Lobbyist for nature reaches end of trail
Long before he earned a reputation as a calm, effective voice lobbying the state Legislature on behalf of the environmental community, Bill Robinson spent nearly 30 years in state government crafting and analyzing budgets.
Those years gaining expertise on the state capital budget, including many years as staff director for the House Capital Budget Committee, served him well when he became The Nature Conservancy’s lobbyist in Olympia in 2002.
He became a worthy champion of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, which is the state’s premier tool for conserving fish and wildlife habitat and creating outdoor recreation opportunities across the state – more than 1,200 projects in the past 25 years, with all of the $1.2 billion in financing coming from the state capital budget.
Robinson, whose boyish grin and full head of sandy hair defy his age – he’s 66 – also embraced the environmental community’s decision in 2002 to form a coalition and promote three of four key issues each legislative session, rather than descending on Olympia each legislative session as individual non-profits with only pet bills of their own.
During the Great Recession, Robinson spent much of his time fending off efforts to roll back state environmental laws and the budgets of state agencies tasked with protecting the environment and the state’s natural resources. He was fairly successful, helping stave off a $15 million cut in the state Department of Ecology water quality program in 2009.
For his work on behalf of clean water, wildlife habitat, open space and outdoor recreation, the Helena, Mont., native last month received the Joan Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. Thomas, a pillar in the state’s environmental community, was a founding member of the Washington Environmental Council, past president of the state League of Women Voters and longtime member of the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission. She died in 2011 after a long bout with cancer.
“Joan set a high bar for this award and Bill rose to that standard throughout his career,” noted House Speaker Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle. “Like many, I relied on his knowledge and integrity to help make my decisions as Speaker of the House.”
Chopp and other legislators will have to look elsewhere in the future for the kind of counsel Robinson provided. Weary of the short-sighted, political bickering between the Democrat controlled House and Republican dominated Senate majority coalition, Robinson won’t be returning to the halls of the Legislature when lawmakers convene in January 2015. He’s retiring after more than 40 years working for state government, and later lobbying legislators on behalf of conservation causes.
Talk to fellow lobbyists, state legislators and environmental colleagues and they say the same: His rare blend of political pragmatism, budgetary acumen and environmental passion will be missed.
‘In the middle of the hurricane that is a state legislative session, Bill was the focal point of political calm and professional know-how to get things done,” said former state legislative lobbyist Mike Ryherd, also a Joan Thomas award recipient.
“Bill Robinson is one of the smartest and most effective voices for conservation in our state,” state Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said in a Nature Conservancy announcement of Robinson’s pending retirement.
In 1989, Robinson helped draft the legislation that created the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. Then he spent the last dozen years of his career lobbying legislators to fund it. The high water mark was the 2007-09 budget when the wildlife and recreation coalition asked for $100 million, and received it. Typically, the final appropriation falls short of the request.
“After being around the Legislature for 30 years, I had a sense of what to ask for,” Robinson said. “I was comfortable being around legislators, and working both sides of the aisle.”
He’s also comfortable with his plan to step away from the legislative fray to spend more time with his three grandchildren, travel and work on home improvement projects. “I have no doubt I’ll be able to stay busy,” he said.