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It's early February 1992, New Hampshire. Cheryl, my secretary, has just buzzed me: "Richard, Ken Smith is on the phone."

I'm wondering about the Clinton presidential campaign as I answer the phone. Ken is a good friend and Gov. Clinton's environmental liaison. He sounds nervous, and blurts out, "Could you get free for a few days to help the campaign?"

"Well, yeah, I can. What do you need me to do?"

"Richard, the governor is losing ground in New Hampshire, and Jerry Brown is giving him hell on his environmental record. The campaign is throwing everything we have into the primary. If Bill finishes fourth or fifth, it might be all over for him. The primary is less than two weeks away, and there is a big meeting with the League of Conservation Voters coming up. They represent every environmental group in the state. We had scheduled Hillary to speak for the governor, but she has a conflict. We want you to take her place. You're the president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation and chairman of Pollution Control and Ecology, which will give you some credibility. "

"Ken, I could fly up Wednesday morning and stay until Sunday afternoon. Would that work?"

"Yes, the League meets Friday night, and we can get you some radio and newspaper interviews on the days before you meet with the League."

I arrive in Manchester, and as I struggle through the snow to my hotel room, I have never been so cold. Before I settle down for the night, I call the presidential campaign for my schedule.

After a restless night, I start my campaign work, going from small town to town, talking to reporters from local radio stations and newspapers about Gov. Clinton. That goes OK, but what concerns me is when I go before the New Hampshire Environmental Coalition--the League of Conservation Voters. Some of those guys have really bought into Gov. Brown's campaign because of his outstanding environmental record. They can smell blood--my blood.

It's Friday night, and one of the Clinton for President Campaign staff has just picked me up. He's talking nonstop about what questions I might have to field. It sounds as if a rough road is ahead.

"... and they are not happy at all that Hillary is not coming."

As we arrive at the Dartmouth College campus for a meeting of the League, I begin to dread it. It's 7 p.m. I walk into a room where some 40 or so presidents of various environmental groups are waiting. A campaign worker introduces me. There is no applause, just silence. I walk to the front of the room through stony glares that could have cut a brick, and I'm looking out at a bunch of frowning crossed-arm individuals. It's a group of environmentalists facing someone not just from the South, but from Arkansas, and they think I'm certainly less than them.

I have to become credible or it's all over, so I skip the "glad to be here" stuff:

"Has anyone here ever stood on one of the 100-foot bluffs overlooking the nation's first national river, the Buffalo, and watched an eagle swoop down to take a smallmouth bass?"

Of course, I know no one had, so I'm saying very deliberately, "Well, I have. The Buffalo River is a national treasure. It is the last free-flowing major river in our state, and it winds its way through some of the most scenic vistas in America. What I'm going to tell you is hard to believe, but three years ago we faced one of the most critical challenges to the purity of the river. A company filed a permit to construct a huge landfill--a damn garbage dump--so close to the river that it was a direct threat to pollute the river. I led the Arkansas Wildlife Federation as president and as a commissioner on the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission to defeat that permit. If I don't ever accomplish anything else, I will go to my grave thanking God, that by working with our governor Bill Clinton, we were able to stop this landfill from being built."

I can tell the group is beginning to relax, but I'm not through.

"By the way, I noticed in my driving around your state that you have some great rivers. I especially liked the Upper Merrimack. I wonder what you would think if the Corps of Engineers put forth a plan to make 28 bend cuts in the river--for barge traffic? You know, make it a ditch."

That gets some attention, and I'm letting it sink in for a few extra seconds.

"Let me tell you about a bend-cut fight that took place on a beautiful Southern river, the Ouachita. Believe it or not, the Corps proposed 28 bend cuts on the Ouachita, and they were supported by our congressman and local state representative. The fight lasted nearly two years, and we marshalled every environmental group in Arkansas and Louisiana to fight the bend-cuts. When Gov. Bill Clinton came out in opposition to the bend cuts, it turned the tide. Today the Ouachita River would be a ditch if the people of Arkansas, led by our governor, hadn't stopped the Corps."

Now there is some nodding of heads, and the audience seems more receptive to hear the rest of my speech as I tell them Bill Clinton has the heart of an environmentalist.

"... but--this is important--he is not from Vermont or California. He is from Arkansas. And his record of supporting the environment should be considered based on the person, not on what he has accomplished in an environmentally friendly state."

I've just told them a colorful squirrel-hunting story, and they are laughing. I'm finishing with this:

"Gov. Clinton, if elected president, will bring more resolve to protect and enhance the environment than any--and I mean any previous president."

I pause, then continue: "And I'll assure you he'll use this resolve to make a huge difference." As an afterthought I say, "I know our primary interest is in the environment, but we also want to be sure our president is mentally capable of handling the job of leading our country. In that regard, let me assure you, that without any doubt he is more intellectually qualified--by far--than any other candidate.

"And in closing, I would be amiss if I didn't mention Hillary, the governor's wife. I regret her schedule prevented her from being here tonight. Gov. Clinton is certainly an intellectual giant, but the only person I have ever met who is his equal is Hillary. If you elect Gov. Clinton President, you will be getting two for the price of one."

Finally, applause. They know I'm one of them, and my endorsement of Gov. Bill Clinton carries some weight. The Clinton staff members are all smiles.

Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email

Editorial on 11/18/2018

Print Headline: Getting the call

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