On Tuesday, the Trump administration, and his allies in Congress faced their first real test, and so did voters.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected the politics of pollution, as they returned control of the U.S. House of Representatives to Democrats and gave Democrats their largest gain since Watergate.
Candidates who put action on climate change front and center were the biggest winners. Pundits and political consultants once thought climate change was a distant concern and not an issue that would energize voters.
But as fires rage from Chico to Malibu, people can plainly see, feel, and smell the impact of climate change. And they made their feelings clear at the ballot box.
There was a time, not that long ago when the idea of Republican Congressman Darrell Issa being replaced by a Democrat who advocates for clean energy seemed far-fetched. But that is precisely what happened in California’s Congressional District 49, in San Diego and Orange counties.
There, environmental advocate Mike Levin soundly defeated the Issa-endorsed candidate, Republican Dianne Harkey. Among the many issues in this race, perhaps the starkest dividing line was the environment.
Moved by his strong environmental record and vision on renewables, the California League of Conservation Voters was quick to endorse Levin. The League of Conservation Voters ran an $800,000 campaign condemning her support of offshore oil drilling.
Voters spoke by electing Levin.
Further up the Orange County coast, Harley Rouda appears headed to victory over 30-year incumbent Dana Rohrabacher. Katie Hill defeated Congressman Steve Knight in the district that includes parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
We environmentalists helped make clear to voters that unlike Republicans Rohrabacher and Knight, Rouda and Hill oppose offshore oil drilling, support our public lands, and will use their positions in Congress to combat climate change.
A similar story happened in legislative races.
Four years earlier, Big Oil helped unseat Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi of Torrance. Muratsuchi regained his seat two years ago. This year, he placed climate change and opposition to offshore oil drilling at the forefront of his platform. And he easily won what was thought to be a swing district.
The message is clear: Californians are prioritizing action on climate change at a whole new level.
Muratsuchi’s race wasn’t isolated.
Voters in Salinas elected Democrat Robert Rivas, the author of California’s first county-wide ban on fracking, to Assembly, despite overwhelming spending by Big Oil.
Rivas took every opportunity on the campaign trail to discuss how changing temperatures and increased drought and floods are threatening agriculture, making action on climate change crucial.
Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and Lt. Gov.-elect Eleni Kounalakis campaigned heavily on protecting our coast. And voters overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 6, preventing the repeal of the gas tax. That, too, sent a clear message that Californians value our public transportation and infrastructure, and are willing to pay to fund these crucial investments.
All this raises the question of what our new environmental majorities in the House will mean for California.
We hope to see greater oversight to counter abuses by the Trump administration and cabinet officials. We also expect Democrats will use their position to block Trump’s assaults on our public lands and work to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Republican-controlled Congress allowed funding for this important program to expire in September, despite overwhelming public support for the LWCF.
No analysis of Tuesday’s election can be complete without considering the crucial role that voter turnout played in many of these contests. As some states move to restrict voting, California is expanding and empowering voting.
We in the environmental movement must redouble our efforts to advance a pro-environmental agenda and resist the politics of pollution.
Part of that will be to help to advocate for further modernization our political process and creating a more inclusive system. By increasing California’s electorate, we will be able to better address climate change and inequality. Dramatically changing who can and who does vote is the key to continuing California’s global climate leadership.
Mary Creasman is chief executive officer of the California League of Conservation Voters, [email protected]. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.