Dr. Robin Silver, emergency room physician, wildlife photographer, environmental activist and, he insists, fiscal conservative, has filed petitions to run in the September Republican primary against Congressman John Shadegg.
As a last-minute candidate, Silver faces a time crunch, name identification problems and the considerable campaign resources congressional incumbency provides. Even so, the race can be expected to make for an interesting pairing off of extreme views: the environmentalist versus the anti-environmentalist, green versus brown, preservationist versus Wise User.
Silver's is the first name on the federal lawsuit that has temporarily shut down logging in the Southwest while the U.S. Forest Service studies its effects on the Mexican spotted owl. In fact, it was Silver who wrote the 1989 petition to list the Mexican spotted owl--that symbol of environmental debate--as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
Shadegg, on the other hand, is an outspoken critic of the Endangered Species Act and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with defending it. And Shadegg is a proud member of People for the West, the "grass-roots" lobby of the ranching, mining, and logging industries.
"It'll make for interesting discussion," Shadegg says, suppressing a chuckle. "Robin thinks I'm wrong on some environmental issues and feels strongly about it, and that'll force me to study up on those issues, and we'll have a good debate."
It has been at least a generation since there was any ranching or mining (and eons--if ever--since there was a tree worth logging) in the 4th congressional district, which Shadegg represents. Roughly, the district is bordered by Camelback Road on the south and Jomax Road on the north, I-17 to the west and Pima Road to the east. It includes large portions of north Scottsdale and north Phoenix and all of Paradise Valley. Although Republican, the district's electorate is viewed as relatively moderate.
It is clear that Silver and his supporters will be targeting Shadegg's hard-right positions on the environment during the campaign.
"John Shadegg is the head of Newt Gingrich's political action committee, GOPAC," Silver says. "If you look at who GOPAC represents, it's the who's who of people either benefiting from tax loopholes or federal subsidies, or it's the who's who of who is benefiting from weakening of public health and safety standards, of weakening of protection for public lands."
"It's as if his district was made up of farmers, miners, and loggers," Silver adds. "His votes represent hugely subsidized loggers and cattlemen. That's a value of someone from Eagar, not someone from Phoenix."
Although most widely known for his environmental activism, Silver describes himself as a fiscal conservative and says he agrees with the basic tenets of the Contract With America and the 1994 Republican Revolution.
"To their credit, they have raised the issue of balancing the budget and reducing the deficit," he says. "However, if you look at how they went about it, they went about it by cutting the agencies that are responsible for public health or safety or the environment. They didn't go after the oil company tax loopholes. They didn't go after the subsidies for the mining industry, the logging industry or the cattle industry.
Silver, 44, was born in Phoenix and attended the University of Arizona on a tennis scholarship; when he burned out on tennis, he channeled his natural combativeness into studying judo, at one point setting his sights on trying out for the 1980 Olympic team. But he set that goal aside to finish medical school, also at UofA, and specialized in emergency medicine. He spent 15 years in the emergency room at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center and now practices at Desert Samaritan Hospital.
His environmental preoccupations grew out of a spare-time career as a freelance wildlife photographer who took pictures of Arizona endangered species for the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He began filing petitions to list the Mexican Spotted Owl and the Northern goshawk as endangered species. He co-founded the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson-based environmental think tank, and led a years-long campaign against his alma mater, the University of Arizona, and its plans to build an observatory on Mount Graham, threatening the Mount Graham red squirrel.
Silver's name also appears as lead plaintiff on a lawsuit prepared by the center that demanded the Forest Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs cease all logging until they analyzed the effects of logging on the Mexican spotted owl. That lawsuit resulted in an August 1995 injunction against logging issued by U.S. District Judge Carl Muecke.
Silver has a reputation for in-your-face bluntness and fanatical research. He undertakes massive Freedom of Information searches, ferreting out government documents which he provides by the ton to the media. And so he is as much a gadfly to government agencies as to the extractive industries, which has earned him no shortage of enemies.
He once needed a police escort to leave a public meeting in Sierra Vista, where he had strongly voiced his concerns over the fate of the San Pedro River. He claims that he has been threatened repeatedly by loggers, and has been accosted by angry mobs in the Apache-Sitgreaves and Kaibab National Forests, encounters he says he only escaped because he was carrying a gun.
While photographing a protest against the Mount Graham telescopes, Silver was arrested by University of Arizona police for trespassing, but he succeeded in having all charges dropped, then successfully sued the university for false arrest and put the proceeds from the settlement back into the Mount Graham fight.
Environmentalists suspect that Shadegg's initial campaign tack will be to ignore Silver. But Shadegg made it clear he is aware of who Silver is.
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"He's a bright and articulate guy," Shadegg says. "I will take it very seriously, and we'll work hard. When you look at the successes he's had when he's taken on the University of Arizona and that whole telescope project, when you look at the success he had taking on the timber industry and the Forest Service--this is a very bright and articulate spokesman for his cause."
Silver points to his career as a physician as a credential to talk about Medicare and other medical issues, and he describes himself as a member of the community. Shadegg's campaign against him, however, seems likely to focus on characterizing him as a single-issue radical, an environmental extremist.
Silver is disputing the charge before his opponent has formally made it.
"It's not a radical view to try to save the last of our largest trees--we've already lost 95 percent of them," Silver says. "We've lost 99 percent of our desert river habitat. It's not radical to try to save the less than 1 percent that's left. It's not radical to try to force control of the brown cloud of air pollution in Phoenix that kills 1,100 additional people in the Valley each year.
"Those aren't radical positions.