High Stakes

Deb Callahan
Fall 2004

For those of us who share the core values of protecting natural places and wildlands, and who believe that the quality of life we pass on to future generations is a precious legacy, the stakes in the 2004 elections could not be higher.

Sure, every election is important and yes, every vote has always counted (as long as the voting machines work, but that’s another story). We have entered an era of unprecedented close contests, a time when each vote cast can determine the future priorities and very direction of our nation and our planet. For instance, in 2000, George W. Bush took office after the closest electoral margin in American history – and six states in that contest were decided by less than a one-percent margin. New Mexico’s margin of difference between Bush and Gore was just 366 votes. The closest congressional contest in 2002 was determined by 121 votes. This year we’re faced again with small margins making big decisions.

This year, I predict another white-knuckler of an election. And the winners of many important electoral contests will be determined not by campaign commercials or mass mailings, but by the individual efforts of thousands upon thousands of volunteers and about 100 million voters nationwide. In other words, now is the time to seize the opportunity and exert your most basic right as a citizen. This year, it is imperative that you educate yourself about the candidates running for office, get active, and vote with an eye towards our environment and who would be the best steward.

The fundamental framework of conservation stewardship created over the last 35 years has been under relentless attack. Laws and regulations developed in a bipartisan spirit have been gutted, repealed or ignored. Pristine wildlands are suddenly vulnerable to mining and drilling, and corporate desires take precedence over conservation. Tough mercury emission standards from coal-fired power plants are delayed as pregnant women and young children are told not to eat more than one meal of tuna a week, because the fish are full of mercury.

Our response is both simple and effective. Along with our partners in the environmental community, the League of Conservation Voters has been the home of environmentally conscious Republicans, Democrats and Independents for the last 34 years. Environmentalists and conservationists around the country are engaged like never before as the stakes are like never before. What is important here is the notion that, in an election, you – a surfer, a climber, a mountain biker, a hiker, a scuba diver or just a red-blooded couch potato – have a vote as powerful as any corporate lobbyist or political insider. This is a moment for you to channel your energy and enthusiasm for the whole natural world into a singular productive act. In 2004, sitting on the sidelines is not an option for us. We need to look down the trail, think two steps ahead then come to the logical conclusion. Together on November 2nd, you and I have the power to chart the course of environmental policy.

It’s easier than it sounds. A little hard work and a little passion blended together can work wonders. Seize the opportunity to research candidates’ records on the environment, seize the opportunity to publicly question a candidate and seize the opportunity to make your own views known. As a group, we love the outdoors and by nature are not spectators. The only thing our democracy demands is that we show up, then stand up.

That is how we can make a difference.

We need to go to the polls in November knowing that this election is about the future and our country’s direction. We must also go to the polls knowing that what we do this year will be judged not by our peers, but by those to whom we pass on our legacy.

About the Author

Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters since 1996, has devoted her career to empowering voters to exercise their strength on Election Day. Having served in leadership positions on two presidential campaigns as well as on races at the Senate and Congressional level, Deb lobbied for the National Toxics Campaign and directed the grassroots environmental program of the W. Alton Jones Foundation. Deb also served as the first executive director of the Seattle-based Brainerd Foundation. For more information on the League of Conservation Voters and their efforts to improve environmental policy in the government, please visit www.lcvedfund.org.