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The Planet

FEATURE: HOW WE FARED IN THE ELECTIONS

Club Support Clinches Key Victories

by Dan Weiss, Sierra Club Political Director

First the good news: the election was not a referendum on the environment. An opinion poll taken on election day confirms that the vast majority of Americans -- both Democrat and Republican -- continue to voice strong support for public health and the environment.

Indeed, pro-environment candidates generally fared well despite the large number of Democratic incumbents defeated for re-election. Nearly two-thirds of Sierra Club-endorsed candidates won their races.

Victories in '94

In the Senate, Club volunteers played key roles in the razor-thin victories of heroes such as Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). We also supported key GOP environmentalists such as Sens. John Chafee (R-R.I.), Jim Jeffords (R-Vt.) and William Roth (R-Del.) in their heavily contested races.In the House, a number of environmental leaders won their races by a handful of votes.

Sierra Club activists helped provide the slim margin of victories for Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), the author of Utah wilderness legislation, who won by 1,200 votes; Elizabeth Furse (D-Ore.), who won by 326 votes; and Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), whose victory was clinched by four votes.

Many other key environmental champions also won close races with help from the Sierra Club, including Reps. Tony Beilenson (D-Calif.), a leader on international family planning; John Bryant (D-Texas), a leader on toxics issues; and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is active on trade.Several future environmental leaders were elected to Congress for the first time, including Reps.-elect Karen McCarthy (D-Mo.), Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.) and Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.). These and several other incoming freshmen received early support from Club activists in their states.

The Sierra Club's "People Power" overcame big money in several important races. Sen. Feinstein defeated Michael Huffington even though he spent nearly $30 million of his own money on negative advertisements against her. And Sen. Chuck Robb overcame Oliver North's $20 million challenge in Virginia to win re-election. On election night, Robb publicly thanked the Sierra Club for its efforts to re-elect him.

The Bad News

Despite these bright spots, many pro-environment candidates were drowned in the wave of anti-Democratic sentiment on Nov. 8. Many of these legislators were first elected in 1992, and did not have an opportunity to establish themselves with their constituents. These leaders -- including Reps. Dan Hamburg (D-Calif.), author of the Headwaters Forest Protection Act; Karen Shepherd (D-Utah) and Leslie Byrne (D-Va.), leaders on clean water; and Lynn Schenk (D-Calif.), a key supporter of the California Desert Protection Act -- will be sorely missed.

The other major setback occurred in races to replace retiring senators, including environmental champions George Mitchell (D-Maine) and Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.). No Club-backed candidate for an open Senate seat prevailed, and some were defeated by candidates openly hostile to environmental protection.

The 104th Congress will be decidedly different. For the first time in 40 years, the Republicans control both the Senate and House. A number of senators and representatives with terrible environmental voting records are expected to run environmental committees.

Our Work Made A Difference

In 1994, we were reminded repeatedly about the importance of supporting our congressional friends' campaigns for election. The passage of the California Desert Protection Act after a decade-long struggle was largely due to the 1992 election of two pro-desert California senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. In addition, many Club-backed senators such as Sens. William Roth (R-Del.) and James Jeffords (R-Vt.) provided the decisive votes for the bill's passage in the waning days of Congress. President Clinton signed the bill into law; President Bush would have vetoed it.

The many close races are continuing evidence of the importance of each vote. They also remind us that Club activists who make phone calls, walk precincts or donate money make a difference in the outcome of elections -- and the health of the planet.

SOURCE: DAN WEISS, THE PLANET, DEC/JAN '95
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