Thursday, June 28, 2007

Gordo Passive In Fish-Killing Politics? Think Again

The Klamath water controversy that flared in 2001 and 2002 and goes on to this day has become something of a national story, most vividly wrapped inside a devastatingly precise indictment of Dick Cheney's term as Vice President. Jason Leopold's story that we looked over on Monday reminded everyone of Karl Rove's intervention and subsequent airy clearing of wrongdoing by the Interior IG (fedora doff to Bill at P3, noble work). Now Darlene Hooley has asked for an investigation into Cheney's role--it has truly been a shitty week for that guy, and I hope it continues and also he suddenly can't shake the hiccups. Hah.

What did both evildoers have in common as their motivation in the Klamath case? If you said the reelection of Gordon Smith in 2002, score one on your personal chalkboard. Where, in each of these storylines of politics over science and the electoral jimmying of a Senate office, does Gordon Smith appear? If you said "only in the context of being the guy people seemed to be doing awfully nice things for, convoluted and difficult things to try to keep him in office and hold power in the about-to-be-Democratic Senate," hack into this account and start writing my columns for me.

I hope he takes it as a compliment if he finds out I'm calling him a smooth, dirty bastard, although it's more in awe than any respect. Because of course that's exactly what everybody wanted for Gordon, and it's certainly what Gordon wanted for himself--personal distance from the dirty work that is sometimes necessary to make things go, when following the law as written becomes unfruitful. It certainly is important to see if Dick and/or Rove can be busted for jiggering the evidence, but aren't we forgetting somebody? Why is there no examination of Gordon Smith's role in the greatest fish kill in recorded Western history, on his own electoral behalf?

The pieces have come out in dribs. They haven't been connected, but the evidence has been there all along of Smith's very active efforts to do whatever he could to prioritize the farmers of the lower Klamath . You have to pay for the archives of the Klamath Herald and News, but the since-departed John Bragg followed Smith's involvement from the very beginning in early 2001, as the Bush administration sauntered in after Inauguration Day and the water level crisis began. If you want to see any of the articles in their entirety I will email them to you for educational use.

On March 30 in 2001, here's how passive Gordo wasn't being about the looming situation:
Sen. Gordon Smith has asked President Bush to step into the debate over what should be done with Klamath Basin water. In a letter to Bush Thursday, Smith outlined the situation which pits the needs of irrigators against the needs of endangered species.

"I have been working for several months to try to head off the crisis that the farmers I represent are currently facing," Smith wrote. He requested Bush to make emergency funds available for farmers this summer.

"I respectfully request that your domestic policy team become involved in this issue today," he wrote.

Smith, R-Ore., told Bush that while the Klamath Basin farmers "no doubt" are suffering the effects of a severe drought, they were suffering more from the effects of the previous administration.

"Added to the natural drought is a regulatory drought that could leave them with no water for their crops. This should not happen on your watch," Smith wrote.
Note that Smith didn't actually ask Bush; he asked the "domestic policy team." Karl Rove is the head of domestic policy in the White House.

If you take nothing else from this particular piece, and all the shitty little ways Gordon Smith interjected his personal and political gain into the supposedly scientific decision about who gets the water, continue to ask Smith this question until you get an answer:
Why is a US Senator asking the head of executive domestic policy to intervene in a matter handled normally by science agencies and in dispute by the courts? In other words, what business was it of Rove's, and for that matter what about Smith? Was that a proper thing to do?
That was just the beginning of Smith's attempts to reverse the conclusion that water levels had to be raised, costing farmers water. Just 10 days later, Smith stood in a banquet room of the Klamath Shilo Inn after the decision to protect the fish came down, and said "I am here to be your whipping post"--and whipped he was, by about 700 angry farmers telling him they wanted the law changed.

Smith was sympathetic, but "wasted no time in telling the small group he was seeking ideas to take back to Washington, D.C." (700 is small??) And he tried to spin the crowd. According the Herald, despite the angry mood of the crowd at Dick Cheney's decision to follow the law (at first), Smith was clearly in the loop on exactly the same thing a Cheney aide heard the VP say (as we learned today from WaPo:
Another person told Smith he was upset to hear that the decision had received the approval of Vice President Dick Cheney. "I thought Cheney was on our side," the man said.

But Smith said the decision, bitter as it was, constituted a victory of sorts.

At the end of March the outlook was no water for anyone in the Basin, he explained.

"Dick Cheney stopped that order from coming down," Smith said. "He ordered the biologists back to Washington" to see if there were some way to get around the conclusion that all available water must go to protect endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the lower Klamath River.

Sources told the Herald and News that more than 80 biologists from federal agencies and tribes attended a whirlwind of meetings last week in Washington to review the science behind the biological opinions.

"There wasn't a single scientist who would back the administration in court," Smith said. [you bet those are my emphs!]
I'm sure Smith intended to mean that no scientist concluded the initial findings were defensible. But of course the reality is that he was being literal--none would back the administration in court because they were there NOT to back the administration, in order to justify the administration's reversal. That they could make Gordon Smith look like the hero of the farmers, getting Dick Cheney to force those damn Washington scientists to redo their math and put irrigation first, was likely just a sweet bonus to Cheney, but it surely mattered all the world to electoral nerd Karl Rove.

How else did Gordon Smith work his own magic? How about telling an outright fib to distort the debate and color public opinion? From the May 8th, 2001 Herald:
When U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith came to Klamath Falls to offer his support to farmers April 7, he expressed puzzlement about the suckers that dwell in Upper Klamath Lake.

He didn't know, Smith told a crowd of 600 or more gathered to hear him at the Shilo Inn, how government could consider endangered a fish it had once tried to extinguish by means of poison.

Smith misspoke, and another Klamath Basin "rural myth'' was perpetuated.

There is no evidence that anyone ever tried to eliminate Lost River or shortnose suckers from Upper Klamath Lake, said Roger Smith, Klamath district biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Chris Matthews, a spokesman for Sen. Smith, said he did not know what was the basis for the senator's comment.
Notice this is the same gathering at the Shilo as in the previous story a month earlier, and the 30 days caused 100 attendees to vanish from the event! I love our media.

What else did Smith do? How about introducing a law for which he was the sole sponsor, making it easier to delist species from the endangered and threatened lists, giving more powers to states, and removing the requirement of the Secretary to evaluate regulations which would adversely affect habitat? And here's yet another sentinel from Smith that suggests he knew exactly where Cheney and Rove were headed:
(1) BEST SCIENTIFIC AND COMMERCIAL DATA AVAILABLE- Where this Act requires the Secretary to use the best scientific and commercial data available, the Secretary, when evaluating comparable data, shall give greater weight to scientific or commercial data that is empirical or has been field-tested or peer-reviewed.'.
In the NAS decision that reversed the initial finding and literally opened the floodgates, the central contention was that the so called "Hardy Phase II" reports that informed much of the scientific reccomendation was only a draft and had not been fully reviewed. How amazing is that kind of foresight, to put such a clause right at the top of your bill? Fascinating.

The initial thoughts of calling in the "God Squad," as laid out in the WaPo series and an idea that was later rejected, is noted at the time by the Herald on May 18 featuring that OTHER Republican:
The God Squad, formally known as the Endangered Species Committee, could be convened under a provision of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. The law contains a provision allowing a special panel to declare an exemption to the law's requirement that threatened or endangered species be protected before all other considerations.

"We have been contacted by several of our constituents who have posed legitimate questions about this statutory exemption under the ESA," Walden, R-Ore., and Herger, R-Calif., wrote in a joint letter sent to Norton Thursday.

Convening the God Squad might allow the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation an exemption to its operations plan that requires all available water stored in Upper Klamath Lake to be held to protect habitat for endangered suckers or sent downstream to protect habitat for coho salmon, Walden and Herger said.
Then in August Smith helped shepherd through a bill providing $20 million in direct relief to any farmer who suffered a decline in irrigation supply. As WaPo detailed, even more was coming, and Smith pushed for those as well (although it should be said that much of the Oregon delegation at the time was in favor of subsidies to the farmers).

That's just the stuff that happened in public. How did Smith become so canny at knowing what the next steps in the Cheney strategy were, before they were even implemented? He sure seems like an active listener, y'know?

More to come.

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