Oregon's Steve Novick is not a traditional politician. Standing just four feet nine with a metal hook in place of his left hand, the former environmental lawyer is one of two Democrats vying for Republican incumbent Senator Gordon Smith's seat. Seen as a maverick candidate who has not received support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), Novick has taken a strong stance on fighting climate change. And, as he says, "a fighter needs a hard left hook."
Novick began his environmental career in Washington, D.C., where he saw a newspaper advertisement that read: "Department of Justice. Sue polluters." He jumped at the opportunity and spent eight years suing corporations on behalf of the federal government for violating the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. He was the principal attorney on New York's famous Love Canal case, in which he helped recover $129 million in taxpayer money that was spent to clean up chemical waste dumped by Occidental Petroleum.
A member of the Oregon Environmental Board, Novick has made climate change legislation a key issue in his campaign. He has endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders' Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, hailed as the strictest climate change bill currently in Congress. He cites the National Resource Defense Council as calling the bill "the gold standard" for global warming legislation.
"If the federal government makes a serious investment in renewables research," Novick says, "and shares that research with the private sector, we can build the cleaner, greener, cooler economy of tomorrow."
Jake Weigler, Novick's campaign manager, thinks climate change is an important issue that will strike a chord with Oregonians in this election. "Oregon has always been a leader on environmental issues and sustainability," he explains. "We see firsthand the effect that warming would have on our natural ecosystems, our regional economy, and our quality of life."
Novick faces Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley in the Democratic primary, who has also promised to "stand up to big oil," and has taken Senator Gordon Smith to task for being a longtime "friend of the big oil companies." Recruited by the DSCC, Merkley has received broad endorsements from Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and a variety of state legislators. Both Novick and Merkley have espoused the value of investing in energy independence and lowering America's carbon footprint.
A recent poll commissioned by the congressional daily Roll Call showed the two Democrats on a near-even keel in the primary, and both were gaining on Smith, who received a 14% rating from the League of Conservation Voters in 2006. Smith also voted in both 2005 and 2006 for budget bills that contained provisions to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
Identifying this as a major problem, Novick claimed in his campaign announcement speech last April that Senator Smith "wrote, not so long ago, that scientists are evenly divided on whether burning fossil fuels is causing global warming, and he still opposes the Kyoto treaty." Novick's insurgent campaign continues to gain steam on the environmental front, recently receiving the endorsement of Earth Day co-founder Denis Hayes.
"The bumper sticker that reads 'I never thought I'd miss Nixon' is more apt on the issue of climate change than any other issue," says Novick. "Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, which are in stark contrast to the actions of the current administration."
NOTE: Andrew Plambeck volunteers with the Novick campaign, but has received no financial compensation.