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The Single Issue Voter: A birder’s look at Elaine Marshall (D)

October 28, 2010

It’s that time again.  Time for all civic-minded citizens to put on their voting hats and determine what issues are important to them and which smooth-talking grifters are going to be the ones to pretend to care about them (too cynical?).  In North Carolina, the race for Senate is hot hot hot, and while issues like jobs, spending, the wars and any number of other “important” issues are taking precedent, I’m oft interested in how the platforms of those running for president affect my life, that’s as a birder naturally.  So here’s a special North Carolina Senate edition of the Single Issue Voter.  Last week we looked at Richard Burr (R).  Next, here’s challenger Elaine Marshall (D).

In a more friendly political environment, Elaine Marshall would be giving Richard Burr a serious run for his money.  The fact that she’s been elected to statewide office, first beating NASCAR hero Richard Petty in 1996 and being re-elected four times by wide margins, as a popular Secretary of State is a testament to her ability to win from Murphy to Manteo.  She’s been trailing incumbent Richard Burr throughout the election cycle, however.  And while some polls have shown her coming close on occasion, she’s stayed just out of reach and off the media radar despite running a good campaign.  The changing demographics in the region notwithstanding, North Carolina has historically been a tough nut for national Democrats to crack.  The state has a long history of sending team blue to the state house in Raleigh, and the congressional delegation is split roughly 50/50, but in presidential and Senate elections Republicans have won the day in the modern era.  There was some hope that Obama and Kay Hagan’s statewide victories in 2008 were indicative of some sort of sea change, one that we may well see eventually, but the truth is that Republicans have a built in advantage in a state that is still rural and, in many ways, resistant to change.

Because Marshall’s political career has largely been as a state level politician with jurisdiction over North Carolina’s economic and business  communities, her positions on issues of interest to birders are mostly unclear.  Granted she’s been pushing jobs as her number one concern, and in a state where unemployment hovers near 10%, that’s just good politics, but with the exception of opposing exploration of oil off the coast of North Carolina, placing her in direct opposition to her opponent, there’s very little to go on.  All this in spite of the fact that “Energy and the Environment” policy is prominently displayed on her website.  Why, then, don’t I have a good grasp on her conservation bona fides?  Because Elaine Marshall falls into the same trap that so many, particularly Democratic, politicians fall into, conflating primarily energy-related issues with environmental issues.  So let me take the time to explain why this is a problem.

Hey, politicians.  These issues are not the same.

Sure, there are people who feel strongly about both.  If you were to draw a Venn diagram comparing those who are primarily interested in energy and climate issues and those that care mostly about land use and species protection issues there would no doubt be overlap.  It would likely even be significant overlap.  But the issues facing endangered species and the staggering loss of biodiversity in this country and around the world,are no more than tangentially related to energy and climate issues.  This is a completely different set of priorities, and a different group of people that care about them.

The populations of so many birds are plummeting now.  Habitat is being degraded now.  Climate is in many ways an abstraction, difficult to comprehend in the here and now and thus, easy to make broad policy arguments for, and against if you want to ignore the scientific consensus.  But what is immediate is the constant chipping away at the protections endangered species require, the selling off of public lands to various timber, ranching, and extraction interests, the unfunded mandates that cripple the Department of the Interior, and the selling of poorly sited industrial-scale solar and wind as environmental solutions when the reality is that they are anything but.  So long as land, water, and biodiversity issues are considered synonymous with, and sacrificed on the alter to, energy and climate, these policies will always come out losers in comparison.  We can’t have that happen.  The birds can’t have that happen.

That’s not to say I don’t agree with Marshall’s “environmental” policies, because I do.  They’re sensible and essential, but one only has to take a look at the platform for the North Carolina Democratic Party and see that they support the repeal of the consent decree at Cape Hatteras National Seashore (.pdf, pg 9), the same policy that has led to a bumper year for shorebird and turtle nests this summer, to see that we’ve lost the narrative.  I generally support Democratic candidates but that policy alone, a complete refutation of peer-reviewed research and the objective opinions of experienced government biologists, would have been enough to cause me to leave the party in disgust if I didn’t feel that participation in primary elections was so important.  If I can’t trust the party that claims to stand on the side of science to hold up their end of the bargain, who can I trust?

So while I’ll vote for Elaine Marshall in the general election next week, as her policies with regard to non-environmental issues line up with my own, I’m disappointed in her apparent ignorance of the single most pressing wildlife issue in the state and the issues facing birds and other non-game wildlife in the country.  And I’m furious at the state Democratic Party’s opposition to what is the National Park Service’s responsibility to the wildlife at the National Seashore.

I’ll still give Marshall my vote, but she’s fortunate I’m not truly a single-issue voter.

  1. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    October 28, 2010 11:42 am

    I’m glad you were able to make a decision… but when there are political candidates whom I share a majority of views with, yet have that one issue where our views are polar opposites, I find it difficult to vote for them. In this regard, I find out present political system has failed me, and much as I hate to say it, I wonder if I’ll vote at all this year.

    • October 29, 2010 3:20 am

      As much as I understand or even sympathize with the decision to not go voting at all when one is dissatisfied with all the candidates (I am currently also “homeless” here in Germany in a political way), this effectively means you are voting for the candidate who is leading the polls and will statistically increase his/her lead. The only thing that matters is who got the most votes from those who went voting, regardless of how many people who are legally allowed to vote turned up in the first place. This might be something worth considering…

  2. Nate permalink*
    October 28, 2010 1:16 pm

    @Robert- I sympathize with you and generally share your cynicism. I’m certainly not expecting much from Elaine Marshall with regards to the Outer Banks situation or the biodiversity issues I care most about.

    That said, while I’m certainly not voting out of idealism, I’ll still vote out of pragmatism. It’s hardly the stuff movements are made of, but it can hold back the bulwark.

  3. October 28, 2010 3:16 pm

    The conflation of energy independence and environmentalism or wildlife conservation is a really unfortunate development. I think some of our major environmental organizations are partly to blame for this. It’s allowed all manner of bizarre energy schemes, from “clean coal” to desert solar, to pass under a veneer of environmentalism.

    Regarding the seashore issue, it seems that Democrats forget that there are beachgoers besides the truck-driving crowd.

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