SDCDEA president Tommy Hough spoke at the Flip the 50th Empty Chair Town Hall event on Saturday, Aug . 26, at Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego.
By Tommy Hough
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Congress was often the butt of jokes, but Congress was also working in what many now refer to as the Golden Age of Congress. For 40 years, between 1954 and 1994, Congress ably and consistently utilized the power of government to make the lives of Americans better.
It wasn't perfect, but by and large, Congress functioned in a bipartisan manner to make the lives of Americans better, and from the 1960s on began to pass into law environmental policy that continues to serve us today: the Clean Water Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the EPA – now subverted under President Trump and Scott Pruitt beyond the comprehension of anyone but the most cynical right-wing operator.
I say "all Americans" because it makes no dissemination between rich and poor, between race or religion. Our environmental laws are not there to make life easier for corporations, they're there to ensure our corporations function in a manner that do not harm our nation's health, our citizens, our greater ecology, our air or our water. Damage to our environment is in part death by a thousand cuts, and in part like toothpaste – once it's out of the tube, it doesn't go back in.
This remains an ongoing struggle. There is ongoing give and take. Part of the reason the great legislation of the 1960s and 70s was passed was because engaged Americans and robust citizens' groups were demanding it. But after a while, people begin to assume it was always illegal to dump paint or industrial detergents into a river. People began to assume vast tracts of wilderness had always been held in a state of preservation. And since the radicalization of Congress by the Republican wave of 1994, Congressional Republicans have taken on a far more contrary approach to the environment and conservation – to the point, where, today – they despise it.
They reject clear and obvious empirical evidence in order to keep their worldview from being upended, and more important, to fit the desires of their donor class, which has little in common with those who actually vote for Republican candidates. That has only been aggravated by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010 – because citizens were not empowered by that decision. Only the weathly.
Today's modern Republicans reject any consideration that doesn't fit in with the views of a narrow band of AM talk radio hosts and conspiracy-laden websites – and we are now seeing the impact and consequences of 30 years' worth of cumulative exposure to radical, right-wing ideology on the public's airwaves. Today, Republican lawmakers like Duncan Hunter Jr. simply respond to issues driven by a Republican noise machine.
Part of that ideology is an abdication of the conservation tenets of one of our nation's great environmentalists: Theodore Roosevelt – a Republican. This is a president who once ducked out of a cabinet meeting to go hiking with John Muir at Yosemite. And Roosevelt listened and learned at the feet of Muir – and in doing so helped begin the process of building modern American conservation, by way of passing the Antiquities Act in 1906 and embracing the cause of protecting our special places as National Parks and National Monuments.
And what makes the current Congress so unusual, so radical, is it's dogged willingness to ignore actual, pressing issues, like infrastructure and opioid addiction and the cancer of economic inequality and the integrity of our elections – and instead, use the power of government to make life more difficult for regular Americans.
Duncan Hunter Jr. has to answer for that, because he votes the GOP party line – a line that does not benefit his constituents, or the environment. Just last year, in 2016, Congressman Hunter:
I would encourage everyone to contact Congressman Hunter and his office and ask if he knows anything about any of the items listed here. If he did, he would be here today to justify his votes to you, his constituents.
Very soon, possibly under a more organized President Trump, or under a capable and effective President Mike Pence, Mr. Hunter will be able to vote on the radical legislation that we know is ready to go on Capitol Hill, but is stalled by the cruel, disorganized mania of King Donald.
Very soon, Mr. Hunter will have opportunities to blindly vote on legislation that undoes the entirety of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. He will vote on legislation to undo the 1964 Wilderness Act. He will vote to take away any kind of reasonable protections from the worst impulses of corporate America. When even oil companies are telling Trump to slow down on deregulation for the sake of appearances, is there any doubt that Duncan Hunter isn't willing to ape and endorse the extremist right in Congress, or the desires of President Trump or Mr. Pence?
We need to flip districts this election cycle. It must happen here, in the 50th.
You are the beginning of that.
Photos courtesy of James Elia (top) and Colin Parent (bottom)
A San Diego broadcast and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He ran as the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.