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The Planet
Electing Champs Gives Chapters Muscle

by Jenny Coyle

Steve Baru could not have predicted the positive fallout from getting environmental candidate Dennis Moore elected to a congressional seat in Kansas two years ago.

Moore regularly seeks environmental leaders' advice on certain bills. He welcomes activists into his office. And last year he achieved a League of Conservation Voters rating of 82 percent.

"That's big news here, where 35 percent used to qualify you as an environmental hero," said Baru, chair of the Sierra Club's Kansas Chapter. "But what's more amazing to us is that, because the chapter played a vital role in getting Moore elected, our standing in the community has risen."

City and county governments now seek out Sierra Club members to serve on commissions and task forces. Right after the election, Sen. Sam Brownback's (R-Kan.) office called the chapter for a meeting. Since Moore got into office, Brownback's LCV rating has gone from 0 to 33 percent.

"It's a whole new partnership here," said Baru, a stockbroker who is pleased to say that Moore's staff even called him for advice on a bill reshaping individual retirement accounts.

The Kansas Chapter's experience proves that having an ally in the House - or in any elected seat, for that matter - can reap far-reaching rewards.

With fall elections just around the corner, chapters across the country are gearing up to get involved in local, state and federal campaigns. Deanna White, the Sierra Club's deputy political director, said the political committee works with local groups and chapters to determine where the Club will focus its resources.

"We look for areas where the environment and the Sierra Club can really make a difference," said White. "We want to use our resources in a way that gets the most bang for the buck - we don't go where environmentalists are considered wild-eyed radicals because that isn't going to help a good candidate."

The Club gets involved in political races in a variety of ways, the most common of which is through endorsements and support, such as volunteering to work with a candidate's campaign staff. Another is the independent expenditure campaign, in which the Club uses its Political Action Committee funds to directly support or oppose a candidate, independent of the candidate's campaign.

The Kansas Chapter ran an IEC for Moore. "We targeted certain precincts and went door to door, did mailings and ran a phonebank campaign," said Baru. "Every precinct we targeted went for Moore. We also ran a radio spot. Our involvement was so high-profile that when the League of Conservation Voters brought in Robert Redford for a radio spot, everyone thought we did it. Moore is up for re-election, and just last week someone asked me if we were bringing Redford in again."

New Jersey Chapter activists are also eager to extol the benefits of getting an environmental candidate into office; they gave their endorsement and support to help Democrat Rush Holt defeat Republican incumbent Mike Pappas for a House seat in 1998.

"I didn't hesitate to work for the Holt campaign three days a week for most of the summer and up until election day," said chapter activist Joan Denzer.

Also helping with data entry, mailings, fundraising, press conferences and get-out-the-vote efforts on election day were Mary Penney, chair of the Central Jersey Group; Steve Knowlton of the Shore Group; and Heather Zichel, political chair of the New Jersey Chapter.

"It was definitely worth the work," said Denzer. "Midway through his term, Rush was appointed to the Natural Resources Committee and immediately went to work on getting full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He has also worked hard to protect the New Jersey Highlands - a chapter goal for many years. He's taken a special interest in halting overdevelopment and protecting open space. And he has a 100 percent LCV rating."

"These victories have a huge impact on the work we do as environmentalists," said White. "If we had 75 pro-environment senators, just think of the work we could get done."


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