“Progressive ballot initiatives make life better. They can expand democracy. They empower people. They give all sorts of people reasons to vote, particularly in midterms. They steer state and sometimes national party organizations.” – Lester Spence
The 2018 midterm election results were a mosaic of red and blue patterns across the nation, which included a heap of bad news. Bad news about Colorado’s Proposition 112, the health and safety fracking setback. Bad news about Washington’s 1631, which could have been the nation’s first state carbon tax. Bad news about Andrew Gillum, Beto O’Rouke, Jess King, Randy Bryce, and Stacey Abrams (although there is still hope there). These were heartbreaking results for the progressive left, and for the climate movement.
As the dust settles, however, we will start to notice how different the political landscape is oriented. The Colorado Democratic party has not had this much total control of the state government since 1936. That’s a big deal.
The previous state attorney general, Republican Cynthia Coffman, was suing Colorado cities on behalf of oil and gas companies. She also argued in the Colorado Supreme Court that the state shouldn’t put public health, safety, and the environment first, but that regulators needed to “balance” corporate activity and public health. Or the previous Secretary of State, Republican Wayne Williams, who looked the other way when Nobel Energy, one of the largest fracking companies in the state, blatantly broke campaign finance laws — I’m sure it has nothing to do with Nobel bankrolling Williams political career.
Well, all of that is washed away. We now have a new Secretary of State, Democrat Jena Griswold, who intends to “stop dark money” and has specifically called out the Koch Brothers. We have a Democrat Attorney General whose campaign beat the most spending by The Republican Attorneys General Association on any state race. Phil Weiser, although he is not the climate champion we need, is firmly on the side of local governments as opposed to oil and gas companies.
And then there is Colorado’s first openly gay Governor-elect, Democrat Jared Polis, who has promised the state will run only on renewable power by 2040. Polis is a mixed bag of energy policy signals, many of which seemed to be electoral calculus; meaning, his tune could become increasingly climate hawkish once in office. The bottom line is that the Colorado campaign landscape has shifted dramatically in favor of climate action. But that’s not the only dramatic change.
Of the 1.9 million Coloradans who voted on Proposition 112, over one million voted YES. This ballot initiative galvanized, organized, and unified the Colorado climate movement. The endeavor, from collecting signatures to GOTV door-knocking, was a turbulent emotional experience. We were lied to, stolen from, cheated, and bullied. The oil and gas industry, in the end, smashed Colorado political spending records with over $40 million in reported spending against prop 112 (the previous spending record on a single ballot initiative was in the ballpark of around $18 million in 2014). Going through all of that, as a group, has lasting implications. The 112 effort is now a community of dispersed Coloradans with a single story and an unshakable determination. Where will that energy go?
If we play our cards well, this energy can move directly into the intersectional efforts pushing for climate and environmental justice throughout the state. Impacted families, with kids playing next to fracking wells, are not going to stop fighting for their right to clean air and water, and neither are many of the 860,000 YES on 112 voters. We are organized and we know there is work to be done. Coloradans can call on Governor-elect Jared Polis, calling for reform of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and a more just oversight process that doesn’t always cater to oil and gas interests. We can continue advocating for climate justice, pressing our newly elected officials to make climate a key issue in Colorado. We can continue creating and building strong coalitions across green, community, labor, faith groups and beyond.
The opportunities to plug in and continue this work are vast. Join one of 350 Colorado’s local teams across the state to work on fossil fuel divestment campaigns, advance public banking, and advocate for climate justice and renewable energy solutions. If you are a PERA member, join the FossilFreePERA Campaign and call on Colorado’s state pension fund to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in a renewable energy future. And stay tuned for 350 Colorado’s forthcoming new campaigns which will continue focusing on keeping fossil fuels in the ground, building the climate movement and actively making the transition to a more sustainable future.
Thanks to Brett Fleishman for today’s blog post. Brett is the Senior Global Analyst with 350.org, where he is also the head of finance campaigning. He focuses on fossil fuel divestment projects globally and lives in Boulder with his family. Brett also serves on the 350 Colorado Board of Directors.