For Californians concerned with our air and climate, this year’s elections have 3 key messages:
1) The dismal national picture makes California’s leadership more important than ever;
2) The resoundingly re-elected leadership of California’s executive and legislative branches will continue to push forward with programs to reduce pollution;
3) Huge oil company spending has a corrosive effect on democracy, but can sometimes be countered by grass-roots mobilization.
As usually happens in the 6th year of a president’s term, the opposing party made major gains in Congress. The prospects of President Obama persuading Congress to pass any meaningful legislation to slow global warming was already almost nil, so the major change will be the increased leverage gained by fossil-fuelled Senate Republicans — like Inhofe of Oklahoma, who will take the gavel of the Environment Committee from California’s excellent Barbara Boxer — in their attempts to frustrate the EPA’s proposed clean power rule and other administration plans. While Inhofe is an out-and-out climate denier, other candidates adopted a common mantra this year of “I’m not a scientist” to try to pander to the denialists without explicitly joining them.
As in 2010, the Republican wave stopped at the Sierra Nevada when it came to federal races. Votes are still be counted in 3 close House races with Democratic incumbents, but Democrats picked up an open seat, so any change in the Congressional delegation will be minimal.
Governor Brown, Senate President pro tem De Leon and Speaker Atkins were all re-elected easily, and all are committed to keeping the state on a path toward cleaner air and a more stable climate.
The State Legislature saw more turnover, with Democratic incumbents (3 of them) in the Assembly falling to Republicans for the first time in 20 years. Loss of the Democrats’ 2/3 supermajority has more symbolic than substantive importance, since they rarely used it when they had it. Almost all the key bills, including the budget, pass by majority vote, so the allegiances of the members often matter more than their party labels. In some of the Democrat-versus-Democrat races caused by the top-2 run-off system (which I hate, because it magnifies the importance of special-interest spending), gobs of oil company money — often spent by front groups with innocuous-sounding names — helped to elect candidates who had placed second in June. So it remains to be seen where the new Legislature will fall, but air advocates will have our work cut out for us.
But the oilies also faced some rebuffs. Chevron’s effort to buy the Richmond City Council was rejected with vigor, as progressives countered $3 million in petro-bucks with grass-roots organizing. Let’s hope other communities respond similarly in the future.