November 26, 2002 - From the November, 2002 issue

TPL Lobbyist Analyzes National Election Results: Who Are The Environmental Winners And Losers?

The November election in California featured a couple of initiatives important to the direction of statewide policies regarding open space and land conservation: Propositions 50 and 51. TPR is pleased to present this interview with Bill Johnston, Executive Director of the Conservation Campaign, a lobbying organization associated with the Trust for Public Land, in which Johnston analyzes the national results of the November election with regard to issues of land conservation and the environment.

Bill, as the Executive Director of the Conservation Campaign, connected with the Trust for Public Land, how do you politically interpret the results for enviornmental organizations of the November 5th national election?

If I were to summarize, I would say that environmentalism-thought of as a liberal idea-lost, while conservation won big. If you look at the outcomes of the races in which the National League of Conservation Voters-an organization affiliated with the Democratic party even though it seeks to be bipartisan-was involved, I think they lost 10 out of 12.

If you look, on the other hand, at state and local bond issues--in which we were involved in many across the country, although not all--more than 80 percent of those, where the voters were voting for parks and open space, saving the land near their homes, were approved by the same elector. In many cases, you could see the results among the same people who were voting against transportation bonds who might be voting their wallets for many kinds of bonds. But, when it came to park bonds, they were winning, in many cases, easily.

The state of Virginia was a good example of that. Local voting for transportation initiatives in Hampton Roads and in Northern Virginia, the two most populous parts of the state, went down big-minimum 55-45 in Northern Virginia. Park bonds in the same state, won 70-30. Same constituencies, different kind of vote.

Let's bring it home to California. Obviously Prop 50, the water bond, passed; Prop 51 did not. How do you read the results of both and the California results in general?

We were supporters of both Propositions 50 and 51, as well as having been supporters of Proposition 40 earlier this year. Frankly, we wished all would have won. I think both measures, 50 and 51, were aggressively criticized in every major print market in the state for being either too beholden to developers, too much earmarked funds going around the legislative process. We saw all of those flaws or problems, but felt that overall, the conservation purpose overrode them. That's why we backed them.

Solving California's water problems is a high priority with every Californian: North and South, Democratic and Republican, ethnic and non-ethnic. It's an issue that resonates in California as it resonates all over the country. That is why we supported Prop 50.

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With Prop 51, while transportation is on everyone's mind, there was more inherent skepticism, fueled by the criticism that the Legislature, made of that measure, in particular, for going around the process.

Following the logic of your earlier comments, is your lobbying effort now going to be exclusively focused, on state and local measures that advance land conservation? Or, will you also be involved in what the federal government-the Senate, the House and the administration-can and might do with regard to land conservation and environmental issues?

Our work is exclusively focused, at this point, on state and local elections and the outcomes of those kinds of bond measures. There's clearly an interaction between what the Feds are doing and the funds available at the state and local level. It's very difficult, for example, to get federal approval or federal dollars without a state or local match. So we view these monies as very critical to leveraging whatever the number of federal dollars-and it looks like they'll be fewer-are going to be available in the future.

As far as California, we've won two very substantial increments to statewide funding this year. It's a great step forward for the state. We've won a few places in benefit assessment districts and in a very few places where we've been able to win a 2/3 majority to pass a local measure. Clearly people care most about the lands nearest to their homes. We would love to be able to make progress toward getting more local money locally voted on across the state of California. Hopefully and very optimistically, at some point we might be able to roll back the super majority to a lower number than 2/3. Or, it may involve more use of benefit assessment districts where there is an appeal to the local groups. We'll be focused increasingly not at the state level, where we've made so much progress, but much more at the local level.

Much of the national meeting of Trust for Public Land in Los Angeles this month has been focused on the urban agenda for Trust for Public Land. Comment on this urban focus and its relationship to your work.

The urban agenda is really in its infancy, but likely to grow rapidly.The reason is that the conservation issue is taking hold with every kind of constituency. This used to be viewed as an upper-middle class and a white issue, but what we've seen in Los Angeles and what we're seeing in the rest of the country, is that every other constituency-poor people, people of color, every political stripe-are seeing this park and open space and recreation issue near their home as mattering to their quality of life. We think the urban agenda is really going to grow in the years ahead.

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