Are Dems greener than GOP? List of O.C. award winners offers clue
As the Orange County League of Conservation Voters gears up for its 20th annual Environmental Leadership Awards Dinner on May 10, its list of honorees offers a stark reminder of the increasingly partisan divide on environmental advocacy and regulation.
The league is non-partisan as are the groups represented by its three honorees. But both the local and national league find themselves consistently at odds with the Trump Administration’s environmental policies. And two of the three award winners are political activists or activist groups that formed an organized response to Donald Trump’s presidency and campaigned for Democrats in 2018.
“In 2018, Republican candidates running for (federal, state and local) offices in Orange County for the most part rejected recognition of the impacts of climate change, air and water pollution and the need for any governmental protection of natural resources,” said Orange County league President Michael Wellborn in an email.
“Candidates who shared those values and prioritized environmental protection were in 2018 almost exclusively Democrats.”
HB Huddle, winner of the Environmental Political Activist Organization Award, and Aaron McCall, leader of Indivisible OC 48 and winner of the Environmental Political Activist Award, both embraced progressive platforms in their support of Democratic candidates and were particularly active in helping Democrat Harley Rouda upset incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa. McCall says he helped coordinate drives that contacted 35,000 voters on Rouda’s behalf.
Fred Whitaker, chairman of the Orange County GOP, countered that Republicans care about the environment but are wary of over-regulation.
“We all want Orange County to remain as a place with clean air, water and lovely coastlines for recreation,” he said via email. “However … the Democrats create a ‘crisis mentality’ and monolithic government-based solutions, empower bureaucracies, and stifle the economic engine that otherwise allows us to live as a first-world country with clean air and water.”
The Orange County’s league’s third honoree — the Ocean Friendly Restaurant Program run by the Surfrider Foundation —
goes to an is an organization that advocates for the environment but steers clear of election campaigns. The group will receive the Environmental Business Program Award at the awards dinner, which begins at 6 p.m. May 10 at the Costa Mesa Country Club. The event cost $90 per person and RSVP’s are required by May 3. For information, write email@example.com.
It wasn’t always this way.
The nation’s landmark environmental regulator, the Environmental Protection Agency, was established in 1970 by a Republican president, Richard Nixon, by executive order.
But environmental issues have become increasingly partisan. Trump has staked out particularly dramatic positions in opposition to existing environmental protections, including consistently ignoring or downplaying climate change and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. Trump’s first head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt acknowledged that the earth was warming but questioned whether it was “necessarily is a bad thing.”
The majority of Republican voters share Pruitt’s skepticism, according to polls.
A CBS News poll in April found just 29% of Republicans thought global warming was having a serious impact now, while 72% of Democrats and 55% of independents held that view.
Some believe environmental issues are becoming increasingly important at election time and could result in Republicans becoming more engaged environmentally. GOP political consultant Whit Ayers told the New York Times recently that climate is a growing concern among millennials and centrist voters.
the environment a key issue in his 2018 upset of Rohrabacher, a strategy that green activists say helped him overcome Republican voters’ 8.5 percentage-point registration advantage in the coastal Orange County district. And while the GOP’s Whitaker called HB Huddle and Invisible OC 48 “cogs in the Democrat election machine,” the League of Conservation Voters’ Wellborn said the two activist groups also attracted Republicans who “support environmental protection.”
But the environment continues to be more of a driving force for Democratic voters, 67% of who said it would be “very important” or “extremely important” to their 2020 vote, according to the CBS News Poll. Among Republicans, 26% ranked environment that high while 41% of independents expressed that level of significance.
The Boston-based Environmental Voter Project, meanwhile, doesn’t even bother with party affiliation in its get-out-the-vote efforts. Rather, it focuses on making sure environmental voters get off the couch — or the hiking trail — and cast ballots, trusting research that shows environmental voters will naturally pick environmentally sensitive candidates.
Founder Nathaniel Stinnett’s approach is driven by findings that show turnout is very low for those who rate the environment as a top-two political issues.
In the 2014 general election, 44 percent of registered voters turned out. But among voters who said environment was a top issue turnout was just 21 percent, Stinnett told the Rising Tide Summit, a San Pedro gathering of environmentalists in San Pedro. In 2016, the turnout difference was 19 percentage points between all registered voters and the environmentalists. In 2018, it was 16 points.
Stinnett, who has been operating in a select handful of states but not California, uses large-scale phone surveys in targeted areas to identify environmental voters. His group then reaches out to those voters with a variety of tested promptings to get them to vote.
There is no mention of specific candidates, just an effort to make sure environmental voters cast ballots.
“Changing (voter turn-out) behavior is a lot easier than changing opinions,” he said. “If you don’t believe in climate change, we’re probably not going to change your mind. Changing (voting) behavior is the low-hanging fruit.”