Glenn Hurowitz is the associate director of WILD PAC, a political action committee that works to elect leaders at all levels of government who will champion protection of America’s wilderness and public lands.

Monday, 24 Mar 2003

NEW YORK, N.Y.

I’m back from Minnesota. During this past week, I had the great opportunity to meet with conservation, union, and business leaders about the importance of organizing and energizing a conservation community still in shock from the tragic death of Sen. Paul Wellstone (D) and the subsequent loss of the election to Norm Coleman (R). Of course, Minnesota is always about two steps ahead of most of the rest of the country when it comes to political activity, so I was fortunate to be there.

My main purpose in going to Minnesota was to meet with local conservation leaders and supporters and begin organizing for WILD PAC’s second Minnesota event, to be held this June. But I was also there at an extremely fortuitous time, which helped illustrate the importance of WILD PAC’s mission — to help elect wilderness champions.

Last week, the Senate voted on whether or not to include drilling revenue from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the budget — a move that would be a first step toward potentially opening the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling. Sen. Norm Coleman was considered one of four votes that was up for grabs. Even though Sen. Coleman had promised repeatedly both during his campaign and since taking office to vote to protect the Arctic Refuge, in the days before the vote, he was giving off signals that he was less than certain about his promise.

With a close vote in the offing, and Vice President Dick Cheney waiting in the wings to cast a tie-breaking vote for drilling, I joined the Minnesota conservation community with a press event sponsored by the Alaska Coalition of Minnesota. With only a couple of hours notice, we assembled a group of Minnesotans, with TV cameras and reporters in tow, outside Sen. Coleman’s St. Paul office and asked him to keep his campaign promise to protect the Arctic Refuge. We brought with us an enlarged version of a letter Coleman had signed to a constituent in which he pledged his support for protection of the Arctic Refuge. The whole time we were in the office, the phones were ringing off the hook urging Sen. Coleman to vote to protect the Arctic Refuge.

After the vote, Sen. Coleman announced that he had received up to 8,000 phone calls asking him to protect the Arctic Refuge. Sen. Coleman’s vote turned out to be crucial — the final tally was 52-48 in favor of protecting the refuge.

The close vote showed the importance of having wilderness champions in office. A year ago, Sen. Paul Wellstone led the fight in the Senate to protect the Arctic Refuge. Now, the conservation community needs to work hard with Sen. Coleman to ensure that he represents the views of Minnesotans, not the big oil companies.

But the great thing about the political system in America is that we have the opportunity to elect new leaders. In 2004, WILD PAC will be working hard to elect conservation leaders from the president on down to the local level in communities like Minnesota — to organize, energize, and mobilize the conservation community to help elect wilderness and public-lands champions.