Radical Green Ponders Challenging Wyden

GOP Still Not Expected to Play in Senate Race

Posted November 19, 2003 at 6:03pm

Adding some life to a quiet Oregon Senate race, a prominent though controversial environmentalist is contemplating running on the Green Party ticket next year.

Timothy Hermach, founder and president of the Native Forest Council, a Eugene-based organization that has clashed occasionally with more mainstream environmental groups, is talking to friends and potential supporters about taking on entrenched Sen. Ron Wyden (D) in what to date has been one of the sleepiest Senate races in the country.

“He is in the exploratory phase,” said Marnie Glickman, co-chairwoman of the U.S. Greens. “He’s seriously considering running.”

Hermach did not respond to a phone message left at his office Wednesday evening.

While a Hermach candidacy should hardly make Wyden nervous, by gaining any traction Hermach could prompt Republicans to re-examine the state of play in the Senate race — in a state President Bush lost in 2000 but is hoping to compete in next year.

Wyden’s lone Republican opponent so far is fitness instructor and frequent Oregon candidate Pavel Goberman, who is given no shot of winning. But Ralph Nader took 5 percent of the vote in Oregon in 2000, and Hermach might reasonably expect 5 percent to be his base vote in 2004, particularly if Wyden faces no legitimate GOP challenger.

“Good,” said a Republican operative in Oregon. “Split the D’s in half. Better for us.”

But with Wyden and fellow Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith (R) engaged in an unofficial nonaggression pact, the Republicans are unlikely to do much recruiting, even if Hermach runs and appears surprisingly strong.

Josh Kardon, Wyden’s chief of staff, noted that the Senator has faced Green Party opponents in his previous two races without any dire consequences. He said his boss is not focused on 2004 yet.

“The campaign is a long way off,” Kardon said. “We’ve got this session to worry about.”

Wyden is also well-liked by environmental groups. He scored a 76 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters in 2002 and an 88 percent rating in 2001.

But some more radical environmental organizations may be spoiling for a fight with Wyden and the groups that support him. Glickman criticized the Senator for his work on a forests bill in Congress.

“We think that Ron Wyden has sold the forest to the timber companies, by taking money from the timber industry,” she said.

A study of the money Wyden has raised this year by PoliticalMoneyLine.com shows that the Senator has collected $400,000 in political action committee contributions. Of that amount, $12,500 came from agricultural interests, $12,000 came from business or retail interests, and $6,600 came from energy and natural resources groups.

Hermach left the corporate world to start the Native Forest Council in 1987. The organization, which opposes all commercial activities on government lands, has criticized other environmental groups for supporting Democratic candidates and compromising on environmental legislation before Congress. Hermach called environmentalists who endorsed Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election sell-outs who were swayed by Democratic fear-mongering.

Actor Ed Begley Jr. sits on the council’s advisory board.

“This is a fringe environmental group,” said one person familiar with Oregon politics.

But Glickman predicted that Hermach would confound the experts.

“Tim has strong appeal to Republicans, Democrats and independents,” she said. “He has a capacity to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for this race. I think Tim Hermach will give Ron Wyden a run for his money.”