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The Planet
How'd They Vote? EVEC Tells All

by Jenny Coyle

If you care about wild places, clean air and uncontaminated water, odds are you want your elected officials to care about them, too - and vote accordingly.

But do they?

As the November election draws nigh, Sierra Club activists in two dozen designated sites around the country are making sure the public knows the environmental voting records of congressional contenders. It might mean walking neighborhoods in the dreadful heat of a Kansas summer to spread the good news about a representative's voting record. Or it could be handing out free spring water at the Montana State Fair to expose a senator's votes against protecting water resources.

This work is part of the Club's Environmental Voter Education Campaign, one of the tools the Club uses in an election cycle. The Club's national EVEC Committee, chaired by Jonathan Ela of the John Muir (Wisconsin) Chapter, decides which races will be designated EVEC sites to receive additional backing.

"Activists get out there and make sure people know about how an incumbent or challenger has voted on environmental issues," said Deanna White, the Club's deputy political director. "We also urge constituents to call the candidate and ask him or her to keep up the good work - or start voting right if they've been poor performers."

EVEC activists have no problem getting the word out - and some have fun in the process.

It was an exceptionally hot and humid East Coast kind of day when Rachel Jakubovitz dressed up like a fish to work the crowds at the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning in Readington. Jakubovitz and 20 other volunteers wanted balloon enthusiasts to know that Rep. Rush Holt (D) has voted to protect the state's drinking water and coastline.

They handed out more than 5,000 charts detailing Holt's and other New Jersey representatives' votes on water-related bills and got signatures on 715 postcards urging Holt to keep voting for clean water.

"All eyes were on the Sierra Club table, thanks to our healthy New Jersey fish mascot," said Lori Herpen, New Jersey EVEC organizer.

Working a big crowd also proved fruitful for Montana Chapter activists who passed out free drinking water and voting charts at the state fair and exposed Sen. Conrad Burns' (R) bleak voting record on water issues.

And while the senator was pressing the flesh with fair-goers at his own booth, volunteers Don and Dottie Taylor went with roving EVEC organizer David Schneider to put their elected official on the spot.

"I said I was from the Sierra Club and asked Burns why he continues to vote to allow mining operations to generate toxic waste on public lands," said Schneider. "I also asked if he'd take our 4-foot by 3-foot version of the voter chart showing his shameful votes on environmental issues."

Burns' response, which Schneider wrote down immediately so he didn't forget it, was, "Stick it where the monkey put the marbles."

Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) might have had a similar response if he'd been there in person when Cascade Chapter activists gave him the "Sierra Club Dirty Water Award" at a press conference in Vancouver.

Instead, a life-sized puppet of Gorton stood next to volunteer Holly Berry, who, with her husband Nick Forrest, explained that Gorton's record on the environment "is held in the highest regard - by polluters who persuade him to grease the way for their dirty deeds."

Then their young son, Andrew, along with Josey and Carly Marshall - the children of volunteers Rick and Cassi Marshall - poured dirty water on the feet of the puppet, who maintained a grim expression.

That's how EVEC work is sometimes - all in the family.

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