Democrats didn’t sweep but made notable gains

Source: Kellie Lunney, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A blue wave did not crash the country’s statehouses last night, but Democrats notched important wins in Colorado, Wisconsin and New Mexico that could significantly affect energy development and conservation in those states.

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker last night appeared to have elude environmentalists’ efforts to knock him off in a tight race but then fell behind early this morning.

Walker, who survived a recall election in 2012, was trailing Democrat Tony Evers, the state superintendent of schools. Greens had targeted Walker for his rollback of environmental regulations and resistance to climate change policy.

Evers vowed as governor to emphasize clean energy funding and join the group of states pledging to meet greenhouse gas emissions cuts set in the Paris climate agreement after the Trump administration’s withdrawal from that international pact.

In a major win for green groups, Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis prevailed over Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton in the Centennial State. Polis has vowed to achieve 100 percent renewable energy use in Colorado by 2040.

Although Polis declined to support an unsuccessful Colorado ballot initiative that would have required new oil and gas development in the state to be at least 2,500 feet from certain places, he consistently has received high ratings over the years from environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters and Defenders of Wildlife.

“Colorado voters value our air, land, water and people, so it’s no surprise that they said ‘yes’ to a leader who reflects these values,” Conservation Colorado Executive Director Kelly Nordini said about Polis’ election.

“Tonight’s elections show yet again that there is tremendous enthusiasm for environmental issues in Colorado. Now more than ever, states must lead the way when it comes to addressing the challenges ahead, and Gov.-elect Polis will be at the forefront,” she said.

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham defeated Republican Rep. Steve Pearce to recapture the New Mexico governor’s mansion for Democrats.

Pearce, who sits on the House Natural Resources Committee, has tried to streamline the permitting process for energy development and reduce federal oversight of public lands.

Lujan Grisham in her victory speech said Pearce called her, congratulated her on a “hard-fought victory” and pledged to work with her to serve New Mexico.

Thirty-six governorships were up for grabs yesterday. Republicans were defending 26 of those statehouses; Democrats nine. This morning Democrats were on track to gain seven seats.

Florida, Alaska

Florida’s marquee face-off ended with a razor-thin win by former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D). The Sunshine State this year saw historic flooding from hurricanes and a massive influx of toxic algae blooms in its waters, giving climate and environmental issues a high profile in the nation’s most-watched governor’s race.

DeSantis has said he wants to crack down on industries like sugar that have contributed to the blue-green algae bloom problem. In Congress, the Republican voted against most emissions and clean energy legislation. He has said states need to address the problem of rising seas but that he is not an “alarmist” on climate.

Republicans also appeared to have picked up a governorship in Alaska, where Mike Dunleavy edged out former Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.

Dunleavy supports resource development and wants to get rid of a climate change team Walker created. He also supports a proposed $44 billion state-built natural gas pipeline, which Begich also supported.

Governors are an important factor in the congressional redistricting process in 2020, when the next U.S. census takes place. They can approve or nix legislation passed by the state legislatures that affect the makeup of Congress for the next decade.

The Democratic Governors Association said its approach to the midterms was to “allow candidates to be themselves,” the group said in an “Election Day Memo” on its website.

“While Republicans were trying to become Donald Trump, Democratic candidates tailored their races to their strengths and unique personalities,” said the group.

Other races

Other gubernatorial outcomes in states where environmental, energy or public lands issues are important:

  • California: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) defeated John Cox (R).
  • Idaho: Lt. Gov. Brad Little (R) defeated Paulette Jordan (D).
  • Maryland: Gov. Larry Hogan (R) defeated Ben Jealous (D).
  • Michigan: Gretchen Whitmer (D) defeated state Attorney General Bill Schuette (R).
  • Minnesota: Rep. Tim Walz (D) defeated Jeff Johnson (R).
  • New Hampshire: Gov. Chris Sununu (R) defeated Molly Kelly (D) and Jilletta Jarvis (Libertarian).
  • Nevada: Steve Sisolak (D) defeated Adam Laxalt (R), Russell Best (Independent American), Ryan Bundy (I) and Jared Lord (Libertarian).
  • Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf (D) defeated Scott Wagner (R).
  • Ohio: State Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) defeated Richard Cordray (D).
  • Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown (D) defeated Knute Buehler (R).