Jerry Brown won the governorship of California on an aggressive clean energy platform. Photo: SF Gate
Throughout the 2010 midterm election cycle -- and well before -- most politicians dared not even utter the word climate change. Sometime after the House passed its comprehensive energy bill and the Senate stalled, clean energy and climate got written into the media's horse-racing narrative as being dirty words in a political context; losing messages. The GOP lumping both in with cap and trade, which they falsely blasted as a tax, probably had something to do with that. Soon, clean energy and climate action-supporting politicians -- most notably, Obama -- gave up on trying to spread the word about those causes. They figured it was a losing battle. But they were wrong: To see why, and how climate and clean energy can win elections, look no further than California.California, as you're likely aware by now, was one of the few states where Democratic candidates were able to beat back the insurgent Tea Party -- both Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina lost their races (for governor and senator, respectively) to Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer. And more importantly, California turned out against the Tea Party-favored Proposition 23, which would have halted the state's climate and clean energy law.
What's interesting in all three of these major victories, is one common thread: The candidates, and the coalition of 'No on 23' campaigners, never turned their back on climate and clean energy issues -- even with the rising tide of climate denialism and the anti-regulatory sentiment in full swing across the nation. On the contrary, they made climate and clean energy a campaign issue.
Here's Climate Progress:
California is the only place in the country where climate and clean energy activists aggressively pushed their message across the board in the face of strong, well-funded opposition by Big Oil. The Golden State hints at what might have happened had President Obama embraced action on climate and clean energy -- and backed it up with aggressive and consistent messaging as Boxer, Brown, and the No-On-Prop-23 coalition did.All this has some encouraging implications for the message in general -- sure, most states aren't as progressive as California, but this is nonetheless a decisive signal that people are excited about clean energy technology, and the future the sector holds. Voters roundly recognized that the oil industry should no longer get a free pass, that climate change is indeed an issue worth addressing -- and it's one that can be addressed while creating jobs, without hurting the economy.
Proposition 23 -- "the first and largest public referendum in history on clean energy policy" -- brought together an amazing bipartisan coalition to beat back Texas oil companies' effort to kill California's landmark climate bill, AB32. Carly Fiorina tried to beat climate hawk Barbara Boxer in the Senate race by flip-flopping on climate action and clean energy (see Politico on CA Senate debate ... Meg Whitman said she would suspend AB32 for a year, but even after she broke records by spending more than $160 million, Jerry Brown beat her handily with a campaign built around an aggressive clean energy policy.
These are winning political messages -- they look to the future optimistically, and speak to the hope Americans have for a cleaner, prosperous future. Instead of cowering from any mention of the words 'climate' or 'clean energy' politicians should take note of the California model of 2010: Embrace the messages they hold, robustly and vigorously. With the proper support from bipartisan coalitions, activated grassroots groups, and some good messaging, clean energy can be a powerful, winning issue.