America Elects Two More Green Governors

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, November 7, 2001 (ENS) - Election Day 2001 swept two new pro-environment, Democratic governors into office: Jim McGreevey in New Jersey, and Mark Warner in Virginia. Meanwhile, voters in 20 states considered - and largely approved - ballot measures to fund more than $1 billion in open space protection.

Both McGreevey and Warner were endorsed by the Sierra Club, and the environment played a role in both elections, where the candidates pledged to protect clean water and rein in suburban sprawl. Tuesday's election marked the first time in eight years that a Democrat has occupied the governor's mansion in either state.

"The environment was the big winner on Tuesday," said Margaret Conway, Sierra Club political director. The citizens of New Jersey and Virginia can trust that their air and water, shorelines and parks are in safer hands as a result of the choices they made in the ballot booth. Voters care about improving quality of life and protecting the environment, and they responded by electing pro-environment governors in New Jersey and Virginia."

Warner

Democrat Mark Warner won in Virginia (Photo courtesy Mark Warner for Governor)
In both states, all of the candidates jockeyed to claim the environmental mantle. In Virgina, Mark Warner stood out for his plans to protect water quality, curb out of state waste, safeguard open space, and clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The Virginia League of Conservation Voters (VALCV) also endorsed Warner, along with Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Tim Kaine, who was also elected Tuesday. Both candidates responded to a list of questions on environmental issues.

Republican candidate Mark Early opted not to respond, and "has refused to go on record regarding critical environmental protection issues," said the VALCV.

The New Jersey race featured an even greater emphasis on the environment, with open space protection serving as a major issue along with protecting clean air and water. A story in last week's "Philadelphia Inquirer," headlined "Environment Stands Out As An Election Day issue" noted that the environment is "an apple pie issue in New Jersey," according to David Rebovich, a political science professor at Rider University in Lawrenceville.

McGreevey

Democrat Jim McGreevey ran a successful campaign in New Jersey (Photo courtesy Jim McGreevey for Governor)
"Jerseyans are not just being politically correct, but they recognize the importance of the environment for their personal quality of life, the state's economy, and the value of their homes," Rebovich told the newspaper.

The New Jersey Sierra Club felt McGreevey stood out on those issues and endorsed him in August, calling his Republican opponent Bret Schundler a "threat to the environment." McGreevey touted his Sierra Club endorsement in an October 10 debate, citing the endorsement as proof that he was the candidate who would protect New Jersey's open space.

McGreevey also ran for the governor's seat four years ago, losing in a tight race with Christie Whitman, who now heads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"The Sierra Club is energized by our victories in 2001 and we will use them as a springboard for our activities in 2002," Conway said. "Today's wins show that voters elect candidates who are committed to protecting the environment and who back up that position with credible policies."

OPEN SPACE ISSUES FIND VOTER SUPPORT

Voters in at least 18 states passed town, city, county and state ballot measures aimed at preserving open space and protecting environmental quality. In Colorado, for example, voters approved a statewide referendum to issue $115 million in bonds for open space acquisition and preservation.

farmstead

America's privately owned open spaces are disappearing at a rate of three million acres a year (Photo courtesy USDA)
In Missouri, residents of Springfield voted three to two to approve a .25 percent sales tax increase for parks acquisition, development of trails and parks, historic and natural resource preservation, and an area zoo

"While 2001 is an off year election, citizens and community leaders continue to seek local funding of land protection by placing these measures on the ballot," said Andy McLeod, director of conservation finance at the Trust for Public Land (TPL).

The number of successful open space initiatives or referenda in cities, towns, counties and states has skyrocketed in recent years. In 2000, voters approved 174 local and state open space measures, creating $7.5 billion in new funding. In 1999, 92 successful measures created $1.8 billion, and in November 1998, 124 successful local and state measures dedicated $8.3 billion in new funding for conservation.

"The large number of ballot measures for local and state funding of open space indicates that voters desire to take direct action to raise the funds necessary to save lands essential to their community," said Russell Shay, director of public policy for the Land Trust Alliance (LTA).

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Solar cells are built in to the entryway of the Thoreau Center for Sustainability at Presidio National Park in San Francisco (Photo courtesy Lawrence Berkeley Lab)
In San Francisco, California, voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition D, a measure requiring voter approval for any major project that would fill portions of San Francisco Bay. The measure throws a stumbling block in front of a proposed $3.5 billion expansion of the San Francisco International Airport.

San Francisco voters also approved two bills to promote solar power and other renewable energy resources in the region.

Descriptions of this year's open space measures and election results are available at: http://www.tpl.org