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.
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.
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.
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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