Unity, not politics, is best hope for Wild Sky

Politics left a scar last week on the bipartisan effort to create the Wild Sky Wilderness, but it’s not too late to heal it.

An encouraging compromise in the widely supported bill – which would protect a stunning area north of Index and Skykomish – was forged between its Democratic sponsors, Rep. Rick Larsen and Sen. Patty Murray, and Republican Rep. George Nethercutt, who is running for Murray’s seat. Staff members from all three offices worked painstakingly to carve nearly 3,000 acres out of the 106,000-acre plan in an effort to address objections by House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), who had bottled up the bill by refusing to give it a hearing.

A hearing will happen now, on July 22, but it’s unclear whether it has enough support to get to the House floor for a vote. An apparent lack of trust between the bill’s prime sponsors and Nethercutt doesn’t help.

While the Larsen and Murray camps were expecting to join Nethercutt in making a joint announcement, Nethercutt called his own news conference Thursday to say he had talked Pombo into a hearing. In describing the meetings that forged the compromise, he never even mentioned Murray’s office.

Nethercutt, who announced his support for the general idea of Wild Sky after entering the Senate race, has an important and potentially winning role to play here. That role is best played as an influential member of a united Washington delegation, not as a Senate candidate looking for a political edge.

This state has a long tradition of bipartisan cooperation, especially on wilderness issues. A long list of Republicans have joined Democrats in support of the Wild Sky bill, which is the product of numerous discussions and compromises between a wide range of groups. Nethercutt’s best political advantage would come from following that tradition, eschewing politics in favor of statesmanship. That could mean – gulp – sharing credit for any success with his campaign opponent.

Independent Washington voters would appreciate that. If this bill passes, there will be plenty of credit to go around.

Time is of the essence. Precious few days remain in the current congressional session. A united delegation, with key members like Nethercutt using their influence, is the best hope for making Wild Sky a reality. It’s also the best way for Nethercutt to win voters’ respect.

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