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.
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. 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.
New Blue Issues for Congress
Democrats taking back the House will probably be useful in educating the public on what’s been working in government and protecting things like the Magnuson-Stevens Act, our main fisheries law whose science-based reforms of 2006 made the U.S. a leader in restoring and producing edible marine wildlife including fish, shellfish, kelp and other sea vegetables. Unfortunately, just as we’re seeing depleted fish stocks rebounding there are those who want to go in and beat them back down for short-term profit taking. With support from some commercial fishing groups this could prove one of the big upcoming battles where common sense might yet prevail.
At the same time, Congress needs to prioritize solutions to dangerous ocean climate impacts we are already experiencing including changing circulation, ocean acidification and deoxygenation. Unfortunately, the bad influence of people like former Scripps Institution of Oceanography Director Bill Nierenberg and former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu (under George HW Bush) delayed climate action for over a generation – for more see the New York Times expose ‘Losing Earth’ by Nathaniel Rich.
Our choices by the 1990s were a Carbon Tax or Cap and Trade. We chose neither. Our choices today are hurricanes or wildfires. I write this from under a smoky pink-grey SF Bay sky – the bad air coming from the devastating ‘Camp Fire’ to our north. We’ve long known what the solutions to our problems are but we’ve failed to mobilize the political will to enact them. Partly this is our own movement’s failure to communicate not only the problems but solutions that can excite people’s imaginations and impact their choices from the morning flush to who they elect to lead us.
We Have the Tools and the Will – What’s in store at Blue Frontier for 2019
Turning up the Heat on the Blue Beat – The first Blue Notes came out on March 18, 2004. In the almost 15 years since we’ve tried to provide you, our more than 6,000 ocean loving subscribers, with news, opinion, humor, profiles and facts on the ocean you might not get anywhere else. Blue Frontier has also produced five ocean books and over 300 articles and videos for mainstream publications and news outlets. It’s part of what I call the “Blue Beat.”
Beginning early in 2019, Blue Frontier will be working through its new “Blue Beat” Program to become a stronger voice and clearinghouse to help our movement improve the stories we tell the media and the world about the state of our seas and what we can do to make things better for all our communities – both human and wild (see Blue Notes #169). Some Blue Beat offerings will include:
– A Blue Media Training workshop led by two journalists, a professional publicist and online video producer ranging from 3 hours to a full day’s programming to help ocean conservation groups better tell their stories.
– An expansion of the ‘Writers For the Sea’ (WFS) organization with its 75 authors to date including a new wave of literary events and appearances to transform WFS into a major voice for ocean awareness.
– An Ocean Communications Summit to bring together journalists, writers, documentary producers, marine and clean water communicators and educators to initiate more effective ways to promote healthy waters awareness with the public and in the media.
– An updated and more interactive Blue Movement Directory of more than a thousand U.S. based Ocean Conservation Groups with the potential to become a global directory. And much more.
It’s easy to be ambitious given the scale of challenges we confront. Learn more about how you can help grow a Blue Wave.