In the Name of Bipartisanship
By MARTHA MARKS, REP President
AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Martha gave this speech to the Colorado Conservation Voters annual dinner in Denver, on September 9, 2004.
I’m pleased to be with you today, especially since I have been invited specifically to bring Republicans for Environmental Protection unique bipartisan viewpoint to this forum.
My standard laugh line is that I’m president of the world’s funniest oxymoron: Republicans for Environmental Protection. That has a really nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
Actually, I’d like to get away from that old oxymoron joke, except for the fact that it works. It works because almost everyone, almost everywhere, finds it funny. It works because the word oxymoron pops up in virtually every conversation when somebody first hears the name “Republicans for Environmental Protection.” Often that’s the very first thing out of a new acquaintance’s mouth. And I think it works, too, because somewhere back behind all the good-natured laughter, it plants a seed of hope.
The very notion of a growing, thriving Republican environmental organization offers hope for a respite from the grimly polarizing political climate in which we live. On virtually every issue that one can imagine—including the need to protect our environment and preserve our natural resources—we find today a deadly, mean-spirited, polarized, partisan gridlock.
That partisan gridlock is destroying many of the things the American people care about and have worked so hard to accomplish. It’s undermining the environmental movement. It’s killing our hope of passing on to our grandchildren a world rich with migratory birds, and free-flowing rivers filled with salmon, and vast unroaded wilderness areas. It’s killing our vision of a healthy world where masses of children can grow up without suffering from asthma, where pregnant women can eat fish without worrying about mercury, where people can live to a ripe old age without succumbing to cancers derived from poisoned air and water. It’s killing our dream of a modern world powered by the sun and the wind and the other miraculous technologies that always seem to lie just beyond our reach. It’s killing our chances to save the special places that we love, like these glorious Rocky Mountains that start with the Sangre de Cristo range down in my little city of Santa Fe and run north all the way through your beautiful Colorado to Idaho and Montana and on into Canada.
What’s especially sad is that it didn’t have to be this way. Time was, the movement to clean up our air and water, and preserve America’s great natural areas, and keep wilderness wild and free forever… were all bipartisan concerns. Everybody knows about Teddy Roosevelt, but few know it was the very first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who was the very first president ever to give federal protection to a great natural treasure. In Lincoln’s case, it was Yosemite. Few people know it was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who first gave federal protection to the land now known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Everybody knows about Teddy, but few have ever heard of Pennsylvania congressman John Saylor, a Republican whose dogged efforts ultimately led to passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Everybody knows about Teddy, but few stop to think that overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the National Pesticide Control Act… and then sent them on to Republican President Richard Nixon, who along the way just happened to create the EPA.
Outside in the hall, you’ll find the summer issue of our Green Elephant newsletter, featuring a speech that President George Herbert Walker Bush delivered in Helena, Montana, in 1989. At that time, Bush was the leader of the Republican Party, caught up in the “Vision Thing” for once. He said things in Montana that we at REP would give almost anything to hear his son say today.
When I first read that speech a few months ago, I felt a massive, overwhelming sense of frustration.
Where in the world—I asked myself— did that positive, pro-active, pro-environmental spirit go in my party over the last fifteen years?
What drove it away?
And what will it take to bring it back?
Well, the answers to those questions are very complicated. I could talk to you all day and only begin to scratch the surface.
But very briefly, I would like to address that third question: What will it take to bring it back?
That is exactly what my organization, Republicans for Environmental Protection — REP — was created to do. In 1995, just six years after President Bush the First was moved to give that pro-environmental speech in Montana, the environmental attitude of the GOP had fallen to such a sorry state than a group of rank-and-file Republicans found it necessary to create an organization to change our party. REP is the first and only organization created specifically to turn the GOP around on environmental issues and lead it back to its proud pro-conservation tradition.
As you’ve probably noticed, we haven’t accomplished that goal yet. But we’re working on it, and I fervently believe that we will succeed sooner or later. The anti-environmental Republicans are on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the American people. Pollution is not a family value, and anti-environmentalism is not a sustainable political strategy.
I’d like to talk for just a few minutes about how REP goes about its business of “greening up” the GOP. I want to tell you a little bit about what we do and how you —our friends and allies in the conservation community— can help us accomplish our goals, so that we can ultimately help you accomplish your goals. Which is a roundabout way of saying that if REP succeeds, we will all stand a better chance of accomplishing our mutual goal of making this a cleaner, safer, wilder, more biodiverse, and better protected world.
One important thing that REP does is provide an organizational home and a voice for people who once thought they were the only Republicans who cared about these issues.
I hear that comment over and over from new members:
I’m sooooo glad to find your organization! I thought I was the only one!!!!!!!
There are REP members all over Colorado who at one time or another wrote exactly that to me. Now not only do they know they’re not the only ones, but they’re banding together as members of the Colorado Chapter of Republicans for Environmental Protection. They’re starting to spread the word among the Colorado Republican establishment that conservation is conservative and that it’s really not conservative to squander Colorado’s irreplaceable natural treasures for short-term financial or political gain.
Colorado is REP’s newest chapter, our tenth, just launched in June. The chapter leaders are feeling their way at the moment, getting to know one another, deciding on their priorities, and learning what other chapters have done in their states.
What they’ll see is that REP chapters in places like Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, New York, California, Michigan, Washington, and New Mexico have already begun to have an impact on their state GOP establishments. Chapter leaders in those states have taken positions on conservation issues—often controversial, highly-visible positions—thereby bringing a “green” Republican advocacy voice to debates that have not been bipartisan for years. In several cases, they’ve actually shamed establishment leaders into taking pro-conservation positions that they might not have taken at all without that pesky REP chapter nagging at them.
So that’s one of REP’s most important tasks: bringing together conservation-minded Republicans in a state like Colorado, helping them find their own unique chapter voice, and giving them the tools to start working on their state’s GOP establishment.
We have some first-rate REP leaders here in Colorado, and I feel confident saying that you will soon come to see them as good, reliable allies in the battle to save your glorious state from those who would exploit it and ruin it for personal gain.
Another thing that REP does is to recognize and praise pro-conservation Republican lawmakers. We give them “heroes” awards, and hold recognition events in their honor, and write praising letters and op-eds to their district newspapers. REP America has been doing this for years at the national level, and increasingly our chapters are doing it in their states.
The New Mexico Chapter of REP, for example, created the David Cargo Conservation Award in honor of a “green Republican” former governor, and now the chapter bestows its “Cargo Award” on conservation-minded Republican legislators of today. I have a strong hunch you’ll see the Colorado Chapter of REP doing something similar in the years to come.
It’s not hard to think of some Colorado Republicans who might be the recipients of such an award. We at REP are proud to claim State Representative Mark Larson as one of our members. We were delighted to hear that Mark scored 100% on your own scorecard, and we plan to brag about that accomplishment in the fall issue of our Green Elephant newsletter.
Not only can the Colorado Chapter of REP help you recognize “green Republicans” in your legislature and encourage others to vote more responsibly. They can also help you fight for good legislation. Our chapter may be new here, but it has already voted to support Amendment 37, the Renewable Energy Citizens Initiative. I expect that’s just the first of many good proposals they will help promote at the ballot box and in the legislature.
In my last minute, I would like to ask for your help as we work to build a larger, stronger REP chapter here in Colorado.
I’d like to ask each one of you to think about the Republicans you know of who share our passion for environmental protection and natural resource conservation. Everybody knows a few people like that! I’m sure each of you can think of one or two or even three conservation-minded Republicans. If you can, please tell them about REP. Take them a brochure and a Green Elephant. Send them to our web site: www.rep.org. It’s easy to remember: REP dot org.
My friends, let me repeat one key message… the larger and stronger and better organized REP becomes in Colorado, the more we will be able to support your efforts, and the more effective we will all be in fighting to protect the health of our families, the quality of our lives and the special places that we love.
I look forward to the day when our Colorado REP chapter is a large, influential, effective and full-fledged member of both the political and environmental communities here in Colorado. With your help and the chapter’s own hard work, that day shouldn’t be too far away.