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December 2000 Planet Main
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  December 2000 Features:
Senate Gets Greener, But...
Au Revoir, Archdruid
Club Seeks Halt to Genetically Engineered Crops
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The Planet
Senate Gets Greener, But...

Gridlock Likely With Both Houses Divided

by John Byrne Barry

If nothing else, November's election demonstrated that every vote counts - as will be the case in January, when the 107th Congress convenes with the Republicans holding the narrowest majority in decades.

The Sierra Club helped add at least three pro-environment and pro-campaign-finance reform advocates to the Senate, including Michigan Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D) - who defeated anti-environmental incumbent Sen. Spencer Abraham (R) - and Florida's Bill Nelson (D).

Pro-environmental candidates won in three-quarters of the Club's top-priority Senate and House races. The new House will likely be somewhat greener.

Among the important victories for the Club were incumbents Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-Vt.) and Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-Pa.), and newly elected Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who will succeed the late Bruce Vento, a longtime Club champion.

As The Planet goes to press, the outcome of the presidential race is still in limbo. The Sierra Club in Florida has called for a revote in Palm Beach County, citing, among other things, the 1975 Florida Supreme Court ruling that "the primary consideration in an election contest is whether the will of the people has been effected."

"What we do know," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, "is that if you add Al Gore and Ralph Nader's vote totals, a clear majority of people voted to protect America's environment. If George W. Bush becomes our next president, he ignores this environmental support at his peril."

For the Sierra Club, the good news was that pro-environment candidates fared best in those states where the Club invested significant resources, like the battleground state of Michigan, where Gore and Stabenow won.

"The thing we did best," said Pope, "was tell the story of Bush's bleak environmental record as Texas governor." According to a poll in Washington state, 80 percent of voters there knew Texas had serious environmental problems. One of the Club's not-so-secret weapons in spreading that news was "Tommy the Toxic Waste Drum," who showed up in dozens of communities around the country, in all his brown-barreled glory, to challenge Bush's environmental record.

At the state level, pro-environment ballot initiatives took a beating. Club-backed campaign-finance measures in Oregon and Missouri were defeated, as were anti-sprawl measures in Arizona and Colorado.

The Club-supported growth-management initiative in Arizona held a commanding lead a few months before Election Day, but was defeated with the help of a $5 million developer-funded advertising blitz. Despite the loss, said Sandy Bahr, the Grand Canyon Chapter's conservation outreach director, the chapter is stronger now. "When we started this initiative, our elected officials weren't even talking about sprawl or growth management. Now they are. And we engaged thousands of volunteers who can help with future efforts."

Nationally, there were close to 200 land acquisition and protections on the ballot, most of which passed.

In Minnesota, the North Star Chapter targeted the "Toxic Twelve," state legislators with the worst environmental records. "Only seven of approximately 200 incumbents lost this cycle," said state director Scott Elkins. "Three were on our list."

Voters in three counties in Utah agreed to tax themselves for more rail and bus lines. The Sierra Club has been fighting the proposed Legacy Highway near Salt Lake City and championing more rail transit. "Smart growth will happen in Utah if we can keep holding off Legacy Highway," said Club organizer Marc Heileson.

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