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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Election Season: Mean, Green, and Dirty

Air Date: Week of

Steve Curwood talks with Living on Earth's Peter Thomson about the many senate and congressional races heating up this political season where pro and anti green seats are in close contest.


CURWOOD: The New York Senate race is only one of a number of Congressional races around the country on which the balance of power on environmental issues could turn. Environmental policy watchers of all stripes are following a half a dozen very close races in the Senate and more than a dozen in the House. Joining us now to talk about some of these races is Living on Earth's senior correspondent Peter Thomson, who joins us on the line now from San Francisco. Hi, Peter.

THOMSON: Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: Well, Peter, it looks like one of those big races is right there on your home turf.

THOMSON: That's right. It's the race between Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, who's been a real leader on many environmental issues, and California Secretary of State Matt Fong, who's a fairly traditional pro-business Republican. We heard in Richard Schiffman's piece about the League of Conservation Voters. Well, Barbara Boxer to them is about as close to perfect as you can get in this Senate. Meanwhile, the League's conservative counterpart, a group known as the League of Private Property Voters, has put Boxer on its enemies list. Barbara Boxer's making environmental issues a key part of her campaign, but she's having a hard time differentiating herself from Fong on the environment, because as Secretary of State he just doesn't have much of a record there. So, the race is likely to turn on other things, and one of those things could be the Lewinsky affair. Barbara Boxer's daughter is married to Hillary Rodham Clinton's brother. She's been very slow to criticize the President on the whole Lewinsky affair, and a lot of Republicans have really gone after her over that issue. So, she's in a real dogfight right now.

CURWOOD: And she was very quick to raise her voice on the whole Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill affair. In fact, a whole bunch of fairly progressive women were swept into the Senate after that. How are the rest of them doing?

THOMSON: Well, at least a couple of them are in real trouble. Carol Mosely-Braun of Illinois is probably the Senate's most vulnerable Democrat. Her challenger is a State Senator named Peter Fitzgerald, who's pouring millions of his own money into the race. She's been a reliable ally for greens, but she has serious political and ethical challenges, and she could be gone. The other member of that Class of '92 is facing a stiff challenge back here in the West, and that's Senator Patty Murray of Washington. Like Moseley-Braun, she's been more of a follower than a leader on the environment, but she has been a steady vote for the greens. She's never generated much excitement in Washington, though, and she's up against one of the shining stars of the conservative Republican wing. That's representative Linda Smith. The League of Private Property Voters considers her a champion of conservative environmental positions, and they've put Murray on their enemies list.

CURWOOD: Now, any other races we should be talking about here?

THOMSON: Well, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is also in a tough fight. He's another strong green voice in the Senate, and he's facing a stiff challenge from conservative Republican Representative John Ensign. Meanwhile, there are open seats that have been long-held by pro-green Democrats, and they can go to much less pro-green Republicans in Ohio, Kentucky, and Arkansas.

CURWOOD: Is this all bad news for pro-environment liberals? Or is there any good news out there in the Senate?

THOMSON: Well, they could perhaps take heart in Indiana, where they may pick up a seat in the Senate. Perhaps the long shots in North Carolina, Colorado, and Georgia. But those are all uphill fights for green Democrats, in large part because the political trends in those states clearly favor Republicans. So at best, it will probably be a status quo election in the Senate for liberal greens. They'll be lucky to hold onto what they've got.

CURWOOD: Okay, quickly, we should go over to the other side of the Capitol Building. How do things look for races in the House of Representatives?

THOMSON: Well, percentage-wise, the difference between Republicans and Democrats is not as great there as it is in the Senate, and the change that's likely to come about as this election season plays out is not likely to be as great as well. Having said that, conservatives are hopeful of picking up a number of seats. One of them is right here in California, where a long-time incumbent, strong environmentalist George Brown is facing a tough race from a developer, Elia Perozi. The Sierra Club is running pro-Brown ads there, as they are in a number of other races. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are actually gunning for a couple of conservative Democrats in Alabama and Texas. In both of those cases, a state-wide trend toward Republicans could actually work in the liberals' favor. Meanwhile, conservatives hope to knock off environmentalists in Oregon and Maine.

CURWOOD: Okay, Peter, at the end of the day what's hanging in the balance here? Are there big issues that could be decided one way or the other depending on the outcome of this election?

THOMSON: Well, we'll keep on seeing actually the same old battles. There's nothing really new coming up, but there's a lot of old business that hasn't been resolved. Endangered Species Act reauthorization, Clean Air and Clean Water legislation, Superfund, Federal Lands debates, climate change, the Kyoto Protocol. Nothing really new, but a lot of unresolved battles still being fought. One thing to remember, though is that whatever happens to President Clinton, there will still be a Democrat in the White House willing to wield his veto pen against any legislation that comes out of Congress that he doesn't like.

CURWOOD: Thanks, Peter. Living on Earth's Peter Thomson.

THOMSON: Thanks, Steve.



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