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Sierra Club election hinges on role of immigration in population growth

Associated Press
April 20, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO -- The fiercely contested board elections for the Sierra Club will be decided Wednesday in a vote that could change the direction of the nation's most influential environmental group.

At stake is the 112-year-old organization's policy on immigration -- a politically charged issue many club leaders have been reluctant to address.

Sierra Club leaders have warned that anti-immigration advocates are trying to take over the organization and its $100 million annual budget by electing board candidates who want to restrict immigration.

In recent years, an increasingly vocal faction of the San Francisco-based Sierra Club has advocated a tougher stance on immigration, calling U.S. population growth the greatest danger to the environment.

Leaders of that faction have accused the club's leadership of unfairly trying to influence the election by using club resources to back candidates picked by the club's nominating committee.

Five three-year seats on the 15-member board are up for grabs in this year's election, which has been conducted by mail and the Internet since March 1. Members can vote until 9 a.m. PDT Wednesday, and results will be announced at noon.

Fewer than 10 percent of the club's 750,000 members have voted in recent elections, making it easy for candidates to win board seats with slim backing.

But already a record number of members -- more than 168,000 -- have voted in this year's highly publicized election, up from 68,000 last year, according to club President Larry Fahn.

"If there's any silver lining to this negative conflict, it's that more members are participating in our board elections, and that's encouraging," said Fahn, who has endorsed all eight of the nominated candidates.

"I think they represent a very diverse group of committed, long-term activists who have a wide range of experience in our grassroots structure," Fahn said.

A group of past and present Sierra Club leaders have organized a movement called Groundswell Sierra to defeat what they call an attempted takeover by outside groups.

And the Sierra Club, with the board's consent, sent out a ballot notice warning members that non-environmental groups were trying to influence the vote.

In February, three challenger candidates -- former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, Frank Morris and David Pimentel -- filed a lawsuit, claiming that club leaders were interfering with the election. They later dropped the lawsuit under threat of a countersuit seeking reimbursement for legal fees.

Lamm, co-author of "The Immigration Time Bomb: The Fragmenting of America," said Tuesday he wasn't optimistic about his chances of winning, noting efforts to oppose him and other dissident candidates.

"I can hardly imagine a scenario where I would win," Lamm said. "Let other people make the decision about whether (the election) was unfair."

In recent months, Groundswell Sierra and its network of volunteers have reached out to club members by phone, e-mail and postcards, encouraging them to vote for the nominated candidates.

"The integrity of the club's grassroots democratic culture is at stake," said Groundswell spokesman Clayton Daughenbaugh. If the anti-immigration faction succeeds, he said, "the organization's credibility and effectiveness as an environmental advocate would be greatly diminished."

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