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Carl Pope Headshot

Pombo on the Ropes?

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More than 240 volunteers from the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society, and the League of Conservation voters greeted me in a park next to the Pleasanton, CA, City Hall on a beautiful October day. Their mission? To encourage environmental voters to vote -- either absentee or at the polls. Jerry McNerney, the wind energy advocate, has House Resources Chair Richard Pombo on the ropes. Pombo has been the subject of a truly unprecedented array of attacks by the state's editorial boards. A recent local story showed how Pombo's bill to weaken protections for wildlife was actually drafted to help his family's real estate speculations.

The Republicans have just dumped another $600,000 into the race, making a total of $1.3 million that they have spent to try to counter the efforts of these volunteers. Overall Pombo's campaign is likely to cost $5 million, and since there are probably about 10,000 votes at stake here, that's $500 a vote.This, plus Pombo's unwillingness to release his own polls, is pretty strong proof that he knows he is in trouble.

The Sierra Club Political Committee has identified 48,000 persuadable independent and Republican voters -- the kind of people who in the primary voted for Pete McCloskey (who has endorsed McNerney). In addition, we're joining forces with the Clean Water Fund to mobilize new Latino voters in San Joaquin. CWF has registered approximately 10,000 new Latino voters. The Sierra Club Political Committee will now mobilize these voters for Election Day.

But the White House is standing by its man. While Pombo continues to deny that his agenda includes drilling for oil and gas off California's coast, even though he's authorized a bill that would do exactly that, he's being positioned by the Bush Administration to control drilling decisions for the next two years. Todd Willens, Pombo's policy director at the House Resources Committee, has been named Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Interior Department. It was Willens whose trip to the Marianas Islands was paid for by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and who remains the key link in the Abramoff/Pombo chain. Now Willens -- and Pombo -- will get to peddle influence to a much bigger lobby than the Marianas sweatshop moguls -- big oil itself.

The kind of huge turnout that greeted me in Pleasanton is beginning to happen all over the country where the Club has organized its efforts to get environmental voters to the polls in unprecedented numbers. In Oregon, 150 people turned out to a rally for clean energy and Governor Kulongoski, many waving Sierra Club signs that read "Another Voter for Clean Air and Water." Volunteers went door to door in Seattle suburbs talking about Congressman Dave Reichert's denial of global warming and the need to move our country in the direction of solving the most important problem of our time. Neighbors phoned neighbors in Columbus talking about difference between Sherrod Brown and Mike DeWine on a new energy future. And Sierra Club staff and volunteers canvassed communities in Virginia Beach working to stop new oil drilling off the coast and protect the tourist economy by discussing Thelma Drake and Phil Kellam's positions.

And it's critical this is happening. The New York Times reported that the election is coming down to the efforts by the two parties to get out the vote, since about one third of those who voted in 2004 are at risk of staying home this year.