Principle wins out on this point

By JOAN KING, a REP member in Georgia

A HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: This op-ed was published in the Gainsville (GA) Times on October 31, 2000.


Politics and cynicism go hand in hand. As a nation we are jaded by commercials, accustomed to scandal, and accepting of a work ethic that says do whatever it takes to win. A certain degree of cynicism is hardly out of place when the country is in the middle of a political campaign.

For the last couple of years I’ve supported a group called Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP). It’s a great organization, but I wondered what they would do during this election year when their candidate has as sorry an environmental record as George W. Bush has.

I finally wrote and asked. They replied, “Just wait and see.”

Sure, I thought. REP’s between a rock and a hard place. Here’s where they fold.

But it didn’t happen. So much for my cynicism.

REP chose principle over party and told it like it is. They took Bush to task over just about every important environmental issue on the table today.

  • Toxic waste and water pollution: REP found no instance where the Governor led any major effort to improve Texas’ water quality.
  • Air quality: During his time as Governor of Texas, Bush did not champion a single clean-air initiative.
  • Public lands: His campaign has proposed a sell-off of federal lands.
  • Brownfields (contaminated industrial property): His approach to clean-up is entirely voluntary and thus ineffectual.
  • Urban sprawl: REP found no policy whatsoever. When asked, his advisor said: “Texas is so big that sprawl isn’t a problem.”
  • Make no mistake. REP is a legitimate Republican organization. They have been around for several years. Their president is an elected Republican (a county commissioner in Lake County, Illinois). Their board members are active in local Republican politics.

Does that mean Republicans should jump ship over the environment and support Al Gore? I don’t think that’s REP’s intention; however they are willing to risk it rather then compromise their principles.

I’m impressed.

Gore’s environmental record is better, but only marginally because both men are captives of the corporate system. Money, and therefore control, flows from the corporate world into Washington at an ever increasing rate, and will continue to do so whichever party is in power until we change the way we finance our political system.

Furthermore, the Republicans, being closer to big business, have a better chance of reforming corporate polluters than the Democrats… if they are ever motivated to do so. I am reminded that while the Republicans have always been more aggressive in their support of military spending and national defense, the president who negotiated the greatest number of arms control agreements was President Nixon.

He could do so precisely because he didn’t have a Nixon-type opposition ready to attack. In other words, there was no place else to go.

The Republican party could do the same for the environment, but only if and when their leaders are held accountable for their environmental policy.

That is what REP is trying to do. Some of their members will look at the record and decide to support George Bush anyway. Some won’t, but what really matters is that the organization kept the faith. Politics is essentially pragmatic, but it is nice to know that there are people out there who can participate in it and still retain their integrity.

Voters will have to decide for themselves how important the environmental issue is. So far government has been only moderately effective at stemming pollution. Federal efforts at protection and clean-up are continually outstripped by industry’s ability to litigate and procrastinate. The situation won’t change until voters make environmental protection a top priority.