Hobby Lobby, Climate Change, and the GOP’s Women Problem

More than 200 women brought their children to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to clean up the air pollution that causes climate change. The event was called a “Play-in for Climate Action”—you can’t expect all those kids to stay still for a traditional “sit-in”—and included a press conference with Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Around the same time, GOP lawmakers in the House were busy drafting a bill that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from doing the very thing those mothers want: clean up carbon pollution from power plants so their children have a better future.

Welcome to the latest battle in the Tea Party’s war on women. This conflict isn’t getting as much attention as the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, but it could play a significant role in who wins and loses the midterm elections.

Republican and Democratic candidates have already worked the Hobby Lobby case into stump speeches, fundraising appeals, and attack ads. Yet few people will vote on the Hobby Lobby ruling alone. Most voters cast ballots based on a cluster of issues that matter most to them.

One negative story about a Tea Party position that hurts women would not turn the midterm tide. But these days, the stories are mounting. GOP candidates are alienating women voters on a host of issues, from reproductive health to equal pay to climate change.

When did climate change become a women’s issue? When women made it clear they care deeply about it. Women in battleground states understand (by a margin of 72 percent to 19 percent) that we have a moral obligation to future generations to make the air safer to breathe and the climate more stable. Climate change increases smog and contributes to asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. If we don’t act now, the next generation will pay a steep price, and most women want children to inherit a brighter future, not one plagued by unchecked climate hazards.

And yet nearly every single Republican candidate running for office in the past few years—from the presidential level on down—has ignored, denied, or belittled the threat of climate change.  Right now, GOP leaders are attacking the EPA’s new “Clean Power Plan.” This plan would unleash wind and solar power, boost energy and cost savings, and finally hold power plants accountable for the enormous amounts of carbon pollution they spew into our air.

Blocking this kind of climate action isn’t just bad policy; it’s bad politics.

Women are one of the emerging voting blocs that will matter most in this election, along with Latinos and young people. Many female voters are likely to view Tea Party stance on climate change as yet another position that turns them off.

Republicans can’t afford that. In the 2012 presidential race, women favored the Democratic ticket by 11 percentage points.  Unmarried women voted for President Obama over Governor Romney by 67 percent. Those single women, it turns out, could be the soccer moms of this election—top Democratic strategists are already trying to appeal to them.

Some Republicans may be listening to what women want. Over the past few months, GOP leaders have hedged their climate bets; they have moved from outright denial to modest demurral. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Governor Rick Scott (R-FL), and Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL) have all said they don’t have the scientific background to assess the risks of climate change. This hardly constitutes a bold approach to a matter of national security, but it does suggest some Republicans realize that climate denunciation is a losing position.

Candidates who stand for climate action, meanwhile, can cast themselves as champions of clean air, public health, good jobs, and a brighter future for our children—a set of issues that appeal to many women voters.



Climate Spoof is All Too Real

We are standing on the cusp of making unprecedented progress to reduce carbon pollution, especially from old dirty power plants.  In addition to these important new public safeguards proposals, something else is changing – climate change rhetoric.

In just the last few months, the climate deniers have started to shift their public relations strategy.  Instead of trying to shoot holes in the arguments of 97 percent of the scientific community, they’ve chosen to just retreat from the debate by proclaiming their lack of credentials to participate.  Elected leaders, like Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Governor Rick Scott (R-FL), and 2016 Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL) are hedging their bets by stating their lack of scientific degree.  This may seem like a cop out to the average observer, but I’m willing to bet they are seeing the same polling numbers I am.

For instance, research out this week from the Yale project on Climate Change Communication titled “The Politics of Global Warming” finds that registered voters are nearly three times as likely to vote for politicians at the federal level who believe that climate change is real and support action to address it. Even registered Republican voters are coming around with 66 percent of liberal/moderate conservatives supporting “strict carbon emission limits on existing coal fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public health.”

But one candidate didn’t get the memo, as evidenced by the recent almost five minute video calling climate change “perhaps the greatest deception in the history of mankind.”  Honestly, I thought the commercial, put out by Louisiana State Rep. Lenar Whitney, was a spoof as it was shot mostly in black and white, complete with dramatic music and cute little knocks on the media. Unfortunately, Whitney is very serious with her misstatements, and fundamental misunderstanding of how climate change is putting her constituents in Louisiana at risk.

Since the 1930s, the state of Louisiana has lost 1880 square miles of coastline, which could almost double by the end of the century. At the same time the ocean is rising, the drinking and agricultural water is set for a decline.  According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, about “81 percent of the state’s parishes now face higher risk of water shortages by mid-century as a result of climate change.”  Whitney’s ignorance is putting people at real risk.

She makes the case that people are picking on the poor fossil fuel industry (with their $271 billion in profits) and accurately notes that fossil fuels helped make the U.S. a world leader in the 20th century.  Unfortunately, Whitney forgets the world has progressed (case in point, you’re likely reading this on your mobile device).  What made us a leader a century ago is not what will help us cement our place in the world now and into the future.

According to a Forbes magazine article by Chris Nelder, “Oil, natural gas and coal are set to peak and go into decline within the next decade, and no technology can change that.”  Prices are going to go up.  Whoever makes energy affordable is going to be the winner.

That makes EPA’s new Clean Power Plan, which will dramatically cut carbon emissions from power plants, so critical to our future.  This effort will protect our communities, our air, our water and our health, while spurring the clean energy technology and jobs we need to keep our lights on and our economy going.  Supporting this plan means supporting America’s future.

Meanwhile, Whitney needs to get with the times.  Louisiana can lead or it can be left behind.  At least Rubio and Boehner are smart enough to read the politics and know that they are about to get caught on the wrong side of history.  Whitney has gone all in for the “poor fossil fuel” industry with her dramatically uninformed video and if she is elected, she could lock Louisiana into a dark future of being beholden to dirty energy. The choice is simple, lead now or forever fall behind.

Cantor Can’t

Eric Cantor went down in a surprise defeat Tuesday night to a tea party unknown, David Brat, upsetting the Congressional order. It’s hard to think of someone more deserving of this fate, but not for the reasons he suffered it.  His lifetime environmental score of 4% should earn him scorn but he may be about to be replaced with a representative who might proudly sport a zero rating.

What are the lessons to be learned from this race? For the Republican Party, the erroneous and overlearned response could well be the need to bow even further to the extremism of the tea party movement. For the environment this would mean more denialism about the existence of climate change in the face of overwhelming evidence, instead of coming to the table for solutions.

Overreaction by the GOP would be especially curious in light of the string of primary victories by so-called establishment Republicans in Senate races in places like Kentucky, Texas and South Carolina.  If the tea party’s wins from 2010 were considered to be episode one in this series, then this year’s episode two would definitely be called, “The Establishment Strikes Back.”

Yet overreaction could well be the order of the day.  For now safely perched in a politically safe and weirdly gerrymandered House majority, the far right wing of the Republican party continues to push for an extreme agenda that many establishment Republicans believe hampers their ability to win control of the White House and the Senate.  Frankly, allowing more progressive views on the environmental matters within the party would be the smartest path forward, and was the case before the rise of the tea party.  But I’m certainly not arguing that Cantor would have done better in the race if he had been better on the environment.  I’m just saying for establishment Republicans to conclude that they should not be better on the environment generally as a result of this race would be a serious error.

So what is the difference between tea party and the GOP establishment these days? Not much on policy, at least not since almost every moderate Republican member of Congress has given up or been driven out of the party. It seems to be mostly style, in the sense of an insistence by one side on a purity of position and a staunch resistance to working with others to get things done.  Still it makes a big difference to be at least reasonable and not radical. Or as Peter King, who’s no liberal, observed about Cantor’s defeat, “I don’t know where we go now as a party.  I’m very concerned that we may go all the way to the right, following Ted Cruz and the shutdown congressman, and marginalizing us as a responsible governing party.”

Cantor’s defeat can mostly be understood as an inattentive effort by a politician whose ambitions lay elsewhere.  If there was a policy issue that decided this race, it may have been immigration, where Cantor’s opponent accused him of supporting “amnesty” for his work on a Republican version of reform.  The party has struggled to construct a viable national strategy to attract the support of minorities and Latinos in particular, but a National Republican Committee proposal to do that has not taken hold. The same problem persists for the party among young people and women.

Yet the party continues to cut itself off from these groups with its policy agenda, including hostility to action on one of the most important issues of the day – clean air and climate change. Despite reams of polling data proving the support among these demographic groups for action on climate change, the tea party has maintained its choke hold on this issue.

Cantor can’t be the template for the GOP establishment if they want to reshape their national politics.  Instead of learning the wrong lesson about this race, they should master the proof contained in this polling. And it wouldn’t hurt for them to reexamine the irrefutable scientific proof behind climate change at the same time.

Ignoring Cancer

A new mantra in the politics of climate change is reemerging, and it’s not good. In the last few weeks, random elected officials began proclaiming “they aren’t qualified” enough to know if climate change is man-made.

This morning Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said: “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.”

Earlier this week when asked if he believes in the man-made influence on climate change Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) said: “I’m not a scientist.”

Both can thank Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL) for starting this mantra back in 2009 when he said “I’m not a scientist. I’m not qualified to make that decision.”

Although Senator Rubio has hedged a bit lately as he (or his pollsters) realize that to become President he’s going to need a big coalition of supporters, most of whom will believe climate change is in part man-made.

These kinds of statements may just be clever attempts to avoid the question, but if they mean it, we should all have concerns about whether these people are really fit for office.  After all, elected officials are decision makers who are asked to vote everyday on issues where they have no expertise.  That is why they hold hearings with experts, why they hire experienced staff that does their research, and why they should take the time to understand a topic.  I’ve never heard them say they weren’t qualified to vote on sanctions for Iran’s nuclear enrichment program because “I am not a physicist.” Or I can’t decide if the CDC should have more funding to research bird flu because “I am not a doctor.” Or I can’t weigh in on universal pre-K or the Common Core because “I don’t have a doctorate in education.”

The fact that key GOP leaders are deploying this dodge shows that the age of denial is over. The majority of voters realize that climate change is a real threat, and they want leaders to deal with it, not pretend it doesn’t exist. But the Tea Party crowd hasn’t received the memo yet, so GOP leaders who want to appeal to that base have to be coy and demur the science. And while these lawmakers may not be scientists, they can rely upon the work of the 97 percent of scientists who have concluded that climate change is caused by human activity.

Let’s follow their logic in a practical application in your own life. If a doctor told you that you have cancer and you needed to seek treatment, would you tell the doctor you’re not qualified to talk about treatment options and move on with your day?  No, you would do research, maybe get a second opinion and educate yourself so you could seek the best treatment.

Our world needs leaders who take climate change as seriously as they would a diagnosis of cancer.  It sounds dire – because it is dire.  Countries will disappear, poverty will rise, and the health of our children will suffer.  We have a moral obligation to address climate change.  Pleading ignorance is not a compelling leadership strategy. We need lawmakers who will inform themselves about the threats facing our communities and our nation.  Speaker Boehner, Governor Scott, and Senator Rubio need to become qualified to have a discussion and then lead.  That is what they were elected to do and we are running out of time to act.



Time for Candidates to Go on the Climate Offense

If something were threatening the economic, cultural, and natural lifeblood of your state, would you want your members of Congress to ignore it or address it? Representative Gary Peters realizes that most voters want leaders to actually solve problems. And so he has made tackling climate change one of the central issues of the Michigan Senate race.

Plenty of other candidates have talked about climate change on the campaign trail. But Peters is one of the first to go on the climate offense. And judging from recent polls, his leadership has boosted his odds of winning.

Peters has challenged his opponent Terri Lynn Land to clarify her position on climate change and to acknowledge that human activity causes climate change. “This is something elected officials should be talking about—we have to be concerned about it,” Peters recently told the Washington Post. “Certainly the voters would like to know where she is. It’s a major issue.”

The National Mining Association responded recently by funding $300,000-worth of radio ads defending Land, but Peters isn’t backing down. He knows climate action is right for Michigan and for America, and he isn’t letting Land or the fossil fuel industry off the hook. He will also have the support of Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate and will be one of their top featured races in their #WinOnClimate campaign.

“I can’t imagine the Koch brothers would be supporting [Land] to the tune that they are unless she agrees with their agenda,” Peters said. “A big part of their agenda is dismantling environmental regulations. Until she says otherwise, it’s safe to assume she subscribes to it.”

Peters’ approach has the makings of a winning strategy. According to the NRDC Action Fund’s analysis of the past two election cycles, the best way to appeal to voters on climate change is to be early, loud, and local. In other words, get out front of the issue before your opponent does, talk about the issue often, and connect the dots between climate change and your home state.

Making those connections isn’t hard in Michigan. The state has already experienced more frequent and more intense heat waves, destructive floods, and droughts that destroy crops. The new National Climate Assessment said these extreme events will increase in Michigan as a result of unchecked climate change. And while this year’s long brutal winter brought dense ice coverage to the Great Lakes, most years have seen a decline in ice and water levels. That trend is expected to continue, with serious consequences for communities’ water supply and for the state’s shipping industry. Glen Nekvasil, the vice president of the Lake Carriers’ Association, said recently, “Since freighters typically carry as much as they possibly can and still safely navigate the shallowest sections of their route, even a small decline in long-term levels can be costly.”

Michigan is also in a good position to ramp up its clean energy investments both to address climate change and to build a new energy economy.  By continuing to accelerate deployment of wind, solar and energy efficiency resources, Michigan is reducing the pollution that causes climate change, keeping the electric system reliable and affordable, and putting more Michiganders to work in the energy industry.

Climate change has major consequences for Michiganders, and Peters is smart to call out Land out for failing to confront them head on. But the same lesson applies in countless other races. Climate change is leaving its mark on communities across the nation, and candidates who run on climate solutions will be viewed as leaders. They will be especially favored by pivotal young, women, and Latino voters who know climate change is one of the gravest threats of our time.

When Peters takes a stand against this threat and the polluters who cause it, he looks like a statesman who could lead us into a cleaner, more stable future. More candidates from both parties should take note and be early, loud, and local on climate change.