Letter from Sacramento: Holding Legislatures Accountable: Activate!

Monday, October 21, 2013

CA State Capitol Bldg

      Each fall, after the legislature has begun its annual break and before winter holidays offer their pleasant distractions, Sacramento is awash in reports.

     One is Sierra Club California's annual report card. As soon as legislators scurried out of the Capitol in the wee hours of September 14 to return to their districts, Sierra Club California staff and volunteers began compiling the report card. It provides an assessment of how well the legislature and governor performed, based on the most important environmental bills of the year.

       We'll be sending our report card to the printer this week, and plan to post it soon on our website. I don't want to spoil the fun by revealing details before the report goes live, but it is no secret that this was not a glorious year for the environment in the legislature. The scores reflect this. There are a lot of failing and near-failing grades, including among many Democrats.

       I shudder to think how my mother would have reacted had I brought home a report card with the kind of scores some of the Democratic members of the freshman class earned on our report card. I know I would have been held accountable.

       Our volunteer leadership, our staff, and environmental advocates working around the state have spent a certain amount of time discussing the notion of accountability lately in various venues.  The key question: What is the best way to hold elected officials accountable to voters who care about the environment--which is to say most California voters?

     The answers are still forming. However, one common theme emerging from disparate discussions is that in-district organizing is essential to make sure voters know how their elected officials are performing.

     This is a good thing when you consider the Sierra Club's structure in California. We have 13 chapters covering California from border to border. The chapters typically have executive committees and conservation committees that work on policy and political committees that help make sure Club endorsements go only to deserving candidates during election cycles.

      The local chapters are set up to naturally allow Club members and supporters to become active and hold legislators accountable at the district level. They are also an excellent entry point for Club members and supporters who haven't been active but want to become active in supporting strong environmental policies.

      If you follow environmental news, it can be easy to feel a bit discouraged about the state of the world, and maybe even a bit helpless and hopeless. Being active in the Club is one way to combat creeping despair and reinvigorate hope.

      Indeed, reinvigorating hope has motivated many of our most active members to get involved in the Club. Karen Maki, one of Sierra Club California's volunteer leaders, got involved in her local Sierra Club chapter after the 2000 presidential elections, when hanging chads led to one of the most environmentally distressing administrations in our country's modern history. Now my staff and I often count on her to make sure specific legislators are hearing from their constituents about key environmental issues.

     So here's what I'd like you to do: Demonstrate hope and become active in the Sierra Club chapter in your area. Help it develop and execute plans to hold policymakers accountable. You can find the website for the chapter in your area byclicking here.

      If you are already active in your local chapter, I send you a virtual hug and a big thank you. Without you, I know those legislative report card scores would be even lower.


Kathryn Phillips               

Kathryn Phillips, Director                               

Sierra Club California is the Sacramento-based legislative and regulatory advocacy arm of the 13 California chapters of the Sierra Club.

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