'Green' Was A Winning Message In Election

By Raymond McCaffrey and Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 26, 2006

From the gubernatorial campaign to county commissioner races, the environment became a key issue in Maryland's 2006 elections, 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 by gubernatorial and attorney general candidates who won endorsements from environmental groups. In the more conservative Southern Maryland counties, several candidates won office on the strength of platforms that emphasized environmental issues.

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters not only endorsed Democrat Martin O'Malley but also actively opposed Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., initiating a Web site, http://stopsprawlstopehrlich.com, that included a photograph of the governor wearing a construction 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, which was noteworthy, "considering none of them were incumbents," said Howard Ernst, a U.S. Naval Academy political science professor, who founded the project.

Neither group issued endorsements in Southern Maryland elections, but environmental issues came to the forefront in several races. State Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-St. Mary's) emphasized his commitment to restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay throughout his reelection campaign, and environmental educator Jack Russell (D) won his bid to lead the St. Mary's County Board of Commissioners.

"The lack of enforcement of environmental laws on the bay in St. Mary's County is unbelievable," Dyson said shortly before the election. "We've got to do something about it before the bay continues to deteriorate."

County commissioner candidates in all three counties pledged to aid efforts to clean up polluted tributaries and the Chesapeake, but Russell was the candidate who most easily fit the environmentalist mold. A former waterman who became a boat tour captain when the oyster population became depleted, Russell also founded the Chesapeake Bay Field Lab to educate students about environmental issues.

Although all commissioner candidates talked about the need to control rapid growth, Russell emphasized environmental considerations as the primary reason to slow development. That was a subtle but real shift from the usual Southern Maryland campaign theme of preserving the area's "rural character" -- which most St. Mary's candidates embraced. Soil erosion and destruction of natural habitats for animals and plants are major concerns that should be addressed before starting construction projects, Russell said.

"I don't think our politicians have paid enough attention to the need to protect our resources," he said.

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 first-time candidates, Ernst said.

But he added: "At the end of the day, we decided that O'Malley didn't have a strong enough environmental record." Although Ernst said 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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