“Fang and Claw”
By MARTHA MARKS
AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Martha gave this speech to the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in Tampa, Florida on May 5, 2003.
Note: The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club — whose locally famous slogan is “Carving up a politician for lunch” — invites distinguished speakers to its “Tiger Den” to deliver a 20 minute presentation. Club members then compete for the day’s coveted “Fang and Claw” award by asking questions that “slash through pretension and prevarication.” Martha decided that there was no reason why she could not also have some fun with the concept.
I’m absolutely delighted to be here as the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club’s sacrificial lamb du jour. I dare say I’ve journeyed a much greater distance to be with you in the Tiger Den than most of the other innocent lambs you’ve led to the slaughter. Just the fact that I traveled all the way from Santa Fe, New Mexico, should indicate what an honor it is to be sandwiched in your bipartisan buffet between Congresswoman Carrie Meek last month and Senator Bill Nelson two weeks from today. So I willingly offer myself to your good-natured — albeit bloodthirsty — agenda of “carving up a politician for lunch.”
I’ve been told that the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club’s “Fang and Claw” awards are legendary around these parts. Sounds like a lot of good, clean fun!
However, I do have to warn you… That kind of fun brings out my most competitive juices. I really don’t know why you should be the only ones who get to have fun coming up with questions that “slash through pretension and prevarication.” That sounds like the kind of challenge I could sink my teeth into as well! After all, I didn’t get to be the president of Republicans for Environmental Protection by being a wimp!
So, here’s the challenging little game I’m going to play with you today. Like Johnny Carson in his wonderful old “Carnak the Magnificent” schtick, I’m going to predict the questions that I suspect you’ve got stashed away in those tiger-like minds of yours, and see if I can’t out-slash your sharpest fangs and claws.
The corollary to this game, of course, is that you don’t get to ask the same questions that I’ve already asked and answered. So, to win today’s “Fang and Claw” award, you’ll have to come up with even more lip-smacking questions than those I’m about to offer.
Do we have a deal? Great!
Okay, here goes.
Speaking of lip-smacking, I bet that more than a few of you tigers are hungry to ask me if Republicans for Enviromental Protection isn’t an oxymoron.
Well, yes, okay, sure, I’ll grant you that “Republicans for Enviromental Protection” sounds like an oxymoron. I’ve even been known to refer to myself the president of the world’s funniest oxymoron.
And that’s because the Republican Party of 2003 doesn’t show much evidence of being interested in protecting the environment.
However, if you look at the history of this country, you’ll see that it was Republican leaders all the way back to Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant who started the land conservation movement. Teddy Roosevelt, of course, continued that effort, big time. Republican leaders like Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower kept it up through most of the 20th century. Republicans like California Congressman Pete McCloskey — who is now one of REP’s Honorary Board members — helped found Earth Day. Republicans like Richard Nixon, Bill Ruckelshaus and Russell Train (the last two also members of our Honorary Board) led the energetic “lets clean the place up” decade that followed.
Why, even here in Florida, you can take pride in decades of strong local and state-wide initiatives to save your marvelous Everglades, not to mention your rivers, beaches, mangrove shorelines, hammocks, and estuaries. Those efforts were supported by a wide variety of Florida Republicans… from nationally known conservation icons like Nat Reed of Jupiter Island to local fighters like Joan DeGuire, who is a member of both the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club and REP. Those are just two of the many “Green Elephants” (as we at REP sometimes call ‘em) who have put their time, energy and money into saving your glorious coastal areas.
Truth is, for a long time, Republicans were the acknowledged leaders on conservation and environmental protection. At the national level, that leadership was strong up to 1980, when Ronald Reagan moved into the White House. What amazes me is that as hostile to environmental protection initiatives as they seemed at the time, James Watt and others from that administration look almost benign compared to the crew that holds sway in Washington these days.
Nevertheless, most rank and file Republican voters are still concerned with natural resource conservation and environmental protection. Republican leaders know it. Their most trusted pollsters tell them that every year. So why don’t they do a better job of responding to those concerns? I think it’s because they figure there are enough other issues they can be “good” on, so they willingly let the “environmental stuff” slide to the Democrats. REP thinks that is a big mistake, for both political and policy reasons. Our mission is to “green up” the GOP, making environmentalism and conservation bipartisan concerns once again.
We at REP believe so strongly that Conservation is conservative that we’ve trademarked that slogan. We argue that conservation is absolutely the most fundamentally conservative thing there is. And as I like to ask: If conservatives won’t conserve, who will?
So, the short answer to the question, “Isn’t Republicans for Environmental Protection an oxymoron?” is no.
Some of you tigers out there are salivating to ask me this: Are there more than two of you???
Actually, yes, there are a lot more than two of us. You can’t pack all of us in a phone booth!
If GOP pollsters are to be believed, there are hundreds of thousands of conservation-minded Republicans around the country, maybe millions. They haven’t all found their way to REP, of course, but increasing numbers of them do find us every week. Either somebody tells them about us, or they read one of our op-eds, or they hear one of our speeches, or they stumble into our web site. And the standard response we get is: “I’m soooooo glad to find you. I thought I was the only one!!!”
As an example, I’ll point again to Joan DeGuire.
One day in January of 2001, Joan read an editorial in the St. Petersburg newspaper about how environmental groups had held a press conference to oppose the nomination of Gale Norton as Interior Secretary. The editorial quoted me by name and mentioned that even the group Republicans for Environmental Protection considered Norton a bad choice for Interior. Joan, a lifelong Republican and die-hard conservationist, called me with her own version of that comment, “I’m soooooo glad to find you. I thought I was the only one!!!” Now, not only does Joan know she’s not the only one, she’s also helping us grow as the president of REP’s Florida Chapter.
You see, REP provides a home for Republicans who felt like lonely islands of environmental ethics in a sea of institutional GOP anti-environmentalism. We’re “collecting” people like Joan around the country and helping them become an increasingly visible presence in many states and communities. We intend to keep growing our numbers until we become a force strong enough to restore the Republican Party’s great conservation ethic. And it will happen in time. Just you watch!
Some of you tigers are famished to know the answer to this one: If you care so much about the environment, why don’t you just become a Democrat?!
I have a short-and-sweet answer to that very common question:
I have always been a Republican. I grew up in a very conservative military family. I was an elected Republican for ten years. And I don’t agree with the Democrats on a lot of things. So, rather than switching parties, I’d rather make a stand for what I believe within my own party. I am simply not willing to let irresponsible, anti-conservation radicals take over my party without a fight.
Some tiger out there is ravenous with desire to ask me: What can you possibly hope to accomplish?
Well, history shows us that only when the leaders of both major parties take up a cause do the American people see meaningful, permanent progress. We must continue to address critical issues like global warming, air and water quality, brain damage in fetuses from mercury pollution, increasing rates of asthma and cancer and other environmentally-caused diseases, protection of biodiversity, habitat loss, and so on. By “greening up” the GOP, REP is out to restore the environment as an important issue for both Republicans and Democrats.
As long as one party takes the environmental vote for granted and the other party ignores it, we’ll continue to see our hard-won gains eroded by shortsighted politicians of both parties. So we must make both Republicans and Democrats compete for our support and hold both parties accountable for their performance.
We at REP are working toward the day when both parties compete to be environmental champions. Given where the GOP is at this moment, that will take some time. But if I didn’t think it could happen, I never would have begun this endeavor. I do believe that our quest to “green up” the GOP will ultimately succeed.
Some tiger out there is craving the opportunity to ask me: Hasn’t the environmental movement been co-opted by the left?
Well, as I said earlier, the environmental movement actually started with the Republican Party. The GOP didn’t have to turn its back on its own creation. Nobody forced it to do that.
As I see things, the problem today is not so much that the left has co-opted environmental issues as that the far-right wing of the GOP has abandoned them.
And that’s a shame, because there is no such thing as a Republican river and a Democrat lake. America’s rivers, lakes and streams aren’t partisan entities. People of all parties should do their best to protect them, not try to find sneaky ways to roll back their protections under the guise of “regulatory reform.”
National parks and national wildlife refuges and national forests and national monuments belong to us all. They’re part of our great natural heritage, part of our patrimony as a nation. All of us, regardless of party affiliation, should be doing everything we can to keep such places wild and healthy, not using them as pawns in the great game of winning political support.
Birds and bears and butterflies — not to mention Florida’s manatees, wood storks and sea turtles — are priceless treasures to Americans of all political persuasions. We humans know — deep down in our souls — that we have a moral imperative to protect them. This isn’t some lefty-righty partisan issue. It’s not something to “spin” for political gain. It’s basic morality to protect God’s great creation. All of God’s great creation! That’s why I believe that our Republican senators and representatives should find ways to make the Endangered Species Act stronger and better, not waste valuable political capital trying to cut the guts out of it.
Kids who grow up in Republican families get asthma just as much as kids who grow up in Democrat families. Mercury poisoning is a danger to pregnant Republican women just as surely as it is to pregnant Democrat women. These basic health issues should have nothing whatsoever to do with partisan politics, but you wouldn’t know it by the pro-polluter policies that many of our GOP leaders are currently promoting.
The Democrats didn’t “steal” these environmental issues from us Republicans. The Republican Party, for the most part, turned its back on them. We handed this issue to the Democrats on the proverbial silver platter. Personally, I think that is both politically and philosophically stupid.
One of you tigers has his buds up to ask me: What do GOP establishment types think of Republicans for Environmental Protection?
Well, that depends on which GOP establishment types we’re talking about.
If we’re talking about the Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, Gale Norton kind of establishment types, I suspect they wish we would just sit down and shut up. Fortunately, Karl and Tom and Gale don’t define the GOP all by themselves.
If we’re talking about the dozens of pro-conservation Republicans in the US House and Senate, I can tell you that they are damn grateful that an organization like REP exists. Why? Because we cheer loud and hard for them. We write them thank-you letters when they cast a pro-conservation vote or sign a “Dear Colleague” letter supporting a position that we advocate. We send letters praising their environmental leadership to the editors of their local newspapers. We host receptions in their honor and invite their constituents to attend and thank them for their pro-conservation voting records. Through Republicans for Environmental Protection’s PAC, we endorse them, raise money to support them in GOP primaries and, in some cases, even get directly involved in their races.
So, we have a great working relationship with a great bunch of Congress Critters, plus like-minded state senators and representatives and other Republican elected officials at all levels around the country. An increasing number of elected Republicans at all levels are joining REP and supporting us with their contributions and even — in the case of our VIP Honorary Board members — with their names.
Finally, Question #7:
This is the one that I know for sure every last one of you tigers is chomping at the bit to ask:
Is Republicans for Environmental Protection endorsing George W. Bush for re-election?
The short answer is: regrettably, no.
Our policy is to make endorsements in Republican primaries whenever we find Republican candidates with good environmental track records and good environmental policies. We never, ever endorse candidates just because they happen to be Republicans.
In 2000, the REP endorsed Senator John McCain. We’re still proud of that endorsement, and we would enthusiastically endorse McCain again for president if we could.
In 2004, however, there has been no meaningful competition for president in GOP primaries. Nor is there a Republican candidate for president with a good environmental track record and good environmental policies.
As a result, REP is focusing on congressional races this year. It will make no endorsement in the presidential race.
So, there you have my own personal “fang and claw” questions.
I’m eager to hear the ones you’ve got stashed away in your tiger-like minds, and I’m happy to go to those right now.