A Time for Statesmen


AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Martha gave this speech at a private lunch hosted by Charles and Julie Howell at the Vanderbilt University Club in Nashville, Tennessee, on April 24, 2007.


As I thought about what I’d say to you today, I realized I couldn’t brag about any real connection to Tennessee. The closest I can come to a personal link is the fact that my mom was born 50 miles south of the Tennessee-Mississippi border. She says that for a horse-and-buggy doctor’s daughter growing up in the Delta in the 1920s and ’30s, the most exciting thing in her life was to go visit an aunt who lived in Memphis. So if that counts, maybe you can call me an honorary Tennessean, after all.

I was born in Mississippi, too, but only because my father—an Army colonel—was sent to Korea. Mama went “back home” to have her baby. I was an Army brat moving from base to base until shortly before I went off to college. After graduation, I got married and moved with my husband to Chicago, where we lived for 34 years. So—if you’re trying to figure out where my accent comes from—now you know why that’s so difficult.

I was teaching college in the Chicago suburbs when I got involved in local politics. In 1992, I ran as a Republican for the Lake County Board on an avowedly pro-conservation platform. I won my first GOP primary with 70-plus percent, and five other primaries and general elections over 10 years with similar margins. Along the way, in 1995, I co-founded Republicans for Environmental Protection—REP—and it has dominated my life ever since.

My husband and I retired to New Mexico four years ago… if you can call “retirement” what I’m doing now: traipsing around the country urging the Republican Party to return to its conservationist roots. But this is something I believe in, and there are people everywhere who give me inspiration to keep pushing forward.

One good example is our mutual friend, Charlie Howell. If there’s a better conservation-minded conservative than Charlie, I’d really like to meet him.

Another example is Bob August, who is also here with us today. Bob is a young father, a local radio traffic reporter, and the Tennessee Coordinator of Republicans for Environmental Protection.

I mentioned that Bob is a young father. That wasn’t an idle remark. We see an interesting pattern in the ranks of REP leaders around the country: a preponderance of fathers in their 30s and early 40s. For some reason, the pattern doesn’t seem to apply to young mothers. Maybe they’re just too busy with PTO and Scouts.

But young fathers are joining REP in droves, taking positions as chapter leaders, as non-chapter coordinators like Bob, or as members of our staff. There’s a common thread that runs through what these young conservative men tell me about why they’re attracted to REP.

That common thread is this: Their careers are established now. They’re having children and focusing on their families. And gradually this thought grows in their minds: They want to make sure that they can enjoy the same outdoor activities with their kids that their fathers and grandfathers enjoyed with them.

They want to be able to take their kids camping. They want to take them fishing. They want to take them hunting. They want to share their favorite national park, or fishing stream, or quiet mountain valley. They want to know that those special places will still be there a decade from now, or a century from now, so they and their children–and their children—will always be able to enjoy them.

These young conservative fathers check out the organizational options available to them. They find lots of environmental groups, usually give one or another a try. But when they do, they sometimes find that there’s an extra agenda they can’t relate to. The “voice” doesn’t feel quite right. It’s just too liberal for them. And so, very often, they drop out of those other organizations, feeling that there must not be anybody else like them in the country.

And then, somehow, they find out about Republicans for Environmental Protection.

Usually, they hear about REP from a friend. Or they read about us in a fishing magazine. Or they Google “Republican environmentalist” and find themselves smack in the middle of REP’s web site.

They noodle around, curious and a bit skeptical at first. They read our articles and speeches about how conservation is among the truest of conservative virtues. They read about responsibility to future generations, and patriotic love of our great American landscapes, and piety towards all of God’s creation.

At some point they discover our trademarked slogan—Conservation IS Conservative—and something inside them shouts: YES!

No matter how those young conservative fathers find us, the reaction is almost always the same:

“I never heard of REP before. Where have you been? I thought I was the only one!”

What amazes me most as I travel around the country is how little young Republicans know about our party’s great tradition of conservation and environmental protection.

Many people in high school and college—and even young professionals—think that if you’re a conservationist, you must be a Democrat. In fact, they often think that if you’re a Republican, you’re supposed to be against efforts to conserve land and protect the quality of our air and water. All they ever hear on radio or see on TV is Republicans and Democrats shouting at one another. And they hardly ever hear a Republican say something positive about conservation and environmental protection.

To me, this is nuts! How could we older Republicans have failed to tell our young people about one of the greatest historic traditions in our party?

How could we fail to teach them about Teddy Roosevelt’s astounding leadership in land conservation; or Richard Nixon’s leadership in cleaning up our air and water and protecting wildlife; or the first President Bush’s leadership in creatively reauthorizing the Clean Air Act in 1990?

How could we fail to teach them that Republicans and Democrats have often worked quite nicely together in Washington and the state capitals to do the right thing for our country. Strong bipartisanship gave us the landmark conservation and environmental laws of the 1960s and ’70s. And even today, in a more bitterly partisan world, we still find bipartisanship at work. I’ll talk about that in a minute.

But first, I want to tell you that one of my youthful Republican political heroes was a man from Tennessee named Howard Baker. At the risk of being presumptuous by telling you things you already know, I do want to say a few words about Howard Baker.

If you look Howard Baker up in the modern world’s most popular source of information and wisdom on all things, Wikipedia, you learn that he was born in Tennessee in 1925 and served in the United States Senate from 1967 to 1985. He was a towering figure nationally, a man of outstanding personal accomplishments and with a reputation for civility and compromise.

Here’s one thing that Wikipedia says about Senator Baker:

“Known in Washington, D.C. as the ‘Great Conciliator,’ Baker is regarded as one of the most successful senators in terms of brokering compromises, enacting legislation, and maintaining civility. A reporter once told a Democratic senator that, privately, a plurality of his Democratic colleagues would vote for Baker for President of the United States. The senator is reported to have replied, ‘You’re wrong. He’d win a majority.’”

In a word, Senator Baker was a statesman. And fortunately for us, he wasn’t the only one at that time who was willing to reach across the aisle to do good things for his country.

Strong bipartisan majorities in Congress passed the Wilderness Act in 1964 and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. In the 1970s came a slew of good laws: the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act. President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency and appointed tough administrators like Bill Ruckelshaus and Russell Train. I’m proud to say that both Ruckelshaus and Train are now members of REP’s Honorary Board.

Going back to Howard Baker for a moment… throughout his years in the Senate, he served on the Environment and Public Works Committee. In 1970, he played a central role in crafting the original Clean Air Act.

I’d like to read a couple of paragraphs from a speech that Senator Baker gave on March 9, 2005, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His speech was called “Cleaning America’s Air—Progress and Challenges.”

After commenting on the blessings of his long life, Senator Baker made a wonderful statement about his legacy. This is part of what he said in Knoxville just two years ago:

“At the end of the day, those achievements will be of most importance to my descendants. They will be measures of my success, but they won’t reflect the achievement of which I am most proud. But so long as the Clean Air Act, its principles and goals survive, I will have a lasting legacy

“I would not be so bold as to say that I alone wrote the Clean Air Act. But I am willing to say and let my legacy rest on the fact that I was one of two or three American citizens who happened to be United States Senators who came together at a particular moment in history and developed the concept that in many respects can be said to have changed the world in which we live.

“Let me remind you that the Clean Air Act of 1970 passed the United States Senate unanimously. Unanimous, yet unique and unprecedented.”

And of course, President Richard Nixon promptly signed the Clean Air Act into law.

Think about that. In 1970, a challenging, groundbreaking environmental law passed the US Senate unanimously and was signed into law by a Republican president.

That statement begs the question:

What happened in the 1960s and ‘70s to create that great spasm of bipartisanship around key environmental and conservation issues?

I have two answers to that question.

First, it’s because there were great patriotic statesmen like Senator Howard Baker who reached across the aisle to hammer out important, needed legislation for our country.

And second, it’s because the American people were demanding action.

Our lakes and rivers were open sewers in the 1960s. People my age remember when mounds of phosphate soap bubbles choked every waterway, and mucky glop poured out from industrial and municipal drainpipes. In 1967, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire and burned for weeks—on national television. The air in our cities was equally disgusting. The American people finally got fed up. They insisted on environmental cleanup, and they got it.

Nowadays, of course, we’re facing issues we didn’t even know about in the 1970s: global warming, “peak oil,” and the threat of a mass extinction of the species that share this fragile globe with us. Today’s environmental issues are bigger and more complex than earlier ones, and—not coincidentally—they’re also interrelated.

We at REP have been beating the drum for years to awaken the Republican Party’s consciousness on these issues. Other environmental groups have done the same, but REP’s voice has always been, and still is, unique. Ours has been a lonely fight. I could point you to articles that called me a “voice in the wilderness.”

But you know, all of a sudden, REP’s fight doesn’t seem quite so lonely. Because…

  • About two months ago, South Carolina’s conservative Republican Governor, Mark Sanford, published an op-ed stating that global warming is real, that it’s human caused, and that conservatives should lead the fight against it.
  • Growing numbers of evangelical Christian congregations and pastors are saying the same thing.
  • California, under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, is now implementing its own programs to reduce greenhouse gases and slow global warming.
  • The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency can’t avoid addressing the problems of greenhouse gases.
  • Even Newt Gingrich is getting into the act with a new book called Winning the Future. He’s advocating a concept that he calls “Green Conservatism.” I say… Welcome, Newt! Where have you been?
  • Public opinion polls show that the American people—including many Republicans—are way out ahead of their leaders on this issue.

One third of Americans now say that global warming is the world’s single largest environmental problem of our day. A majority is willing to make personal lifestyle changes to mitigate global warming. Seven in ten want federal action to slow or stop global warming. We’re at a tipping point of public awareness on the problems of energy consumption and global warming, which is exactly what happened in the 1960s and ‘70s with those earlier environmental problems. Now, as then, the American people are beginning to demand solutions. Not partisan rhetoric, but bipartisan solutions.

I’m happy to tell you that your Senator Lamar Alexander is one of those reaching across the aisle in search of solutions to a new generation of environmental problems.

Literally last week—on April 19—Senator Alexander and independent Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman introduced a bill to reduce air pollution and the threat of global warming. The “Alexander-Lieberman Clean Air Climate Change Act of 2007” would enact strict standards on four major greenhouse gases: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and carbon dioxide.
Just as Howard Baker did a generation ago, Senator Alexander is trying to set new standards that can force accelerated technological innovation. By encouraging Congress to look for a variety of approaches, both economy-wide and sector-by-sector, Senator Alexander’s bill will improve the odds that whatever climate change legislation ultimately comes out will have positive results.

Senator Alexander seems to be saying something important to the president and his colleagues in Congress: It’s time for the U.S. to act on global warming and not make up excuses about China and India. Using technology that is already available, we can build vast new industries to grow our economy while also protecting our quality of life and the places we love.

In announcing his new bill, Senator Alexander said:

“When the Cherokees named the Great Smoky Mountains, they weren’t talking about smog and soot. Unfortunately, today they probably would be.”

I can tell you one thing as a result of my travels around the country. Rank-and-file Republicans care about things like smog and soot. Nobody wants to see a favorite mountain meadow or sandy beach lost to global warming. Nobody wants to worry about birth defects from mercury in fish from a favorite stream. Everybody wants to protect places like the Great Smoky Mountains.

Republicans for Environmental Protection is dedicated to giving ordinary Republican citizens a voice on these issues. Through our board, our staff and our state organizations, we work with candidates and elected officials at every level of government, educating them on the issues, helping them find positive “voices” that work for their states and districts. When they take good positions and make good votes, we praise them, endorse them, fund them, and reward them in every way we can think of.

I’ll conclude with this thought:

Now, more than ever, this country needs statesmen like Tennessee’s Howard Baker and Lamar Alexander.

REP’s goal is to encourage the conservation-minded Republican statesmen of today and make sure there will be many more of them in the future.