Sierra Club endorses Jeff Merkley for US Senate

By Ivan Maluski of Portland, Oregon. Ivan is the Conservation Coordinator for the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club.

Today, the Oregon Chapter Sierra Club announced its endorsement of Jeff Merkley for US Senate. With roughly 24,000 members in Oregon, the Sierra Club is among the largest and most progressive grassroots environmental organizations in the state.

Our decision came down to a few important factors.

First, defeating Gordon Smith is one of our highest priorities this year. We have watched for years as Smith has largely marched in lock-step with the failed environmental policies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, not to mention the coal lobby, numerous oil companies, the timber industry, and a list of special interests too long to mention here. We want our endorsement to assist the candidate we felt will be best able to marshal grassroots support from voters in all parts of the state to unseat Smith this year. This will not be an easy race, and any successful candidate will need to be able to compete from Jackson County to Multnomah County, and from eastern Oregon to the Coast. For a variety of reasons, including his track record of delivering for ordinary Oregonians on a variety of issues during his time in the Legislature, we feel strongly that Jeff Merkley is the candidate best able to defeat Gordon Smith in the general election.

Second, after evaluating all of the candidates' records, questionnaires, and interviewing them in person, we determined that there is only one candidate with a proven and successful track record of winning environmental victories in a tightly divided legislature, and who had a history of working with the Sierra Club to pass important renewable energy, toxics reduction and other progressive environmental legislation. It should not be understated how successful the 2007 Legislative session was for making environmental progress and bringing common sense solutions to this state that had been blocked for years. As Speaker of the House and a leader of the Democratic Caucus, Jeff Merkley helped set the table for these wins, and took a hands on approach in sponsoring and working for legislation that faced stiff opposition from industry, and at times even from some within his own caucus.

Lastly, we decided that we could not stand on the sidelines for another two-plus months until the primary results were in, as Gordon Smith continued to build steam for his re-election. By the time May 20 comes along, there will be less than six months left in this campaign. This race is just too important to sit on the fence - we had to make a decision and get our members involved.

In the end, after numerous discussions and votes among our statewide volunteer and member-led political committee and board, we feel confident in giving Jeff Merkley our endorsement.

Jeff Merkley has been a champion for the environment and Oregon’s economy, with a history of working on and passing legislation that has created new economic opportunities, benefits to consumers, and green jobs to tackle the greatest environmental challenge of our time – global climate change.

There needs to be a spotlight shown on Gordon Smith and how he has failed the environmental test, time after time over the years. Gordon Smith has been inconsistent and unreliable, often walking in lock-step with the Bush administration. His pro-environment votes and actions are few and far between, and typically concentrated during the election cycle. He’s been swayed by the big oil companies who are taking in record profits, by the timber industry when they have pushed to ignore sound science and undercut this nation's framework of environmental laws, and destructive mining interests who seek to despoil our nation's public lands and clean water. As Gordon Smith stated at the 2008 Dorchester Conference, as quoted in the East Oregonian, "I believe water is for more than drinking..." Given who Smith's backers are, we should be very concerned.

Oregonians value clean air, clean water, and the precious natural resources that boost Oregon’s quality of life, and we all deserve a U.S. Senator who will protect and fight for these values. Jeff Merkley will be that Senator.

  • (Show?)


    Thank you for the "behind the scenes" look into the criteria used to make this endorsement. I of course agree wholeheartedly with it. But it means more coming from you than it does coming from me.

    Jeff Merkley's very impressive record as a dogged fighter in the Oregon legislature was a big part of what attracted me to him in the first place.

    This endorsement has got to have Gordon Smith very worried, as well it should!

  • StopGordonSmith (unverified)

    Not only did Smith vote to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge after promising voters he wouldn't, he's also voted against reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and even claimed that scientists weren't sure whether global warming was real. Go to for more of Smith's terrible environmental record.

  • (Show?)

    there is only one candidate with a proven and successful track record of winning environmental victories in a tightly divided legislature

    True enough.

    Congratulations to him.

  • (Show?)

    I couldn't think of a more forceful endorsement for a better candidate.

  • ben rivers (unverified)

    So the Sierra Club endorses Merkley because of the work he has done, kind of like a reward, however Kroger got the nod because of what he says he will do? I smell a double standard here. I am not saying Macpherson deserved it because of the work he has already done for the state regarding the environment, but it seems like the Sierra Club has a problem. I feel that if they had used the same criteria, Macpherson would have been their man...oh well.

    Congrats to Jeff..

  • (Show?)

    I'm sure you meant Steve Novick, not Macpherson Ben...right? :)

    As he points out, another endorsement based largely on the last election instead of the next one. No matter how many high-info voters can see a good catchup session to clean a GOP mess, the 70% of the electorate that disfavors the Leg won't be impressed.

  • (Show?)

    A "nice going because my mom taught me to say something nice or nothing at all" would have sufficed.

  • Jack Murray (unverified)
    the 70% of the electorate that disfavors the Leg won't be impressed.

    You're forgetting that Merkley isn't the Legislature. He's a member of it, and the current leader of one chamber. People don't vote against candidates because they've served in the Legislature, but they do support candidates with a record of meaningful accomplishments.

    The Legislature, and Congress, both have low approval ratings because average Americans see these institutions as a cast of characters. When you take an individual legislator, however, the approval rating is much more favorable.

    The legislature is still suffering in reputation for the 16 years of GOP control, where hard-right ideologues worked to undo much of what makes Oregon special. Jeff Merkley turned that around, and that's why the 30% approval of the legislature doesn't have anything to do with Merkley's approval rating.

    The Sierra Club is an organization with both state and federal policy interests. They see the important work Jeff is doing in the statehouse and have realized just how badly we need a competent, progressive environmental Senator to replace Gordon Smith. Merkley has laid out a bold agenda for Oregon's environment in both the legislature and in the U.S. Senate. The Sierra Club has endorsed the former and has signed on to the Merkley campaign to make the latter happen.

    Way to go, Jeff!

  • (Show?)

    Ben Rivers: I smell a double standard here.

    I don't.

    Successful legislative experience counts for a lot in a candidate running for a legislative position, like U.S. Senator. Jeff Merkley, like Ron Wyden, doesn't merely have the the senatorial demeanor down pat, he's also got a long record of accomplishment of getting things done. You want a guy who can go out and peel off three GOP votes for an overwhelmingly supported piece of legislation when your own threadbare caucus can't quite hold it together. Jeff can do that.

    Attorney General, on the other hand, needs someone who has got a strong legal background, courtroom experience, credibility with law enforcement (whose cooperation you need to enact any real reform), large amount of energy, leadership, and brilliant ideas. Moderate legislative (get along, go along) experience in a non leadership position just isn't as important. I was sold on John Kroger as soon as I saw Greg MacPhearson essentially adopting his positions early in the race, and Greg's continued campaign based on being a native born Oregonian is distinctly uninspiring.

    So far I think the Sierra Club is batting two for two. Good job.

  • (Show?)

    "for an overwhelmingly supported piece" turn into "for an overwhelmingly Democratically supported piece"

    Somehow the html got stripped out.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    So Novick being the lead guy on the Love Canal suit doesn't count for anything? It's only legislative victories?

    I wonder if the Sierra Club endorsed Paul Wellstone when he first ran for Senate. In fact, I wonder which candidate it's endorsing in Minnesota this year.

  • (Show?)

    Sure Gil. It counts for something. If Steve Novick had run for A.G. instead of John Kroger, I might very well have backed him.

    But not U.S. Senator. He doesn't have any experience actually legislating, much less doing it successfully. And some of his actions on the campaign trail lead me to believe he doesn't have the temperament. (Or at least not compared to Speaker Merkley. He still would be far far better than Senator Smith.)

  • (Show?)


    Steve Novick was essentially the legal version of a Repo Man on the Love Canal suit. His touted $129 million settlement in 1995 came 16 years after the EPA first started pursuing Love Canal. The EPA's own document page runs from 1979 until 1990. The actual "environmental" part was largely a done deal years before the Repo Man was sent in to recover damages.

    Don't get me wrong here, that stuff needed to be done and the country is better off for it having been taken care of so ably by Mr. Novick and the other attorneys. But the fact remains that if you look at the Sierra Club's page on Conservation Issues you won't find recovering financial compensation after the fact listed.

    Jeff Merkley's record clearly resonated with the Sierra Club because it focuses much more on issues of importance to the Sierra Club. They'd rather prevent ecological and environmental catastrophes from ever happening or at least stop them from getting any worse. That's what Jeff Merkley is about. That's what Jeff Merkley's record reflects. That's why the Sierra Club endorsed Jeff Merkley.

  • Miles (unverified)

    Steve Novick was essentially the legal version of a Repo Man on the Love Canal suit.

    Wow, another baseless attack on Steve Novick's distinguished career. Kevin, it's almost as though you prefer swimming in the gutter.

    Congrats to Merkley on this important endorsement. Congrats to Novick for still being the best candidate to take on Gordon Smith.

  • (Show?)

    Miles, you may not like the way that I characterized it but the fact remains that what he did on the Love Canal case was less about the environment than it was about the money. Important? Yes. Distinguished? Yes. Relevant to what the Sierra Club is about? No, not really. That's not an attack. It's reality.

  • David (unverified)

    The Sierra Club is just another in a long "list of special interests" as indicated above by the guest columnist. And although it may be a "special interest" that many here agree with, one should still view the endorsement with a critical eye and not accept it lock, stock, and barrel, like some do with other lobby groups.

  • (Show?)

    I'd be interested in which of Steve Novick's "actions on the campaign trail" signify to Steve Maurer that Novick lacks the temperament to be a United States Senator, compared to Jeff Merkley, but that his temperament is superior to that of Gordon Smith.

    I am asking about this because as nearly as I can tell, Merkley and Smith have roughly the same temperament.

  • (Show?)

    I'm not going to go into another rehash old arguments with you, Stephanie. It's been done to death, and probably anybody reading this has already made up their mind one way or another, so what's the point?

    But I will say that when I said that Steve Novick would be far better than Gordon Smith, I was referring to the overall package. I'll take the angriest, most strident, least effective liberal over a smooth talking hyperconservative any day. Just when given a choice, I prefer a liberal with Senatorial gravitas even more.

  • LT (unverified)

    I agree with you, Steve. And a question for Stephanie or anyone else:

    While doing research on the Sec. of State website showing 2006 St. Rep. C & Es (use it one way and it lists all the candidates alphabetically), I came across the name Steve Novick. Did he ever run for State Rep?

  • (Show?)

    I have no knowledge about that, LT.

  • Jack Sullivan (unverified)

    Steve has never run for office before. He has opened campaign fundraising committees before (including one for Congress) but he's never been on a ballot before (except maybe for precinct committee person.)

  • (Show?)

    But I will say that when I said that Steve Novick would be far better than Gordon Smith, I was referring to the overall package. I'll take the angriest, most strident, least effective liberal over a smooth talking hyperconservative any day. Just when given a choice, I prefer a liberal with Senatorial gravitas even more.


    The perception of gravitas is a huge part of why Smith has continued to win elections. Therein lays a very important lesson for those Dems who are serious about sending Smith back to packaging frozen vegetables in Pendleton.

  • LT (unverified)

    Yes, Kevin, The perception of gravitas is a huge part of why Smith has continued to win elections. Therein lays a very important lesson for those Dems who are serious about sending Smith back to packaging frozen vegetables in Pendleton.

    there are those of us who don't live in Portland and have friends who don't vote straight party Democratic ticket.

    My vote for US Senate will be determined by which candidate impresses me as the candidate I could sell to such friends.

    Which is why, if Steve is smart, we will see serious "Hi, this is Steve Novick and I am running for US Senate because......." ads as he looks straight into the camera from now on, not clever "here I am discussing important issues while I reach over with my hook and open the guy's beer bottle" sorts of ads.

    But then, I am biased. Stephanie has a post about 4 things, let me start a discussion something smaller--2 things.

    The 2 most memorable and effective US Senate commercials I ever saw were:

    1) Harry Lonsdale out in the woods in 1990 looking straight into the camera and saying "Like many of you, I have voted for Mark Hatfield in the past. Let me tell you why I am running against him now..."

    2) Ron Wyden's 100% positive ad in Jan. 1996 saying he had overruled his advisors and was going 100% positive.

    Ron won, and Harry in 1990 got the same percentage as the great Wayne Morse got against Hatfield.

    Elections are won because ordinary folks decide to vote for a political candidate. And if one candidate appears genuine and the other appears to have a consultant driven campaign (notice I didn't name anyone) the one who appears genuine to the INDIVIDUAL voter is the one likely to win---regardless of what anyone else thinks.

  • Lou (unverified)

    The Sierra Club should put its endorsement up to its members for a democratic vote. The "safe" faction of the Democratic establishment should have learned by now. Your rank and file is sick of "safe." The times are ripe for Steve Novick. Stop filibustering and get some passion.

  • (Show?)


    I'd imagine those sorts of ads are coming down the line. Those are usually saved for closer to the election when people are actually listening to what candidates have to say. In January and February it's usually about name recognition. And he definitely got some name recognition off those ads.

  • (Show?)

    Jack Murray would like us to believe that as probably the most visible leader of the state Legislature, Merkley's rating isn't related to the legislature's reting overall.

    That may be the case, but if the Leg's rating is 30%, and Merkley's PERSONAL rating is 33% (and just +3) according to the latest poll, it's not such an easy case to make. That's about 2/3 of the Dem electorate to rate him; extrapolate that out and he's just barely above 50%. The fact that Merkley isn't well known is beside the point here, however; it's that using the Leg's accomplishments in order to build a positive image among those trying to learn more about Merkley, doesn't help Merkley. Let me illustrate the scenario:

    First knowledge of Novick = Beer With Steve --> favorable response First knowledge of Merkley = Leg leader --> unfavorable response.

    As for Kevin's ludicrous allegation that Sierra isn't concerned with enforcement efforts--it's enforcement that prevents future violations. Ask John Kroger about the importance of following up on the laws and extracting monetary damages.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    So, as I understand it, Merkley's legislative experience is a critical factor in gaining the Sierra Club endorsement (overlooking that Novick was the Senate Democrats' chief of staff in the late 90s). If you believe that one has to be a legislator to have legislative experience, you misunderstand the process.

    Here is a short list of the U.S. Senators I have most admired in my lifetime:

    Wayne Morse Paul Wellstone Russ Feingold

    None of them held an elected political office before becoming a U.S. Senator.

    Oh, here's another one, considered to be very effective for her state: Hillary Clinton.

  • (Show?)

    Oh, here's another one, considered to be very effective for her state: Hillary Clinton.

    Pre-Senate Hillary Rodham Clinton: WalMart.

    Pre-Senate Jeff Merkley: Habitat for Humanity.

    WOW, how could we have missed the glaring similarities???

    ::: rolls eyes :::

  • (Show?)

    Kevin, that's nonsensical, even for you.

  • (Show?)

    Congrats to Rep. Merkley for an important endorsement.

    I don't agree with the argument that the Club couldn't wait until the primary was over to do something.

    Clearly, the Club could continue to work to unmask Smith's two-faced work on the environment, and that -- proving Smith is no moderate -- may indeed be the most important work of this race.

    When taking on an incumbent, the voters are choosing the incumbent vs. change, not so much the incumbent vs. a specific candidate. While I think Novick embodies change more than Merkley, most voters in October will be asking themselves: has Gordon Smith represented me well? rather than, what specifically was Novick's role in Love Canal?

    The Club could have chosen to focus its resources for the next two months on that question (i.e. Smith's poor record on the environment), instead of choosing sides.

    Luckily, voters will get to choose between two folks who've done a lot for the environment, and would continue to do a lot for the environment in the Senate. I'm for Novick, but like Merkley a lot as well.

guest column

connect with blueoregon