In June 1987, U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson gave a speech to California Sierra Club, the oldest chapter in that venerable organization. The speech wasn’t particularly memorable. A freshman Republican running for re-election, Wilson did what candidates do: He touted his record in hopes of an endorsement.
But a question from the audience that day was noteworthy. It turned out to be a harbinger of the hyper-partisanship that would soon overtake Washington, D.C., on conservation and energy — and almost every other issue. The man making the query was a conservationist from Sacramento named Ted Cobb.
“The Sierra Club has endorsed political candidates from both parties from all over the country, but in California we have had a great deal of trouble finding people in your Republican Party to endorse,” Cobb said. “Is that our problem or your party’s problem?”
This turned out to be the right question. The answer was in the process of revealing itself — both the Sierra Club and the GOP were partly to blame, and Democrats, too. Nearly three decades later, all Americans are paying the price.