Turning Up the Heat
know, we know…Washington D.C. is a different world. It’s about
process and politics. It’s not about the hard, cold realities of
20 dead firefighters and 6 million acres of burned forests and rangeland
in one devastating summer of 2002. We know.
But we’re still disappointed. Even insiders in D.C. have privately
called it “pathetic.”
And the greatest disappointment across the West is over Sen. Ron Wyden’s
last-minute waffle, his last-minute turnaround on the Forest Health Initiative
put forward by Sen. Larry Craig-R, Idaho and Sen. Pete Demenici-R, New
Craig, Demenici and Sen. Kyl of Arizona all felt the heat of the summer
fires, and they felt the tide of public opinion turning as the nightly
news reinforced, over and over, that radical environmentalism had taken
us too far. Their proposed legislation would have lit a fire under the
Forest Service to get forest health thinning and cleanup projects moving
quickly, without the incessant and insidious court battles brought by
Every night images of our beautiful national forests going up in flames
refuted the claims of groups like the Sierra Club, and here locally the
Oregon Natural Resources Council, that thinning forests was a bad idea.
At first Wyden’s office seemed to signal their willingness to sign
on to the Craig-Demenici approach that focused on forest health. But as
the vote approached Sen. Wyden delivered a floor speech indicating that
perhaps he was feeling more heat from his radical environmentalist supporters
than from the forest fires that ravaged his home state through the summer.
That’s Washington D.C. politics. That’s the game at its worst.
Wyden’s last-minute change of heart wasn’t entirely unpredictable
or remarkable. But it did potentially mark a significant turning point
in the Oregon senator’s career. That’s because there are rare,
key moments in every senator’s career where they have the choice
between being typical Washington D.C. senators (they’re a dime a
dozen) and being statesmen. This was one of those moments.
Flipping to go along with campaign contributors or to go along with Democrat
party political lines may
a description of why Wyden changed his vote. What’s more likely
is that the senator realized he didn’t have the seniority or the
political muscle to
make the real difference on this vote. That being the case, why irritate
his party or his core supporters?
Because it is the right thing to do for his state—for all of Oregon,
for all Oregonians. Because that’s what a statesman does. Stands
up for the best interests of his state, even if the vote goes against
Our state was on fire this summer and unless our leaders lead, now, the
state will be on fire again next summer. Lives were lost—20 lives,
some of them Oregonians. More will be lost next summer unless our leaders
step up to the role of statesmen.
This was, still is, a key moment in Sen. Wyden’s career, and it
shouldn’t be that great a political risk either. All senators are
given the occasional go-ahead from party leadership on issues of this
magnitude for their home states—a go-ahead to break ranks and vote
for the good of their home state, to be statesmen.
Equally important, public opinion is shifting to place more trust in forest
scientists than in the so-called “non-profit” groups whose
steady fundraising drumbeat is based on overblown rhetoric about timber
practices abandoned more than twenty years ago. Sen. Wyden undoubtedly
recognizes that the radical environmentalists turning up the heat on this
issue do so because they sense the tide turning against them.
The choices are simple. Respond to the national pressure groups, play
the game and join, perhaps permanently, the ranks of the party hacks in
Washington D.C., or stand up for the state of Oregon in a time of crisis.
We’re disappointed, but not without hope. We hope Sen. Wyden will
rethink his views as he visits a burned forest or stands over the grave
of a fallen firefighter. We hope Sen. Wyden will come home to Oregon.
BrainstormNW - Oct 2002