All politics are local "-and environmental |

All politics are local "-and environmental

Emma Garrard/ Sierra SunSuzanne Thys and her son Thierry Thys held hands during the Hands Around Lake Tahoe event in 2005. More than any other motivating factor, environmental concerns tend to bring the local community together, regardless of political affiliation.

While communities like Santa Cruz and San Francisco thrust themselves into the national spotlight by becoming a pro-choice town and legalizing gay marriages, Tahoe and Truckee residents stick to the one issue that affects the entire area ” the environment.

Small Democrat and Republican groups exist under the radar, but it is environmental organizations like the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Club, Sierra Watch and Mountain Area Preservation that have the real political pull in Tahoe and Truckee.

“People here are very, very politically-minded,” said Stefanie Olivieri, a founding member of the Mountain Area Preservation and a member of the Truckee Downtown Merchants Association. “They care about politics on a local and national level, but the thing that moves them out of their chairs are the things that affect the environment and their quality of life.”

Environmental issues are met with skepticism, and even criticism, in some areas of the country, but that seems to be the one thing that galvanizes all sides locally.

“We have active Democrats, Republicans and Independents,” said John Friedrich with the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “I think most people living in the basin have strong environmental ethics. There’s often a disconnect between people’s views and involvement and how they get represented during decision-making meetings.”

Rob Haswell, the Democrat who ran against Ted Gaines in the state assembly race for Tim Leslie’s open seat this past November, said environmental issues have been given national attention recently.

“There has been an up-leveling of people’s knowledge,” said Haswell, who lost the assembly race, but won in Tahoe. “We’re starting to galvanize around these issues. Whoever can lead on those issues is who will be ahead.”

Theresa May Duggan, a member of the Tahoe Truckee Democratic Club who is active in local political issues, said people are tired of partisan politics and are looking for common ground.

“The environment is getting worse. It is not something you can negotiate,” May Duggan said. “I hope we will get galvanized on the things we have in common.”

The Truckee Tahoe Republican Women had a speaker from the U.S. Forest Service last month who talked about environmental issues, but that is not the focus of the group, said Carla Embertson, immediate past president of the club.

“We certainly do have some focus on the environment,” Embertson said. “But our issues are focused more on budget concerns.”

But other Republicans, like Olivieri, say their big issue is the environment. The Town of Truckee’s recent survey showed that the environment was the number-one concern among residents.

Democrat Charlie Brown, who ran a close race to oust John Doolittle from his seat in Congress, said when he campaigned in Tahoe the two big issues that came up were preserving Lake Tahoe and jobs.

Although the environment is still the primary issue in the area, Democrats are gaining ground locally on other issues. A small group protests against the Iraq War in Truckee, and Democratic leaders make an appearance every so often in the area.

In Truckee, 36 percent of voters are registered Democrat, whereas 30 percent are registered Republican. The numbers are similar on the North Shore, where Democrats make up 35 percent of registered voters and Republicans account for 30 percent. Registered Green party members are visible in the area, with 209 registered members in Truckee and 149 on the North Shore.

“There have been issues where people have been involved, but there needs to be a more sustained effort to engage the community on all the issues that affect the community,” said the League’s Friedrich.

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