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The Tapping of a Utah Champion

Summer 1997
by Clayton Daughenbaugh
May 18 was a pretty exciting day back here in the Prairie State as our Senator, Richard Durbin, announced that he would introduce "America's Redrock Wilderness Act" into the United States Senate. We've been asked to tell you how we did it.

Our success in Illinois can be quickly summed up in four parts:
Clayton with Senator Durbin
Photo by Sharon Akimoto
  1. We had a great issue. It's obvious to anyone who's been there (and there are a lot of those folks in Illinois who have) that on the Third Day, God spent a little extra time working on the part of the earth we've come to call Utah.

  2. Good old-fashioned democracy. We engendered lots and lots of volunteer citizen activism, backed up by professional staff support from SUWA and the Sierra Club.

  3. A Senator with an open mind and open ears. Not every Senator would have been willing to listen to an appeal from his constituents asking that he take a step such as this.

  4. A demonstratively national movement that had substantial core support in Utah. If it wasn't for all the tremendous work done by all of the people outside of Illinois, our appeal to Sen. Durbin would not have been credible. Everybody who did anything for Utah wilderness gets a piece of the credit for this success.

We'd have never gotten off to a start locally if it weren't for the support and encouragement of the Utah Wilderness Coalition's constituent organizations. It was a Sierra Club activist outing to Utah that got Patrick Murphy and I involved in October of 1995. That trip was quickly followed up by a presentation of the "Imagine Wilderness" slide show at a Chicago Sierra Club meeting. The activist outing provided the two co-chairs and the slide show provided the first big influx of members for the Illinois Task Force on Utah Wilderness and our efforts on behalf of Utah wilderness.

The next step, in January of 1996, was putting our enthusiastic volunteers to work in a big way. The first major project was a 1,200-piece mailing to Illinois Sierra Club members which our task force volunteers followed up with nearly 800 phone calls. We asked people to contact their Congressional Representative and both Illinois Senators to urge their support for Utah wilderness. Some of the elected representatives received follow-up visits in their offices, both in Illinois and in Washington, D.C. (the SUWA, UWC, and Sierra Club staff provided critical support for this effort).

We garnered nine Illinois cosponsors to H.R. 1500 in the House and, right from the start, we began asking our Senators to introduce the "Redrock Wilderness Act" into the Senate. Paul Simon said, "No," because he was retiring. Carol Moseley-Braun said, "No," but agreed to be an original cosponsor. Both provided critical help during Sen. Bill Bradley's filibuster which stopped the Hatch/Bennett anti-wilderness bill in the Senate. One of the House cosponsors of H.R. 1500 was Richard Durbin.

While all of this was going on, Rep. Durbin won the Senatorial primary and became the Democratic nominee to replace Paul Simon. It didn't take a whole lot to figure out that the time had arrived to begin asking him to introduce the "Redrock Wilderness Act" in the Senate. So we started working for a meeting. The opportunity finally arrived in July at the Sierra Club's endorsement interview with Durbin. Patrick and I were present and asked him to meet with our task force and to consider introducing our bill into the Senate. He said that he would, but first he wanted to learn more about the issue.

The second meeting took place in August. Immediately prior, we sent another, smaller mailing asking people to contact Sen. Durbin. Various information pieces had also been forwarded to Durbin's staff. Patrick made a further presentation at the meeting, and Durbin gave a conditional commitment to introduce the bill. After that came the election and our task force members made certain that we were visibly present to help during the campaign.

In November, Durbin won. The week after we sought a third meeting. The Illinois Sierra Club phone tree, the SUWA membership list in Illinois, and our task force list were all activated to make sure Sen. Durbin knew Illinoisans wanted him to act. That meeting took place the first week of January.

It was time to get down to brass tacks and Durbin was ready. He said there were several Senators with better committee assignments and more seniority who might be better prospects for introducing the bill. He wanted them to be asked first (and if they said no, he wanted them to be asked if they'd be original cosponsors). If they all said no, Durbin said he'd introduce the bill after giving consideration to the reasons they gave for saying no.

A fourth meeting was held in Washington in February. Present for this were representatives from the Illinois Task Force, SUWA, national Sierra Club staff, the national staff of The Wilderness Society, and two participants from Utah. The list of other prospects for introducing the bill were reviewed. With a few more left to contact we had a list of pledges for original cosponsors-all of whom were waiting for someone to step forward and introduce the bill. Durbin said we needed to finish contacting the prospect list and that, in the meantime, he wanted to go to Utah and see the land for himself.

On the Monday and Tuesday after Easter, Sen. Durbin and his wife were given a tour of the proposed wilderness areas by Utah Wilderness Coalition representatives and the Bureau of Land Management. Durbin, obviously having read the briefing materials, came prepared with numerous questions. His questions were answered, he saw the land, and one week later he was on the phone to say he would introduce the bill. On May 18 he made the public announcement.

It wouldn't be right to pass up this chance to say a couple of words about what we've learned of Richard Durbin over the past few months. It's become clear that he knows his way around the legislative maze that is Washington, D.C. It's also clear that he does his homework well-he has not put his name on this legislation lightly. He will an excellent voice of leadership on behalf of Utah's wild lands.

He also is a person that seems to genuinely care about the views of the people he is elected to represent-that is not as common as it should be among our country's politicians. I believe Richard Durbin is a Senator worthy of the land he is working to preserve.

Richard Durbin is the chief Senatorial sponsor of "America's Redrock Wilderness Act" because the land is worth fighting for, and citizens across America are eager to exercise their democratic rights on behalf of the land. Congratulations to us all!

Clayton Daughenbaugh is a twelve-year resident of the Chicago area and works as a community organizer for the "Institute for Community Empowerment." He has a wife, Lisa, a 1 and 3/4 year-old son, Luke, and another child on the way.

Patrick Murphy is a student at Northwestern University majoring in music performance (flute) and comparative literature. Prior to that he was a lifetime resident of Columbia, Missouri.

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