A Major Milestone in REP’s History: January 2001

REP formally opposed the nomination of Gale Norton as interior secretary.

By standing up with other leading environmental and conservation organizations at a press conference designed to announce a united front of opposition to President-elect Bush’s unfortunate choice for interior secretary, REP affirmed the other organizations’ arguments and provided political cover. Our much-noted presence at the event lent bipartisan proof that Norton’s other critics were not motivated solely by partisan concerns.

This press conference occurred just a few months after REP had published in the fall 2000 issue of The Green Elephant a painfully honest pre-election “Words and Deeds: The Environmental Record of Governor George W. Bush.” We’re offering it now on this new website as evidence for why we did not support Governor Bush for president after he defeated our endorsed candidate, Senator McCain, in the GOP primaries.

Even now, with the benefit of twenty years of hindsight, we at REP believe that we made the right call in declining to support Governor Bush for president and in actively opposing his appointment of Gale Norton for interior secretary.

REP opposes the appointment of Gale Norton to be Interior Secretary

Statement by REP President Martha Marks at a press conference on January 12, 2001 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

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I am Martha Marks, president of a national grassroots organization called Republicans for Environmental Protection, and I did not want to be here today.

I am a life-long Republican. I am a Republican elected official. And I had hoped that our newly elected Republican president would choose an interior secretary who was committed to the great conservation tradition of President Theodore Roosevelt. We at Republicans for Environmental Protection would have cheered such a nominee and defended him or her against partisan attacks.

But as Republicans who believe that conservation is fundamentally conservative, we are compelled to speak out against the nomination of Gale Norton. With so many pro-conservation Republicans qualified for this position, we cannot understand why President-elect Bush chose someone who holds views shared by only a minority in our party and the nation at large.

They say you can judge people by the friends they pick. Well, Gale Norton could have publicly distanced herself from the extreme anti-environment wing that inhabits a dark corner of our Grand Old Party. Instead, she has embraced the views and leaders of those organizations that want to open our wildlife refuges to polluting development, stymie the recovery and protection of endangered species, and squander the gifts of public lands bequeathed to the American peple by previous generations.

Nobody made Gale Norton search out James Watt, who was perhaps the greatest embarrassment ever to the GOP’s conservation record. Nobody made her pick an advisor like Terry Anderson of the Political Economy Research Center, who advocates selling off all our public lands, from the Grand Canyon to the Everglades to Independence Hall. Terry Anderson is so extreme that he even wants to sell off our military bases. I think most Americans would agree that this sort of, well, nuttiness, should be rejected out of hand.

No one can deny that the GOP has an image problem when it comes to the environment. Our party’s own polls consistently show that a wide majority of Republican voters want strong, effective environmental protection. GOP pollsters say that a majority of Republicans don’t even trust their own party to take good care of the environment. And I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me if “Republicans for Environmental Protection” isn’t an oxymoron. The nomination of Gale Norton, to put it mildly, does not help.

This is a divisive choice at a time when unity is sorely needed. We at Republicans for Environmental Protection respect Gale Norton as a person. We believe her to be sincere. And we truly hate to oppose a Republican president’s cabinet appointee.

But the position we are talking about is too important for us to ignore. Gale Norton is the wrong choice for interior secretary. Her nomination sends a very bad signal to the American people.

We will be urging President-elect Bush to withdraw this appointment.

MEDIA COVERAGE OF THIS EVENT

This press conference opposing the Norton nomination was broadcast live on CSpan. That video is still available here.

It was also widely covered in newspapers around the country.

Here’s a snip from the New York Times‘ report on the morning of the press conference, “Environmental Groups Join in Opposing Choice for Interior Secretary“:

Major environmental groups joined today in registering strong opposition to the selection of Gale A. Norton as interior secretary, calling her views ”fundamentally incompatible” with the task of being steward of the nation’s public lands…

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One of the groups opposing Ms. Norton is Republicans for Environmental Protection. Its president, Martha Marks, called her selection ”a divisive choice at a time when unity is sorely needed.”

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”With so many pro-conservation Republicans qualified for this position,” Ms. Marks said in a statement to be read at a news conference in Washington on Friday, ”we cannot understand why President-elect Bush chose someone who holds views shared by only a minority in our party and the nation at large.”

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The groups that will announce their opposition to Ms. Norton at the news conference include the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and the League of Conservation Voters, which endorsed Vice President Al Gore in the presidential election; Republicans for Environmental Protection, which endorsed Senator John McCain in the Republican primaries; and the Wilderness Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which took no formal stand.

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That environmental groups were unhappy with the selection of Ms. Norton became evident almost from the moment she was named by Mr. Bush. But the first declaration of opposition was made today.