This year's light-rail expansion measure, Proposition 1, shares little more than a name with last year's roads and transit ballot proposal. Unlike last year, when the Sierra Club opposed Prop. 1 because it included 182 new miles of roads, Seattle's entire mainstream environmental community is united behind this year's transit-only proposal.
That puts opponents of the measure—who relied on the Club's environmental cred to help sink Prop. 1 in 2007—in a bind. Lacking the Sierra Club's green gravitas, the anti-Prop. 1 campaign has seized on a little-known, 32-year-old political consultant named Ezra Eickmeyer—a self-proclaimed environmentalist whose list of industrial and business lobbying clients outweighs his thin environmental résumé.
Eickmeyer's clients include a mining company that's seeking to ship sand and gravel on barges from the Hood Canal, two septic-system manufacturers, and a Seattle real-estate developer. Although Eickmeyer puts an environmental spin on his choice of clients—for example, he argues that barges produce fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than trucks—numerous lobbyists and environmentalists say they either haven't heard of Eickmeyer or don't regard him as an ally.
Here's what folks in the environmental community had to say when I asked them what they thought of Eickmeyer. Bill LaBorde, state policy director for Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC), says Eickmeyer's clients "are not the most noble companies and organizations around." Craig Engelking, state lobbyist for the Sierra Club, says if Eickmeyer "didn't have a ponytail, people would have no reason to think he's an environmentalist." Rob Johnson, TCC's longtime regional policy director, describes him as "somebody who talks a lot about his environmental credentials but doesn't have very deep roots in the environmental community." Cliff Traisman, a lobbyist for Washington Conservation Voters, calls Eickmeyer a "free agent," adding, "He seems to have clients that often are at direct odds with the environmental agenda."
Eickmeyer does have an "environmental" pitch against Sound Transit—albeit one that most enviros consider bogus. Essentially, he claims that the process of construction, including the production of concrete, burns more fossil fuels than simply putting more buses on existing highways—a pitch he made recently to the Master Builders Association.
Whether a virtual unknown like Eickmeyer will lend environmental credibility to a campaign funded primarily by right-wing developers like Kemper Freeman remains unclear. Given that even folks like the Master Builders' Scott Hildebrand are skeptical—he notes, "I don't know exactly who Ezra is associated with"—the odds are good that the "no" campaign's claim to "green" credibility will be exposed as the Astroturf it actually is.