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

Ron Wyden's Victory Efforts

Air Date: Week of

Steve Curwood speaks with political commentator Russell Sadler about the green strategy which won former Senator Bob Packwood's seat for Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden. Swing voters with environmental concerns were apparently the deciding factor in a very close, and closely watched, race.


CURWOOD: If the salvage rider repeal comes up in the Congress, environmentalists will be watching carefully to see where the newest US Senator will cast his vote. Ron Wyden of Oregon was sworn in in early February, after winning a narrow special election over Republican Gordon Smith. The environment played a key role in the race, and environmentalists say they put Mr. Wyden over the top. Now, it's payback time, and Oregon political commentator Russell Sadler says Senator Wyden will have to make some tough choices, and quickly.

SADLER: Ron Wyden has a history of being a fence sitter. His position on environmental issues has been really no fault, because his Congressional district is the smallest in the state coming from the center of densely populated Portland. All Portland is green, including the suburbs. So he could vote for environmental legislation and there was no price to pay. Now he represents a state that is terribly diverse: cattle ranching and all that stuff and the vast majority of space on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, southern Oregon, forestry, also cattle raising, those kinds of issues. If he's forced to make a decision, now, he can't sit on the fence, and it's going to be a problem for him. He's going to have to make some decisions that he has been unwilling to make in the past.

CURWOOD: Tell me about the role that environmental groups played in getting Senator Wyden elected.

SADLER: The environmental organizations played a very large role in getting Wyden elected.

CURWOOD: For instance?

SADLER: I'm a registered Independent, Steve, and I was called 4 or 5 times in the last 2 weeks by the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, OLIVE. And they were these, we're not with any candidate thing, but here's Ron Wyden's stance on the environment; here's Gordon Smith's stance. Please vote for the environment And they called and called, they had the busiest phone bank in the state.

CURWOOD: They called you 4 or 5 times?

SADLER: As an independent voter, yes. In 2 weeks time, making sure that my mail ballot was in and all of those. They were very active among people who were considered swing votes. So in my opinion, Wyden indeed owes his election in large part to environmental organizations which took their own money and went to bat.

CURWOOD: During the campaign Wyden was really tough in his attack on Gordon Smith, the Senate president, and the frozen food company that he owns. But he didn't talk much about other environmental issues. I'm thinking of course of timber and wildlife and water. And he also, I understand, doesn't know that much about the environment; there's a quote in the Oregonian that we have in front of us that says he's going to have to spend more time on these issues now. How does Wyden get educated, and by whom on these issues?

SADLER: (Laughs) Well, I want to tell you, the line at his door is long.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Okay.

SADLER: There are industry trade association people knocking, there are the environmentalists knocking. And the environmentalists because of the time and money that they spent with phone banks trying to help get him elected think that they ought to be first through the door, and they have a short list headed by repeal of the timber salvage rider that they want him to vote for in order to show his devotion to their cause.

CURWOOD: Russell, we understand that Senator Wyden might put forth a compromise on salvage logging, that is, that would split the state in half. But on the western side, on the Portland side, there would be no salvage logging; but on the eastern side, there would be.

SADLER: There's a certain amount of common sense to such a compromise. It may not please the environmentalists who want a triumph of symbols as well as of substance here. The industry tricked them with the salvage rider at the last minute; in fact the industry tricked them so thoroughly that the industry is gloating in public over it. And I think the environmentalists want total repeal to show the industry that they, too, can engage in, in your face politics.

CURWOOD: Now I understand that Senator Wyden is trying to get a seat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Of course, that has jurisdiction over endangered species and anti-pollution laws. Will he be hurt if he doesn't get this appointment?

SADLER: Yes he will. Environment is a big issue in Oregon, politically, and for you Easterners you need to know that these natural resource issues are the warp and the woof of domestic politics out here. The biggest problem, of course, out here in the Northwest is that Oregon has lost an enormous amount of seniority with Packwood's fall from grace and Hatfield's retirement. And I think Wyden will have his hands full just protecting Oregon from the predators on the Potomac who are prepared to take what goodies they can from this state now that it has no seniority.

CURWOOD: Russell Sadler is a syndicated political columnist and commentator at Ashland, Oregon. He spoke with us from member station KSOR in Ashland. Just ahead on Living on Earth: learning the limits of fisheries, again.



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