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Roosevelt Republicans: When old school is new school

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
April 7, 2006


First of all, let me just say I'm glad Howard Kaloogian is being exposed as a grandstanding fraud. A politician for politics sake, the people of the 50th district deserve better. In a congressional race crawling with Republican contenders, his tempest in a teapot schtick will hardly be missed.

As a Green I'm looking for a congressional representative who doesn't yet exist, so like most voters I will have to settle for less than the ideal. Compromise is part of the equation.

As the April 11th election approaches, the polls still have Democrat Francine Busby with a decisive lead, while a narrow field of convenient conservatives jostle for political favor in the middle of a crowded pack. Clueless to the point of clownishness, the immigrant bashers seem sinister in their unwillingness to address the real issues concerning those living and working in California's 50th congressional district.

The issues facing the people of San Diego County are environmental in nature. Air quality, clean water, population pressures, water shortages, dwindling open space, crashing fish stocks, coastal erosion, traffic gridlock, fuel prices, illegal immigration, and climate change, will define quality of life in the near future. Quality of life will determine economic well-being. Economic well-being will define quality of life. Can you see a negative feedback loop developing here?

Researching the Republican field of candidates, in preparation of interviewing one of them I was amazed none of the Republicans mentioned environmental anything on their campaign websites, none. Morrow, Uke, Kaloogian, Roach, Earnest, Hauf, and Brian Bilbray could not bring themselves to mention the "E" word. This collective omission of ecology and environmental stewardship as an issue speaks volumes about the Republican party's anti-environmental bias.

Francine Busby the lone democratic contender in the race, to replace the disgraced Randy Duke Cunningham, has been very forthcoming regarding her environmental platform.

As the only Republican in the race with any semblance of environmental resume, I sat down with former congressman, and current candidate, Brian Bilbray to ask why Republicans are so unwilling to discuss environmental issues.

Defined as a Roosevelt republican by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Bilbray is as green as a Republican gets. During his first tenure in Congress representing the 49th district, Bilbray, an avid surfer, introduced the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000.

The BEACH Act, required coastal states to monitor beach water quality and warn the public when water was found to contain high levels of disease-causing microorganisms, providing $150 million over five years to states to maintain and monitor public areas.

While in Congress Bilbray had the best environmental voting record of California's Republican delegation, which isn't saying much, considering the Republican jihad against ecological sustainability. Responsible for legislation to create the 18,500 - acre Otay Mountain Wilderness Area, Bilbray also sponsored the Border smog reduction act of 1997, supported implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, and the mandate on the elimination of MTBE as a gasoline additive.

Proud of the Roosevelt Republican label, Bilbray attributes his ecological stewardship to a foundation of local involvement as City Councilman and Mayor of Imperial Beach, and a County Supervisor. Distinguishing himself from tree-huggers and "Environmental Jimmy Swaggarts," Bilbray stated "Too many people think being an environmentalist means finding problems. When in fact it's finding answers and doing something about it."

Although I met with the former congressman for more than an hour, the one question he couldn't or wouldn't answer is why Republicans refused to address the environmental issues affecting the 50th district, and Southern California in general.

When asked how a moderate republican, such as himself, would function in Washington as a Roosevelt Republican, when he couldn't take a principled stand for sound environmental policy during his campaign. Bilbray lamented he was battered by conservative Republicans for going to far, and criticized by those to his left for not going far enough, to protect the quality of life in California during his previous3 terms in office.

Because the same Republican establishment that endorsed Randy Duke Cunningham endorses Bilbray, it's safe to say Brian Bilbray offers little in the way of change. Until the party of Theodore Roosevelt is once again the party of Theodore Roosevelt, voting for any Republican, promising to be a champion of the environment, would be ethical equivalent of using gasoline to put out a house fire.

Voters need more than a marginal maverick. The era of environmentally responsible republicans is so last century. Brian Bilbray needs to change parties if he is to be relevant. The 50th district needs change. The 50th district needs Francine Busby.

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