Pete McCloskey Talks about GOP Corruption - IV
Republican Pete McCloskey Talks about GOP Corruption and the Environment
By Kelpie Wilson
t r u t h o u t | Interview
Tuesday 28 February 2006
On February 12, I sat with Pete McCloskey at a public park in Lodi, California, to ask him a few questions about his race against the most anti-environmental congressman in history, Richard Pombo. Mc Closkey is challenging Pombo in the Republican primary, adding a lot of spice to the race, which includes three Democratic challengers as well.
Note: Parts of this interview will appear in an upcoming program on Free Speech TV: SourceCode Episode 3 - Enemies of the Environment. SourceCode teams up with TruthOut to give you the scoop on the biggest threats to preserving our country's public lands, endangered animals, and last wild spaces. Tune into Free Speech TV, Dish Network Ch. 9415, Sunday, March 5, at 9 a.m. and noon, or Monday, March 6, at 8 p.m. or 11p.m. (all times Eastern). Visit sourcecode.freespeech.org to view past shows.
Kelpie Wilson: What was your greatest accomplishment for the environment when you were in Congress in the 1960s and '70s?
Pete McCloskey: I suppose I tried to protect a few porpoises when the tuna fishermen were catching the porpoises in their nets. We tried to reduce the taking of endangered whale species, something my opponent Mr. Pombo now supports the increase of. Japanese whaling is one of the issues between me and him.
Kelpie Wilson: What about the Endangered Species Act? What was your role in that?
Pete McCloskey: Well, perhaps the greatest achievement, and we didn't know it at the time, was we held an Earth Day in 1970, and out of that Earth Day a lot of students got involved in saving the environment, or trying to. They listed 12 of my colleagues, the Dirty Dozen, and took out seven of them in the next election. The result was, when Congress convened in January 1971, everyone was now an environmentalist. They had seen a new force, college students, who favored the environment. Out of those next four years, we passed the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Amendments, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Estuary Protection Act, the Coastal Zone Act; all of those came through my subcommittee, Fish and Wildlife, a subcommittee which is now under Pombo's jurisdiction as chairman as the House Resources Committee.
Kelpie Wilson: So the ESA is now 34 years old, and even environmentalists agree that some changes are needed. Pombo wrote and passed a reform bill through the House. What is in that bill?
Pete McCloskey: If it passes in the form that Mr. Pombo got it though his committee, it would gut the ESA, and it would gut the whole scheme of protection for endangered and threatened species. Pombo announced that this was nothing new; he wrote a book in 1995 saying that he wanted to abolish the Endangered Species Act. But he didn't just change those provisions that should be changed, and I can give you a few: we would like to make them more farmer friendly; we would like to make them so that, when the government gets an application to develop endangered species land, the government comes in right at the start and says you can do this or you can't do this or you have to mitigate what you're going to do. It's been hard to get though the bureaucracy.
What Pombo wants to do is make it even tougher to get through the bureaucracy. You could use the entire budget of the Fish and Wildlife Service just to pay off developers. He's put a provision in there that a developer who is restricted by endangered species concerns should be compensated for all future loss of profit for any project he might propose to develop that land. Well, he'd bankrupt the agency with that, and I think that's his purpose. Again, it's not just to end the problems of the Act, it's to abolish it or make it ineffective.
Kelpie Wilson: Who are the top Republicans in history who've made important contributions to conservation and environmental protection?
Pete McCloskey: The father of Republican environmentalism is Teddy Roosevelt, who, with Gifford Pinchot, started to set aside wilderness and national forests and national parks. Teddy Roosevelt Island has become a national park in the middle of the Potomac River, right across from the Watergate Hotel. Pombo wants to sell Roosevelt Island for development for residential purposes, along with fourteen other parks, one of which is in his own district, in the town of Danville. He believes that the solution to this country's ills is to take all of the public lands and turn them into private development. Well, the beauty that we have here, half of northern California, is in public lands. If you develop it, you lose the priceless privilege of kids out there that are looking for crabs or frogs or something of that kind, growing up near flowing rivers, or swamps, or tidelands, particularly the High Sierra. He's got a bill to put 18 dams in the Immigrant Wilderness. Well if you ever backpacked up there, the idea of one more dam in the High Sierra is crazy, but that's his view, and that's his belief, and that's why I'm running against him.
Kelpie Wilson: So what are the Republican values that you represent and how are they different from Richard Pombo's?
Pete McCloskey: In my time, we served with noble and ethical leaders: Gerry Ford, Bob Michael, John Rhodes, men of impeccable honesty. We didn't have anybody locked up for a violation of ethics. Of course we were in the minority, nobody wanted to bribe a Republican; you bribed the Democrats in those days. We had 36 or so congressmen indicted, and all but one of them was a Democrat. But now the Republicans have had the power for the last 13 years, and I believe they've been corrupted: the arrangements between Tom DeLay, the majority leader, and Jack Abramoff. Remember, Tom DeLay jumped Pombo over six other congressmen to make him chairman of the Resources Committee.
The values that we had were, first: honesty and ethics. Second: we wanted a balanced budget; we had fiscal responsibility. Pombo and his allegedly conservative friends have spent us into the greatest deficits in history, trillions of dollars in deficits. That's no Republican value. We were environmentalists of the Teddy Roosevelt theory. We believed in separation of church and state. We believed in the independence of the Supreme Court not being subject to politicians. Now you've got Pombo introducing a bill ... he wants to give Congress the right to overrule Supreme Court decisions on constitutional issues. That's not a Republican value, that's almost radical. That would destroy the checks and balances that the Constitutional forefathers provided.
I suppose the worst value of all is that he wants to give away the public lands for development. My wife and I have spent half our lives, half our adult lives, trying to save special parts of California. I'll give you examples: the Bridgeport Valley over in Modoc County; the Bear Valley up in Calaveras County. We've managed to set those aside in conservation. Most recently, the Hearst Ranch, 82,000 acres. That preserves 15 miles of pristine beach. That's worth doing. It's worth preserving the remaining public lands of California, for your kids and my kids and grandchildren. Pombo wants to destroy all that. He really thinks development is the key to Northern California. You've seen what it's done in Southern California. A lot of us are fugitives from Southern California, trying to preserve the last of Northern California's open space wilderness.
Kelpie Wilson: What he's trying to do is kind of like selling off family heirlooms to pay the rent.
Pete McCloskey: I've differed strongly with the Bush administration. It's cut back all of the money for the parks and the forests. They want to put snowmobiles in Yosemite. What they want to do is roll back the environmental progress of 30 years, and it's just wrong. Pombo is their chief operative in doing that, so I'd like to take him out of the Congress and maybe restore a Republican value of the preservation of open space in wilderness. He thinks wilderness is bad because no people are allowed to go into the wilderness. Well, that's baloney, you go into the wilderness like Mohammed went to the mountain or Moses went into the desert. You get inspiration from the wilderness. It is not in this man to preserve and protect wilderness.
Kelpie Wilson: Getting back to Republican values, what are the worst examples of Pombo's corruption?
Pete McCloskey: His corruption: Here's a man, Jack Abramoff with his K Street Lobbying project, who has given all this money to Pombo - $54,500. Well, we say, what? Why Pombo? Why would Mr. Abramoff bestow this largess on Pombo? Why would Pombo's staff get these thousand-dollar seats to this skybox? What did he give up for that? We don't know the answer to that yet, the grand jury or the federal attorney hasn't told us, but one example is the Marianas Islands. Abramoff started in the 1990s to try to shield the Marianas Islands from US immigration and labor laws. A man named Willie Tan, who ran this sweatshop operation, brought in young women from all over China and Southeast Asia and the other islands, saying: "Come to America and sign this paper that you'll pay $5,000 for the privilege of going to America." Well, they got them to the Marianas Islands, which is a US trust territory, which can use the label "Made in America" on the clothing it manufactures. Pombo went to the Marianas in 2004, and suddenly gets nine contributions in the thousands of dollars from Marianas businessmen. Now why are they giving Pombo that money? Pombo absolutely refuses to investigate Abramoff and his connection with the Marianas, the sweatshops, the prostitution, and these girls being lured into coming there. Why won't he investigate it? That's what Congressional committees do when sweatshops or fraud are brought to your attention, and a man goes to jail for pleading guilty to bribing congressmen. You investigate that. Pombo won't. That's corruption.
Kelpie Wilson: Anything else?
Pete McCloskey: I'll tell you one other thing, that is corruption. When he put in this bill to amend the Endangered Species Act, he not only took out habitat protection but he put a provision in there to exempt farmers from using pesticides for five years in endangered species areas. We wonder: why would a California congressman do that? Then we see suddenly that he's funded in his travel, illegally, by a private foundation. He gets $23,000 from this foundation to travel, which you can't accept. He's a founding governor of the foundation; he can't deny he knew it was a private foundation. But this foundation, who is it funded by? The Japanese Whaling Association, the Association of Fur Traders - these are the guys that import elephant tusks or endangered parrots, and finally, Monsanto gave this foundation $115,000. Well, who benefits from the allowing of the use of pesticides? Monsanto. Whenever you find Pombo doing or not doing something, you chase it down to his contributors.
Big mines: He tried to get hundreds of thousands of acres of mining lands transferred to mining companies for development. Even the Congress couldn't accept that. They took it out of a bill he inserted it in privately. We have about 200,000 of those acres in Northern California; he was going to put it up for sale to mining companies. You follow his contributions: half of those were from big oil, big timber, big railroads, and big mining companies. I'm not going to take any PAC money. I may lose, because I won't get as much money as he does. I'd like to draw the distinction between congressmen who are on the take and whose positions reflect their largest contributors and those who don't. Here is Abramoff going to jail for bribing congressmen and Pombo. You ask him ... "Oh, he never lobbied me." Baloney.
Kelpie Wilson: Why won't Pombo debate you?
Pete McCloskey: I don't know that he won't debate me. He always speaks through spokesmen. The spokesman says: We don't want to debate McCloskey; he's way back in the 70s. Those values of his, about honesty and not being controlled by lobbyists, that's the seventies, and he's unworthy to debate. Well, if you're running for the Great Debating Society of United States, the United States Congress, I think you would want to debate your opponent. I always did. I served in the House 15 years and when someone ran against me, I'd say, I'll debate you every two weeks between now and Election Day. Let the public learn from hearing the debates. I won't say he's afraid to debate, but it looks that way.
Kelpie Wilson: A final question. What are some of the ways that Pombo has been neglecting the district here, his own district?
Pete McCloskey: There's the water quality in the San Joaquin River, the levees, and the strength of the levees in the Delta, most of all the traffic. Half of my old district seems to be moving from the Peninsula and the East Bay over here for affordable housing. The other morning, I drove out at 5:30 in the morning coming to Stockton on Route 580; cars were ten feet apart, four lanes abreast. At 5:30 in the morning there's an absolute traffic jam. He hasn't brought in any money to widen those highways. He really has not paid attention to this district. One child in six is getting asthma as a result of the air quality. He refuses to accept that global warming is an issue. He says that certainly automobile emissions are not creating greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. That's a head-in-the-sand attitude for this valley, in which traffic and air pollution are crucial issues. San Joaquin County is part of the poverty belt of California. They're below poverty level, way below the average in California. He's just voted to cut Medicaid and Medicare and Head Start programs. That's not what a congressman from this district ought to be doing.
Kelpie Wilson is the t r u t h o u t
environment editor. She is also a mechanical engineer and
does technical writing for the solar power industry. She has
been a leader in the campaign to protect ancient forests in
the Pacific Northwest and was the executive director of the
Siskiyou Regional Education Project. Her first novel, Primal
Tears, has been published by North Atlantic Books.