Bully for Courage


AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Martha gave this speech to the Bucks County Sierra Club in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, on March 8, 2007.


People sometimes laugh at the notion of Republicans for Environmental Protection. They say we’re an oxymoron. A few of you thought that too, didn’t you? Show of hands??? It’s okay to think that to start with. You’re going to leave with a very different concept.

You know… I like to lead with that oxymoron joke so everybody enjoys a good laugh and I can then get on with whatever it was that I came to talk about. As a national organization, with ten chapters, members in every state but North Dakota, and a paid staff of seven—plus one full-time unpaid volunteer, me—Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) is involved in conservation and environmental protection efforts on many fronts. I speak to a lot of groups on a lot of subjects.

This might be a good time to go into the Republican Party’s long history of conservation and environmental protection, which is more complex than just Teddy Roosevelt and, on a good day, Richard Nixon. But that’s fodder for a whole other talk. We don’t have time for it tonight.

But I do want to tell you that for ten years—1992 to 2002—I was a county commissioner in Lake County, Illinois. Lake County used to be known for its old farms, winding roads, picturesque villages, oak-hickory woodlands, wetlands and natural riparian areas. Sound familiar?

During the early 1980s, Lake County began to fall into the outlying edge of Chicago sprawl. By the time I ran for the county board in 1992, on a strong land-conservation platform, the sprawl was starting to overwhelm us. That year, I helped organize a group of local Republicans who cared as much about conservation as I did. It turns out that GOP voters countywide did too, because pretty soon we “green Republicans” had beaten out the “bulldozer Republicans” and taken over our county government. We spent the next few years developing better ordinances to guide the development that was to come and passing bond referenda to protect our best remaining natural lands.

During my ten years in office, our aggressive bipartisan conservation community convinced Lake County voters to approve three bond referenda totaling $175 million dollars so our Forest Preserve District could buy and restore land. We couldn’t stop the sprawl, but voters of both parties overwhelming gave us their blessing to try to channel development to the most appropriate locations, save wildlife habitat, protect taxpayers from the soaring taxes that come with infrastructure development in rural areas, and keep the county both beautiful and livable.

As a Republican office-holder, I was widely credited with leading that land conservation effort and, I’m proud to say, I was repeatedly endorsed by the Illinois Sierra Club. That experience led me to believe that a group like Republicans for Environmental Protection was needed and viable. And so, with two other women, I co-founded REP in 1995.

Ten years later, in April 2005, I spoke at the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association’s annual conference in Lancaster. I argued there that land conservation is conservative, patriotic and spiritual. That speech is now posted on the REP web site. I would like to modestly suggest that it offers some messaging ideas that you could tap into to persuade conservative elected officials and voters to help save your beautiful Bucks County before it’s forever lost to the bulldozers.

But enough about county issues and politics. I was asked to say a few things tonight about my national organization’s efforts to awaken the country—and especially members of our Republican Party—to the need to protect the Arctic and fight global warming before it’s too late.

REP’s principle advocacy and legislative efforts over the past several years have been related to energy and global warming. We recognized early on that the nexus of those two issues converged on Alaska’s North Slope, specifically the area known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

And let me note… you should never, ever call it “Anwar.” That makes it sound like some already-trashed spot in the Middle East, instead of one of the most pristine places left on Earth. If it’s worth saving, it’s worth saying: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Shorten that to Arctic Refuge, if you must, but please don’t ever call it ANWR.

REP is proud to be a co-sponsor of the March 20 Climate Crisis Action Day, which you’ve already heard about tonight. One of our staff members, who also happens to be the mayor of Sturgis, Michigan, will speak at the rally. Another REP staffer, our DC-based government affairs director, will be coordinating lobby visits with Republican congressmen and senators. We’re encouraging our members—rank-and-file Republicans from around the country—to go to Washington and let their elected officials know that they want clean energy, proactive action on global warming, and a protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

We at REP have argued for years that drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge would be short sighted. It would do nothing to promote energy security or bring gas prices down. The Energy Department’s own estimate was that such a move would reduce gas prices by 1 cent… 20 years from now.

America’s real problem is not a lack of places to drill, but our overdependence on oil, which is bought and sold in a global market. So, no matter where our fuel comes from, we are vulnerable to outside events. Anything that happens anywhere in the world that disrupts the global oil market will show up in pump prices in Doylestown.

Perpetuating our dependence on oil risks triggering worldwide climate change. Signs of global warming are already appearing in the Arctic. And the warmer it gets “up there,” the greater the risk that huge stores of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane—which have been locked in frozen tundra for millennia—will be released into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, that will forever change our world, and not for the better.

Some in the Bush administration seem hopelessly stuck in the past on these issues. Fortunately, a growing number of other leaders—Republicans and Democrats, business people and elected officials alike—are stepping out in front in search of solutions.

I’m sure you all know that California’s Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has won bipartisan applause for the aggressive way he’s tackled the related issues of energy and climate change. But you may not know that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, a very conservative Republican, published an op-ed two weeks ago in the Washington Post, in which he urged his fellow conservatives to take the lead in fighting global warming. One by one, Republican leaders are coming out of the closet to speak up on this issue. I feel confident predicting that global warming will be an issue in the next presidential election, including the Republican primaries.

To go back to the Arctic for a few minutes, I want to tell you…

I have been there. In August of 2004, I took part in an eight-person float trip up the Canning River, inside the Arctic Circle, inside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It was a trip—and a place—that I’ll never forget. Herds of at least a dozen male caribou at a time crossed our paths as we hiked, each one with an enormous rack of antlers. Mama caribou with their two-month-old calves gazed at us fearlessly from the shores of the river. Golden eagles, and flycatchers, and warblers, and willow ptarmigans were everywhere. I’m a wildlife photographer, so for me it truly was paradise.

My REP colleague Jim DiPeso, our policy director, was along on that trip. He wrote a moving essay about the experience, which we published in our fall 2004 Green Elephant newsletter, along with a few of my photos.

That was an especially poignant time to be there, because we literally didn’t know if it was the last summer that the place was going to be protected. As you may remember, the issue of whether or not to drill for oil there was starting to boil up hard in Congress that year.

Truth is… even as our little group of eight was exploring the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, all three Republican members of the Alaska delegation and several others in my party were leaning hard on their House and Senate colleagues to vote for the oil and gas industry’s long-standing agenda. Not only does that industry want Americans to keep relying on fossil fuels—and thus inadvertently exacerbating climate change—but they also have been trying for decades to get their mitts on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2004, with a pro-drilling president and pro-drilling majorities in the House and Senate, it looked like the industry would finally get its way.

That summer of 2004, as we floated and hiked through the Refuge, my REP colleagues and I were particularly disappointed that the effort to destroy the place was being led by Republicans. While it is worth noting that some 30 Democrats were also on the wrong side of this issue—including Pennsylvania’s own John Murtha, who was gung-ho to drill—the Republicans were in charge… and they had a strategy that seemed unstoppable. The goal was to authorize drilling in the Refuge through the budget process.

There’s one key to understanding why this was such an ingenious approach. Senators are not allowed to filibuster a budget bill. So, if the Alaska delegation could just shove it through the House, drilling opponents could not stop it with a filibuster in the Senate.

That gambit failed thanks to 28 gutsy Republican House members who stood up to their party leaders and vowed to kill the entire budget bill if the Arctic drilling language was not removed. The GOP’s House majority wasn’t so large that the must-pass bill could get through without their votes. Those gutsy 28 Republicans said “take it out,” and the GOP leaders did just that. Without that bold action, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would now be in the process of transitioning into an oil field.

I’m proud to say that one of the courageous 28 lives here in Bucks County. He’s your former congressman, Mike Fitzpatrick. And whether or not each of you, as an individual, supported him in the last election—you and I and conservation-minded Americans of all political persuasions owe him a debt of gratitude for having the courage to stand up to the GOP leadership in that way.

And I need to tell you this… REP publishes an annual Congressional Scorecard.

Unlike other groups, our Scorecard rates only Republicans. It’s also unique in that we give credit for leadership that actually results in environmental accomplishments, not just grandstanding. We also take away points for leadership that actually results in harm to the environment.

In 2005, his first year in Congress, Mike Fitzpatrick earned a perfect one hundred on our Scorecard.

If you’ll look at all the House scores—which range from 108 for New York Congressman Sherwood Boehlert to minus-12 for Texas Congressman Joe Barton and California Congressman Richard Pombo—you’ll realize that REP’s Scorecard is no “greenscam.” When REP says that Mike Fitzpatrick is a green Republican, it means he really is a green Republican.

Most Republicans were in the single digits or low two-digits in our Republicans-only Scorecard. Only one other Republican in the entire Congress scored better than Mike Fitzpatrick that year. That would have been a remarkable accomplishment for anybody. For a freshman, it was amazing.

So, I want to take advantage of this opportunity to thank and congratulate you, the Bucks County Sierra Club, for having the courage to endorse Congressman Fitzpatrick last year. That was a smart and gutsy call—every bit as gutsy as Fitzpatrick was in bucking both his party leadership and the anti-environmental power brokers who browbeat those who disagree with them.

To paraphrase a great Republican conservationist: Bully for you for recognizing Mike Fitzpatrick’s accomplishments and courage! And bully, too, for endorsing State Senator Chuck McIlhinney, who is a long-time REP member doing great work for you in the state legislature.

You obviously believe, as REP does, that safeguarding the environment requires cultivating and supporting environmental champions of both parties.

Quite honestly… that’s just plain ol’ smart politics—because anybody who hangs his hat on one political party will find it awfully cold when the political winds change, as they inevitably will, and blow that hat away.