HOT! Western Democrats, Western Ecology

Now i don’t spend too much time wrangling about in the 2-party system-but
this is an AWESOME READ! And i know some of these people & was involved w/
some of this history while it was happening (as is the case w/ many of U).
And i like the way eco & social-justice issues are linked here…

See U in Denver next month?


—————————- Original Message —————————-
Subject: Western Democrats, Western Environment
From:    “Lance Olsen” <>
Date:    Sun, July 13, 2008 7:13 am
To:      “cmcr-outreach” <>

In the West, and particularly in the Rocky
Mountain West,  environmentalists face the worst
possible politics. The 20th Century’s radical
Republicans don’t care because they don’t expect
the environmental vote, and the 20th Century’s
radically mainstream Democrats take the
environmental vote for granted.

The end result is that Democrats can get away
with damaging spaces and species if they are only
just a very little less damaging than the
Republicans. Year after year, decade after
decade, the Democrats can end up a dangerous to
wild spaces and species as any Republican, but
they do it too slowly for most people to notice.

What have Western environmentalists done in
response? It depends on which environmentalists
you watch.

Forging a Politics Worthy of the Landscape
The Origins of the Western Greens


This essay is excerpted from Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots
Resistance From the Heartland edited by Joshua Frank and Jeffrey St. Clair
(AK Press, 2008).

For thirty-five years the Democratic Party has enjoyed a nearly
unquestioned hegemony over environmental politics, even though the
greatest gains for the Earth were made during the Nixon administration.

In fact, environmentalists, along with civil rights and pro-abortion
groups, have long constituted the activist core of the party: they have
been its most effective organizers, most faithful (and forgiving) voters
and most aggressive fundraisers.

But out in the American West there are signs that this long-standing
relationship is heading for a crack-up. In several key western states, New
Mexico, Montana, and Arizona, where the lines of separation between
Republicans and Democrats have blurred to indistinction, have been
launching independent and third party campaigns with the premeditated
intent of evicting Democrats from seats they have long held. Encrusted
incumbents, they call them.

The reason: mounting anger at the Democratic Party’s neglect and, in many
instances, active subversion of pro-environmental policies, particularly
regarding the forests and rivers on federal lands in the West.

The price of these independent campaigns may well be the election of more
Republicans to federal and state offices. But this is an outcome that many
greens are willing to accept as the down payment on building a new
political movement—and as a just political punishment for past abuses.

“The Democrats now represent a far greater danger to the environment than
Republicans,” asserts Tim Hermach, director of the Native Forest Council
in Eugene, Oregon. “Clinton and Gore damaged our cause more in eight
years, than the Republicans did in twelve.”

Similar sentiments course through the campfire conversations of
environmental activists across the West, a region that has lacked a true
environmental champion in the Congress since the defeat of Senator Frank
Church in 1980.

Green activists aren’t alone in their disgust with the two-party system. A
poll in the Los Angeles Times disclosed that 54  percent of American
voters support the rise of a third party. The support is strongest among
liberals (64  percent) and Westerners (60  percent).

Ironically, it took the end of divided government and the election to the
presidency of a politician who came of age during the ascendancy of
environmentalism as political force to fuel a discontent that had been
smoldering for years.

Most greens greeted the election of Bill Clinton and Al Gore with a queasy
optimism. While the Clinton/Gore campaign placed environmental protection
and public lands reform near the top of the agenda, Bill Clinton was
something of a known quantity. His record as governor of Arkansas, fused
with his neo-liberal rhetoric, suggested a governmental posture that would
sacrifice environmental quality for political expediency or the
appeasement of corporate backers.

Even so, the pro-environment themes, expertly deployed during the 1992
campaign by Al Gore, played well across the country, particularly in the
West, where Clinton captured seven crucial states. The Western Strategy,
which proved pivotal to Clinton’s election, was decidedly green in tone.
It appealed to the changing demographics of the New West: suburbanized,
soft-tech, mobile and capitalizing on the environmental amenities, and not
the extractable commodities, of the Western landscape.

Within months of taking office, the Clinton administration began to beat a
hasty retreat from its commitment to environmental protection. In March
1993, at the first hint of opposition from old-style Democratic
politicians in the West, the administration backed off of its already
timid proposal to reform archaic mining, timber and livestock grazing
policies. An agitated Jay Hair, the usually temperate director of the
National Wildlife Federation, condemned the betrayal as a case of
political “date rape.”

This was swiftly followed by a seriously compromised plan for the
management of the national forests in the Pacific Northwest, home of the
Northern Spotted Owl and endangered stocks of Pacific salmon and steelhead
trout. Many long-time forest activists viewed the Clinton plan, known as
Option 9, as worse than proposals offered during the first Bush
administration that were deemed illegal by federal courts.  Scientists
predicted that Option 9 would not stop the spotted owl’s slide toward
extinction. But Clinton, Gore and Bruce Babbitt pushed their plan forward,
steamrolling their former allies in the big green groups, and in 1994 new
timber sales in ancient forests were being offered for sale to timber
companies for the first time in six years—a feat that had eluded Bush the
Elder. These were Clinton-created clearcuts and his administration boasted
proudly of them.

Further backsliding followed, including relaxed pesticide standards;
weakened regulations for the Endangered Species Act; a plan for the
Everglades tailored to meet the demands of the sugar barons and real
estate moguls of South Florida; failure to take decisive action to protect
Columbia River salmon due to opposition from Speaker of the House Tom
Foley and the aluminum companies; and the political firing of Jim Baca
from his position as director of the Bureau of Land Management for his
determination to reform grazing practices on federal lands.

Most of these policy flip-flops were engineered at the behest of Western
Democrats, whose prevailing political strategy could be summed up this
way: ignore the environmentalists; distance yourself from their issues;
they will vote for you regardless of what you do.  This regressive
behavior has been repeatedly reinforced by mainstream and corporate
conservation organizations, who almost unilaterally endorse Democratic
candidates, even those with stunted environmental records.

Thus, early into the Clinton administration, environmental activists found
themselves in the position of the Christian right during the reign of
Reagan and Bush the Father: all packed up, but nowhere to go. While some
conservationists resigned themselves to another era of environmental
mediocrity, others decided to make a decisive split from a party that
incessantly talked environmental values, while doing the dirty work of the
corporate polluters.

The first shot in this rebellion was fired in Montana in the spring of
1994 by an unlikely candidate at an equally unlikely, but extremely
vulnerable, incumbent. Steve Kelly, an artist and hard-core environmental
organizer from Bozeman, launched an independent campaign against
eight-term incumbent Pat Williams, a liberal Democrat, for Montana’s sole
congressional seat. Williams, who won his last election by the slimmest
margin in the House, was majority whip and was viewed by the Clinton
administration as a key player on health care and environmental matters.

Correctly fearing that any attrition of votes from the left might doom
Williams, the Democrats desperately tried to knock Kelly off the ballot, a
tactic they would later use against Ralph Nader. But Kelly fought them
off. Even though Kelly was a political novice who had never before run for
public office and was so cash-strapped that his campaign couldn’t even
print bumperstickers or yard signs, early polling showed that he had won
the support of nearly 10  percent of Montana voters. This showing prompted
the Rothenberg Political Report, viewed as a something akin to Biblical
prophecy by Beltway savants, to suggest that Kelly’s campaign might tilt
the Montana race toward the Republican challenger, Cy Jamison. Jamison, an
ideological clone of James Watt, became notorious as Bush’s Bureau of Land
Management chief for his numerous attempts to eviscerate the Endangered
Species Act, actions which incurred repeated reprimands from federal

The national Democratic Party and Clinton took the threat to Williams’s
seat seriously. In an effort to redeem the congressman’s reputation as
true green, the Administration deployed Al Gore to Missoula for a public
booster session. This was a risky mission for the Ozone Man, because the
more tightly the White House was seen to embrace Williams, the more the
congressman tended to squirm to the right of the administration. Shortly
after Gore’s pit-stop in Montana, Williams told the Seattle Times that he
believed the Clinton administration “was making the same mistakes in
trying to protect the land under Bruce Babbitt that the Reagan
admininstration made early on in trying to use up the land under James
Watt. Both came at it ideologically and went too far.” With progressive
congressmen like this, Kelly asked, who misses the likes of Ron Marlenee?

Montana and Idaho contain more than 15 million acres of federally-owned
wildlands, the last refuge of the grizzly bear, gray wolf and bull trout.
This is the largest swath of unprotected wild forest land outside of
Alaska, but much of it, indeed most of it, is threatened by clearcut
logging, roadbuilding and gold mining. In 1989, Kelly co-founded the
Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a hard-nosed environmental group based in
Missoula that developed the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act
(NREPA), a visionary piece of legislation that would protect all of these
wildlands as either federal wilderness areas or national parks. While
NREPA, probably the last hope of keeping the grizzly from going extinct,
steadily gained support in Congress, serious consideration of the bill’s
merits was obstructed by Williams, who used his leadership position in the
House to deny hearings on NREPA and push forward his own bill, which would
have opened 4 million acres of wildland in Montana alone to clearcutting
by timber giants such as Plum Creek and Champion International.

Kelly’s anger at the anti-environmental policies of Williams, Jamison and
the Clinton administration spurred his decision to run for Congress. “The
Clinton administration was retreating from its campaign pledges to protect
our public lands and Pat Williams played a key role in pushing them in
that direction,” Kelly told me. “Williams repeatedly voted against mining
reform, grazing reform and measures to end subsidies to multinational
timber companies. Worst of all, from my point of view here in Bozeman,
Williams sponsored anti-wilderness legislation that condemns 4 million
acres in Montana to logging and mining. Cy Jaminson’s record spoke for
itself. He never pretended to be anything but what he was: a voice for

As it turned out, Kelly was far from a single issue candidate. He was
pro-choice, anti-nuke, an advocate for campaign finance reform and a
single-payer health care system. But the issue that drove him to make his
decision bolt from the Democratic Party was the party’s environmental

Polls in Montana showed that Kelly was on to something. A few weeks prior
to the election, a poll conducted by Lee Newspapers (a statewide chain in
Montana) showed that 32  percent of Montanans supported passage of NREPA,
a bill Kelly helped to write. By contrast, only 14  percent of Montana
voters backed Williams’s timber-industry oriented bill.

He didn’t shy away from being labeled a spoiler, either. “I ran to win,”
Kelly said. “But if Williams and I had both lost and Jamison had won, it
would have been a victory for Montana wildlands. Jamison never would have
wielded the kind of power that Williams did.”

This kind of unrepentant attitude earned Kelly the enmity of many liberals
and prompted a testy rebuke from The Missoulian, a long-time backer of
Williams. The paper’s editorial writers carped at Kelly for “waging an
environmental jihad—a holy war in which anyone opposed to NREPA is an
expendable infidel.”

For his part, Pat Williams sniped that Kelly’s campaign threatened to
wreck “the carefully constructed coalition between labor and
conservationists. It will be a generation before it comes back.”

But the marriage of labor and greens was chimerical at best, made up of
labor leaders who had sold our workers to maintain a cordial relationship
with transnationals such as Plum Creek Timber and professional
conservationists who have traded off millions of acres of wildlands to
secure ready access to politicians.

“If these independent political campaigns cause some conservative
Republicans to get elected, well at least we don’t have to guess where
they are on an issue,” said Larry Tuttle, director of the Portland-based
Center for Environmental Equity. “Frankly, when it comes to changing the
incentives that lead to environmental destruction, evironmentalists often
have more in common with the National Taxpayers Union than with many
incumbent Democrats.”

Tuttle, who formerly headed the Wilderness Society’s office in Portland
and ran for congress as a Democrat in 1986 and 1988, points to the fact
that the Democrat-controlled Congress annually awards nearly a billion
dollars worth of subsidies for logging, mining and grazing on public
lands. These subsidies are a legacy of the progressive “job creation”
policies from the Great Depression (and earlier), which have long since
been captured and perverted by multinational corporations, such as
Louisiana-Pacific, Chevron and Noranda Gold, that feed off the public
lands and the federal treasury.

Kelly and other independent greens hope to forge a new kind of politics in
the West, mining regional veins of anarchism, anti-authoritarianism and
libertarianism. “I told people I was running to the right of Jamison on
fiscal issues and to the left of Pat Williams on most social issues and
the environment.”

Meanwhile, down in New Mexico, the spirited uprising of El Partido Verde,
which ran a slate of candidates for local, state and federal offices
beginning in 1994, threatens to topple the Democrats’ long-standing
stranglehold on the state house and establish a permanent and powerful new
presence on the political landscape across the Southwest.

“El Partido Verde is a coming together of various people’s movements,
which have been disenfranchised by the pro-business policies of the
Democratic Party: environmentalists, Hispanics, Native Americans and
social justice groups,” Pat Wolff told me. Wolff is a Santa Fe
environmentalist and animal rights organizer who ran as a green candidate
for state land commissioner, a position once held by Jim Baca. She was the
first woman to seek that office.

A kind of Southwest Rainbow Coalition, El Partido Verde is a potentially
explosive mix that is being emulated across the West. Hispanics and Native
Americans alone account for more than 50  percent of the population of New
Mexico, who have long been treated as electoral chattel by the Democratic
Party. The initial platform statement of El Partido Verde called for
campaign finance reform, assistance for community-based businesses,
property tax relief for homeowners and small farmers, single-payer health
care and strong environmental protection standards. “This is what the
Democratic Party should have been about all along,” Roberto Mondragón told

Mondragón is a Hispanic radio commentator and publisher of bi-lingual
books, who served two terms as the Lt. Governor of New Mexico in the 1970s
and 1980s. He ran on the El Partido Verde ticket for governor, challenging
three-term Democratic incumbent Bruce King, a multi-millionaire rancher
with a dismal environmental record, which includes support for a large
nuclear waste dump near Carlsbad. King also vetoed numerous bills
attempting to reform grazing, logging and mining on state lands. In that
first election cycle, the candidates in El Partido Verde garnered between
10 and 30  percent of the vote, despite running on a miniscule campaign
budget. “Look out,” said party chairman Abraham Gutmann of Taos. “We are
the third force in Western politics.”

The environmental establishment and other Democratic Party loyalists were
not amused. They hissed that such defections only throw elections to
right-wing conservatives, viciously hostile to all that the liberal elites
hold dear. Jim Baca, for example, who narrowly lost a primary challenge to
Bruce King, refused to support the candidacy of his friend Mondragón,
saying such campaigns “balkanize the political process.”

Of course, that’s precisely the goal of many of the new crop of greens,
who see the two-party system as corrupt and undemocratic duopoly
controlled by financial elites, imperialists and corporations. It was past
time for a break up.

In 1994, I wrote a profile of Steve Kelly’s Montana campaign for the
Sunday Outlook Section of the Washington Post. Two days later the Sierra
Club, which has long engaged in an incestuous relationship with the
national Democratic Party, lashed out, trashing Kelly and other Greens, in
a sad attempt to salvage the pitiful campaigns of their
pseudo-environmentalists bosses in Congress.

“Green Party candidates support radical environmental change, and in some
cases that’s good and necessary, but they have zero chance of winning,”
chirped Daniel Weiss, the Sierra Club’s national political director. Weiss
delivered this strange assessment shortly after announcing his
organization’s unequivocal support for Kelly’s opponent, Pat Williams,
despite the fact that the Montana congressman rated a mere 54  percent
(out of 100) on the Sierra Club’s own political scorecard. This is how the
Beltway Green became the mavens of mediocrity.

More and more environmentalists, however, are ignoring the ultimatums of
Gang Green. They have concluded that the demolition of the Democratic
Party’s ruling superstructure is the only real hope for saving what
remains of the Western ecosystems. “The legacy of electing candidates who
are only marginally better than their opponents is readily apparent from
the West’s continuing loss of salmon, forests and natural deserts,” says
Larry Tuttle.

The green uprising spreading across the West represents a permanent
renunciation of the pro-business policies enacted by the neo-liberals who
have dominated the Democratic Party for the last two decades. It also
signals the birth of a vigorous and principled new political movement that
finds its most vibrant expression in the independent and third party

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green
to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book,
Born Under a Bad Sky, is just out from AK Press / CounterPunch books. He
can be reached at:


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