As this legislative session progresses, keep your eyes peeled for environmentally-telling votes - and you just may detect the hand of the Sierra Club at work.
The group has a multitude of interests that also concern our lawmakers, from A to W if not A to Z (that is, from air pollution to wilderness.)For example, Rudy Lukez, the club's conservation chairman in Utah, worries that the proposed deep-diking on the Great Salt Lake may be "another of those projects where people are trying to manipulate the ecosystem for personal gain."
Some valuable wildlife marshes survived the recent lake flooding, he said. "If you start playing around with the Great Salt Lake, what's going to happen to the quality of those wetlands?"
Last November, Sierra Club activists helped elect eight members of the Utah House of Representatives. So when the Legislature is asked to fund the first phase of the diking project, they will be listening carefully to the club's concerns.
Ann Miller and Jean Binyon, both of the group's Committee on Political Education, said that in the past election the club was able to field 300 to 400 volunteers who worked for candidates and issues endorsed by the group.
Beneficiaries included Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah; Paul VanDam, who won the attorney generalship from Republican David Wilkinson; the drive to defeat tax limitation initiatives; and the campaigns of 11 candidates for the Utah House.
Also, conservation volunteers registered more than 1,000 voters.
"We felt very good about the election in that eight of our 11 endorsed candidates on the legislative level won, two beating very strong incumbents," Miller said.
The legislative fights were all on behalf of Democrats. "We made an attempt to find Republicans, and interviewed several, but we just couldn't find any that we wanted to work with," Binyon said.
All the legislative campaigns except one were in Salt Lake County. The exception was District 21, Tooele County. They were:
- District 21. This was an easy win, as the conservationists supported Rep. Beverly J. White, the unopposed incumbent. White collected 5,284 votes.
- District 23. Environmentalists supported Frank Pignanelli, the Democratic incumbent, who beat Republican Robert B. Sykes, 4,206 to 3,241. Dorothy S. Makin, Libertarian, picked up 253. Pignanelli, the House minority whip, was first elected in 1986 with Sierra Club help.
- District 24. The group helped Democrat Paula Julander defeat Olene S. Walker, the Republican incumbent, 4,834 to 4,294. Walker was the majority whip before this defeat.
- District 27. Again, the Democratic challenger unseated a Republican incumbent with the assistance of the Sierra Club. David M. Jones beat G. LaMont Richards, 5,111 to 4,348. Bob Strand, Libertarian, got 234.
- District 30. Gene Davis, the Democratic incumbent, squeezed by John Hollinghaus, 4,403 to 4,014. A Libertarian, Richard C. Kuhns, picked up 257 votes. Davis first won in 1986 with the group's assistance.
- District 33 was a loss for the environmentalists. They supported Thom Kearin, the Democrat, who was swamped by Republican Ronald J. Ockey, with 6,049 for Ockey and 3,264 for Kearin. Libertarian David D. Dutson polled 281.
- District 34. The conservationists lost, supporting Susan Way, who was defeated by Republican Larry V. Lunt. The vote was 5,031 to 4,716. Way is a Sierra Club member and collected 48 percent against Lunt, who is a Republican leader.
- District 43. The Sierra Club's support didn't help W. Paul Thompson against the Republican incumbent, H. Craig Moody. Moody swamped Thompson, the former mayor of Sandy, 6,862 to 4,227.
- District 46. The Sierra Club supported the Democratic incumbent, Kelly C. Atkinson, who won easily, with 6,121 votes. Republican Steven K. Workman collected 4,676. The American Party candidate, David C. Wilson, got 282 and Libertarian Gary Whittle, 232. Atkinson was "very responsive" in the previous session.
- District 53. Democratic incumbent Brent H. Goodfellow, supported by the conservationists, won with 3,460, to Republican Terry J. Wirth's 2,831 and Libertarian Holly Roseberry's 293.
Binyon said the club hopes to build its efforts.
Members hope to meet regularly with VanDam on such concerns as pollution violations. Also, the club wants to see the attorney general check into the Community Impact Fund, which conservationists view as a slush fund for any development project that comes down the pike. They want a determination of whether the fund is properly administered.
"So we are beginning to feel we are having an impact," she said.