Virginia, New Jersey and Washington Vote for Climate Action

Nov 8, 2017

Gene Karpinski, President, League of Conservation Voters

What a difference an election makes. We have been saying for months that climate change was on the ballot this year. Election Day 2017 results make clear: clean energy is the big winner, and big polluters are the big loser.

In New Jersey, Virginia and Washington our state partners invested more than they ever have in key races, and voters elected leaders who are going to act on climate, beat back Big Polluters, and move us toward a clean energy future regardless of the Trump administration’s continued attacks on practically every environmental protection on the books.

This off-off-year election sent a message: We’re all in for climate progress.

In three states where voters had a clear choice between candidates running for environmental protection versus those representing their polluter backers, they chose clean air and clean water and a clean energy economy. Governor-elects Ralph Northam in Virginia and Phil Murphy in New Jersey — alongside what is looking to be a new pro-environment state legislature in Washington — will usher in new eras of progress for their states.

These wins will have huge policy implications in states that can continue, or join, the fight against the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks.

Elected officials at all levels of government should take notice — there’s a steep price for siding with Trump and his polluter allies like Big Oil and Coal instead of the people of this country who are worried about clean water, clean air and the need to fight climate change.

The Virginia races were the first true electoral test of Trump’s attacks on our environment, with two ads (here and here) on the issue — including the first statewide candidate to criticize his opponent for opposing the Paris Climate Agreement, and Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor-elect Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring all talking about climate change and offshore drilling on the campaign trail.

Meanwhile, Ed Gillespie celebrated Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, attacked McAuliffe-Northam clean energy plans as “Obama-style”, prioritized building fossil fuel infrastructure and expanding offshore drilling, and ignored climate change’s devastating impact on rising sea levels along Virginia’s coasts. Our state league partners dubbed him PollutEd Gillespie, exposing his long record of siding with polluters like the Koch Brothers over Virginia families.

Investing more than $4 million to elect Northam and other environmental champions, the Virginia League of Conservations PAC made a historic push to ensure this victory — their largest electoral investment ever. Voter mobilization is key to electing environmental champions up and down the ballot, and that’s why Virginia LCV PAC prioritized direct voter contact and once again ran one of the largest field programs outside of the campaign itself with over 350,000 door knocks and hundreds of volunteers engaged.

Similarly in New Jersey, electing Phil Murphy for governor signals a stark break from the state’s Trumpian legacy under Chris Christie. Early on in the campaign, Murphy gained the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters’ endorsement when he pledged to get the Garden State to 100 percent clean energy by 2050 — making New Jersey only the second state in the nation to commit to 100 percent clean energy.

Through digital ads and mail, NJLCV Victory Fund engaged and mobilized thousands of environmentally conscious voters and invested over $400,000 — the most ever spent in New Jersey elections by an environmental group. Between the primary and the general election, digital advertising reached almost 400,000 people and seven pieces of direct mail went out to persuadable voters (targeting 39,807 voters during the primary and 70,802 voters for the general election).

And in an “off year” election in Washington, the special election for one state senate seat, while not yet officially called, looks likely to tip the balance of power in the legislature to a pro-environment majority, opening the door for our nation’s greenest governor, Jay Inslee, to move forward with the state’s clean energy priorities. Our partners at Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund were one of the top two political funders in the state investing time and resources to elect Manka Dhingra and highlight the stark contrasts between the candidates.

Gaining a pro-environmental majority in the State Senate puts environmental protection back at the forefront, and gives Washington the chance to tackle some of the state’s biggest environmental challenges like oil transportation safety, toxic clean-up and prevention, and climate change and clean energy.

With sky-high stakes, WCV Action Fund went all on — knocking on 30,576 doors, sending three mail pieces to 23,521 households, running digital ads, texting 20,000 voters directly through peer-to-peer texting, making 18,000 calls directly to voters and partnering with New Direction PAC in a mail, canvass, digital advertising, and cable TV program totaling $2.5 million.

WCV Action Fund went toe-to-toe with the oil industry that spent heavily in both the State Senate race and a seat on the Vancouver Port Commission. WCV Action Fund played a key role as a bellwether against an unprecedented level of oil industry campaign contributions of over $530,000 directly from oil companies and oil industry backed PACs. As a part of the community, WCV Action Fund staff and volunteers worked on the ground for months helping to organize an unprecedented grassroots effort to highlight the contrasts between the candidates and combat oil industry messaging and divisive campaign tactics.

While still not officially called, WCV Action Fund’s supported candidate Don Orange has a strong lead. This race could very well decide the fate of the nation’s largest proposed oil — by — rail terminal, raising health, safety, and economic impacts throughout the state. The 3-person Port Commission has an opportunity to rescind the terminal’s lease. Currently split on the commission, this 3rd seat is the swing vote. With hundreds of members and volunteers in Clark County, our state affiliate has been working for five years to stop the proposed oil terminal.

People across the country also got involved by contributing directly to pro-environment candidates through GiveGreen In the States — a project of LCV Political Engagement Fund and NextGen America . GiveGreen in the States raised or contributed over $4.8 million for 12 candidates in various state races and all 12 won.

Similarly the first two nominations from state partners to the Dirty Dozen in the States were defeated — Ed Gillespie and Kris Greene.

Winning these big races in Virginia, New Jersey, and Washington — as well as key races elsewhere — gives us realistic hope that our country can continue to lead on climate and clean energy, despite the attacks coming out of Washington, D.C.

In Virginia, the Northam administration will continue the significant environmental progress that Governor McAuliffe led.

In New Jersey, Governor-elect Phil Murphy can finally get the Garden State back on the path to a clean energy future.

And in Washington, Governor Inslee — who is right now in Germany showing the world that our country still wants to fight climate change — will finally have the backing he needs in the state legislature to take Washington and the region to a whole new level of environmental progress.

Make no mistake, these were hard won victories that took everything we had. Polluters spent millions in many of these races and are not going to let their stranglehold on Congress and the White House go without an all-out fight next year. We’ve shown we know how to win, but the resistance is far from over.

This was just a warmup. In 2018 you can bet we’ll be in streets, on the phones, online and on the air putting clean air, clean water and clean energy on the ballot all over the country.