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June 5, 2008 8:56 AM

Reichert gets Dems help on wilderness bill

Posted by David Postman

Washington’s greenest Democratic congressman has signed on to a proposal by Republican Rep. Dave Reichert to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, became a co-sponsor yesterday. Reichert’s office says that Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, also signed on last night.

Reichert’s bill has been praised by some environmentalists and by the P-I’s Joel Connelly.

Connelly’s pleased to see Inslee and Dicks joining Reichert on the bill.

Bipartisan cooperation is a tradition in major Northwest land-use decisions, never more than in legislation that created the 393,000 wilderness in the "land of 600 lakes" between Stevens and Snoqualmie Passes.

A pair of Democrats, Rep. Lloyd Meeds and Sen. Henry Jackson, shepherded the Alpine Lakes legislation through Congress. GOP Rep. Joel Pritchard debunked opposition from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz. And then-Gov. Dan Evans used an Oval Office meeting to persuade President Gerald Ford to sign the bill.

But supporters of the campaign Reichert’s Democratic opponent, Darcy Burner, and her amen bloggers have called the bill a cynical attempt at green-washing.

UPDATE: Burner's campaign says I was wrong about what I originally wrote above. Spokesman Sandeep Kaushik said that Burner did not question Reichert’s motive in introducing his wilderness bill. He’s right. The statement she released last fall didn’t do that directly. But it did raise a clear question about Reichert’s commitment to the environment, saying that his proposal was “the equivalent of focusing on a tree while losing sight of the fact that the forest is being chopped down around you.”

Even some environmentalists thought Burner was being critical of Reichert. At Sightline Daily, Eric De Place wrote last fall that “presumptive challenger Darcy Burner attacked Reichert for playing politics” in introducing the bill.

In last fall’s statement, Burner talked about the importance of saving wilderness and criticized Reichert for not supporting a Democratic proposal to protect roadless wilderness areas. She said:

Now I hear that Congressman Reichert, who is not even sure yet that global warming exists, intends to begin portraying himself as going 'green.' He is telling the press that he would like to consider designating some 26,000 acres of federal land of the Pratt River Valley a wilderness area. Many in the environmental community would like to see this area conserved and so would I. So I applaud Congressman Reichert for taking a small step in the direction of wilderness conservation.

But I would also hope that he would join so many of his colleagues in co-sponsoring the bipartisan Cantwell-Inslee legislation. Otherwise, his willingness to consider protecting one small area while threatening 2 million acres elsewhere in the state is the equivalent of focusing on a tree while losing sight of the fact that the forest is being chopped down around you.

And in a follow-up today, the same point was made again by Kaushik:

When you consider more closely the totality of Congressman Reichert's record and statements on the environment, and take a look at who his campaign backers are, a much more mixed view of his environmental record comes into focus.

More after the jump.

One would think that the new co-sponsors would now make that a tough argument. Why would someone with such sterling environmental credentials like Inslee, or a congressman who has no worry about re-election, like Dicks, agree to co-sponsor something if they thought it was designed only to help Reichert’s re-election prospects?

Reichert had been frustrated that he wasn’t getting any co-sponsors from the delegation. Inslee said earlier this year that he’d consider signing on only after a bill creating the Wild Sky Wilderness Area, in Snohomish County, became law. That happened early last month, and the opening ceremony was last week.

Inslee told me this morning:

We wanted to clear the decks of Wild Sky. We had seven years of work on it and we wanted to make sure it crossed the finish line first. … Now we’ve got another wilderness area we’re excited to move forward on.

Inslee said that the Alpine Lakes proposal should follow what Sen. Patty Murray and Congressman Rick Larsen did to ensure adequate public input for Wild Sky. Reichert’s proposal would add 22,000 acres east of North Bend to the wilderness area.

Last week Reichert was named one of the greenest Republicans in Congress. That was met with harrumphs from Burner backers. Blogger Daniel Kirkdorffer has done much analysis of Reichert’s voting record. He argues that the congressman shouldn’t get as much credit as he does for his voting record because he has a practice of voting against environmental and other bills during procedural motions and backing them on final passage.

The fact is that Reichert does have one of the strongest environmental records among Republican members of Congress. In a piece debunking Reichert’s environmental record, the Stranger’s Erica Barnett said this,

Clearly, Reichert’s better than other Republicans on some environmental issues, such as wilderness protection and fuel-economy standards.

It was not meant as a compliment. She pointed out it’s not hard to be among the best Republicans on an issue like the environment. But Barnett got to the essence of Reichert’s claim. He’s telling voters he’s different from many Republicans. That doesn’t make him an environmental champion in the Seattle model. He hasn’t yet shown that he has the long-term commitment to the issues to make him a true Dan Evans Republican.

The argument that Reichert’s votes are cheap bids at looking moderate, I think, will be a tough sell with voters if Burner needs to say Reichert voted against the bills before he voted for them.

And in the case of Alpine Lakes, Inslee, for one, said he’s glad to be part of a bipartisan effort.

This land, has a very good chance of becoming a wilderness and I’d like to see this happen. … Even though I’m supporting a different candidate for that position, I’m happy to work with Dave on this.

There’s broad support among Democrats and Republicans on wilderness, so we’re happy to try to advance this legislation and not let an election get in the way of doing some good work here.

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