Groups gather against Norton

Liberal activists declare `war' on Interior nominee

`Fringe views' assailed

Multimedia ads, Web site target Bush appointee

January 13, 2001|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Environmental, labor and civil rights groups are joining forces to fight a Bush administration Cabinet post for Gale A. Norton, whose pro-states' rights views have led her to say and write things that offend most liberal interest groups.

Environmentalists have opposed Norton, a former Colorado attorney general, since her surprise nomination Dec. 29 to be George W. Bush's interior secretary. But at a news conference yesterday, the heads of 16 national conservation groups, including a group of Republican environmentalists, were joined by representatives of the AFL-CIO and the NAACP in a declaration of "war" against the Norton appointment.

For about 20 years, she has given voice to a distinctly Western strain of hostility toward the federal government and its regulations, views that are "antithetical to fundamental American values," said AFL-CIO official David Smith.

The coalition has collected a sheaf of Norton speeches and writings, in which she opposes minority preferences in government contracts and college scholarships, questions the legality of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Violence Against Women Act, opposes a key provision of the Endangered Species Act, wonders whether property owners have a constitutional "right to pollute," and speaks sympathetically of Confederate soldiers "who died in defense of the sovereignty of their state."

Norton's "fringe views" are so extreme that "the Senate would do the president-elect a favor" by rejecting her nomination, said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. "If there is a line in American politics ... then it is clear that Gale Norton is on the other side of it."

The Sierra Club and other members of the coalition are mounting a campaign against Norton's confirmation that includes nationwide newspaper ads asking the U.S. Senate not to confirm her nomination, and television and radio ads in nine states and the District of Columbia. The coalition has set up a Web site - SayNoToNorton.org - to allow activists to fire off fast anti-Norton e-mails to their senators. A Senate committee is scheduled to hold hearings on Norton's appointment Thursday.

Jeanie Mamo, Norton's spokesman on the Bush transition team, accused the coalition of "a complete distortion of her writings."

Bush on attacks: `Ridiculous'

"It is disappointing that so many liberal interest groups have decided to distort Gale Norton's record and position," Mamo said. "Gale Norton has shown a commitment over many years to conserving a safe and clean environment and preserving our public lands."

This week, the president-elect praised Norton and said his Cabinet nominees were chosen because they shared his views. He described some of the attacks on her as "ridiculous."

Norton began her career in 1979 at the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation, then headed by James Watt. During Watt's stormy tenure as Ronald Reagan's Interior Secretary, Norton served as an Interior Department associate solicitor. She was Colorado's attorney general from 1991 to 1999, and has been a fellow at various conservative foundations.

In testimony before the House Commerce Committee in 1997, Norton described herself as "a free-market conservative and advocate of judicial restraint, as well as a champion of states' rights."

But Martha Marks, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection-America, said Norton represents "an extreme environmental wing that inhabits a dark corner of our Grand Old Party."

Most controversial is a 1996 speech at the Independence Institute in Vail, Colo. Norton said that she had considered suing the federal government to stop construction of "a really ugly addition to the state Capitol; it's the wheelchair ramp required by the Americans with Disabilities Act." She criticized the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the 40-hour work week, and wondered where Congress got the authority for the Violence Against Women Act.

Defense of states' rights

"What federal power are we talking about?" she asked. "Is it interstate commerce when we're talking about domestic violence? I don't think so! Is it national defense? Not exactly."

Norton also described a visit to a Confederate graveyard. "We certainly had bad facts in that case, where we were defending state sovereignty by defending slavery," she said. "But we lost too much. We lost the idea that the states were to stand against the federal government gaining too much power in our lives."

That was the argument used by segregationists who opposed the civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 1960s, said NAACP board chairman Julian Bond, a veteran of that struggle.

He accused Norton of "wanton insensitivity ... by equating slavery with bad facts."

"Just as surely as she will not be hugging trees, her record suggests she will not be embracing efforts to end environmental racism," Bond said.

Among Norton's positions that have drawn fire are:

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