Politics: How Green Was My Stump Speech

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside Magazine, November 1994

Politics: How Green Was My Stump Speech

An insider's tout sheet to elections with environmental impact
By Ned Martel

Ah, election season. are environmental issues playing big at a poll site near you? If not, you could probably use the vicarious thrills of races in which they are. Here are four worth watching as the returns cascade in.

Senator Dianne Fein-stein (D), who in 1992 won an abbreviated term in a special election, versus Representative Michael Huffington (R), a transplanted Texas oil baron.

Who's Who: Feinstein wowed environmentalists with her backing of the controversial California desert bill (still in House-Senate conference at press time), which would create the largest national-parks package in the Lower 48. Huffington moved to southern California barely two earthquakes ago and in 1992 spent more on a single House seat than anyone else in U.S. history: $6.5 million. This time out he's bankrolling a projected $20 million campaign. Now his energetic Feinstein-bashing--he's been fighting the desert bill with help from the National Rifle Association--is playing well with disgruntled, recession-weary Golden State voters who seem ready for change.

Why You Should Care: Feinstein's alliance with fellow Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer gives environmentalists a solid block of support in America's most populous state.

Bettor's Line: Too close to call.

Senator John Chafee (R), a three-term incumbent, versus Lin-da Kushner (D), a state representative and former high school teacher.

Who's Who: Chafee, the ranking minority member on the powerful Environment and Public Works Committee, is a craggy old Yankee conservationist with a laudable record. "There hasn't been a major environmental law that his fingerprints aren't all over," says one Sierra Club vote-counter. Kushner is certifiably pro-environment, but the state's two biggest green political action committees, run by the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, are backing Chafee. This public smooch is meant to show Republicans that good deeds are noticed.

Why You Should Care: Just behind Chafee on the GOP side of the environment committee lurks the West's most cantankerous wrangler, Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson. Worst-case nightmare: Chafee loses. The Senate goes Republican. Simpson becomes the new chairman.

Bettor's Line: Kushner, one of the few Democrats who would love a public hug from President Bill Clinton, can't get it: Clinton and Chafee get along too well.

Representative Charles Taylor (R), a timber grower and banker, versus former television reporter Maggie Lauterer (D).

Who's Who:Taylor, predictably, takes the timber-industry side in natural resources brawls. Lauterer, whose homey campaign stump-act features dulcimer-backed group sings of "Amazing Grace," is courting the region's growing transplant constituency: big-city back-to-nature types and retirees who tried Florida and blanched.

Why You Should Care: With western forestry petering out, timber companies are looking southeast. Lauterer is exactly the sort of watchdog that environmentalists want to help plug the region's porous natural-resource regulations.

Bettor's Line: Taylor hangs tough.

Governor Bruce King (D), three-termer, versus construction entrepreneur Gary Johnson (R) and Ro-berto Mondragon (Green Party), a former Democratic lieutenant governor un-der King.

Who's Who: King is no crusader: He talks softly and doesn't stick it to the resource-extraction industries. Lining up against him at stage right is Johnson, a go-go young conservative who runs triathlons; at stage left is Mondragon, a silver-maned Hispanic activist with New Age tendencies, whose ambitious plans for a high-tech, low-consumption state economy would require radical reforms.

Why You Should Care: Mondragon's platform reads like a collection of Sierra Club white papers, but national enviro groups have gone with King. Why? Because, for now anyway, they know that Green candidates can't win.

Bettor's Line: With Mondragon siphoning King's energy and support, look for Johnson to leave all-terrain tread marks on the governor's back.

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