealt the Gingrich-run Congress its first major blow last year, convincing 51 fellow GOPers to squelch a planned gutting of the Environmental Protection Agency's budget. But that wasn't all. Boehlert and a growing army of his converts--including longtime allies Wayne Gilchrist and Connie Morella, both of Maryland--also practiced some Capitol Hill jujitsu on Alaska's Don Young and his bill slating Tongass National Forest for large-scale cutting. That after they subverted a planned defanging of the existing Clean Water Act.

The legislative run was a remarkable bit of politicking on Boehlert's part, one that may well help the Republicans come November. Motivated by polling data painting the House majority party as noxiously indifferent to the environment, Republican congressmen of all stripes are hightailing it back to their districts with claims of being part of Boehlert's Army, stalwart protectors of Mother Earth. A strange sight, to be sure, but it's made somewhat parsable by Boehlert's zealous and presumably sincere efforts. "Sherry Boehlert has been very effective in helping the Republicans communicate our environmental positions and making sure we advance those as a Congress," says Craig Veith, spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"This began with a small group of two or three, and we've come a long way," says Boehlert, sounding--perhaps by design--a little Mr. Smithish. And how does pragmatist Boehlert respond to the hubbub his bandwagon is creating among his house brethren? "Well, some of them are on board because of a long-standing commitment to the environment. With others it's a newfound respect. And others, well, it's strictly political."

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