Crusader for Environment, Against Vietnam War Left GOP

Pete McCloskey co-created Earth Day, Endangered Species Act
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 8, 2024 7:10 PM CDT
Pete McCloskey Left GOP After Writing Endangered Species Act
Pete McCloskey in his law office in Redwood City, Calif., in 2006.   (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Pete McCloskey—a pro-environment, anti-war California Republican who co-wrote the Endangered Species Act and co-founded Earth Day—has died. He was 96. A fourth-generation Republican who said he was "in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt," McCloskey represented the 12th Congressional District for 15 years, running for president against the incumbent Richard Nixon in 1972. He battled party leaders while serving in Congress and went on to publicly disavow the GOP in his later years. He died at home Wednesday, the AP reports. "McCloskey was a rarity in American politics—his actions were guided by his sense of justice, not by political ideology," said Joe Cotchett, his longtime law partner.

McCloskey cited disillusionment over influence peddling and ethics scandals during the George W. Bush administration when he switched parties in 2007. "A pox on them and their values," he wrote in an open letter to supporters. Born in Loma Linda, California, McCloskey graduated from South Pasadena High School, where the second baseman made the school's baseball hall of fame. He joined the Marines as an officer and led a rifle platoon during some of the most intense fighting of the Korean War. He was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism, the nation's second-highest honor, and a Silver Star for bravery in combat. He received two Purple Hearts. He earned a law degree from Stanford University and founded an environmental law firm before making the move to public office.

In 1967, he defeated fellow Republican Shirley Temple Black and Democrat Roy Archibald in a special election for Congress. He advocated impeaching Nixon while challenging the incumbent, calling the Vietnam War illegal and the president's conduct of it immoral. When he visited Vietnam, McCloskey discounted the optimistic projections of military and political leaders in both countries and sought the counsel of sergeants and lieutenants who were seeing combat, per the Washington Post. After his first trip in 1968, he said he had "grave doubts that what we do there is right." McCloskey became a leader in congressional efforts to bring US troops home.

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McCloskey's enduring legacy is the Endangered Species Act, which protects species designated as endangered or threatened and conserves the ecosystems on which they depend. He co-wrote the legislation in 1973, after a campaign by young people empowered by Earth Day activities unseated seven of 12 Congress members who voted against environmental protections. "Suddenly, everybody was an environmentalist," McCloskey recalled in 2008, per the AP. "My Republican colleagues started asking me for copies of old speeches I had given on water and air quality." Denis Hayes, co-organizer of Earth Day, assessed the rarity of a "green, anti-war Republican," saying, "A powerful champion of endangered species, Pete, ironically, became one."

(More obituary stories.)

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