LOS ANGELES A Democratic Party platform plank calling for protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling and the Tongass National Forest from logging was added minutes before the final deadline, upsetting some Alaska delegates.
Alaska Democrats support development of the refuge and had hoped to keep the subject out of the platform set for adoption this week at the Democratic National Convention.
The inside story was that the environmentalists were more organized than I was, said Harriet Lawlor, a labor activist from Anchorage who served as Alaska's representative on the platform committee.
The amendment was offered at the platform committee's July meeting in Cleveland by Joe Garcia, a Florida political consultant and environmentalist who has been active in attempts to restore and protect the Florida Everglades.
Garcia said he wanted the platform to include specific language about the Everglades that wasn't included when a smaller platform drafting committee wrote the first draft. He said he added the other elements because Vice President Al Gore had supported them in the past.
The other issues were issues that the vice president had taken a public position on throughout his career and they weren't in there, Garcia said.
The paragraph reads: Al Gore is committed to restoring the Everglades, protecting the coasts of California and Florida and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas drilling; and preserving our untouched forest, including the Tongass, from logging and development.''
The amendment was turned in just four minutes before the deadline at the committee's meeting, Garcia and Lawlor said. The amendment passed the committee 47-33.
Resource development represents the biggest divide between Alaska Democrats and the national party.
Environmentalists view the vast refuge on Alaska's northern coast as one of the last places where caribou calve and birds nest with virtually no interference from humans. For oil companies and many Alaskans, it's the holy grail of exploration prospects, with approximately 10 billion barrels of recoverable oil that could bring thousands of jobs and billions of royalties and taxes to the state.
Mano Frey, a delegate and head of the Alaska AFL-CIO, plans some sort of floor demonstration on the subject this week. Frey is leading a faction that plans to withhold its votes unless Gore or one of his senior policy advisers agrees to a meeting on the subject.
They just don't understand, Alaska is a resource state, Frey said.
Gore's campaign has said it is willing to meet with Frey's faction, but Frey said he has not been approached.
Other members of the Alaska delegation are resigned to the national party's opposition to drilling in ANWR.
Fighting it out now would not be effective in the political context, Gov. Tony Knowles said. I will continue, within the party, to be a voice for responsible economic development of natural resources. ...
It's going to be a tough battle no matter who's in there because it's become such a strong symbol.