Conservation Voters Endorsements Skew to Democrats

While many groups representing sportsmen and environmentalists sit on the electoral sidelines, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) and Maine Conservation Voters (MCV) are two powerhouses in this year’s election. Their endorsements influence many voters well beyond their members. Both groups include a nonprofit organization and a political action committee.

SAM’s candidate endorsements won’t be known until late September, but the MCV issued a list of its endorsed candidates last week. The entire list is now available at www.maineconservation.org.

The Maine Conservation Voters issues a well-publicized Environmental Scorecard each year, using roll call votes, and only those votes, to evaluate the performance of legislators. Because there are very few roll call votes on which to base scores, it makes it difficult if not impossible to come up with fair scores.

The MCV issued its 2012 Environmental Scorecard in early August. It is also available on the group’s website.

Unfortunately for MCV, they were only able to come up with four Senate and four House votes in 2011 and 4 Senate votes and 6 House votes in 2012 for their Scorecard. All but one Senate Democrat (Senator Troy Jackson, a logger from Aroostook County) scored higher than every Senate Republican. In the 151-member House, only five Republicans tied or exceeded the score of the lowest rated Democrat, giving the Scorecard a partisan slant – even though that is not the intent of the organization.

As you might expect, the Scorecard really aggravated Republican legislators – especially those who felt they’d done a good job on environmental issues, often parting with their party and/or governor on some of these issues.

A good example of the problems encountered with basing scores only on roll call votes would be Tom Saviello, Senate Chair of the critically important Natural Resources Committee, who got a score of 33. Saviello’s score was unfair and did not represent the outstanding job he did – against very strong pressure from the LePage Administration and some of his Republican Senate colleagues – in leading the Natural Resources Committee through some very difficult issues and creating positive results. Saviello did win some praise in the Scorecard’s narrative portion for his work on two bills.

The group’s candidate endorsements will do nothing to assuage Republicans angry over their low scores on the Environmental Scorecard. Although the group did endorse Saviello, 76 percent of its endorsements in Senate races went to Democrats, while just 14 percent went to Republicans, barely more than the 10 percent that went to Independent candidates.

Out of 21 endorsed candidates for the Senate, 16 are Democrats, 3 are Republicans, and 2 are Independents.

And the partisan divide grew larger in the MCV’s House endorsements, with 88 percent going to Democrats, just 7 percent to Republicans, and the remainder to Independents. Of the 74 House candidates that won endorsements, 65 are Democrats, 5 are Republicans, and 3 are Independents.

In Senate District 22, MCV endorsed both candidates, Republican Chris Rector (the incumbent) and Democrat Ed Mazurek (currently in the House). In my opinion, Rector – who is an independent-minded and conscientious legislator who often bucks his leadership (and governor) on key issues (especially the environment) – should not have had to share the endorsement in this race – particularly considering that Rector is the incumbent.

In two of the Senate races where MCV endorsed independent candidates, there is no Democratic candidate.  In an open House seat in District 82, MCV endorsed both the Republican and the Democratic candidate.

MCV’s very capable executive director, Maureen Drouin, told me, “We looked beyond the (Environmental Scorecard) scores and endorses Republicans who demonstrated courage (on our issues).”

But her Board’s decision to not endorse any legislator who voted for a “Takings” bill opposed by MCV skewed the endorsements heavily to Democrats. This issue is complicated, with two versions of the bill emerging from the Judiciary Committee. Neither was ultimately successful.

I don’t believe it is sensible or fair to use a single vote to direct a group’s candidate endorsements. And I feel especially badly that Rep. Russell Black did not get MCV’s endorsement. I called Black a hero for his staunch opposition to a key provision in a bill to reform the Land Use Regulation Commission.

He was the lone Republican holdout on that bill in the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee, and his stubborn resistance resulted in a significantly amended version of the bill that won broad nonpartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Now, we’ll await the candidate endorsements of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, whose endorsements have traditionally been quite different from those of the Maine Conservation Voters.

Seems funny, because we’re all conservationists and environmentalists, whether we hunt or hike, swim or ski or snowmobile, or spend our time fishing or bird watching. SAM and MCV ought to be able to agree on the candidates who share our outdoor values.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.