Don Williams
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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Notes from an old tree hugger on the next election

I'm a tree-hugger.

I make no bones about it.

I've been known to wrap both arms around a scruffy old oak and utter blessings and thanks for what it's meant to the scenery and the air and the critters of this garden-spot of the universe.

So bear that in mind when reading what I have to say next, because if you don't care about environmental issues, you'll doubtlessly reach different conclusions from my own about what the next governor should be saying about conservation.

Until the last few days, I've paid little attention to the race for governor. To me, the Phil Bredesen and Van Hilleary campaigns sounded like a contest between Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber. Don't take my little joke the wrong way, these are intelligent candidates, but near as I could tell, their campaigns boiled down to who could howl loudest against a state income tax and who's the most for mom's apple pie, the rights of gun-owners, more roads and reforming TennCare (we'd all love to see your plans).

What's the difference? I kept thinking.

Then Kay Linder, who is a board member of the Tennessee Conservation Voters, pointed out a difference worth noting, and a little research verified it. When it comes to environmental records and positions, there's a vast difference between Hilleary and Bredesen.

If you're against environmentalism, you've got to love Hilleary. If you're an old tree-hugger like me, you should embrace Bredesen.

A detailed account of Hilleary's record on the environment can be found by logging onto There, you may see how Hilleary voted in Congress last year on a range of issues related to the environment. You'll also see that the National League of Conservation Voters gave Hilleary a 7 percent rating out of a possible 100, based on those votes. That's among the lowest of any member of the U.S. Congress. In fact, if you look at the NLC's "Dirty Dozen"--their list of the 12 worst representatives and senators when it comes to the environment--you'll find that only two or three rated lower than Hilleary. He surely will one day make the list if he spends enough time in Congress.

How does one manage to score a 7 percent rating anyway?

For starters, you vote to give away tens of billions of tax dollars to fossil fuel companies and nuclear power companies in a bill that could also result in more weapons grade nuclear waste. In the same session you vote to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency. You vote against considering the environment when deciding who the U.S. should trade with. You vote against greater fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. Against funding to preserve open farmlands. Against programs to weatherize low-income homes. You vote for oil-drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. For higher arsenic levels in drinking water. For drilling and mining on lands designated as national monuments. You vote for drilling off the coast of Florida.

At least one of the anti-environment initiatives passed by a single vote. Several others were also close.

To his credit--from a tree-hugger perspective--Hilleary did vote for a one-year moratorium against drilling for oil beneath the Great Lakes. That might have prevented a goose-egg on his scorecard.

As for Bredesen, he claims to have set aside more land for parks and greenways in Nashville than all the previous mayors in the last 75 years combined. According to a group called Tennesseans Who Care About the Environment, Bredesen makes a credible claim. A letter of endorsement from them is signed by a list that--minus a few Republican faithful (yes, they do exist, bless 'em)--reads like a who's who of conservation and wildlife defenders. In a state that ranks among the worst nationally in loss of open lands and loss of species--a state that saw 13 state parks temporarily shut down last year--Bredesen's track record of preserving parks and greenways is heartening, from a pro-environment perspective.

So there you have it. A difference worth noting.

If you despise environmentalists and think conservation is opposed to free enterprise, hug Hilleary.

If you believe beautiful scenery and thriving wildlife go hand in hand with the only kind of economic growth worth having, embrace Bredesen.

From the perspective of an old tree hugger like me, the choice is clear.