Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Does the Environment "Work" in Pinellas Politics

Cathy Harrelson (see photo), former chair of the Suncoast Group of the Sierra Club, is running for the St. Petersburg 3rd city council seat of Bill Foster, who cannot run for re-election due to term limits (though is considered a likely candidate for mayor when it opens up in 2009). She is being managed by a former Sierra Club employee (and former city council candidate, herself), Darden Rice. Harrelson is explicitly running on her strong support for the environment. Rice, notably, did not emphasize her Sierra Club connections when she ran in 2005.

Harrelson proposes investing heavily in energy saving systems and she has suggested taking out government bonds to pay for energy savings measures, using the future cost savings to pay them down.

In 2004, the Sierra Club was the leader in the effort to elect John Kerry and was the organization primarily in charge of GOTV (Get Out The Vote) in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties in 2004.

They were notably unsuccessful, with Kerry faring worse then Gore had four years previously and with Bush improving on his prior effort.

Does this mean that environmental issues are not winners in Bay area elections?

Not necessarily. Rice was actually in charge of the Sierra Club's election year 527 (so called after the section of the IRS code that governs these particular non-profit entities) campaign in 2004, but the senior staff member for Florida was Frank Jackalone.

Jackalone's relations with the Sierra Club membership in Florida have never been good and he was often criticized, both within and outside the Sierra Club, for his management skills and lack of political experience. He has since seen many of duties, especially staff supervision, taken over by Jonathan Ullman in the Sierra Club's Miami office.

Environmental issues have never been effectively utilized in the electoral process here in the past, but the broader understanding of the issue of global warming, including Gov. Crist's decision taking the issue to heart, may change that dynamic. Harrelson is untested as a candidate, but has been a strong leader in the environmental activist community and if she can translate that into volunteers and campaign contributions, environmentalists could send a strong voice to the St. Petersburg City Council.

We'll see. The first round of voting will be September 11, but with the surfeit of candidates, it seems certain to go to a run off.


At 8/17/2007 02:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Protecting the environment has over
70% support in the bay area. The challenge is that those most interested are those who are most likely to destroy it: the developers. If people do not elect leaders who will insist that development adds to the quality of life in Florida, we will destroy it.

At 8/17/2007 05:29:00 PM, Blogger Campaign Manager said...

My suspicion is that 70% doesn't mean anything, because I have seen polls with approximately the same numbers that indicate that voters do not rank the environment very high among the issues that they use to determine who get their vote.

There have been exceptions. Congressman Pombo in California lost his seat in 2006 in significant part due to his environmental positions being largely out of step with the district.

The question is not whether people value the environment, the question is whether a candidate like Cathy can turn it into an issue that drives voting behavior, which is something we have not seen.

As a native Floridian who has watched untouched areas disappear and our beaches constantly being threatened, I absolutely support anything that makes the environment someting that drives voting behavior, but it simply has not happened here yet.

At 8/19/2007 07:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The environment is widely felt, but not always deeply felt. It is an issue to motivate the base, not to persuade. There have been some changes lately to tilt in Cathy's favor: the public is sick of how local govt guts the environment and there is little trust there.

However, while she stresss her leadership in enviro issues, she is also stressing her financial background just as much.

She is a Shore Acres (democrat) running against two (republican) guys who live in Snell Isle, who do not connect as well to the entire district, much less the entire city.

Gephart is a non factor. Montanari stakes his entire resume on the airport issue, and Dudley is plain crazy. It would bne interesting to see if Montanari backs a runway expansion to accomodate large jets- now the pilot has a liabilty instead of a strength.

Cathy is sensible, has the professional background to lend to council in budget matters, and is a refreshingly qualified environmentalist who isn't crazy and who "gets it" that it has to work with the local economy.

Also, with Flowers gone, we need more women on council, right?

At 8/19/2007 01:13:00 PM, Anonymous Karl Nurse said...

Campaign Manager, please send me
your name, email and phone number.
I'd like to have a cup of coffee with you. Karl Nurse, 572-9311 (w)

At 8/19/2007 11:23:00 PM, Blogger Campaign Manager said...

7:57 am - you are right to point out that Cathy is not a one-dimensional candidate. She is smart enough to know that she won't win the election unless she runs on a variety of issues (with a single message).


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