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Sierra Magazine
Ten Tight Races That Could Shape Our Future

California: Senator Barbara Boxer
More Than Just a Fighter, She's a True Champion

Last fall, when Barbara Boxer received the Sierra Club's Edgar Wayburn Award-the highest honor the Club bestows on public officials-then-President Adam Werbach applauded her "unwavering and passionate leadership" on behalf of the environment. Which pretty well explains why foes of the environment are working feverishly to defeat her this fall.

Boxer, in fact, is at the very top of the political hit list for conservatives. And toward the end of her first term as the junior senator from California-spawning ground of Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston, and the property-tax revolt-the unabashedly liberal Boxer was widely viewed as the nation's most endangered senator. But California is also a state with 22 national park units and dozens of wilderness areas in need of protection, dozens more hazardous-waste sites in need of cleanup, and several metropolitan areas in need of healthier air. And California voters, given a clear choice between the Senate's most ardent environmentalist and her pro-business GOP challenger, are causing pundits and pollsters to reassess Boxer's chances. Most now call the race a toss-up.

After a decade in the House, Boxer moved to the Senate in 1992, winning a tough struggle with Limbaugh-like radio personality Bruce Herschensohn. Her record in the upper chamber is unequaled for its advocacy on behalf of cleaner air and safer water-especially where kids are concerned-and untrammeled wilderness. In 1995, as a member of the Senate Environment Committee, she fought efforts to institute a temporary moratorium on endangered species listings. She opposes current efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act in the Senate, favoring instead a science-based bill written by her kindred spirit in the House, California Democrat George Miller. Last spring, when she determined that the Quincy Library Group logging bill would harm Sierra Nevada national forests, she not only withdrew her support but blocked a vote on the measure.

In 1997 Boxer wrote the Children's Environmental Protection Act, which would require the EPA to tighten health standards for pesticides, household chemicals, and other toxic substances at levels deemed safe for kids. She also earned a perfect League of Conservation Voters rating last year.

Most analysts agree that her November opponent, state Treasurer Matt Fong, is "charismatically challenged," but he's nonetheless Republicans' last, best hope to unseat Boxer during this millennium. Fong wants to bolster property rights and weaken endangered species protections, and calls Boxer "extreme." It's up to environmentalists to make sure she continues to be called "Senator."


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