The "environmental conscience" of a party that may not want one
By Paul Rauber
Martha Marks has an unenviable job: Shes the president of an organization called Republicans for Environmental Protection. The 2,000 members of "REP America" are trying to keep alive the flame of Teddy Roosevelt (who established the national park system), Richard Nixon (who signed the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act), and Barry Goldwater, a REP America member. They dont lack for current heroesamong them Senators Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) and Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.), and Representatives Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.)but their cause is reviled by their partys leadership. We reached Martha Marks at her home in northern Illinois.
Sierra: How did you get started?
Marks: In March 1995, I showed up at a conference about endangered species in the first 100 days of the "Gingrich Revolution." The organizers made a big deal of the fact that I was a Republican elected officialI was a county commissioner at the time. During the course of the conference, people kept coming up and whispering, "Im a Republican too. We really need a Republican environmental organization." So I said, "Lets do it." We incorporated, and even copyrighted our slogan, "Conservation is conservative," which we use liberally, if youll pardon the expression.
Sierra: Do you feel a greater responsibility, given the current situation?
Marks: Definitely. While were delighted to help good Republicans win office, were leery of the anti-environmental element in our party, and concerned about what they may be planning. We are not greeting the prospect of unified Republican government with unabashed joy.
Sierra: Has the Republican Party taken notice of you?
Marks: They know were here. We have good contacts in Congress, but were pretty much persona non grata in the White House. The perverse thing is that our strength as an organization seems to go up when the Republicans are doing the least desirable things on the environment. For example, our membership doubled in 2001, after George W. Bush was elected.
Sierra: Can you point to any Republican candidates who have been helped by taking strong environmental positions?
Marks: The congressional primary in my district in the northern suburbs of Chicago in 2000 was a real food fight, with 11 candidates. Our political committee endorsed Mark Kirk, at that time a total unknown, who spent the least amount of money of any candidate. We were able to help him draw votes in an area where Republicans do care about the environment. He went into the general election against Lauren Gash, a Democrat with a good environmental record, who had the Sierra Club endorsement. Kirk won, and in 2002 he was endorsed by both the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters.
Sierra: Is there any particular issue youre focusing on now?
Marks: Wilderness. Some groups may be about to give up on getting more wilderness in the next couple years, but we believe that its still possible, because its so popular. Also NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act] is under attack. It was passed by Republicans! We cannot allow that law to be undercut; we see it as part of our Republican heritage.
Sierra: Is it lonely being a Republican for Environmental Protection?
Marks: Not really, because there are so many people cheering for us. We are not just an organization of disaffected Republicans; were also mainstream, conservative Republicans who are afraid the party is going off the deep end.
More Information To contact Republicans for Environmental Protection, call (505) 889-4544, or visit www.rep.org.