BY MIKE PERSLEY
Three local state delegate candidates picked up high-profile environmental organization endorsements this week, the first major advocacy group endorsements in the race.
The Sierra Club and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters endorsed both Will Smith and Darian Unger while the latter also gave their approval for David Moon.
“We’re very lucky in Montgomery County to have a number of great candidates who can go to Annapolis and get things done for the environment,” says Karla Raetting, Executive Director of the Maryland League of Conservation voters.
Smith, Unger, and Moon are just three of nine candidates who are fighting for the two available seats for District 20 in the state’s House of Delegates. The district represents most of Silver Spring and Takoma Park.
Will Simth, Photo by Bill Brown.
If elected, Smith says that he’ll offer strong support for EmPOWER Maryland, the state’s program to reduce demand for natural gas and promote energy efficiency.
The program establishes a renewable energy portfolio standard that requires the state to reduce its energy consumption by 15 percent by 2015.
“I believe it is vital to support programs such as EmPOWER Maryland in a robust fashion, as it will be key to securing our energy future in an environmentally sensible way,” says Smith.
Smith also says he supports continued funding to build the Purple Line, which in completion, he says, will take nearly 70,000 people and 17,000 cars off the road each day.
He also wants to prevent hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, in Maryland until a thorough study of its environmental impact is completed.
Darian Unger. Photo by Bill Brown
Darian Unger say’s he’d like to see Maryland turn into a global leader in producing renewable energy sources, and has an expansive approach to making sure it happens.
He’s supporting pending legislation in Annapolis that will increase the state’s renewable energy portfolio to require 40 percent of its energy to come from renewable sources, up from the current requirement of 20 percent.
He calls it a first step toward making renewable energy favorable to the energy market.
He’d also like to implement a carbon pricing system similar to programs in other states the charge fees to companies that produce high levels of smog.
“If there were a cost assigned to carbon, renewable energy would be economically competitive,” he says.
Unger worked as an engineer in an energy lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before coming to Howard University to teach economics. Much of his research focuses on developing environmental energy technologies; experience that he says sets him apart from the other candidates.
“I’m coming at this from the standpoint of an environmental engineer, not a politician,” he says. “I know what technology is available, and I know how we can use it.”
David Moon. Photo by Bill Brown
David Moon wants to end state supported subsidies and regulations that encourage the production of fossil fuels.
The environmental industry in Maryland, he says, is driven by industry interests, undermining the state’s efforts to deal with climate change. Proof is in the state’s recent efforts to build a natural gas processing facility in Cove Point.
“Being an environmentalist is not just about promoting renewable energy,” he says. “It’s about rejecting dirty energy sources.”
Moon says he’d end the state’s energy subsidies and double the renewable energy portfolio. He’d also like to ban corporate contributions to state candidates so that their influence doesn’t dominate environmental legislation.
It’s too early to tell whether the endorsements will have an effect on any of the candidates’ campaigns, but recent research shows that political endorsements, particularly in primary campaigns, can give a decisive edge to a candidate.
A study done by Political Research Quarterly in 2011 shows that in cases where each candidate is viewed as having similar levels of experience, an endorsement by a partisan political organization can push one candidate ahead of another.
The reason, the study states, is that as opposed to in presidential campaigns, where information about each candidate is widely known, a primary voter is often less-informed about a candidate’s positions, and relies on tools such as endorsements to get a sense of a candidate.
“In races such as congressional primaries, to which the press pays little attention and in which voters have less information about the candidates, elite cues such as endorsements have the biggest impact.”
Primary endorsements convey a candidate’s credibility, the study says. They are a way for voters to know whether a candidate shares their ideals.
“To the degree that a primary electorate is a partisan electorate, one might also expect that endorsements from individuals and groups generally associate with the party’s goals.”
John Sides, an Associate Professor of Political Science who researches American political campaigns, says that a singular endorsement will not likely have an effect on a campaign, but an accumulation of several endorsements can have a significant impact.
Writing in his book “Gamble”, which studied the 2012 presidential election, Sides states:
“In the 1980 to 2004 primaries, a candidate’s share of endorsements during the invisible primary was associated with how many delegates that candidate won in the party convention months later-even after taking into account other things that might have affected delegate share, such as fund-raising, media attention, and victories in early caucuses and primaries.”
State Senator Jamie Raskin says that when he ran in 2006, the endorsements he received provided him a huge “psychological and political boost” as he took on 32-year incumbent Ida Ruben.
“I went from impossible to inevitable within 9 months, totally through the force of grassroots insurgent politics,” he says.
Raskin earned endorsements from organizations such as Progressive Neighbors, 21st Century Democrats, the National Organization for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America, etc., none of which have endorsed a candidate yet.