Was The Election Good for the Fish?

by on November 16, 2018 · 0 comments

in Environment

By David Helvarg /Blue Frontier Campaign/ Blue Notes

Was this election good for the fish?

Mostly the answer is yes, also for democracy and government checks and balances.

Still, it’s hard to argue that the ocean and climate played a significant role in most campaigns, even if these are issues of survival impacting our food security, jobs, health, where we live and the quality of our lives.

The policy and PAC group Ocean Champions claimed that early results showed 52 of 58 candidates they endorsed had won their House and Senate races, although many of those winners – like long-time ocean leaders Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Rep. Jared Huffman of California – were popular incumbents facing little serious opposition.

Ocean Champions can take pride in the fact that their chief “ocean enemy” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a surfing pro-Russian reactionary (a formulation that could only make sense in the Trump era) went down to a narrow defeat in the long-time Republican bastion of Orange County California. Ocean Champions (a past winner of a Benchley Award) also could take pride in having a strong record of influence having spent just over $1.5 million in contributions over 14 years, proving you can do a lot with a little.

Unfortunately the oil & gas industry showed you could do a lot with a lot of money, spending $100 million in this election to defeat three state initiatives that had targeted fossil fuels while promoting renewable energy in Arizona, Colorado (home to the Inland Ocean Coalition) and Washington State.

Sea Party Results

Our ‘Sea Party 2018,’ project tracked a dozen races where ocean issues, particularly offshore drilling and coastal climate impacts, seemed likely to play a major role (See Blue Notes #169). Those results were mixed, but included a few surprises that made us grin like dolphins.

Joe Cunningham in the 1st Congressional District of South Carolina,

The biggest was the election of anti-offshore drilling Democrat (attorney & ocean engineer) Joe Cunningham in the 1st Congressional District of South Carolina, arguably the most conservative state in the nation.

Of course the South Carolina coast is also home to some of the most beautiful and bountiful stretches of salt marsh and beachfront on the eastern Seaboard – as I got to appreciate earlier this year as a guest of folks from the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and others who value their way of life without a topping of oil.

Cunningham defeated a Trump supporter who had beaten Mark Sanford, an anti-oil drilling Republican in the party primary.  Sanford had also been at our founding of the Sea Party in 2016. Interestingly, when I emailed congratulations to half a dozen South Carolina friends and colleagues who’d worked to turn the tide with Cunningham, three responded with variations on the word “miracle.”

In the 49th Congressional district that straddles California’s Orange and San Diego counties, another outspoken offshore drilling opponent, environmental attorney and clean energy advocate Mike Levin, won a solid victory in a military and republican stronghold, home to the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton.

An aside – The Marines are pretty good stewards of their 17-mile stretch of California’s Golden Shore. I once reported on an amphibious training exercise there during which rumbling armored vehicles and combat troops seizing the beach were redirected away from plover nesting sites by a squad of MPs stationed in the sand.

The nation’s largest Navy base is in Norfolk Virginia also the sight of some of the most dramatic sea-level rise occurring on the eastern seaboard. In that coastal district Navy veteran Elaine Luria beat Navy veteran Rep. Scott Taylor to become one of three Democratic women to win house seats from Virginia. As part of her victory statement she promoted the port’s future and new offshore wind energy development.

In coastal North Carolina where opposition to offshore drilling is strong Republican Representative David Rouzer – who says he’d accept drilling 30 miles offshore – beat Democrat Kyle Horton, even after Wilmington, the largest town in the district, was completely flooded during Hurricane Florence in 2018.

Unlike scientists, most voters still don’t connect the drilling and burning of fossil fuels to the intensified hurricanes and other extreme weather we’re now experiencing. In coastal Georgia’s First Congressional District (that includes Savannah), Pro-drilling Republican Rep. Buddy Carter also won a third term election over “No drilling, period!” Democrat Lisa Ring.

The results were different in southeast Florida where Democrat Debbie Mucarsel – Powell defeated two-term Rep. Carolos Curbelo. As with the Florida Panther, the defeat of this anti-drilling 38-year-old Republican member of the House Climate Solutions Caucus marked the almost certain extinction of the once common “Elected Environmental Republican (EER).”

Their habitat has long been shrinking within the GOP. In fact many I’ve gotten to observe over the years such as Curbelo, Sanford, Wayne Gilchrest, Jim Saxton and Olympia Snowe were either eaten or displaced by their own when they failed to adapt to the loss of moderating conditions within the GOP. The last viable populations were extirpated in the mid-Atlantic and New England between 2008 and 2016.

Of course, Florida being Florida, the results of their races for Governor and a Senate seat went to a recount (surprise result – Al Gore is now President).  What was actually surprising was that “Red Tide Rick” Scott, the outgoing Governor running for incumbent Senator Bill Nelson’s seat, was not more vulnerable due to the backlash he generated by failing to address coastal pollution in the form of economically and ecologically devastating harmful algal blooms including this year’s toxic red tides on the Gulf coast and blue-green algae blooms on the Atlantic side of the state.

Stayed tuned.

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