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Friday, October 8, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Lance Dickie / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Nethercutt should be hiking with the state delegation

I listened to most of the vice-presidential debate on the radio, so I did not actually see Dick Cheney bite the head off a chicken.

Fox News, the Republican Party's Al Jazeera, gleefully reported that Vegans for Kucinich were sickened, but the stunt played well with the Smeared Blood and Feathers base of the GOP.

Not quite, but talk about a dismal election year. People say and do just about anything. Real or imagined. Too bad John Edwards lost his dinner on national television. Wimp.

For me the ultimate plunge into the abyss was Rep. George Nethercutt's television ad against Sen. Patty Murray, in which the congressman essentially indicts the state's two-term Democratic senator for treason.

Nethercutt's approval and use of that ad is despicable, and a shameful low point even for a desperate candidate.

Flashing pictures of Osama bin Laden and the rubble of the World Trade Center was meant to bind Murray together with the murderous fanatic.

One can hardly imagine Nethercutt believes that to be true, but he was willing to suspend all decency, propriety and proportion in pursuit of a few grimy votes.

Nethercutt's fumbling, last-minute attempt to reinvent a Wild Sky Wilderness Act makes me wonder if he could convince anyone in his party to pass the butter.

The original bill to create a 106,000-acre wilderness in the North Cascades near Index, Gold Bar and Skykomish was the product of three years of careful work by Rep. Rick Larsen, a Lake Stevens Democrat, and Murray. They crafted compromise language and attracted bipartisan support in the community, from regional and state leaders, and Washington's congressional delegation. It was a triumph of consultation.

Nethercutt's flawed bill ran aground in the House Committee on Natural Resources. He even tried to invent a hokey new wilderness designation.

Tuesday, The Times published commentary by committee chair Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., who tried to cover Nethercutt's backside and explain how Nethercutt was not to blame. It read like an embarrassing note from Mom.

Pombo's committee did pass new wilderness legislation pushed by New Mexico and Nevada delegations that hung together. As with Wild Sky, Nevada's bill included bits of land deemed less than pristine by wilderness foes, who use purity as an excuse to say no.

But once through Pombo's committee, two of three deleted areas in Nevada were added back as the unified state delegation desired.

Contrast Nethercutt's failure to deliver with the results and influence of Republican Rep. Jennifer Dunn. She joined with Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell to secure an 800-acre expansion of Mount Rainier Park. Each worked her respective turf.

Here was how Cantwell reacted this week after President Bush signed their legislation:

"The expansion of Mount Rainier is the capstone to Congresswoman Dunn's impressive career in public service that will be enjoyed by her constituents for years to come."

Likewise on Wild Sky, Dunn was a constructive force and Larsen responded to her concerns.

Wild Sky will get a second chance in a lame-duck session after the November election. That is the prediction of Mark Rey, undersecretary for natural resources and the environment in the Agriculture Department. He was in the state Tuesday to give the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe an award for wetlands restoration.

After a career around Capitol Hill as a senior administration official, Senate staffer and timber-industry lobbyist, he knows the territory.

He'd earlier testified the president would sign the Larsen-Murray Wild Sky legislation if it got through Congress. He still expects some version of a bill this session.

Rey argues that Pombo is making an issue of wilderness standards because fewer truly pristine acres remain, and more land destined for future wilderness debates will be touched by human activity — roads, logging, etc.

Wild Sky is an odd template for a newfound fussiness. All of the land for Wild Sky is in Larsen's district. He and Murray vetted the bill with virtually anyone who had an opinion or a gripe. A 103,000-acre compromise version was nipped and tucked with Nethercutt's staff.

The bill exists. All that is missing is Nethercutt's willingness to support his delegation.

For years, he did not care about Wild Sky, now he is in the way and making it up as he goes along.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is ldickie@seattletimes.com. Look for more of his thoughts on the STOP blog, our editorial online journal at www.seattletimes.com/stop

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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