We won’t mince words. Locally, last night sucked. Despite the largest, most diverse coalition in WA state history, and despite the heroic efforts of 6,500 volunteers, I-1631 probably lost. But if we broaden our view to take in the rest of the country, it’s important to understand what we gained:
- Democrats won 7 governorships held by Republicans ― in IL, KS, ME, MI, NM, NV, WI.
This is the most governships that have changed party since 1994. It means that a majority of Americans now live in states that support the U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. Most of these seven new Governors ran on platforms promising swift transitions to clean energy and aggressive climate pollution reduction measures. Their positions in Governor’s mansions gives them the power to follow through on their promises. (The fact that Kansas is no longer governed by monstrous climate denier and vote suppressor Kris Kobach but instead by Laura Kelly, a strong champion of climate action and democracy, is particularly notable.)
- Democrats now control the state legislature and the governorships in fossil fuel-heavy states Illinois and Colorado
Illinois is one the country’s major coal producers. Colorado one of the largest oil and gas states. In both states, the governorships and state legislatures and now solidly controlled by Democrats, making regulation and managed decline of these industries more likely than ever.
- Stephanie Garcia Richard won the Land Commissioner race in New Mexico.
This might seem like an odd one to hold up ― but it’s huge. New Mexico’s Land Commissioner essentially has sole control over public lands in the state. And New Mexico’s public lands are home to the Permian Basin, which is the largest new potential carbon bomb in the world today. Stephanie Garcia Richard won running on a platform to stop the expansion of fracking and drilling for oil and gas in the Basin. Chevron, the top leaseholder in the Permian, spent many millions to defeat her, but lost.
- Portland passed the Portland Clean Energy Fund by an overwhelming margin.
The Portland Clean Energy Fund passed with a whopping 64% of the vote. This ballot measure creates a 1% surcharge on retailers with over $1 billion in annual nationwide revenue and over $500,000 in annual Portland revenue. The resultant funds ― of at least $30 million a year ― will be spent on local clean energy projects such as rooftop solar, energy efficiency weatherization, job training in clean energy trades, community gardens, tree canopy planting, and more. In all projects, priority will be given to low-income households and communities of color, since these communities are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change.
- Nevada passed a ballot initiative mandating a vastly improved renewable energy standard.
Nevada will now have at least 50% of its electricity coming from renewable energy by 2030.
- 19 of the likely 54 new Democrats in the House of Representatives have taken the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge
As we have seen in WA, fossil fuel money is a diabolical influence on our political system. The fact that nineteen congressional candidates won after pledging to refuse all fossil fuel industry contributions is real validation for rejecting industry money and influence. In addition, it looks like this is a trend set to continue: Preliminary analysis of campaign finance data from the Center for Responsive Politics indicates that fossil fuel industry money was less than ¼ of one percent of all money raised by Democrats running for the House in 2018. The time is now ripe for Democratic leadership to take a stance fully rejecting all fossil fuel industry donations.
- Congress is going from zero Native American congresswomen and zero Muslim women to two Native American women and two Muslim women.
New Mexican voters elected Native American Deb Haaland to Congress. Haaland has pledged to vote against all new fossil fuel infrastructure, in line with climate science and the Paris climate goals. She is a strong advocate for Indigenous rights and climate justice. Meanwhile, Minnesotans elected Ilhan Omar, who ran a proudly fossil-free campaign and vocally opposing the Line 3 tar sands pipeline, voters in Kansas elected Native American woman Sharice Davids and Michigan proudly elected Rashida Tlaib.
If it holds, the defeat of I-1631 is still a tragedy—yet, the truth is that even in defeat we have accomplished a lot. For a start, Yes on 1631 focused the country’s attention on the need for urgent climate action: USA Today and the New York Times were just two of the major national papers that endorsed Yes on 1631; here in Washington, we’ve helped influence the national conversation in a real, lasting way.
Yet more importantly, we are stronger today because of what we have experienced together. No one organization can even begin to meaningfully take on the challenge of confronting climate change alone. This is history’s greatest problem, and it will take all of us to confront it. Here in Washington we are in a better place than ever to do that. Our coalition has never been stronger, more determined, or more unified. As our friend Ahmed Gaya, the Yes on 1631 Field Director, wrote today: “This problem isn’t going anywhere and neither are we.”
As we look toward tomorrow, we look forward to what comes next ― and we look forward to seeing you there.