Yes, folks, it’s true. The House demonstrated Monday that they will — on occasion — vote “yes” on conservation issues, when Rep. Richard Pombo put forward and the House passed a new version of the Marine Mammal Protection Act that left the Dolphin Deadline intact.
This was truly an amazing victory, and I’m not just saying this because my organization, Oceana, led the work that pulled this off. We took on those who wanted to kill the deadline — the key timeline for government to ensure that commercial fishing operations minimize the catch of dolphins and other marine mammals in their activities — and won. The amazing part is how we did it — by going to Republicans and proving that supporting legislation that “kills Flipper” is not good politics for Republicans or Democrats.
I know this sounds, well, obvious, but I assure you it is not. I can’t tell you how many people, including Democrats and other members of the environmental community, told us that we should not fight this because a) we would lose, b) that losing the deadline was the “best we could get,” and c) even though the House Committee had passed a terrible bill, “the Senate would take care of it.” Some people were actually displeased with us when we decided to stick to our principles.
And I can tell you how surprised many Republicans in the House were to be visited by a conservation group. How they were impressed when we bought hard-hitting advertising (and got conservative constituents to post yard signs) expressing support for the deadline. I could tell how much more supportive they were when we hired famous Republican pollster and pundit Kellyanne Conway to poll conservative Republican voters in a swing state (Ohio). She reported back that these voters — the ones they most care about — overwhelmingly wanted them to do the right thing and uphold the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The key to our success? Well, our campaign used a long list of both carrots and sticks. But the most radical thing we did was have a Republican lead our campaign. Courtney Sakai, our Campaign Director, is a longtime Republican political consultant. In the end, she was able to create a campaign that made it clear to the House leadership that killing the Dolphin Deadline was bad politics for Republicans (and not just for Democrats). Courtney and her team also received fantastic support from Democrat members, particularly the ranking minority leader of the Resource Committee, Nick Rahall, and his staff. And Courtney and all of our allies are going to continue to work hard to make sure that the deadline remains intact (and to find other ways to ensure that we can protect marine mammals).
Recently, the conservation movement has seen evidence that Republicans — if we talk to them — can do the right thing for many natural systems that are essential to our long-term survival. Evangelical ministers came out in favor of addressing global warming, President Bush set aside hundreds of thousands of square miles in Hawaii as a national monument, and now the House Republicans have agreed not to weaken protections for dolphins and other marine mammals.
For me, the key lessons I intend to remember are that we need to 1) prove that being pro-conservation makes political sense, 2) make the case to everyone on both sides of the aisle (Republicans and Democrats), and 3) of course, never, ever give up the fight.
P.S. Even the dolphins are happy about the House leadership’s decision.