Loving the Earth: A Bipartisan Affair

By MARTHA MARKS, REP President

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Martha gave this speech to the High Country Citizens Alliance (now the High Country Conservation Advocates) in Crested Butte, Colorado, on February 6, 2004.

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When Maureen Hall and Margie Haley first proposed that I come to Crested Butte in February, I went through a rather difficult sorting-out process.

Bernie and I enjoy Colorado, but since we quit skiing a decade ago, it really isn’t the first place that comes to mind for a pleasant little getaway in February. Thumbs down.

We’ve spent time in Aspen and Vail and Denver and Colorado Springs, all of which are beautiful. Crested Butte has a reputation for being beautiful too, and picturesque, and historically interesting, having great food, etc. Thumbs up.

It’s a five-hour drive from Santa Fe to Crested Butte in good weather. February travel in the mountains is unpredictable at best, dangerous at worst. Thumbs down.

Margie offered us use of her condo in Crested Butte for a week. Thumbs up!

Realizing my dilemma, Maureen suggested “Loving the Earth: A Bipartisan Affair” as a topic I that could easily wrap my arms around. In recent months, I’ve found myself giving wonky speeches like Just Say No! to the pork-barrel energy bill” and “Debunking the False Dichotomy.” It’s not always easy to get my non-wonky mind into wonky issues. But “Loving the Earth: A Bipartisan Affair” sounded so fun, so personal, so right for the week before Valentine’s Day… and that did the trick. Two thumbs way up!

So Bernie and I have been hanging out in Margie’s cozy condo these last few days, watching snow swirl over your spectacular mountains, eating great food, exploring the shops, and thoroughly enjoying our Colorado getaway.

And now, the pièce de résistance of this trip… I get to talk about my own personal love affair with the Earth while tying it into Maureen’s clever “A Bipartisan Affair” theme and promoting the curious-to-some notion of Republican environmentalism.

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You know… no matter where I travel, I find people are curious about Republicans for Environmental Protection, which I co-founded back in 1995. Wandering around Crested Butte on Thursday, we ran into a couple who had heard that some wild-eyed Republican environmentalist would be speaking here tonight. I have a hunch I didn’t look quite as wild-eyed as they were expecting. Betcha I even fooled some folks into thinking I was just your average Crested Butte tourist.

The one comment I always hear, no matter where I go, is that the very notion of Republicans for Environmental Protection is an oxymoron. People often say that as if they’re the first ones who ever thought of it. You can tell they think they’re frightfully clever to have come up with such a witty crack.

And I’ve gotten pretty good at making a joke out of that oxymoron comment. I like to chuckle publicly about being president of the world’s funniest oxymoron. It gives me a reliably humorous and self-deprecating way to begin my speeches.

But I’m not going to do that tonight. No silly jokes. No wonky prattle. Taking my cues from Maureen, I want to give a more personal talk this time than I usually do. Don’t worry though. I am going to tell you about REP.

So, for a few minutes, please bear with me while I describe how I personally fell in love with the Earth and then became actively involved as a Republican trying to save it.

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I’d like to take you back with me in your imagination to the ‘50s. There I am, a little girl with a lopsided grin, an only child growing up in a military family… one of those infamous Army Brats you hear about.

Mama, Daddy, and I moved almost every summer, driving from Georgia to Vermont to California to Rhode Island to Texas in non-air conditioned cars on pre-Interstate roads. And even in the rare years when the Army didn’t shuffle us around, we spent our vacation time on the road. From wherever we happened to be living at the time, we’d set off every summer to see Mama’s family in Mississippi and Daddy’s family in Louisiana. During the three years when Daddy was stationed in Germany, we explored Western Europe from Scandinavia to the boot of Italy. After he retired, we moved to Texas and turned our attention towards Mexico, where we prowled around by car every summer until I left for college.

We drove everywhere. Except for the flight to Germany and back, my entire childhood was spent in the back seat of a dark-blue, two-door Ford.

So, you ask… what does all this have to do with my love affair with the Earth?

And I answer… it’s because I saw it. I really and truly saw it.

I didn’t see all of it, of course, but I did see an amazing part of it. I saw natural wonders from the East Coast to the West Coast, both in the US and in Mexico… plus Europe. I saw the Rockies and the Adirondacks, the Appalachians and the Great Smokies, the Pyrennees and the Alps. I saw natural bridges. The Black Forest. The rain forest. Rocky streams. Dry washes. Norweigan fiords. Mountaintop passes. The Oregon coast. The Amalfi coast. Red rocks. Mount Vesuvius. Sea stacks. Parrots. Tarantulas. Snakes. Cacti. Tulips.

And here’s the real secret to my story…

Whenever I would get stir-crazy in the back seat of those two-door Fords, Daddy always managed to find some kind of natural area to explore. We would stop at national parks, or state parks, or city parks, or no parks at all. He’d pull the car over on the side of a two-lane road and take me for a stroll into some local forest or meadow or marsh… showing me the different kinds of bark on the trees, the variety of leaves and fruit, the way the plants changed from one part of the world to another, the unusual critters that lived there…

My father would never, ever have called himself an “environmentalist,” but he was absolutely a naturalist at heart. From him I learned to notice and identify many of the creatures and plants that lived in all those interesting places we visited.

From him I learned to love the Earth.

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I have to take a quick little detour and tell you something about my father. Throughout his life he identified himself as a “Louisiana Boy.” The youngest of eleven kids in a dirt-poor rural family, he was one of only two who went to college.

My father was a southerner. A career officer. An arch-conservative. A Republican. He despised the “liberal” Franklin D. Roosevelt, even though his first post-college job was in one of FDR’s depression-era programs. He detested ‘60s “liberals” like John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson—even though he supported their war in Vietnam. He loathed the long-haired hippies and anti-war activists of the 1970s. He liked Ike, adored Ronald Reagan, and tolerated George Bush the Elder. He found Bill Clinton beneath contempt.

Daddy died in 1996, ten days before Clinton’s re-election, and I’m sure he was mortified to find out — somewhere up there — that the guy got himself re-elected.

My father was as die-hard, partisan and conservative a Republican as you can possibly imagine. And yet… he loved the Earth.

He loved its flora and its fauna, and he taught me to love them, too. And in 1992 he cheered me on when I took my first political plunge and ran for a seat on the Lake County, Illinois, Board with the avowed purpose of protecting our area’s dwindling natural resources from the ravages of Chicago-area sprawl.

When I ran for office, I ran as a Republican. With my particular background… what else could I be?

But I didn’t run as any old garden-variety Republican. Oh no! I ran as a “Green Republican.”

I ran bucking the pro-development GOP machine that at that time controlled Lake County. I ran on an open-space platform to protect our county’s forests and streams and wetlands. I ran on a pro-regulation platform to prevent development in our floodways and riparian areas. I ran on a slow-growth platform to keep Chicago sprawl from destroying our beautiful county. I ran as a conservation-minded Republican outsider fighting the pro-development Republican establishment in an overwhelmingly Republican county. Bold statements about saving natural land and fighting sprawl and regulating development were all over my campaign literature.

And guess what? I beat my establishment-endorsed and -supported opponent with 72 percent of the vote in the 1992 Republican primary.

I won two more primaries, too, in ’96 and ’98… running as a GOP environmentalist, and never with less than 72% in the GOP primaries.

Can you believe me when I say my wins attracted considerable attention from the state and local establishment GOP?

What made it even more interesting, however, was that I wasn’t the only “Green Republican” who went on to win office in Lake County. To sum up what happened there over the next few years…

In the early ’90s, I had helped form the Lake County Conservation Alliance, a group of people fighting separate battles around the country. Lake County’s environmental activists united under the LCCA umbrella and started winning, both on the development front and on the political front.

Thanks to LCCA and its political committee, every two years after my first election in 1992, other “Green Republican” outsiders rose up, seemingly out of the woodwork, to challenge and defeat pro-development County Board incumbents. By 1996, LCCA had become a major force in the county, and in 1998 we “Green Republicans” took control of our county government. We made it safe for other Green Republicans to run for municipal and state offices. We made it so important to be “green” that even Republican candidates who were heavily supported by the home builders and road builders and other development interests… they all began “talking green.” Being perceived as anti-environmental became the kiss of political death in Lake County in the middle and late ‘90s.

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Something else very interesting happened during that time. Illinois county governments also operate as forest preserve districts, and the Chicago area collar counties all have lots of high-quality forest preserves. In the mid-90s, we “Green Republican” Lake County Board members started putting on the ballot referenda for forest preserve land acquisition bond funds. During my ten years in office, we passed three such referenda… for a grand total of 160 million dollars. Think of it… Republican voters in one overwhelmingly-Republican county voluntarily raised their taxes to the tune of $160,000,000 to buy open space. Those referenda didn’t just squeak through either. Nooo! Every single one passed with margins of 61% and over, up to a top approval of just under 70% for the last one in 2000.

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Do you know what that ten-year experience taught me?

It taught me that true-blue loyal Republican primary voters will vote for pro-environment, pro-conservation Republicans, if they’re given a chance.

It taught me that true-blue loyal Republican voters will vote to raise their own taxes to support land acquisition, flood prevention, habitat restoration, trail construction, and so on.

Most of all, it taught me that the Republican Party need not be the anti-environmental party just to get elected.

I am still an activist Green Republican these days, though I retired from public office in 2002. Back in 1995, while I was still on the Lake County Board, I started a national organization called Republicans for Environmental Protection, because I believed that the Republican Party had lost its way on environmental protection and natural resource conservation and needed to be reformed.

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Many people don’t realize that the GOP used to be the acknowledged leader on environmental issues. Once upon a time, leaders of the national Republican Party showed their love for the Earth by protecting it.

Let me give you a few examples:

President Theodore Roosevelt protected over 230,000,000 acres, an area equal to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin combined. He quadrupled the land in national forests, invented the National Wildlife Refuge System, created fifty-one refuges, and proclaimed eighteen national monuments, including 870,000 acres of the Grand Canyon and 640,000 acres of Mount Olympus. Roosevelt even dispatched the Marines to protect Midway Island’s albatrosses from poachers.

President Calvin Coolidge protected 1,380,000 acres of Glacier Bay and 46,000 acres of Lava Beds as National Monuments.

President Herbert Hoover protected 273,000 additional acres of the Grand Canyon and 131,000 acres of White Sands and Zion National Park and much more.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower first protected the entire vast landscape now known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

President Richard Nixon encouraged and signed into law four landmark federal bills: The Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Environmental Pesticide Control Act, and the Endangered Species Act. He also established the Environmental Protection Agency and appointed top-flight environmentalists to run it.

Congressman John Saylor of Pennsylvania fought for years to pass the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.

Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona worked to expand the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park and to promote solar and geothermal energy research.

Governor Tom McCall of Oregon cleaned up the polluted Willamette River, shepherded more than 100 environmental bills through the Oregon Legislature, banned non-returnable bottles, kept development from overwhelming Oregon’s coastline, and passed a statewide land use program.

Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island fought to save huge swaths of wild lands: the California desert, the red rock landscapes of Utah, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He worked equally hard to safeguard drinking water from pollution, protect sensitive coastal areas from oil drilling, and promote renewable energy.

I could go on and on and on with that list, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that today there are dozens of conservation-minded Republicans in the US House and Senate, plus countless others in our state legislatures, county commissions, and township and village boards. And all across this great land, there are hundreds of thousands of life-long, loyal Republicans who desperately yearn to see the GOP again become the party of conservation and environmental protection.

Those hundreds of thousands of Green Republicans haven’t all heard about REP yet, but more and more of them find their way to us every day… through our web site, our published op-eds, our Green Elephant newsletter, our speeches, and so on. That’s one of the reasons why I do wild-and-crazy things like travel to Crested Butte in February. Sooner or later, that great mass of conservation-minded Republicans will learn about REP, and they will join us. And when that time comes, when enough kindred spirits have banded together and are speaking up with one voice… I predict you will see the Grand Old Party return to its tradition as the Green Old Party.

We at Republicans for Environmental Protection are gathering like-minded Republicans into a fighting force within our party. We’re building an army of “Green Elephants” willing to punch back from within the bosom of the GOP to keep the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt alive and kicking.

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Now, as promised, I’d like to tell you a bit about our organization. REP currently has members in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Most REP members are rank-and-file Republican voters or former Republicans who’ve dropped out because of the party’s anti-environmentalism. One thing such people often tell me is that they haven’t left the Republican Party, the Republican Party has left them.

So one of REP’s most important messages to the establishment GOP is that they’re losing votes they don’t have to lose, and votes they really can’t afford to lose in today’s closely-divided political climate.

We REP members are not all rank-and-file voters, however. Our dues-paying membership roster includes US congressmen and senators, state senators and representatives; former governors, EPA administrators, and ambassadors; and distinguished individuals like Theodore Roosevelt IV… who for years has been one of our biggest boosters. I couldn’t begin to count the number of people who have joined REP on Ted Roosevelt’s recommendation.

(As an aside… Ted and I are going to be in Minneapolis together next week, speaking at a series of events for Republican businessmen and elected officials. So you see… my trip to Crested Butte this week is really just a “warm-up” for Minnesota next week.)

REP publishes a quarterly newsletter called The Green Elephant. Each issue goes out not only to REP members but to the White House, every federal department, every US senator and representative (of both parties), every GOP governor and GOP legislators around the country, plus journalists, reporters, TV talking heads, and other environmental groups.

We have a great web site, which contains articles from The Green Elephant going back to our first issue in 1997. I encourage you to check that out if you’re curious to see what we’ve said and published on a variety of issues. You’ll find our speeches, op-eds, letters to the editor, press releases, and policy papers, plus information on our state groups.

REP currently has nine official chapters, with more to come this year. We have an energetic group of members here in Colorado building a chapter together. They would love to hear from any of you who might be interested in helping them improve the environmental policies of your state legislators and congressional representatives. And of course, if any of you conservation-minded Republicans would like to join REP, we’ll be proud to count you as part of our Colorado Chapter when it officially launches later this year.

As for REP’s themes and the issues we take on… let me summarize them for you as succinctly as I can. We believe so strongly that Conservation is Conservative that we’ve trademarked that slogan.

We believe that conservation is the most fundamental of conservative virtues, but we worry that our party—though it prides itself on being the conservative party—has turned its back on its own great conservation tradition.

I like to say that conservatives should conserve, not squander our resources.

And yet today…

  • by refusing to improve auto-efficiency standards to wean the country off fossil fuels;
  • by continuing to subsidize the oil and gas and coal industries of the past;
  • by pushing an energy bill that will not give us a forward-looking energy policy, just more corporate pork;
  • by kowtowing to the logging, mining, motorized recreation and land-development industries; and
  • by rushing to exploit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Eastern Front of the Rocky Mountains, the California coast and other special places that ought to be off limits…

the Republicans in Congress and the Bush administration seem much more inclined to squander our natural resources than to conserve them.

REP and its “sister” foundation, Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, concentrate on four major issues, which are clearly interrelated: energy, public lands, and air and water quality. We’re still a small organization, so we focus our efforts on legislative proposals and initiatives where we can make a difference. We also focus on issues where there is a clear “conservative conservation” connection. If we can’t figure out a good reason why a conservative conservationist should take one position over another, we don’t let ourselves get dragged into the debate.

I’d like to conclude with a few thoughts about why it matters that we conservation-minded Republicans continue to speak up as “the environmental conscience of the GOP.”

People ask me all the time, “If you care so much about the environment, why don’t you just become a Democrat?”

That attitude is not only a shame, but it’s a totally ineffective way to make meaningful, permanent progress.

Great things can happen in this country when the leaders of both parties get behind an idea and push it through to completion.

We saw bi-partisan cooperation on environmental issues in the 1970s, and our country is the better for it now. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen much bipartisan cooperation on entironmental issues since then. It’s gotten so bad that people nowadays routinely make the assumption that if you’re an environmentalist, or even a land conservationist, you’re probably a Democrat.

I like to point out that as long as one party routinely ignores environmental voters, and the other party takes them for granted, no further progress will be made. We environmentalists should be working to make BOTH parties compete for our vote, and we should hold them BOTH accountable for their actions. Only then will we see environmental gains that won’t be wiped out when control of the government swings from one party to another.

I published an article on this subject last spring in Grist. We reprinted that article in last fall’s Green Elephant, which you’ll find on that table in the back of the room. I encourage you to take a copy and read it…not just my Grist piece, but also the lead article by Congressman Sherwood Boehlert of New York and the other articles that show you the kind of work that REP is doing around the country.

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Now, to go back briefly to my topic of love

If you’re a conservation-minded Republican… I would love to see you sign up with REP tonight, before you get busy and forget about it. At present, we have no REP members in Crested Butte.

I’d love to think my visit here brought some of you into the fold.

And the members of our soon-to-be Colorado Chapter would love to establish a toehold here.

If you’re a conservation-minded Democrat… thanks for coming tonight and keeping an open mind. Please take our material and read through it, then pass it along to any conservation-minded Republicans you may know, whether here in Crested Butte or in another part of the country. We at REP absolutely love it when kindred spirits, of any political stripe, help us grow into a larger, stronger voice within the GOP.

REP members are our strength. We need lots of new REP voices speaking up in Colorado and elsewhere, to let the leaders of our party know how much we love the Earth and how fervently we want to protect it.

Thank you all for coming out on such a cold night to learn about something new and different. Bernie and I are already planning to come back to Crested Butte next summer. I’m sure we will soon come to love it as much as all of you do.