BELFAST — Three of the area’s more popular legislators were taken aback this week to learn that the Maine League of Conservation Voters ranked them at the bottom on environmental issues.
The league based its ratings on votes cast during the 1989-1990 legislative session on specific environmental matters such as solid waste, wetlands, river cleanup, toxic waste and other issues. Senators Robert Gould of Belfast, Linda Brawn of Camden, and Rep. Walter Whitcomb of Waldo all drew unfavorable ratings from the group.
Brawn had the ignominious distinction of being the only senator in the state given a zero rating. Gould garnered a 17 rating and Whitcomb a 12. All are Republicans. The fact that most of the state’s Democrats — for instance, Rep. Joseph Mayo of Thomaston — earned a 100-percent rating was perplexing to Brawn.
“I think this group have just picked and chosen certain votes,” Brawn said Thursday. “The Republicans voted against these bills because they were too severe. I favor some environmental regulations, but more middle of the road, moderate regulations.”
As to her being ranked at the bottom of the list, Brawn said she was “very concerned and embarrassed” to be singled out as “an environmental zero.”
“I certainly am willing to defend myself and my record,” Brawn said. “I feel I am very environmentally minded. For them to set up these votes just to call you an environmental zero is pretty severe.”
Shrugging off his 17 rating, Gould said he was “perfectly willing” to defend his environmental record against the league’s criticism. Gould said he voted against some of the bills in question “because they didn’t go far enough” and others because he viewed them as “absolutely asinine.”
“I don’t care how they’ve got me ranked,” Gould said. “It makes no difference to me.”
Referring to the river cleanup bill, Gould charged that Democrats with paper mills in their districts amended the bill to the point where “I didn’t know whether it would do any good at all. It’s not proven to me whether that bill would clean up any river. It’s not at all what it looks like.”
According to the League, the river bill was amended “in a manner that weakened its provisions and was passed into law in its compromised form.” Despite the fact that Gov. John R. McKernan signed the bill into law, neither Gould or Brawn voted in favor of the amended version.
Over in the house, Rep. Walter Whitcomb said Thursday that not only had he never heard of the League of Conservation Voters, its members never approached him to ask his support on the issues in question. Whitcomb termed his 12 rating as “selective.”
“It’s one thing for a group to contact you before a vote. But until they published this list, I had never heard of them. They were certainly not a group that asked us to sponsor things,” Whitcomb said. “It’s kind of poor politics as far as I’m concerned. But they certainly got a lot of attention in publishing the list.”
Whitcomb said that the only favorable rating he received from the League was on a recycling bill that he co-sponsored. “I suppose I didn’t have any choice but to get a good rating on that one. Occasionally it’s nice to vote with the majority.”
Whitcomb said that for the past two years he has received awards from environmental groups for his efforts on behalf of farmland preservation. He said his constituents have never criticized his votes on environmental matters. “I spend hours on environmental issues,” he said.
Whitcomb said he voted against the toxic-use reduction bill because he believed it was anti-business and “tainted all toxic substances with a broad brush.” In addition, he charged, the bill’s sponsors divided along labor vs. management lines. “It seemed to be a piece of legislation that came in with a very hard stance” against business. Despite his opposition, the bill became law.
Whitcomb said special interest groups have the luxury of holding steadfast to an issue while legislators must be willing to compromise if they want to get things done.
“Knowing that it’s very hard to get a compromise on issues, I’m very happy with my record,” he said. “It appears this group took a hard line on everything. Well in sausage making over there (Augusta), I found you have to bend a little. If you don’t get a compromise, you don’t get anything.”