Dear Sierra Club California Members and Friends,
Some people never miss an opportunity to vote. They have some particular reason that propels them to cast their ballot at every election.
I’m one of those people and the thing that drives me to the polls every year begins with a story about a young military wife, circa 1960s. The young woman, an immigrant who became a U.S. citizen in the 1950s, had never been able to vote for a range of reasons. One was that in those days, you had to be settled in a place at least a year before you could even register. Military families like hers moved a lot, so the stars didn’t align until 1964.
Finally settled in San Diego, a decidedly Republican town, she registered as a Democrat. On election day, she put on one of her nicer dresses, and made her way to the neighborhood polling place, sample ballot in hand. There, a poll watcher representing the Republican Party challenged her right to vote. She was a first-time voter, and it wasn’t unusual then—and isn’t necessarily unusual today—for poll watchers to challenge first-time voters. It’s a legal way to politely intimidate and narrow the tally during tight elections. Whether it’s right, just, or moral is another question.
The woman, whose husband had just finished serving for 21 years in the U.S. Army, was flustered. She didn’t know what to do. Although she was a U.S. citizen, she was hesitant about challenging authority in her adopted country. She left the polls disappointed. Lyndon Johnson and a few other candidates lost one vote in San Diego that day.
The young woman was my mother. I remember how disappointed she was, how embarrassed she seemed that day. She eventually did get her chance to vote for everything from city council members to presidents. But that first failed effort was the most memorable. So now, when I vote, part of me is voting for her.
The other part is voting for the environment. Everyday my staff and I see the results of elections. We work with the legislators that Californians send to the Capitol to make a difference. We know firsthand that if a candidate campaigned on protecting the environment, the chance is strong that that new legislator will stick to his or her commitment most of the time. We know that if the candidate didn’t care about the environment during the campaign, it’s going to be harder to get that person to care once he or she is a legislator.
That’s why Sierra Club California volunteers spend hundreds of hours each election year vetting candidates—newbies and incumbents. Around the state, local chapter political committees review questionnaires, interview candidates, and then make endorsement recommendations that go through additional volunteer committees for Sierra Club California. My staff and I help inform the process by letting the committees know how incumbents have performed for the environment and which incumbents deserve a shot at early endorsement.
You can find a list of Sierra Club California’s endorsements for state legislature and the state’s congressional delegation on our website. Check back often, because some endorsements are still going through the vetting process.
In many districts, Sierra Club California doesn’t endorse. This reflects the fact that in many parts of this state, the environment has no strong legislator’s voice in the Capitol, and no strong challenger willing to be that voice. That’s where my staff and I try to help. We try to be the voice that speaks up in the Capitol for the environment in districts with legislators who are too busy speaking for polluting interests.
We hope our endorsement list is helpful as you consider the June 5 ballot. And if you’ve caught just a drop of the cynicism about government that has struck so many, let me assure you that your vote counts. If you need a reason to vote, do it for the environment. If that isn’t enough, do it for my mom.
Kathryn Phillips, Director
Sierra Club California is the Sacramento-based legislative and regulatory advocacy arm of the 13 California chapters of the Sierra Club.