Voters Ready for Climate Candidates

January 30, 2018

Voters in Texas ready to address climate change.

In Texas.
If anyone wants some pointers, I tried my hand at a public meeting last spring. (above)

Houston Chronicle:

It seemed like a preposterous idea as we gathered along the sofas of my living room last summer.

Could we really pull off a candidate forum specifically about climate change, in a congressional district held by Republicans since George H.W. Bush and home to more of the oil and gas industry than just about anywhere in the country?

But none of us had ever planned a candidate climate forum. And we had more than a bit of skepticism about whether candidates would be willing to speak out on a controversial topic and how many voters would care enough to listen.

But recent surveys debunk the misperceptions of voter apathy on climate. A survey by Harvard and Politico showed that Democrats rank climate change neck-and-neck with healthcare and Trump-Russia allegations as the top issues motivating their vote in 2018. Another survey showed that even most Republicans wanted President Trump to remain in the Paris Climate Agreement. That’s why I’ve asserted climate action could be an issue that motivates Democrats without alienating Republicans.

So we plowed ahead with our plans. And, sure enough, all the Democratic candidates agreed to participate. Congressman Culberson’s office declined our invitation.

Registrations quickly topped the capacity of the Rice University lecture hall we had originally reserved. The administration of West University Elementary School graciously offered their larger space, where more than 400 people attended the forum this past Saturday.

Congressman Beto O’Rourke kicked off our event while receiving an award from Environment Texas.

But the true value of the event might come less from what the voters learned about the candidates than from what the candidates learned from the voters. Simply put: We care. That message rang through loud and clear, from the 400 voters who showed up on a rainy Saturday afternoon to the thousands more who have watched the Facebook Live video online.

When voters care, candidates respond. At the first candidate forum I attended last year, I cringed at the nonsensical response I got to my question about climate. This time, asking seven more challenging questions to seven candidates, I found almost all the responses to be thoughtful and well informed.

As a professor, I could tell the candidates had done their homework. They couldn’t bluff their way to an easy A with voters who cared.

Whoever is elected to Congress this November, they’ll know there’s a motivated contingent of voters eager to see a more vigorous federal response to climate. And if we’ve shown that to be true in the oil patch of a red state, perhaps similar events elsewhere could provide a wake-up call to other representatives as well.

One Response to “Voters Ready for Climate Candidates”

  1. Timely for me. I live in Houston, where a lot of typically Republican districts are up for grabs. In 2 days I’ll be attending a discussion with primary candidates in 2 districts who will discuss specifically climate change. I expect most of the candidates will be Dems, but who knows? Climate change still doesn’t seem to be a front burner issue for most voters, but the Hurricane Harvey gives it more traction. But it’s less about addressing the underlying causes and more about securing more FEMA aid.

    My sense is that even among Dems they don’t have nuanced positions about climate change, and besides in Houston you learn not to offend local O&G industries. I spend a lot of time trying to explain to people why natural gas doesn’t belong in any climate change solution (Texas companies have profited off a lot of that). Unfortunately I’m guessing that even Dems favor an “all-of-the-above” solution than anything like carbon pricing.

    Purely from the standpoint of communicating positions, the recent initiative by former Republicans in favor of carbon pricing offers an umbrella many Dem candidates can stand under without getting soaked.

    But I’ll say again: even though Houstonians are fairly liberal by Texas standards, you’re not supposed to say anything bad about natural gas.

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