Activists Helped Move Environment to the Fore in the Election

By Raymond McCaffrey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2006

From the gubernatorial campaign to county commissioner races, the environment became a key issue in Maryland's 2006 election, with environmental activists doing more than releasing sober position papers. This year, they also tried to make candidates more accountable for their records.

Democrats -- often favored by environmentalists -- scored big in the state, including victories in the gubernatorial and attorney general's races by candidates who won endorsements from environmental groups.

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters not only endorsed Democrat Martin O'Malley, but it actively opposed Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The group started a Web site,, with a photograph of the governor wearing a hard hat.

The Blue Crab Project, which endorsed candidates based on their environmental positions, picked the victors in more than half of the races it targeted -- noteworthy, "considering none of them were incumbents," said Howard Ernst, a U.S. Naval Academy political science professor who founded the project.

Environmental issues also were factors in local races. Jay Falstad, the chairman of the Republican Environmental Alliance PAC, an Eastern Shore-based group, said most of the incumbent Queen Anne's County commissioners were "ousted," as in the prior election for the board.

"The dominant issue in that election and in this one was growth issues," Falstad said.

Democrats dominated, but "the Republican who did get elected put the environment as a major part of his agenda," Falstad said.

Sometimes a candidate's environmental stand wasn't considered strong enough by activists.

For instance, the victorious pro-environment GOP candidate in Queen Anne's County -- Eric Wargotz, who was elected president of the County Commission -- failed to get the endorsement of the Republican Environmental Alliance PAC.

Although O'Malley proposed a broad environmental program, including improving standards for assessing the health of the Chesapeake Bay, the Baltimore mayor wasn't endorsed by the Blue Crab Project, which under its ground rules endorses only challengers, Ernst said.

But he added: "At the end of the day, we decided that O'Malley didn't have a strong enough environmental record." Though Ernst acknowledged that he "would have loved to have endorsed Martin O'Malley," he said before the election that he failed to see "any bold proposals come out of his campaign."

Ernst also questioned whether O'Malley's victory reflected the power of environmentalists.

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