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Nonprofit Spotlight: Conservation Voters for Idaho

Ryan McGoldrick presented to the IEF Advisory Council on the organization’s work in the Gem State

Ryan McGoldrick, the program director at Conservation Voters for Idaho, presented about the organization’s work at the August meeting of the Idaho Energy Freedom Advisory Council. CVI’s vision is for a clean and healthy Idaho that is cherished and enjoyed by all and championed and protected by Idaho’s elected leaders and sustained by a fully representative democracy. 

CVI works in two ways, through a 501c4 “action fund” to work on political and lobbying activities related to its mission, as well as its education fund, a 501c3. On the 501c4 side, the staff works with its national affiliate, the League of Conservation Voters. There are over 30 affiliates in states across the country, each operating independently of LCV and focused foremost on local needs. 

CVI’s c4 work centers around electing conservation champions through its action fund, including advocating for endorsed candidates in 2023 municipal elections. In the past two years, CVI has elected 38 conservation champions into municipal and state offices, including flipping district 15 and then getting a conservation majority on the Ada County Highway District (ACHD). The organization sent mail to voters in support of conservation-minded candidates and knocked on 28,000 doors. 

They also host training sessions for candidates and those community members interested in serving in an appointed role on a board of commission. Many local races don’t have paid campaign staff, so at times, CVI can come in to add volunteer support with phone banking and doorknocking, and even advice on how to set up a website or send direct mail to voters. 

One of the biggest struggles for CVI has been the spread of misinformation. Since IEF advocates for clean energy across the State, McGoldrick discussed finding ways to solve for misinformation. Working with local candidates can help counter that, McGoldrick said.

“The more local you get with projects and specifics on climate clean energy, the more supportive people are because it creates that distance from the national narratives,” McGoldrick said. “We often endorse moderate Republicans over far-right Republicans as part of that strategy.”

McGoldrick said CVI is focused on community solutions, and realizes that the candidate they might endorse in Burley is going to look very different than who they endorse in a bigger city like Boise or Idaho Falls or even in North Idaho. 

Endorsements occur after candidates fill out an endorsement questionnaire sent to all candidates in a race. Staff reviews the completed questionnaires and makes a recommendation to CVI’s board, which has a task force that reviews them before the full board votes. 

CVI believes in supporting candidates and policies that further the goal of having a functioning democracy and an electorate that is engaged in the democratic process, which is why they also engage in voter registration and education work. They advocate for protecting the ballot initiative process and vote by mail. 

CVI also does electoral accountability work, meaning the organization shares elected officials’ voting record with voters on particular issues they care about, such as access to public lands or mitigating the impacts of a changing climate. 

There are hundreds of boards and commissions across the state that make a lot of our decisions. And so the goal of our boards and commissions program makes sure that we have more diverse leadership in those positions.

“I think you’ll find if you look around at those that they’re not necessarily representative of all of Idaho’s population,” McGoldrick said. “The goal is to find more opportunities for people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and women to be in those positions. We want to see boards and commissions that actually represent all of Idaho and for all Idahoans to see people who share their values and life experiences reflected in our boards and commissions.”

On the clean energy front, it’s tough to get a commitment from the state of Idaho, so CVI has focused on local governments, securing 12 commitments from cities and counties as well as

utilities, including the big two in Idaho: Avista and Idaho Power. That means that today there are 660,000 residents that are living in a community that’s committed to clean energy and then 1.45 million that are customers living in it, thanks to the commitments of Avista, Idaho Power, and Idaho Falls Power, which is more than 75% of our state, McGoldrick said. 

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