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2006

How Does the Chapter Decide Which Candidates to Endorse?

“Senator Paul Sarbanes to Step Down!” So screamed the Washington Post headline early last year that began the Maryland political season now in full swing. A retiring U.S. senator caused a domino effect that is being felt throughout the state.  Congressman Ben Cardin resigned his seat to run for Senate, State Senator Paula Hollinger resigned her seat to run for Cardin’s seat along with a host of other candidates, and now loads of people are lining up to run for Hollinger’s seat. If that weren’t enough activity for one year, all of Maryland’s state and local elected officials run for reelection this year, from the governor down to the county councils in all jurisdictions. We have a lot of work to do.

The Sierra Club has a well-defined political program with rules for making endorsements. Many of our members don’t understand our endorsement policy, and I often get angry calls when we endorse a candidate they don’t like. But the policy makes sense, and I would like to outline it for you briefly:

 

u     We are a non-partisan organization. We can endorse viable candidates from any party if they support us on our issues.

u     Incumbency matters. Incumbents who heed requests to vote for our agenda usually get our endorsement. They have proved that we can rely on them to help get our agenda through, and we reward those actions with an endorsement even if a challenger has a better environmental platform.   We do this in order to send a consistent message to elected officials that if they work for our issues, we will support them.

u     Viability matters. Challengers need to prove that they have the campaign structure and enough money to mount a credible campaign. Such a candidate may not be the person who has the best talking points on the environment. Our goal is to get good people elected to office, not to fall on our swords in support of an idealistic message.

u     Political landscape matters. We strive to get the best person elected that we can get in a particular district. That may mean we endorse someone who does not have stellar environmental credentials, but who is still the best of the bunch.

 

There are always exceptions, but for the most part we follow those rules very closely.  Our endorsement process includes having the candidates fill out a questionnaire and submit to an interview by Club leaders, who then make recommendations to the appropriate executive committee. All endorsement recommendations must be approved by two levels of the Club. For local and state candidates, those levels are the group and state. For federal candidates, they are the chapter executive committee and the national political committee.

Much of the Sierra Club’s influence with legislators at all levels of government is derived from its political program. Legislators listen to us because they know that our endorsements tend to swing lots of voters. We are considered the “good housekeeping seal of approval” for the environmental community when it comes to elections, and our endorsement is sought by many candidates in Maryland. But the endorsement is only the first step. Its effectiveness depends, in large part, on the actions of our members. We need you to be involved in the political process!

We also know that there are Sierra Club members who don’t vote. Your vote is very important, and we have enough members to swing a close election. Many races are decided in the primary–so it’s important to vote in both primary and general elections. If you will not be here on election day, request an absentee ballot. You can do that at the local board of
elections for your county, or online at www.elections.state.md.us/registered_voters/absentee_ballot.html

This election year is filled with dangers and opportunities. Many who have stepped down from their elected positions have been good environmental supporters. We must not let those seats go to our opponents. We need the Sierra Club presence to be felt out there. If you would like to get involved, please call me at 301-656-4948. Rest assured that we will find something for you to do.   

 

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