10/24/2012 04:32 pm ET Updated Dec 24, 2012

GOP Conservationists? You Have to Know Where to Look


Do all Republican politicians subscribe to the pessimistic, either-or notion that good stewardship inevitably must result in economic harm?

Not at all. Once you hose away the smog emitted by attack ads, partisan operatives, cable bloviators, and talk radio gas bags, you can find elected Republicans who value a clean environment and take the initiative to further the cause.

You just have to know where to look. It pays to look in parts of the country where outdoor treasures are part of the local culture -- such as South Florida, where sun, sand, and surf are assets that bring dollars attracting tourists and amenities promising locals a slice of the good life.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has represented Miami in Congress since 1989. Since then, she has been at the forefront of efforts to protect South Florida's fisheries, beaches, coral reefs, national parks, wildlife refuges, and marine sanctuaries.

"Drill, baby, drill" might be the default Republican slogan on energy policy, but Ros-Lehtinen doesn't want to see one drilling rig, be it American or Cuban, anywhere near Florida's beaches and the warm coastal waters that attract swimmers and fishermen.

Now, head northwest 3,000 miles to a vastly different place: the volcanic mountain range and coniferous forests in Washington State represented by Dave Reichert.

Elected to the House in 2005, the former big-city sheriff has a soft spot for the backcountry. At campaign events, he frequently tells a story of he and his grandson coming across cougar tracks while looking for deer on a tramp through snowy woods.

Reichert has sponsored legislation to expand Mount Rainier National Park, expand the heavily visited Alpine Lakes Wilderness east of Seattle, and protect nearby free-flowing rivers. Like Ros-Lehtinen and her skepticism of oil drilling near Florida's beaches, Reichert opposes allowing supertankers to sail into Puget Sound.

Another state sensitive about its beaches and coastal waters is New Jersey. The Garden State, the nation's most densely populated and urbanized, also has a legacy of industrialization that has left scars on the land.

That could be why Jersey voters, when they're in the mood to send Republicans to Congress, tend to favor lawmakers who understand that environmental stewardship is not a luxury.

Take Chris Smith, for example. A staunchly pro-life conservative from Central Jersey who has served in the House since 1981, Smith has compiled a remarkably consistent record of support for strong clean air and clean water legislation. Smith also is a reliable vote for open space protections and wildlife conservation.

Likewise for Smith's colleague from South Jersey, Frank LoBiondo, who has paid close attention to land and wildlife protection issues since his election to the House during the Republican wave of 1994. An outdoorsman since childhood, LoBiondo has secured funding to expand national wildlife refuges in South Jersey.

There aren't any national wildlife refuges in the Chicago area, but Lake Michigan is an overwhelming presence for the Windy City and its suburbs. Congressman Bob Dold, like the Republicans who represented Lake County, Illinois in the House before him, has been vocal about combating the array of threats to the Great Lakes, such as sewage discharges and invasive species.

In Nan Hayworth's upstate New York district, the Hudson River and the Highlands are the dominant natural features, for which Hayworth has sought funds for cleanup and protection.

Hayworth also supports breaking one of Congress' many bad habits: raiding the Land and Water Conservation Fund to pay for pet projects instead of for the fund's dedicated purposes of open space acquisition and outdoor recreation development.

Hayworth's stance is the true conservative stance: being fiscally responsible, being a good steward, and keeping promises.

Hayworth and like-minded Republicans have kept the faith with the Republican Party's historic conservation tradition. More of their colleagues ought to follow their lead. The party would benefit and, more importantly, our country would too.

(ConservAmerica has endorsed the following 30 Republicans seeking re-election to Congress: California - Brian Bilbray and Mary Bono Mack. Florida - Vern Buchanan, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, C.W. Bill Young. Illinois - Judy Biggert and Bob Dold. Maryland - Roscoe Bartlett. Massachusetts - Scott Brown. Minnesota - Erik Paulsen. Nebraska - Jeff Fortenberry. New Hampshire - Charles Bass. New Jersey - Frank LoBiondo, Rod Frelinghuysen, Leonard Lance, Chris Smith. New York - Chris Gibson, Michael Grimm, Richard Hanna, Nan Hayworth, Peter King. North Carolina - Walter Jones. Pennsylvania - Charles Dent, Mike Fitzpatrick, Jim Gerlach, Patrick Meehan. Virginia - Rob Wittman, Frank Wolf. Washington - Dave Reichert. Wisconsin - Tom Petri.)