ustxtxb_obs_1989_01_27_50_00005-00000_000.pdf

Page 1

by

Unlikely Conservationist MIKE ANDREWS’S office is not your average environmentalist’s first stop on a visit to Capitol Hill. Andrews doesn’t sit on the Interior or other relevant committees. And he represents an area, South Houston, east of the communities surrounding the Johnson Space Center, which isn’t known for progressive zoning and landuse laws. In fact, he admits, there aren’t any such laws. Though Andrews considers himself to “have a good environmental record,” the League of Conservation Voters, which publishes the National Environmental Scorecard, doesn’t exactly agree. The LCV gave him an embarrassing but average for a Texas Congressman 31 percent rating for his performance during the 100th Congress. The low rating, a considerable drop from the 60 percent he received during the 99th Congress, is doubly ironic since a number of the groups who backed his bill \(which wasn’t also sit on the organization’s board of directors. Andrews contends that his consistent voting to freeze program funding at current levels might be partially responsible for his low rating from the LCV. A look at the scorecard indicates that this is partly so. The LCV rating hasn’t kept groups like the National Parks and Conservation Association from acknowledging Andrews’s commitment to conservation. The organization, which recently awarded him its 1988 Conservationist of the Year award, has come to view Andrews as an emerging leader in park protection efforts and plans to work with him in the current Congressional session. According to National Parks & Conservation’s Bruce Craig, “Mike AndreWs is going to be a strong supporter of park and heritage protection in the future. 114LAR organizations, preservationists like the National Trust. Civil War uniformed reenactors, and Park Service rangers will create a nice visual.” The “visual,” wasn’t really the point, as the following sentence revealed. “The visit,” it continued, “will underscore the candidate’s commitment to America’s heritage and to deeply-felt patriotic values. Weeks passed before battlefield proponents heard from the Dukakis campaign. In the meantime, George Bush stepped up his attacks on Dukakis’s handling of the Pledge of Allegiance “issue” and Boston Harbor’s pollution problems. And Dukakis’s poll percentages were taking a nosedive. On September 22, the Dukakis campaign finally responded. The campaign’s letter stated that the request for a visit had been forwarded to the scheduling staff. Enclosed with the letter was a Dukakis position paper, released in June, that included a twosentence reference to Manassas: “A proposal to build a shopping mall at the edge of Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia threatens this historical Civil War landmark. We cannot treat our national parks as islands that will not be affected by development.” That, as it turned out, was the last word from the Dukakis campaign. Two weeks later, on October 7, a full month before Election Day, the Senate rejected Virginia Republican Senator John Warner’s compromise bill and passed the Andrews-Mrazek-Wolf measure by a bipar tisan vote of 75-25. One could argue, as preservationist attorney Tersh Boasberg does, that “the Campaign simply had too much on its plate” to take on the Manassas issue. And there is something to be said for Mrazek’s view that “historic preservation . .. doesn’t elicit the same visceral response as flag-waving.” But how about the environmental angle? When asked if the Dukakis campaign made a mistake in choosing not to use the Manassas issue to confront his opponent, one former Democratic Presidential candidate, Arizona Congressman Morris Udall, answered yes and emphasized the environmental argument. Udall, who as Chairman of the House Interior Committee for more than a decade has seen other attempts to preserve parks and other resources go down to defeat, saw it this way: “George Bush,” Udall said, “is viewed by the environmental community as something of a joke.” Referring to Bush’s comments about Boston Harbor, Udall said, “This was said in a race where he was running on the record of the Reagan Administration and the record of the Reagan Administration is disastrous.” Udall acknowledged that Bush had tried to distance himself from the Reagan record but added that Dukakis “shouldn’t have let him get away with it.” He could have made more of measures like Manassas, Udall said, because “this is a cutting issue. . . . Several million votes could have been changed.” No one claims that this single issue would have put Dukakis in the White House. But there is little doubt that Andrews’s victory is worth studying. The coalition that formed around the issue was an odd mix of groups. As unusual as it was, according to Nellie Longsworth, director of Preservation Action, a nationwide citizens’ lobbying group, “different coalitions come together all the time that’s the way Washington works.” But, she added, “the thing about this was that once it got started [in May] people really kept working.” And Coalition members kept working because they discovered a broad interest in the issue. According to Longsworth, they found themselves asking, “Is there a Manassas in your state?” And since the effort was so successful, the National Heritage Coalition is now preparing more comprehensive preservation/conservation legislation for the next session though it’s likely that an “environmentally conscious” but deficitdriven Bush Administration, and many Republican and Democratic members of Congress, will reject efforts to spend more money on conservation. But the Coalition did not fail to escape the notice of some on Capitol Hill. Because veterans, preservationists, and conservationists have never collaborated in drafting comprehensive park legislation. there’s considerable interest in what they might come up with. And preservationists, unlike some conservationists, are less likely to ask the federal government to pay for it all. Longsworth says, for example, that preservationist groups are not averse to private, local, or state ownership and/or jurisdiction over parks and historical sites an approach that might be acceptable to members of Congress who argue that federal acquisition of private land slated for development is unconstitutional. If veterans, preservationists, and conservationists continue to work together, environmental policy initiatives might shift toward the center and have an impact on traditional political alliances. That doesn’t mean that environmentalists and conservationists will leap into the arms of the Republican party at the first sign of cooperation from the Bush Administration. Or that Democrats have, following Dukakis’s defeat, lost their only chance to demonstrate that they care about America’s heritage. But in studying the Manassas story, Democrats in particular might keep in mind that there is no longer a permanent national Democratic party constituency. Remember the old stand-by, the Southern voting block and the so-called “lunch pail Democrats”? Where are they now? In a political atmosphere charged with growing concern about our environment and our economy, the Save the Battlefield forces might have defined a new legislative agenda that will continue to attract a diverse constituency. That agenda could be advanced by either party in the years ahead. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5