Sen. Norm Coleman, an opponent of drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, voted against a filibuster Wednesday that succeeded in stripping a drilling go-ahead from the defense bill, drawing criticism from environmental groups and Minnesota Democrats.
Coleman, R-Minn., said the bill deserved an up-or-down vote, and that he would have voted against it if ANWR survived. But environmental groups said his vote against the filibuster amounted to a breaking of his 2002 campaign pledge to oppose ANWR drilling.
"I'm against the filibuster," Coleman told reporters Wednesday night. "Things deserve an-up-or down vote. All this does is delay the discussion. So ANWR will come up again in the energy bill next year."
Coleman said it was important that the defense bill come up for a vote, not only because of the funding for troops, but because of money for Hurricane Katrina relief and low-income heating relief.
Still, had ANWR remained in the bill, Coleman said he would have voted against it as a protest.
"But I wanted it to pass," he said. "It would have passed overwhelmingly."
Republican leaders fell four votes short, 56-44, of getting the required 60 votes to avoid a threatened filibuster. Two Republicans, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, joined with all but four Democrats in voting to block the bill. Four Republicans who oppose drilling voted with Coleman to end the filibuster: Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, John McCain of Arizona and Gordon Smith of Oregon.
"Senator Coleman has broken his word to Minnesotans," said Ginny Yingling, conservation chair of the Sierra Club's Minnesota chapter.
"Funding for the troops was never in any danger here," said Kristen Cummings, senior Alaska Lands Advocate for the National Wildlife Federation. "All that was at risk was a 40-year Arctic Refuge conservation legacy, which Senator Coleman turned his back on when it counted most."
The Minnesota DFL Party joined the attacks.
"Senator Coleman broke his promise and caved to Republican Party leaders," said State Chairman Brian Melendez. "He seemed to have conviction about the sanctity of ANWR, right up until the chips were down."
"I didn't break my pledge on ANWR," Coleman countered, adding that he planned to vote for a procedural challenge to remove ANWR from the bill had the filibuster failed.
He said he was angry that ANWR was included in the bill.
"The process stinks," Coleman said.
Meanwhile, two DFL Senate candidates criticized Rep. Mark Kennedy, a Republican Senate candidate, for voting for a defense bill Monday that authorized drilling in ANWR. Kennedy has said he continues to oppose drilling, but that it would have been irresponsible to vote against funding for troops during a time of war.
"Mark Kennedy supports business-as-usual politics in Washington when he votes with the Republican leadership to support stunts like this," candidate Amy Klobuchar said in a statement. "... This vote did not reflect Minnesota values."
A Klobuchar spokeswoman said that Klobuchar would have voted against the defense bill because of ANWR, but that she supports funding for troops.
Another candidate, Ford Bell, said, "Congressman Kennedy votes the way President Bush and Dennis Hastert tell him to vote, and this is no exception."
Kennedy campaign spokeswoman Heidi Frederickson responded: "Mark's vote, it was a tough decision, and leaders need to make tough decisions in Washington."
She noted that a majority of House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., voted for the bill.
Referring to Klobuchar, Frederickson said, "If she's saying she would have voted against this bill, that would have put her in the fringe of her party."
In a statement, DFL candidate Patty Wetterling said she would have supported the Senate filibuster. She declined to say how she would have voted on the House bill.
Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press Writer
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)