By Will Driscoll, Virginia Sierra Club Membership Vice Chair
While neighboring states take the first steps toward achieving a stable climate, Virginia’s climate progress to date has been negligible. Unfortunately, Virginia’s legislature serves the fossil-fuel agenda of Dominion Virginia Power, blocking expansion of solar and wind power at nearly every turn (for a detailed account, see PowerForThePeopleVA.com).
What we need is a climate-friendly state legislature. We have the potential. On the House of Delegates side, for example, Virginia has approximately 18 of 100 House districts that voted for Barack Obama and Tim Kaine, yet are represented by Republicans. Unfortunately, so far those Republicans have followed party discipline in quashing clean energy – energy efficiency, solar and wind power.
The low voter turnout in Virginia’s off-year elections accounts for the “Obama-district Republicans.” Democrats are raising money for those races, with a Democratic Party agenda, rather than a specific climate focus. The Democratic Party investment in these races is essential to build for the future and to keep Republicans from obtaining a veto-proof majority. Yet additional climate-focused campaign investment could help achieve better results. If voters in at least some of these districts could be engaged on the climate issue, enough to come out and vote for a climate-friendly Democrat, that could swing some races. In subsequent years, the process could be repeated to win additional seats.
Such a strategy calls for a combined effort between Democrats and climate allies. With enough funding in some or all of these contestable Virginia House districts, climate-conscious voters could be mobilized to vote, assuming they had a climate-friendly candidate who could earn their vote.
I have made this case to NextGen Climate’s billionaire founder Tom Steyer. NextGen Climate currently has a strictly national focus, mobilizing young Americans to vote for climate-aware candidates in Presidential and U.S. Senate elections. But NextGen Climate could also take on a state focus, by entering state electoral work. Alternatively, the crowdfunding strategy used so effectively by the Bernie Sanders campaign could be used, or perhaps not-so-big-money funders with a climate interest could lead the way. Virginia environmental groups could be recruited, and potential climate-aware Democratic candidates could step forward.
Virginia—one of only four states with legislative elections next year—would be an excellent location to develop and test strategies in 2017 to elect climate-friendly state legislators.
Lessons learned could then be applied in 2018 to state legislative races in many other states that face the same climate policy problem as Virginia. (See, for example, “Throwing Shade: Ten Sunny States Blocking Distributed Solar Development,” by the Center for Biological Diversity).
To protect our climate, we need to reshape the state legislatures of Virginia and a number of other states. Personally, I would like to see a climate-friendly Republican compete against a climate-friendly Democrat in every state legislative election, to ensure that no matter what, the climate wins. At some point, the Republican Party may abandon its lockstep opposition to renewable energy. But until then, an alliance among Democrats, climate funders, and climate advocates to elect climate-friendly Democrats in state legislative races seems like the way to go.
Will Driscoll receives email at William.L.Driscoll at comcast (dot net)