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  • Interviews
    Robert Sisson, President of Republicans for Environmental Protection
    In Connection with Michigan Environmental Council

    Q: What is the background of the Michigan Chapter of REP?

    The Michigan Chapter was formed in 1997 by a group of Traverse City area residents who had strong concerns about environmental protection in that area, and who had hopes of running for public office. In 1999, that group fell by the wayside. Susan McGillicuddy and I joined REP about that time and became the leaders of the chapter. Susan served as president for a couple of years, then I served for three, and then Susan took back over two years ago. Susan is the Supervisor of Meridian Township (just east of East Lansing). I served two terms as Mayor of Sturgis, MI.

    .

    Q: How long have you been working with the REP?

    I joined the national staff in 2006 and became president of the national organization in January 2009.

    Q: How long has the REP been a member group of the Michigan Environmental Council?

    REP has been a member of MEC since I have been active-so, at least 8 years.

    Q: What common policy goals do the REP and MEC have today?

    Historically, MEC did not have its own policy goals, but represented smaller groups, like REP's Michigan Chapter, in Lansing. That has changed. REP's chapter typically selects three priorities each year and end up working on "hot" issues that come up. The Michigan Chapter has focused on clean water/Great Lakes protection, open space preservation, and building an economy through clean and renewable energy. During the past year, we've marshaled support against new or expansion of CAFO's.

    Q: Who are the political opponents of REP and MEC? Can members of your own party be considered opponents?

    I can't speak for MEC. For REP, we don't really have any political opponents. Democrats typically like us because we usually support their general environment efforts. There are some Republicans who get upset with us because we point out the flaws, inconsistencies, and pure untruth of their positions and statements on environmental issues. A current example is the misuse of an MIT study on cap and trade legislation. Michigan's GOP congressmen are claiming that study proves that cap and trade will cost American families about $3,000 per year in increased energy costs. We are quick to point out that the author of the study has called upon the party to cease and desist with that misrepresentation. The author, Dr. Reilly, says the true cost will be about $340 per year-before any offsets for lower income families, savings from energy efficiencies, or economic opportunities experienced through the expected investment in the clean and renewable energy sector. Another example is Republican politicians who claim the "conservative" mantle, but have no idea what true conservatism is. They've been misguided by Rush Limbaugh's redefining of the term to mean "unfettered capitalism." If they would read Edmund Burk or Russell Kirk, they'd discover that Kirk himself said, "Nothing is more conservative than conservation." REP does not endorse or support Democratic candidates. We only endorse Republicans who meet our criteria.

    Q: What are some recent successes the REP and MEC have had in state politics?

    Again, REP is more active, politically at the federal level, where we have been credited as the key organization in preventing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; obtaining enough GOP votes to approve the Omnibus Lands bill just signed last week; and we are viewed by our peer groups as being a key to passage of climate legislation this summer.
    In Michigan, one key victory was assisting in obtaining the first ever denial of a CAFO permit by the MDEQ. I personally lobbied three state senators last year to push the Great Lakes Compact through the state senate...we were key in making sure a few key pieces were retained in the legislation.

    Q: What are the tactics used by the groups to influence policy? MEC appears to use important connections to influence state policy, does the REP do the same?

    Our primary tactic to influence Republicans is to draw a very clear picture of how a certain vote on an environmental issue is truly conservative and how it will favorably impact future generations and our economy. We don't twist arms or make threats. If we can't win on intellect, then we've already lost. Again, I can't comment on MEC's techniques.

    Q: What are the challenges REP and MEC face in the political arena?

    Our primary challenge at REP is to continue building our grassroots base. Many of our longtime "Roosevelt" Republican members have abandoned the party. So, we have to continue reach out to conservatives and prove to them that environmental protection is conservative and a major requirement for the party to ever regain power. Being able to send REP members who live in a particular lawmaker's district in to see him or her is powerful.

    Q: How have the opinions of REP and MEC changed state policy as they have become more involved?

    I can't say that REP's opinions have influenced state policy much at all. We do have 2 state reps and 1 state senator who are members and many local leaders across the state. So, we hope by influencing the "farm team" we will, in the near future, have a state legislature not populated by in-bred political philosophies. As true conservatives, we think in generational terms. That is, we frame every policy issue with the question, "how is this going to impact our children in twenty five years' time?" It's a rare politician who thinks beyond the next election date.

    Q: What are some examples of bipartisanship REP and MEC have supported?

    REP supports good legislation, no matter from which party it emanates. In Michigan, we worked hard to win passage of the RES and Great Lakes Compact. We (REP) worked county-level GOP organizations to build support; counterparts on the other side of the spectrum worked the DEM groups.

    Q: How does REP deal with Republican politicians that have environmental views opposed to REP's? Does REP lobby these politicians or just support those that have similar views?

    We issue a national scorecard to encourage members of Congress to improve their voting records on environmental issues. We contact and meet with Republican legislators and their staffs to share our positions and logic. We don't support Republicans who don't view environmental protection as a top priority, but we'll help them on any given issue and educate them in the hope that they will improve. We believe, fervently, that the party will not again win back a majority until it rediscovers its environmental heritage. We spend a great deal of time educating the current generation of Republican politicians about that heritage. The very first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, protected Yosemite NP; the next GOP president, US Grant, created Yellowstone NP. Then came Theodore Roosevelt who did more for conservation than every other president combined! Dwight Eisenhower protected the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge...the very place Republicans of today want to dismantle. Richard Nixon created the EPA, ESA, Clean Air Act, etc. and was the greatest president on environmental protection. Ronald Reagan negotiated a global ban on chloroflourocarbons, to protect the earth's protective ozone layer-which was the climate change issue of the time. George H.W. Bush instituted a cap and trade regulation for sulphur dioxide to stop acid rain-and cap and trade is what many Republicans are fighting against today. Republicans have swallowed the example set by Rush Limbaugh, hook, line, and sinker. They need to be exposed to their true heritage and the conservative arguments on why conservation is conservative.

     

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