Day of reckoning for climate vote
In this article commenting on the mid-term election results, Darren Samuelsohn and Robin Bravender directly relate election losses, particularly by Democrats, to the candidate's support for the 2009 climate bill.
November 3rd, 2010
House Democrats who voted for the 2009 bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions – dubbed cap-and-tax by GOP opponents – had a terrible night. Over two dozen lawmakers who favored efforts to clamp down on heat-trapping emissions were swept away on Tuesday's anti-incumbent wave, ushering in a new class of Republicans who doubt global warming science and want to upend President Barack Obama's environmental and energy policies.
Democrats who voted for the controversial House climate bill were slaughtered at the ballot box, including Rep. Rick Boucher, the 14-term Virginian who helped broker some of the key deals instrumental to its June 2009 passage. In the Senate, several reliable green advocates also went down to opponents who derided tough new environmental policies.
Come January, Obama will be working with a Congress that will have little appetite for the types of sweeping energy reform he sought over the last two years. With the House in Republican hands, some of the climate issue's most vocal advocates have been dislodged from their powerful perches, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman.
There's no hiding the House Democrats' bloodbath, with more than two dozen members who voted for the Pelosi-led climate bill losing their seats, and more likely to fall as the final tallies come in.
The outcome sends a strong signal to moderate lawmakers as they consider any risky votes in future Congress' on energy and environmental issues.
"It's going to be cap and tax forever more, and I don't think any of these guys are ever going to touch it again," said Linda Stuntz, an industry attorney who held a top Energy Department spot during the George W. Bush administration. "I think anyone who thinks there's vitality left is kidding themselves."
Boucher's defeat is perhaps the most stinging given the central role he played in brokering key pieces of the legislation to make it more friendly to his home state's coal industry. Over the last 18 months, Boucher has defended his work on the climate bill, saying it's much better than the alternative of Environmental Protection Agency emission control regulations. But his Republican opponent, state House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, still found political leverage and ultimately won, 51 percent to 47 percent.
"I don't think there's any question about it, cap and trade was the issue in the campaign," Andy Wright, a former Boucher chief of staff, told POLITICO. "If Rick had voted no, he wouldn't have had a serious contest."
Next door to Boucher, freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), a poster child for environmentalists, also lost his seat to Republican state Sen. Robert Hunt, who pulled out a 51 to 47 percent victory. Unlike some of his colleagues, Perriello was unapologetic about his cap-and-trade vote, and environmental groups poured money into his campaign in an effort to prove that climate bill supporters could prevail in tough races.
New Mexico Rep. Harry Teague, another first-term Democrat, ran into strong headwinds for his climate vote, losing out to former GOP Rep. Steve Pearce. Teague came under fire for supporting Pelosi on the climate bill from conservatives and the oil and gas industry, which is based in his sprawling district covering the southern half of the state.
"Clearly the cap and trade vote was the galvanizing symbol that got people's attention and focus on the problems in Washington," said Pearce spokesman Jason Heffley.
Several other Democratic climate bill supporters from rural, suburban and industrial districts lost their seats on Tuesday, including Allen Boyd (Fla.), Debbie Halvoron (Ill.), Phil Hare (Ill.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Betsy Markey (Colo.), Mark Schauer (Mich.), Ike Skelton (Mo.), Bob Ethridge (N.C.), John Boccieri (Ohio), Driehaus (Ohio), Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio), Zach Space (Ohio), Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), Patrick Murphy (Pa.) and Steve Kagen (Wis.).
Some House climate bill supporters managed to eke out victories in close races, including Brad Miller (N.C.) and John Yarmuth (Ky.).
Environmentalists in search of a silver lining took solace in Yarmuth's win. "Speaking of the lion's den – he did this in the heart of Kentucky, a leading coal producer," said Jeremy Symons, senior vice president for conservation and education at the National Wildlife Federation.
In the Senate, getting any sort of climate legislation moving over the next two years was seen as a long shot after cap and trade collapsed this summer, but prospects for even scaled-back climate and energy measures suffer with the arrival of more new GOP members who fall into the skeptic camp, including Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte and Florida's Marco Rubio.
Even a Democratic victory doesn't mean a vote for climate legislation. West Virginia Sen.-elect Joe Manchin ran a campaign commercial showing him firing a bullet through the cap-and-trade bill, for instance.
Out West, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) survived his reelection bid despite criticism during the GOP primary over his record in support of past versions of climate legislation. The 2008 Republican presidential nominee will be watched closely to see how he positions himself on climate and energy in the coming year.
And environmentalists were able to cheer some Senate wins. Key Democrats coming back for the 112th Congress include Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.), the chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
In Illinois, environmentalists could find a friend in Sen.-elect Mark Kirk. The Republican, who replaces Democratic Sen. Roland Burris in the seat once held by Obama, voted for the House climate bill but later backtracked, at first saying he was voting in the narrow interests of his district, then later saying he didn't fully understand its implications.
Josh Voorhees contributed to this report.