by Sarah Rose and Rachel Van Wert Bird
The votes in California’s primary are in, and the environment and the clean energy economy are the clear winners. Voters weren’t fooled despite an astounding $29 million spent to influence legislative elections, much of it by the oil industry and its allies to prop up pro-oil Democrats.
The election results busted three insidious myths: That voters don’t prioritize the environment, that if you cozy up to Big Oil they’ll buy you an election and that incumbents have such a lock that their constituents won’t hold them accountable.
Californians vote for legislators who support clean air, good jobs and healthy communities. Polling shows that a candidate’s stand on renewable energy is the most powerful determinant of Democratic voters’ support in a primary.
In the 27th Senate District, Henry Stern put that to the test in his bid to succeed environmental hero Fran Pavley. Stern ran on the environment and the clean economy in a politically moderate district that is home to Porter Ranch, where more than 10,000 residents were forced out of their homes by a methane gas leak. He beat out an oil industry-backed Democrat by more than 10,000 votes.
Every election season, we see candidates bow to Big Oil and its fat wallet. But that’s no longer a winning ticket. In the 15th Senate District, Assemblywoman Nora Campos earned a tidy thank-you of nearly $350,000 in independent expenditures from Chevron, Tesoro and Valero for abstaining from the vote on Senate Bill 32.
But San Jose voters supported Sen. Jim Beall and his sterling record on public health, climate action and the environment, giving him nearly twice as many votes as Campos. While this battle continues to November, voters sent a strong signal that joining forces with big polluters is not a path to victory.
Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown spent last year voting in lockstep with the fossil fuel industry and against the 40,000 clean energy jobs in the Inland Empire. The voters of San Bernardino County were paying attention and knew they could do better. Eloise Gomez Reyes, a champion of clean air, stepped up to run against Brown and the $1 million that Chevron spent on her behalf. Against the odds, Gomez Reyes earned a spot in the top two and will continue on to the general election.
A lot of work remains before the November election. But Californians have sent a clear message that leadership on the environment and the clean economy is a winning strategy. It’s time for candidates and elected officials across our state to listen.
Originally published as a Sacramento Bee Op-Ed. Sarah Rose is CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters. Rachel Van Wert Bird is political director of Leadership for a Clean Economy.