We talked to Washington Conservation Voters Executive Director Kurt Fritts today about the controversial remarks U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-8) made to Republican supporters behind closed doors belittling groups like WCV, which were taped and leaked to partisan Democratic blogger David Goldstein.
Reichert cynically threw environmentalists under the bus by telling his GOP supporters he wasn't really an environmentalist, but occassionally had to vote with the Democrats on environmental issues to hold on to his swing-district seat. (The ruse has certainly duped the Seattle Times, which has repeatedly endorsed him, crediting him—as Goldstein has pointed out—with a "conscience-driven independent streak.")
The story has largely been ignored in the mainstream press (Times assistant managing editor Jim Simon wouldn't comment on the his paper's editorial decisions, but said he'd been out of town and wasn't up on the story).
We've been trying, unsuccessfully, to get a comment from Rep. Reichert on his statements.
We spoke with Fritts today.
He called Reichert's comments "troubling," adding: "I think it was a stupid thing to say. I think Congressman Reichert should have to answer questions about it."
Fritts, who told us he "pulled together a fundraiser for him [Reichert] in March," defended Reichert's record, though. "Nothing changes the fact that for the past few years he's been in step with us."
Fritts' big example (and we agree, it was a big deal) was Reichert's "yes" vote on the climate change bill last June. With eight Republicans breaking ranks, including Riechert, the green bill passed 219-212. "I believe actions speak louder than words," Fritts said, "and his vote on final passage was was critical. And it accurately represents his district." Fritts described Reichert as "thoughtful" during the climate change debates and crediting Reichert with bucking the GOP line said, "it wasn't easy, but ultimately, he did the right thing."
In his candid closed-door rap session with supporters, Reichert did not mention the climate change vote. He cited his votes to expand protections for Alpine Lakes and Wild Sky. (Fritts cited those as well.)
Fritts told us that when he'll be in D.C. lobbying in a few weeks, "I imagine I will bring this up with him."
We're not rubes, we get how politicians work. However, Reichert's candor belies the credit he's been given by Seattle Times for being "principled," a reason they've given their hundreds of thousands of readers to vote for him.
More important, if Reichert isn't an environmentalist at heart, voters should know that because when push comes to shove on future bills (when he's more confident with his long term incumbency), he may feel comfy voting his real conscience.
Reichert is currently up for reelection against Democrat Suzan DelBene. Scott Whiteaker, DelBene's spokesman, says "Reichert is trying to duck and cover. He just wants this issue to go away."
Whiteaker added in a formal statemement released today:
“This type of crass political calculation is everything that’s wrong with the other Washington, and makes it clear Congressman Reichert is part of the problem. We need representatives who are driven by conviction, not by their next re-election campaign.”