Gore Likely to Keep Quiet on Dams
by Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Just call him Silent Al.
Despite prodding and baiting from lobbying groups on both sides of the Snake River dam breaching issue, Vice President Al Gore is expected to stay mum on the hot topic during his visit to Portland today.
He won Washington's Democratic primary earlier this year with nary a word on the subject, borrowing a tactic from "Silent Cal" - Calvin Coolidge - the Republican president of the 1920s noted for his taciturnity.
But now, even Gore supporters are fidgeting.
"I think it definitely hurts him by not saying anything," said Chris Zimmer, a spokesman for dam breaching advocates in Seattle. "I think he needs to stake out his turf on what he and the administration will do for Snake River salmon.
"Remaining silent doesn't help anybody."
While Gore allies look for his support, his opponents make no bones about using his silence to chip away at his credibility in the Northwest.
"He's quite comfortable telling the people of South Carolina what flag to fly over their statehouse," said Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., in a floor speech Thursday. "But when it comes to an issue of vital importance to our regional economy, the vice president pretends that he hasn't made up his mind when I fear he has.
"I hope during his visit to Portland, ... the vice president will finally be able to come up with an opinion on this issue."
A spokesman for Gore told The Associated Press on Thursday that he "is coming to discuss issues facing working families."
That won't suit the Oregonian, the Portland newspaper that on Thursday took Gore to task for fence-riding, calling his lack of direction "unacceptable."
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Gore's Republican rival for the presidency, visited the Tri-Cities in February and played up his connection with rural residents and his deep commitment to keeping in place the dams between Pasco and Lewiston. The federal government is evaluating how much benefit taking out the dams would offer endangered Northwest salmon runs.
"My opponent ought to take a position on this important issue," Bush said in an interview with Portland television station KGW on Thursday. "And the fact that he will not may indicate what kind of president he will be."
Gore is in a tough spot, pulled different directions on the dam issue by core Democrat constituencies. Environmentalists want the dams pulled down, but organized labor has come out strongly for keeping them in place.
"Organized labor is supporting Al Gore for the most part, (and) we want him to make the right decision," said Doug Riggs, Portland-area coordinator for a coalition of labor groups supporting "near-term, common-sense methods" of recovering Northwest salmon.
Riggs said Gore's silence may not be a bad thing for dam defenders. "We would prefer that the vice president be neutral rather than take a position in support of tearing them down," he said.
But the salmon camp remains frustrated that it can't get any sort of public direction out of the vice president.
Meanwhile, federal agencies are positioning themselves all over the map on the question of dam breaching, setting up what looks to be a messy fight over the correct direction for Northwest salmon recovery.
"We ... hope the administration and Al Gore will step into this process and say that we are not going to delay, we are going to make a decision now," Zimmer said. "At some point ... someone has got to step in and say, 'All right, here is where we are going.' "
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