The Al Gore-Bill Bradley Green-Off, Part II

As Chatterbox noted previously (see “The Al Gore-Bill Bradley Green-Off, Part I“), Bill Bradley’s lifetime legislative score from the League of Conservation Voters is a full 20 percentage points ahead of Al Earth in the Balance Gore’s. Cutting the vice president every conceivable break–restricting the comparison to the years (1985-1992) when both men were in the Senate, and knocking out the years 1987, 1988, and 1992, when Gore’s runs for president and vice president may have caused him to miss key environmental votes–narrowed the Gore-Bradley gap to eight percentage points. But it didn’teliminate that gap. Bradley still ended up with the better LCV score. How could that be?

Chatterbox decided to attack this question by examining causes for both the 20-point gap (based on the raw LCV lifetime scores) and the eight-point gap (based on Chatterbox’s elaborate massaging of the LCV lifetime scores). That way, Chatterbox figured, he’d have answers for both Bradley partisans (who are likely to view any alteration of the raw LCV scores with suspicion) and Gore partisans (who are likely to view comparison of the raw LCV scores as simplistic and unfair). Supporters of Republican presidential candidates are presumably gleeful that this contest is being scored at all and don’t much care how big the gap is.

Analysis of the 20-point gap:

Not even Chatterbox has the patience to comb through every environmental vote in the House and Senate between 1977 and 1992. (Chatterbox leaves that to certified practitioners of social science.) Instead, Chatterbox zeroed in on the two years when Gore cast considerably more votes considered “anti-environment” by the LCV than he did in other years. These were 1978, when Gore cast “anti-environment” votes 12 times and received an LCV rating of 56 percent (his third-worst score ever); and 1980, when Gore cast “anti-environment” votes 15 times and received an LCV rating of 35 percent (his worst score ever).*

What were these 27 “anti-environment” votes? Four of them Chatterbox would characterize (by way of explaining, not necessarily condoning) as “Tennessee votes,” i.e., votes in which powerful Tennessee interests were at odds with national environmental groups:

  • On July 17, 1978, the House voted on phasing out federal funding for Tennessee’s Clinch River Breeder Reactor, one of the more notorious boondoggles of the period. Gore voted against the de-funding measure, which lost, 157-238.
  • On October 5, 1978, the House voted on whether to override President Carter’s veto of a water projects appropriation bill, which included funding for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (another famous boondoggle of that era). Gore voted in favor of the veto override, which failed, 223-190 (falling short of the necessary two-thirds majority).
  • On October 14, 1978, the House voted on whether to exempt Tennessee’s Tellico Dam, which was believed to represent a threat to the snail darter population, from the Endangered Species Act. Gore voted for the exemption, which was adopted, 231-157.
  • On June 25, 1980, the House voted on whether to cut funding for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Gore voted against the cut, which was rejected 196-216.

Twelve additional “anti-environment” votes Chatterbox would call “Tennessee penumbra votes,” i.e., votes in which powerful Tennessee interests might be harmed indirectly by a pro-environment vote. These include eight votes in favor of dams and other water projects outside Tennessee; probably Gore felt he needed to support other House members’ water projects if they were going to support his in Tennessee. The other four “Tennessee penumbra votes” benefited the nuclear power industry and the Bonneville Power Administration–two out-of-state constituencies whose influence no doubt could be felt in Tennessee, home of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

That leaves eleven anti-environment” votes whose connection to powerful Tennessee interests are unclear. These include several “energy crisis” votes (it is by now largely forgotten that environmental groups were often opposed to federal efforts to ease the energy crisis). Gore voted in favor of a solar satellite program that the environmental movement opposed (according to the LCV, because it was “costly and grandiose”); Gore voted against the National Energy Act of 1978, which the LCV favored because it included a lot of conservation measures, but which some environmentalists opposed, because it also decontrolled natural gas prices; and Gore voted to create the Synthetic Fuels Corp., an ill-considered and short-lived alternative fuel venture opposed by environmentalists because it involved strip-mining. Environmentalists were also opposed to the MX missile’s underground basing mode, which Gore supported in a couple of votes during this period; eventually he would shift his support to an expensive but strategically elegant alternative called the “Midgetman” missile.

Analysis of the eight-point gap:

Chatterbox, again, was too lazy to examine all the environmental votes that occurred between 1985 and 1992, the period when Gore and Bradley served together in the Senate–even after omitting all votes in 1987-8 and 1992. Instead, Chatterbox looked at the three years when Gore cast his greatest number of “anti-environment” votes in the Senate. These were 1985 and 1986, when Gore cast four “anti-environment” votes, earning a combined LCV score of 67 (Gore’s third-worst Senate score); and 1991, when Gore cast another four “anti-environment” votes, earning an LCV score of 73 (Gore’s fourth-worst Senate score). **

These eight “anti-environment” Senate votes were: a vote against de-funding the Synfuels Corp.; a vote in favor of constructing a highway along the boundary of a wilderness park in Hawaii; a vote against creating a new victim’s compensation program under the Superfund program; a vote to cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency; two highway bill votes; a vote against banning new billboard construction along federally subsidized highways; and a vote against a moratorium on issuing federal patents for hard-rock mining on public lands out west. Of these, only the Synfuels Corp. vote and the mining vote were clearly dreadful. The votes against extending Superfund spending and effecting a wholesale ban on billboards was clearly good. The EPA funding cut was probably bad, but Chatterbox would have to know more about the circumstances.

*Gore’s second-worst score, 50 percent, occurred in 1987 and 1988, but it was an aberration; during those two years Gore actually cast only one “anti-environment” vote. He ended up with 50 percent because he was absent for four out of ten LCV-scored votes.

**Gore’s twoworstSenate scores were in 1987-8 and 1992. The 1987-8 score of 50 percent is explained in the previous footnote. The 1992 score, 58 percent, is entirely attributable to five absences; Gore didn’t cast a single “anti-environment” vote that year, but there were only 12 LCV-scored votes.