SAN FRANCISCO — Sierra Club leaders have beaten back an effort by anti-immigration forces to gain control of the nation’s largest and most influential environmental group.
In elections for the Sierra Club’s 15-member board of directors, candidates picked by the leadership won all five open seats in a landslide, according to vote tallies released Wednesday, several hours after voting closed. The bitterly contested election had been conducted by mail and online since March 1.
“It’s a stunning rejection of the anti-immigration forces,” said Adam Werbach, the club’s president from 1996 to 1998. “I think people realized that there’s no role for racism or anti-immigrant feelings in the environmental movement.”
The five board members elected from a pool of 17 candidates were Nick Aumen, Dave Karpf, Jan O’Connell, Sanjay Ranchod and Lisa Renstrom, said club spokeswoman Kerri Glover. All but Ranchod and Karpf were incumbents, and each received at least 110,000 votes.
None of the runners-up received more than 43,000 votes.
“I think the members have shown wisdom and level-headedness in soundly rejecting some candidates who would have liked to alter the Sierra Club’s agenda,” said Larry Fahn, president of the 112-year-old club.
Record participation in vote
A record number of members — 171,616 out of 757,058, or nearly 23 percent — participated in the vote. Less than 10 percent took part in other recent elections.
The election was widely seen as a referendum on the San Francisco-based club’s neutral stance on immigration. In recent years, a growing faction has called for restrictions on U.S. immigration, saying the nation’s growing population and its consumption of natural resources are the greatest threat to the environment.
Before the election, Sierra Club leaders warned that anti-immigration forces were trying to take over the organization and its $100 million annual budget. With the board’s consent, the club sent out a ballot notice warning members that non-environmental groups were trying to influence the vote.
In addition, some club leaders organized Groundswell Sierra, which used volunteers to reach out to club members by phone, e-mail and postcards and encouraged them to vote for candidates picked by the club’s nominating committee.
Lawsuit claimed interference
Three of the challenger candidates — former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, Frank Morris and David Pimentel — filed a lawsuit in February, claiming that club leaders were interfering with the election. They later dropped the suit under threat of a countersuit seeking reimbursement for legal fees. None of the three received more than 15,000 votes.
Lamm and Pimentel didn’t immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
Club leaders who supported the challengers said they weren’t surprised by Wednesday’s results. Board member Paul Watson, who heads the Sea Shepherd Society, accused the club’s leadership of unfairly trying to influence with the election.
“It was dirty politics of the worst order,” Watson said. “It was completely unfair.”
Watson said the Sierra Club cannot afford to ignore the population issue.
“It’s the most pressing environmental issue of the 21st century,” Watson said. “I find it cowardly for any environmental organization to avoid talking about the issue of human overpopulation.”
For next year’s club election, board members have agreed to ask voters whether the Sierra Club should take a position on immigration.
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