Is Our League of Conservation Voters in League With "Corporate Greenwashing" and "Go Along, Get Along" Politics and "Politics As Usual" ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Is Our League of Conservation Voters in League With "Corporate Greenwashing" and "Go Along, Get Along" Politics and "Politics As Usual"

Maybe. Maybe not....but it is odd that when the most environmentally committed candidate ever to run for county executive does not get endorsed by the group whose job it is to endorse pro-environment candidates, one has to wonder.

Anne Arundel Chapter of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters Co-chairs endorsed incumbent County Executive John Leopold. Co-chairs Kincey Potter and Bob Gallagher said that the endorsement is based on Leopold's proven record of actions to protect and restore environment. A list of such accomplishments was provided on the LCV website at and which provide and comment upon below.

Reaction to the interesting endorsement was swift. "This is 'go along to get along' politics and it is no surprise that the LCV has chosen to back the incumbent and the status quo" said Green Party Candidate Mike Shay.  "I think environmental voters know that the status quo isn't good enough anymore and see the LCV endorsement for what it is. Real change comes about when courageous decisions are made inthe face of powerful influences, which was clearly not the case here."

Democratic challenger Joanna Conti said, “It’s unfortunate that as the County’s rivers and the Bay continue to deteriorate, the LCV settled for mediocrity. Real leadership means insisting on real progress in cleaning up our waterways, and that is what Joanna Conti is promising to do. The environmental community should be outraged at this timid act of ‘politics as usual.’”
Noted local political scientist, author and Bay advocate Howard Ernst quickly weighed in. ACP provides comments following Ernst's editorial below, but before that, let us see what the LCV points to on its website as to why it endorsed Leopold. My response follows in parentheses.:

+Stepping up enforcement of critical area and other environmental laws

(Janet Owens had next to NO enforcement so "stepping up" enforcement is essentially doing what is expected)

+Expanded preservation of open space and green spaces including: creation of the South River Greenway of almost 1000 acres of protected land; purchase of about 500 acres including 183 acres around Jug Bay; preservation of the Naval Academy Dairy Farm

(Gotta give him credit for this one. But interesting to note, the purchase of land near Wayson's Corner -which is where they wanted to build a Target-essentially wiped out the budget for land preservation for that year.)

+Completion of strong General Development plan that preserves limited growth for South County and other rural areas with particpation from the environmental community

(He only involved the community AFTER there was an uproar about the lack of citizen involvement. Even then it was only an "advisory" panel.)

+Increased impact fees to pay for infrastructure as a result of new development

(Once again, this is something any reasonable county executive should be  expected to do especially during times of economic crisis. And something that Owens refused to do. In fact she misspent or non-spent the funds she did collect so once again...lowered expectations.)

+Progressive re-write of Articles 16, 17 and 18 to implement new environmentally sensitive stormwater regulations for development and to minimize hard surfaces caused by development

(The county was required by state law to rewrite the stormwater laws)

+ Proposed legislation to provide modest funding to deal with pollution coming from unmanaged stormwater and a pledge to make this a priority in the coming term

("Modest"? We need better than modest for what is happening right now. Once again Owens did NOTHING on this issue while she was in office so now we get "modest" funding and it is something to be excited about?)

+Appointment of agency heads who understand environmental issues and work with the environmental community to make progress.

(Once again, this is something any reasonable county executive should do but we didn't have under Owens.)

All in all, while Leopold may have a good general environmental record and has made improvements, but has he really show strong leadership as an environmentalist to warrant this endorsement?____________________________________
And now, comments from Howard Ernst, followed by my response:

When making political endorsements, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has a long track record of passing over outstanding environmental candidates for lesser candidates that they deem are more “electable.” Regrettably for the Bay, their newly formed local chapter appears appears determined to continue this counterproductive practice.

By favoring incumbents and major party candidates LCV is perpetuating the inherent bias against true environmental candidates, who often run as underdogs.

Unfortunately this is fairly typical behavior for an interest group that does not have enough clout to meaningfully influence the outcome of an election, but wants elected officials to take them seriously after elections.

The problem is, of course, the endorsements do exactly the opposite of what they are intended to do. Instead of providing the time-pressed public with a reliable tool for quickly identifying the most pro-Bay/pro-environment candidate, the group’s endorsement often maintains the status quo—which we all know is devastating for the Bay.
While some might blame the composition of the local LCV’s board for its myopia (after all their board does include the head of the Home Builders Association of Maryland and the head of Eastern Petroleum) the group’s problems run deeper than the influence of a few well-funded board members or corporate greenwashing.
It appears that the group simply lacks the confidence to judge candidates based solely on their environmental commitment. LVC falsely believes that there is influence to be gained by supporting the lesser of two candidates, so long as their candidate of choice is the favorite to win a contest.

I am afraid that LCV's most recent endorsement of John Leopold in the County Executive race tells you more about the character of the local LCV chapter than it does about the environmental record of the candidates.

Make no mistake, there is only one true environmental champion running in this race (one candidate who supports a storm water utility, one candidate who refuses to take contributions from developers, and one candidate who has been on the front lines of the county’s environmental fights or more than a decade), and his name is Mike Shay.

Mike Shay is not just the most environmentally friendly candidate in the race, he is arguably the most environmentally friendly candidate EVER to run for County Executive in Anne Arundel County.

People who closely follow environmental matters in this region know Mike Shay and his impressive record of environmental accomplishments. Unfortunately the bulk of the voters who care about the Bay (but who are consumed by the pressing demands of their busy lives) rely on groups like LCV to point them in the right direction.

In this case, LCV did the voters a tremendous disservice.

-Howard Ernst (author of Chesapeake Bay Blues and Fight for the Bay)
The views expressed here are the authors alone and do not represent the official position of any group or government entity.
And now, ACP comments.....Right on. I believe that Leopold has a good environmental record in many respects but is he the strongest and most committed environmental candidate? Not likely. Democratic challenger Joanna Conti's words suggest she is a strong environmental candidate but Conti, who ran a few years ago for office in Colorado, has no local or regional record. However, and this is NOT an endorsement, but there is no doubt that Green Mike Shay has a long and proven track record of protecting our environment in this county. If anything, as I have said to him and in public, he is perhaps too focused on environmental issues to the exclusion of other issues. Yet, surely this must have been a difficult vote for at least some on the local LCV, some of whom know Shay personally, but who knows? They refuse to release their surveys given to candidates--which is absurdly ridiculous, lacks transparency and calls into question their entire process. They send out a lengthy and detailed survey but why can't they share this with voters?

Furthermore, Ernst raises good questions about having corporate interests on board--heh, heh, "on board"...but honestly, such composition can go both ways.  I do not believe it is necessarily a bad thing but it should be watched and understood in context. However, since LCV is by definition a "special interest group" it should base its decisions and endorsements solely on their special interest which is to say which candidate will best serve to promote and further their special interests? In  that regard it is clearly Mike Shay, but with other considerations entering in, as outlined by Leopold, it makes LCV's decision a bit more...understandable. Not necessarily correct or appropriate, but more understandable.

Furthermore, I am not happy with how  it endorsed Democrat Chris Trumbauer in County Concil Six before the filing deadline! Republican Doug Burkhardt was excluded from the process--and according to him, LCV asked him to fill out the lengthy survey EVEN THOUGH IT HAD ANNOUNCED ITS ENDORSEMENT.  Before this even happened, ACP contacted LCV Chair Kincey Potter questioning why an endorsement happened before the filing deadline. Potter told ACP that they were not aware anyone else was entering the race.  Hmmm...guess LCV had that one wrong. Strike two.

Finally, LCV Co-chair Bob Gallagher, who is chairman of the board of the West-Rhode River Keeper failed to recuse himself from voting when the endorsement for Trumbauer was made. Trumbauer is the West-Rhode River Keeper. Gallagher has said that he is a volunteer, unpaid member on each board which therefore presented no problem or dilemma. I disagree. There may not be an clear financial relationship, but certainly Gallagher must have a say in employing Trumbauer. Recusing himself would have made the entire process seem more transparent and above-board..heh heh "above board"...Strike three...

LCV Co-chair Kincey Potter would only say that "We endorsed Leopold because of his administration’s positive environmental record as we indicated in our statement. No, we do not release questionnaires, as we have said previously, because we have tell the candidates [sic] that we will treat their responses confidentially."

Hmm. Why don't they just not make such promises again? If a candidate is worried, well, duh!! This is after all a public election and candidate's views should be made public.

If you want to understand Ernst's position more fully, read his book "Fight for the Bay" or visit .

OK. So now that I've burned my bridges with the LCV, let's see what happens next with your intrepid blogger, whose lifelong environmental credentials are unimpeachable...hey, has anybody had fresh peaches lately???
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William Bassart said...

In an Utopian world, what you have here makes sense. But we need to come back to the real world for a bit.

Mike Shay, by anyone's measure, does not stand a chance to win this election and the only thing he will do is get his "base" and draw some marginal votes from the two other candidates.

As you so correctly stated, Conti is a complete unknown, She is new to the area. Her husband writes "how to get rich" books and she claims to have a history of the area becasue she grew up in Delaware and occasionally came here on a sailboat. She ran against Tancredi in CO, but that is really all we KNOW about Joanna Conti.

Leopold is a strong incumbent. In a year when the "D" moniker is akin to the scarlet letter,his "R" status will offset any anti-incumbency feelings. And in all honesty he has done a good job for the county. Could he have done more for the environment? Absolutely. Could he have done more for education? Sure.

If the LCV tosses their limited weight (as Ernst points out) to a losing candidate, realistically they run the risk of having less than adequate representation in the administration. Something, I think we can all agree is not the desired outcome.

So, rather than put it all on #34, they have decided to play red. It makes sense.

Now you couple that with the Trumbauer endorsement and it makes perfect sense. Now they may have some influence as an organization with the County Exec, but now there is influence coming from the council.

And I agree, it is unfortunate that we do have to accept "marginal" successes based on the performance of Janet Owens. But it is a different world now. And while I used to be able to count on an annual bonus at my job, I have not seen one in three years and you better believe I would celebrate a "marginal" bonus!

Big Daddy Mike said...

Good work. Ernst is a bright, driven guy and I admire him but his is not the only lens through which to see this race.

I believe that any politician in the County Exec's office who employs Ron Bowen as their head of Public Works is doing the right thing. Leopold is not the leader the county and the bay need, but I think Ron is. Ron is a committed, driven, professional guy with significant practical experience with projects cleaning up the county's waterways. I recommend you call him and ask him about them, but give yourself plenty of time to listen.

Change is not always bad nor is it good. Changing execs right now may or may not be good for the Bay, regardless of what candidates SAY. The LCV endorsement represents a first crack at this political game and you point out their imperfections. I hope they learn a few lessons but the Ernst lens of 'light green vs dark green' lacks nuance and doesn't reflect the situation we are in politically. Even if everyone in AACo became dark green overnight and we had a dark green council and Exec, there are still major prioritization, resource and execution issues that exist.

It is up to every one of us to demand more for the cleanup of our Chesapeake, every day, and, most importantly, do what we can as individuals to affect positive change.

As usual, keep up the great work.

Paul Foer said...

Mr. Bassart Excellent letter with many good points. I did, as you say, cover some of them, but the big questions remain. Will LCV lose credibility and support from among its logical constituents because of this, thus rendering it less effective? Is their task to endorse the best candidate or the one most likely to win? By not endorsing the strongest environmental candidate, they lessen his chances of winning. And finally, will LCV achieve its legislative and political goals by supporting weakler environmental candidates simply because they may be winnable? Is it not this politics as usual which has helped spoil our waterways? I concede it must havce been a tough decision for them, but based on what I document about how they operate, it appears that they believe the path to success is to play politics rather than to stand up for what is needed. That is my point and that of the other critics. Please send an email to me and identify yourself as I was unable to verify you. Thank you. PMF aka ACP

Paul Foer said...

Thanks very much--You also raise many good points. I greatly admire Howard and as a veteran of the environmental movement, I understand and appreciate your points. I believe that his positions appear to lack nuance at times and he seems to desire an over relioance on command and control regulation. However....and this is key...we need highly critical and outspoken advocates on the edge to pull the center outward. If we begin by asking for three or four things, we might get one or zero. But if we begin by demanding five or six things, we may still only get one or zero...but we could get five or six whereas you can enver get five or six by only asking for three or four. In other words, taking hardline positions stretches the envelope, pulls the center outward and may ultimately bring more progress. That's dark green versus light green and considering that in 1972 we proclaimed that all our rivers would become swimmable and fishable....well you get the point.

Will Small said...

Good work, good follow-up comments.

To me, the go-along, get along politics that Shay referred to is the status quo for the last 30 years, my entire life, and the entire life of the so-called restoration effort of the Chesapeake. Lets face it, the results are a disgrace on all of us. Howard Ernst's effort to take us, our leaders and all the processes up to date to task is still sugar coating it to me. Older Chesapeake natives speak of clear water to the depths of 15+ feet. We have 1 foot in the full sun. The Chesapeake is a tribute to the failure of our democracy. It represents that we allow generation after generation of leader to spew raw sewage about what they are going to do for the bay while they do nothing yet get re-elected. Our democratic process has failed because the only way to get elected is to accept bribes from developers who's interest is to continue business as usual, to hell with the bay, democratic integrity, and our quality of life, for their profit.

The LCV effectively offered Leopold their pathetic bribe of endorsement in hope that maybe he will listen to their whimper for the bay. The only thing Leopold has done is his job, as mandated by the state and now the feds. Thankfully, hopefully, despite decades of county and state level indifference to the environment, the TDML demands placed because we did not take care of our own house, might do something. Our local leaders have done pathetic little and should at least have the decency to turn all the dirty money they accept from polluting corporations over to the Land Preservation Fund.

Anyone, ANYONE with a D or an R next to their name in the polls is suspect and if there is an option other than those, they should be given strong consideration just because of not being of the disgraced parties. Those parties have colluded to run our bay and our country into the ground. They both have lie-riddled blood on their hands, and disgraced the taxpayers treasury. If You want business as usual, get rid of them.

On a local level it is developers and chicken farmers verses improving local quality of life and local watermen - the local fishery has been converted into a runoff and chicken feces bacteria infested cess pool draining our disgrace into the Atlantic, but we keep making more so it flows ever more; until we elect candidates that will stand up for it or our country is taken over by people who respect its natural resources and have a process that can work to protect them. Maybe the Chinese? I think we're just a few TV's away from owing them a state or two. They would probably see the money we lost by killing our fishery and fix it with their non-democratic, non-blowhard gridlock, process.

I am a Chesapeake Bay supporter, therefore I am a Mike Shay supporter. There is no other choice.

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