Once is chance. Twice is coincidence. The third time, it’s a trend. This week’s elections mark the third year in a row — 2017, 2018, 2019 — that the climate crisis was on the ballot, and voters all across the country weighed in with a clear message: Our Earth is worth voting for.
Now more than ever, climate change is proving to be a deeply personal issue — not only has it entered our houses, our communities and our national conscience, but it has risen to the top of voters minds. And in a year with a variety of state and local elections across the country, the Conservation Voter Movement connected people’s environmental concerns to political action. With LCV’s support, our state affiliates invested $4.3 million across 10 states, and saw key victories, including flipping both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly to elect the first pro-conservation majority in the Commonwealth in 25 years, holding onto the pro-environment majority in New Jersey’s State Assembly, electing a pro-conservation majority to the Billings, MT city council, the first Latina Mayor of Tucson, AZ, a new Chester County Commissioner, and more.
Truly, this is no small feat, and neither are its implications. Over the last three years, as the Trump administration has rolled back critical environmental protections and severe weather has become commonplace, impacting too many communities — especially low-income communities and communities of color — state and local leaders have made historic progress: One in four people in this country now live in a place that is committed to 100% clean energy. This is the type of change voters continue to demand at the ballot box, and with this newly expanded field of environmental leaders, we only expect to see more progress.
Nowhere were the stakes higher than in Virginia, where our state affiliate, Virginia LCV PAC, ran one of the largest campaigns in the progressive community and helped the state gain pro-environment majorities in both the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate. With these new majorities — which includes the most women and the first Muslim woman in the General Assembly’s history — Virginians now have a legislature that can help build on the governor’s clean energy executive order, which aims to make the state 100% carbon-free by midcentury. A pro-environment General Assembly that collaborates with the governor will be a stark contrast to years past when the same body catered to corporate polluters and blocked efforts to address climate change.
Here’s a run-down of the Conservation Voter Movement efforts and results in the 2019 elections:
Top 2019 Opportunity for Climate and Clean Energy Progress: Virginia General Assembly [WON]
In total, Virginia LCV PAC spent $1.5 million and $1.27 million was donated directly to pro-environment candidates for the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates through GiveGreen — a project of LCV Victory Fund and NextGen America — to flip both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly to pro-environment majorities.
Virginia presented the biggest off-year electoral opportunity to advance a pro-climate agenda, and the history making opportunity to flip both legislative chambers to control by pro-climate action lawmakers. Virginia LCV endorsed 62 candidates, including 30 women, and 21 candidates of color and Virginia LCV PAC made their largest ever financial investment in Virginia state legislative races.
Within Virginia LCV PAC’s $1.5 million:
Virginia LCV PAC was one of the single largest progressive spenders in the 2019 Virginia elections because the stakes have never been higher for climate and the environment. Virginians can’t afford this legislature that’s pandering to corporate polluters and blocking necessary action to address climate change and build a clean energy economy.
With new pro-environment majorities in both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly, lawmakers now have a mandate to ensure every Virginian is able to drink clean water, breathe clean air, and access parks and open spaces in their communities. As a first order of business, the new majority should build upon the governor’s executive order on clean energy and present a strong and just plan to move Virginia to 100% clean, renewable energy no later than 2050.
Arizona [Tucson mayoral WON]
Chispa AZ PAC invested approximately $235,000 to engage and turn out Tucson voters for mayoral candidate Regina Romero and propelled her to victory in the Democratic Primary and General Election. Romero, an environmental advocate, will become the first female and first Latina mayor in Tucson’s history and the only Latina mayor of the largest 50 cities in the U.S. Chispa AZ PAC’s campaign engaged with more than 60,000 voters in field, mail, and digital media and helped secure the highest voter turnout primary election since the city of Tucson began tracking turnout.
Colorado [WON five city council seats; lost Aurora, Commerce City mayorals]
Conservation Colorado Grassroots Action Fund invested $156,000 across 10 municipality races (including the Aurora and Commerce City mayoral races) in Colorado to communicate with voters through mail, digital, texting and field tactics about pro-environment candidates. Conservation Colorado Grassroots Action Fund also invested in two statewide ballot measures. One would allow the state to retain excess revenue it is currently required to refund under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and direct retained funds to be used for education and transportation purposes. The second authorizes and taxes wagering on sporting events (sports betting) with revenue going to water programs in the state.
Idaho [WON Boise mayoral and majority of municipal races]
Conservation Voters of Idaho Action Fund (CVIAF) invested $225,000 to elect 10 conservation-minded city council members across the state of Idaho, and CVIAF’s endorsed Boise mayoral candidate, Lauren McLean, beat 16-year incumbent Dave Bieter in the December 3 runoff. CVIAF was active in seven Idaho communities and worked to elect their 14 endorsed candidates. Their campaigns utilized direct voter contact, persuasion mail, television advertisements and digital media in order to elect strong conservation champions into office and strengthen Idaho’s efforts to implement meaningful climate policies at every level of government and in every type of community.
Montana [WON pro-conservation majority on Billings City Council]
Montana Conservation Voters Action Fund spent $45,000 to turn out pro-environment voters to elect a pro-climate, pro-clean energy, pro-conservation majority on the Billings City Council and three of four endorsed candidates won. MCV’s political action committee made a record investment in a targeted independent expenditure campaign, sending more than 13,000 mailers, knocking 1,500 doors, calling nearly 6,000 voters, and sending more than 13,000 text messages. A new majority on the city council will mean strong appointees to the Billings’ recently approved Energy and Conservation Commission who will drive policy to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.
Nebraska Conservation Voters (NCV) invested $200,000 to turn out Nebraska voters and elect a pro-environment mayor of Lincoln, Leirion Gaylor Baird, and maintain a pro-environment majority on the Lincoln City Council in their May 2019 elections. NCV was the largest investor both in direct donations and independent expenditures. As in previous elections, NCV’s focus was on direct voter contact: NCV conducted targeted persuasion and GOTV, sending more than 70,000 pieces of mail and knocking more than 15,000 doors.
These victories set NCV up to advance clean energy and continue to push strong environmental policy in the city of Lincoln, and Nebraskans are already starting to see the impact. In July, Mayor Gaylor-Baird announced the formation of a Climate Change Task Force, which was her first major policy initiative. NCV’s Executive Director Eliot Bostar serves on this task force with other city leaders.
New Jersey [WON]
New Jersey League of Conservation Voters PAC invested in 37 State Assembly and State Senate pro-environment challengers and incumbents combined. Between New Jersey League of Conservation Voters PAC and the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters Victory Fund over $55,000 went towards on the ground organizing with NJLCV members, direct contributions, digital ads and mail supporting candidates this cycle. Keeping Democrats in control in Trenton to work with a pro-environment and climate governor is key to moving New Jersey to a greener legislative agenda.
Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania Victory Fund made a historic $250,000 investment to win the Chester County commission race, knocking more than 40,000 doors and educating tens of thousands of voters via mail, phone and digital campaigns. The most pro-environment county in Pennsylvania has been in the hands of commissioners who sold out their own constituents to allow the Mariner East pipeline to run through school playgrounds and people’s backyards. Taking the commission will give Pennsylvanians the power to block new pipelines, to invest in open space, to defend clean water, and to shift control of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, the nation’s fifth largest public transit system. More public transit running on clean, renewable energy will have a huge impact on climate pollution.
Washington [WON all races except Spokane mayoral]
Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund (WCVAF) invested $225,000 in support of environmental champions focusing on Whatcom, Pierce, and Spokane Counties. In Whatcom County, WCVAF defended the pro-conservation, anti-fossil fuel County Council and flipped the County Executive race. In Pierce County, WCVAF helped elect two Tacoma City Council Members and Kristin Ang to Port Commission. Kristin ran on a bold anti-fossil fuel, pro-environment and worker platform. Unfortunately, in one of the most expensive races in Spokane mayoral history, environmental champion Ben Stuckart was defeated.
WCVAF engaged field, mail, and digital media programs to protect Whatcom County’s efforts to pass a groundbreaking policy to prohibit new fossil fuel export facilities and new refineries and Pierce County’s ability to plan for a clean energy future for the region. In Whatcom County, WCVAF had to battle out-of-state fossil fuel companies that invested $75,000 into the Country Executive race in the final days.
Wisconsin Conservation Voters Independent Expenditure Committee endorsed Lisa Neubauer in the April 2019 Supreme Court race. A Supreme Court race in Wisconsin is viewed as important as a State House or Senate race. Not only does the Wisconsin Supreme Court have a heavy hand in redistricting, but is the sole decider in cases that approach the court that impact the environment in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Conservation Voters Independent Expenditure Committee spent $100,000 on direct mail in support of Lisa Neubauer for her election in April 2019.
Next year, as we stare down the most important elections of our lifetime, three years of climate victories and progress should give us realistic hope that our country is ready for new leadership in the White House — leadership that will prioritize peoples’ lives, their communities and their environment, rather than the wealthy polluting industries that currently benefit from the Trump administration’s policies.
Nevertheless, despite this momentum and despite new head-to-head polling that shows Trump trailing five of his top competitors, we know that electing pro-environment leaders will not happen of its own volition. The Conservation Voter Movement worked tirelessly this year to ensure that voters were prepared to make the pro-environment choice at the polls — we have just one year to ensure the same is true in the 2020 elections. Our Earth is worth voting for.
Paid for by LCV Victory Fund, www.lcvvictoryfund.org, and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.