You couldn’t call it a landslide by any means, but the 1982 election — our first major environmentalist foray into national electoral politics — produced many satisfying victories, a few disappointing losses, and a determination to do even better next time.
The Friends of the Earth Political Action Committee, to take one handy (and perhaps slightly self-congratulating) example, supported a total of 48 green candidates in 25 states. Of these, 34 — or 70% — won, and in many cases the environmental support played a big part in the victories.
The most dramatic win took place in New Mexico, where incumbent Republican Senator Harrison Schmitt was defeated by Jeff Bingaman, the state’s Attorney General. Environmentalists put 1,500 volunteers into the Bingaman campaign, setting the stage for one of the biggest upsets of this election.
In other key contests, environmentalists were credited with saving Republican Senator Bob Stafford of Vermont in a tough primary, and then with helping him prevail in the general election. Stafford is a champion of clean air, and one of the few high ranking Republican members of the Senate sympathetic to environmental concerns.
The biggest disappointment occurred in California, where Governor Jerry Brown running with enthusiastic environmental backing — lost his race for the U.S. Senate.
However, Congressman Philip Burton — a San Francisco Democrat and one of the best friends environmentalists have in Washington — won what the newspapers called “the toughest race of his long career.” With the help of determined environmentalist support, Burton overcame a heavily financed campaign mounted by a popular Republican state senator.
In other election news, the nuclear-freeze initiative won in eight of nine states (only Arizona defeated it), but container-deposit initiatives lost in four of five states (a bottle bill was approved in Massachusetts).
One odd note: Berkeley, California environmentalists have been battling among themselves over two seemingly good ideas. The city fathers (and mothers) are favoring a plan to burn garbage to generate electricity, which sounds fine … especially since Berkeley’s refuse currently gets dumped along the shore of San Francisco Bay. But others now claim that the “burn plant” would be wasteful of resources. It would be much better, they say, to separate the various elements of the trash to be reused as fertilizer, building material, etc. What’s more, they point out that an uncontrollable conglomeration of discarded matter would be incinerated, letting lord-knows-what out into the atmosphere through the smokestack. So the “anti” faction proposed a five-year moratorium on any garbage-burning facility in Berkeley, and it passed with 60% of the vote.