Where did all the pro-environment legislators go?

“At this time all the candidates were sounding the same basic themes.  All were pro-life (for now), pro-environment, pro education.”

Leon Oistad and David Hoium

There Is No November – 1991*

In 1990 Minnesota experienced one of the most bizarre gubernatorial elections in its history. The 1990 campaign of the Republican endorsed candidate, John Grunseth, melted down in the midst of allegations of sexual impropriety.  Grunseth withdrew only 12 days prior to the general election, opening the way for Arnie Carlson to be placed on the ballot as the Republican candidate. Carlson’s victory was due in part to DFL Governor Rudy Perpich’s campaign having become tainted in voters’ minds with the perception that his campaign engaged in negative personal attacks on Grunseth in the last month of the election.  The cruel twist for both Perpich and Grunseth was that most of the negative Grunseth information was dug up and secretively leaked to the press by Carlson’s campaign operatives.

Prior to this bizarre finish to the 1990 election, there was an often overlooked spirited Republican gubernatorial endorsement campaign.  Before his eventual victory in the endorsing convention and primary, Grunseth was locked in a vigorous four-way race.  His opponents were state auditor Arne Carlson, federal prosecutor Doug Kelley and businessman Dave Printy.  What is most interesting from the above quote regarding the four Republican candidates by Oistad and Hoium (Grunseth’s campaign manager and press secretary) is the fact that all of the Republican candidates were identified as being “pro environment”.  What was most revealing is that the statement was made in passing as if it were an obvious fact.  We know the environmental credentials were true for Doug Kelley because he has extensive involvement with Conservation Minnesota Voter Center.  Even Grunseth and Printy, who were competing hard for the conservative delegates in the race, were not shying away from the “pro environment” label.

One of the most striking revelations regarding the environment in Oistad and Hoium’s book was that all four of the Republican candidates indicated they were opposed to mining in and near the BWCA Wilderness.   This was no throwaway position because the possibility of mining in and around the Boundary Waters was a real threat in the 1990s; the same kind of dangerous sulfide mining that is now being proposed two decades later.  It had long been known there were deposits of copper and other metals associated with sulfide deposits in the region.  Prior to the 1990 election there were several mining companies making serious explorations for the first time with the view of large scale copper mines in the region.  Therefore, it is significant that all of the four potential standard bearers for the Republican Party in 1990 opposed a large-scale sulfide mine in and near the BWCA.

The Republican Party now controls the Minnesota House and Senate, but this is clearly a new breed of Republicans.  This week Republicans have been assembling several of their “environmental” bills as the legislative session grinds on, and being “pro-environment” would be the last word anyone would use to describe the product of the Republican legislative majority in 2012.

In 1990 the Republicans opposed dangerous sulfide mining near the BWCA. Now they’re supporting a proposal by Range Democrats to swap out state-owned land in the BWCA with valuable federal Superior Forest land. According to the author of the proposal, Rep. David Dill, their goal is to “mine the hell out of this land.” They also have several provisions giving greater authority to mining companies to explore for minerals on private property.

The Republicans also put forward positions that would weaken our state’s Wetland Conservation Act, state pollution permitting, recycling goals and citizen oversight at the Pollution Control Agency.  How far we have come from the days when Republicans were “pro-environment” and the defenders of our crown jewel of outdoor recreation economy- the BWCA?

*There Is No November, Leon Oistad and David Hoium, Jeric Publishing, Inc, Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota – 1991

About John Tuma

John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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