Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Who’s the real environmentalist?

Is Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mark Kirk the environmentalist, or the exaggerator?

It depends on whom one wants to listen to. But the Kirk record when it comes to environmental issues became the focus Tuesday of the political battle over who gets to replace Roland Burris in Washington come next year.

KIRK’S RECORD ON environmental issues is respectable, from the perspective of people who think that government officials should have a role in trying to preserve the natural conditions of this planet.

His critics concede he voted for a bill meant to limit greenhouse gases. They also remember the fact that he was one of many area congressmen who opposed the desires of BP to dump more waste into Lake Michigan from its Whiting, Ind., refinery (located right at the point where Chicago becomes Indiana).

He was one of the few Republican officials to back such ideas. It is a significant part of the reason why he is considered a political moderate who would be willing to work with “the other side” on issues.

Of course, it also is part of the reason why the social conservatives who make up the bulk of the Republican Party base these days are distrustful of Kirk (the Republican chairman of solidly-GOP McLean County, Ill., got quoted recently in the Chicago newspapers as saying he would work to make Kirk a “one-term senator”).

WHICH IS WHY, like many political people trying to reach out to all segments of their political party, he has made statements meant to make his so-called opposition a little less concerned about his presence on the ballot.

The most drastic of these types of actions are those of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has gone from the one-time sponsor of serious immigration reform to one of his state’s biggest cheerleaders for its nativist-inspired policies on the issue.

Kirk is doing the same thing, when it comes to the environment. He says his vote on the “Cap and Trade” bill that limited greenhouse gases was a mistake. He says he wouldn’t do it again.

I don’t know how sincere the conservatives (many of whom view environmental measures as government interference) think Kirk is being, but the environmental activists who push for such measures are taking him seriously.

THEY TOLD THE Chicago Sun-Times that Kirk’s desire to side up with the majority of the Republican caucus means he can’t be trusted any more. Which is why on Tuesday, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters both said they are formally endorsing Kirk’s Democratic challenger, Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

They even took a pre-press conference pot shot at Kirk, mocking the line on his website biography that says he “stood up to Big Oil” by preventing BP from polluting our city’s drinking water supply from Lake Michigan.

Sierra Club officials said that so many politicians jumped on board that particular issue that it would be wrong for any of them to claim to have led the issue. They also told the Sun-Times that Kirk hasn’t been particularly chatty about BP or their activities in Whiting since that one moment.

Considering that BP is now Public Enemy Number One for what happened in the Gulf of Mexico (except for those hard-core partisans who are determined to say it was Barack Obama’s fault), creating that potential negative image of Kirk as someone who might give in for politically partisan reasons to BP and let them taint the Great Lakes just like the Gulf of Mexico has become soiled.

THAT STATEMENT IS a bit of an exaggeration on my part. But exaggeration may very well be the tactic that Kirk will get lambasted with for the next 145 days until Election Day.

In the past week, he has become the guy who took a legitimate military record and embellished it to the point where the truly-undecided among the Illinois electorate may not be sure what to believe and what to disregard.

Now, right on the heel of that mis-step, he’s getting accused of exaggerating his environmental record. A part of me realizes that these two particular environmental groups have histories of backing Democratic Party candidates so that the real “news” would have been had they actually shifted support from Giannoulias to Kirk.

But hearing someone else accuse Kirk of exaggerating his accomplishments so soon after the military debacle has to be a blow. Why else would the Kirk campaign have felt the need to come up with their own statement to try to throw the environmental endorsements off-kilter.

IT WAS IN my e-mail box when I woke up Tuesday – Republicans for Environmental Protection endorses Mark Kirk for U.S. Senate. For now, I will take their word for it that this is a real group, and one that honored Kirk as their “Greenest Republican in Congress” in 2009.

Their statement tells me that Kirk “is a proven leader in safeguarding our environment and an outstanding steward of our country’s natural heritage” who has supported measures related to clean air and water, cleaner sources of energy, and expanded open space for the public to use.

Of course, Kirk can’t lay that type of rhetoric on too thick, or else he offends those GOP types who already are suspicious enough of the fact that he does not think of abortion as a criminal act. If he starts becoming a “tree-hugger,” some of them might very well stay home on Nov. 2 – perhaps even enough to balance out those people who are disappointed enough with the Democratic ticket to not care enough to vote.

That is what Illinois has become – the state with a “Top of the Ticket” of candidates who make us wonder which is the least desirable.


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