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Sierra Club's new chief seeks to make it more politically active

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 18, 2011 - The decision by the Missouri chapter of the national Sierra Club to weigh in on the earnings tax proposals on the April 5 ballots in St. Louis and Kansas City reflects a move to resurrect the group's political activities.

The effort is led by new state director, John Hickey, the former longtime head of another politically active group, Missouri ProVote.

Hickey said this week's earnings-tax endorsements follow in the wake of last year's actions to support the St Louis County sales tax hike for the Metro transit system, and to campaign for the primary election of now-state Rep. Rory Ellinger.

Hickey was the Sierra Club's volunteer political director at the time, joining its fulltime staff -- and becoming the new state director -- near the end of the year.

Hickey headed the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition for 17 years before leaving a few years ago in an internal dispute. At the time, ProVote -- funded by labor and teachers' groups, among others -- had been heavily involved in regional politics.

At the Sierra Club, Hickey is focusing on political activities statewide -- but on a targeted level. The group's chief aim is to influence its members, about 10,000 statewide. In the earnings tax campaigns, the Sierra Club is reaching out to its members in St Louis and Kansas City, to emphasize the importance of supporting the existing tax -- and what might be lost if it is not renewed.

In St. Louis, the Sierra Club is citing the parks and recreational programs -- and recycling -- which Hickey says will be at risk if the city of St. Louis loses about a third of its income, which is what is garnered from the 1 percent earnings tax collected from all who live or work in the city.

The earnings tax votes are being held because of last fall's statewide vote, which barred any additional communities from adopting an earnings tax and requires once-every-five-years votes in Kansas City or St. Louis. If the taxes are defeated, they are gone for good and cannot resurrected.

In Kansas City, former state Republican Party chairman Woody Cozad is leading an effort to defeat the tax. Hickey says the Sierra Club has about 1,000 members living within the city.

About 1,100 Sierra Club members reside in St. Louis. Hickey and his staff are sending out letters, emails and postcards to alert them to the importance of the tax -- and the importance of showing up for what is expected to be a low turnout election April 5.

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