Environment at the Polls

November 13, 1990

Toting up gains and losses, environmentalists have a point: Across the nation, voter initiatives such as California's "Big Green" proposal mostly met defeat in last week's election, but in state-by-state candidate races, the pro-environment forces did pretty well. And since it was dissatisfaction with the old leadership that prompted the initiatives in the first place, there's new hope that environmental issues will now get a better hearing.

Scorekeepers at the Sierra Club and other groups noted that Big Green's wide-ranging proposals managed to "unite many polluting interests" and were so complex that voters found them daunting. Outspent by as much as 4-1, attacked by negative ads, overshadowed by concern over the economy, the budget crisis and the prospect of war in the Persian Gulf, Big Green didn't stand much of a chance. Observers believe the voters simply grabbed for stability.

In similar fashion, a separate proposal to preserve forests in California, a stream-protection referendum in Missouri, a land-use planning measure in Washington state and a recycling proposal in Oregon were rejected. New York's $2-billion bond issue, which would have funded parks maintenance, sewage treatment measures, recycling and land acquisitions, lost narrowly. This troubled environmental groups, whose spokesmen found people "voting their pocketbooks."

Those who saw silver linings noted that both future Gov. Pete Wilson and his opponent, Dianne Feinstein, promoted themselves as environmentally sensitive candidates in California. In other gubernatorial races, Lawton Chiles in Florida, Barbara Roberts in Oregon, Ann Richards in Texas, Ben Nelson in Nebraska and Bruce Sundlun in Rhode Island are all seen as environmental boosters. In the U.S. Senate, Paul Wellstone's defeat of Minnesota's Rudy Boschwitz made many environmentalists cheer, while in the House, the groups counted a 13-seat gain, including the victory of Maryland's Wayne Gilchrest over Roy Dyson. Many candidates in statewide races ran and won on environmental platforms.

Looking at it from that light, the environmentalists can do well if they get smarter.

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