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.