There was some good, some bad, and some mighty ugly to report from last week’s election results. This week in CIB:
Executive Watch: Cooper, Stein Win Against the Tide
“North Carolina voters saw through the smoke and mirrors of the McCrory administration,” said Dan Crawford, director of governmental relations for the NC League of Conservation Voters. “For four years, Governor McCrory and his legislative allies refused to hold corporate polluters responsible for contaminating our state drinking water sources. They gutted longstanding air quality safeguards that have greatly reduced dangerous pollution across North Carolina. And they chose to create hurdles for clean, renewable energy development by eliminating successful incentive programs. The voters responded by electing new leaders who will prioritize what’s best for people, not what’s best for special interest groups.”
Despite the Trump tide in states nationwide (including North Carolina), voters in our state also rejected the environment-hostile policies of the McCrory Administration. By narrow but clear margins, North Carolinians selected Attorney General Roy Cooper as our next governor, and former State Senator Josh Stein to take Cooper’s spot as our next Attorney General.
NCLCV and environmental advocates around our state fought hard, long, and ultimately successfully to replace McCrory and elect Cooper. With unofficial statewide results showing a roughly 5,000 vote margin of victory for Cooper, most observers expect the final official canvas of counties this Thursday, November 18, to confirm that outcome. Still, legal observers for both those candidates will watch carefully in each of NC’s 100 counties as the final tallies are checked, and be ready to call for immediate court intervention at the first sign of any partisan chicanery.
The final official margin is likely to remain with the 10,000 difference which permits the losing side to call for an automatic recount, but unless the margin is substantially narrowed in Thursday’s official county canvasses, it would be highly unlikely to change in that recount. The official canvasses will include outstanding provisional and absentee ballots not included in the unofficial total. Historically, provisional ballots in NC elections tend to lean Democratic, while mail-in absentee ballots tend to lean Republican.
Meanwhile, the broader margin of victory for Josh Stein’s win over State Senator Buck Newton (a little more than 20,000 votes) seems even more reliable. Stein too was the beneficiary of heavy support from NCLCV and other environmental allies, and we look forward to continuing to see an environment-friendly leader in charge of our state’s Department of Justice and its legal team.
“Former State Senator Josh Stein was a relentless champion for clean water during his time in the NC General Assembly” added Crawford. “Stein will bring this experience and passion into his new role as Attorney General by enforcing laws designed to preserve and protect the quality of life North Carolinians expect and deserve.”
CIB will watch the official completed tallies this week and update the status of the transition of administrations next week.
Judicial Watch: NC Voters Flip the Supreme Court
In what was widely seen as an upset in progressives’ favor in North Carolina, Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan defeated incumbent Associate Justice Bob Edmunds to win a key seat on the NC Supreme Court. Morgan’s win will change the present 4-3 Republican majority on our state’s highest Court to a 4-3 Democratic majority.
[Caveat: Raleigh is also buzzing this week with the rumor that a special session of the NC General Assembly will be called, which could pass special legislation to expand the state Supreme Court by two members. That would deliver two seats to outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory to fill with members of his own party before January. If the legislature were to take this unprecedented step in the face of voter rejection, then the Court would hold a 5-4 Republican majority until the statewide electorate had a chance to fill those seats for a full term.]
As CIB reported in last week’s edition, Morgan’s election was supported by the NC state chapter of the Sierra Club, among other public interest organizations. Control of that Court’s majority is regarded as critical to the standards that it will apply to the legislative and Congressional redistricting plans to be written under federal court mandate next year. At issue is the degree of deference or skepticism likely to be applied by the Court to the legislature’s rationale for its plans. Ads during the later stages of the campaign specifically targeted for criticism Edmunds’ authorship of a decision upholding the extremely “gerrymandered” and uncompetitive district maps in NC.
Good-government advocates in general are pressing for plans which draw districts in less partisan and more competitive fashion. Environmental advocates believe that competitive elections are generally good for our prospects of promoting the election of environment-friendly candidates in our state.
Washinton Watch: Environmental Advocates Pledge Resistance
“The results of the presidential election don’t change the fact that the impacts of climate change are already upon us and that we as a country must continue to come together to address this crisis,” declared national League of Conservation Voters (LCV) president Gene Karpinski. “If President-Elect Trump and his allies think the results of this election give them a mandate to roll back this progress they are sorely mistaken…The transition to a clean energy future has already begun, and it cannot and will not be stopped. Our future depends on it.”
Most of us are not yet ready for the painstaking process of deciphering why the presidential election went so shockingly and disastrously wrong for the environment. That awaits an unpleasant but necessary deep dive into the data of last week’s voting, to understand which of the many theories flying around best explain the actual results on the ground. More American voters supported the environment-friendly Clinton-Kaine ticket, but enough voters in enough key states voted for Trump-Pence to give it the electoral college victory. For the second time in two decades, the candidate backed by fewer voters in the election will occupy the White House in January.
This week, we will instead feature words to stiffen the collective spine of the citizen environmental movement in America.
Yes, the most fundamental policies, laws, and programs to protect clean water and air, land and wildlife, and human health are at extraordinary risk unprecedented in the last 40+ years. However, we should remember that even when they don’t vote wisely for candidates that will implement them, other evidence shows that Americans want a clean environment, and expect their leaders to deliver it.
Those coming in to the White House and Congress in January will face a hard backlash from the broader public when their voters realize that their hunting and fishing, drinking water, and children’s health are all at growing risk. Those of us who have been sounding that alarm for the past year (and longer) must reach out to the voters who had other concerns foremost in their minds on election day, but who share our desire for clean water, air, and land.
Leaders of the citizen environmental movement nationwide recognize that we cannot give up, and pledge to fight for every inch of progress we have gained nationwide since the birth of the American environmental movement in 1970.
“Make no mistake — the election of Donald Trump could be devastating for our climate and our future. Donald Trump now has the unflattering distinction of being the only head of state in the entire world to reject the scientific consensus that mankind is driving climate change. Campaigning is one thing, governing is another. Trump must choose whether he will be a President remembered for putting America and the world BACK on a path to climate disaster, or for listening to the American public, investing in the fastest-growing sector in the US economy — clean energy — and keeping us on a path to climate progress. Trump better choose wisely, otherwise — we can guarantee him the hardest fight of his life every step of the way,” declared national Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune.
Brune added, “If Trump does try to undermine climate action, he will run headlong into an organized mass of people who will fight him in the courts, in the states, in the marketplace and [referring to peaceful protests] in the streets.”
Our environment still has powerful allies in Congress and honest brokers in the courts who will work just as hard as we do to protect all that we can. Nearly half of the U.S. Senate will be in opposition to the policies of the incoming presidential administration on the environment, in a chamber where the rights of a determined minority to stop or slow bad decisions is stronger than in any other part of U.S. government.
We will never give up the fight for a living world and a healthy people in America and around the globe.
Legislative Watch: Environment Gains NC House Allies
Three NC House challengers endorsed by NCLCV’s Conservation PAC succeeded in their bids to take seats in the NC House of Representatives last week. In addition, three House incumbents and one Senate incumbent targeted for endorsement by NCLCV retained their seats.
North Carolina House
HD40: Challenger Joe John appears to have defeated incumbent Rep. Marilyn Avila, who had earned a 0% on NCLCV’s 2015 Legislative Scorecard.
HD41: After her first term in the NC General Assembly, Rep. Gale Adcock proved her commitment to ensuring the health and well-being of North Carolina families and environment came first, earning her a ‘Rising Star’ designation at NCLCV’s 2016 Green Tie Awards.
HD44: Voters clearly approved of Rep. Billy Richardson’s effort thus far to protect our natural heritage, re-electing him to another two-year term.
HD49: A 0% environmental voting record did not bode well for incumbent Rep. Gary Pendleton, who was defeated by challenger Cynthia Ball, a candidate who criticized the General Assembly’s wasteful SolarBees project to “clean up” Jordan Lake as well as fast-tracking hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in 2014.
HD88: Challenger Mary Belk, a candidate who ran on a platform to protect NC’s waters and quality of life, defeated Rep. Rob Bryan, who has a lifetime environmental record of 4%.
HD92: Newly-elected Chaz Beasley earned the Conservation PAC’s endorsement due to his resounding commitment to invest in clean, renewable energy as well as ensuring no dangerous coal ash remains near state drinking water sources.
HD115: Rep. John Ager consistently voted in favor of stronger clean air and water rules in his first term in the NC House, resulting in his recognition as a 2016 ‘Rising Star’ at NCLCV’s annual Green Tie Awards. Rep. Ager will continue to be a voice for preserving the state’s natural resources, which will help to grow our economy and build healthier communities.
North Carolina Senate
SD16: Senator Jay Chaudhuri earned himself a reputation as a prominent voice for environmental values in his first legislative session, earning a perfect 100% on NCLCV’s 2016 Legislative Scorecard.
As NCLCV’s Dan Crawford points out, “We still have a long way to go to elect a legislature that prioritizes clean air and water. Our staff, organizers, and 50,000 members will not stop holding elected officials accountable for defending environmental and public health protections.”
Around the State: Green Transportation, Parks Win Votes Around NC
Local voters in North Carolina last week delivered some noteworthy wins for public investment in greener transportation alternatives, as well as parks and recreation projects.
None of these wins was bigger and more noteworthy than the victory for the Wake public transit plan, enabled by voter approval of the transit half-cent local sales tax increment on voters’ ballots in Wake County. In a heavy-turnout year, the detailed Wake transit plan won a solid six point victory.
Voters also approved bond issues for transportation and for parks and recreation projects in communities around North Carolina, including Wilmington, Goldsboro, Greensboro, Forsyth County, and Asheville. A major lesson in these votes is that even cautious electorates will back well-planned, well-explained investments in public infrastructure when they track public priorities for fundamental infrastructure and desired enhancements to local quality of life—like green transit and green public outdoor spaces.
Around the States: Florida Voters Reject Solar Limits
Finally this week, we note an encouraging voter decision down south in Florida. Voters there rejected a utilities-backed effort to handcuff ongoing growth in solar energy development at the local level.
Florida voters rejected a misleading proposed amendment to their state constitution (Florida’s own “amendment 1”) which “could have been used as a legal barrier to raise fees on solar users and keep out companies that want to compete with the utilities to provide solar energy generation.” A bipartisan coalition of solar manufacturers, environmental groups, and even ‘tea party’ organizations formed to successfully oppose the power company giants.
Now that’s the kind of outreach and political coming-together effort that we can support with enthusiasm.
That’s our report for this week.