“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” -Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night
By Vern Nelson
OC Voice Columnist
Huntington Beach environmentalists who remember the 1990’s and the struggle to protect Bolsa Chica Wetlands, who still refer to State Senator Tom Harman as “Tommy,” express puzzlement and dismay over what became of the genial councilman who once seemed to care about his district’s natural resources.
The “moderate” Assemblyman who was such a valuable ally to local greens as recently as 2005, helping bring the wetlands under public ownership, has, since ascending to the state Senate in 2006, become one of the most malign Sacramento politicians on environmental issues, earning a 19 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters this past year.
Too many voters remember Harman as the Sierra Club’s 2nd best-rated Republican assemblyman for his advocacy of the wetlands, for which he secured state funding, and his widely hailed coastal protection bill banning the import, sale and possession of Killer Algae.
During Harman’s first term, when he was still willing to work with the Democratic majority, he obtained $5 million for the Orange County Water District for a desperately needed Groundwater Replenishment System Project. As recently as Feb. 2006, receiving a Legacy Award from the California State Parks Foundation for his “tremendous ongoing commitment to the environment,” he proclaimed, “I remain committed to doing all I can to preserve and protect the natural resources of California.”
With the support of many Democrats and independents, including many south county environmentalists who applauded him for his opposition to extending Highway 241 through San Onofre Park, he barely squeaked past harsh hard-right harpy Diane Harkey in 2006’s special election, despite her labeling him “the most liberal Republican in the assembly.”
But his conversion from environmental friend to foe upon ascending into the Senate was sudden and drastic. Last November he announced that he had “re-thought his position and endorsed completing the toll road,” as reported gleefully by right-wing Republican operative Matt “Jubal” Cunningham on his Red County/OC Blog.
Jubal went on to exult, “Kudos to Sen. Harman for joining the side of the angels on this issue. Needless to say, gaining the support of someone with Harman’s strong green credentials is a coup for toll road proponents and a PR defeat for 241 opponents. Hopefully, Sen. Harman can impress upon the Governor there is no contradiction between supporting the 241’s completion and being a good steward of the environment.”
Here we see how valuable the other side finds a traitor. (Of course the senator was on the losing side in this tussle, as he almost always is lately, but he did build up anti-environmental cred for his re-election.)
Harman’s woeful 19 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters is based on his votes this year against well over a dozen bills that this moderate organization deemed important to California’s environment. Among them were such wild-eyed liberal brainchildren as SB1002 for Delta Projects, SB17 for Condor Protection, AB1032 against Dredge Mining, SB17 for Flood Protection, SB411 for Renewable Energy, and AB888 & 1058 for Green Buildings.
One bill in particular, which Harman voted against, should concern Voice readers: Senator Alan Lowenthal’s SB974 for Clean Ports.
We’re close enough to the Port of Long Beach to be affected by the heavy diesel pollution in the area. SB974 (which passed the Senate but is currently being held up in the Assembly) will levy a $30 fee on each shipping container passing through California’s ports, with half of the fee going toward reducing air pollution and half to improving the efficiency of cargo movement (by among other things improving the rail system). This bill would have had at least as much as a positive impact on the Orange Coast’s quality of life as Harman’s work on Bolsa Chica, but he voted against it and shored up his right-wing credentials.
Harman’s jumping through anti-environmental hoops for his taskmasters has not been limited to cranky minority “no” votes. He actually introduced legislation last year to make it easier to build in undeveloped urban areas. As reported in the Voice (“Harman: Shorten EIR,” May, 2007) his SB427 would have drastically shortened the Environmental Impact Report developers would have to file for new urban projects.
Harman boasted to us that the California Building Industry Association had chosen him to be the bill’s sponsor specifically because of his “good environmental credentials” at the time. The bill’s status, thankfully, is “inactive”; but Harman was so proud of his attempt that he requested permission to make 200 copies of our article, apparently to show around Sacramento that he had indeed changed his tree-hugging ways.
Some of Harman’s old Bolsa Chica allies charitably suggest he’s just misreading the values of the new parts of the 35th Senate District, which includes Newport Beach, Irvine, and other conservative south county towns that were not in his assembly district. But this is what we learn from reading the right-wing blogs:
Harman was terrified by his 2006 nailbiter of a victory over Harkey, and was threatened with a primary from reliable right-wing Assemblyman Chuck Devore unless he proved his “conservative” bona fides to the Orange County Republican leadership. Which he immediately did, by firing and replacing his old staff with reactionary true believers, voting against everything he had previously held dear, and forsaking his environmental concerns for strident anti-immigrant rhetoric-a brand-new obsession he’s taken to with a vengeance. More on that in the next Tipping Point.