When Pete Wilson, then a U.S. Senator, was campaigning for governor in 1990, he sought the endorsement of Friends of the River, an influential environmental organization and the largest river conservation group in the state.
Wilson, then a moderate Republican, had been a key vote in support of adopting federal Wild and Scenic status for the Tuolumne River, one of the most treasured wild rivers in the West, running through a canyon where water developers were planning a staircase of new dams.
The endorsement request set up an internal debate at F.O.R., which normally identified with Democratic office holders, and Diane Feinstein was Wilson’s gubernatorial opponent. Wilson’s action had saved the Tuolumne from dam destruction and the organization ultimately rewarded his support with a key endorsement that some argued helped him narrowly defeat Feinstein. (Full disclosure – this writer was then executive director of Friends of the River).
The dilemma of who to endorse underscored a key reality of both politics and public interest campaigns – black and white are one-dimensional colors while most social progress takes place in a spectrum of multiple hues.
That’s why we were disturbed by the annual political report card released by Sonoma County Conservation Action (SCCA), the county’s largest environmental group, but one that sometimes appears to operate within a too-narrowly rigid ideological framework.