03/29/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hamos, Quinn Top Green Slate

I early-voted this morning and was struck that, in the midst of so much political gloom and doom nationally, there were so many excellent environmental candidates to vote for this year, at the federal, state and local levels. I can't remember another year when there were so many solid green candidates, and so few nose-holders. See here for a comprehensive list of candidates endorsed by the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club.

Topping my list is Julie Hamos, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for Congress in the 10th congressional district, the seat being vacated by Mark Kirk, who now is running for U.S. Senate.

Hamos has been a state rep in Springfield for 12 years, and has earned a reputation as a smart and effective environmental champion. She spearheaded the effort to reform funding for mass transit. She passed an important bill tightening energy efficiency standards for new buildings. And she launched a promising initiative to expand access to healthy, local food. Last year, Hamos received the Environmental Leadership Award from the Illinois Environmental Council.

Hamos figured out what it takes to be a difference maker in Springfield, and we desperately need that kind of game-changing ability working on behalf of environmental causes in Washington. Also, Hamos matches up better than her opposition does against Elizabeth Coulson, the likely Republican nominee. Coulson has a good environmental record in Springfield.

Quick aside regarding Mark Kirk, my outgoing Congressman, who is on the Republican ballot for U.S. Senate: Last summer I wrote on these pages that Kirk ought to be commended for being one of the few House Republicans to vote for the climate change bill that passed the House, and is now awaiting action by the U.S. Senate. Then, shortly after announcing his run for the U.S. Senate, Kirk said that he regretted his vote, and pledged to vote against it if elected to the Senate.

Generally speaking, I'm not one to attack a politician for changing his mind. For the most part, they ought to reconsider their positions more often, not less. But look at what caused Kirk's reversal on the climate bill. There are a lot of reasons for an elected official to change his mind, but is there a worse one than that official's own short-term political self-interest? On something of such profound global, generational importance? I said it then and I'll reiterate it here: when you hear Mark Kirk talking in the campaign about his integrity and independence, remember his stand-up vote on the climate bill. And remember also how quickly he flip-flopped when the extreme fringe of his party twisted his arm for it.

Like President Obama, Governor Pat Quinn inherited an awful mess one year ago from an inept (or worse) predecessor and is now taking heat for not fixing everything in the first year. And in both cases, it's actually a dysfunctional legislature that is mostly to blame, but people are frustrated and ripping the top guy all the same. Unlike Obama, however, Governor Quinn needs to stand for election this year. And Quinn is taking his lumps for the financial disaster that he inherited and the legislature has refused to address.

Lost in all that noise is the fact that Pat Quinn is the greenest governor in Illinois history. Admittedly a low bar, but Quinn clears it by a lot. He has been a genuine champion of bringing green jobs to the state; boosting the long-awaited high speed rail network for the Midwest, with its hub in Chicago; and building up our nascent renewable energy industry in Illinois, with important new programs supporting wind energy, solar energy, and energy-efficiency. He's reopened the state parks that had been closed, and he's made solid appointments to the environmental agencies. I'd love to see what Governor Quinn could accomplish in a full term.

I live just over the county line, so I couldn't vote for Todd Connor for Metropolitan Water Reclamation Commissioner, but if you live in Cook County, you can and you should. Connor is running a spirited campaign for this mostly obscure, but environmentally significant, seat. He is running on the seemingly obvious proposition that we shouldn't be dumping sewage that hasn't been disinfected into Chicago River. Seems like it ought to be a no-brainer, but it'll be news to the current leadership there. Here's your chance to cast a good vote on the part of the ballot that most people overlook.

Also, I don't live in the 10th state legislative district (stretching from Lincoln Park southwest through Wicker Park, Bucktown, and into the near West Side), but I'm encouraging friends there to vote for Jonathan Goldman. Goldman headed the Illinois Environmental Council for seven years and stands out from a handful of Democrats challenging a weak incumbent, Anazette Collins. He's running a strong campaign and has won a slew of endorsements. Here's hoping Jonathan Goldman joins an emerging new generation of Chicago elected officials who are bright, committed, policy-savvy professionals, that came to office through years of public interest work, and not because they are someone's nephew or son-in-law.

If you've read this far, you probably care more than almost everyone else about these issues, so please make sure you actually do show up to vote. There may be some nasty weather Tuesday, so you might want to take advantage of early voting Wednesday and Thursday this week. With low turnout likely, your vote counts all the more.