Should the Sierra Club Endorse Chaffee?

Kos is pissed off at the Sierra Club for endorsing Lincoln Chaffee’s re-election in Rhode Island, despite the Republican senator’s “20 percent” environmental rating in 2004. (Presumably it was the local chapter, and not the national organization, that’s endorsing him.) So here we go again; a rehash of the old NARAL-endorses-Chaffee debates. Should liberal interest groups support Republicans who are good for their causes, even at the expense of the Democratic party?

Let’s just point out, first off, that I have no idea where that 20 percent rating that Kos cites comes from: the League of Conservation Voters gave Chaffee a 90 percent score in 2005 and a 72 percent score in 2004. He’s quite good on environmental issues. More to the point, he’s used his perch on the environmental committee to single-handedly hold up the Bush administration’s Orwellian-titled Clear Skies Act, and has helped slow Rep. Richard Pombo’s attacks on the Endangered Species Act. It’s not necessarily an exaggeration to say that thanks to his rather unique position, Lincoln Chaffee has been able to do more for the environment than most Democrats.

Now granted, granted, the best thing for the environment—okay, at least marginally better than the status quo—would be for the Senate to go blue. And one way to do that is to unseat Lincoln Chaffee and replace him with a Democrat. If Sierra Club was thinking long-term, the argument goes, it would ignore Chaffee’s record and endorse his opponent, no questions asked.

But here’s the thing: The Sierra Club has no assurances whatsoever that the Senate will revert to Democratic control this fall. Many people doubt it will happen. And if the Senate does stay in Republican hands, then Chaffee becomes very, very important from an environmental standpoint—he can do more to stop the Bush administration’s assault on green trees, happy fish, and breathable air than any freshman Democratic replacement ever could. That’s undeniable. Bush and Pombo and the rest of the crew want to do some very bad things to Mother Nature; presumably the Sierra Club feels like this is no time to screw around and risk losing a key strategic ally in the Senate.

At any rate, given that in the future Republicans, evangelicals, and conservatives out West are likely to look more favorably on environmental issues, it also probably behooves the Sierra Club to start building cross-party ties—just as the NRA has done. Despite the fact that Republican control of Congress is obviously better for gun rights, the NRA still supports gun-toting Democrats; partly as a result, it’s one of the most powerful interest groups out there. Perhaps there are counterarguments, but the Sierra Club (or it’s local chapter, if that’s who’s making this call) isn’t necessarily “moronic” to support Chaffee.


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