The most on-point quote in Samuelsohn and Bravender’s Thursday article came from Ryan Cunningham of the Glover Park Group, a communications firm that published a useful tally of the electoral fate of members of Congress that supported the climate bill. “Most if not all of the losing Dems, of course, also voted for health care, financial reform, the stimulus and dozens of other ‘Nancy Pelosi’ policies targeted by Republican campaigns,” he said. Regardless, though, as Johnson pointed out at the Wonk room, Congress is now full of “climate zombies” - those who deny the science behind anthropogenic climate change.

California’s Prop 23: Renegade or Bellwether?

The other place the media went looking for a referendum on energy policy was California. Voters in the Golden state soundly defeated Proposition 23, a ballot initiative that would have gutted California’s groundbreaking 2006 climate law by prohibiting implementation until unemployment sunk to 5.5 percent, and elected a Democrat governor and senator who support a strong environment/clean energy agenda.

Journalists, pundits, and activists on both sides had a field day trying to figure out whether California was an outlier, going in the opposite direction from the rest of the country, or a trendsetter of what was to come. As a catchy Grist headline asked,
“California exceptionalism or a rising green tide?” In his pithy lede, Todd Woody, a veteran environment writer based in California, wrote, “when you mix red and blue in a state like California, you get green.” His article argued that the landslide defeat of Prop 23 “marked the emergence of a bipartisan, enviro-business coalition that spanned the demographic divide.” He noted that many in the No on 23 coalition see the defeat of the measure as a start to a “much larger campaign” that could spread to other states, even if the congressional environment in Washington is hostile.

“California has always been the leader in environmental regulation. It’s always first out of the box,” said Los Angeles Times environment reporter Margot Roosevelt in an interview. “But it may take a while for the rest of the country to follow suit. People in California feel the future of the economy eventually lies in clean energy.” Deriding the “inside the Beltway mentality that Washington is the center of the universe,” she contended that it was a mistake to marginalize what happens in California: “California is not just another state. It’s not an outlier. One out of nine Americans live here, and it has the eighth biggest economy in the world. So a huge chunk of the U.S. had a big referendum on climate change.”

At final count yesterday, 61 percent of California voters said no to Proposition 23, compared to 39 percent in favor. The biggest surprise, Roosevelt said in an interview, was the size of the victory, “a 22 point margin, the biggest margin of any ballot initiative in California. The surprise to everybody was that it was that big.”

An article by Roosevelt in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday declared in its headline, “Prop. 23 battle marks new era in environmental politics.” The “stunning” size of the victory, she wrote, was “giving heart to national environmental leaders and signaling the advent of new players in eco-politics: high-tech entrepreneurs, mainly based in Silicon Valley, who see clean energy as a economic investment.” But key Republicans opposed the measure as well.

“You had Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger stumping around the state calling them dirty, greedy oil companies,” said Roosevelt in the interview, and George Shultz, the respected Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, who cochaired the “No on 23” campaign, reached out to business to stop it rather than support it and made the case that dependence on oil is a national security issue.

Roosevelt said that making the bipartisan climate and environment case nationally to Republicans in Congress and elsewhere is made harder by strong ties to the oil and gas industries fighting greenhouse-gas regulation, while the clean energy, high-industries are more powerful in California. Roosevelt’s story quoted Shultz at Wednesday’s victory press conference: “What do we need to do with this victory? We need to wake up our fellow Republicans.” But Prop 23 advocate Charles Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, predictably warned that implementing the climate law “will result in the relocation of jobs and businesses from California to other states and other countries,” moving carbon emissions from one location to another but not reducing them.

Curtis Brainard and Cristine Russell are CJR contributors. Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, our online critique of science and environment reporting. Russell, a CJR contributing editor, is the president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and a senior fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She is a former Shorenstein Center fellow and Washington Post reporter.