These days it isn’t often that you see Democrats and Republicans doing anything together, let alone raising a glass in celebration. But that’s exactly what happened last week as Defenders and other conservation groups gathered at a local Washington, DC watering hole to pay tribute lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for their role in last summer’s defeat of the “extinction rider.”
Rewind to last July. The House leadership had attached to the bill funding the Department of the Interior numerous anti-conservation riders — unpopular policy changes that get tacked onto funding bills. Among the host of bad riders on this bill was a particularly nasty one that would have blocked any and all new species from being added to the endangered species list. Oh, species could still come off, but no new listings could happen, a longstanding goal of Big Oil, Big Developers and other special interests.
Passage of this crazy rider seemed almost assured. Almost. Because our longtime champion Rep. Norm Dicks had other ideas. He came to Defenders and other conservation groups and said, “I think we can do this! I think we can get defeat this thing!” And thus followed a vigorous push to yank the rider when it came to the House floor, with Rep. Dicks working the channels in Congress while conservation groups lobbied individual members and activated the grassroots.
Now, Rep. Dicks fighting the good fight for conservation is nothing new. Nor is it unusual for conservation groups to rally against a bad bill. But this time we had help from the other side of the aisle. Because part of the push in Congress involved outreach to moderate Republicans that we knew took their environmental stewardship responsibilities seriously. And that outreach was successful because in the end, 37 Republicans broke from their own leadership to support an amendment killing the species listing rider. Conservation groups, pro-environment Democrats and moderate Republicans had teamed up to stop the extinction rider. And we won.
So to reward those friends on the Hill who had worked so hard on behalf of endangered species, Defenders on other conservation groups gathered and presented to four key members plaques commemorating their principled stand.
First was Rep. Dicks, our long-time champion, who was recognized for volunteering to lead the fight and teeing up the battle in Congress. Then came Rep Thompson who stepped up and was crucial in bringing along moderate and conservative Democrats and Rep. Fitzpatrick who courageously broke party ranks and brought 36 other Republicans with him. And last but not least was Rep. Hanabusa, who eagerly stepped into the fray, even though she was only a freshman.
These days, conservation successes in the House seem few and far between so it was nice to finally win one. And it was even nicer to be able to recognize with friends from both sides of the aisle as important to the effort because I think we can all agree that protecting our natural heritage for future generations shouldn’t be a partisan issue.