After 33 years in Washington, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has had enough. Perhaps not coincidentally, at about the same time as Senator Snowe’s announcement, Representative Norm Dicks (D-WA) also announced he was retiring after 36 years in Congress.
Citing partisanship, polarization and her frustration with a ‘my way or the highway’ ideology that is hurting American government, Maine’s senior Senator and one of Capitol Hill’s best-known moderates has decided not to seek reelection in 2012.
“I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us,” Snowe said earlier this month, in a statement announcing her decision.
Representative Dicks made a similar statement in his retirement announcement, stating, “I have always believed that we can achieve greater results if we leave politics aside when the election season and the floor debates are over.”
I’d echo their words. The Nature Conservancy works with Democrats and Republicans, with environmental activists and with corporations. We proudly stake out the middle ground — which is becoming a harder place to occupy — because that’s where the best solutions are found.
At a time when some are pushing to dismantle environmental laws and even eliminate whole arms of government charged with protecting our natural resources, we need more sensible leaders like Senator Snowe and Representative Dicks.
Representative Snowe leaves a great legacy of bringing together diverse groups to keep Maine’s natural resources healthy and productive. “Here in Maine, we live between the mountains and the sea, surrounded by nature,” said Mike Tetreault, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine. “Senator Snowe understands that we can protect the environment while supporting our families and communities. She focused on finding the best solutions for her state and the nation, and I will always respect what she’s accomplished.”
Maine is still a land of family farms and fishing villages, of expansive working forests and small businesses. There are lakeside camps and acres of forests and waters where people fish, hunt, hike and enjoy nature. For three decades, Senator Snowe has fought for these fishermen, farmers and foresters who are struggling to keep their way of life viable. She has worked with resource users and conservationists to protect both nature and the people who depend upon it.
In Washington, Representative Dicks, a long-time member of the House Appropriations Committee, will be remembered as a champion of conservation for his efforts on behalf of the protection and clean-up of his beloved Puget Sound. “I have rarely had the chance to work with someone of his decency, strong work ethic, jovial character, and honesty,” said Rep. Harold Rogers, (R-KY), the current chair of the Appropriations Committee. “Norm has never hesitated to work together to maintain the comity and spirit of bipartisanship that is the hallmark of the appropriations committee.”
Senator Snowe and Representative Dicks are part of a great tradition of American leaders who’ve understood that conservation is an American value that brings together Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals. Among these are some notable Republicans:
- George H.W. Bush established 56 National Wildlife Refuges — more than Theodore Roosevelt, our first conservation President.
- Olympia Snowe supported the Forest Legacy Program from its inception, leading to the protection of 683,000 acres of working forest that helps keep Mainers employed.
- John Chafee opposed efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and spearheaded the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Air Acts of 1990.
- Richard Nixon signed landmark environmental laws establishing the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act, following the efforts of Congressional leaders like Muskie.
In the words of one of America’s foremost politicians:
“What is a conservative after all but one who conserves… we want to protect and conserve the land on which we live — our countryside, our rivers and mountains, our plains and meadows and forests. This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children. And our great moral responsibility is to leave it to them either as we found it or better than we found it.”
Who was this voice for pragmatic conservation? Ronald Reagan. We need more voices like his, Senator Snowe’s and Representative Dicks’ today.
[Image: Olympia Snowe. Image source: JRockefellerIV/Flickr via a Creative Commons license. Image: Norm Dicks. Image source: USDAgov/Flickr via a Creative Commons license. Image: Indian Point Cove in Blagden Preserve, Maine. Image source: Stephen G. Maka]