There is something ironic about the post-election surge of articles about the environmental consequences of various outcomes at the polls - from the gloom and doom in Washington to brighter skies in California.
Before the ballots were cast, journalists paid hardly any attention to issues like energy and climate. Now that (most) election results have been signed, sealed, and delivered, however, the press couldn’t be more curious about what the future has in store for various environmental policies and regulatory agencies. Oh, well. Better late than never, they say.
A Referendum on Cap-and-Trade?
One of the big questions on many reporters’ minds was, of course, whether or not the GOP “wave” represents a referendum on the House of Representatives’ 2009 American Clean energy and Security Act. In a New York Times article headlined, “Obama to Face New Foes in Global Warming Fight,” John Broder noted toward the end of the piece that:
Tuesday’s voting offered a brutal verdict for many of those members of the House who had voted for the cap-and-trade approach that Mr. Obama has now abandoned. Some three dozen House Democrats who supported the 2009 climate bill were turned out of office.
Supporters of the measure, sponsored by Democratic Representatives Henry A. Waxman of California and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, noted that more than half of the 43 Democrats who voted against the measure also lost their seats, meaning that for most voters the election was not simply a referendum on the climate bill.
The hedge in the second paragraph against the outcome of the election being a “brutal verdict” is important. Elsewhere, the debate over this point produced whole articles and heated argument.
On Wedesday, the Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson complained that Politico had “ignored the evidence” and “spun the climate vote as an electoral lose.” An article by Darren Samuelsohn and Robin Bravender headlined, “Democrats’ day of reckoning comes for climate vote,” which reported that, “House Democrats who voted for the 2009 bill to cap greenhouse gas emission - dubbed cap-and-tax by GOP opponents - had a terrible night.” In fact, Johnson pointed out, “Democrats who voted against clean energy were more than three times as likely to lose their seats than those who voted for it:
— Out of the 211 Democrats who voted for ACES, only 41 either lost or retired and saw their seats go Republican. Thus 81 percent of Democrats voting for the climate bill won their races.
- Of the 44 Democrats who voted against ACES, 28 lost, retired and lost the seat to Republicans, or in the case of Parker Griffith, flipped parties and lost the Republican primary. That means 64 percent of Democrats voting against the climate bill lost their seat.
- Of the eight Republicans who voted for the bill, only one was punished by the voters — Rep. Mike Castle (DE-AL), who lost his U.S. Senate primary to eventual loser Christine O’Donnell
Samuelsohn and Bravender fired back on Thursday with a second article titled, “Greens Desperate to Avoid Blame.” Despite the provocative headline, the piece presented some of the same evidence that Johnson did, but then quoted a couple of sources offering rebuttals. For instance, Jim Connaughton, George W. Bush top environmental adviser, “said greens are missing an important lesson by shining the spotlight on the Democrats who won another term. Many of those were safe seats compared with the seats of losers, who had always been nervous about how their climate vote would sell back home.”
The article makes a solid case that candidates’ support for climate legislation cannot, and should not, be ignored as a factor in the outcome of certain races. Ultimately, though, it reinforces the argument that that was not, in fact, to “blame” for the GOP takeover of the House.
True, in a couple races it might have been a primary factor. In Samuelsohn and Bravender’s Wednesday article, the former chief of staff for Rick Boucher—who was instrumental getting Blue Dog Democrats to support the House climate bill—said he was sure that the cap-and-trade vote had cost Boucher the election. But overall (as CJR argued in pre-election stories about the dearth of attention being paid to environmental issues on the campaign trail) candidates’ positions on climate legislation were generally treated as secondary or tertiary evidence of their degree of alignment with the Obama administration.