Norton confirmed by 'landslide'
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JANUARY 31, 2001

Overcoming criticism stemming from her 20-year history as a private lawyer and public official, Gale Norton on Tuesday became the first woman to head the Department of Interior.

By a vote of 75-24, the Senate confirmed the former Attorney General of Colorado. All 50 Republicans were joined by 25 Democrats in expressing support for Norton, whose nomination a month ago by President George W. Bush set off a nationwide campaign by environmental groups who are predicting doom for America's lands under her watch.

"Unless Congress and the public hold her feet to the fire, Gale Norton as Interior Secretary will be a natural disaster," said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope yesterday.

Pope's organization was among a number who sponsored print, television, and radio ads characterizing Norton as a friend to private industry and a foe to public conservation. Her links to James Watt, President Reagan's controversial Interior Secretary, defense of mining, grazing, and logging interests, and criticism of environmental and land management laws were frequent subjects of debate by Norton foes.

Norton for the most part, however, was able to overcome the negative image. Guaranteed support by Republicans, her two days of testimony and responses to written questions in which she backed off or clarified some of her more controversial views convinced many Democrats who had expressed doubts about her record.

Not all were swayed, though. Often raising the Watt issue, a number of Democrat Senators who voted against Norton on Tuesday warned that Norton's past would come back to haunt the Department of Interior.

"While I certainly appreciate Ms. Norton's willingness to rethink and revise her views, I remain greatly concerned," said Senator John Kerry. "Too often absolutist views were cast aside with little or no explanation. Too often the answers were vague and incomplete."

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) also focused on Norton's apparent change of heart and said she was "saddened" by many of Norton's responses to over 200 written questions. In particular, Boxer worried if Norton would uphold a recent Interior decision which killed a gold mine project in California because it would damage land sacred to the Quechan Nation.

"She will make decisions regarding grazing, mining, offshore oil and gas development, habitat protection or habitat destruction, and American Indian tribal concerns that will have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences," said Boxer. "When I asked her if she would uphold the Bureau of Land Management's important decision to deny a permit to a gold mine which everyone agrees would destroy Native American land . . . she basically passed on an answer."

One of Norton's biggest supporters, meanwhile, called the vote yesterday a "landslide." Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo) said even most Democrats didn't believe the "scare tactics from environmental extremists," although the League of Conservation Voters said while 12 Senators in 1981 voted against Watt, twice as many voted against Norton.

Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Campbell has often praised her work with Ute tribes in their state. Along with positive votes from almost all of the members of the Committee -- with the notable exception of Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn) -- Norton also received support from the Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the country, and the United Southern and Eastern Tribes (USET), representing 25 tribes.

Relevant Links:
The Department of Interior -
United Southern and Eastern Tribes -
The Sierra Club -
The League of Conservation Voters -
Stop Gale Norton -

Say No to Norton -

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