Daniel Swartzman, a frustrated environmental lobbyist in the Illinois Legislature, has come to a monumental conclusion--of sorts.
"I'm tired of being respected," he said. "I want to be feared."
Many environmentalists across the country have reached the same conclusion. And they are trying to make 1982 the year of "the green vote."
They have formed 30 state political action committees, including one led by Swartzman, the Illinois Committee to Protect Health and the Environment, to raise money and recruit volunteers for candidates who support their issues.
Five national groups--the Sierra Club, Environmental Action, the Solar Lobby, Friends of the Earth and the League of Conservation Voters--also plan major campaign efforts this year. The league is a national political action committee, and the four others have formed national PACs.
Environmentalists plan to spend about $2 million during the 1982 election campaign, gambling that they can demonstrate clout at the polls.
The "green vote" has never been a major factor in U.S. elections. But environmental activists say they believe that unrest over Interior Secretary James G. Watt and the Reagan administration's environmental policies will make it so this fall.
They are hanging much of their hope on the results of a poll commissioned by Democrats, which concluded that environmental concerns may be one of the sleeper issues of 1982.
The poll, conducted early last winter, found that the public is more eager than either party to toughen regulations against air and water pollution. Two thirds of those surveyed said they favored strengthening these regulations; 18 percent favored relaxing them.
The poll was filled with danger warnings for Republicans. By 5 to 1, those surveyed said Democrats would do a better job of protecting the environment than Republicans would.
A Washington Post/ABC poll in mid-March came up with a smaller, yet still wide, margin. In it, those polled said Democrats would do a better job of protecting the environment than would Republicans by a 56-to-22-percent ratio.
The demographics were the most significant part of the Democratic poll. Among those saying Democrats would do a better job on the environment were sizable numbers of white, upper-income suburbanites, who have traditionally voted Republican.
"Their activism on the issue is potentially devastating to Republicans," said Patrick Caddell, one of the four Democratic pollsters. "These aren't marginal Republican votes. They are base votes."
Base votes are the ones with which a party or a candidate starts a campaign. They are people who traditionally don't have to be converted. If Republicans would lose from 5 to 7 percent of their base vote because of the environmental issue, it would be virtually impossible for them to win elections in many areas, Caddell contended.
Environmentalists hope they can use this as leverage to gain a more receptive ear from both parties. They admit it is a gamble.
"There's a feeling that we are being tested," said Bob Chlopak, political director for Friends of the Earth. "The movement has to show that if it is threatened by public officials we will do everything possible to turn that around."
In the past, environmentalists have not played a major role in electoral politics, partly because their issues have seldom been the kind that win or lose elections.
"We've never really been put to a test," said Spencer Black, director of the Environmental Political Action Committee, a Wisconsin group that plans to spend $100,000 and supply 1,000 volunteers to friendly candidates in that state. "We've never really had to before."
Black and other environmentalists say the Reagan administration created the test. "What Reagan has managed to do is polarize the environmental issue," says Swartzman, a University of Illinois professor. "It used to be everyone was for the environment. Now candidates are choosing up sides. The administration has given us a target to shoot at, an enemy."
"It's been a kind of shock therapy for the environmental movement," says Marion Edey, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters. "This administration has declared war on the environment, and we're building a conservation army to fight back at the ballot box." Even though the $2 million the environmentalists hope to spend is double what they have ever spent in the past, they are entering the political wars with an arsenal of peashooters.
The National Congressional Club, a conservative group led by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), raised $7.8 million in 1980; the National Conservative Political Action Committee raised $7.6 million.
Environmentalists acknowledge they probably will never be able to match corporate political action committees dollar for dollar. But they hope they can make up for what they lack in money with volunteers, campaign expertise and issue appeal.
To do this, they are putting the bulk of their resources into campaign workshops around the country, volunteer recruitment drives and person-to-person canvassing, either door to door or by telephone. By fall, they hope to have trained thousands of political foot soldiers to funnel into campaigns across the country.
"Our opposition uses direct mail and broadcasting which is very expensive. Our stuff is much more cost effective," says Chlopak, whose group plans to spend about $130,000 this year in 30 races. "We'll get a lot more for our dollar. One dollar can go a long way to support the work of one volunteer."
Many of the groups already have a large corps of activists. The Sierra Club, which first entered electoral politics in 1980, has about 283,000 members. According to Rob Kutler, executive director of the club's Committee on Political Education, it plans to spend about $400,000 on congressional and state-level elections during 1982.
The committee, which plans to place 18 political organizers around the country, has also issued "The Green Vote Handbook," a basic campaign primer for environmentalists.
"We want to flex our muscle in '82 and build to '84," says Kutler.
The League of Conservation Voters, a bipartisan group formed in 1970, plans the largest and most extensive campaign among environmental groups. Its budget for 1982 is $1 million, compared with $460,000 two years ago when it backed 39 candidates, 23 of whom won.
A political action committee affiliated with Environmental Action plans to spend a total of $95,000 during the campaign; the Solar Lobby's political action committee plans to spend $120,000.