Twisted Ecologic

Governor Hull says it's time for inclusiveness in politics. Environmentalists say she won't give them the time of day.

Sandy Bahr has a lonely job. As conservation outreach coordinator of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, Bahr is the only full-time environmental lobbyist at the Arizona Legislature. She's usually the sole voice in opposition to bills that fly through the conservative legislature -- bills navigated by her fellow lobbyists who represent big business, bills Bahr says benefit industry and weaken environmental laws. Bahr may not have many true friends at the Capitol and her cause may not be popular, but she is considered smart, plain-spoken and resilient. She can get an audience with most legislators, including those who get failing marks from her organization. Even business lobbyists have grudging respect for her. And she has had her successes. She does, after all, speak for more than 12,000 Sierra Club members, and Arizona voters who time and again have gone to the ballot box to support the group's initiatives.

But there's one person at the Capitol Bahr can't get a meeting with, no matter how hard she tries:

Governor Jane Dee Hull.

Carla, of the McDowell Sonoran Land Trust: "If you quit talking to people, how can you solve problems?"
Carla, of the McDowell Sonoran Land Trust: "If you quit talking to people, how can you solve problems?"
Carla, of the McDowell Sonoran Land Trust: "If you quit talking to people, how can you solve problems?"
Paolo Vescia
Carla, of the McDowell Sonoran Land Trust: "If you quit talking to people, how can you solve problems?"

Bahr has written Hull a stack of letters on various topics. She always requests a meeting; she never gets one. Not with Hull, and rarely with her staff. In fact, Bahr says she has received just one piece of correspondence from the Governor's Office: a form letter on a bill Hull vetoed.

This may come as a surprise to casual observers of Arizona politics, because during her two years in office Hull has gained a reputation as a consensus builder who is willing to bring all interested parties to the table -- regardless of their differing views -- to hash out good public policy. And she deserves credit for doing so in many areas: mental health, education, children's issues.

But not, some critics charge, when it comes to the environment.

Bahr is not the only environmentalist who can't talk to the governor. Robin Silver, conservation chair of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, can't get a meeting. Jack Fraser, an activist from Fountain Hills, says the Governor's Office has stopped returning his calls. Bob Witzeman of the Maricopa Audubon Society says he hasn't even bothered to try.

Urban sprawl is one common area of concern among the conservationists dissed by Hull, and they all find themselves in opposition to -- or at least wary of -- the Growing Smarter initiative approved by state voters last year. Growing Smarter has strong support from the governor.

The Sierra Club is now gathering signatures for its own growth-management initiative, which it hopes to put on the ballot next September.

Carla, executive director of the McDowell Sonoran Land Trust, believes the governor finds her guilty by association. She says she's been shut out of the Growing Smarter process and discussions with the Governor's Office because she refuses to stop speaking to the Sierra Club.

"As the representative of an organization that believes firmly in cooperation, and trying to stay at the table to work on positive solutions, it's extremely frustrating to find ourselves disinvited because we choose to keep lines of communication open with groups, like the Sierra Club, that the Governor's Office seems to view with disfavor," Carla says. "If you quit talking to people, how can you solve problems?"

The environmentalists grouse that the only green folks who can get a meeting with Hull are the ones with connections -- people like Luther Propst, who heads the Sonoran Institute in Tucson. He snagged a seat on the Growing Smarter commission, which wrote the growth-management proposal that's now being considered by a legislative committee. Wealthy developer and Hull campaign contributor Don Diamond sits on the Sonoran Institute's board. (Propst did not return calls.)

But Bahr wants to discuss more than growth with the governor. She and her fellow conservationists are concerned about the governor's stands on endangered species, on state trust lands and on issues facing the Department of Environmental Quality, an agency whose very existence is up for a sunset review. DEQ recently hired Jim Buster, a former legislator with one of the worst environmental records in the '90s, as its legislative liaison. The conservationists don't like Hull's appointments to the state Game and Fish Commission or that she's backing federal legislation that would allow more Grand Canyon overflights. They are disappointed that the shining star in her environmental agenda -- the appropriation of state money toward the purchase of Spur Cross Ranch in northeastern Maricopa County -- appears threatened because the sellers may back out.

Representative Carolyn Allen, a Scottsdale Republican and chairman of the House Environmental Committee, is surprised that Governor Hull has spurned Bahr's meeting requests. Allen listens to Bahr, even though Bahr gave her an "F" in 1997 on a legislative report card.

"I've had mixed relations with Sandy in years past, and Sandy and I meet frequently now," says Allen, who is generally viewed as a Hull ally. "I don't know to what advantage they would do that [refuse to meet with Bahr]. It seems to me to be somewhat shortsighted."

Hull was not available for comment, but her policy adviser Stuart Goodman was asked why the governor ignores Sandy Bahr.

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