New Latino Polling Provides Roadmap to Victory for 2014 Candidates

As we kick off a midterm-election year, candidates around the country are trying to figure out how to attract coveted Latino voters. A new survey released today offers a crystal clear answer. The issue that matters most to these voters after immigration reform is climate change.

Nine in ten Latinos want the nation to take action to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change, according to the survey done by Latino Decisions for NRDC and Voces Verdes. When it comes to government action specifically, eight in ten want President Obama to reduce the carbon pollution that is driving climate change.

This is a landslide of support for climate action, and smart candidates will take note. Latinos represent the largest segment of new voters outside of young people. Twelve million Latinos voted in 2012—10 percent of the electorate—and that is expected to double by 2030.

Most voters in the electorate have already picked a side. There are very few opportunities for political parties to find new members.  But a large portion of the Latino community is still up for grabs, and candidates are eager to recruit them.

Sure, conventional political wisdom tells us Cuban-Americans living in Florida are likely to identify with the GOP, and families newly settled from Mexico tend to vote Democratic. But more Latino voters are registering to vote every year, and they come from a broad array of backgrounds, community ties, and political views. And where climate is concerned, this poll found that a majority of Latino Republicans support fighting climate change and the president’s climate action plan.

Every political consultant worth their smart phone is trying to guess how Latino voting trends will play out. Will Latinos create a solid voting bloc similar to African Americans and Native Americans who typically back Democrats? Or will Latinos behave like White voters and split and segment?

We don’t know where the patterns will take us, and so there is a mad dash to court everyone at once. The new survey results confirm that candidates who champion climate action and environmental protection will definitely turn heads.

In some races, these climate-focused voters could help carry the elections. North Carolina, for instance, is home to one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the country. Senator Kay Hagen is running for reelection is very close race, but her track record of support for wind and solar power and her consistent backing of carbon reductions could appeal to the huge majority of Latino voters who care more about climate action than any other issue after immigration.

Latinos feel strongly that taking action against climate change is part of creating a brighter, more hopeful future for their children. It’s part of their pursuit of the American dream. A candidate who grounds that dream in clean energy jobs, strong carbon limits, and healthier air will attract a majority of voters—and not just Latinos.


Can the Environment Save the Republican Party?

The Republican Party is primed for success in 2014. In addition to benefitting from redistricting wizardry, the party has history on its side: off-year elections give opposition parties the clear lead, especially in the second term of a lame duck president.

Yet the GOP has failed to turn these advantages into real gains. It may be winning battles, but it is losing the war because it keeps eroding its voter appeal.

It has turned off young voters with leaders who routinely belittle the severity of climate change, like when Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) told a town hall meeting that “global warming is a total fraud.”

It has alienated women with candidates like Colorado’s Ken Buck who said people should vote for him “because I do not wear high heels.” It has angered Latino voters with lawmakers like Representative Steve King (R-IA) who said that for every Latino valedictorian, there are 100 more hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.

And it has even turned off one of the most reliable voting blocs in the country: senior citizens. In 2011, 43 percent of seniors said they viewed Republicans in a favorable light, but now only 28 percent do, according to a poll by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. Maybe voting 40 times to undue Obamacare had something to do with the decline.

Being the Party of No may get the extremist blood pumping and help win individual primaries, but it doesn’t offer much in the form of leadership or vision for the future.

As an environmental advocate fighting for climate action, I suppose I should welcome the listlessness of a group that promotes climate paralysis. But as an American citizen, I know our democracy functions best when it has two vibrant parties jostling with one another and staking out common ground.

To become vibrant once again, the GOP has to stop featuring the craziest voices in its choir and start singing a tune that appeals to more voters. The environment is a good place to start.

This might sound shocking in the age of climate denial, but the truth is that clean air and clean water don’t observe party lines. They benefit all Americans, and poll after poll shows American voters value them. A Pew poll released earlier this year showed 79% of people surveyed were worried about the pollution in their drinking water.  The same poll found 70% of people worried about air pollution.

Wise Republicans have recognized this through the years, from President Teddy Roosevelt preserving our shared natural heritage to President George H.W. Bush helping to strengthen the Clean Air Act in 1990 and launch the cap and trade program to reduce acid rain.

Since the rise of the Tea Party, however, environmental protections are often cast as government overreach instead of what they really are: the safeguards that stand between your family and the polluter down the street. No matter what your ideological persuasion is, chances are you don’t want your children or parents breathing more smog or swimming in sewage.

This is the fundamental appeal of environmental issues. They are local, and if all politics are local, then calling on a nearby industrial plant to clean up its waste and making sure the state’s beaches are clean enough to keep the tourist dollars coming will generate political momentum.

It might also bring back some women voters, who care so deeply about the health of our families, and maybe even some Latino voters who routinely rank environmental safeguards as a priority. These are good groups to get on your side, because they will pound the pavement for you: the two largest groups of volunteers in Obama’s 2012 reelection army were women and Latinos.

The environment can be a bridge builder for the GOP, but only if it makes room for moderate leaders who have championed environmental safeguards in the past—leaders like Sherry Boehlert and Mike Castle and even Fred Upton before he began pandering to the Tea Party in 2010. If the GOP wants to shore up its broad-based appeal instead of living off the rage of a dwindling group, it will listen to its own clean water and clean air voices once again.


Luntz is Right: Limbaugh Hurting GOP, America

Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz was caught on a hidden camera recently, talking smack about one of the most influential and least constructive people in America: Rush Limbaugh. Luntz asked that recording devices be turned off before he began to talk honestly about the destructive political polarization being caused by conservative media and divisive talk radio hosts. Luntz was right, if understated, in saying that Limbaugh’s m.o. is “problematic” for America and not helpful to the cause of helping Republicans get elected.

I want to use this space to agree with Luntz and propose at least one solution.

First, the problem. Luntz is certainly correct that bombastic talk show hosts are more interested in boosting advertising revenue than they are in solving our country’s problems. Limbaugh’s denial of climate change is but one of many examples where outrageous ignorance is standing in the way of progress. Luntz is right when he says that politicians understand the harm being inflicted by these media personalities, yet they remain unwilling to cross them, fearing the consequences of their ire.

Second, the solution. Politicians must begin responding to the wide swaths of their constituents – including Republicans – who want action of a range of issues, rather than kowtowing to Limbaugh and company. Across the suite of controversial and divisive issues, a clear majority emerges for action. On immigration, two thirds of Republicans support the recent bipartisan proposal for reform. Likewise, a clear majority supports action on environmental issues like clean energy and climate change. Seventy percent of Republicans believe, despite what Limbaugh says, that the world is warming and about 90% of Americans want to generate more wind and solar energy. This includes huge majorities of Republicans. For example 84% of Republicans said they think it is important to generate more solar energy. 

In the wake of 2012 election losses, the Republican Party has begun soul-searching. Moving beyond a narrow base and rebuilding a durable majority will require being on the same side with a majority of Americans. Those people want clean energy jobs. They believe in climate change. They want action. And unlike Luntz, I’m willing to put that on the record.

Tea Partiers Are Destroying the Legacy of the Republican Party 

A new book out this week presents an astounding fact that could help shape the upcoming elections: the Republican-led House voted nearly 200 times to undermine public health and environmental safeguards in 2011.

This constitutes the largest attack on environmental protections in our nation’s history. But the American people didn’t ask for such a radical departure. Eight out of ten voters want the standards that keep our water clean and our air safe to breathe either strengthened or left alone.

Reckless: The Political Assault on the American Environment chronicles the Tea-Party-inspired attempt to strip away trusted safeguards. Written by Bob Deans, a veteran journalist who now works for the NRDC Action Fund, the book describes the damage these measures would do and the polluting companies they would benefit.

But the book also provides something else: a valuable insert to a 2012 campaign playbook.

Anyone running in a primary or race against a Tea-Partier or those who have voted with them should shine a spotlight on their radical environmental assault. They can remind voters that when the economy was in flames and Americans were losing their homes, these lawmakers spent their time trying to dismantle environmental laws that have stood strong for 40 years.

Instead of addressing the global financial crisis an unregulated mortgage debt, leaders like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor claimed that the Environmental Protection Agency and its public health safeguards were the “job destroying” villains.

Challengers can also remind voters that the Republication war against environmental protection is bad for our health.

Reckless describes how Tea Party House members tried time and again to gut the Clean Air Act. This isn’t some obscure, bureaucratic regulation. It is the law that has prevented more than 4,300,000 premature deaths since 1990. It’s the law that slashed the number of unhealthy air days in Los Angeles from more than 200 days in 1970 down 28 days in 2003. It’s the law that brought the percentage of American children with dangerous levels of lead in their blood down from 90 percent in the 1970s to 2 percent in 2000. And it’s the law that has had decades of bipartisan support.

But the Leadership of the House Republicans wanted to halt this progress and return us to darker, dirtier days. Challengers can offer voters a clear contrast: clean skies and healthier families or more smog and asthma attacks? I can’t think of one parent who wants their kids breathing more pollution.

Challengers—especially those going after moderate voters—should remind Americans of something else as well: the Republican Party didn’t always put polluters first. Reckless charts the GOP’s proud tradition of conservation from President Teddy Roosevelt to President George H.W. Bush—the man who called the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 one of his greatest legislative accomplishments. Most Republican voters continue to hold these values even if their lawmakers have set them aside: 58 percent of Republican voters said they oppose House efforts to block the EPA from reducing air pollution from power plants, according to a 2011 poll by GS Strategy Group and Hart Research.

Why have so many House lawmakers forgotten that conservation is part of conservative values? I see two reasons. First, the Tea Party scared the daylights out of moderate Republicans and even out of sensible conservatives.

And second, polluters spend a lot of cash in Washington. Reckless reports that people and organizations associated with the oil and gas industry spent $31.8 million on campaign contributions during the 2010 congres­sional elections, with 77 percent of the money going to Republicans.

Polluters may have piles of money, but candidates who stand for ordinary Americans and offer a vision of a cleaner, healthier future can mobilize voters better than any corporate-funded rally can. NRDC Action Fund’s research shows that promoting a clean energy vision can help candidates win elections. In this election cycle, candidates should remind voters how hard Tea Party Republicans worked to take away that cleaner future.

Americans of both parties want their kids to breathe safe air and drink clean water. To make sure we deliver on that promise, we must all do our part to end the House Republicans’ historic assault on environmental protections.



A Conservative Defense of Public Lands

Conservation wasn’t always a partisan issue. Many of the great conservationists of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s were Republicans — and, many of these, NRDC supporters.

Today we hear so many anti-conservationist comments from the Republican Party that we forget how different things used to be. The contrast between the GOP of today and the GOP of the recent past is perhaps most pronounced in area of public lands.

Last week Timothy Egan reported in the New York Times about Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum’s wacky ideas about public lands.

In one corner, Mitt Romney is saying that “[he doesn’t] understand the purpose” of our conservationist legacy. In his words, “Unless there’s a valid, legitimate and compelling public purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land.” In the other corner, Rick Santorum is promising to privatize these public lands. His reasoning is as follows:

The federal government doesn’t care about this land. They don’t live here, they don’t care about it. We don’t care about it in Washington. It’s flyover country for most of the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Santorum’s understanding of public lands is completely backwards. Our public lands system — which includes 190 million acres of national forest, 52 million acres of national parks and more than 500 million acres of other open space — was created precisely for the PUBLIC, and NOT for Washington bureaucrats like Mr. Santorum to give away for short-term political gains.

These comments are out of touch with public opinion. Egan cited a recent poll by Colorado College which found that 93 percent of Colorado’s voters agree that national parks, forests and wildlife areas “are an essential part of Colorado’s economy.”

Furthermore, in the broader historical context, the assault on public lands is a radical departure from the proud conservationist tradition of Republican leaders Nelson Rockefeller, Barry Goldwater, Teddy Roosevelt, and even Ronald Reagan. Though we had plenty of tough battles throughout the early years (with Democrats and Republicans alike), both sides, at the very least, seemed to understand some basic, fundamental principles of conservation. President Ronald Reagan described these shared values in remarks to a federal agency in 1984:

If we’ve learned any lessons during the past few decades, perhaps the most important is that preservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge; it’s common sense. Our physical health, our social happiness, and our economic well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources.

Though we disagreed often, and on many issues, President Reagan ultimately understood the value of public lands and wild places and embraced the principle of conservation. During his presidency, Reagan signed into law some 43 wilderness bills, creating over 10 million acres of protected wilderness areas.

President Reagan believed that America’s public lands were a cornerstone of liberty, and a celebration of our heritage. He articulated these views in a message to Congress in 1988:

The preservation of parks, wilderness, and wildlife has…aided liberty by keeping alive the 19th century sense of adventure and awe with which our forefathers greeted the American West. Many laws protecting environmental quality have promoted liberty by securing property against the destructive trespass of pollution. In our own time, the nearly universal appreciation of these preserved landscapes, restored waters, and cleaner air through outdoor recreation is a modern expression of our freedom and leisure to enjoy the wonderful life that generations past have built for us.

We can be certain that Teddy Roosevelt would have strongly opposed Mr. Santorum’s plans to privatize our public lands. In his 8th annual message to Congress President Roosevelt declared:

Nothing should be permitted to stand in the way of the preservation of the forests, and it is criminal to permit individuals to purchase a little gain for themselves through the destruction of forests when this destruction is fatal to the well-being of the whole country in the future.

The father of modern conservation was not afraid to invoke morals. Teddy Roosevelt believed in the principle of intergenerational responsibility:

Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.

What Governor Romney and Senator Santorum fail to understand, in the end, is that public lands are a critical asset for ordinary people, and for all of us: these are the beautiful places that families and children flock to in the summers to experience America at its best. Above all, there is nothing “conservative” about sacrificing our national heritage for short-term political and economic gain. As President Reagan said:

What is a conservative after all but one who conserves, one who is committed to protecting and holding close the things by which we live…And we want to protect and conserve the land on which we live — our countryside, our rivers and mountains, our plains and meadows and forests. This is our patrimony. This is what we leave to our children.

If public lands are liquidated, and handed over to the highest bidder, where are families going to take their vacations? Where are they going to hunt, hike, and fish? What would Reagan say now?