AR-News: L.A. Times - Ballot warned of "outside groups" seeking to influence Sierra Club's agenda

Laurelee Blanchard lblanchard at
Thu Apr 22 20:51:32 EDT 2004

Anti-Migrant Slate Rejected by Sierra Club
Current leadership's choices win solid backing. Immigration control
advocates vow to keep fighting.
By Miguel Bustillo
Times Staff Writer

April 22, 2004

A bitter battle that exposed deep divisions over the direction of America's
conservation movement reached culmination with the announcement Wednesday
that Sierra Club members had overwhelmingly rejected a campaign by
immigration control advocates to control the venerable environmental group.

In what was termed the largest voter turnout in the Sierra Club's 112-year
history, more than 22% of the group's 757,000 members cast ballots to select
its governing board. The votes, which were submitted by members in March and
April, were tallied Wednesday. The members elected a slate backed by the
club's leaders and which received more than 110,000 votes apiece.

By contrast, a slate of candidates seeking to bring a strong immigration
control agenda to the club garnered only minimal support — former Colorado
Gov. Richard Lamm, the best known, received 13,090 votes.

"I never argue with the voters. My congratulations to the winners," Lamm
said in an e-mail shortly after the results were announced. He declined to
be interviewed.

Five seats were up for grabs on the club's 15-member governing board. The
election took place via mail and the Internet starting in March.

The election was the second time in less than a decade that the Sierra Club,
arguably the nation's most influential environmental group, has publicly
wrestled with the issue of restricting immigration. Members voted to remain
neutral on the issue in 1998, following a campaign that featured accusations
that conservationists were resorting to immigrant bashing, and counterclaims
that political correctness was leading to environmental cowardice. The same
accusations were raised this year.

Despite the 1998 vote, an increasingly vocal group of environmentalists
continued to argue that the Sierra Club needed to aggressively support
strict immigration controls, citing the destructive effect of unchecked U.S.
population growth on the nation's natural resources.

Three prominent immigration control advocates — UCLA astronomy professor Ben
Zuckerman, Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug LaFollette, and Paul Watson,
leader of the group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, already had won seats
to the board in recent years, putting majority control within the grasp of
the dissidents in this year's election.

Sierra Club leaders said after the landslide vote that they hoped the
rancorous dispute had finally been resolved.

"I thought the issue should have been laid to rest after 1998, and I
certainly don't see anything in these results to suggest [members] have had
a change of heart," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.

"We are delighted that the turnout was so strong. This may have been the
largest election turnout ever for a nonprofit organization other than the
NRA," the National Rifle Assn.

However, it quickly became clear on Wednesday that the losing side
considered the issue far from resolved. Rather than seeing the results as
evidence that Sierra Club members did not support an immigration platform,
critics called it proof that dirty tactics by the status quo to promote
their favorites had unfairly tipped the scales.

Some dissidents said they were holding out hope that a lawsuit filed
recently in San Francisco Superior Court would result in a new election. The
suit alleges that Sierra Club leaders violated state laws governing
nonprofits by using club funds to promote candidates they had endorsed.

Club officials called the claims groundless. A similar suit by Lamm was
withdrawn when Pope and other club officials threatened a countersuit.

"The Sierra Club just elected the best new directors money can buy — but
with a lawsuit pending over unfair election practices, justice and truth may
yet prevail," said a losing candidate, Karyn Strickler.

Strickler, who said she did not advocate curbing immigration and was running
as an independent reformer, said all candidates who collected petitions to
be on the ballot were damaged by an "urgent election notice" to Sierra Club
members that accompanied the ballot and warned of "outside groups" seeking
to influence the club's agenda. Under Sierra Club bylaws, some candidates
are automatically placed on the ballot by current leaders; others can
collect signatures to run.

The ballot notice referred to racist and anti-immigrant websites that had
posted stories urging their visitors to vote for immigration-control
candidates in the Sierra Club elections, and made similar links to animal
rights groups and hemp proponents. As a result of the notice, critics argued
that voters were pressured to stick with the candidates endorsed by the
current leadership.

During the dawn of the modern environmental movement four decades ago,
conservationists widely embraced the goal of global population control.
Books such as "The Population Bomb" by Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich
painted a dire portrait of a planet straining under man's increasingly wide

Yet although many environmentalists still call for worldwide curbs on
population, they are increasingly divided over the less-abstract issue of
restricting the flood of newcomers to America. According to the U.S. census,
the U.S. population, now more than 292 million, could surge by 50% over the
next 50 years, largely because of immigrants and their children.

Former Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, one of the founders of
Earth Day, sided with immigration control advocates, supporting Cornell
University professor David Pimentel.

The two had been active in the Carrying Capacity Network, a population
control organization that advocates strict curbs on immigration.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the founder of Waterkeeper Alliance, lent his name to
the election campaign to defeat Pimentel and the other insurgents. Actor
Robert Redford and MoveOn.Org, the liberal activist network known for
helping propel former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean to
prominence, also opposed the anti-immigration candidates.

"I think the agenda of those looking to bring immigration to our
organization was soundly defeated," said Sierra Club President Larry Fahn.
"We should now focus on reuniting the membership and getting back to our
core mission: to protect the planet. And this year, we should focus on the
mission most of us consider most important this year: defeating President
Bush and his horrendous environmental policies."

Yet Fahn conceded that anti-immigration candidates were unlikely to give up
their fight.

"The debate will continue," he said. "Many of them feel so passionate that
they will continue agitating and never be pacified."

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