Government

Hollister gets environmental post

Local resident and Yellow Springs native Don Hollister is the new executive director of the Ohio League of Conservation Voters, a Columbus-based bipartisan environmental organization. Hollister will draw on his local political experience as he leads the group in lobbying for environmental policy and electing pro-environmental candidates for state and local offices. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

Local resident and Yellow Springs native Don Hollister is the new executive director of the Ohio League of Conservation Voters, a Columbus-based bipartisan environmental organization. Hollister will draw on his local political experience as he leads the group in lobbying for environmental policy and electing pro-environmental candidates for state and local offices. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

All politics is local, the saying goes, and it’s also largely unpaid. Local resident and Yellow Springs native Don Hollister has found both to be true in his nearly 40 years as a candidate, campaigner, election official, precinct captain, party chairman, councilor and governor’s office staffer. Now the head of a statewide environmental organization, Hollister brings a focus on the local to one of the few paid political positions of his career.

In September Hollister was named executive director of the Ohio League of Conservation Voters, a Columbus-based group that lobbies for environmental policy, tracks the environmental record of public officials and helps pro-environment candidates get elected. As the leader of the bipartisan organization, instrumental in the passage of the Clean Ohio Fund and Ohio’s Energy Portfolio Standard, Hollister will concentrate on local elections and grassroots environmental campaigns.

“We’ve been Columbus-centric,” Hollister said of the group’s legislative focus. “The whole point is to be more of a vehicle for local environment issues and to be involved in elections.”

This new direction for the Ohio LCV fits with Hollister’s background in elections and his passion for the environment. Hollister has been the chair of the Greene County Board of Elections, chairman of the Greene County Democratic Party, a trustee of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, precinct captain for the western part of Yellow Springs, Village Council member and has worked on many campaigns, including three state and federal races of his own.

Hollister’s environmental work began as member of the Village Planning Commission’s committee for one downtown in the early 1970s. He was the interim director of the Glen Helen Ecological Institute, organized a monthly Green Forum for legislative staff while a member of former Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste’s administration and ran an activist bookstore, Corner Books Infoshop and Peace Center, in the village.

Most of Hollister’s political positions have been volunteer and he was, for 13 years, a local carpenter in order to support his political work.

“This is a dream job that pulls together a lot of what I’ve done,” he said. Now 59, Hollister follows in the footsteps of his activist Quaker parents, Barrett, an Antioch College political science professor and Kay, who was a member of the local League of Women Voters for 60 years.

Being bipartisan is somewhat new for Hollister, a lifelong Democrat, but he looks forward to working with both political parties towards the common goals of clean air, clean water and the conservation of Ohio’s natural resources.

“It’s very important right now [to be bi-partisan] because of the Republican control of the Governor’s office and legislature,” Hollister said. “We have an ‘in’ that many other environmental organizations don’t have.”

Hollister first joined the Young Democrats in 1973 at age 24 to help with villager Jim Zehner’s successful bid for a seat in the Ohio General Assembly. Hollister ran unsuccessful campaigns as a Democrat for US Congress in 1980, Ohio House of Representatives in 1986 and Greene County Commissioner in 1988 and was a member of Democratic Gov. Celeste’s staff in the 1980s.

“If you want to get elected, this is a frustrating place,” Hollister said of the Republican voting trend in Greene County. Even with the setbacks, most of Hollister’s life has revolved around the Labor Day to Election Day campaign calendar and though he will have other duties at the Ohio LCV, such as fundraising and lobbying, he looks forward to continuing campaign work.

Founded in 1999, the Ohio LCV closed its office in March after operating on an annual budget of about $300,000 when the funding, largely dependent upon major individual gifts, started to dry up. Hollister, previously a board member and interim director for the Ohio LCV, stepped into the director’s role over the summer and was officially named to the position in September. He looks to diversify funding sources to include memberships and foundations.

The Ohio League of Conservation Voters, which is affiliated with the national League of Conservation Voters, is part political action committee, or PAC, part advocacy group and part tax-exempt educational organization. As an educational group, the Ohio LCV convenes Mainstream Green, a monthly meeting of 50 environmental organizations from across Ohio, and produces scorecards on legislative votes. As an advocacy organization, it endorses candidates, publishes a voter’s guide and lobbies for environmental legislation. And as a PAC, it directly funds and helps elect pro-environmental candidates.

Even though about three-quarters of the candidates it endorses are Democrats, the Ohio LCV has a bi-partisan board and counts two successful bi-partisan efforts among its accomplishments — the Clean Ohio Fund and the Energy Portfolio Standard.

The Clean Ohio Fund, passed by taxpayers in 2000, gives money for redeveloping brownfields, preserving farmland, conserving green space, and building recreational trails. Locally, the Tecumseh Land Trust has been a major recipient of its funds to purchase easements on farmland and money from the fund has been used to upgrade the Little Miami Scenic Trail. Clean Ohio Fund supporters represent a “comprehensive mosaic” of interests, Hollister said, such as bicyclists, the farm bureau, developers, land conservation groups and environmentalists protecting rare species.

Likewise the Ohio LCV worked with Republicans to pass the Energy Portfolio Standard, which requires Ohio utilities to produce 25 percent of the state’s electricity from advanced or renewable sources by 2025. After the bill was proposed by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, Republican state representative Jim McGregor convinced House Speaker Jon Husted to set stricter standards for the measure. Later McGregor became the director of the Ohio LCV.

Now, Hollister will work to make sure those programs stay put. Recently, the Energy Portfolio Standard, which assures a market for wind and photovoltaic electricity in Ohio, has come under attack with a legislative proposal to eliminate it. And because the Clean Ohio Fund has run out of money, the Ohio LCV is pushing to have Gov. John Kasich add the fund as a line item in his executive budget, expected in March.

In addition to these state-lobbying efforts, Hollister hopes to deploy his organization throughout the state, targeting empty seats, recruiting and supporting candidates for office and helping local environmental groups raise the profile of their issues.

“I want to get a community conversation going about local issues that are locally compelling,” whether the issue is landfills, municipal water treatment, watershed pollution, or hydraulic fracturing, Hollister said.

On the controversial shale gas drilling technique known as fracking, the Ohio LCV is pushing for strict regulations and aggressive enforcement, since fracking might contaminate underground aquifers, Hollister said. But the issue of whether to open Ohio state parks to oil and gas drilling was controversial within the Ohio LCV board as some members viewed the practice as a way to finance parks.

Hearing diverse views on environmental issues is one aspect of the job Hollister enjoys, along with meeting new people and “getting outside of the Yellow Springs bubble,” he said. And though he will be campaigning for Republicans, there is some solace.

“The Republicans will have to be better than the Democrats on environmental issues,” he said.

 

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