Democrat candidates for the states of New Jersey and Virginia, who were both hailed for their green credentials, both swept to victory, in elections in which the Sierra Club, the US’ largest environmental NGO, said that the environment played a role, with both pledging to protect clean water and rein in suburban sprawl. In both states, all of the candidates jockeyed to claim the environmental mantle, the Sierra Club said.

The New Jersey race placed great emphasis on the environment, with open space protection serving as a major issue along with protecting clean air and water. A recent Philadelphia Inquirer story, entitled Environment Stands Out As An Election Day issue said that “Jerseyans are not just being politically correct, but they recognise the importance of the environment for their personal quality of life, the state’s economy, and the value of their homes”. The New Jersey Sierra Club endorsed Democrat Jim McGreevey on those issues and called the Republican candidate a “threat to the environment”. The Democrat ended 10 years of Republican rule in the state, with a 14% advantage over his rival.

In Virginia, Mark Warner stood out for his plans to protect water quality, curb out-of-state waste, safeguard open space, and clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Clean drinking water and protecting open spaces were listed as key election issues on the Democrat’s election website. Warner is the first Democrat to win statewide office in Virginia since 1994, and beat his Republican rival by 5%.

“The citizens of New Jersey and Virginia can trust that their air and water, shorelines and parks are in safer hands as a result of the choices they made in the ballot booth,” said Margaret Conway, Sierra Club Political Director. “Voters care about improving quality of life and protecting the environment, and they responded by electing pro-environment governors in New Jersey and Virginia.” The Green Party was nowhere to be seen in either state’s results.

Of 113 known town, city, county, or state ballot measures in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington on 6 November, 82 were approved by a total of 1.3 million voters, a passage rate of 73%. In all, $905 billion dollars in funding was secured for providing more parks and better facilities and extra open space for the public.

Among the largest successful measures were:

  • $200 million for New Jersey’s Morris County for open space, recreation, and farmland preservation, secured through a referendum to increase the county open space tax by an additional two cents per $100 dollars of assessed value, to a new total of five cents per $100;
  • $115 million for Colorado’s Great Outdoors Colorado programme, acquiring and preserving more ‘open space’ lands;
  • $80 million in the City of Houston, Texas, for acquisitions of and improvements to parks and recreational facilities;
  • $60 million in Harris County, Texas, for the acquisition and development of parks;
  • $50 million in Old Bridge Township, New Jersey, for open space acquisition;
  • $43 million in Douglass County, Colorado for open space acquisition; and
  • $20 million in Orange County NC to purchase land and easements for watershed protection.

The results are on top of 77 successful open space ballot measures that passed earlier this year, which created an additional $258 million in funding for parks and open space which, when added to 6 November’s successes, have generated $1.16 billion in funding. However, in 2000, voters approved 174 local and state open space measures, creating $7.5 billion in new funding.

“Americans continue to support public land conservation to a dramatic extent,” commented Will Rogers, President of the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a land conservation NGO which assessed the results. “As in recent years, voters across the country are eager to protect the unique landscapes of their communities, and they are willing to pay for it.”

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